U.S. magistrate judge nominees selected

Maryland's federal bench has selected two new U.S. magistrate judges to fill an open position in the northern division of the state's U.S. District Court, based in Baltimore, and an expected vacancy in the Greenbelt southern division.

Final interviews occurred this week, and the nominees are undergoing background checks, which could last six months, said Chief Judge Deborah K. Chasanow. She declined to release the nominees' names until "they're ready for actual appointments."

But sources familiar with the selection process identified the two nominees. Stephanie Agli Gallagher, a former federal prosecutor who co-founded a private law practice in the city two years ago, is expected to fill the Baltimore position. Timothy Joseph Sullivan, a managing partner of the Greenbelt law firm Brennan Sullivan & McKenna, is the likely southern division nominee.

Gallagher declined to comment Friday about the pending appointment, and Sullivan did not return messages from The Baltimore Sun.

Gallagher, 38, spent seven years as an assistant U.S. attorney, successfully prosecuting high-profile criminals, including the cameraman for the underground Stop Snitching DVD, who in 2008 was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison on gun and drug charges, and two members of the violent Lexington Terrace Boys gang who carried out a string of murders.

She received a bachelor's degree in government and international affairs from Georgetown University and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1997. Gallagher clerked for U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz and spent several years in private practice before joining the U.S. attorney's office in 2002.

In 2008, she and federal prosecutor Steven H. Levin opened a private, boutique practice in Baltimore, known as Levin & Gallagher — "soon to be The Levin Law Firm," her partner said in an e-mailed statement.

"Stephanie has been considered a rising star for years, and her star will continue to rise as a federal magistrate judge," wrote Levin, who was her supervisor at the U.S. attorney's office for five years. "She is an outstanding lawyer and contributing member of the community. She has a very sharp, analytical mind and uses creative and innovative approaches in attempting to find ways to overcome obstacles in various cases."

U.S. Attorney for Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein, who could not confirm the nominations, called Gallagher "an exceptional lawyer who always demonstrates scrupulous concern for fairness and justice."

Sullivan, 48, is a litigation attorney based in Greenbelt who has argued several capital cases in federal courts. Among his clients is Lee Boyd Malvo, who was convicted along with John Allen Muhammad in the Washington-area sniper attacks of 2002.

Sullivan received a bachelor's degree in journalism from Marquette University in 1984 and graduated from Georgetown University Law School, where he now teaches, in 1987.

Rosenstein said he's known Sullivan for 15 years and considers him one of the most respected criminal defense attorneys in Maryland.

"Working as a federal criminal defense attorney can be frustrating because the defendants are almost always convicted," Rosenstein said in an e-mail. "But Tim is never antagonistic to the prosecutors. And he has a superb sense of humor."

Unlike federal district judges, who are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate, full-time U.S. magistrate judges are appointed to their eight-year terms by life-tenured federal judges. They oversee a wide range of proceedings to expedite civil and criminal cases in federal court, including detention hearings and arraignments.

The Baltimore post is that vacated by James K. Bredar, who was confirmed last month as a U.S. district judge in Baltimore. The Greenbelt position is dependent upon the promotion of U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles B. Day to district judge.

The Senate failed to vote on his nomination before adjourning last year. President Barack Obama renominated Day this month.