July 16, 2009
Prepared Testimony of Michael J. Garcia Former United States Attorney
for the Southern District of New York for the hearing entitled "The Nomination of Sonia Sotomayor
to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States" before the Committee on the Judiciary United States Senate July 17, 2009
It is an honor to appear in support of Judge Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court. It struck me in preparing to testify today that my experience practicing before Judge Sotomayor provided clear bookends to my career as federal prosecutor. As a junior Assistant United States Attorney, I had one of my first trials in her courtroom: as the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, I argued before her in my last appearance representing the government.
I have known Judge Sotomayor since 1994, when as a prosecutor fairly new to the office, I tried a narcotics case in her courtroom. Judge Sotomayor was a relatively new appointee to the federal bench at that time and I remember a sense of curiosity in the office about how she would conduct criminal trials, as it is my recollection that this was one of her first. That question was quickly answered: she conducted that trial fairly, ran a tight ship in the courtroom, displayed courtesy and professionalism to both parties at all times, and showed a keen grasp of all the evidentiary and other legal issues that arose during the course of the two-week proceeding.
It was not a simple case. The defendant was charged with running a massive heroin distribution operation in upper Manhattan. The government called a number of witnesses, including two individuals who had participated in the conspiracy and later cooperated with the authorities, as well as a number of civilian and law enforcement witnesses. Substantial evidence, including weapons and other items seized during raids by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, was introduced through those witnesses.
Judge Sotomayor maintained perfect control of the courtroom while ensuring that the defendant received a fair trial and was afforded all of his constitutional rights. She made timely but deliberate and careful rulings on all the issues. Whether she ruled for the government or not, I felt that our arguments were given a fair hearing in every instance.
The judge demonstrated a striking command of the applicable criminal law. I remember on the eve of the jury charge, Judge Sotomayor brought up a very recent ruling by the Supreme Court. She informed us that she did not think the ruling would effect her instructions but she asked that we get back to her with our view by the next morning. After several hours of catch-up analysis that night, both the prosecution and the defense agreed.
Ultimately, the defendant was convicted of conspiracy to distribute large quantities of heroin. After the verdict, the judge called both parties in to thank us for our efforts and professionalism, a much-appreciated courtesy.
That was one of my first trials as a prosecutor. 14 years later, in June 2008, I again found myself appearing in front of Judge Sotomayor, this time she was a seasoned judge on the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and I was the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.