Haywood Gilliam, Covington & Burling partner
Haywood Gilliam, Covington & Burling partner (Christine Jegan / The Recorder)

SACRAMENTO — President Barack Obama on Monday announced that he will nominate Covington & Burling partner Haywood Gilliam Jr. to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Gilliam would replace U.S. District Chief Judge Claudia Wilken, who announced in March that she will take senior status by the end of the year. Wilken said then that she was declaring her impending semi-retirement early in hopes that her successor could be named and confirmed by December.

Gilliam serves as vice chair of the white-collar defense and investigations practice group at Covington & Burling, where he has worked in the San Francisco office since 2009. Before that, he was a partner at Bingham McCutchen between 2006 and 2009. He also has worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Northern District of California, where he served as chief of the securities fraud section from 2004 to 2006.

“He’ll be an excellent judge,” said Raymond Marshall, a partner at Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton who’s known Gilliam since he was an associate at McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen.

“He’s just a terrific human being—bright and professional,” Marshall said. “Both sides of the table, in terms of prosecutors and defense counsel, I think would agree he is fair and even-handed. He’s super studious and works hard.”

Marshall compared Gilliam’s style to that of U.S. District Senior Judge Thelton Henderson

“He’s not a chest-beater,” Marshall said. “He’s very respectful of counsel. He’ll let counsel argue their case but he’ll be very strong from the bench.”

Gilliam, a Stanford Law School graduate, clerked for Henderson from 1994 to 1995.

While Wilken and others hope for a quick confirmation process for Gilliam, he may face tough going in a Senate that’s focused on the November midterm elections and could switch to Republican control from Democratic.

“But there’s nothing in his background that suggests there would be political divisions over his nomination,” Marshall said.

If confirmed, Gilliam would become the second active-status African-American judge in the Northern District, joining Phyllis Hamilton, who is slated to replace Wilken as the district’s chief judge.

Contact the reporter at cmiller@alm.com.