Sarala Vidya Nagala – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut

Sarala Vidya Nagala, a federal prosecutor in Connecticut, is one of three nominees put forward by the Biden Administration to fill vacancies on the District of Connecticut, in one of the biggest turnovers of the court since 1994.

Background

Nagala received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Stanford University in 2005 and her Juris Doctor from the University of California School of Law in 2008. After graduating law school, she clerked for U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Susan Graber on the Ninth Circuit, before joining the San Francisco office of Munger Tolles & Olson as an Associate. In 2012, Nagala moved to the public sector as an Assistant U.S. Attorney with the District of Connecticut, becoming Deputy Chief of the Major Crimes Unit in 2017. Nagala is still with the office.

History of the Seat

Nagala has been nominated to a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut opened by Judge Vanessa Lynne Bryant’s move to senior status on February 1, 2021.

Legal Career

Nagala started her legal career at the firm of Munger Tolles & Olson, a firm that has produced many prominent federal judges, including Justice Brett Kavanaugh and four sitting Ninth Circuit judges. At the firm, Nagala was part of the legal team representing Bank of America in seeking damages arising from financial fraud orchestrated by the Taylor, Bean & Whitaker Mortgage Corp. See Bank of Am, N.A. v. FDIC, 908 F. Supp. 2d 60 (D.D.C. 2012). On the pro-bono side, Nagala was part of the legal team, along with the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, challenging a gang injunction imposed by Orange County. Vasquez v. Rackaukas, 203 F. Supp. 3d 1061 (C.D. Cal. 2011).

Nagala has spent the last nine years as a federal prosecutor in Connecticut, rising to become Deputy Chief of the Major Crimes Division. Among the notable cases that she has handled with the office, Nagala prosecuted Stavros Ganias for tax evasion. United States v. Ganias, 755 F.3d 125 (2d Cir. 2014). Ganias challenged his conviction on two grounds: that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated when law enforcement copied three of his hard drives pursuant to a search warrant and then improperly retained materials beyond the scope of the warrant; and that his Sixth Amendment rights were violated by a juror’s Facebook activity. A divided panel of the Second Circuit reversed the conviction on the basis of the Fourth Amendment argument. However, Nagala petitioned for en banc rehearing, and the full Second Circuit reversed the decision based on Judge Peter Hall’s dissent, finding that, while the Defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated, the “good faith” exception precluded suppression of the evidence. See United States v. Ganias, 824 F.3d 199 (2d Cir. 2016) (en banc). In other matters, Nagala is currently prosecuting New Britain resident Steven Knox for stealing 43 tires from the U.S. Postal Service. Don Stacom, Man Charged in Theft of 43 Tires From U.S. Postal Service Garage; Investigators: Suspect Admitted to Using Access Card He Kept From Repair Shop Job, Hartford Courant, June 10, 2021.

Overall Assessment

Despite being in her 30s, Nagala has already gained experience in both civil and criminal litigation. While some senators may raise questions about Nagala’s age, such inquiries are likely to be blunted by the relative youth of a number of Trump appointees. As such, one can expect Nagala to be confirmed in due course and make history as the first Indian-American judge on the Connecticut federal bench.

Judge Barbara Jongbloed – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut

Barbara Jongbloed, a judge for Connecticut’s Superior Court since 2000, has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut.  While Jongbloed is a registered Democrat, this is her second nomination by a Republican executive, having been tapped for state court by Gov. John Rowland.

Background

Jongbloed was born in Washington D.C. in 1959.  She earned her B.A. from Lawrence University in 1981 and her J.D. from New York University School of Law in 1984.  After graduating law school, she clerked for U.S. District Judge T. Gilroy Daly, before joining Day Berry & Howard in Stamford, Connecticut.  In 1987, Jongbloed moved to the public sector as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, staying in the office for thirteen years, the last two as criminal chief.  In 2000, Jongbloed was nominated by Rowland to become a Superior Court Judge in New London, where she currently serves.

History of the Seat

Jongbloed was nominated to a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut on October 15, 2019.  The vacancy opened on August 31, 2018, with Judge Alvin Thompson’s move to senior status.

In August 2018, Jongbloed applied for the judgeship with Connecticut Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, both Democrats.  They recommended Jongbloed to the White House in March 2019.  

Legal Career

Jongbloed’s primary experience before becoming a judge was as a federal prosecutor.  Over the thirteen years she was at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Jongbloed tried 14 cases to verdict.  Jongbloed was co-counsel with fellow Connecticut federal judge Kari Dooley in the prosecution of Stewart Leonard, who was sentenced to 52 months in federal prison for embezzlement.[1]  She also prosecuted Greenwich Acupuncture Center and its owners for various forms of fraud.[2] 

Jurisprudence

Jongbloed has served as a Judge on the Connecticut Superior Court since 2000, when she was appointed by Republican Gov. John Rowland.  In the past 19 years, Jongbloed has presided over approximately 105 cases that have proceeded to verdict and judgment.  Among these, Jongbloed has not hesitated to issue long sentences in criminal cases where she deems it appropriate.  For example, she sentenced Dante Hughes, who shot a good samaritan who was attempting to intervene in a domestic dispute, to 50 years in prison.[3]  Similarly, she sentenced George Leinart to the mandatory sentence of life for capital felony for the death of a 15 year old girl,[4] and sentenced Mozzelle Brown to 56 years in prison for the murder of physicist Eugene Mallove.[5]  In fact, the two cases in which Jongbloed was reversed over her tenure as a judge, both involve rulings in favor of the prosecution which were overruled by the Connecticut Supreme Court.[6]

Overall Assessment

Jongbloed’s status as a Democrat nominated by Trump will likely be enough to satisfy partisans on either side to let her move through without a fight.  Nonetheless, setting aside party affiliation, Jongbloed has extensive experience both as an attorney and as a state court judge, which should quell concerns about her jurisprudence.


[1] See United States v. Stewart J. Leonard Sr., et al., 37 F.3d 32 (2d Cir. 1994).

[2] United States v. Greenwich Acupuncture Cntr., et al., No. 5:91CR00040 WE (D. Conn. 1991).

[3] State v. Dante Hughes: KNL-CR16-335957.

[4] Karen Florin, A ‘True Predator’ Removed From Society: Judge Sentences Leniart to Life in Cold-Case Murder, The Day, June 23, 2010.

[5] Karen Florin, Mozzelle Brown Sentenced to 58 Years For Mallove Murder, The Day, Jan. 6, 2015.

[6] Compare State v. Jean Jacques, 332 Conn. 271 (2019) and State v. Chihan Eric Chyung, 325 Conn. 236 (2017).

Judge Kari Dooley – Nominee for the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut

Republican Kari Anne Dooley, a judge for Connecticut’s Superior Court (trial court) since 2004, has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut.[1]  Before becoming a judge, she worked in private practice as well as serving for 12 years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut.[2]

Background

Dooley, 54, was born in New York City on May 9, 1963.  She earned her B.A. in psychology from Cornell University in 1985 and her J.D. (cum laude) from the University of Connecticut School of Law in 1988.[3]  After graduating law school, she began her career in civil litigation and criminal defense at Whitman & Ransom (now Whitman Breed) in Greenwich, Connecticut.[4]  A mother of two, in 1992, Dooley moved to the public sector as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, staying in the office for twelve years.[5]  She served as counsel to the U.S. Attorney in 2004 until starting as a state court judge.[6]  She currently sits on Connecticut’s Superior Court in Waterbury and hears cases on the complex litigation docket.[7]  Dooley was nominated at the recommendation of Connecticut’s two democratic senators.[8]

History of the Seat

Dooley was nominated to a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut on December 20, 2017.  The vacancy opened on January 1, 2017, with Judge Roberty Chatigny’s move to senior status.

In May 2017, Dooley applied for the judgeship with Connecticut Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, both Democrats.  They recommended Dooley to the White House in August 2017.  Trump officially nominated Dooley on December 20, 2017.

Legal Career

While counsel to the U.S. Attorney, Dooley served as the Child Exploitation and Obscenity coordinator.[9]  Dooley has been involved in a number of high-profile prosecutions involving white collar fraud and child sex crimes.  She was involved in the 1993 prosecution of Stew Leonard, patriarch of the eponymous Connecticut grocery store, for $17.1 million in tax fraud.  He was sentenced to 52 months in federal prison.  She also aided in the 1997 prosecution of his son, Tom Leonard, who pleaded guilty to two counts of filing false tax returns.[10]  She worked with the child victims of the 2001 prosecution of Waterbury, Connecticut’s Mayor Philip Giordano, who was sentenced to 37 years for using his influence and political position to systematically sexually assault children.[11]  Connecticut U.S. Attorney Kevin O’Connor described her work interviewing the children victims as “masterful[].”[12]  In 2002, she brought 24 federal charges against Martin Frankel stemming from swindling small insurance companies in a scam that caused at least $200 million in losses.[13] In 2004, she prosecuted Danbury, Connecticut lawyer Bernabe “Bernie” Diaz for having sex with and receiving pornography of his girlfriend’s underage daughter.[14]

Dooley by all accounts has a reputation for being fair and a talented lawyer.  Counsel for criminal defendant Diaz, see supra, stated that Dooley “always struck [him] as being fair even though she’s a U.S. Attorney,” and “someone who knows their way around a courtroom.”[15]  Connecticut’s U.S. Attorney Kevin O’Connor has praised Dooley’s ability to work with child victims and her “demonstrated … commitment to the pursuit of justice,” and has decried her as “an immensely talented lawyer.”[16]  The state’s senators echoed these sentiments in their public statement lauding her for having “earned the deep respect of her colleagues and peers”[17]

Jurisprudence

Dooley has not presided over any published cases, and has participated in 12 unpublished cases, which address a range of criminal and civil issues.[18]  As Dooley puts it, her “judicial responsibilities have included presiding over a variety of criminal, civil, housing and juvenile matters,” and “[s]ince 2012, [she] ha[s] been assigned to the Complex Litigation Docket in Waterbury, Connecticut.”[19]

Connecticut senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, in a statement released following Dooley’s nomination, described her as having “a well-deserved reputation for her tireless work ethic, a high standard of integrity, and an admirable judicial temperament.”[20]

Speeches/Writings

While research has not revealed publications or speeches by Dooley, Dooley commented on her 2004 nomination to a seat on Connecticut’s state trial court, calling it “a real privilege,” and stating that she “look[ed] forward to staying in public service.”[21]

Overall Assessment

Dooley’s long tenure as a federal prosecutor and state court judge, as well as her glowing reputation among her legal community, make her a consensus candidate for the vacancy.  Although research has revealed relatively little about Dooley, the unanimously positive endorsements she has received for her work both as a lawyer and as a judge suggest an even-handed and thoughtful approach, which should, logically speaking, translate to an apolitical approach as well.


[18] Westlaw search conducted by author, January 21, 2018.

[19] https://linkedin.com, input “Kari Dooley” in search, first result.