Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Biden nominates former Gov. Easley’s son for Eastern District U.S. Attorney

Three nominees for vacant U.S. Attorney posts in N.C. were announced this week by the White House, including that of Michael Easley Jr., a lawyer out of Raleigh. (Port City Daily/Courtesy McGuireWoods LLP)

President Joe Biden has chosen Michael F. Easley Jr. — the son of a former governor and a litigator at Raleigh law office — to be the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina. 

U.S. Attorneys act as the chief federal prosecutor in the regions they occupy and also represent the United States in civil matters. The Eastern District, 44 counties between Raleigh and the East Coast — including New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender — is one of three in the state. 

Easley’s father, the Democrat Michael F. Easley, was governor of N.C. between 2001 and 2009, and was convicted of a felony for campaign finance matters in 2010. 

Easley Jr. graduated from the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law in 2010 and joined McGuireWoods LLP that same year. It’s the firm his father was set to join the year prior, according to reporting at the time, before his December 2010 law license suspension. Former Gov. Jim Martin and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate and former N.C. Supreme Court Judge Cheri Beasley both worked at the firm in its lobbying and litigation arms, respectively. 

Easley deals in internal investigations and trial court work for McGuireWoods, which has offices around the country and its biggest in Richmond, Va., according to its website.

His clients have included a subsidiary of a global utility facing multiple regulatory inquiries; a large agribusiness company in the midst of U.S. Department of Agriculture audits; a research university under fire for the alleged release of Uranium from a nuclear laboratory; Fortune 500 companies undergoing multi-year U.S. Department of Justice investigations; and indigent criminal defendants in federal court as a court-appointed attorney through the Criminal Justice Act Panel, and many others, according to his McGuireWoods biography.

(He also prosecuted criminal cases in Wake County Superior Court before joining the firm, according to the bio.)

“Michael Easley is a valued partner and accomplished litigator who has earned the respect and admiration of his colleagues and his peers,” said the firm’s managing partner J. Tracy Walker IV in a statement. “We are proud he has been nominated and know he will be an outstanding U.S. Attorney.”

The Biden administration asked 56 U.S. Attorneys appointed by Donald Trump to resign earlier this year. Currently, while temporary officials are filling many of the 93 positions in the country, Robert Higdon Jr. is the Eastern District’s U.S. Attorney. 

“The U.S. Attorney for the various districts, they have significant power and they are political picks,” said UNC School of Law professor Andy Hessick. “They’re in line with the president’s agenda.”

Easley was included in a nine-nominee package of attorneys announced by the White House this week, which also put forward names for N.C.’s other two districts. 

Sandra J. Hairston was tapped for the Middle District. She joined the district office in 1990, and has been acting U.S. Attorney there since her predecessor left. 

For the Western District, Biden nominated Dena J. King; she’s worked in that office since 2020 as the deputy criminal chief for the Violent Crimes, Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces, and Narcotics units.

Presidents confer with the U.S. Senate delegation of any given state before putting names forward, Hessick said. In statements, U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis vouched for all three picks, saying they had recommended each candidate and been involved in the interview process.

“What took so long was just a function of that negotiation and conferral process, plus the fact that there are other nominations that are being negotiated right now,” Hessick said. 

Nominees to U.S. Attorney posts need a majority of votes in the U.S. Senate to become official, a process that involves combing through old writings and, increasingly, social media postings from the nominee’s past.

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