Thomas T. Cullen, U.S. Attorney for the Western District, has been confirmed as a federal district judge.
The U.S. Senate on Sept. 10 voted 79-19 to approve Cullen, 43, for the seat of now-Senior U.S. District Judge Glen E. Conrad. Conrad took senior status in 2017.
Cullen’s office said he would be resigning as U.S. Attorney effective Sept. 15.
U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine said they were pleased with Cullen’s confirmation.
“We’re impressed with his record of prosecuting white supremacists in Charlottesville, and we believe he will serve the Western District well,” the senators said in a release.
“Serving as U.S. attorney has been the highlight of my career,” Cullen said in a news release from his office. “I am enormously proud of the dedicated public servants in this office and the work that they—along with our many brave law-enforcement partners—do to protect the public.”
Cullen’s strong confirmation vote was not surprising, said law professor Carl Tobias at the University of Richmond. He said Cullen was an “experienced, well qualified nominee with strong Democratic home-state senator support.”
Tobias said Cullen had a smooth hearing and a strong vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Cullen has served as the U.S. attorney for the Western District since 2018. In that time, he directed a multifaceted response to the opioid epidemic, leading to convictions of more than a dozen physicians and other health-care providers for the unlawful distribution of controlled substances and related criminal conduct, his office said.
He led the federal response to the violence that erupted at the 2017 Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally. His prosecution team obtained a life sentence for James Fields Jr., who caused the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer and seriously injured 30 other protesters. The team also prosecuted members of the militant “Rise Above Movement” who traveled from California and committed acts of violence.
Cullen did not apply for Conrad’s seat in a first round of candidate evaluations in 2018, the year he took office as U.S. attorney. Only after the Trump administration rejected two candidates jointly recommended by the senators was Cullen identified as a possible contender for the judgeship.
The senators reopened the candidate evaluation process and a Virginia State Bar judicial evaluation panel reconvened to interview Cullen on Oct. 30.
The VSB committee praised Cullen as a candidate. He reportedly explained his actions in connection with several controversies, including his office’s prosecution of a state trooper and a federal gang investigation hampered by disclosure lapses. The VSB report described Cullen as “humble, down-to-earth, relatable and grounded.”
Confronted recently about his college membership in the Kappa Alpha fraternity, with historic ties to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, Cullen called for KA and other fraternities to “step back from this history,” according to The Roanoke Times.
Upon graduation from the William & Mary law school in 2004, Cullen clerked for U.S. District Judge Robert E. Payne and then for Judge Roger L. Gregory of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Before becoming U.S. attorney, Cullen was a partner at Woods Rogers PLC in Roanoke, where he headed the firm’s white-collar and government investigations practice. Prior to entering private practice, he served as an assistant U.S. attorney in both Virginia and North Carolina.
Cullen is a former member of the Republican National Lawyers Association and The Federalist Society. He was a member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers from 2013-16.