Judge Angel Kelley – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts

Judge Angel Kelley (also known as Angel Kelley Brown) is a state judge in Massachusetts with a varied resume, including serving as a federal prosecutor, a clinical instructor, and a legal aid attorney. Kelley now seeks to add an additional credential: federal judge.


Kelley was born in New Rochelle, NY in 1967. Kelley received a B.A. from Colgate University in 1989, and then obtained a J.D. from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1992.

After graduation, Kelley worked for the Juvenile Rights Division with the Legal Aid Society in Brooklyn for four years before being hired by the Litigation Division of the NY & NJ Port Authority.

In 2005, Kelley moved to Massachusetts to become a Clinical Instructor at Harvard Law School. After two years there, and another two years with the US. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts.

In 2009, Kelley was nominated by Governor Deval Patrick to be a Judge on the Massachusetts District Court. In 2013, Patrick elevated Kelley to the Massachusetts Superior Court, where she currently serves.

History of the Seat

Kelley has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts opened by Judge Douglas Woodlock’s move to senior status on June 1, 2015. On July 30, 2015, President Obama nominated Boston attorney Inga Bernstein to fill the vacancy. Despite being overwhelmingly voted out of the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee, Bernstein was blocked from a final vote before the end of the Obama Administration. Due to an inability to reach an agreement on candidates with Massachusetts Senators, the Trump Administration never extended a nominee to fill the vacancy. Kelley was nominated to the seat on May 12, 2021.

Legal Career

Kelley has held a number of positions throughout her career, including working as a clinical instructor, as a federal prosecutor, and as a legal aid attorney. The most significant portion of Kelley’s career, however, was spent as an attorney on behalf of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, an interstate compact that regulates transportation between the states.

Among the notable matters she handled for the Port Authority, Kelley defended the decision to dismiss Christopher Mapp, a Port Authority employee, based on alleged false statements he made in seeking Red Cross Aid after being traumatized after witnessing the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Mapp v. Burnham, 23 A.D.3d 37 (N.Y. App. Div. 2005). An appellate court reversed the dismissal, noting that Mr. Mapp was entitled to the aid he applied for and any false statement he made (he had allegedly stated that he was unemployed) had no materiality to his application. See id.


Kelley has served as a state court judge in Massachusetts since her appointment in 2009. For the first three years of her career, Kelley served on the Brockton District Court, which holds jurisdiction over felonies up to five years, misdemeanors, ordinance violations, and all civil matters involving less than $25,000 in damages. Since 2013, Kelley has served on the Massachusetts Superior Court, a trial court with jurisdiction over civil offenses with more than $50,000 at stake and jurisdiction over all felony criminal matters.

Among the notable matters that she heard as a judge, Kelley denied a motion for a new trial made by Clifton Caldwell, who argued that, at his original trial, the prosecution had failed to disclose a key witness’ long history as a police informant who had received lenient sentences in exchange for cooperation in other cases. See Commonwealth v. Caldwell, SJC-12907, May 6, 2021 (Mass. 2021). Kelley denied the motion by noting that there was insufficient evidence connecting the witness’ testimony in the defendant’s case with preferential treatment he received in other cases. See id. However, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding that the informaiton not disclosed was exculpatory and the failure to disclose prejudiced the defendant, and, as such, that a new trial was needed.

In addition to her work in the courtroom, Kelley has been active on social justice issues, including trainings encouraging judges and court staff to stand up against conscious and unconscious bias. See Ralph D. Gants, Voice of the Judiciary: Creating Courts Where All Are Truly Equal, 65 B.B.J. 4 (Winter 2021). She also participated in the Committee charged with creating a new Massachusetts Code of Judicial Conduct, and has spoken in forums discussing racism in the court system, including experiences that she has faced as a judge of color. See Yawu Miller, Officials Take On Discrimination in Court System, Bay State Banner, Mar. 4, 2021.

Overall Assessment

With two decades of legal experience under her belt, Kelley can certainly argue that she is academically qualified for the federal bench. However, she may draw opposition (or at least questioning) based on her active anti-bias work in the judiciary. While Kelley is likely to draw conservative opposition, she is nonetheless favored for confirmation.

Judge Karen Williams – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey

New Jersey’s federal district court sat without any new judges during the Trump Administration, and, with six vacancies, the Biden Administration is moving swiftly to transform the court. Among the nominees are U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Williams.


Karen McGlashan Williams, not to be confused with the distinguished jurist who sat on the Fourth Circuit for seventeen years, grew up in Long Island with four siblings. Williams graduated from Penn State University in 1985 and then attended Temple University Beasley School of Law, getting her J.D in 1992.

After graduating, Williams joined the firm of Jasinki & Williams, P.C. in Atlantic City. She stayed with the firm until 2009, when she was appointed to be U.S. Magistrate Judge based in Camden, where she has served since.

History of the Seat

The seat Williams has been nominated for opened on May 31, 2017, with Judge Jerome Simandle’s move to senior status. The Trump Administration never put forward a nominee to fill this vacancy. Williams was nominated on May 12, 2021.

Legal Experience

Williams has spent her entire career before becoming a judge at the firm of Jasinski & Williams, P.C., where she primarily focused on employment law.

Among the notable cases she has handled, Williams represented Atlantic City in an appeal of a decision finding that the City had violated a firefighter’s First Amendment rights by disciplining him for using a racial slur against an African-American police officer. Karins v. Atl. City, 152 N.J. 532 (N.J. 1998). The New Jersey Supreme Court sided in favor of the City, holding that the use of the racial slur was not protected speech under the First Amendment. See id. at 552.

Judicial Experience

Williams has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge in New Jersey since her appointment in 2009. In this role, she handles settlement, discovery, and makes recommendations on dispositive motions. She also presides over cases where the parties consent and reviews bail and detention motions.

Among the cases she handled as a U.S. Magistrate Judge, Williams chose to detain Richard Tobin, an 18-year-old Camden man accused of trying to recruit attackers against synagogues on neo-Nazi social networking platforms. See Jeremy Roebuck, Feds Link NJ Man to Synagogue Vandalism; He is Accused of Using a Neo-Nazi Social Network to Recruit Attackers on Two Sites in the Midwest. He Allegedly Had Much Wider Plans, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 17, 2019. She also ordered the detention of Carlos Matchett, who allegedly used social media to encourage looting and rioting during protests against police brutality following the death of George Floyd, Amy Rosenberg, A.C. man Faces Riot Charge; He is Accused of Using Social Media To Encourage People to Loot Stores, The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 5, 2020, and of Alex Capasso, accused of taking sexually explicit photos of and molesting a minor. See Barbara Boyer, No Bail for Philly Restauranteur Charged with Molesting Young Girl, The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 12, 2016.

In one notable case, Williams was asked by prosecutors to detain police officers Antonio Figueroa and Robert Bayard who were accused of abusing their power and of stealing cash and drugs from local drug dealers. See George Anastasia, Prosecutors Want Camden Police Held Without Bail in Corruption Case, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 19, 2010. However, Williams declined to hold the defendants, instead setting bail at $100,000 with pretrial conditions including electronic monitoring and a curfew. See George Anatasia, $100,000 Bail Set for Accused Camden Officers, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 20, 2010.

Overall Assessment

With over a decade of experience on the federal bench and two decades of experience as a practicing attorney, Williams has the expertise needed to hit the ground running as a U.S. District Judge. She will likely be confirmed with bipartisan support.

Eunice Lee – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

With three vacancies pending on the Second Circuit, President Biden is getting his own chance to put a stamp on the influential court. His first pick is longtime federal defender Eunice Lee.


Eunice C. Lee received her B.A. from Ohio State University in 1993 and her J.D. from Yale Law School in 1996. After graduating, Lee clerked for Judge Susan Dlott on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio and for Judge Eric Clay on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. After her clerkships, Lee joined the Office of the Appellate Defender in New York City, where she worked until 2019.

History of the Seat

Lee has been nominated for a New York seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. This seat was vacated by Judge Robert Katzmann, who moved to senior status on January 21, 2021.

Legal Career

Lee has spent virtually her entire legal career at the Office of the Appellate Defender, starting as a Staff Attorney, and moving on to a supervisory role. At the Office of the Appellate Defender, Lee represented indigent defendants in appellate proceedings in New York state and federal courts.

Among the cases she has handled in state court, Lee represented Ramon Roche, who was convicted of stabbing his common-law wife, Lillian Rivera, 12 to 14 times in the course of a violent struggle (Rivera passed away due to the injuries). See People v. Roche, 772 N.E.2d 1133 (N.Y. 2002). Lee successfully persuaded an appellate panel that the trial judge had erred in failing to instruct the jury regarding the affirmative defense of extreme emotional disturbance based on Rivera’s allegedly abusive behavior, and a divided panel reversed the conviction. See People v. Roche, 286 A.D.2d 290 (N.Y. App. Div. 2001). However, the New York Court of Appeals (despite its name, New York’s highest appellate court) reversed, holding that the defendant was not entitled to the instruction because the evidence was not sufficient to meet either element of the defense. See People v. Roche, 772 N.E.2d 1133 (N.Y. 2002).

Lee has also handled a number of appeals in the Second Circuit, the court she hopes to join. Recently, Lee represented Mahyoub Molhi Mohamed Houtar in challenging the constitutionality of the International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act (“IPKCA”). United States v. Houtar, 980 F.3d 268. Specifically, Lee argued that the IPKCA was intended to punish parents who absconded with their children to another country and was unconstitutionally vague as applied to Houtar, whose children were in Yemen for years before their mother petitioned a New York court for custody. See id. at 273. A panel of the Second Circuit rejected the challenge, holding that the statute provided sufficient notice that Houtar’s conduct was illegal, and that it specifically criminalized “retention” of children in addition to abduction. Id. at 275.

Overall Assessment

Having spent virtually her entire legal career representing indigent defendants, Lee brings an unusual background to the biglaw-dominated Second Circuit bench. While some senators may hold her representation of those convicted of crimes against her, Lee has little in her background that is likely to imperil her confirmation.

Judge David Estudillo – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington is the most understaffed court in the country, with only two active judges performing the work of seven.[1]  The court has not seen a new appointment in 14 years, but 2021 looks like the year that the stalemate will break and a new judge will be appointed.  State court judge David Estudillo is hoping to be that judge.


David G. Estudillo was born in 1974 in Sunnyside, Washington, the son of Mexican immigrants who came to the United States in the 1960s as part of the Bracero program.[2]  One of ten children, Estudillo worked at the family store before getting a B.A. from the University of Washington in 1996 and a J.D. from the University of Washington School of Law in 1999.  

After graduating, Estudillo began his legal career at the Moses Lake satellite office of Jeffers, Danielson, Sonn, & Aylward, P.S.[3]  In 2002, he shifted to Scheer & Zender LLP.  In 2005, Estudillo opened a solo legal practice in Moses Lake, practicing there until 2015.

In 2015, Estudillo was appointed by Governor Jay Inslee to the Grant County Superior Court, replacing Judge Evan Sperline and becoming the only Latino superior, district, or municipal court judge in eastern Washington.[4]  He still serves on the bench.

History of the Seat

Estudillo has been nominated for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.  This seat opened on February 28, 2019, when Judge Ronald Leighton moved to senior status.  Due to a dispute between the Trump Administration and Washington’s U.S. Senators over the Ninth Circuit nomination of Eric Miller, no agreement was reached on district court judges, and the Administration did not nominate anyone to fill this vacancy.  President Biden nominated Estudillo on April 29, 2021.

Legal Experience

Before becoming a judge, Estudillo practiced law in Moses Lake in eastern Washington for sixteen years.  Estudillo started his career in 1999 at Jeffers, Danielson, Sonn & Aylward P.S.  From 2002 to 2005, Estudillo worked in Scheer & Zehnder LLP, handling insurance defense, insurance coverage, and plaintiff personal injury cases.[5]  Among the matters he handled there, Estudillo successfully persuaded the Court of Appeals of Washington to reverse a grant of summary judgment against a home contractor he was representing.[6]

From 2005 to 2015, Estudillo practiced at Estudillo Law Firm PLLC, where he largely focused on immigration law, representing clients before the Immigration courts, the Board of Immigration Appeals, and federal courts.  Estudillo also handled insurance defense work as Panel Counsel for the Liberty Mutual Insurance Company as well as some general civil litigation.[7]


Since his appointment in 2015, Estudillo has served on the Grant County Superior Court in Eastern Washington, handling civil, domestic relations, juvenile,and felony criminal cases, as well as appeals from the lower courts of limited jurisdiction.

Among the notable matters, he has handled, Estudillo presided over the murder trial of Chad Bennett, who charged with murdering his 82-year-old landlady because she was planning to evict him.[8]  During the trial, Estudillo denied defense motions for a mistrial based on the prosecution’s raising of allegedly prejudicial character evidence during the trial.[9]  Estudillo ruled that the defense had opened the door to much of the evidence and that the evidence did not influence the jury verdict.[10]  Estudillo sentenced Bennett to 55 years in prison.[11]

In another notable ruling, Estudillo denied a motion by David Nickels, on trial for first-degree murder, to disqualify the Grant County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office from prosecuting him because the elected prosecutor, Garth Dano, had previously represented Nickels.[12]  Estudillo’s ruling was reversed by the Court of Appeals in Washington (and the Washington Supreme Court), ruling that, as a general standard, where an elected prosecutor has a conflict from a prior representation of a defendant, the entire office must recuse.[13]

In other rulings, Estudillo dismissed a suit by Ahmet Hopovac, who argued (after being attacked) that the Department of Corrections had a duty to protect him while he was out on supervision as he, as a convicted felon, could not own a weapon.[14]  Estudillo ruled that the Department of Corrections had no such duty, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.[15]  

Politics and Campaigns

As judges in Washington must periodically run for re-election in order to retain their seats, Estudillo has campaigned for re-election twice (Superior Court judges have four-year terms) in 2016 and 2020, winning both times.

In 2016, Estudillo was challenged by local attorney Nick Wallace, who was the highest rated candidate to be appointed to replace Sperline on the Grant County bench by a Grant County Bar Association survey, but was passed over in favor of Estudillo by Gov. Inslee.[16]  The campaign grew heated, with Estudillo reporting Wallace to the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee for alleged misstatements in his campaign ads, and Wallace accusing Estudillo of misrepresenting the Committee’s subsequent opinion.[17]  Later, in a debate, Wallace noted that Grant County Bar Association voters had ranked him above Estudillo before the latter got Inslee’s appointment, noting: “I don’t think Jay Inslee chose the most qualified person and I want to give Grant County voters a choice.”[18]  Estudillo countered the claim that he was chosen for reasons unrelated to his qualifications, noting:

“The fact that I am Latino, the fact that my parents were from Mexico, the fact that I might look a little different than some people, that is not the defining characteristic of whether I am qualified to be a judge…[and] was not the defining qualification that was used to determine whether or not I am eligible to be a Superior Court judge.”[19]

Estudillo ultimately won the election narrowly, and was re-elected comfortably in 2020.

Outside of the judicial context, in 2018, Estudillo attended the Grant County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner/Fundraiser Saturday alongside U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse and other Republican leaders.[20]

Overall Assessment

The under-staffed Western District of Washington is, in many ways, a casualty of the nominations fight between Washington’s U.S. Senators and the Trump Administration.  Had the fight not happened, Estudillo, with ties to the local Republican Party, and fairly conservative rulings, but having been appointed by the Democratic Governor, could have been a consensus candidate that the Administration and Senators could have agreed to.  It is a bit more unusual for a Democratic Administration that seemingly has an unlimited supply of liberal lawyers to choose from to select Estudillo.

Nonetheless, Estudillo has extensive experience with civil and criminal litigation, and, as a longtime immigration practitioner, would bring an unusual perspective to the federal bench, if and when he is confirmed.

[1] Incidentally, both active judges are in their seventies, and have been eligible for senior status for years.

[2] Royal Register Editor & Ted Escobar, Superior Court Judge Earned His Way Through Life, Columbia Basin Herald, Aug. 31, 2015, https://columbiabasinherald.com/news/2015/aug/31/superior-court-judge-earned-his-way-through-2/.

[3] See id.

[4] See id.

[5] See id.

[6] Bort v. Parker, 42 P.3d 980 (Wn. App. 2002).

[7] See id.

[8] Jefferson Robins, Tenant Sentenced to 55 Years in Landlady’s Murder, The Wenatchee World, May 15, 2017.

[9] Richard Byrd, Chad Bennett Denied a Mistrial, Columbia Basin Herald, Apr. 12, 2017.

[10] See id.

[11] See Robins, supra n. 7.

[12] See State v. Nickels, 456 P.3d 795 (Wash. 2020).

[13] See id. at 539-40.

[14] See Hopovac v. Dep’t of Corr., 391 P.3d 570 (Wn. App. 2017).

[15] See id.

[16] Ryan Minnerly, Nick Wallace Wallace Announces Candidacy for Judge Seat, Columbia Basin Herald, Mar. 2, 2016.

[17] See Ryan Minnerly, Judicial Candidates Clash on Campaign Ethics Claims, Columbia Basin Herald, May 15, 2016.

[18] Richard Byrd, Judge Candidates Superior Court Candidates Speak to Packed Room, Columbia Basin Herald, May 19, 2016 (quoting Nick Wallace).

[19] See id.

[20] Richard Byrd, Grant GOP Holds Lincoln Day Dinner/Fundraiser, Columbia Basin Herald, Feb. 12, 2018.

Tana Lin – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington is the most understaffed court in the country, with only two active judges performing the work of seven.  As President Biden seeks to fill those vacancies, he has put forward the nomination of Seattle attorney Tana Lin.


Tana Lin was born on September 16, 1966 in Taiwan, and her family immigrated to the United States when she was three years old.  (Bob Geballe, Finding Her Voice, Washington Super Lawyers Magazine, June 30, 2016, https://www.superlawyers.com/washington/article/finding-her-voice/cd7b5581-bac9-4238-8fd5-0e190eadd313.html.) Lin didn’t speak English until the age of five, only used chopsticks through college, and faced bullying as a child.  Lin received a B.A. from Cornell University in 1988 and a J.D. from New York University Law School in 1991.  

After graduating, Lin worked as a public defender in Washington D.C. for four years before joining the Employment Litigation Division with the U.S. Department of Justice.  In 1999, Lin moved to Chicago to be a senior trial attorney with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  In 2001, she shifted to Ann Arbor to lead litigation efforts for the Michigan Poverty Law Program.

Since 2004, Lin has been at Keller Rohrback in Seattle.  She has also served on the Board of Directors for the ACLU of Washington since 2016 and as President since 2019.

History of the Seat

Lin has been nominated for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.  This seat opened on February 6, 2016, when Judge Marsha Pechman moved to senior status.  On April 6, 2016, the Obama Administration nominated Perkins Coie partner Kathleen M. O’Sullivan to fill the vacancy, but her nomination was never confirmed by the Republican Senate.

On July 13, 2018, the Trump Administration announced their intention to renominate O’Sullivan to the Western District.  However, due to a dispute with Washington’s U.S. Senators over the Ninth Circuit nomination of Eric Miller, the Trump Administration chose not to proceed with O’Sullivan’s nomination.  President Biden nominated Lin on April 29, 2021.

Legal Experience

Lin started her legal career as a staff attorney with the Public Defender Service in Washington D.C., representing indigent defendants charged with crimes in the District.  Among the cases she handled there, Lin challenged the sentencing of her 19-year-old client as an adult rather than a juvenile under the D.C. Youth Rehabilitation Act.  (Veney v. United States, 681 A.2d 428 (D.C. App. 1996).)  However, the Court of Appeals affirmed the judge’s decision to sentence the defendant as an adult.  

From 1995 to 1999, Lin worked as a litigator at the Department of Justice, where, among other matters, she helped negotiate a settlement agreement with the City of New York seeking to remedy employment discrimination against blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and women hired to be School Custodians and School Custodian Engineers.  (United States v. N.Y. City Bd. of Educ., 85 F. Supp. 2d 130 (S.D.N.Y. 2000).)  

From 1999 to 2001, Lin was at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where she pursued class action suits against Wal-Mart and the Louisiana State Police for employment discrimination.  The suit against the Louisiana State Police involved discrimination against women who sought to apply to be Troopers.  

Since 2004, Lin has worked at the firm of Keller Rohrback in Seattle.  During this time, she has made a name of herself in working with the ACLU in suits against Trump Administration policies.  For example, Lin was part of the legal team challenging the Administration’s travel ban targeting majority-Muslim countries.  (See Martha Bellisle, Judge’s Partial Lifting of Trump Ban Gives Refugees Hope, A.P., Dec. 24, 2017.)  Lin’s tactics during this lawsuit attracted some criticism from conservative blogger Scott Johnson after she sent him a subpoena seeking notes he took at a reception hosted by the Administration.  (See Tim Cushing, Lawyer Deploys Faulty Subpoena Demanding Evidence Preservation, Fails to Impress Lawyer Receiving It, Techdirt, June 30, 2017.)  Johnson, who is a Minneapolis-based attorney, wrote that he intended to fight the subpoena in a blog post.  (Scott W. Johnson, Don’t Subpoena Me, Bro, City Journal,  June 20, 2017, https://www.city-journal.org/html/dont-subpoena-me-bro-15278.html.)  Johnson was ultimately released from the subpoena.  (Scott W. Johnson, Don’t Subpoena Me, Bro: The Sequel, Power Line, Feb. 13, 2020.)

Political Activity

Lin has a limited political history, having donated once to the Congressional campaign of Rep. Pramila Jayapal.  (Center for Responsive Politics, https://www.opensecrets.org/donor-lookup/results?name=tana+lin&cycle=&state=&zip=&employ=&cand= (last visited May 16, 2021).)

Overall Assessment

Even though she has worked at a law firm for almost two decades, the overarching theme of Lin’s legal career has largely been the representation of legal “underdogs”: criminal defendants; and civil rights plaintiffs.  Her record of strongly liberal legal advocacy, suits against the police, and against the Trump Administration are likely to draw controversy, and Lin will likely attract strong levels of opposition.  Nonetheless, Lin’s path to confirmation will depend on whether she can keep all 50 Democrats behind her nomination. 

Christine O’Hearn – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey

Camden-based labor and employment attorney Christine O’Hearn is President Biden’s third nominee to the District of New Jersey, a short-staffed court with a number of vacancies that need filling.


Born on June 26, 1969 in Camden, New Jersey, Christine P. O’Hearn received a B.A. from the University of Delaware in 1990 and a J.D. cum laude from Temple University School of Law in 1993.  O’Hearn has been at the firm of Brown & Connery since her graduation, and currently works as a Partner in their Labor and Employment and Litigation groups.

History of the Seat

The seat O’Hearn has been nominated for opened on November 2, 2018, with Judge Robert Kugler’s move to senior status.  Due to a dispute over nominees between New Jersey Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker and the Trump Administration, no nominee to fill a district court vacancy in New Jersey was put forward by Trump.  O’Hearn was nominated to fill the vacancy on April 29, 2021.

Legal Experience

O’Hearn has spent her entire career at Brown & Connery, where she worked primarily in labor and employment litigation, while also taking some cases involving negligence and professional liability matters.  Among her notable matters, O’Hearn represented the parents of John Fiocco Jr., a student at the College of New Jersey who passed away and whose body was found in a Bucks County landfill, in a suit against the College and the State of New Jersey.  The suit ended in a settlement for $425,000.

On the employment side, O’Hearn generally represented employers in suits brought by employees.  For example, O’Hearn defended against a suit brought by former Gloucester County Sheriff Sharon Illas, who alleged that she had been sexually assaulted by one of her supervisors.  The suit concluded in a settlement, which included a statement by Illas retracting the allegation and clearing the County of any wrongdoing.  In a media statement, O’Hearn described the lawsuit as “the most frivolous case I have encountered.”  O’Hearn also noted that “[a]llegations of sexual assault which are knowingly false cause[] irreparable harm to the accused…A letter of apology does not erase that damage.” 

Political Activity

O’Hearn has a few political contributions to her name, all to Democrats, including Menendez and former Rep. Rob Andrews.

Overall Assessment

As a private practice attorney with plenty of experience in federal practice, O’Hearn is a conventional, if a bit safe, choice for the federal bench.  However, there is little in her experience or background that is likely to draw controversy, and she will likely receive bipartisan support on the way to confirmation.

Regina Rodriguez – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado

In 2016, Regina Rodriguez was nominated for the federal bench by President Obama with the bipartisan support of Colorado’s U.S. Senators.  However, Rodriguez never received a hearing before the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee.  When recommended for another federal judgeship in 2021, Rodriguez was attacked, this time from the left, for a perceived lack of experience in civil rights.  These attacks belie Rodriguez’s relatively mainstream credentials.  Her nomination by the Biden Administration is likely a prelude to a comfortable confirmation.


A native Coloradoan, Regina Marie Rodriguez was born in 1963 in Gunnison.  Rodriguez attended the University of Iowa, graduating with honors in 1984.[1]  Rodriguez then received a J.D. from the University of Colorado School of Law in 1988.

After graduating, Rodriguez joined the Denver office of Cooper & Kelly P.C. as an associate.[2]  After six years, Rodriguez left to become a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado, rising to become Chief of the Civil Division in 1999.[3]  

In 2002, Rodriguez joined the Denver Office of Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, where she worked until 2016, when she moved to Hogan Lovells LLP.[4]  In 2019, Rodriguez shifted to the Denver office of WilmerHale, where she currently serves.

In 2016, Rodriguez was nominated by President Obama to the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, to replace Judge Robert Blackburn.[5]  Rodriguez had the support of Democratic Senator Michael Bennet and Republican Senator Cory Gardner.[6]  However, despite their support, the Senate Judiciary Committee took no action on Rodriguez’s nomination and it expired at the end of the 114th Congress.  Rodriguez was not renominated by the Trump Administration, who instead chose Colorado Solicitor General Daniel Domenico, who was confirmed in 2016.

History of the Seat

Rodriguez has been nominated for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.  This seat was opened by Judge Marcia Kreiger’s move to senior status on March 3, 2019.  Although this vacancy opened with nearly two years left in President Trump’s term, he did not put forward a nominee to fill the seat, possibly because he was unable to reach an agreement with Sen. Michael Bennet.  

Legal Experience

Rodriguez began her legal career at the firm of Cooper & Kelly P.C.  At the firm, Rodriguez handled primarily professional liability defense and general insurance defense work.[7]  The rest of her career can be divided into the seven years she spent as a federal prosecutor, and the two decades she spent in private practice.   

Federal Prosecutor

From 1995 to 2002, Rodriguez served in the Civil Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Colorado.  In this role, Rodriguez defended the federal government against lawsuits.  For example, Rodriguez defended the federal government against a lawsuit brought by the parents of a boy injured on a sledding trip with his Boy Scout troop.[8]

Private Practice

Since 2002, Rodriguez has worked in private practice, working primarily in complex civil litigation.  Notably, Rodriguez was part of the legal team representing Toyota in defending against a lawsuit alleging defects in their vehicles that caused economic loss to the plaintiffs.[9]

Notably, Rodriguez joined with the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) in suing to improve Latino representation in the 2011 Congressional maps.[10]  She argued in the suit that the status quo failed to ensure proper representation for the community.[11]  The suit ended with the court adopting the redistricting proposal sought by Rodriguez’s clients.


Throughout her career, Rodriguez has written and spoken on the issue of diversity in the legal field.  For example, in 2015, Rodriguez co-authored an article discussing legal diversity for Colorado Law Week.[12]  She has also discussed the tendency of law firm partners to hire others who come from similar backgrounds, a phenomenon that can lead to barriers to legal diversity.[13]

Political Activity

While Rodriguez has not played an official role with a political party,[14] she has made a number of political donations throughout her career, all to Democrats.[15]  Recipients of her donations include Sen. John Hickenlooper and President Joe Biden.[16]

Overall Assessment

Unlike most of Biden’s judicial nominees, Regina Rodriguez’s nomination has drawn primary opposition among some liberal groups.[17]  The criticism generally arises from a perception that Rodriguez is “corporate” and a “former prosecutor.”  

However, it’s unlikely that such criticism will carry the day in the Senate.  It is hard to question Rodriguez’s qualifications for a federal judgeship, with extensive litigation experience and respect from both sides of the aisle.  To the extent that criticism of Rodriguez reflects criticism of a paucity of judges from public interest backgrounds, senators will likely conclude that such interests can be addressed without jettisoning the nomination of a qualified candidate.

[1]See Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 113rd Cong., Ketanji Brown Jackson: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2]Jackson’s clerk class included 7th Circuit Judge Michael Scudder, Texas Supreme Court Justice Brett Busby, and appellate superstar Kannon Shanmugam. 

[3] See Jackson, supra n. 1 at 2.

[4] Id.

[5] Press Release, White House, President Obama Nominates Eight to Serve on the United States District Court (April 28, 2016) (on file at https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov). 

[6] Press Release, Office of Senator Michael Bennet, Bennet, Gardner Urge Judiciary Committee to Consider Regina Rodriguez Nomination (July 12, 2016) (on file at https://www.bennet.senate.gov/?p=release&id=3735). 

[7] See Rodriguez, supra n. 1 at 21.

[8] Hancey v. United States, 967 F. Supp. 443 (D. Colo. 1997).

[9]See In re Toyota Motor Corp., 790 F. Supp. 2d 1152 (C.D. Cal. 2011).

[10] See Ivan Moreno,Colo. Court Battle Over Congressional Maps Begins, A.P., Oct. 9, 2011.

[11] See Ivan Moreno, Colorado Congressional Redistricting Suit Wraps Up, A.P., Oct. 31, 2011.

[12] Regina Rodriguez, Scott Martinez, and Shelby Myers, Denver: An Opportunity for True Inclusiveness in the Legal Profession, Law Week Colorado, Mar. 23, 2015.

[13] See Renwei Chung, 6 Reasons for Gender Differences At the Top of the Legal Profession, Above the Law, Sept. 25, 2015.

[14] See Rodriguez, supra n. 1 at 19.

[16] Id.

[17] See, e.g., Alexander Sammon, Why Is Michael Bennet Defying Joe Biden’s Call For Non-Corporate Judges, American Prospect, Feb. 15, 2021.

Candace Jackson-Akiwumi – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Seventh Circuit Nominee Candace Jackson-Akiwumi is an unusual appellate candidate in many ways. If confirmed, she would be the youngest judge appointed to the Seventh Circuit since Judge Frank Easterbrook was appointed in 1985. She would also be the first African American judge on the court since Judge Ann Claire Williams was appointed in 1999. Additionally, her background as a federal public defender fits within President Biden’s call for appointing more public defenders and civil rights attorneys to the federal bench.


Jackson-Akiwumi was born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1979. Both of Jackson-Akiwumi’s parents were judges, with her father serving as a U.S. District Judge on the Eastern District of Virginia, and her mother serving as a state trial judge in Norfolk.  Jackson-Akiwumi graduated with honors from Princeton University in 2000 and from Yale Law School in 2005.[1]  After graduating, Jackson-Akiwumi clerked for Judge David Coar on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and for Judge Roger Gregory on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.[2]

After her clerkships, Jackson-Akiwumi joined the Chicago office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher, & Flom as a litigation associate.  In 2010, Jackson-Akiwumi joined the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Chicago.  In 2020, Jackson-Akiwumi moved to become a Partner with the Washington D.C. office of Zuckerman Spaeder, where she currently works.

History of the Seat

Jackson-Akiwumi has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.  The seat opened on November 30, 2020 when Judge Joel Flaum moved to senior status.  As the seat opened late in the Trump Administration, no nominee was put forward for the vacancy.  On December 30, 2020, incoming Senate Judiciary Chair Richard Durbin reached out to Jackson-Akiwumi to gauge her interest in a judicial appointment.[3]  After a meeting with President Biden and White House Counsel Dana Remus, Jackson-Akiwumi’s appointment was announced on March 30, 2021.

Legal Career

Setting aside her clerkships, Jackson-Akiwumi’s career can be split into her time at Skadden Arps, her time as a federal public defender, and in her current role at Zuckerman Spaeder.  

Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom

In 2007, Jackson-Akiwumi joined Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher, & Flom as a litigation associate.  In this role, Jackson-Akiwumi primarily worked in complex civil litigation.  While at the firm, Jackson-Akiwumi tried one case before a jury as sole counsel and argued one appeal before the Seventh Circuit.[4]  The appeal she argued involved a challenge to the probable cause supporting the traffic detention that led to her client’s conviction (the challenge was rejected by the Seventh Circuit).[5]

Federal Public Defender

In 2010, Jackson-Akiwumi became a staff attorney with the federal defender program in the Northern District of Illinois, where she represented indigent defendants in the Chicago-based federal courts.  In her ten years with the office, Jackson-Akiwumi tried seven cases to a jury and argued five appeals to the Seventh Circuit.[6]

Among her notable cases with the Office, Jackson-Akiwumi worked with the University of Chicago’s Federal Criminal Justice Clinic to challenge alleged Racially Selective prosecution practices from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago.[7] Judge Ruben Castillo, in his ruling in one of the cases where the challenge was raised, chastised the use of “stash-house stings” to pursue federal gun charges, but declined to dismiss the charges against the defendant, finding that he had failed to meet the “high burden” of dismissal.[8]

Zuckerman Spaeder

Since 2020, Jackson-Akiwumi has been a Partner with the Washington D.C. office of Zuckerman Spaeder, where she handles White Collar defense and investigations work.

Overall Assessment

As an appellate nominee in her early 40s, Jackson-Akiwumi has the potential to be a federal judge for the next four decades.  This longevity gives her a unique ability to shape the jurisprudence of the Seventh Circuit.  It also makes her a potential future Supreme Court candidate.  These factors are likely to draw opposition, even though there is little controversy in her background to coalesce opposition around.

As a bottom line, as long as Democrats stick together, Jackson-Akiwumi should be confirmed for the Seventh Circuit in due course, and given her support from Senate Judiciary Chair Durbin, she is likely to be.

[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 117th Cong. Candace Jackson-Akiwumi: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] See id. at 2.

[3] See id. at 31.

[4] See id. at 18.

[5] See United States v. Garcia-Garcia, 633 F.3d 608 (7th Cir. 2011).

[6] See Jackson-Akiwumi, supra n.1 at 19.

[7] See United States v. Brown, No. 12 CR 632-1, 2018 WL 1278577 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 12, 2018) (Castillo, J.).

[8] See United States v. Brown, 299 F. Supp. 3d 976 (N.D. Ill. 2018) (Castillo, J.).