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.

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