Stoney Lester can thank O’Melveny & Myers’ Brad Garcia for getting him out of federal prison years before he was set for release.
Lester was staring down a nearly 22-year term, after pleading guilty in 2004 to selling crack-cocaine in Georgia and being designated a career offender. That offender designation was wrong—11 years wrong—but Garcia still needed to convince the Fourth Circuit to grant Lester relief.
He did, leading to a 2018 win for his pro bono client and, in turn, for other inmates who can take advantage of the ruling. Lester’s misclassification as a career offender is a fundamental defect, the appeals court said. (Georgia is covered by the Eleventh Circuit but Lester was incarcerated in Virginia, where he filed the Fourth Circuit appeal.)
“That was a really rewarding experience, both to get that result for Mr. Lester and to establish favorable precedent for others, which is one of the highlights of being an appellate lawyer,” Garcia said of the case he worked on for four years.
The former clerk for Justice Elena Kagan has been busy racking up wins in a wide array of cases in appeals courts across the country—including the U.S. Supreme Court. He was on O’Melveny teams representing parties before the justices in recent high-profile disputes involving guns, abortion, and the First Amendment.
Garcia’s eclectic client list runs from the incarcerated to the likes of Google, Warner Brothers, and Ford Motor Co.
“One of the things I enjoy about appellate practice is that you can dive into almost any area and become fluent in it and then present the case forcefully for a client, so that diversity in experience is something that keeps it exciting and challenging,” he said.
The 34-year-old, who recently made partner, has already delivered a dozen appellate arguments, and is poised to argue his first Supreme Court case next month, in an immigration matter, United States v. Palomar-Santiago.
“I’m very excited about the opportunity to represent our client in the Supreme Court,” Garcia said. “It is a case that will affect both our client and a lot of other non-citizens,” he said.
Being tapped to argue at the high court “is reflective of the skill that he’s already demonstrated as an advocate in an extraordinary number of successful appeals,” said Jonathan Hacker, who chairs the firm’s Supreme Court and Appellate Litigation practice.
In the 12 appellate cases where Garcia has delivered oral arguments, he’s 11-1, most recently scoring a big win for Fidelity Investments earlier this month. The First Circuit said the company can’t be liable as an ERISA fiduciary for charging “infrastructure fees” to the mutual funds that appear on its 401(k) investment platform.
Garcia is 28-1 in paid appellate cases in which he served as a lead brief writer, according to the firm. He also shaped the arguments that led to an O’Melveny win at the Supreme Court for China Agritech in a 2018 securities case.
Hacker called the Lester case a great victory that showcased Garcia’s versatility.
“We were able to get the client released from prison in a complicated area of the law,” he said. “Brad was able to simplify it.”
Garcia lightheartedly attributes success to preparation at home.
Explaining things to his little kids, he said, “is good practice for knowing that you need to support all the premises of your arguments and explain things very clearly.”