Crime & Courts

Trump nominates Dylann Roof prosecutor Jay Richardson to top 4th Circuit court

President Donald Trump on Thursday nominated Columbia federal prosecutor Julius "Jay" Richardson to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the nation's highest federal courts and only one step below the U.S. Supreme Court.

Richardson, only 41, has a history of winning complex federal cases involving public corruption or high-profile crimes. Peers generally regard him as one of the most able prosecutors in South Carolina.

A native of Barnwell, Richardson has worked in the Columbia office of the U.S. attorney for South Carolina as one of about 50 assistant U.S. attorneys since 2009. In that position, he has been head of the white-collar public-corruption section.

In 2017, however, Richardson led a team of federal prosecutors who sought and won the death penalty in the federal trial of white supremacist Dylann Roof, who killed nine African-Americans during a 2015 Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston. Roof represented himself during much of that case, but also had a court-appointed lawyer, nationally known death-penalty expert David Bruck.

Former U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said Thursday he chose Richardson to lead the Roof prosecution because Richardson was "one of the best trial lawyers in the office" and a "bright and intellectually honest lawyer."

In 2015, Richardson and assistant federal prosecutor Jim May also secured a guilty plea from former Lexington County Sheriff Jimmy Metts, charged in connection with a scheme to get money for releasing illegal immigrants from that county's jail.

Richardson's nomination to a $220,600-a-year judgeship on the Court of Appeals is unusual.

Ordinarily, federal judges start as district judges, trial judges who are two levels below the U.S. Supreme Court. But Richardson's nomination leapfrogs the trial-judge level. If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, he will join the 4th Circuit, one of the nation's 12 appeals courts. It handles federal appeals of cases in South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland.

Richardson comes from a legal family. His grandfather, the late Julius "Bubba" Ness, was chief justice of the S.C. Supreme Court. Both his father, Terry Richardson, and his older brother, Matthew Richardson, also are prominent S.C. attorneys.

After graduating from Vanderbilt University and the University of Chicago Law School, Richardson clerked for the late U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

After clerking for Rehnquist, Richardson worked for Kellogg Hansen, a Washington law firm where U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch previously worked.

Columbia lawyer and former S.C. Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian said, "I don't agree with a lot of what President Trump does, but he's made an excellent choice. The best appellate judges are the ones who have been in the pit (tried cases), and Jay has done that."

Trump also on Thursday nominated U.S. District Judge Marvin Quattlebaum of Greenville to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. Quattlebaum, who worked for the Nelson Mullins law firm in Columbia, only had been a federal judge for a few weeks when tapped by Trump for the 4th Circuit.

Longtime U.S. District Judge Joe Anderson of Columbia said Richardson and Quattlebaum are "outstanding lawyers and both scholars too."