Judge Matthew McFarland – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio

A longtime Ohio state court judge, Matthew McFarland has drawn the support of home-state senator Sherrod Brown despite his strongly conservative background.

Background

A native Ohioan, McFarland was born in Portsmouth in 1967.[1]  McFarland received a B.A. from Capital University in 1989 and his J.D. from Capital University Law School in 1992.[2]  Following his graduation, McFarland worked as an Associate with the Faulkner Law Office in Wheelersburg and as Assistant City Solicitor for the City of Portsmouth.

In 1994, McFarland became a state prosecutor, working first for the Licking County Prosecutor’s Office and then for the Scioto County Prosecutor’s Office, as well as working for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office as a Special Counsel and as a solo practitioner.[3]

From 1999 to 2004, McFarland worked as a Magistrate in the Scioto County Common Pleas Court.[4]  In 2004, he was elected as a Republican to the Fourth District Court of Appeals, where he still serves.

History of the Seat

McFarland has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.  This seat was vacated on June 30, 2017, when Judge Thomas Rose moved to senior status.  McFarland applied with a selection commission put together by Ohio Senators Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and Rob Portman, a Republican.[5]  McFarland interviewed with the Commission in late August of 2017, and was recommended to the White House by the senators in September.[6]  He was nominated in November 2018.  

Legal Experience

While McFarland started his career in civil practice, he primarily worked as a state prosecutor before he joined the bench.  By his own account, McFarland tried four cases to verdict as lead counsel and an additional five as co-counsel.  Interestingly, the three most significant cases that McFarland has tried, by his own account, all ended in “Not Guilty” verdicts on behalf of the defendants.[7]

Jurisprudence

Since 2004, McFarland has served as a judge on the Fourth District Court of Appeals in Ohio, which covers much of Southern Ohio.  In that capacity, McFarland sits on three judge panels in reviewing appeals from Ohio’s trial courts.

Among his more notable rulings, McFarland overruled a district court judge and held that parents had no obligation to pay for their adult children’s legal expenses, and thus finding that an adult could be found to be indigent even where their parents could pay their legal fees.[8]  In another case, McFarland dissented from a Fourth District decision overturning Bryan Martin’s conviction of robbery for lack of sufficient evidence.[9]

Political Activity

McFarland has a few donations of record, all to Ohio Republicans.[10]  In addition, McFarland has been a member of many conservative organizations, including the Federalist Society, the National Rifle Association, and the Scioto County Right to Life.[11]

Overall Assessment

Despite a fairly conservative jurisprudential record and a Republican background, McFarland has secured the support of Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown.  As such, he remains favored to win confirmation before the full Senate.


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

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at 49.

[6] See id.

[7] See State v. Barnett, Scioto County Common Pleas Court Case No. 93CR6, 1/11/93; State v. Blanton, Scioto County Common Pleas Court Case No. 93CR307, 10/4/93; State v. Cheatwood, Jr., Jackson County Common Pleas Court Case No. 92CR10.

[8] Ohio: Judges Rule Parents Don’t Have to Pay Adult Child’s Legal Fees, U.S. Official News, Sept. 10, 2013.

[9] See Amber Gillenwater, Bidwell Man Released Following Overturned Conviction, Gallipolis Daily Tribune, Apr. 5, 2012.

[11] See McFarland, supra n. 1 at 7-8.

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