During his 17 years with U.S. attorney offices in Washington and Delaware, new judicial nominee Rudolph Contreras earned a reputation as a skilled writer and analyst, handling complex fraud prosecutions as deftly as he defended routine administrative suits against the government, according to former colleagues and superiors.
Contreras, the civil division chief of the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington since 2006, was nominated yesterday afternoon by President Barack Obama for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
If confirmed, he would be the third of the last four heads of the office’s civil division to be tapped for a federal judgeship in Washington – the others were U.S. District Chief Judge Royce Lamberth and U.S. District Judge John Bates.
Contreras has spent the bulk of his career in Washington. Troutman Sanders partner Mark Nagle, who was with the U.S. attorney’s office almost exclusively from 1985 through 2004 and preceded Contreras as chief of the civil division from 1998 to 2004, said that from the beginning, Contreras “wrote with a clarity that was beyond a number of years of experience he’d had practicing law.”
“I don’t think that anyone could look at any case that he handled and say that he did anything other than represent his client to the best of his ability, and consistent with the law and ethics and his role as an attorney for the United States,” Nagle said.
Nagle recalled a major age discrimination class action against the U.S. Administration for International Development that Contreras helped move to a settlement in the late 1990s, Evans et al. v. Atwood et al.
“He had to draw upon legal principles, precedents that had been built up in other areas and develop a litigating position on issues that, frankly, the government attorneys were not called upon frequently to address,” Nagle said. “It was further confirmation of that analytical strength that I think is going to serve him really well.”
Contreras joined Jones Day’s Washington office after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania School of Law in 1991. Jones Day partner Gregory Shumaker, who helped recruit Contreras out of law school, said the two worked together on several large toxic tort cases during Contreras’ three years at the firm.
“He’s very analytical and he’s very thorough,” Shumaker said. “He’s a person who is really astute at judging people’s character and understanding what makes people tick.”
Mayor Brown partner Anthony Alexis, who sat next to and carpooled with Contreras when the two were line attorneys in the U.S. attorney’s office, said that given the number and diversity in civil cases that come through through the civil division in Washington, the office is natural jumping off point to the bench.
From Freedom of Information Act requests to civil suits against government agencies, “that’s going to be a lot of work that’s in front of him and he’s already familiar with those types of issues,” said Alexis, now a partner at Washington’s Mayer Brown.
Jeffrey Robinson, previously a name partner at Baach Robinson & Lewis and now associate director-counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, opposed Contreras in a Medicaid fraud case that the U.S. attorney’s office handled in conjunction with city officials. The case settled without going to court.
Contreras “made strong and aggressive arguments for the United States, but he also was open to listening to counter arguments and to our side,” Robinson said. “When someone can deal with counter information and process it into the decision making, that’s an important skill.”
In 2003, Contreras left Washington for a stint as chief of the civil division in the U.S. attorney’s office in Delaware. The former U.S. attorney for Delaware, Colm Connolly, now a partner at Morgan Lewis & Bockius, said in an e-mail that Contreras “has all of the attributes you'd look for in a judge.”
“Although he was my civil chief, I so valued his judgment that I sought his counsel on all major decisions we faced in criminal cases and administrative matters,” Connolly said. “I think the world of him and believe the administration has chosen wisely.”
Contreras has declined to comment, citing the pending nomination. The son of Cuban immigrants, Contreras was raised in Miami and earned his bachelor’s degree from Florida State University. His nomination was endorsed by the Hispanic Bar Association of the District of Columbia, of which he is a member, along with U.S. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).