Judge Mark Pittman – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas

A young state court judge with a conservative pedigree, Judge Mark Pittman is right out of central casting for the Trump Administration in its judicial nominees.

Background

A native Texan, Mark Timothy Pittman was born in Big Spring in 1975.  Pittman attended Texas A&M University, receiving his Bachelor of Arts magna cum laude in 1996 and a Juris Doctor from the University of Texas School of Law in 1999.  After graduating from law school, Pittman clerked for Judge Eldon Brooks Mahon on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas and then joined the Fort Worth office of Kelly, Hart and Hallman LLP as an associate.[1]

In 2004, Pittman joined the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Division in Washington D.C. as a Trial Attorney.  In 2007, he returned to Texas as a federal prosecutor.  In 2009, Pittman joined the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in Dallas as a Senior Attorney and in 2011, moved to the Securities and Exchange Commission as an Enforcement Attorney (from 2014 to 2015, he also served as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney (SAUSA) in the U.S. Attorney’s Office).[2]

In 2015, outgoing Gov. Rick Perry appointed Pittman to serve as a District Judge on the 352d District in Texas.  Pittman won re-election in 2016 unopposed as a Republican.  In 2017, Gov. Greg Abbott appointed Pittman to the Texas Second District Court of Appeals, where he won re-election, unopposed, in 2018, and where he currently serves.

History of the Seat

Pittman has been nominated to fill a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.  The Northern District is facing a high level of turnover, with five nominees currently pending before the Senate.  The high level of vacancies have been exacerbated by the Republican Senate’s failure to confirm three Obama nominations to the Northern District in the 114th Congress.

The vacancy Pittman has been nominated to fill opened on October 9, 2018, when Judge John McBryde moved to senior status.  McBryde himself replaced Judge Mahon, and, as such, if confirmed, Pittman would fill the seat of his once-boss.

Legal Experience

Pittman has had a varied legal career, having worked in six different positions in the approximately 15 years of pre-bench legal work.  Overall, Pittman primarily focused on prosecuting securities and economic crimes, including at the SEC, the FDIC, and at the U.S. Attorney’s Office.  Pittman has tried 11 cases including a three-week long bench trial on a discrimination claim against the Federal Aviation Commission.[3]

In other notable cases, Pittman led investigations that led to prosecutions of an individual defrauding seniors in real estate investments,[4] and a defendant who created straw men to run an oil-and-gas Ponzi scheme.[5]

Jurisprudence

Pittman served as a state district judge from 2015 to 2017 and as an appellate judge since 2017.  In the former position, Pittman presided over approximately 75 trials among approximately 1000 cases.  Among the cases he handled, Pittman faced a motion to dismiss a tort claim brought against the University of North Texas Health Science Center.[6]  The issue was whether the hospital had adequately received notice under Texas law within six months of the underlying incident.  Pittman ruled that notes made in the hospital records reflected the hospital’s notice of potential tort claims.  However, this ruling was overturned by the Court of Appeals, who instructed Pittman to dismiss the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.[7]

As an appellate judge, Pittman has generally maintained a conservative record.  For example, in one case, Pittman found that a $10,000 fine assessed by a jury could still be assessed against a defendant where the judge left the fine out of his oral pronouncement.[8]  In dissent, Judge Elizabeth Kerr, a fellow Republican, noted that there was no “ambiguity” where a judge did not pronounce a fine at sentencing.[9]

However, in another case, Pittman affirmed the trial court grant of a motion to suppress a traffic stop based solely on information from the state vehicle insurance database, finding that the trial court had correctly credited testimony regarding the high incidence of error in the database.[10]

Political Activity

Pittman is a Republican who has run for judicial elections as such.  Before he joined the bench, Pittman volunteered with many Texas Republican campaigns, including those of then Governor George Bush, then Senator Phil Gramm, and then Attorney General Greg Abbott.[11]  Pittman is also a Founding Member of the Tarrant County chapter of the Federalist Society.[12]

Overall Assessment

Given the strong concern raised by many Democrats towards participation in the Federalist Society, it is unlikely that Pittman’s involvement with the group will be seen as a positive.  However, setting that aside, Pittman’s record as a judge is that of a mainstream conservative.  As such, while Pittman may not see a bipartisan confirmation, he is unlikely to be a nominee who is fought particularly aggressively.


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

[2] Id.

[3] See Bland v. LaHood, 2010 WL 1328148 (N.D. Tex. Jan. 8, 2010).

[4] United States v. Battie, 3:16-cr-00051-D-1 (N.D. Tex.).

[5] Securities and Exchange Commission v. Halek, et al., 3:14-cv-01106-D (N.D. Tex.).

[6] University of North Tex. Health Science Cntr. v. Jimenez, 2017 WL 3298396 (Tex. App-Fort Worth, pet. Filed Sept. 15, 2017).

[7] See id.

[8] Ette v. State, 551 S.W.3d 783, 789-91 (Tex. App. 2017).

[9] Id. at 797-98 (J. Kerr, dissenting).

[10] See State v. Binkley, 541 S.W.3d 923 (Tex. App. 2018).

[11] See Pittman, supra n. 1 at 28-29.

[12] See Press Release, Office of Governor Greg Abbott, Governor Abbott Appoints Pittman to Second Court of Appeals (Jan. 6, 2017) (available at https://gov.texas.gov/news/post/governor_abbott_appoints_pittman_to_second_court_of_appeals).  

1 Comment

  1. “Given the strong concern raised by many Democrats towards participation in the Federalist Society, it is unlikely that Pittman’s involvement with the group will be seen as a positive”
    Yes, yes, yes. It must be very irksome to have a republican president nominate some one with a strong, well established, well defined *conservative* judicial philosophy to serve as a judge in a state with two republican senators. Obviously only democrats should be able to emphasize political reliability when they are nominating and confirming judges.
    You know, I’m pretty sure there are a good number of people for whom Pittman’s involvement with the Federalist Society *will* be a good thing.

    Like

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