Judge Michael Garcia. (David Handschuh/NYLJ)
The inclusion of Court of Appeals Judge Michael Garcia on the shortlist to lead the FBI was met with surprise and delight by New York Latino legal leaders, who said his potential to be the nation’s first Hispanic FBI director would be just one part of his impressive record as a jurist.
“You add that aspect [of ethnicity] into the mix after you add all the other qualities,” said Carmen Pacheco, president of the Puerto Rican Bar Association and founding partner at Pacheco & Lugo. “He brings a lot of diversity of mind, because he’s served the different branches of the profession.”
Garcia, a former federal prosecutor who spent years in private practice at large firms, was among several candidates interviewed over the weekend by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to replace James Comey, whom President Donald Trump fired on May 9.
Through a spokesman for the Court of Appeals, Garcia declined to comment on the interview or his status as an FBI finalist.
Garcia joined New York’s highest court about a year ago from Kirkland & Ellis, where he was a litigation partner. He is the only Republican on the court. His career in government includes a stint as Southern District U.S. attorney—a position Comey once held as well.
But Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal and Educational Defense Fund, told NBC Latino that he did not put a lot of credence in Garcia’s name being floated for FBI director.
“Certainly, this administration’s track record for the inclusion of Latinos is not good, and we don’t anticipate it getting much better,” Saenz said.
Frank Torres, president of the Long Island Hispanic Bar Association, said he found Garcia’s inclusion on the short list of potential FBI directors “odd and extraordinary.” He said he was surprised because Garcia had been confirmed as a judge so recently, but said his “incredible resume” made him a contender.
“He’s certainly a groundbreaker and trailblazer,” Torres said. “I find it an interesting choice. He’s not a politician, which is important for that position. My feeling is that the best choice is someone within the FBI, but if they’re going to go outside, Michael Garcia would be a wise choice.”
Other members of New York’s legal community also welcomed the news.
“In this political climate taking on this task is fraught with pitfalls. Michael Garcia, who has proven himself to be a person of good judgment and high integrity, if he accepted the challenge, would be a professional that could be relied upon and respected by both ends of the ideological spectrum,” said Robert Anello of Morvillo Abramowitz Grand Iason & Anello.
“No one would be more uniquely qualified than Judge Garcia to hold this position considering the type of experience he garnered over the length of his career,” said Barry Kamins of Aidala Bertuna & Kamins and a former state Supreme Court justice.
A Brooklyn native with a master’s degree in English literature, Garcia, 56, received his law degree from Albany Law School, where he was valedictorian of his class.
He began his law career as an associate at Cahill Gordon & Reindel before serving from 1990 to 1992 as law clerk to Judge Judith Kaye, who was then an associate judge on the Court of Appeals.
Garcia was an assistant Southern District U.S. attorney from 1992 to 2001 and prosecuted several high-profile terrorism cases. In 2001, he became assistant secretary of commerce for export enforcement and in December 2002 acting commissioner for the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service. From March 2003 to August 2005, he was assistant secretary for immigration and customs enforcement at the Department of Homeland Security.
Garcia returned to New York as U.S. attorney in 2005 after his nomination by President George W. Bush. As the Southern District’s top prosecutor, he investigated the prostitution ring involved in the political downfall of then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer. He joined Kirkland & Ellis in 2008.
While at Kirkland, Garcia was appointed in 2012 to serve on the Task Force on Commercial Litigation in the 21st Century, convened by then Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman to study ways to improve the Commercial Division in New York state courts.
The same year, Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) appointed Garcia to co-chair a committee tasked with investigating allegations of corruption within the organization. The following year his role within FIFA was expanded; he was appointed chair of the “investigatory chamber” of the organization’s ethics committee. But Garcia resigned from the investigation in 2014, saying his findings were being mischaracterized.
He was nominated to the state Court of Appeals by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in January 2016 and confirmed by the state Senate in February. He was the first Hispanic man to join the court; the first Hispanic to serve was Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick, who retired in 2013; her seat was filled by Jenny Rivera.
The Court of Appeals currently has one vacancy following the sudden death of Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam on April 12.
Garcia lives in Westchester County with his wife and three children.