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).

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