Judge Karin Immergut – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon

Judge Karin Immergut has built a largely mainstream record as a state court judge in Oregon and has the support of her Democratic home-state senators.  Nevertheless, her involvement in working under former Independent Counsel Ken Starr as well as questions raised from her tenure as U.S. Attorney may cause her heartburn in the confirmation process.

Background

Karen Johanna Immergut was born on December 22, 1960 in Brooklyn, NY.  Immergut graduated from Amherst University in 1982 and then worked for two years with the New York City Department of Juvenile Justice and Corrections.[1]  She then received her law degree from the University of California Boalt Hall School of Law in 1987.[2]

After graduation, Immergut spent a year working as a litigation associate at Covington & Burling in Washington D.C.  She then joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California as an Assistant U.S. Attorney.[3]  In 1992, she was designated Deputy Chief of the Narcotics Section.

In 1994, she left to join Gravel & Shea’s Burlington, Vermont office as a litigation associate.  She then joined the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office in 1996.[4]  In 1998, Immergut left for a brief stint working under Independent Counsel Ken Starr on the Monica Lewinsky investigation (working alongside now Justice Brett Kavanaugh).[5]  She returned to Multnomah County after the investigation.

In 2001, Immergut joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon as an Assistant U.S. Attorney.[6]  In 2003, President George W. Bush appointed her to be U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon, replacing Michael Mosman, who had been appointed to the federal bench.[7]

In 2008, when Judge Garr King moved to senior status, Republican Sen. Gordon Smith recommended Immergut to fill the vacancy.[8]  Ultimately, Immergut was not selected and Bush chose Washington County Circuit Judge Marco Hernandez to fill the seat on July 23, 2008.  With Hernandez’s nomination coming late in the Presidency, it never received a hearing or a vote in the Democratic Senate.  Hernandez was ultimately renominated for the vacancy by President Obama, and confirmed at that time.

In 2009, Immergut resigned as U.S. Attorney after the election of Barack Obama to the presidency.  She was appointed by Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski to be Multnomah County Circuit Judge in 2009, where she currently serves.[9]

History of the Seat

Immergut has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon.  This seat opened on July 27, 2017, when Judge Anna J. Brown moved to senior status.

In October 2017, Immergut applied for the judgeship with a selection committee put together by Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley.[10]  She then interviewed with the committee in January 2018 and was selected as a finalist for the District Court, alongside three other candidates in February.[11]  Immergut interviewed with the White House Counsel’s Office in February 2018.[12]  President Trump nominated her on June 6, 2018.

Legal Career

Immergut has had a fairly varied career, including working in private practice, and as a state and federal prosecutor.  However, the two highlights of her career before joining the bench are her role in the Monica Lewinsky investigation and her tenure as U.S. Attorney.

Ken Starr

In 1998, Immergut served under Independent Counsel Ken Starr in the Monica Lewinsky investigation .  Specifically, Immergut conducted the deposition of Monica Lewinsky, where Lewinsky detailed the sexual relationship between herself and President Bill Clinton.[13]  Immergut also worked alongside Justice Brett Kavanaugh.  Shortly after her tenure, Immergut defended the Independent Counsel law (now expired) as a powerful tool to ensure that crimes committed by the President can be investigated.[14]

U.S. Attorney

Immergut served as U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon between 2003 and 2009.  Notably, Immergut investigated Brandon Mayfield, an Oregon attorney and convert to Islam who was jailed after his fingerprints were erroneously matched to the Madrid bombing.[15]  Mayfield argued that his imprisonment was based on his religion.[16]  Immergut denied that Mayfield’s religion played any role in the investigation, but an FBI internal report found that Mayfield’s Muslim faith had contributed to the investigation and that this was acknowledged by both FBI and DOJ officials.[17]

Jurisprudence

Immergut has served as a Circuit Court Judge since her appointment in 2009.  In this role, she serves as a primary trial judge, supervising criminal and civil cases.  Over the last nine years, Immergut has presided over approximately 250 cases.[18]  Among her more notable decisions, Immergut sentenced a man convicted of forcing disabled women to 190 months of incarceration,[19] sentenced a grandfather for sexually abusing his five-year-old granddaughter,[20] and, in a bench trial, found that a defendant who poses as a magazine salesman to rape his victim was not guilty of attempted murder where there was little evidence that the defendant intended to kill his victim.[21]

Political Activity

Early in her career, Immergut was a registered Democrat.[22]  She re-registered as an Independent shortly before going to work for Starr, and then became a Republican in 2001 around the time she joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office.[23]  She has been described as a “moderate, pro-choice Republican.”[24]

Immergut has a fairly limited political donation history, having donated $300 to Smith in 2002, and, as a sitting state judge, having given $750 to Rep. Susan Brooks in the 2011-12 cycle.[25]

Overall Assessment

As a nominee, Immergut is a study in contradictions.  On one side, she has the strong support of her Democratic home state senators, was appointed to the state bench by a Democratic Governor, and has a long history as a Democrat.  On the other hand, Immergut was intimately involved in the Lewinsky investigation, and has been accused of prosecuting a Muslim attorney based on his religion.  Overall, while Immergut remains a favorite to be confirmed, she may draw more controversy than a shallow look at her record would suggest.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Karen Immergut: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 2.

[2] Id. at 1.

[3] Id. at 2.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] See James Gordon Meek, Mull Bill Prober for Fed Bench, New York Daily News, June 6, 2003.

[8] James Pitkin, Judgement Call: Gordon Smith’s Choice for a Plum Federal Court Job May Be in Trouble. Hint: It Has More than a Little to do with Monica Lewisnky, Willamette Week, January 15, 2008, https://www.wweek.com/portland/article-8295-judgment-call.html.

[9] Bryan Denson, U.S. Attorney Lands Job as Oregon Circuit Judge, The Oregonian, May 9, 2009, https://www.oregonlive.com/news/index.ssf/2009/05/us_attorney_lands_job_as_orego.html.  

[10] Immergut, supra n. 1 at 68-69.

[11] Nigel Jaquiss, Oregon Senators on a Collision Course with White House Over Openings on Federal Courts, Willamette Week, Feb. 12, 2018, https://www.wweek.com/news/2018/02/12/oregons-senators-on-a-collision-course-with-white-house-over-openings-on-federal-courts/.

[12] See Immergut, supra n. 1 at 26.

[13] Body of Evidence, Monica Talks to the Grand Jury, New York Daily News, Sept. 22, 1998 (detailing deposition transcript).

[14] MetNews Staff Writer, Starr Aides Tell Attorneys Independent Counsel Law Should Be Renewed, Deny Involvement in Leaks, Metropolitan News Enterprise, Feb. 8, 1999.

[15] See Sarah Kershaw and Eric Lichtblau, Bomb Case Against Lawyer is Rejected, N.Y. Times, May 25, 2004.

[16] See FBI Apologizes to Detained Attorney, York Dispatch, May 25, 2004.

[17] See Dan Eggen, Report Links Lawyer’s Religion to FBI’s Zeal, Wash. Post, Jan. 7, 2006.

[18] See Immergut, supra n. 1 at 40.

[19] State v. Paye, No.15CR50132 (Cir. Ct. Multnomah Cty).

[20] State v. Saunders, No. 14CR20839 (Cir. Ct. Multnomah Cty).

[21] State v. Washington, No. 0904-31605 (Cir. Ct. Multnomah Cty), aff’d, 337 P.3d 859 (2014), rev. denied, 345 P.3d 456 (2015).

[22] Bryan Denson, U.S. Attorney Lands Job as Oregon Circuit Judge, The Oregonian, May 9, 2009, https://www.oregonlive.com/news/index.ssf/2009/05/us_attorney_lands_job_as_orego.html.  

[23] See id.

[24] Id.

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