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Meet Indian American Moxila A. Upadhyaya, the Magistrate Judge Who Wouldn’t Address Trump as Mr. President

Meet Indian American Moxila A. Upadhyaya, the Magistrate Judge Who Wouldn’t Address Trump as Mr. President

  • The Gujarat-born, Missouri-raised judge presided over the July 3 indictment proceedings in which Donald J. Trump is accused of orchestrating a conspiracy to overturn his 2020 election loss.

Nearly a year and a half after she was appointed United States Magistrate Judge at the E Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse in Washington, D.C., Moxila A. Upadhyaya has handled court proceedings for several Jan. 6 defendants. But yesterday the Gujarat-born, Missouri-raised Indian American presided over what may be the highest-profile case of her career — that of former president Donald Trump. She was the central figure in the July 3 indictment proceedings in which it is alleged that Trump orchestrated a plot to try to overturn his 2020 election loss. 

Not only did she read from the 45-page indictment presented by Special Counsel Jack Smith, and set the next hearing for Aug. 28, she reportedly “irked” the 45th president for her everyman greeting, addressing the defendant — “Mr. Trump” rather than “Mr. President” — which reportedly left him in a “sour and dejected mood,” according to CNN. 

Trump’s trial over his efforts to stay in power despite his electoral loss will be overseen by Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, “magistrate judges like Judge Upadhyaya handle many preliminary proceedings for criminal cases, including arraignments,“ The New York Times notes. 

Before being appointed to the bench, Upadhyaya was a commercial litigation lawyer and a law clerk for judges on the United States District Court in Washington and the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, according to her official profile. She served on the D.C. federal court’s Committee on Grievances and is the former Co-Chair of the D.C. Bar Litigation Section Steering Committee. She has served on the Board of Directors for the D.C. Access to Justice Foundation and Council for Court Excellence.

After graduating from law school, she served two years as a law clerk to the Honorable Eric T. Washington, former Chief Judge of the D.C. Court of Appeals. She then joined Venable LLP’s Washington, D.C. office, “where she practiced complex commercial and administrative litigation,” according to a press release. She left Venable to serve as the first law clerk to the Honorable Robert L. Wilkins (currently U.S. Circuit Judge for the D.C. Circuit), during his tenure as a District Judge on this Court. 

She rejoined Venable after her clerkship with Judge Wilkins and continued her litigation practice until her appointment to the bench. As an associate and ultimately partner at Venable, she devoted her pro bono practice to representing indigent clients in post-conviction proceedings, including clients who raised challenges under the D.C. Innocence Protection Act and the D.C. Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act. For her work in this capacity, the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project awarded her its Defender of Innocence Award in 2009 and Venable named her Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year in 2006. 

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The New York Times, citing data from OpenSecrets, a research and government transparency group tracking money in politics and its effect on elections and policy, reported that Upadhyaya “donated at least $2,550 to political candidates, all Democrats, in the decade before her judicial appointment.

Upadhyaya received her Bachelor of Journalism, magna cum laude, from the Missouri School of Journalism and Bachelor of Arts, with honors in Latin, from the University of Missouri.  She received her J.D., cum laude, from the American University, Washington College of Law, where she earned distinction for her trial work representing clients in the Criminal Justice Clinic and was a member of the Administrative Law Review.

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