Leigha Simonton, a veteran federal prosecutor in Dallas, is the leading candidate to become the next U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas, sources tell The Texas Lawbook.
Simonton, who currently heads the Appellate Division of the U.S. attorney’s office in Dallas, was recommended to U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz by the Federal Judicial Evaluation Committee, a bipartisan panel of leading Texas attorneys that screens applications for judicial vacancies, according to multiple sources.
The two Republican senators, both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, have signed off on her nomination, which is now pending before the White House, sources said.
Neither Simonton nor a spokesperson for the U.S. attorney’s office responded to a request for comment.
The top prosecutor’s job in the Northern District has been filled by interim appointees since the January 2021 resignation of Erin Nealy Cox, who was U.S. attorney for more than three years.
“While it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment on whether she is the official choice or not, what I can say is she would be a great choice for U.S. attorney,” Nealy Cox, now a partner at Kirkland & Ellis, told The Lawbook.
“I know her well. In fact, I promoted her into her first leadership position in the office as deputy chief and then chief of the Appellate Division,” Nealy Cox said. “She has a reputation for being a top-notch advocate and is well-liked by her colleagues. And she has a proven track record of leadership in the district.
“It’s important to get the U.S. attorney positions filled throughout Texas, and they could not have a better candidate than Leigha,” she said.
Also awaiting nomination – subject to confirmation by the U.S. Senate – are candidates for U.S. attorney in the Eastern, Western, and Southern Districts of Texas.
Simonton, 45, is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and Yale Law School. After law school, she held clerkships with Judge Patrick Higginbotham of the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Chief U.S. District Judge Barbara M. Lynn of the Northern District.
“Leigha is brilliant, a very hard worker, always well organized and has excellent leadership skills,” Judge Lynn said, without commenting on whether her former clerk is indeed the likely White House nominee.
Simonton spent two years in the appellate practice at Haynes and Boone before joining the U.S. attorney’s office.
Shamoil Shipchandler, chief counsel for Charles Schwab Corp. and a former regional director of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in Fort Worth, said: “Leigha is a well-respected leader and an excellent prosecutor, with outstanding experience in so many of the department’s key programmatic areas.
“She knows the district, she knows the community, and she knows the courts,” said Shipchandler, who is also a former federal prosecutor. “Her even-keeled and approachable style will be of great benefit to the Northern District of Texas.
Simonton is married to U.S. Magistrate David L. Horan, a fellow Yale Law grad.
Chris Kratovil, a family friend and the managing partner of the Dykema Dallas office, said, “Leigha is from a small town in Louisiana, grew up in a middle-class family, worked hard and lived right and has earned tremendous success. Leigha is super-smart, fair-minded, evenhanded, a-political and genuinely cares about justice.”
The sprawling Northern District, headquartered in Dallas, comprises 100 of Texas’s 254 counties.