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Former Merrick Garland Clerk Expected to Head U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, Where He Would Oversee Several High-Profile Cases


President Joe Biden is planning to nominate veteran federal prosecutor Damian Williams to serve as the next U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY), one of the most high-profile and independent posts in the Department of Justice, several news outlets reported on Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday publicly declared his support for Williams’ nomination, indicating that the former clerk to then-federal appellate Judge Merrick Garland and to late Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens will almost certainly become the first Black U.S. attorney to lead the Manhattan federal prosecutor’s office.  Traditionally, prosecutorial and judicial candidate selections made by senators for their home states carry significant weight in the presidential nomination process.

The 40-year-old Williams currently serves at the head of the Securities and Commodities Fraud Task Force at SDNY where he oversees more than 20 federal prosecutors in cases involving insider trading, financial fraud, market manipulation, and fraudulent investment schemes.

The child of two Jamaican immigrants, Williams was born in Brooklyn and went on to earn degrees from Harvard University, the University of Cambridge, and Yale Law School.

Following his clerkships, Williams worked in the private sector at white collar Manhattan law firm Paul Weiss before joining SDNY as a federal prosecutor in 2012.

Williams worked on several high-profile cases during his SDNY tenure, including the prosecutions of former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D) and former Rep. Chris Collins (R) on corruption and insider trading charges, respectively.

Now, Williams has an opportunity to work in Attorney General Merrick Garland’s Department of Justice.

Williams’ nomination is significant in light of the recent rise in protests related to racial disparity in the criminal justice system, as pointed out by Rachel Maimin, a former SDNY prosecutor and current partner at Lowenstein Sandler.

“As he would be the first Black U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York, Damian is a groundbreaking choice. He is also beloved among his peers at the office, who have worked alongside him for years and seen firsthand that he is an outstanding colleague and leader,” Maimin said in a statement emailed to Law&Crime. “It is a fairly unusual pick, since Damian would be the first Presidentially-appointed USAO elevated from within the Office in well over half a century. Usually, the U.S. Attorney is an alumnus of the Office who has gone on to other government service or acted as a defense attorney before returning to lead it. There was also a very competitive race for U.S. Attorney this year, with Damian competing for the nomination with much more senior contenders. But his qualifications and reputation clearly won the day.”

The current U.S. attorney, Audrey Strauss, was appointed to the position by court order following the controversial firing of Geoffrey Berman by then-Attorney General Bill Barr and former President Donald Trump.

The Manhattan prosecutor’s office was a particular nuisance for those in the former president’s inner circle, having prosecuted former Trump administration strategist Stephen Bannon before he received a presidential pardon. The same office also obtained a guilty plea from Trump’s onetime fixer and personal attorney Michael Cohen on financial crimes stemming from hush money paid to adult film star Stormy Daniels.

The office is also reportedly in the midst of an investigation into Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, with the probe centering on the former New York City mayor and SDNY chief’s potentially illegal gains from his work with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman in a Ukrainian natural-gas business. Parnas and Fruman are already facing federal prosecution on multiple fraud charges.

SDNY prosecutors are also handling the case against alleged Jeffrey Epstein accomplice Ghislaine Maxwell.

The Associated Press on Tuesday also reported that Biden is expected to nominate former Loretta Lynch aide Breon Peace to lead the Brooklyn-based Eastern District of New York office and Trini Ross to lead the Buffalo-based Western District.

[image via SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.