Bar Bulletin

Bar Bulletin

Profile/Brian Moran: Serving Justice

Profile/Brian Moran: Serving Justice

March 2020 Bar Bulletin

By Andrew Prazuch

With twenty-five years under his belt as a government lawyer at the county, state, and now federal level as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, Brian Moran has seen the best and worst in the defendants he has prosecuted. Yet after all this time he observes, “I am awed by the resiliency of the criminal justice system.” That sense of awe, coupled with an equal sense of humility, is an effective pairing for the chief federal law enforcement officer in Western Washington.

Brian’s early roots are at the opposite end of the country: the small village of Orleans, Vermont, with a population today of 826 (virtually unchanged from the size it was when Brian was born in 1960). Brian’s parents, Polly and Charlie, instilled the values of hard work and compassion in their seven children. After attending the regional high school, Brian went to nearby Middlebury College in Vermont to receive in 1982 a bachelor’s degree in German and political science. He studied abroad in Mainz, Germany before deciding he wanted to pursue a legal degree. He looked at only a couple law schools and found himself most drawn to the school whose recruitment and marketing materials contained great photos of sailing ships and Mt. Rainier — a reminder of idyllic scenes from his hometown in Vermont. He graduated in 1987 with a law degree from the University of Puget Sound Law School (now Seattle University School of Law). Brian met his wife Eileen while they both were law students together. They have two daughters, Kate who is attending Gonzaga University and Molly who is a senior in high school.

After a brief stint in private practice doing insurance defense, Brian came across an advertisement for a deputy prosecuting attorney in Kitsap County. It was a small office and Brian was thrown into complex cases very quickly. One of his earliest involved a defendant who broke a victim’s jaw during a domestic violence-related fight — Brian knew it was his duty to prosecute but he also appreciated the defense’s case that the defendant was protecting another victim. Despite Brian’s strong advocacy in support of conviction, the jury ultimately found the defendant not guilty. “I knew technically and legally the government was right to make its case,” Brian said looking back on that case. “But I also know the jury made the right call.”

Brian made a name for himself early on as one of the state’s experts in prosecuting murder cases involving the death penalty. In that role Brian faced some of the most heinous acts of violence in his career, including the 1988 case of Cassie Holden, a 12-year-old Bremerton girl who was raped and murdered by Jonathan Gentry. Brian used DNA evidence (the “nexus between science and law” according to Brian) to connect the murderer and victim, which was a new evidentiary tool at the time but widely used today. The killer ultimately was sentenced to death and was the longest serving inmate on Washington’s “death row” until his sentence was commuted to life in prison without the possibility of early release after the Washington Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling that the death penalty was unconstitutional.

After ten years in Kitsap County, Brian was recruited by then Washington State Attorney General Christine Gregoire to join her team. Brian was the state’s chief criminal prosecutor for many years, eventually moving into additional leadership roles including as chief deputy attorney general. He served for the next fourteen years under both Democratic and Republican attorneys general and their praise for him is bipartisan.

“Brian Moran’s expertise as a criminal prosecutor is unsurpassed,” Christine Gregoire remembered recently of Brian’s service. “When I served as Attorney General, he garnered the respect of every prosecutor’s office in the state. He is committed to a justice system that is fair, ethical and just.”

Her successor Rob McKenna noted, “Brian is an outstanding attorney and remarkable leader.” He added an impressive statistic on the breadth of Brian’s experience: Brian “is the only attorney I know who has prosecuted a major criminal case in every one of Washington’s 39 county courthouses.”

Brian earned a reputation at the Attorney General’s Office for being a leader who was a “prosecutor’s prosecutor” who “served justice,” according to Todd Bowers, a long-time colleague in that office who presently serves as deputy attorney general. “He was always willing to do any of the tasks in the office, any of what some might consider ‘grunt’ work,” Todd remembered. “He wasn’t just sitting in his office, giving orders — in fact there were days when someone needed to file a misdemeanor case in Yakima District Court and Brian would just get in his car and make the four hour drive himself.”

Brian eventually followed McKenna in July 2013 into private practice in the Seattle office of Orrick, Herrington, and Sutcliffe, a 1,000 lawyer international law firm where Brian learned to switch gears as an advocate who represented not the state or victims of crime, but rather clients who were navigating a complex governmental regulatory system. He found it fascinating to consider government policies from a new perspective, oftentimes for entrepreneur clients whose products and legal challenges were playing out against a regulatory system designed for another time and place. It gave Brian a renewed appreciation for the government’s need to “keep up with” this changing legal landscape.

With the election of a Republican president in 2016 came an opening at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington. Several respected colleagues suggested Brian consider seeking the appointment. He had tremendous respect for the work done by U.S. Attorney’s office and realized his government leadership experience could make for a great fit with the position. After a final interview with then U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy Rod Rosenstein, Brian was nominated by President Trump in May 2018 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in January 2019.

The range of issues under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Attorney are numerous, from drug cartels to national security matters. With both a criminal and civil division, and offices in Seattle and Tacoma, he manages 76 assistant U.S. attorneys and 67 professional staff. Together they prosecute cases investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Internal Revenue Service, to name just a few agencies.

When asked what it’s like to manage such a complex regional legal office with a national headquarters 2,000 miles away, Brian observed that he has been “surprised at how hands-off main Justice is” in allowing local U.S. attorneys the discretion to create priorities that reflect the needs of the community in which they are based.

To understand those needs, Brian “has traveled to the far reaches of our District — from Neah Bay and the Makah Tribe to Clark County — to learn from communities and to hear firsthand their concerns,” Tessa Gorman, a nineteen year veteran of the U.S. Attorney’s office, observes. She also adds that “he fiercely protects the independence of the position, and humbly appreciates the power and responsibility of the authority.” Gorman reports that “Brian believes that the public’s trust in the U.S. Attorney’s Office is built on transparency and trustworthiness.” She notes he is an “an inspirational leader and a trusted colleague” to the public servants in the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Todd Bowers echoes Gorman’s praise: “For Brian, it’s all about the work, not the accolades. He cares deeply about the public he serves.”

Brian says he feels “absolutely devoted” to serving the people of Western Washington as U.S. Attorney and is enjoying the difference he can make each day in their lives. “I go to work every day with a smile on my face.” 

Andrew Prazuch is executive director of the King County Bar Association. He can be reached by email (andrewp@kcba.org) or phone (206-267-7061).

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