She worked in the United States Department of Justice Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section 1976–1977, and then the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Eastern District of Virginia, Criminal Division 1977–1983. During 1983–1984 she returned to the Criminal Division and worked as a solo practitioner from 1984–1985.
Federal judicial career
Brinkema was a U.S. Magistrate Judge in the Eastern District of Virginia from 1985 to 1993.
On August 6, 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated Brinkema to a seat on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia vacated by Albert V. Bryan. She was confirmed by the United States Senate on October 18, 1993, and received her commission on October 20, 1993. She took up her post on October 23, 1993.
Brinkema presided over RTC v. Lerma et al. (1995), a case that involved the reproduction of materials owned by the Church of Scientology. Brinkema found for the defendants in most of the claims, and awarded minimum damages of $2,500 for copyright infringement, citing the «increasingly vitriolic rhetoric» of RTC’s legal filings.
On October 28, 2003, she sentenced al-Qaeda operative Iyman Faris to twenty years imprisonment for providing material support to the group.
Brinkema presided over the case of 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. When she asked about the videotapes showing the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, the government denied their existence. As she sentenced Moussaoui to life in a supermax prison, she told him he would «die with a whimper.» She told him: “You came here to be a martyr and to die in a great big bang of glory, but to paraphrase the poet T. S. Eliot, instead, you will die with a whimper. The rest of your life you will spend in prison.» Mr. Moussaoui began to respond, but Judge Brinkema continued. “You will never again get a chance to speak,” she said, “and that is an appropriate and fair ending.”
On April 2, 2009, Brinkema weighed in on the question of whether terrorist detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp could be prosecuted in the civilian justice system.
In 2011, she presided over the fraud trial of Lee Farkas, CEO of Taylor, Bean & Whitaker. During his sentencing hearing on June 30, 2011, she said that she did not observe any genuine remorse, and sentenced the 58-year-old Farkas to 30 years in federal prison. She ordered Farkas and six others to pay a total of about $US3.5 billion in restitution.
On January 28, 2017, she was the second to order a stay of an executive order by President Donald Trump, which restricted immigration into the United States and prevented the return of green-card holders and others. Although the order issued was a temporary restraining order, it blocked the removal of any green-card holders being detained at Dulles International Airport for seven days. Brinkema’s action also ordered that lawyers have access to those held there because of the president’s ban.
Brinkema is married to John Roberts Brinkema, a computer scientist.
2005 CIA interrogation tapes destruction