John Heil – Nominee to the Eastern, Northern, and Western Districts of Oklahoma

The Federal Courthouse in Lawton, Oklahoma

John O’Connor, a Tulsa based civil litigator in his 60s, was presumably considered a safe nominee when he was put forward in 2018 by the Administration.  However, questions were quickly raised about the nomination, including by the American Bar Association, and the nomination was withdrawn.  Now, his law partner John Heil has been nominated to fill the same vacancy.


John Frederick Heil III was born in Lima, Ohio, in 1968.  Heil received a B.A. from Oklahoma State University in 1990 and a J.D. from the University of Tulsa College of Law in 1994.[1]  After graduating, Heil joined Ronald D. Wood & Associates before moving to the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office as a state prosecutor.

In 2000, Heil joined the Tulsa office of Hall Estill Hardwick Gable Golden & Nelson P.C. as a Shareholder.  It is a position he currently holds.

History of the Seat

Heil has been nominated for the only judgeship in the country that traverses three districts: the Eastern, Northern, and Western Districts of Oklahoma.  Judge James Payne, who previously held this seat, moved to senior status on August 1, 2017.  On April 12, 2018, the Administration nominated John O’Connor, another partner at Hall Estill, to fill this vacancy.  However, O’Connor’s appointment took a setback when the ABA rated him unanimously unqualified, citing alleged ethical impropreities in his billing practices.[2]  In response, the White House withdrew O’Connor’s nomination.

Heil himself had been considered during the initial nomination process that produced O’Connor but was not selected.  In June 2019, Heil reinterviewed with Senators James Inhofe and James Lankford, and was recommended to the White House in August 2019.  Heil was ultimately nominated on December 2, 2019.  

Political Activity

Heil has made occasional political donations, giving $1500 to Republican congressional candidate Tim Harris, who was Heil’s former boss at the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office.[3] 

Legal Experience

Other than a short stint as a state prosecutor, Heil has spent his entire career in civil litigation, focusing on business litigation, employment, and intellectual property.  In his career, Heil has tried approximately 35 cases to verdict.[4] 

In his time at the Tulsa District Attorney’s Office, Heil handled drug, traffic, and violent crime cases, including the prosecution of Jared Henderson, a teenager who was charged with causing a fatal car wreck.[5]  He also prosecuted Robert Clark for deliberately running over a woman and killing her after a barroom argument.[6]

In his time in private practice, Heil represented a plaintiff injured after wind barriers were removed in her building, securing $1.2 million in damages for his client.[7]  He also secured $9 million in damages for his client in a contract dispute involving environmental restoration.[8] 

Overall Assessment

When O’Connor was nominated to this seat last year, we predicted a relatively painless confirmation given his age and level of experience.  His subsequent withdrawal reinforces the unpredictable nature of the confirmation process.  Nevertheless, Heil should feel fairly comfortable that, barring an unusual development, he will be on the federal bench in Oklahoma next year.

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

[2] Justin Wingerter, Federal Judge Nominee From Tulsa Has Bar Association Complaints, Was Sued By Client, The Oklahoman, Oct. 1, 2018,  

[4] See Heil, supra n. 1 at 14.

[5] See Teen-Ager Pleads Guilty to Causing Fatal Car Wreck, Daily Oklahoman, Nov. 3, 1998.

[6] See Jury Convicts Man Accused of Running Over Woman, A.P. State & Local Wire, May 21, 1999.

[7] Wilson v. University Mansion Ltd. Parntership, d/b/a University Club, et al., Case No. 17-CV-217 (N.D. Okla. 2017).

[8] OHM Remediation Srvs. Corp. v. Earth Tech, Inc., et al., Case No. 99-5029 (D.S.D. 2001).

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Sara Gideon: Washington’s COVID response has put partisan politics ahead of state, local needs - MetInfo

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