Kristi Haskins Johnson – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi

Correction: A previous version of this article misattributed an article on the Clean Water Act to Ms. Johnson.  The author of the article was a different Kristi Johnson.

Kristi Haskins Johnson served as Mississippi Solicitor General for a month before her appointment to the federal bench was announced, marking a remarkable rise for the 38-year old attorney.

Background

Kristi Haskins Johnson received her B.A. from the University of Mississippi in 2003 and her J.D. summa cum laude from the Mississippi College School of Law in 2008.  Johnson clerked for Judge Leslie Southwick on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and for Judge Sharion Aycock on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi.

In 2011, Johnson joined Ogletree Deakins as an associate.  She stayed until 2014, when she joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi as a federal prosecutor.  

In February 2020, Johnson was appointed by Attorney General Lynn Fitch to be Mississippi’s first Solicitor General, in which role she currently serves.

History of the Seat

Johnson has been nominated for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, most likely for the seat that opened on March 23, 2018, when Judge Louis Guirola took senior status.  The current nominee for the Guirola seat, Mississippi Court of Appeals Judge Cory Wilson, is being nominated for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Legal Experience

Johnson’s primary litigation experience is in private practice at Ogletree Deakins and at the U.S. Attorney’s Office as a federal prosecutor.  In the former position, Johnson notably argued before the Mississippi Supreme Court on behalf of the Sara Lee Bakery Group, appealing a decision ruling that the Group was required to pay unemployment taxes.[1]  The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled, in an opinion by Justice Josiah Coleman, that Sara Lee’s distributors were not employees and that an administrative decision to the contrary was not supported by substantial evidence.[2]  As such, the Court agreed with Johnson’s position.

As a federal prosecutor, Johnson has prosecuted fraud and financial crimes, among others.  For example, Johnson investigated Jackson State University’s management of grant money, resulting in an $1.17 million settlement.[3]  Johnson also worked with the Securities and Exchange Commission to prosecute a Ponzi scheme that defrauded consumers in Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi.[4]

Overall Assessment

Johnson has accomplished much in her fairly brief legal career and is obviously a talented and skilled attorney.  As such, while Johnson may draw some raised eyebrows such to her youth and nine years of practice experience, she is likely to still be confirmed comfortably to the federal bench.


[1] See Earthgrains Bakery Grp., Inc. v. Miss. Dep’t of Empl. Sec., 131 So. 3d 1163 (Miss. 2014).

[2] Id. at 1173.

[3] See Press Release, Office of the U.S. Attorney, Southern District of Missippi, Jackson State University Agrees to Pay $1.17 Million to Settle False Claims Act Allegations, Feb. 1, 2017.

[4] See Litigation Release, Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC Shuts Down $85M Ponzi Scheme and Obtains Asset Freeze, May 2, 2018.

[5] Kristi Johnson, The Mythical Giant: Clean Water Act Section 401 And NonPoint Source Pollution, 29 Envtl. L. 417 (Summer 1999).

[6] See id. at 435.

[7] See id. at 461.

Judge Cory Wilson – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Judge Cory Wilson, who currently serves on the Mississippi Court of Appeals, has his nomination pending before the Senate for a district court seat.  Now, Wilson, who has already attracted strong opposition, has been renominated to fill a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Background

Cory Todd Wilson was born on August 8, 1970, in Pascagoula, Mississippi.  After getting a B.A. summa cum laude from the University of Mississippi, Wilson received his J.D. from Yale Law School.[1]  Wilson then clerked for Judge Emmett Ripley Cox on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and then joined the Jackson office of Watkins Ludlam Winter & Stennis P.A.

In 2001, Wilson joined Bradley Arant Rose & White LLP as an associate.  He stayed until 2008, except for a year as a White House Fellow.[2]  In 2008, he joined the Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office as Chief of Staff/Deputy Secretary of State.  Wilson also served as Counsel for State Treasurer Lynn Fitch.  

In 2011, Wilson joined Heidelberg Steinberger Colmer & Burrow, P.A., where he stayed until his election to the Mississippi House of Representatives as a Republican in 2016.  Wilson served in the House until 2019, when he was appointed to the Mississippi Court of Appeals.

In 2018, Wilson broached his interest in a federal judgeship with the White House.  In November 2019, Wilson was nominated to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.  The seat opened on March 23, 2018, when Judge Louis Guirola took senior status.  

History of the Seat

Wilson has been nominated for a Mississippi seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.  This seat opened on October 3, 2017 with Judge E. Grady Jolly’s move to senior status.  

In April 2017, the White House began vetting U.S. District Court Judge Halil Ozerden for the vacancy.[3]  However, Ozerden’s nomination faced almost immediate pushback from conservatives who complained that Ozerden was insufficiently conservative for the seat.[4]  Nevertheless, Ozerden was finally nominated after the intervention of White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who served as a groomsman in Ozerden’s wedding.[5]

However, Ozerden’s nomination stalled as two Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee came out against his nomination.[6]  With Democrats unwilling to provide the votes to move Ozerden’s nomination, the nomination was not sent back to the Senate in 2020, and Wilson’s district court nomination was substituted instead.

Legal Experience

Before he joined the legislature, Wilson generally practiced civil litigation, albeit with some work with both the Secretary of State and the Treasurer of Mississippi.  Over the course of his career, Wilson has tried three cases to verdict.[7]  Notably, Wilson represented one of the defendants sued for allegedly engaging in a conspiracy to photograph Sen. Thad Cochran’s wife in order to damage his re-election campaign.[8]  Wilson was able to get the case against his client dismissed for failure to state a claim.[9]

Jurisprudence

Wilson has served on the Mississippi Court of Appeals since his appointment in February 2019.  In his time on the bench, Wilson has authored approximately twenty opinions, mostly on matters of criminal law.  For example, Wilson wrote for the Court in finding that the trial judge did not err in trying and convicting a defendant while he was not present, finding that the defendant was trying to willfully avoid trial.[10]  In contrast, in another case, Wilson reversed a conviction for possession of a controlled substance, finding that the indictment was defective.[11]

Political Activity

As noted earlier, Wilson was elected as a Republican to the Mississippi House of Representatives in 2015 and served until his appointment to the Court of Appeals in 2019.  Wilson also previously ran for the state legislature in 2007, albeit unsuccessfully.  During his campaign, Wilson identified himself as a “conservative consensus builder.”[12]  He also attacked his opponent for opposing the record of Gov. Haley Barbour,[13] crime policy,[14] and cuts in dyslexia funding.[15] 

In addition to his campaigns, Wilson has extensive involvement with the Mississippi Republican Party, including serving as a volunteer during many Republican campaigns and serving on Republican organizations.[16] 

Speeches and Writings

As both a state representative and as a private citizen, Wilson wrote frequently on the law and policy, generally representing a conservative perspective on both.  Wilson also authored a column at MageeNews.com, which he described as reflecting a conservative perspective.[17]  In a feature describing his column, Wilson describes himself as someone who has “always been political” and “always been a Republican.”[18]

Additionally, Wilson also maintains an active Twitter account.[19]  His tweets and his writings have already drawn sharp criticism from liberal groups.[20]  Specifically, Wilson has called for the reversal of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade,[21] and has referred to same-sex marriage as “a pander to liberal interest groups.”[22]  Similarly, Wilson has been sharply critical of the Affordable Care Act, describing the law’s passage as “perverse” and “illegitimate.”[23] 

On his Twitter account, Wilson’s tweets are generally innocuous, describing the weather or celebrating major American holidays.  However, some of the tweets touch on more controversial topics.  For example, in a tweet on October 5, 2018, Wilson praises Sen. Susan Collins for supporting the nomination of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, praising her for rejecting “ugly tactics employed by the Left.”[24]  Similarly, the day before the 2018 election, Wilson wrote that the election was a choice between “#RepublicanResults, or unhinged Dem #Resistance.”[25]

Overall Assessment

Given Wilson’s fairly conservative record, it is unsurprising that he has drawn controversy on his nomination and that his name has proceeded relatively slowly through the confirmation process.  That being said, given the Republican majority, Wilson is favored for confirmation.  Nonetheless, Democrats will raise legitimate questions as to Wilson’s willingness to consider with an open mind the legal arguments of parties he disagrees with.  As, by his own admission, Wilson has “always been political,” it’ll be up to him to convince senators that he will be open-minded as a judge.


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

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Ozerden: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 55-56.

[4] See Carrie Severino, Conservatives Voice Concerns Over Potential Fifth Circuit Nominee, Nat’l Review, Aug. 21, 2018, https://www.nationalreview.com/bench-memos/conservatives-voice-concerns-over-potential-fifth-circuit-nominee/.

[5] Eliana Johnson and Marianne Levine, Mulvaney Pushed Judicial Nominee Over Objections of White House Lawyers, Politico, June 13, 2019, https://www.politico.com/story/2019/06/13/mulvaney-halil-suleyman-fifth-circuit-1362794.

[6] Marianne Levine, Trump’s Embattled Judicial Pick Faces His Last Chance, Politico, Nov. 7, 2019, https://www.politico.com/news/2019/11/07/trump-judicial-pick-ozerden-last-chance-067097.  

[7] Id. at 72.

[8] See Mayfield v. Butler Snow LLP, 341 F. Supp. 3d 664 (S.D. Miss. 2018).

[9] Id.

[10] Morales v. State, 2019 WL 3562031 (Miss. Ct. App. Aug. 6, 2019).

[11] Payne v. State, 2019 WL 2511477 (Miss. Ct. App. June 18, 2019).

[12] See A Time For Choosing, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVYGAn5Ddkw.

[13] See id.

[14] Cory Wilson on Crime, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7MvqKGgcVVQ.

[15] Cory Wilson (Unaired), YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDp-wvvs9_A.

[16] See Wilson, supra n. 1 at 68-69.

[17] See Who is Cory Wilson, YouTube.com (available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZcTU6j7-5M).

[18] See id.

[19] See Cory Wilson (@CoryWilsonMS), https://twitter.com/CoryWilsonMS.

[20] See, e.g., Alliance for Justice, Report on Cory Wilson (available at https://afj.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Cory-Wilson-Report-Final-1.3.20.pdf).

[21] See Mississippi Right to Life Candidate Questionnaire, available at https://afj.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Wilson-Attachments-p489-493.pdf.

[22] Cory T. Wilson, When Tolerance Is Really ‘Zero Tolerance’, Press-Register, June 1, 2012, available at https://afj.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Wilson-Attachments-p200-201.pdf.

[23] Cory Wilson,  ACA: Big, Intrusive Government, Madison County Journal, Feb. 20, 2014, available at https://www.afj.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Wilson-Attachments-p76-77.pdf.  

Judge James Knepp – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio

As a longtime civil litigator and federal magistrate judge, Judge James Knepp is well-qualified for a federal trial level position, and is expected to receive a comfortable confirmation.

Background

A native Ohioan, James Ray Knepp II was born in Akron in 1964.  Knepp received his B.A. magna cum laude from Mt. Union College in 1986, an M.A. from the Bowling Green State University School of Mass Communication in 1987 and his J.D. from the University of Toledo College of Law in 1992.[1]  After law school, Knepp clerked for Judge John Potter on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.  

After his clerkship, Knepp joined Robison, Curphey & O’Connell, LLC in Toledo as an Associate.[2]  In 2000, he became a Partner with the firm.  

In 2010, Knepp was selected to be a U.S. Magistrate Judge with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. He continues to serve in that capacity today.

History of the Seat

Knepp has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.  This seat was vacated on July 1, 2019, when Judge Jack Zouhary moved to senior status.  In April 2019, Knepp applied for the judgeship with Senator Rob Portman (R-OH).[3]  Knepp interviewed before a bipartisan advisory committee set up by Portman and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in October 2019.[4]  After getting the Committee’s recommendation, Knepp interviewed with the White House and was nominated in February 2020.

Legal Experience

Before he joined the federal bench, Knepp practiced with Robison, Curphey & O’Connell, LLC in Toledo.  At the firm, Knepp worked in civil litigation, primarily representing defendants.  Throughout his career, Knepp handled approximately 25 jury trials.[5]

Knepp was particularly notable for representing railroads and transporation companies.  For example, Knepp represented the Norfolk Southern Railway in defending against a suit after one of their trains collided with a car and killed the plaintiff.[6]  The case ended with a jury verdict in favor of the railroad, and an unsuccessful appeal by the plaintiff.[7]

In other matters, Knepp represented Lucas County Republican Central Committee Chairman Douglas Haynam, who was seeking to block candidates from joining the Committee because, as he argued, they were not Republicans.[8]

Jurisprudence

Knepp has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio since his appointment in 2010.  In his ten years on the bench, Knepp has presided over 8 cases that went to verdict or judgment.[9]  Among his most notable cases, Knepp presided over a five-day jury trial regarding whether a school had discriminated against a teacher based on her disability when she was terminated.[10]  The case ended in a verdict for the plaintiff.

Overall Assessment

Knepp has little that should cause him trouble during his confirmation.  As a relatively uncontroversial nominee, he should be confirmed before the end of the year.


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

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id. at 50-51.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at 40.

[6] See Gilbert ex rel. Clore v. Norfolk Southern Ry., 2010 WL 2333773 (Ohio Ct. App. June 10, 2010).

[7] See id.

[8] See Alex M. Parker, GOP Central Committee Meeting Delayed By Judge, The Blade, Apr. 12, 2008.

[9] See Knepp, supra n. 1 at 17.

[10] Smith v. Perkins Bd. of Educ., Case No. 3:11-cv-560 (N.D. Ohio).

Judge Michael Newman – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio

A well-respected magistrate judge with bona fides on both sides of the political spectrum, Judge Michael Newman is Trump’s fourth nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.

Background

Michael Jay Newman was born in Somerville, New Jersey, in 1960.[1]  Newman received a B.F.A. from New York University in 1982 and his J.D. from American University Washington College of Law in 1989, after having spent three years as a screenwriter and filmmaker.[2]  After graduation, Newman became a clerk to Judge Jack Sherman, a U.S. Magistrate Judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, in whose chambers he stayed until 2003, barring a one-year stint clerking for Judge Nathaniel Jones on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.[3]

In 2003, Newman became an associate with Dinsmore & Shohl LLP in Cincinatti, becoming a Partner with the firm in 2006.[4]  In 2011, Newman was appointed to be a U.S. Magistrate Judge with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, where he has stayed since.

History of the Seat

Newman has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.  This seat was vacated on February 15, 2019, when Judge Michael Barrett moved to senior status.  Newman applied with a selection commission put together by Ohio Senators Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and Rob Portman, a Republican.[5]  Newman interviewed with the Commission on October 5 2019, and was recommended to the White House by the senators in November.[6]  He was nominated in February 2020.  

Legal Experience

Newman spent most of his pre-bench career as a law clerk, working in the chambers of Judges Jack Sherman and Nathaniel Jones.  From 2003 to 2011, Newman worked at Dinsmore & Shohl LLP, working on labor and employment, business, and appellate litigation.  In his time at the firm, Newman tried one case as lead counsel and one as associate counsel.[7]

Newman notably represented the Petitioner before the Supreme Court in CBOCS West, Inc. v. Humphries.[8]  While Newman did not argue the case, he participated in briefing and the Supreme Court ultimately sided with his position in a 7-2 opinion agreeing that plaintiffs could file suits under the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (Sec. 1981) alleging retaliation.[9]

Jurisprudence

Since 2011, Newman has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, which covers much of Southern Ohio.  In that capacity, Newman presides over misdemeanors and petty offenses, supervises discovery, and presides over civil matters where the parties consent to his jurisdiction.

Among his more notable rulings, Newman granted summary judgment to an employer, finding that a voluntary employment program allowing some customer service technicians to drive directly from their homes to customers did not discriminate against ineligible employees.[10]  In another case, Newman refused to delay a wrongful death trial relating to an inmate who died after suffering a seizure before being put in handcuffs.[11]

Political Activity

Newman has a few donations of record, all to Republicans.[12]  In addition, Newman has been a member of the Federalist Society since 2008.[13]

Overall Assessment

Judge Newman should win confirmation by a bipartisan margin.  Conservatives will be thrilled with Newman’s Federalist Society credentials and Republican political history while liberals will be assuaged that Newman has largely worked as a plaintiff’s side and civil rights attorney.


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

[2] Id. at 3.

[3] Id. at 2.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at 85-86.

[6] See id.

[7] See id. at 72.

[8] 553 U.S. 442 (2008).

[9] See id.

[10] Swann v. Time Warner Entertainment Co., 126 F. Supp. 3d 973 (S.D. Ohio 2015).

[11] See Mark Gokavi, Jail Death Lawsuit: County Wants to Delay Trial, But Judge Says No, Dayton Daily News, June 26, 2018.

[13] See Newman, supra n. 1 at 9.

Judge J. Philip Calabrese – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio

In 2019, J. Philip Calabrese was appointed to the Cuhayoga County Superior Court to replace Judge Pamela Barker, who was President Trump’s first appointee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.  Now, Calabrese looks likely to follow Barker onto the federal bench.

Background

Jude Philip Calabrese was born in Evanston, Illinois, in 1971.  Calabrese received his B.A. summa cum laude from the College of the Holy Cross in 1993 and his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2000.[1]  After law school, Calabrese clerked for Judge Alice Batchelder on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.    

After his clerkship, Calabrese joined Thompson Hine LLP in Cleveland as an Associate.[2]  In 2003, he moved to Squire Sanders LLP, where he became a Partner in 2009.  In 2014, he moved to become a Partner at Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLP.  

In 2019, Gov. Michael DeWine appointed Calabrese to serve on the Cuyahoga County Superior Court to replace Judge Pamela Barker, who was confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. He continues to serve in that capacity today.

History of the Seat

Calabrese has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.  This seat was vacated on January 6, 2020, when Judge Christopher Boyko moved to senior status.  In April 2019, Calabrese applied for the judgeship with Senator Rob Portman (R-OH).[3]  Calabrese interviewed before a bipartisan advisory committee set up by Portman and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in October 2019.[4]  After getting the Committee’s recommendation, Calabrese interviewed with the White House and was nominated in February 2020.

Legal Experience

Calabrese worked in private practice between 2001 and his appointment to the bench in 2019.  Over the course of his career, Calabrese tried approximately 12 cases.  Calabrese’s experience is primarily in civil litigation, particularly in representing various industries.

Notably, Calabrese represented Cavel International Inc., the last horse slaughterhouse in the United States, in seeking to block Illinois regulations that would have shut down the business.[5]  Calabrese argued that moral outrage against the consumption of horses should not govern whether they are permitted to be consumed.[6]  Calabrese’s position, however, was rejected by the Seventh Circuit.[7]         

Calabrese has also been active in defending industries against mass tort litigation alleging widespread damages.  For example, Calabrese defended the manufacturer of medical supplies against claims alleging that one of their “contrast agents” caused a rare skin thickening condition.[8]  Calabrese similarly defended a company against claims that a food additive they used for microwave popcorn caused lung damage in workers at their plants.[9]

Jurisprudence

Calabrese has served as a judge on the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas since his appointment in 2019 by Gov. Mike De Wine.  In that capacity, Calabrese handles civil cases as well as criminal felony cases and, in his short tenure on the bench has presided over 3 cases that have gone to judgment and verdict.[10]  Among his most notable cases, Calabrese presided over the jury trial of a 17-year-old defendant charged with the death of his cousin.[11] 

Political Activity

Calabrese is a Republican who has occasionally contributed to the Ohio Republican Party.[12] Notably, Calabrese made two contributions adding up to $550 to the Party in late 2019, after his appointment to the state bench.[13]

Overall Assessment

On the whole, there is little in Calabrese’s background that will cause him trouble in the confirmation process.  While some may object to Calabrese’s legal work before he joined the bench (particularly those with a moral objection to horse slaughter), such objections are unlikely to prove dispositive for the nomination.  Similarly, while some may raise an eyebrow regarding a judge making political contributions, such an act may be seen as par for the course in a state with judicial elections, such as Ohio.


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

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id. at 57.

[4] Id.

[5] See Cavel Int’l. v. Madigan, 500 F.3d 551 (7th Cir. 2007).

[6] See Brian Landman, Companions, ‘Not Dinner’, St. Petersburg Times, July 1, 2007.

[7] Andrew Harris and Tony C. Dreibus, Last U.S. Horse Slaughterer Loses Appeal; Court Rules That Illinois Legislature Has Right to Ban a Business, Int’l. Herald Tribune, Sept. 24, 2007.

[8] In re Gadolinum-Based Contrast Agents Prods. Liab. Litig., MDL No. 1909, No. 1:08-gd-50000 (N.D. Ohio).

[9] See Remmes v. Int’l. Flavors & Fragrances, Inc., 453 F. Supp. 2d 1058 (N.D. Iowa 2006).

[10] See Calabrese, supra n. 1 at 16.

[11] State v. Thorpe, Case No. CR-18-634964-A.

[13] See id.

Judge Brett Ludwig – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin

The vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin left open by Judge Rudolph Randa is one of the oldest unfilled vacancies in the country.  The Trump Administration’s first nominee for this seat, Gordon Giampietro, failed to fill confirmation after controversial writings from his past came to light during the confirmation process.  The Trump Administration is now trying again by nominating U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Brett Ludwig.

Background

Brett H. Ludwig was born in Marshfield in central Wisconsin in 1969.[1]  Ludwig received his B.A. with Highest Honors from the University of Wisconsin in 1991 and his J.D. magna cum laude from the University of Minnesota in 1994.[2]  After graduating law school, Ludwig clerked for Judge George Fagg on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.[3]

After his clerkship, Ludwig joined the Milwaukee Office of Foley & Lardner.[4]  Ludwig eventually rose to become a Partner in 2003 and Vice Chair of the firm’s Insurance & Reinsurance Litigation Practice.[5]  Ludwig held that position until 2017, when he was appointed to be a U.S. Magistrate Judge, in which role he serves today.

History of the Seat

Ludwig has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, to a seat vacated on February 5, 2016, by Judge Rudolph Randa.  Interestingly, Randa had expressed his interest in moving to senior status back in 2007, and the Bush Administration had nominated state judge Timothy Dugan to replace him.[6]  However, Dugan was never confirmed by the then-Democratic senate, and, after the election of President Obama, Randa reversed his desire to go on senior status.

In February 2017, Wisconsin senators Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin, a Republican and a Democrat, respectively, announced the renewal of their bipartisan Judicial Nominating Commission.  The Committee produced four names to the White House in August 2017.[7]  After interviews with the White House Counsel’s Office and the Department of Justice, Gordon Giampietro was nominated on December 20, 2017.

On February 2015, 2018, Zoe Tillman at Buzzfeed broke the story that Giampietro had, in his writings and interviews, made “disparaging comments about diversity, same-sex relationships, and birth control.”[8]  Specifically, in a 2015 radio interview, Giampietro stated that it was “irrefutable” that children were best-raised by heterosexual couples and that same-sex relationships were troubled.[9]  In other comments, Giampietro referred to the birth control pill as an “assault on nature” and suggested that diversity was “code for relaxed standards.”[10]  In response to the story, Baldwin indicated that the statements had not been disclosed to the Evaluation Commission and that they “raise serious questions about whether this nominee would be able to serve as a fair and impartial judge.”[11] 

In response, Giampietro wrote to Baldwin privately arguing that the article “reads like an attack on my Catholic faith.”[12]  Additionally, five Wisconsin based Catholic bishops wrote to Baldwin arguing that Giampietro was “not receiving a fair hearing because of his Catholic faith.”[13]  Furthermore, members of the Evaluation Commission disagreed as to the significance of the undisclosed statements, with Republican member Rick Esenberg arguing that the statements were irrelevant while Democratic member Barbara Quindel indicating that the Commission would not have recommended Giampitro if they had known about the statements.[14]

Faced with this new information, Baldwin declined to return a blue slip on Giampietro, and no hearing was ever held on his nomination.  After Baldwin won re-election in 2018, Giampietro’s nomination was not sent back to the Senate.

After the Trump Administration declined to nominate any of the other candidates recommended by Baldwin and Johnson, the Senators sent a new list of four candidates to the White House in December 2019.[15]  Trump nominated Ludwig from that list on February 27, 2020.[16]

Legal Experience

Excluding his time as a clerk, Ludwig has spent his entire pre-bench career at the firm of Foley & Lardner, where he focused primarily on insurance litigation.  For example, Ludwig represented Hamlin Inc., an insurance company seeking to recover liability costs from its liability insurers.[17]  In his career, Ludwig has tried around 13 cases to verdict, including cases before arbitration tribunals.[18]

Among his more prominent cases, Ludwig represented the Ford Motor Company in a jury trial concerning a “Lemon Law” claim regarding a Ford semi-tractor.[19]  Ludwig has also represented criminal defendants in federal court, notably representing a defendant challenging his 58-month sentence for armed robbery.[20]   

Jurisprudence

Since 2017, Ludwig has served as a U.S. Bankruptcy Judge.  In this role, Ludwig reviews federal bankruptcy filings and proceedings.  In one of his earlier rulings as a bankruptcy judge, Ludwig held that a litigant who had filed six bankruptcy proceedings but had failed to comply with requirements under the code was abusing the bankruptcy process.[21]  In another, Ludwig allowed creditors to recover for claims filed on an untimely basis, finding that a previously entered bankruptcy order in the case permitted reorganization and payment on the creditor’s proof of claims.[22]

Overall Assessment

While the Trump Administration may be burned from its previous failure at filling this seat, Ludwig lacks all the factors that made Giampietro’s confirmation difficult.  Ludwig lacks a strong record of controversial statements, has little to no involvement in politics, and has spent his entire career in insurance and bankruptcy litigation, an area that generally attracts little controversy.  As such, Ludwig looks likely to keep the support of his home-state senators and to be confirmed in due course.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Brett Ludwig: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.  See also Riley Vetterkind, Trump Nominates Ludwig to Fill Judicial Vacancy, Wisconsin State Journal, Feb. 27, 2020.

[2] ConsiderChapter13, Brett H. Ludwig Names U.S. Bankruptcy Judge, The NACTT Academy Blog, Feb. 5, 2017, https://considerchapter13.org/2017/02/05/brett-h-ludwig-named-u-s-bankruptcy-court-judge/.  

[3] See id.

[4] See id.

[5] See id.

[6] Ludwig had applied to fill that vacancy but was not selected.

[7] See id.

[8] Zoe Tillman, One of Trump’s Judicial Nominees Once Wrote That Diversity is “Code for Relaxed Standards”, BuzzFeed News, Feb. 15, 2018, https://www.buzzfeed.com/zoetillman/one-of-trumps-judicial-nominees-once-wrote-that-diversity?utm_term=.bunlpv57b#.ferWeqXP9.  

[9] See id.

[10] See id. (citing Ludwig’s comments).

[11] See id. (quoting Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s spokesperson).

[12] Bill Glauber and Daniel Bice, Catholic Bishops Call on Tammy Baldwin Not to Block Judicial Nomination of Gordon Giampietro, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Feb. 27, 2018, https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/politics/2018/02/27/catholic-bishops-call-tammy-baldwin-not-block-nomination-gordon-Ludwig-federal-bench/377622002/.

[13] See id. (quoting Letter from The Bishops of the State of Wisconsin to Sen. Tammy Baldwin (Feb. 20, 2018)).

[14] See id.

[15] Riley Vetterkind, Baldwin, Johnson Offer 4 for Bench; Federal Judgeship, Wisconsin State Journal, Dec. 16, 2019.

[16] See Vetterkind, supra n. 1.

[17] See Hamlin Inc. v. Hartford Acc. & Indem. Co., 86 F.3d 93 (7th Cir. 1996).

[18] See Ludwig, supra n. 1 at 26.

[19] Conrad v. Ford Motor Co., Case No. 94-CV-2545 (Waukesha County Circuit Court).

[20] United States v. Ward, 71 F.3d 262 (7th Cir. 1995).

[21] See In re Mendiola, 573 B.R. 758 (E.D. Wis. Bankr. 2017).

[22] See In re Wulff, 598 B.R. 459 (E.D. Wis. Bankr. 2019).

Judge Hala Jarbou – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan

In 2019, the Trump Administration negotiated an agreement over two district nominees with Michigan’s Democratic senators.  Ironically, the Republican half of the agreement, Michael Bogren, withdrew due to opposition from Republican senators, while the Democratic half, Judge Stephanie Davis, sailed to confirmation.  Now, Bogren has been replaced as a nominee by Judge Hala Jarbou, who would, if confirmed, be the first Chaldean-American on the federal bench.[1]

Background

The 48-year-old Jarbou was born in Iraq as a member of the Chaldean Christian community.[2]  Her family moved to the United States when she was a child.[3]  Jarbou received her Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Michigan and her J.D. from Wayne State University Law School.[4]  After graduation, Jarbou started her career as an assistant prosecuting county with the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office and then moved onto the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan in 2010 under newly appointed U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade.[5] 

In 2015, Jarbou was appointed as an Oakland County Circuit Judge by Governor Rick Snyder.  She still serves on the court.

History of the Seat

Jarbou has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.  This seat opened on January 31, 2017, when Judge Robert Bell moved to senior status.  After extensive negotiations, Trump nominated attorney Michael Bogren on March 11, 2019.  However, Bogren’s nomination ran into opposition from Republican Senators on the Judiciary Committee, who objected to Bogren’s advocacy on behalf of the City of Grand Rapids in enforcing its anti-discrimination ordinances.[6]  While Bogren likely had enough support to advance, he chose to withdraw his nomination.[7]

On March 18, 2020, Jarbou’s nomination was submitted to the U.S. Senate by the Trump Administration to replace Bogren.

Legal Career

Jarbou has held two primary positions in her pre-bench career.  From 1997 to 2010, Jarbou worked as an Assistant Prosecuting Attorney with the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office, where she prosecuted sexual and violent crimes.  For example, Jarbou prosecuted boxing coach Ruben Flores for allegedly fondling the breast of a 16-year-old girl.[8]

Then, from 2010 to 2015, Jarbou worked as a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan. At the office, Jarbou handled a wide variety of cases, from narcotics cases to corruption.  For example, Jarbou prosecuted Lorris Capshaw, a clerk with the Wayne County Clerk’s Office, for accepting bribes in exchange for Concealed Pistol licenses.[9]

Political Activity

Jarbou is a Republican with one political contribution of record, a 2007 contribution to Republican Rep. Joe Knollenberg.[10]  In 2004, Jarbou was a supporter of President George W. Bush’s re-election.[11]  Jarbou has also been a member of the Federalist Society for Law & Policy since 2011.[12]

Jurisprudence

Jarbou has served as a state circuit judge since her appointment in 2015.  In her role as a trial judge, Jarbou notably presided over a land dispute between Holly Township and the Smith family.[13]  The fight involved a ten acre parcel of land that the town had seized from the family under foreclosure proceedings.[14]  Jarbou ultimately approved a consent decree that allowed the family to retain possession of the land.[15]  In another matter, Jarbou sentenced Brieanna Smart to a year in jail for hitting a police officer with her car while he attempted to arrest her for driving on a suspended license.[16]  Jarbou also presided over a defamation lawsuit brought by U.S. Rep. Kerry Bentvolio against fellow Republican Rocky Raczkowski.[17]

Overall Assessment

Like Bogren, Jarbou is a Republican with strongly conservative credentials.  But unlike Bogren, Jarbou doesn’t have any particular controversies in her background that might trigger Republican opposition.  As such, Jarbou is poised to become the first Chaldean American jurist on the federal bench.


[1] Paul Natinsky, Hala Jarbou is First Chaldean American Nominated for Federal Bench, Chaldean News, Mar. 27, 2020, https://www.chaldeannews.com/features-1/2020/3/27/hala-jarbou-is-first-chaldean-american-nominated-for-federal-bench.  

[2] See Charlie Cain, Cheney Questions Kerry’s Ability to Lead; He Tells Michigan Supporters Country Needs Bush At Helm, Detroit News, Sept. 22, 2004.

[3] See id.

[5] See id.

[6] Melissa Nann Burke, Michigan Judicial Nominee Bogren Withdraws From Consideration, Detroit News, June 11, 2019, https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/politics/2019/06/11/michigan-federal-judicial-nominee-pulls-nomination/1423875001/.  

[7] See id.

[8] A.P., Boxing Coach Arraigned on Fondling Charges, A.P. State & Local Wire, Sept. 13, 2003.

[9] Press Release, Office for the Department of Justice, Former Employee at the Wayne County Clerk’s Office Pleads Guilty to Bribery, June 19, 2014.

[11] See Cain, supra n. 1.

[12] See Jarbou, supra n. 3.

[13] See Mike Martindale, Property Fight in Holly Twp. Adds Twist, Detroit News, Nov. 14, 2016.

[14] See id.

[15] Mike Martindale, Family Gets Deed, Will Return to Holly Twp. Land, Detroit News, Mar. 9, 2017.

[16] Woman Who Slammed Officer with Car in Detroit Area Gets Jail, The Daily Cardinal: University of Wisconsin – Madison, Dec. 18, 2015.

[17] Mike Martindale, Ex-Rep Sues Candidate for Defamation, Detroit News, May 17, 2018.