Judge Chad Kenney – Nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

A former elected Sheriff in Pennsylvania, Judge Chad Kenney comes to the federal bench with experience in law enforcement and on the state bench.

Background

A native Pennsylvanian, Chad Francis Kenney Sr. was born in Lower Merion on August 8, 1955.  He attended Villanova University, graduating cum laude in 1976 and then getting a J.D. from Temple University School of Law in 1980.[1]

After graduation, Kenney worked at Benson Zion & Associates in Haverford for a year and then joined the Superior Court of Pennsylvania as a Staff Lawyer.[2]  In 1983, Kenney joined the Law Office of Boardman and Schermer in Philadelphia.  After six years there, Kenney started his own law practice in Upper Darby.[3]

In 1992, Kenney joined O’Donnell & Kenney as a named partner.  In 1996, he left the position to become an Assistant County Solicitor in Media, Pennsylvania.[4]  In 1998, Kenney was elected to be County Sheriff for Delaware County.[5]

In 2003, Democratic Governor Ed Rendell appointed Kenney to the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas.[6]  Kenney served as President Judge of the Court from 2012 to 2017 and still serves as a Judge today.

History of the Seat

Kenney has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  This seat opened on January 11, 2016, when Judge L. Felipe Restrepo was elevated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.  While the seat opened with a year left in President Obama’s second term, no nomination was ever made to fill the seat.

After reaching out to Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-PA), Kenney interviewed for a judgeship with Toomey and his staff in February 2017.[7]  Kenney then interviewed with Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) in April 2017 and with the White House in May.[8]  President Trump announced Kenney’s nomination to the vacancy on December 20, 2017.[9]

Jurisprudence

From 2003, Kenney has served as a Judge on the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, which is the primary trial courts in Pennsylvania.  As a Judge, Kenney presided over cases in civil and criminal matters, as well as domestic relations, juvenile, and family law matters.  Over the last fifteen years, Kenney has presided over approximately 150 jury trials.[10]

Charter School Funding

In 2015, newly elected Democratic Governor Tom Wolf created a new funding formula for charter schools in the state, one that critics suggested was intended to shut down the schools.[11]  The new funding plan set a uniform funding rate for charter schools based on the number of students served.[12]  Based in part on the formula and seeking to resolve a budget crisis, Wolf attempted to cut the tuition payments paid by the Chester Upland School District to charter schools.[13]  However, Kenney refused to approve the cut, instead rejecting Wolf’s plan and requiring the School District to continue to fully fund charter schools.[14]

Public Defender “Punishment”

In 2013, Joseph De Ritis, a recently-terminated Delaware County public defender, filed a lawsuit naming Kenney as one of the defendants.  The lawsuit claimed that Kenney had conspired by Douglas Roger, the head of the defender’s office to fire De Ritis for not pressuring his clients to accept plea deals rather than take cases to trial.[15]  De Ritis based his claim on the hearsay statement that Kenney thought that De Ritis was not moving his cases quickly enough.[16]  Kenney was ultimately dropped from the lawsuit by Judge Cynthia Rufe in 2016.[17]

Reversals

Over his fifteen years on the bench, Kenney’s rulings have been reversed by higher courts five times.  Of these reversals, the most significant is in Commonwealth v. Goldsborough.[18]  In that case, Kenney granted a defendant’s motion to suppress all evidence from his arrest, finding that the police lacked probable cause to detain the defendant.[19]  The Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed the decision, finding that probable cause existed for the detention.[20]

Political Activity

Before he became a judge, Kenney was an elected Sheriff in Delaware County where he was supported by the Pennsylvania Republican Party.[21]  Kenney also served as Pennsylvania State Republican Committee member from 1996 and 2003.[22]  He also donated in support of Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter (a liberal Republican who later switched parties to become a Democrat).[23]

Overall Assessment

For the most part, close cooperation between Toomey and Casey on judicial nominations have spared Pennsylvania nominees the controversy that other states have drawn.  Toomey supported the renomination of two Obama nominees, for example, who did not receive votes in 2016.  Kenney, whose nomination was a product of this cooperation, also looks likely to receive a comfortable conformation.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Chad F. Kenney Jr.: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 3.

[3] Id. at 2-3.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at 3.

[6] Id. at 1.

[7] Id. at 43.

[8] Id.

[9] Press Release, White House, President Donald J. Trump Announces Ninth Wave of Judicial Candidates and Tenth Wave of United States Attorney Nominees (December 20, 2017) (on file at https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office).  

[10] See Kenney, supra n. 1 at 20.

[11] Jan Murphy, Charter School Advocates Think Gov. Tom Wolf Is Out to Shut Their Schools Down, Penn Live, Mar. 4, 2015, http://www.pennlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/03/charter_school_advocates_think.html.  

[12] See id.

[13] Mari A. Schaefer and Caitlin McCabe, Judge Rejects Wolf Challenge to Charter Funding, Philadelphia Inquirer, Aug. 26, 2015.

[14] Id. 

[15] Julie Zauzmer, Ex-Delco Defender: Fired Over Lack of Plea Deals, Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 5, 2013.

[16] See id.

[17] Alex Rose, Judge Dropped as Defendant in Wrongful Firing Lawsuit, Delaware County Daily Times, Mar. 2, 2016, http://www.delcotimes.com/article/DC/20160302/NEWS/160309905.

[18] 31 A.3d 299 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2011).

[19] See id. at 304.

[20] Id. at 308.

[21] See Nancy Petersen, Sanchez Likely As County’s First Hispanic Judge, Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 5, 1997.

[22] See Kenney, supra n. 1 at 36.

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