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A Top Prosecutor's Next Chapter: Zach Terwilliger Joins V&E's White Collar Defense Practice

As one of the top former prosecutors in the country, Zachary Terwilliger has an intimate understanding of how to get clients out of the government’s crosshairs. He’ll counsel companies on how to avoid problems before they start; help clients identify existing problems and determine whether remediation is necessary; and zealously represent clients who are the targets of white-collar investigations “to make sure to put the government to its burden of proof.”

“The government oftentimes develops theories, but there may be pieces of the story they don’t know. The individuals generally who know what happened are the participants, and the government is not the participant,” Terwilliger explained. “Any client who’s subject to a government investigation deserves fair and focused legal representation.”

Early in 2021, Terwilliger became the latest attorney to join V&E’s growing Government Investigations and White Collar Criminal Defense practice. Terwilliger brings with him well over a decade of experience as a prosecutor, most recently serving as United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia (EDVA), a district famous for prosecuting high-profile cases. Before that, he served as Associate Deputy Attorney General in the Office of the Deputy Attorney General, frequently advising U.S. Department of Justice leadership.

“Zach’s impressive credentials clearly stand out,” said V&E Managing Partner Scott Wulfe, “but equally important, his business acumen is top-notch, and we can already see that he will be a great cultural fit for the firm.”

As U.S. Attorney, Terwilliger oversaw high-profile settlement agreements from companies in an array of industries, including EDVA’s largest-ever settlement against a property management company for alleged violations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and an Americans with Disabilities Act settlement against a large medical equipment company that operated in 48 states. The two cases were prosecuted by an EDVA unit dedicated to ADA violations and discrimination against disabled service members. Terwilliger, who struggled with severe dyslexia as a child, founded the unit. “To start a unit that’s focused on the Americans With Disabilities Act really meant a lot to me,” he said.

Terwilliger said his years in public service taught him “to treat every matter like it’s most important.”

“You can’t cut corners,” he said. “I did very complex big cases and I did smaller cases. I treated each one with the same reverence because it’s somebody’s life, or it’s somebody’s money, or it’s somebody’s liberty.”

Among the matters that loom large in Terwilliger’s memories in public service is a domestic violence case in which the defendant stood accused of violating a protective order that temporarily prohibited his possession of firearms. The defendant had allegedly threatened his former partner, an immigrant awaiting a green card, by slipping the business card of a local gun range under her door. At issue was whether his use of firearms at the gun range would constitute a violation of the protective order.

“The case sounded relatively straightforward, but there were real legal intricacies because the individual just possessed the gun at this gun range. He didn’t purchase it,” Terwilliger explained. “It was really important to me, because I wanted this woman to feel safe. I wanted her to know that, in America, we look out for people who are being threatened.”

Terwilliger was victorious at trial and then again on appeal.

“I gave her my all and I’m really proud of it,” he said.

Terwilliger credits his commitment to public service to his upbringing. His grandfather, a World War II veteran who enlisted before coming of age, and his father, himself a longtime former federal prosecutor, were strong influences.

“I felt very called to do public service out of a sense of duty and patriotism, but also because it involved helping people,” he said.

That calling was what first led him to EDVA … as a teenager. Terwilliger spent his adolescence in Virginia and interned at EDVA during his high school years.

When he returned to the office as an adult, the challenges facing him were, of course, far different.

“It was just an incredible responsibility,” he said. “Frankly, after going through the crucible that was the Justice Department for the 18 months of the [Trump] administration, it really gave me the confidence and the growth to know that I could lead.”

Terwilliger said he helped improve morale at the office, leveraged his D.C. experience to create strategic alliances with government agencies, and worked with his team on creative ways to fight the opioid crisis.

“I worked extremely hard with the team to make sure there was communication about what we were doing, to demonstrate decisive leadership and make clear why I made decisions, to hire really strong people, and really go out there and advocate to get good work and good cases,” he said. “It was, I think, a real successful run, not just for me as U.S. Attorney, but for the office.”

Now Terwilliger is ready for the next chapter of his career at V&E.

“The timing is right for me,” he said. “It was never my intention to be a government lawyer forever. I stayed longer, frankly, than I think I anticipated just because I kept getting great opportunity after great opportunity. Now I’m very excited about this next challenge.”

This information is provided by Vinson & Elkins LLP for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice.