Biden nominates new U.S. attorney for Los Angeles region

·4 min read

President Biden nominated E. Martin Estrada on Monday to serve as the next U.S. attorney for the Central District of California.

If confirmed by the Senate, Estrada, a former federal prosecutor who now is a partner in a corporate law firm, would helm the most populous U.S. attorney's district in the country, covering some 20 million people across seven counties.

Estrada, a partner at Munger, Tolles & Olson, previously served in the U.S. attorney's office in L.A. as deputy chief of its violent and organized crime division.

Estrada, who grew up around Costa Mesa, said he was humbled and honored by the nomination.

"The Central District is where I grew up, and I love it dearly, and I look forward to the confirmation process," he said.

He otherwise declined to comment.

In a statement Monday, the White House said Estrada and several other nominees for U.S. attorney and U.S. Marshal positions were "chosen for their devotion to enforcing the law, their professionalism, their experience and credentials, their dedication to pursuing equal justice for all, and their commitment to the independence of the Department of Justice."

As a prosecutor, Estrada's cases included one against leaders of the Armenian Power criminal syndicate and another against a federal court clerk caught leaking documents. In private practice, he has represented companies and business leaders in "business disputes, product liability, technology matters, and government investigations," according to his firm.

Estrada represented the Plains All American Pipeline oil company in litigation over the 2015 oil spill at Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County, in which the company agreed to pay $230 million to settle claims brought by fishers and property owners.

He also represented the Bruce family, successfully fending off a court challenge to a decision by state and local officials to return Bruce’s Beach in Manhattan Beach to the family, who are Black. The oceanfront property was returned in an attempt to correct a wrong done nearly a century earlier when it was taken from the family through a racist condemnation process.

Estrada has also handled immigration and education cases, including one in which he successfully argued that the state of New Mexico was providing insufficient education to students, including Latino and Native American students.

In addition to handling federal criminal cases that arise in the region, the U.S. attorney's office in L.A. represents the United States in civil disputes and national security matters. The district includes Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

A fluent Spanish speaker whose family emigrated from Guatemala, Estrada graduated from UC Irvine in 1998 and then Stanford Law in 2002, where he served as executive editor of the Stanford Law Review. He went on to clerk for U.S. District Judge Robert J. Timlin of the Central District of California and Judge Arthur L. Alarcón of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Estrada worked as an associate at Munger Tolles from 2004 to 2007, and as an assistant U.S. attorney in the federal prosecutor's office from 2007 to 2014, when he returned to Munger Tolles.

Estrada would replace U.S. Atty. Tracy Wilkison, who took over the office as acting U.S. attorney in January 2021 and began leading the office in a permanent capacity in November.

Wilkison, a former first assistant U.S. attorney in the office, stepped into the acting role after her predecessor, Nicola T. Hanna, stepped down after three years as U.S. attorney. Hanna submitted his resignation to then-President Trump.

U.S. attorneys are political appointees who are expected to apply the law and pursue justice without partisan favor, but also to carry out initiatives set forth by the Justice Department.

After an election, presidents often seek to install their own appointees as U.S. attorneys, typically with input from U.S. senators and other elected leaders from the region.

On Monday, Sen. Alex Padilla praised Estrada's nomination, calling him "an outstanding lawyer with a long record of excellence in public and community service."

"As the son of immigrants from Guatemala, he brings a strong commitment to equal justice and community engagement," Padilla said. "I know the Central District will benefit from his leadership."

The White House said Biden has now put forward 53 U.S. attorney nominees, whose confirmation it said will be important for seeing through Biden's agenda to "take on the uptick in gun crime that has been taking place since 2020."

Federal authorities in L.A. have partnered with local police on tracking the flow of firearms into California from other states, among other initiatives.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.