Judge James Simmons – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California has brought in four new judges since President Biden came to office. Biden is hoping to make it six with the nominations U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Schopler and San Diego County Superior Court Judge James Simmons.

Background

A Los Angeles native, James Edward Simmons Jr. received a B.A. from the University of California Berkeley in 2001 and a J.D. from the Golden Gate University School of Law in 2004. After a year in the San Diego City Attorney’s Office, Simmons worked as a state prosecutor in San Diego for eleven years.

In 2017, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Simmons to the San Diego County Superior Court. Simmons is currently a judge with the court.

History of the Seat

Simmons has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, to a seat vacated on March 31, 2021, by Judge Anthony Battaglia’s move to senior status.

Legal Experience

Other than a year at the City Attorney’s Office, Simmons spent his entire pre-bench career at the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office as a state prosecutor. Among the matters he prosecuted there, Simmons handled the charges against Franklin Gatlin, who was charged with stabbing the victim three times at a sushi restaurant. See No Headline in Original, City News Service, Jan. 10, 2007. He also handled the case of Jerry McCluney, charged with shooting and beating his uncle. See Kelly Wheeler, Bail Stays at $1 Million For Man Accused of Shooting, Beating Uncle, City News Service, Apr. 29, 2008.

Notably, Simmons prosecuted Alexander “Piggy” Antunez for shooting and killing Valentin Madrigal. See Kelly Wheeler, Gang Member Who Fatally Shot Rival in 2005 Gets 17-Year Prison Sentence, City News Service, Sept. 1, 2010. Simmons also prosecuted Dontaye Craig, Frederick Robinson, and Rashad Scott for firing shots at rival gang members that struck and killed a bystander. See James R. Riffel, Two to Stand Trial for Killing of Bystander in Gaslamp, City News Service, Oct. 3, 2011. After a jury trial, all three defendants were convicted. See Kelly Wheeler, Gang Members Convicted in 2009 Death of Woman Celebrating 21st Birthday in Gaslamp, City News Service, Sept. 17, 2012.

Jurisprudence

Since 2017, Simmons has served as a judge on the San Diego Superior Court. In this role, he presides over trial court matters in criminal, civil, family, and other state law matters. Among his notable cases as a judge, Simmons sentenced John Dupree Johnson to six years in prison after driving while intoxicated in a manner that caused the death of a 70 year old pedestrian. See Man Sentenced to Six Years in Prison For Fallbrook DUI Freeway Fatality, City News Service, Nov. 5, 2020.

Overall Assessment

While still fairly young for a federal judicial appointment, Simmons has built up a record of legal service in the San Diego community and would likely attract little controversy in his confirmation.

46 Comments

  1. While Simmons doesn’t seem to have a deeply progressive background, he seems to have a career in fighting gang violence. I’m sure that experience is needed in Southern California. I’m happy to see a 41 year old black man nominated to the federal bench.

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  2. Another prosecutor from the two california senators, for as as liberal a state as CA is, some of these picks have been a serious letdown. The upside is his age i guess. The california picks aside from a view like ana isabel alba have been mediocre to bad to be honest.
    Future district court vacancies are all dependent on irrelevant at this point, everything depends on warnock winning in GA and dems holding the senate. I don’t see mcconnell confirming a single appellate judge from biden if he is the majority leader.

    OT: be on the look out if the racist shawn continues his racist tirade against childs on this new thread as well.

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  3. Apparently Elizabeth Warren said that she wouldn’t have voted to confirm Jennifer Rearden, which would be the first time that a Democrat has voiced opposition to one of Biden’s nominees (and I’m not counting Schumer changing his vote on Freeman this week).

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I would have voted no on the following nominees (the nominees who I would have given a F):

    J. Michelle Childs (conservative and worst non-GOP/Southern Dem nominee by a Democratic President in 60 years)
    Regina Rodriguez
    David Estudillo
    Christine O’Hearn
    Karen Williams
    Robert Huie (likely a conservative)
    Jennifer Rearden
    Rita Lin

    Heck the Toomey nominee in PA may be better than several people on this list.
    This is far more than the number of no votes I would have cast on non-GOP judges appointed by Obama. The only Obama circuit court nominee I may have voted no on is Chris Droney.

    I would very reluctantly vote yes on Dana Douglas, Florence Pan, Lucy Koh, and John Lee, as well as several district court judges..

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    • I would have voted no on J. Michelle Childs, Christine O’Hearn Jennifer Rearden (If they had a recorded vote) for sure. Regina Rodriguez I would have given deference to since she was an Obama nominee that never got a vote. Plus the Colorado senators changed the membership on their judicial commission after Demand Justice & other progressive groups (Full disclosure I was a part of that effort) demanded it.

      Initially I would have said no to David Estudillo but then I did some more research & saw he’s a decent pick. Certainly the worst out of all the Washington state picks, but not bad enough for a no vote.

      Karen Williams Deserves a no vote, but as a gift to Menendez & Booker for holding six seats vacant for the entire Trump presidency, I would have given them one bad pick. I normally couldn’t vote for O’Hearn so I would have given them Williams with an understanding that was the only bad pick I would vote for.

      Robert Huie isn’t a good pick for California but I haven’t seen anything in my research to show he’s a conservative so I would have voted for him.

      I’m fine with Rita Lin. I would have rather Cecelia Wang or some of the other AAPI possibilities we have mentioned but Lin is almost a decade younger so I’m fine with that.

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      • IMO, Christine O’Hearn is the only Biden nominee deserving a no vote, and that is simply because she isn’t qualified (not partisan reasons). She couldn’t answer basic legal questions, and that should have disqualified her, but her backing made her nomination a certainty.

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      • @Frank

        I agree with you O’Hearn is the only Biden nominee that didn’t seem to be qualified. That should have made it easy for the progressives to reject her without having to point out she wants a progressive at all. They could have denied her based on those grounds & looked good standing on principle similar to senator Kennedy during the Trump presidency.

        I’m Kennedy’s case, virtually all of the nominees he ranked or voted against were conservative so he had no incentive other then principle to reject them. O’Hearn isn’t nearly as progressive as they were conservative so this rejection would have been a win/win for progressives. That was definitely a missed opportunity.

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    • As some of you know, I’m generally against holding seats vacant, but I’ve reconsidered some of my past positions. These are my current positions:

      J. Michelle Childs- Reluctant yes vote out of gratitude for her not being Biden’s SCOTUS appointee.
      (If she were the SCOTUS nominee, I would vote NO if it were April 2022 or even the summer but reluctantly vote yes if it were after Election Day & Dems lost the Senate. If it were October 2022, I’d try to delay the vote unless the vacating justice had already died or retired).

      Rodriguez- Reluctant yes vote

      Estudillo- I need more insider information on this one. If his nomination was part of a deal with Manchin to ensure confirmation of Tana Lin & Lauren King, I would vote yes. If there was nothing in exchange, I would vote NO.

      O’Hearn- I reject my past view on this. I would vote NO. I cannot vote to confirm someone who is both unqualified and defended employers accused of sexual harassment.

      Karen Williams- I don’t know how I’d vote on her nomination.

      Robert Huie- Hold nose and vote yes. While he could be a conservative, he’s not a FedSoc member or anything like that. The fact that S.D. Cal (and honestly probably all the California district courts) is severely understaffed with nearly half the seats vacant tilts the pendulum in his favor.

      Jennifer Rearden- I would allow a voice vote but would request to be recorded as a NO. I don’t understand exactly how much she was or wasn’t involved in Donziger case because I’ve heard different viewpoints from this blog vs. from Donziger & his allies.

      Rita Lin- Not enough info.

      Douglas, Pan, Koh, and Lee, I would all vote YES on. Though I would try to delay Douglas’s vote till the very end as to get the liberal lion James L. Dennis on as many en banc cases as possible (the 5th circuit goes en banc fairly often).

      I’m not too familiar with a lot of the Obama appointees. Though I’d vote no on Droney if I was able to foretell that he would leave the bench during the Trump presidency (and same goes for any Obama judge who vacated their seat during Trump’s presidency, even for those whose vacancy was no fault of their own).

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      • @Ryan Joshi

        It was actually here on this blog that said David Estudillo was a Republican when when they did his info page last year. That’s why I initially said I was against his nomination & even had two conference calls with leadership at Demand Justice to rescind their endorsement of him which came out a day or two after he was nominated.

        I have done lots of research on him & honestly outside of this blogs info page on him, I haven’t been able to find one shred of evidence he’s a Republican. And his background shows he opened a law firm to help immigrants in Washington state. So this may have been a case of the writers on this blog just getting it wrong or perhaps there’s another David Estudillo in the state that they got confused with.

        Three Democrat appointees on the 11th circuit retired under Trump including one of Obama’s horrible Georgia nominees. We will be living with a conservative 11th circuit for probably over a decade or more thanks to them. I would put them in the same category as Droney for me being angry at for when they chose to retire.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I looked up the case of Dontaye Craig, Frederick Robinson, and Rashad Scott. The victim they shot was Lakiesha Mason, She was pregnant and celebrating her 21st birthday. The perps got life. Simmons really went after the defendants, who were affiliated with the notorious Bloods gang

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  6. In the case of Jerry McCluney stabbing his uncle, he was sentenced to 21 years.

    Based on current info, Simmons should be confirmed by a comfortable margin. The calendar is the biggest obstacle he faces.

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  7. On SJC hearing days I often watch the part of the video where they all vote but yesterday I didn’t have time so I don’t know what the votes were, aside from reading comments here.

    Who were the 5 Republican senators who voted to advance Douglas? I am surprised that she was advanced by a 16-6 vote. I could plausibly see the vote being 13-9 (with Graham and Kennedy voting to advance her). And I’m assuming the 12th vote to advance Garcia is Graham.

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  8. I’m largely recovered from the Freeman fiasco. I’m trying to look at the positives, and to their credit the Senate has been confirming a lot of circuit judges in the past 2 weeks.

    I think confirming Pan & Garcia is particularly important because those seats are already vacant. Most of the seats that have been filled this month plus the one Freeman is the nominee for are/were held by liberal judges waiting for the confirmation of their successors. By confirming Pan & Garcia, we can restore the nation’s second-highest court to a 6-4-1 liberal majority.

    As long as defeated Dem senators don’t “check-out” after Election Day, I think Schumer can mass-confirm nominees like Freeman, Bloomekatz, Abudu, & maybe Dale Ho on the last day of the session after a lot of Republicans have went home for the holidays, if not before then.

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    • I agree Ryan, I think we will ultimately get all 37 current circuit nominees (Rikelman being a possible exception) confirmed prior to the end of the year. Unless of course we retain or expand the senate majority, in which case I could see legislation taking a priority while some confirmations are put off until 2023.

      Freeman I think we’ll get done in the near future. Unfortunately RB and NA may be later in the year. But overall I’m loving the recent momentum and hope we can get Pan and at least 1-2 others done next week.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. None of the biden judicial nominees except jennifer rearden and cristine o hearn deserve to be voted down, all are certainly qualified and more fair minded than most of the GOP judges, childs is an experience jurist with more than a decade experience on the bench, is in no way a conservative no matter how many times the racist troll shawn tries to smear her name with, so she would have gotten my full support for either supreme court or D.C circuit. You dont call a black women who spent more than a decade on the federal bench, with prior experience in state courts an ”unqualified hack” but that shows you how vile and much of a troll shawn is.
    Childs is a solid jurist.

    Turning to next week its my hope that the democrats can finally discharge the nominees stuck in the judiciary committee, abudu was nominated in January, she has certainly waited alot of time.

    Would also like to see some of the exceptional district court nominees like natasha merline, choudhury and jessica clarke confirmed, strong civil rights lawyers with great backgrounds and they are already forwarded from the committee..

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    • While I do share many on this site’s frustration & worry, after the past 2 weeks I actually think we will get all of the circuit court nominees confirmed before the end of the year with the exception of Julie Rikelman. There’s an outside chance of Anthony Johnstone not getting confirmed more so because he would need the SJC to hold 3 more hearings to get his done. With the current every other week schedule, recess weeks & midterms, it’s possible his hearing might not come until after the election which could complicate things pending the election results.

      As for the others, I’m very confident they will all be confirmed before the end of the year regardless of the election results. There’s currently 14 pending circuit court nominees with 3 of them currently needing more then one floor vote to be confirmed.

      If they keep the current 18 hour average pace, there’s more then enough time before the end of the year. And that’s not factoring in Schumer can schedule two cloture votes on a Thursday & confirm both the following Monday. I think there’s a good shot at 3 or 4 of them to be confirmed next week. And with the gay marriage amendment being pushed back until after the election, we might get another 3 the following week which would cut the 14 in half with two additional weeks left just before the midterms alone.

      I’m not worried about district court nominees. Schumer can knock out a large batch in two days. Plus most are not as controversial as some of the circuit court nominees so they could be confirmed even with 1 or 2 Dems out.

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      • I very much think Freeman will be confirmed. Remember two things. First, she only needs 2 votes (Reconsider & confirmation) that can be done in about 90 minutes. Second, she only failed because of attendance, not because of any Democrat opposition. Both Manchin & Sinema voted for her in the failed vote.

        I most certainly expect her to be confirmed before the midterms & probably this week. With the gay marriage bill being put in the back burner, I’m even more confident that her as well as the 2 discharged circuit court nominees getting confirmed before the midterms.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I’m very confident we will see additional batches of nominees before the end of the year. I think we have reached the point of the calendar where nobody else nominated will be confirmed before the end of the year, but if Dems can hold the senate it will be a great start to 2023 to have them already nominated.

      If I had to guess what seats will get nominees, here’s what I would say are the most likely…

      Circuit court
      1st (New Hampshire)
      4th (Maryland)

      District court
      Connecticut (2)
      Maryland
      Michigan (More then 1)
      Californian (More then 1)
      Idaho
      Alaska

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    • There’s no excuse for any blue state to have circuit & district court vacancies longer then 6 months at this point. I have some deference the first year because of new senators & new members on commissions.

      But 605 days into the administration is far too long for two Democrat senators to still be taking this long for vacancies in their state. For God sales even California still has vacancies in their Central & Southern districts & all but one of them became vacant before this year…smh

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    • I guess that makes sense; normally I’d be skeptical but Sen. Shaheen definitely over performed in 2020. I expected that Shaheen would win but I thought it would be a lot closer. Hassan certainly could win by 11 points but if I had to guess I would guess she will win by roughly 5-6 points.

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      • @Ryan Joshi

        Candidates matter. Nutjob candidates that Trump has backed are going to badly underperform the baseline (which is already not great for the GOP). So while I think an average GOP candidate may lose to Hassan by around 5%, Bolduc is considerably worse.
        This is why I don’t give candidates like Masters, Oz, Walker, and Bolduc much of a chance at the end, unless there is a GOP wave. And I think Vance will strongly underperform and may well lose.

        I’m the oddball who actually thinks that polls may well be *underestimating* Democratic performance right now. I think there are a LOT of pro-choice women that are not being properly counted in the polls right now or are
        The male dominated polling and pundit industry has no real understanding of this.
        Everyone was stunned by the results in Kansas. I wasn’t, I was expected a 15% defeat of the referendum.

        The biggest risk for the Democrats IMO is a major event (economic or otherwise) in the next 6 weeks that helps the GOP. If that event doesn’t happen, I predict they likely will not gain the Senate.

        Personally I am an undecided voter for all races except for the US Senate.

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      • @Shawn

        Your second to last paragraph is also my worst fear. Hopefully no unexpected bad news is on the horizon. If anything maybe we will see more surprisingly good news out of Ukraine. But of course six weeks feels like a life time in politics.

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  10. I think it’s possible we could sneak in one more circuit court nominee (paired for a post midterm hearing with Johnstone) but other than that I agree, I don’t think anyone that hasn’t already been nominated will be confirmed prior to the end of the year.

    Thankfully the senate does appear in good shape for another D majority with Kelly and Hassan pulling ahead and Fetterman exceeding expectations. But there’s still a long way to go and Nevada, Georgia, and Wisconsin are very much tossups.

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    • Here’s the senate calendar before the midterms, assuming additional days are not cancelled;

      9/18 – Full work week
      9/25 – Monday off
      10/2 – Recess week off
      10/9 – Monday off
      10/16 – Full work week
      10/24 – Recess week off
      10/30 – Recess week off

      I know they will have other votes on things besides judges in that time, but I think we can get a considerable number more confirmed. Especially with the gay marriage amendment pushed back.

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    • If Fetterman, Kelly, & Hassan all win, we need to pick up only 1 of Nevada, Georgia, or Wisconsin to win. Nevada and Georgia are pure tossups while Wisconsin is Lean R. If it comes down to Nevada and Georgia, Dems have 75% chance of keeping the Senate, though in reality I’d say it’s slightly less because of the assumptions I’m making (in the 3 states that slightly Lean D) as well as poll error usually overestimates Dems, or in other words, “underestimates the Dark Side”.

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      • I disagree with your analysis. Warnock is clearly favored IMO in a runoff. I think Georgia may end up as a runoff for one simple reason, I suspect that some right-leaning voters who think Walker is a loon may vote third party rather than Warnock or blanking the race. That alone might keep Warnock under 50%. I consider both Nevada and Wisconsin tossups, although Nevada really comes down to how much Hispanic support Cortez Masto gets. If she gets Biden numbers among Hispanics, she wins. If she performs more than 10% worse than Biden among Hispanics, she’s trouble.

        The claim that poll error overestimates Democrats only was true in 2016 and 2020. I’m not a believer in polls as a whole, but I’m also not a believer in made up Trafalgar-like assumptions either. There is absolutely zero reason to believe that it will be true in 2022, especially given the results of the special elections. It is equally likely that the male dominated poll industry is really underestimating the number of shy pro-choice voters. I suspect this will be particularly so among white working class women who were soft Trump voters.

        Really the open question for me is how much support do Democrats lose among non-white working class voters. Democrats will do just fine in areas dominated by college educated voters and white women.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I think another factor that could help Warnock in a run off that I haven’t seen mentioned here is if Stacey Abrams is also in a run off for governor. I would say the prospect of the first African American female governor would help Warnock that much more.

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    • I hope that Warnock can clear 50%, but that would require that some of anti-Walker center right voters either vote for Warnock or at least blank the ballot. If they vote Libertarian, as I fear they may, then Warnock won’t clear 50%.

      I fully expect Warnock to beat Walker in November and beat him again in a runoff if necessary, however. The one scenario that concerns me in a runoff is the unlikely situation where the Democrats “overperform” and hold the House and Senate. That scenario could result in a backlash in Georgia (of course, Warnock may well break 50% in that scenario). But if the GOP wins the House, I think that would take a lot of the steam out of any “prevent Biden from having total control” campaign.

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