Judge Frank Volk – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia

Judge Frank Volk currently serves as the Chief U.S. Bankruptcy Judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.  He has been nominated to replace his former boss Judge John Copenhaver.

Background

A West Virginia native, Frank William Volk Jr. was born in Morgantown on November 10, 1965.  He graduated from West Virginia University in 1989 and received a Juris Doctor from the West Virginia University College of Law in 1992.[1]  After graduating from law school, Volk clerked for Judge Charles Haden on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, for Judge M. Blane Michael on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and for Justice Margaret Workman on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.[2]  After these positions, Volk joined Haden’s chambers as a Law Clerk, where he stayed for nine years.  He then moved to Judge John Copenhaver’s chambers, working as a Law Clerk there between 2004 and 2015.[3] 

In 2015, Volk was selected to be a federal bankruptcy judge, holding that position to the present.

History of the Seat

Volk has been nominated to fill a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.  The seat opened on November 1, 2018, when Judge John Copenhaver moved to senior status.[4]  In June 2018, Volk sent his resume to West Virginia Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Joe Manchin (D-WV).[5]  After interviews with Capito, Manchin, and the White House, Volk was nominated on April 4, 2019.

Legal Experience/Jurisprudence

Volk has spent virtually his entire pre-bench legal career as a career law clerk, working for many of West Virginia’s most prominent jurists.  Notably, Volk worked for both Democrats, such as Michael and Workman, and Republicans, such as Haden and Copenhaver.  As such, he had significant experience in the workings of the court by the time he was appointed to the bench in 2015.  As a U.S. Bankruptcy Judge, Volk reviews federal bankruptcy filings and proceedings.  By his own account, Volk has presided over 6000 cases and over 3000 hearings.[6]  However, he has not presided over any trials.[7]

Notably, Volk presided over the bankruptcy and sale of the Charles Gazette-Mail, organizing the sale of the newspaper.[8]  He also approved the sale of the newspaper to H.D. Media, a Huntingdon based media company.[9]  In doing so, he rejected a rival bid from Ogden Newspapers, which announced that they did not wish to pursue the sale but did not formally withdraw their bid.[10]

Overall Assessment

It is not common to appoint U.S. Bankruptcy Judges to lifetime appointments.  It is also unusual to appoint career law clerks to the federal bench.  However, as a career law clerk who then became a bankruptcy judge, Volk brings a particularly unique resume for a lifetime appointment.  Strictly speaking, Volk should have little trouble being confirmed to the bench as he has the strong support of his home-state senators and a relatively uncontroversial record.  

The only hiccup, if any, may arise from his lack of litigation experience.  As Volk has acknowledged, his time as a career law clerk precluded him from the practice of law.  As such, Volk has never tried cases or even appeared as counsel of record throughout the bulk of his legal career.

Nevertheless, senators may find that Volk’s long experience working with Judge Haden and Copenhaver would more than make up for this lack of practice.  As such, this lack of litigation experience is unlikely to hamper Volk through the confirmation process.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Frank Volk: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] See id. at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] Judge Copenhaver was the last active district judge in the country appointed by President Gerald Ford.

[5] See Volk, supra n. 1 at 42.

[6] Id. at 9.

[7] Id.

[8] See Lacie Pierson, Judge Delays Ruling on Bidding Process for Gazette-Mail, Charleston Gazette-Mail, Feb. 1, 2018.

[9] Lacie Pierson, Judge Delays Ruling on Bidding Process for Gazette-Mail, Charleston Gazette-Mail, Mar. 10, 2018.

[10] Id.

Douglas Cole – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio

A former Ohio State Solicitor General and attorney in private practice, Douglas Cole would join the bench with over twenty years of practice experience.

Background

Cole was born in Janesville, WI in 1964.[1]  Cole received a B.A. from Ripon College in 1985, a B.S.E.E. from the University of Wisconsin College of Engineering in 1988 and his J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School in 1993.[2]  Following his graduation, Cole clerked for Judge Frank Easterbrook on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.[3]

After his clerkship, Cole joined the Chicago office of Kirkland & Ellis as an associate.  Cole left in 1997 to become a Visiting Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Oklahoma College of Law and then, in 1998, joined Zeiger & Carpenter in Columbus as Of Counsel.[4]

In 2000, Cole became an Assistant Professor of Law at the Ohio State University Moritz School of Law.[5]  In 2003, he left when he was appointed State Solicitor General in Ohio.  Cole left the Solicitor General’s Office in 2006 when the Attorney General’s Office was taken over by Democrats, and joined the Columbus office of Jones Day as a Partner.[6]  In 2011, Cole left to become a Partner at Organ Cole in Columbus, where he still needs.

History of the Seat

Cole has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.  This seat was vacated on May 31, 2018, when Judge Sandra Dlott moved to senior status.  However, he previously interviewed with the White House in 2017 in connection with the vacancy created by Judge Gregory Frost’s retirement.[7]  That seat was ultimately filled by Judge Sarah Morrison.

Cole reapplied for the Dlott vacancy with a selection commission put together by Ohio Senators Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and Rob Portman, a Republican.[8]  Cole interviewed with the Commission in late August of 2018, and with Portman in September.[9]  He was nominated in May 2019.  

Legal Experience

Cole has fairly extensive experience with litigation, having worked both in private practice and as Ohio’s Solicitor General.  Cole has practiced in state and federal court through his career, having tried eleven cases to verdict.[10] 

Private Practice

At the firms of Kirkland & Ellis, Zeiger & Carpenter, Jones Day, and Organ Cole, Cole has primarily worked in commercial litigation.  Notably, Cole represented Uber in a suit seeking to allow the company to operate in Hillsborough County.[11]  He also represented ProMedica in a suit seeking to invalidate a Federal Trade Commission ruling undoing a hospital acquisition in Toledo.[12]

State Solicitor General

From 2003 to 2006, Cole served as Ohio’s Solicitor General, working under Republican Attorney General Jim Petro.  In this role, Cole argued five cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, winning three,[13] and losing two.[14]  The most notable of these cases was Cutter v. Wilkinson, in which Cole brought, on behalf of Ohio, a First Amendment challenge to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).[15]  In the challenge, Cole argued that RLUIPA, by requiring all restrictions on the religious rights of state prisoners to be justified by a “compelling state interest” elevated religion above nonreligion and violated the First Amendment.  The Court rejected this argument in a unanimous opinion by Justice Ginsburg.[16]

Political Activity

Cole has been a generous donor to Republicans over the last 10-12 years.[17]  Notably, Cole gave $10,000 to Sen. Ted Cruz’s campaign in 2012, and $7700 to Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel (who ran against Sen. Sherrod Brown in 2012).[18]

Overall Assessment

With over twenty years of practicing law, Cole certainly meets the base level of qualifications for the federal bench.  Overall, given the stamp of approval from Sen. Brown, Cole is favored to be confirmed before the end of the year.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Douglas R Cole: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. 

[3] Id. at 2.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id. 

[7] Id. at 36.

[8] Id. 

[9] See id.

[10] Id. at 18.

[11] See Hillsborough Cnty. PTC v. Uber Tech., Case No. 15-CA-3097 (Circuit Ct, Hillsborough Cnty., Florida).

[12] ProMedica Health Sys. v. FTC, 749 F.3d 559 (6th Cir. 2014).

[13] DaimlerChrysler Corp. v. Cuno, 547 U.S. 332 (2006) (holding that plaintiffs lack standing to challenge economic development plan by Ohio); Bradshaw v. Stumpf, 545 U.S. 175 (2005) (upholding guilty plea by Ohio inmate but reversing and remanding sentence); City of Littleton v. Z.J. Gifts D-4, LLC, 541 U.S. 774 (2004) (holding that due process rights of adult business barred from operating in Littleton was not violated).

[14] Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U.S. 709 (2005) (holding that the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act does not violate the First Amendment); Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74 (2004) (holding that prisoners may raise challenges to their parole hearings in a 1983 suit).

[15] Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U.S. 709 (2005).

[16] Id.

[18] Id.

Jennifer Philpott Wilson – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania

The scion of a well-established central Pennsylvania legal family, Jennifer Philpott Wilson has been nominated to fill a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

Background

Wilson was born Jennifer Marie Philpott in 1975 in Washington D.C..[1]  She was one of seven children born to Jerry and Sandra Philpott, with her father being a longtime attorney in central Pennsylvania.[2]  Wilson attended Swarthmore College, receiving a B.A. degree in 1997, and subsequently getting a law degree from Brooklyn Law School.[3]

After graduating, Wilson clerked for Judge Jon McCalla on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee and then for Judge Julio Fuentes on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.[4]  After her clerkships, Wilson worked as an Associate at Chadbourne & Parke LLP in New York City.  

In 2005, Wilson became a trial attorney with the Tax Division at the Department of Justice.[5]  She left in 2009 to join her father’s practice as a Partner in Duncannon, Pennsylvania, and still practices there.

History of the Seat

The seat Wilson has been nominated for opened on October 11, 2018, with the move to senior status of Judge Yvette Kane.  In July 2018, Wilson applied for a federal judgeship with the application committee set up by Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Pat Toomey (R-PA).[6]  Wilson was jointly recommended to the White House on February 13, 2019 and was nominated on May 3, 2019.[7] 

Legal Experience

Wilson started her career by working at Chadbourne & Parke LLP in New York City, where she worked on civil matters in New York courts.  Then, from 2005 to 2009, Wilson worked for the Tax Division with the Department of Justice.  During this time, Wilson represented the U.S. in a key case seeking unpaid taxes hidden behind “Son of BOSS” tax shelters.[8] 

Since 2009, Wilson has been a Partner with her father in Philpott Wilson, primarily practicing criminal defense.  Most notably, Wilson represented Mark Ciaverella, a Wilkes-Barre judge who was convicted for accepting kickbacks in exchange for sending children to private children’s detention facilities (“Kids for Cash”).[9]  Wilson succeeded in convincing Judge Christopher Conner to reverse three counts of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, and conspiracy on statute of limitations grounds.[10]

Writings

In 2000, as a law student, Wilson co-authored a note criticizing public entity lawsuits against tobacco and gun industries for harms resulting from their products.[11]  The note explains the legal basis for state claims against tobacco industries in the 1990s and the substantial settlements obtained therefrom.  It also criticizes such litigation by Attorneys General, arguing that legislation is a more appropriate avenue to regulate tobacco.[12]  It also suggests that such suits against the gun industry is “motivated more by the prospect of regulating the manufacturers and generating revenue through settlements than by a desire to redress past wrongs.”[13] All in all, the note is deeply critical of such lawsuits, and suggests that they be cut back in favor of legislative solutions.[14]

Political Activity 

Wilson had no noticeable political activity until 2018, when she gave $570 to the Republican Federal Committee of Pennsylvania.[15]  The same year, Wilson joined the Perry County Republican Committee.[16]  Interestingly, Wilson’s father, Jerry Philpott has donated consistently to Democrats, giving 31 contributions to Hillary Clinton and other Democrats since 2016.[17]

Overall Assessment

As most Pennsylvania district court nominees have generally been confirmed with bipartisan majorities, Wilson looks likely to do the same.  Nevertheless, she may attract some opposition based on her relative youth and her criticism of public entity lawsuits (a tactic generally supported across the aisle as a way to recover the costs of smoking).  Overall, given her support and endorsement by Republican Sen. Toomey and Democratic Sen. Casey, Wilson is unlikely to be considered controversial.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Jennifer Philpott Wilson: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] See Attorney Profile, Philpott Wilson LLP, http://philpottwilson.com/jerry-philpott/3687394.

[3] See Wilson, supra n. 1 at 1.

[4] Id. at 1-2.

[5] Id. at 2.

[6] See id. at 25-26.

[7] Id. at 26.

[8] See Jade Trading, LLC. v. United States, 80 Fed. Cl. 11 (2007).

[9] James Halpin, Ciavarella’s Trial Lawyers Admit Failing to Address Potential Key Issue, The Citizens’ Voice, Sept. 15, 2017.

[10] James Halpin, Judge Rules in Ciavarella’s Favor in Kids-For-Cash Appeal, The Citizens’ Voice, Jan. 8, 2018.

[11] Philip C. Patterson & Jennifer M. Philpott, In Search of a Smoking Gun: A Comparison of Public Entity Tobacco and Gun Litigation, 66 Brooklyn L. Rev. 549 (Summer/Fall 2000).

[12] See id. at 576-78.

[13] Id. at 602.

[14] See id. at 606-07.

[16] See Wilson, supra n. 1 at 12.