Judge Thomas Barber – Nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida

A well-respected state court judge in Florida, Judge Thomas Barber is a fairly uncontroversial choice for the federal bench.

Background

Thomas Patrick Barber was born on December 1, 1966 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Barber graduated from the University of Florida in 1989 and from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1992.[1]  After graduating, Barber joined the Tampa office of Carlton Fields P.A. as an Associate.

In 1997, Barber became a state prosecutor at the State’s Attorney’s Office, and, after two years, became an Assistant Statewide Prosecutor with the Florida Attorney General’s Office.[2]  In 2000, Barber moved back to Carlton Fields, becoming a Partner in 2002.[3]

In 2004, Barber was appointed to be a County Court Judge for the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit.[4]  He was elevated to be a Circuit Judge in 2008.  He still holds the judgeship.

History of the Seat

Barber has been nominated to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.  This seat opened on August 29, 2017, when Judge James Whittemore moved to senior status.

Barber was one of four finalists nominated for this court by the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) set up by Florida Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio.[5]  Barber was formally nominated on May 7, 2018.

Legal Experience

Barber has spent his entire pre-bench career either at the firm of Carlton Fields or as a state prosecutor.  Over the course of his career, Barber has tried approximately seventy cases, including approximately twenty jury trials.[6]

Among the highlights of his career, Barber helped prosecute the leaders of a theft ring that stole baby formula from Florida drug stores for resale in Texas.[7]  The case, which ended with a 76-month prison sentence for the ringleader, revealed links between the operation and the funding for the 1993 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center.[8]  In other matters, Barber represented a whistleblower who uncovered numerous improprieties at the Florida Department of Health & Rehabilitative Services[9] and represented a family in supporting an elderly patient’s right not to receive skin graft procedures in accordance with her living will.[10]

Judicial Experience

Barber served as a County Judge in Florida from 2004 to 2008 and has served as a Circuit Judge since 2008.  In this role, Barber handles civil cases involving more than $15000 and felony prosecutions.  Over the course of his career, Barber has handled approximately 700 cases.[11]  Among his more prominent cases, Barber ruled that the new Florida “stand your ground” law could not apply to cases currently pending when the law passed.[12]

Over the course of his judicial career, Barber has been reversed approximately thirteen times.  For example, Barber was reversed in two cases for granting motions to dismiss on behalf of criminal defendants.[13]

In one notable case, Barber granted a motion to suppress evidence, finding that the warrant was based on information based on an officer’s nonconsensual entry into a backyard.[14]  The Florida Court of Appeals for the Second District reversed, finding that the affidavit supporting the warrant still met the probable cause requirement without the officer’s personal observations.[15]

Overall Assessment

Looking at Barber’s record overall, senators are unlikely to find his nomination controversial.  His judicial record reflects a relatively low rate of reversal and does not suggest a bias towards either prosecutors and defendants.

However, Barber was among a group of nominees who received his hearing during the October recess, when Democrats were not present.  As such, unless Barber is given a second hearing, he may get some votes against him from Democrats who are protesting their lack of input in the confirmation process.  Barber may also receive questions regarding his ruling limiting the scope of Florida’s “stand your ground” law and for his work representing an elderly woman’s “right to die.”

Nevertheless, Barber faces a strong likelihood of a bipartisan support next year, and will likely be confirmed in due course.

 


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 114th Cong., Thomas P. Barber: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at 46.

[6] See id. at 36.

[7] William R. Levesque, 3 Receive Probation in Baby Formula Theft Ring, St. Petersburg Times, Aug. 25, 1999.

[8] See Barber, supra n. 1 at 37.

[9] See Irven v. Dep’t of Health & Rehab. Servs., Case No. GC-G-95-2652 (Fla. Cir. Ct. 1997).

[10] See In re Rosemary Frost, Case No. 2001-1954 (Fla. Cir. Ct. 2001).

[11] See Barber, supra n. 1 at 14. 

[12] State v. Smith, 16-CF-007477 (Fla. Cir. Ct. 2017).

[13] See State v. Ramirez, 198 So.3d 52 (Fla. App. 2d. 2015); State v. Codore, 59 So.3d 1200 (Fla. App. 2d. 2011).

[14] State v. Rodriguez, 56 So. 3d 848 (Fla. Ct. App. 2d. 2011).

[15] See id.

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