Nick Brown, Vanessa Waldref confirmed as US attorneys

Evening at the Washington State Capitol, with flowering cherry trees.

The U.S. Senate has confirmed a pair of firsts to be the Justice Department’s top lawyers in Washington state.

Nick Brown, the former general counsel to Gov. Jay Inslee, will be the first Black top federal prosecutor in western Washington, while Vanessa Waldref, an environmental lawyer for the Justice Department, will be the first woman to run the U.S. attorney’s office in eastern Washington.

The Senate confirmed them both by voice vote Thursday. They’re expected to be sworn in soon.

President Joe Biden nominated the two on the recommendation of Democratic Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.

Brown, 44, is a litigation partner at Pacifica Law Group in Seattle, where he handles complex civil, regulatory, public policy and other matters for public and private clients. He served as Inslee’s counsel from 2013 to 2017, helping the governor navigate a thicket of issues that included Inslee’s 2014 moratorium on the death penalty and tension with the federal government after Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize the sale of marijuana for adults.

Before that, Brown, a graduate of Morehouse College and Harvard Law, was an assistant U.S. attorney in Seattle for six years, and served as a judge advocate general in the Army. In a less common qualification for a potential top federal prosecutor, he was a contestant on the second season of the reality show "Survivor," which aired in 2001.

Waldref, 41, is a trial attorney in the Justice Department’s Environmental Defense Section, where she defends rules issued by the Environmental Protection Agency and handles Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act issues. She previously spent seven years handling civil and criminal cases as an assistant U.S. attorney in Spokane, including successfully defending an ecosystem restoration project in the Colville National Forest that involved rebuilding roads, improving fish habitat and thinning trees.

In 2018, Waldref helped win a $3.2 million fraud settlement from a major contractor on the cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Restoration, following a whistleblower complaint that alleged the contractor was not directing subcontracts to women-owned or other disadvantaged businesses as required by the Department of Energy.

A graduate of Georgetown University and Georgetown Law, she has also worked in private practice in Spokane and in Washington, D.C., and she has taught administrative and environmental law at the Gonzaga University School of Law. Her sister Amber served for eight years on the Spokane City Council.

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