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7 Named on Short List for U.S. Bench

Jeri K. Somers, a U.S. Civilian Board of Contract Appeals judge, handles disputes over federal contracts.
Jeri K. Somers, a U.S. Civilian Board of Contract Appeals judge, handles disputes over federal contracts.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Alexandria became the Bush administration's venue of choice for major terrorism cases, in part because the Northern Virginia jury pool is considered relatively conservative. The only person convicted in a U.S. courtroom in connection with those attacks, Zacarias Moussaoui, was prosecuted in Alexandria. A member of the Moussaoui prosecution team, Assistant U.S. Attorney David J. Novak, is among the candidates to succeed Ellis.

The U.S. attorney who oversaw the Moussaoui case, Paul J. McNulty, went on to become deputy attorney general, the Justice Department's No. 2 position. His successor as U.S. attorney in Alexandria, Chuck Rosenberg, recently completed a brief stint as interim chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.

In seeking a replacement for Ellis, Webb and Warner worked smoothly together, even though they are from different parties and Webb is newly elected, Warner aides said.

"Senator Warner approached Senator Webb very early on and proposed that they work together, and Senator Webb agreed," said John Ullyot, a spokesman for Warner. "Everything about this process was done with Senator Webb."

The senators solicited recommendations from bar associations and others in the Virginia legal community, then began sifting through the names. Ullyot would not specify the number of applicants, but said, "It was an enormous pool of talent to draw from."

Warner and Webb jointly began interviewing candidates, including their final seven choices. The senators forwarded the list of finalists to Bush on May 2. "We are very pleased to strongly recommend for your consideration the names of seven outstanding Virginians with exemplary qualifications," the senators wrote in their letter to the president.

Thacher, 60, has been a Fairfax Circuit judge since 1998, and is a former special agent for the Army Criminal Investigation Division and a former civilian special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

In 2004, Thacher recused himself from overseeing the second trial of Washington area sniper John Allen Muhammad after being accused by prosecutors of conducting his own investigation into a claim by Muhammad's attorneys. Legal experts said that it was highly unusual for a judge to personally investigate a case and that Thacher had done the right thing by stepping down.

At the time, the judge defended his actions in a letter posted on the court's Web site but said he thought the focus needed to return to the merits of the case.

Thacher said last week that he was "deeply honored and humbled" to be considered for the federal judgeship and that his "background and experience are particularly suited to the types of cases that routinely come before the District Court in Alexandria.''

Trenga, 58, is a trial lawyer at the D.C. firm Miller & Chevalier. He handles complex civil litigation, including securities fraud and intellectual property cases, and he said he has appeared before Alexandria federal judges more than before any other court.

"I view being a judge as an opportunity for public service in a court that I grew up in professionally and for which I have enormous respect and personal regard," Trenga said in a brief interview. "It would be enormously challenging and gratifying work."

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