Michael Juneau – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana

The Western District of Louisiana is a court desperately short of judges.  Due to retirements and resignations, the District, which is assigned a complement of seven active judges, will be down to two by the end of the year.  Today, we look at one of two nominees offered by the Trump Administration: Michael Juneau.

Background

Michael Joseph Juneau was born in Monroe, LA on June 29, 1962, the son of prominent attorney Patrick Juneau.  Juneau attended Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, graduating magna cum laude in 1984.  He went straight from college to Harvard Law School, getting his J.D. in 1987.

After graduating, Juneau returned to Lafayette, joining his father’s law firm Juneau, Judice, Hill & Adley as an Associate.  After six years as an Associate there, Juneau co-founded the firm Juneau David, APLC in Lafayette.  He currently serves as a Shareholder there.

History of the Seat

Juneau has been nominated to fill a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.  The Western District is facing a vacancy crisis, with four of the seven allotted judgeships for the District currently vacant, and a fifth scheduled to open later this year.[1]  This crisis has been exacerbated by the Republican Senate’s failure to confirm any Obama nominations to Louisiana seats in the 114th Congress.

The seat Juneau has been nominated for opened on March 6, 2015, with Judge Richard Haik’s move to senior status.[2]  On February 4, 2016, President Obama nominated Stephanie Finley, the then-serving U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, to fill the vacancy.[3]  While Finley, who would have been the first African American judge on the Western District,[4] had the enthusiastic support of Republican senators David Vitter and Bill Cassidy,[5] and was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously,[6] her nomination was blocked from the floor by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

After the election of President Donald Trump, Juneau submitted his resume for a federal judgeship to Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA).  In March 2017, Kennedy submitted Juneau’s name to the White House.  Trump formally nominated Juneau on Aug. 3, 2017.

Legal Experience

Juneau has only held two positions since graduating from law school: as an associate at Juneau, Judice, Hill & Adley, and as a Shareholder at Juneau David APLC.  In the former position, Juneau focused primarily on civil litigation, maritime law and product liability cases, including representing a child in a suit against a pastor who had committed sexual abuse.[7]

After moving to Juneau David, Juneau focused on maritime law and product liability actions.  Juneau handled many maritime accident cases, including a consolidated law suit over the explosion of an offshore oil rig,[8] and the suit over a boat accident on the way to an oil and gas facility.[9]

In 2012, Judge Carl Barbier of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana appointed Juneau’s father, Patrick, to supervise two mass-tort court-supervised settlements: the Deepwater Horizon Economic and Property Damages Settlement; and the Halliburton & Transocean Punitive Damages Settlement.  Patrick Juneau then hired Michael to assist him with the settlement.[11]  While British Petroleum (BP), the defendant in the Deepwater Horizon case, initially approved Juneau’s appointment, the relationship soured amidst allegations that the Administrators were approving claims too readily.[12]  Ultimately, BP ended up suing to remove Patrick Juneau,[13] with the support of some plaintiff’s attorneys.[14]  The decision to appoint Michael Juneau to the case drew particular criticism, with plaintiff’s attorney Daniel Becnel calling it “unconscionable.”  Ultimately, BP failed to remove the Juneaus from the claims process, which continues to this day.[15]

Memberships and Affiliations

As noted in a colloquy between Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) during the Sept. 20th confirmation hearing, a judicial nominee’s professional affiliations can sometimes become an issue in the confirmation process.  As such, two of Juneau’s affiliations could draw criticism.  First, Juneau has been a member of the Krewe of Gabriel from 1993 to 2017.  The Krewe, a social club that organizes Mardi Gras events, restricts its membership to men (it also, in the past, restricted membership by race).  Second, Juneau has noted an affiliation with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on his Judiciary Questionnaire.  As previously noted, ADF has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.  As such, the exact nature of Juneau’s relationship with ADF will likely be probed in his hearing.

Political Activity

While he has never run or held political office, Juneau, a registered Republican, has been a frequent donor to Louisiana politicians.  The vast majority of Juneau’s donations are directed to Republicans.[16]  Among the more targets are former senator David Vitter, current senators Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, and Congressman Garret Graves.[17]  Juneau has also donated to the presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, and Marco Rubio.[18]

Earlier in his career, Juneau donated almost exclusively to Democrats, including a $1000 contribution to the presidential campaign of Al Gore.[19]   However, since 2000, Juneau has only donated once to a Democrat, a $2400 contribution to former senator Mary Landrieu in 2009.[20]

Overall Assessment

In the rough-and-tumble world of judicial politics, Juneau has one key advantage that should help him win confirmation: the support of Sen. John Kennedy.  Kennedy, as noted in the past, is one of the more aggressive questioners on the Judiciary Committee, and is likely the most “gettable” of the Judiciary Committee Republicans for opponents of Trump nominees.  As such, having Kennedy in his corner virtually ensures Juneau’s passage through Committee.

This is not to say that Juneau will necessarily have a smooth confirmation.  He faces two potential lines of criticism: the first based on his (allegedly nepotistic) appointment to the Deepwater Horizon case; and the second based on his affiliation with ADF.  The first may draw criticism from Republicans who believe that the Deepwater settlement unfairly penalized BP.  The second will raise concerns among Democrats, similar to those they raised with Prof. Barrett.

Overall, Juneau’s record confounds efforts to pigeonhole him on either side.  His Republican record of donations and alliance with ADF paint him as a judicial conservative, while his willingness to pay out billions in claims in the Deepwater Horizon case and his support for some Democrats, including Gore and Landrieu suggest moderation.  Overall, his testimony at his confirmation hearing on Oct. 4th will help us further understand the kind of judge he would be.


[1] Tyler Bridges, 42 Parish Area of Western Louisiana Suffers From Vacant Federal Judgeships, The Acadiana Advocate, Aug. 22, 2017, http://www.theadvocate.com/acadiana/news/article_dad54e68-8791-11e7-9cfc-678529cbf1c6.html.

[2] Leslie Turk, Judge Haik Assuming Senior Status in March, The Independent, Sept. 11, 2014, http://theind.com/article-18588-judge-haik-assuming-senior-status-in-march.html.

[3] Press Release, White House, President Obama Nominates Two to Serve on the United States District Courts (Feb. 04, 2016) (on file at https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov).  

[4] Leslie Turk, Finley Could Be First African American on Western District Bench, Acadiana Business, Feb. 5, 2016, http://theind.com/article-22647-finley-could-be-first-african-american-on-western-district-bench.html.

[5] The Leadership Conference, These Republican Senators Want Their Judicial Nominees Confirmed. Majority Leader McConnell Isn’t Listening, Medium, Aug. 4, 2016, https://medium.com/@civilrightsorg/these-republican-senators-want-their-judicial-nominees-confirmed-1d87e6bfc615 (quoting David Vitter) (describing Finley as a “great Louisianian”).

[6] Michael Macagnone, Senate Panel Advances 4 Federal Judges, Hints at Floor Votes, Law 360, June 16, 2016, https://www.law360.com/articles/807489/senate-panel-advances-4-federal-judges-hints-at-floor-votes.

[7] In the Matter of a Minor Child, et ux v. Louisiana District Council of the Assemblies of God et al., 16th Judicial Dist. Ct., St. Martin Parish, Louisiana, Judge Michael McNulty (1990-1992).  

[8] In re: The Matter of Mallard Bay Drilling, as Owner and Operator of Mr. Beldon, otherwise designated as Mallard Rig 52, Praying for Exoneration from and/or Limitation Liability, Docket No. 97-1223, (W.D. La. 1997).  

[9] Lincoln v. Goodrich Petroleum Corp., et al., 25th Judicial Dist., Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, Docket No. 50-620, Judge Joy Lobrano (2004-2011).

[10] See Perry, et al. v. Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories Co., et al., No. 99-0089, Circuit Court of Jefferson County (Miss.) (Judge Pickard), Vadino, et al. v. American Home Products Corp., et al., No. MID-L-425-98, Superior Court, Middlesex County (N.J.) (Judge Corodemus).

[11] Campbell Robertson and John Schwartz, How a Gulf Settlement That BP Once Hailed Became its Target, N.Y. Times, April 27, 2014.  

[12] Tom Young, BP to Blame for Payment Delays, Not Deepwater Claims Administrator Juneau, The Legal Examiner, March 21, 2016, http://neworleans.legalexaminer.com/toxic-substances/bp-to-blame-for-payment-delays-not-deepwater-claims-administrator-juneau/.

[13] Jonathan Stempel, Patrick Juneau, BP Spill Claims Administrator, Urges Dismissal of Company’s Lawsuit, Huff. Post, April 1, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/01/patrick-juneau-bp-spill-settlement_n_2994406.html.

[14] Kyle Barnett, Prominent Plaintiff Attorney Backs BP’s Bid to Remove Claims Administrator Patrick Juneau, Louisiana Record, Feb. 4, 2015, http://louisianarecord.com/stories/510585593-prominent-plaintiff-attorney-backs-bp-rsquo-s-bid-to-remove-claims-administrator-patrick-juneau.

[15] Richard Thompson, After 4 Years, 300K Claims, $9.2B, BP Claims Administrator Nearing Finish Line, New Orleans Advocate, Sept. 29, 2016, http://www.theadvocate.com/new_orleans/news/business/article_965235aa-8682-11e6-8181-0b5297cc5994.html.

[16] Center for Responsive Politics, https://www.opensecrets.org/donor-lookup/results?name=michael+juneau&order=desc&sort=D (last visited Sept. 27, 2017).  

[17] See id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] As a law student at Georgetown, Kelly spent a year as a Work-Study Reference Clerk at the Edward Bennett Williams Law Library.

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