Judge William Pocan – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin

Wisconsin has been home to some pitched federal judicial confirmation battles during both the Obama and Trump Administrations, as the state’s politically divided senate duo have alternately cooperated and clashed on nominees. As such, it’ll be interesting to see which side of that pattern Milwaukee Circuit Court Judge William Pocan will follow.

Background

William S. Pocan received his B.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in 1981 and his J.D. from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1984. After a year as an associate at Brookhouse & Brookhouse in Kenosha, Pocan joined Jastroch & LaBarge, where he stayed until 2006.

In 2006, Governor Jim Doyle appointed Pocan to the Milwaukee County Circuit Court, where Pocan has served ever since.

In 2014, Pocan was one of three candidates recommended to President Barack Obama to replace Judge Charles Clevert on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Gayle Worland, Three Nominees for Eastern District Judgeship Named, Wisconsin State Journal, Feb. 15, 2014, https://madison.com/wsj/news/local/crime_and_courts/three-nominees-for-eastern-district-court-judgeship-named/article_ff3e8bc3-9cbf-55c0-b516-58df781cd045.html. President Obama nominated U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Pamela Pepper, who was confirmed and currently serves on the bench.

History of the Seat

Pocan has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, to a seat vacated on December 31, 2019, by Judge William Griesbach. In June 2021, Pocan was one of four candidates recommended by the White House for the vacancy by Wisconsin senators Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin, a Republican and a Democrat, respectively. See Craig Gilbert, Baldwin and Johnson Bring Forward Four Candidates to Fill Federal Judgeship in Green Bay, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 22, 2021, https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/politics/2021/06/22/four-candidates-named-fill-federal-judgeship-green-bay/5312798001/. Pocan was nominated on December 15, 2021.

Political Activity

Pocan has been active in making political donations to Wisconsin candidates, largely giving to Democrats including Supreme Court candidates Shirley Abrahamson, Ann Walsh Bradley, and Louis Butler.

Legal Experience

Excluding a year at Brookhouse & Brookhouse, Pocan has spent his entire pre-bench career at the firm of Jastroch & LaBarge, where he focused primarily on plaintiff’s side litigation. Pocan was particularly notable in “Lemon Law” litigation involving cars in poor condition that were sold to consumers. See, e.g., Eric Freedman, Ford Loses Lemon Law Appeal, Automotive News, Mar. 5, 2001. Pocan also represented Adele Garcia, who filed a “Lemon Law” suit after the transmission on her Mazda left her stranded in Montana. See Anita Weier, DOT, Consumers Tell Panel: Don’t Weaken State Lemon Law, Capital Times, Feb. 20, 2004.

Jurisprudence

Since his appointment in 2006, Pocan has served on the Milwaukee County Circuit Court, where he has presided over juvenile, civil, and criminal cases. Among the notable matters he presided over, Pocan awarded a $3.2 million judgment to a man burned in an apartment fire started by a co-tenant, after a jury found the landlord and insurer liable. See Bruce Vielmetti, Tenant Burned in Apartment Fire Wins $3.2 Million Award, Proof and Hearsay, Oct. 12, 2012.

Notably, Pocan rejected a settlement agreement between dairy groups and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, finding that the ruling improperly limited environmental protection authority and powers held by the Department. See Steven Verburg, Judge Denies DNR on Dairies: He Rules Agency Can’t Change Laws to Placate Big Farms, Water Pollution, Wisconsin State Journal, Jan. 16, 2019.

Among other notable rulings, Pocan ruled that Stuart Yates, a convicted sex offender, could have limited visitation with his severely ill 9 year old son, overruling a hospital restriction on such visits. See Ivan Moreno, Milwaukee Sex Offender Granted Limited Visits With Sick Son, A.P., Apr. 3, 2018.

Some of Pocan’s rulings over his fifteen year long judicial career have been reversed by higher courts. For example, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals reversed Pocan’s ruling denying David Turnpaugh compensation for wrongful conviction for solicitation. See Bruce Vielmetti, Appeals Court Says State Owes Man Wrongly Convicted of Soliciting Prostitute, Proof and Hearsay, May 22, 2012.

Overall Assessment

A couple of points that have yet to be mentioned in this article: Pocan would be the first openly gay judge on the Wisconsin federal bench; he is also the brother of U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, a political lineage that does not appear to have caused him active Republican opposition. Overall, Pocan’s nomination will live and die based on Sen. Ron Johnson’s blue slip. Given that the White House chose to nominate him over longtime federal defender Krista Halla Valdes, it is likely that Johnson has agreed not to blue slip Pocan, even if he doesn’t ultimately vote for him.

Andre Mathis – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

While the Biden Administration has moved relatively quickly to line up judicial nominees, they have generally focused on states with two Democratic senators, avoiding Republican blue slips. As such, the nomination of Andre Mathis to the Sixth Circuit, coming over the objections of Tennessee’s Republican senators, is the first Biden nominee not to have the support of his home-state senators.

Background

Born in 1980, Andre Bernard Mathis received a B.A. from the University of Memphis in 2003 and a J.D. from the Cecil D. Humphreys School of Law in 2007 before joining Glankler Brown in Memphis as an Associate. Mathis currently serves as a Partner in the Memphis office of Butler Snow.

History of the Seat

Mathis has been nominated for a Tennessee seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. This seat opened in May 2021 with Judge Bernice Donald’s announcement that she would move to senior status upon confirmation of her successor. Mathis was nominated on November 17, 2021. Shortly after Mathis’ nomination, Tennessee Senators Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty released a statement expressing disappointment with the White House’s level of consultation on the nomination, and Hagerty has indicated his unwillingness to return a blue slip on Mathis.

Legal Experience

Mathis has practiced law for around fourteen years, starting with his time as an associate at Glankler Brown and including his current position as partner at Butler Snow LLP. Throughout his career, Mathis has focused on commercial litigation, as well as labor and employment work, but has also maintained a significant pro bono profile, particularly in working with the Tennessee Innocence Project.

Mathis has primarily focused on commercial and employment litigation. For example, early in his career, Mathis represented a dismissed Ford employee in a discrimination lawsuit after his termination. See Longs v. Ford Motor Co., 647 F. Supp. 2d 919 (W.D. Tenn. 2009). He also defended a paper company against a tort lawsuit brought by a plaintiff who fell while making a delivery to a paper mill. Sheffield v. Int’l Paper Co., 443 F. Supp. 3d (W.D. Tenn. 2020). Judge Jon McCalla denied the defendant’s motion for summary judgment in the case, finding that there was a genuine dispute of material facts regarding the company’s maintenance of a crumbling curb. See id. at 951.

On the criminal side, Mathis represented Tremaine Wilbourn, who was charged with shooting and killing a Memphis police officer in 2015. See Adrian Sainz, Man Sentenced to 25 Years in Tennessee Officer Shooting, A.P. State & Local, July 28, 2017. Wilbourn ended up pleading guilty and receiving a 25 year sentence. See id. He also represented Robert Kimbrel, a convicted felon, in challenging his sentence under a 2255 motion (which allows a collateral attack in federal court on a sentence or conviction), which was granted by Judge Jon McCalla. Kimbrel v. Batts, 196 F. Supp. 3d 811 (W.D. Tenn. 2016).

Statements and Writings

Like a number of other judicial nominees, Mathis wrote on the law as a law student. For example, Mathis authored a comment discussing the Tennessee Supreme Court’s State v. Sawyer decision, which prevented a police officer from reading an affidavit during a custodial interrogation without a Miranda warning. See Andre Mathis, Criminal Law – State v. Sawyer: Tennessee Supreme Court Holds That a Police Officer Cannot Read an Affidavit to a Person in Custody Without Giving Miranda Warnings, 36 U. Mem. L. Rev. 1171 (Summer 2006). In the comment, Mathis praised the Tennessee Supreme Court’s conclusion that reading an affidavit of complaint can, under the circumstances of the case, be the equivalent of a “custodial interrogation” that triggers Miranda. Id. at 1183. Mathis further urged courts to “expand the scope of constitutional rights of persons in police custody” while noting that the coercive nature of police interrogations can lead innocent individuals to “concede their innocence.” Id.

In another law school note, Mathis analyzed the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in House v. Bell, which allowed a Tennessee death row inmate to pursue a claim of actual innocence using DNA evidence. See Andre Mathis, A Critical Analysis of Actual Innocence After House v. Bell: Has the Riddle of Actual Innocence Finally Been Solved?, 37 U. Mem. L. Rev. 813 (Summer 2007). While Mathis acknowledged that the Supreme Court reached the correct conclusion in Bell, he criticized the decision for failing to provide adequate guidance to lower courts in future claims of “actual innocence.” See id. at 837.

Overall Assessment

Going back to the revival of the blue slip under Sen. James Eastland, we have been unable to find a Democratic judicial nominee to be confirmed over the refusal of both Republican Senators to return blue slips. However, with the jettisoning of the appellate blue slip under President Trump, Mathis looks favored to be the first. The question for Democrats is whether they can keep their caucus united behind Mathis. Assuming that they hold together, Mathis will likely be confirmed.

Evelyn Padin – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey

Despite being the oldest judicial vacancy in New Jersey, and the country, the seat vacated by Judge Faith Hochberg in March 2015 sat for months without a nominee. However, on December 15, the Biden Administration finally sent the nomination of solo practitioner Evelyn Padin to fill the vacancy.

Background

Evelyn Padin received a B.A. from Rutgers University of Delaware in 1983, and a M.S.W. from Fordham University in 1985, before spending four years as a social worker. Padin then obtained a J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law and joined the firm of Linares & Coviello in 1992, working with future federal judge Jose Linares. Padin left to start her own practice in 1995 and has maintained it ever since.

In addition, Padin has been active in the New Jersey State Bar Association, including serving as the First Latina Secretary in 2014 and later serving as President of the Association in 2019. She also served as a member of the NJ Secretary of Higher Education’s Campus Sexual Assault Commission and the NJ Puerto Rico Commission.

History of the Seat

The seat Padin has been nominated for opened on March 6, 2015, with Judge Faith Hochberg’s move to senior status. The Obama Administration nominated Julien Neals to fill this vacancy, but Neals was blocked by the then-Republican controlled Senate (Neals was subsequently renominated to a different seat by President Biden and confirmed). 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. Padin was nominated to fill the vacancy on December 15, 2021.

Legal Experience

Padin has spent her entire career practicing in Jersey City, where she focuses on family law and personal injury matters. For example, Padin represented two women in suing the Jersey City Police Department, and the owner of a residential building, after a man with outstanding warrants broke into the building and attacked one of the women, pushing her out of a window and killing her child. See New Jersey: Jersey City Man Charged With Killing Son Also Faces Lawsuits From His Ex, Her Friend, U.S. Official News, Apr. 28, 2015.

Additionally, as President of the New Jersey State Bar Association, Padin frequently participated as amicus in cases before the Supreme Court of New Jersey. See, e.g., S.C. v. New Jersey Dep’t of Children & Families, 231 A.3d 576 (N.J. 2020); Nieves v. Adolf, 230 A.3d 227 (N.J. 2020); Estate of Van Riper v. Director, Div. of Taxation, 226 A.3d 55 (N.J. 2020); Balducci v. Cige, 223 A.3d 1229 (N.J. 2020); Meisels v. Fox Rothschild LLP, 222 A.3d 649 (N.J. 2020). Notably, the Bar Association, as amicus, argued that the Fifth Amendment protected against the compelled disclosure of passcodes to cellphones seized by law, a position rejected by a 4-3 majority of the New Jersey Supreme Court. State v. Andrews, 234 A.3d 1254 (N.J. 2020).

In other matters, Padin received an admonishment from the Supreme Court of New Jersey’s Review Board on March 6, 2001 (the subject of the admonishment is unclear as the Board’s records only go back five years), which was vacated and dismissed by the New Jersey Supreme Court, which ruled that there was not clear and convincing evidence supporting the admonishment. See In re Padin, 791 A.2d 196 (N.J. 2002).

Political Activity

Padin has a few political contributions to her name, all to Democrats, including Menendez and Booker.

Overall Assessment

From an Administration pushing to draw nominees from unusual backgrounds, Padin, a sixty-year-old litigator active in the state bar, makes for a relatively safe choice. The White House can nonetheless point to her background as a social worker in arguing that Padin will bring a unique perspective to the federal bench.

Georgette Castner – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey

A year into inheriting six vacancies on the New Jersey district court from the Trump Administration, President Biden is on the verge of filling all of them. He has now nominated Georgette Castner, who has been active in the legal and legislative battles over cannabis regulation in New Jersey.

Background

Born Georgette Fries in Philadelphia in 1979, Castner received a B.S. from the College of New Jersey in 2002 and then spent a year as Chief of Staff to Assemblyman Reed Guiscora, before getting a J.D. with honors from Rutgers University School of Law in 2006. Castner then clerked for Judge Joseph Lisa on the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division.

In 2007, Castner joined Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads, LLP, becoming a Partner in 2015. She currently serves as an equity partner.

History of the Seat

The seat Castner has been nominated for opened on May 16, 2019, with Judge Jose Linares’ 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. Castner was nominated to fill the vacancy on November 3, 2021.

Legal Experience

Castner has spent her entire career post-clerkship at Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads, LLP in Cherry Hill, where she worked primarily in civil litigation and white collar criminal matters. Among her notable matters, Castner represented Microsoft in a breach of contract action in New Jersey federal court. See Bitro Group Inc. et al. v. Microsoft Corp. et al., No. 2:20-cv-17714 (D.N.J.). Castner also represented Praxair, Inc. in defending a products liability action over allegedly defective oxygen cylinders. See Lawson et al. v. Praxair Inc., et al., No 3:16-cv-02435 (D.N.J.).

Additionally, Castner is also a co-chair in the firm’s Cannabis Law Practice Group and has liaised with the legislature on cannabis laws and regulations. In this role, Castner advises industry participants, as well as regulators on the changing legal landscape on cannabis. See, e.g., Georgette Castner, William K. Kennedy, Dr. Ronald Tuma, Medical Marijuana and the Non-Profit Workplace, available at http://39lm5827fzpu40ze7s2y2ses-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/5055922_1.pdf.

Political Activity

A politically active Democrat, Castner has several political contributions to her name, all to Democrats, including Representatives Andy Kim, Bonnie Watson Coleman, and Josh Gottheimer.

Overall Assessment

As a young, politically active nominee, Castner is likely to draw some opposition in the Senate. She may also draw questions regarding her work on cannabis law, particularly as, despite the growing consensus towards limited legalization, many still support the criminalization of marijuana.