Judge Robert Colville – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania

When the Obama Administration ended, four district court nominees in Pennsylvania were left unconfirmed before the Republican Senate.  With the nomination of Judge Robert Colville to the Western District, all four have now been renominated by President Trump.

Background

A Western Pennsylvania native, Colville was born in Pittsburgh in 1965, the son of Robert E Colville.[1]  The senior Colville was a longtime Alleghany County District Attorney and Pennsylvania Judge.  The younger Colville attended Pennsylvania State University, graduating with a B.A. in 1989.  Colville went on to get a Juris Doctor from Duquesne University School of Law.[2]

After graduating, Colville clerked for Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Ralph Cappy and then joined the Pittsburgh Office of Pietragallo Bosick & Gordon as an Associate.

In 2000, Colville became a judge on the Court of Common Pleas for Alleghany County.[3]   Colville continues to serve in that position today.

On July 30, 2015, President Obama nominated Colville to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania to fill a vacancy opened by the death of Judge Gary Lancaster.  Colville received a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee but was never voted out by the Committee, where Republican Senators objected to Colville’s answers relating to Roe v. Wade and abortion rights.[4]

History of the Seat

As noted above, Colville’s nomination to the Lancaster seat on the Western District of Pennsylvania stalled in the Obama Administration.  President Trump chose not to renominate Colville to that seat, instead choosing another failed Obama nominee, Judge Marilyn Horan, who was confirmed.

Nevertheless, in August 2018, the White House reached out to Colville to vet him for a federal judgeship.[5]  Colville was nominated on March 5, 2019 for a seat that opened on January 1, 2018, with the move to senior status of Judge Arthur Schwab.

Legal Experience

From 1994 to 1999, Colville worked as an associate and a partner at Pietragallo Bosick & Gordon in Pittsburgh.  At the firm, Colville tried approximately four cases in Pennsylvania state court, focusing on general civil litigation.[6]  Among the most significant matters that Colville handled at the firm, he represented Universal Underwriters, an insurance company, in defending against a reimbursement action before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.[7]

Jurisprudence

Colville has served as a state court judge in Alleghany County since 2000.  He spent his first two years in the Juvenile Division, the third year in the Family Division, and has been with the Civil Division since 2003.[8]  Colville has presided over around 400 civil trials.[9]

Among his more prominent cases, Colville presided over a medical malpractice case arising from the death of a patient from a perforated bowel.[10]  In another notable case, Colville presided over a $5.7 million verdict for the plaintiff in a medical malpractice case where a patient was not adequately screened for liver cancer and died as a result.[11]

Political Activity

Colville comes from a prominent Western Pennsylvania Democratic family and has only one donation of record, a $600 contribution to the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.[12]

Overall Assessment

As noted before, any nominee found worthy of nomination by two administrations of different political parties is likely to be fairly uncontroversial.  While Colville has bipartisan support, however, he is nonetheless likely to draw some opposition.  His initial nomination failed to make it out of Committee due to his (perceived) support for abortion rights, and his second nomination has already drawn Republican opposition.  None of this is to say that Colville will not be ultimately confirmed, but it does suggest that Colville will not attract the level of support that other Pennsylvania nominees have drawn.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Robert J. Colville: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] See id.

[3] See id. at 2.

[4] Philip Wegmann, After Facing Questions on Abortion, 2 Obama Judicial Nominees Fail to Advance, The Daily Signal, Jan. 29, 2016, https://www.dailysignal.com/2016/01/29/after-facing-questions-on-abortion-2-obama-judicial-nominees-fail-to-advance/.  

[5] See Colville, supra n. 1 at 60.

[6] See Colville, supra  n. 1 at 53-54.

[7] See State Farm Mutual Auto Ins. Co. v. Universal Underwriters, 701 A.2d 1330 (Pa. 1997).

[8] See Colville, supra n. 1 at 1-2.

[9] Id. at 25.

[10] See Cunning v. Ellwood City Hospital, No. GD12-020914, Alleghany Cnty., May 14, 2015 (trial date).

[11] See Kander v. Agha, No. GD 13-007761, Alleghany Cnty., Apr. 9, 2015 (jury verdict).

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