Peter Welte – Nominee for the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota

Peter Welte has worn many hats throughout his career: farmer, student, prosecutor, teacher, and, if his confirmation is secured, judge.

Background

Peter David Welte was born in New Britain, CT on December 21, 1965.  Welte graduated from the University of North Dakota in 1989 and then spent five years working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and then the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.[1]  He then attended the University of North Dakota Law School, graduating with distinction.[2]

After graduating, Welte worked as City Attorney in Larimore, North Dakota until he took a position as Assistant State’s Attorney for Grand Forks County.  In 2003, Welte was elected to become State’s Attorney for Grand Forks County, a position he held until 2015.

In 2015, Welte joined the Vogel law firm, a North Dakota institution whose alumni include two Eighth Circuit Judges, and former U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon.[3]  He serves in that capacity today.

Welte has also been self-employed as a grain farmer at Ash Grove Farm since 1995.

History of the Seat

The seat Welte has been nominated for opened on October 12, 2017, with Judge Ralph Erickson’s elevation to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.  In October 2017, Welte contacted North Dakota’s senators John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp to express his interest in the vacancy.[4]   Welte interviewed with the White House in December 2017, after which, his nomination sat in limbo for almost six months.  In May 2018, Welte was preliminary selected as a nominee for the seat.  However, Welte was not nominated until eight months after that, in which time, Heitkamp lost her re-election to Kevin Cramer, a Republican.  Cramer and Hoeven both support Welte’s nomination.

Legal Experience

Welte has spent the most significant portion of his legal career as a state prosecutor in Grand Forks.  As the elected State’s Attorney for Grand Forks County, Welte supervised the office and served as Chief Counsel for 19 county agencies and boards.  Notably, Welte brought the initial state prosecution against Alfonso Rodriguez for the murder of college student Dru Sjodin.[5]  Rodriguez was eventually prosecuted federally by Drew Wrigley (later the Lt. Governor of North Dakota) for the murder and sentenced to death.  Welte also oversaw the results of an investigation into the Grand Forks County Correctional Center after an inmate committed suicide at the institution, deciding not to bring any criminal charges as a result of the death.[6]  In contrast, Welte did bring charges against two Grand Forks Police officers who made an African American man stand outside in sub-zero temperatures without a coat.[7]

Welte’s tenure as Grand Forks prosecutor has not been without controversy, however.  In 2008, Naomi Lee made a complaint of prosecutorial misconduct against Welte and Assistant State’s Attorney Meredith Larson for choosing not to pursue charges against the man Lee claimed had sexually assaulted her.[8]  Larson had chosen not to continue with the prosecution after inculpatory statements made by the defendant were thrown out by a judge.[9]  Welte and Larson faced a hearing before an inquiry committee of the North Dakota State Bar but no disciplinary action appears to have been taken.

Political Activity

Welte is a Republican who was elected to be Grand Forks County State’s Attorney in 2002, 2006, 2010, and 2014.[10]  He has also volunteered on the campaigns of Hoeven, as well as Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.[11]

Writings

Welte has frequently written both academically and as a blogger on legal issues.  In 2010, Welte wrote an article criticizing the North Dakota Supreme Court’s decision in Riemers v. Eslinger for expanding the right to a jury trial for violations of municipal offenses.[12]  In Riemers, the Court relied on the history of the jury trial right in North Dakota and held that the right extended beyond the protections of the federal constitution to petty offenses.[13]  Welte argued that the right to a jury trial for petty offenses was a waste of resources, noting that a jury empaneled for a $20 ticket cost the state $780.[14]  As such, he encouraged the narrowing of the right through reversal, legislative action, or constitutional amendments.

Overall Assessment

The District of North Dakota desperately needs new federal judges.  Since Erickson’s elevation to the Eighth Circuit, Judge Daniel Hovland has been the only active judge on the court, and he is set to vacate his seat this year.  As such, Welte will certainly be needed.

Looking at Welte’s record overall, it reads as that of a mainstream conservative with a few potential flashpoints but nothing that will draw excessive opposition.  As such, Welte looks likely to join the District of North Dakota this year, the first new judge since Erickson joined sixteen years ago.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong. Peter D. Welte: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 3.

[2] See id. at 1.

[3] Id. at 2.

[4] Id. at 51.

[5] Dave Kolpack, Man with Record as Sex Offender Arrested in Connection With Missing North Dakota Student, Associated Press, Dec. 2, 2003.

[6] Kevin Bonham, INVESTIGATION: Jailers Missed Suicide Attempt, Grand Forks Herald, Oct. 14, 2006.

[7] Susanne Nadeau, Officers Face Charges, Grand Forks Herald, Mar. 11, 2008.

[8] Stephen J. Lee, Prosecutors Face Inquiry Over Dismissal Of Rape Case, Grand Forks Herald, Mar. 14, 2008, https://www.grandforksherald.com/news/2070726-prosecutors-face-inquiry-over-dismissal-rape-case.  

[9] See id.

[10] See Welte, supra n. 1 at 35.

[11] See id.

[12] Peter D. Welte, The Law of Unintended Consequences: The North Dakota Supreme Court Recognizes the Right to a Jury Trial for Noncriminal Traffic Offenses in Riemers v. Eslinger, 86 N.D. L. Rev. 505 (2010).

[13] See id. at 514-15.

[14] Id. at 518-19.

Justice Greg Guidry – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana

Greg Gerard Guidry (R) has been a Louisiana state court judge since 2000.[1] He has served on the state’s 24th Judicial District Court, Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal (state), and as an Associate Justice on the Louisiana Supreme Court, which position he has held since since 2009.[2] In January of 2019, the White House nominated Guidry to a seat on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.[3]

Background

Guidry, 58, is married with two children and currently lives near Covington, Louisiana.[4] He has been “riding and showing Western performance horses since [he] was nine years old,” and has “three horses, two dogs, three cats, four chickens and about 30 cows on a farm in St. Tammany Parish.”[5] He grew up in Marrero, Louisiana, where he attended public schools through high school.[6] According to a 2015 interview with Guidry, he knew he wanted to be a lawyer in high school and “really never strayed from that goal.” Although he “did not have a specific idea of exactly what [he] wanted to do as a lawyer,” he “could see that lawyers played an integral role in public life, and [he] wanted to be a part of that,” which made it “an easy decision.”[7]

Guidry received a bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University (LSU) in political science and classical civilizations and a Juris Doctor from LSU’s law school (1985).[8] In law school, he was inducted into the Order of the Coif and “selected for the Louisiana Law Review on the basis of grades.”[9] Guidry was also awarded a “Rotary Foundation Scholarship for International Understanding,” during which he studied classical civilizations and Roman law at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, Republic of South Africa.[10]

After his scholarship year, Guidry began working at the oil and energy firm Liskow & Lewis in New Orleans in its commercial litigation division.[11] He switched to the public sector in 1990, when he began a nearly ten-year stint as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana. As a federal prosecutor, Guidry’s work focused mainly on public corruption and commercial fraud,[12] and he also served as a supervisor, ethics officer and grand jury coordinator.[13] Guidry’s Louisiana Supreme Court bio (and other sources that have republished this bio) states that Guidry “received commendations for his work from the United States Attorney General and the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations.”[14]

Guidry was a district court judge on the Twenty-Fourth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Jefferson from 2000-06 and a circuit court judge (Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal) from 2006-09. In 2009, he won an election for a position as an Associate Justice on the state’s highest court.[15] The New Orleans Advocate noted that “Guidry’s election…represented part of an ideological and partisan shift on the state Supreme Court. He replaced retiring Justice Pascal Calogero, a New Orleans Democrat who had served as the court’s chief justice.”[16] In 2010, Guidry received a master’s degree in judicial studies from the National Judicial College.[17] He has also served as a legal advisor and trial advocacy instructor to the Republic of South Africa and the United States Virgin Islands, and has “helped to train judges and prosecutors in the African nation of Malawi as they come to grips with complex financial fraud and corruption cases.”[18] He has been a member of the Federalist Society since 2000 and has stated publicly that he intends to remain a member if confirmed.[19]

History of the Seat

President Trump nominated Guidry for the seat in January of 2019. Both of Louisiana’s U.S. senators, Bill Cassidy (R) and John Kennedy (R) have praised the nomination.[20] The seat was left open by Judge Kurt Engelhardt, who has been promoted to a position on the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.[21] Guidry’s confirmation would fill the last open seat on the bench at the Eastern District of Louisiana.[22]

Legal Career

Guidry has spent most of his pre-bench career as a federal prosecutor.  In his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Guidry spoke about this position, noting, “It was the treat of a lifetime to walk into a courtroom and say on a regular basis, ‘I’m here today to represent the United States of America.’”[23] Searchable cases from Guidry’s legal practice are few and far between.[24] A LexisNexis search reveals one published case, a criminal defendant’s appeal from his conviction (U.S. v. Howard, 991 F. 2d 195 (5th Cir. 1993) (affirming conviction; appellant not entitled to a lesser included offense instruction because the indictment was narrowly drawn)), and one unpublished case. U.S. v. Cureaux, 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14210 (E.D.La. 1998) (denying defendant’s motion for release on bail pending appeal).

In Guidry’s legal career, he has occasionally faced allegations of legal and ethical improprieties. For example, in early 2000, while running for a judgeship, Guidry was accused by his opponent of violating the Hatch Act, which regulates federal employees’ political activities. Specifically, he was accused of accepting endorsements for his campaign for state district court judge before formally resigning as an Assistant United States Attorney. Guidry denies knowing about the complaint when it was made, being contacted by the DOJ in an investigation into the complaint, and engaging in any unauthorized political activity.[25]

In 2007, while Guidry was on the state appellate court, that court’s chief of central staff, Jerrold Peterson, committed suicide in his office, leaving notes revealing illegal practices by the court. For 13 years the court had been denying pro se prisoners’ writ applications without a three-judge panel reviewing them, as required by law.[26] The court had instead illegally allowed one judge to handle all pro se writ applications from 1994 to 2007.[27] Guidry’s opponent in the 2009 election for a position on the state Supreme Court criticized this practice, to which Guidry responded “I had no hand in it or knowledge of it.”[28]

During his 2008 campaign for the state Supreme Court, Guidry’s opponent in the race also accused him of using official court stationary to solicit campaign funds. Guidry has vehemently denied that this happened, contending that the stationary “was designed, created, printed, and distributed without public funds,” and that “the letter was not a solicitation, but an invitation for volunteers to serve on [his] campaign committee.”[29] The Louisiana Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee found Guidry’s opponent’s claims unsubstantiated.[30]

However, the same committee found that a mailer that Guidry had prepared for part of his 2008 campaign for the state Supreme Court violated the state’s code of judicial conduct, which prohibits judges and judicial candidates from “knowingly make or cause to be made a false statement concerning the identity, qualifications, present position or other fact concerning the candidate or an opponent.”). Guidry’s objectionable statements pertained to decisions by his opponent for the seat, Judge Jimmy Kuhn, and were “found not to be supported by the facts.”[31] The committee had investigated the statements in response to a complaint about same. In a public statement, Guidry explained the statements in detail, that “[a] media consultant retained by my campaign had created them, and I had relied upon the facts as presented to me,” and that he “specifically and unequivocally took full responsibility for the use of this campaign literature without any delay.”[32] No discipline was ever imposed as a result of the flyers. Guidry stated of this incident: “nothing similar has happened in my career either before or after these mailers. If confirmed, I will maintain the highest standards of ethical conduct and comply with the Code of Conduct for United States Judges.”[33]

Also in 2008, Guidry was the only judicial candidate nationwide that was endorsed by the Family Research Council (FRC), a group criticized as being antichoice and anti-LGBTQ, who has received the designation of hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.[34] The FRC’s executive director, David Nammo, has claimed to have had “several conversations with Guidry and that they considered Guidry’s election crucial to the future of the Louisiana court.”[35] Guidry has denied seeking the FRC’s endorsement.[36]

Jurisprudence

Describing his judicial philosophy, Guidry has said, “I believe that every person that comes to court deserves to be treated the same.”[37] Guidry has also noted that cases “involving the death penalty and the termination of parental rights” are “the two categories of cases that are most likely to cause me to lose sleep at night because of their extreme consequences.”[38] Reflecting on changes he has seen in his involvement in the judicial system, Guidry stated that “[t]he cost of accessing our court system has risen to a level which I believe is not acceptable.” Indeed, to the extent that a “first offense misdemeanor charge could lead to a massive financial obligation for someone of meager means[,] [s]ometimes, we are setting people up to fail.”[39]

Guidry has served on the Louisiana Supreme Court since 2009.  As such, Guidry was the sole dissenting judge in the Louisiana Supreme Court case Louisiana Federation of Teachers v. State, 118 So.3d 1033 (2013), which struck down Louisiana’s school voucher system as violating the state Constitution. The state Constitution establishes how monies are to be allocated to public schools based on a formula adopted by the state board of education. Then-Governor Bobby Jindal’s 2012 package of education reforms diverted money from each student’s per-pupil allocation to cover the cost of private or parochial school tuition.[40] In Guidry’s view, “the record showed that, once a student leaves a school district, the district is no longer entitled to the state’s share of the [per-pupil allocation] for that student, and thus the district’s state share…is removed from” the district’s overall allocation of funds, thus avoiding any constitutional problem.[41]

Additionally, in Costanza, et al. v. Caldwell, et al. (NO. 2014-CA-2090), which was the state of Louisiana’s appeal from a lower court’s ruling declaring Louisiana’s Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, the Louisiana Supreme Court considered the effect of the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision, which came down while the appeal was pending.  The plaintiff-appellees were Louisiana women who got married in California, which had legalized gay marriage, and then sought to enforce their marriage when they returned to Louisiana, where same-sex marriage was still illegal. Additionally, one of the plaintiff-appellees had a biological son, who the other plaintiff-appellee sought to legally adopt after they were married. In light of SCOTUS’s then-recent opinion, the Louisiana Supreme Court issued a per curium opinion denying the appeal as moot, noting that SCOTUS’s “interpretation of the federal constitution is final and binding on this court.”[42] Guidry wrote separately in a concurrence to criticize a dissenting judge. The full text of Guidry’s concurrence:[43]

Judges are bound by oath to follow the law regardless of our personal opinions, and we insist that everyone appearing before us do the same. The dissenting opinion suggests we should not follow the holding of the Supreme Court of the United States. However, it cites no legal authority. It cannot, because there is none to support its position. I am bound by my oath as an elected justice of this state to abide by the rule of law.

I must also respond to the dissenting opinion’s assertion that the “most troubling prospect of same sex marriage is the adoption by same sex partners of a young child of the same sex.” The dissenting opinion appears to be unaware of the facts of the case before us, which involves the intra-family adoption of a boy by the female spouse of the boy’s biological mother. See In re Adoption of N.B., 14-314 (La. App. 3 Cir. 6/11/14), 140 So.3d 1263. In any event, the dissenting opinion cites no legal or scientific authority, nor does the record contain any evidence, that would support its insinuation.

Guidry echoed this sentiment in his answers to written questions from Senator Feinstein in February, 2019.[44] E.g., Answer 2(a) (“if I am confirmed as a district court judge, I will follow Roe v. Wade, which has been Supreme Court precedent for more than 40 years, as well as all other Supreme Court and Fifth Circuit precedent.”)

Speeches/Writings

In 1984, Guidry published a student note that criticized Louisiana’s physician-patient privilege statute and suggested that courts should be allowed to circumvent it in certain circumstances. Greg G. Guidry, Note, The Louisiana Supreme Court and the Physician Patient Privilege: Arsenaux v. Arsenaux, 44 La. L. Rev. 1813 (1984). He analyzed a state supreme court case, Arsenaux v. Arsenaux, in which a husband sought to access his wife’s medical records “in order to use evidence of an alleged abortion against her in divorce proceedings.”[45] The trial court held that the records were privileged, which Guidry criticized as an “inequitable” and “harsh” result. Senator Feinstein asked Guidry about this note earlier this year: “Do you still believe that the judiciary should be given the flexibility to undermine physician-patient privilege, even when it would interfere with a woman’s right to privacy in her reproductive choices?”[46] Guidry responded: “The issue presented in Arsenaux v. Arsenaux was whether the husband, who had undergone a vasectomy, was entitled to the medical records of the wife to prove adultery as a ground for divorce. In my case note for the Louisiana Law Review, I pointed out that the majority of the court felt constrained by the language of the health care provider statute and had correctly adopted a literal interpretation of the statute as enacted by the legislature, rather than judicially create any additional exceptions to the medical records’ privilege. 44 La. L. Rev. at 1819. It was properly within the legislature’s purview to provide any further guidance to the courts to resolve actions in which an essential issue is the existence of a mental or physical condition or ailment.”[47]

Guidry was published in the Louisiana Law Review again in 2010. Greg G. Guidry, The Louisiana Judiciary: In the Wake of Destruction, 70 La. L. Rev. 1145 (2010).[48] His aim was to “offer insight into the intimate details of the state courts’ response when faced with the near collapse of the legal system’s infrastructure,” in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Id. at 1146. “These post-storm issues include the magnitude of catastrophic destruction, the longterm displacement of the entire New Orleans population, the paralysis of neighboring cities and states with the mandatory evacuation of coastal communities, and the scope of inadequate governmental response.”

Overall Assessment

Guidry is highly qualified for the federal judiciary and, as seen from his concurrence in the Costanza matter, appears to apply the law faithfully, regardless of political orientation. The ethical violations raised against him in the past are unlikely to pose difficulties for his confirmation, as they are either relatively minor or actively contested by Guidry himself.  As such, it is likely that most Republicans (who control the Senate) will give Guidry the benefit of the doubt on the matter.


[9]Id.

[10]http://www.lasc.org/justices/guidry.asp. A complete list of Guidry’s honors, recognitions, an employment can be found in his response to the Senate’s Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees, available at https://www.judiciary.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Greg%20Guidry%20SJQ%20-%20PUBLIC.pdf.

[19] https://www.judiciary.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Guidry%20Responses%20to%20QFRs.pdf (Sen. Feinstein Questions, at 7; Sen. Whitehouse Questions, at 3).

[24] The author found no cases from Guidry’s time in private practice.

[36] Id.

Michael Liburdi – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona

Usually, district court nominees don’t attract as much controversy as those appellate picks, particularly when the nominee has support from home state senators from both parties.  However, when it comes to Michael Liburdi, the support for his nomination is actually hurting home state senator Kyrsten Sinema, creating an interesting reversal of the usual dynamic.

Background

Michael Thomas Liburdi Jr. was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania in 1977.  Liburdi attended Arizona State University, graduating summa cum laude in 1998.[1]  After graduation, Liburdi spent a year in working as a legislative assistant at DeMenna and Associates.[2]

In 1999, Liburdi matriculated at Arizona State College of Law, graduating in 2002.[3]  He then clerked for Justice Ruth McGregor on the Arizona Supreme Court.  Following his clerkship, Liburdi joined the Phoenix Office of Perkins Coie as an associate.[4]  He stayed until 2011 (barring a year long stint in 2008 at the Federal Election Commission).

In 2011, Liburdi joined Snell & Wilmer LLP as an Associate and became a Partner in 2014.[5]  After the election of Republican Doug Ducey to the Arizona Governorship, Liburdi joined his office as his General Counsel.[6]  Liburdi stayed in that capacity until 2018, when he left to join Greenberg Taurig LLP as a Shareholder.

History of the Seat

Liburdi has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, to a seat vacated on July 31, 2018, by Judge David Campbell’s move to senior status.  Liburdi had broached his interest in a judicial appointment in late 2016 to senate staff and in August 2018 to the Department of Justice.[7]  He interviewed with the White House in September 2018 and was nominated in January 2019.

Political Activity & Memberships

Liburdi has been particularly active in the Arizona Republican Party, serving as the Campaign Counsel for Gov. Doug Ducey, Secretary of State Michele Reagan, Sen. Martha McSally, former Sen. Jeff Flake, Rep. Paul Gosar, and Congressional candidate Wendy Rogers, among others.[8]  He was also legal counsel for the House and Senate Victory Funds in Arizona in the 2012 election.[9]

In 2012, Liburdi led the assignment of poll watchers for the Arizona Republican Party, coordinating volunteers trained by the voter fraud watchgroup Verify the Vote AZ, which has received criticism for seeking to suppress the votes of minorities.[16]

Liburdi has been a member of the the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies (a conservative legal society that has produced many Trump judicial nominees) since 2005.[10]

Legal Experience

Liburdi has developed a career as a conservative attorney, particularly focusing on the area of election law.  He has also gained experience working as Counsel for Governor Doug Ducey.

Private Practice

Throughout his career, Liburdi has built a practice in election law, representing various organizations in lawsuits around electioneering, referendum, and voting.  Early in his career, for example, Liburdi represented the Clean Elections Institute in successfully challenging a referendum that sought to end Arizona’s public financing of campaigns.[11]  Liburdi also represented Arizona Together in unsuccessfully challenging a ballot measure that sought to ban same-sex marriage in Arizona.[12]

On the flip side, Liburdi served as lead plaintiff’s counsel in challenging Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission legislative plan, arguing that the Commission had unconstitutionally packed Republican voters.[13]  Liburdi lost the case, and the Supreme Court affirmed.[14]  In another case, Liburdi sought unsuccessfully to block provisional ballots from a heavily latino area of Cochise County, stating that the ballots in question were not sealed.[15]

Governor’s General Counsel

From 2015 to 2018, Liburdi worked for Gov. Ducey as his Chief Counsel, assisting him on judicial nominations, drafting executive orders, and leading efforts to manage and fight litigation against the Governor’s office.  For example, Liburdi defended a lawsuit contending that a school finding settlement negotiated by Ducey violated federal law.[18]  Liburdi also advised on the appointment of three conservatives to the Arizona Supreme Court: Justices Clint Bolick, Andrew Gould, and John Lopez.

Overall Assessment

Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema has already drawn sharp criticism for returning a blue slip on and supporting Liburdi.  Looking at his record overall, one can see both where this criticism comes from, as well as why Sinema may have returned the blue slip.

Looking at the positions of the opposition, Liburdi has had a strongly partisan career.  He has worked and volunteered solely for Republicans, and, while working a Ducey’s counsel, has supported a strongly conservative administration.  Furthermore, Liburdi’s work challenging Arizona’s Independent Commission drawn maps and seeking to prevent the counting of votes from overwhelmingly Latino precincts may also be sources of criticism.

On the flip side, Liburdi is obviously a talented attorney.  Furthermore, not all of his work has been on behalf of conservative groups.  In 2006, Liburdi notably fought the  ballot initiative seeking to ban same-sex marriage, seeking to have it thrown off the ballot.  He has done the same for initiatives challenging Arizona’s public financing system.  These decisions suggest that Liburdi is willing to advocate for legal positions that may run contrary to conservative politics.

Overall, with Sinema’s support, it is likely that Liburdi will be confirmed in due course, even with significant opposition from other Democrats.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Michael T. Liburdi: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] See id. at 2.

[3] See id. at 1.

[4] See id.

[5] See id. at 2.

[6] See id.

[7] See id. At 53.

[8] Id. at 28-29.

[9] Id. at 29.

[10] See id. at 8.

[11] See Clean Elections Inst. Inc. v. Brewer, 209 Arix. 241 (2004).

[12] See Arizona Together v. Brewer, 214 Ariz. 118 (2006).

[13] Harris v. Arizona Ind. Redistricting Comm’n, 993 F. Supp. 2d 1042 (D. Ariz. 2014).

[14] See Harris v. Arizona Ind. Redistricing Comm’n, 136 S. Ct. 1301 (2016).

[15] Ryan J. Reilly, Arizona Republicans Sue to Block Ballots In Latino Precinct, Talking Points Memo, Nov. 13, 2012.

[16] See Evan Wyloge, Arizona Voter Fraud Group Preps Election Day Pounce, The Arizona Capitol Times, Nov. 2, 2012.

[17] See id. at 14.

[18] See Bob Christie, Judge: Land Trust Use to Fund Arizona Schools is Illegal, The Today File, Mar. 27, 2018.

Judge Pamela Barker – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio

A longtime insurance and civil practice attorney, Pamela Barker has served as a state judge in Ohio since 2011.  Her support from Ohio Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown makes her a likely candidate for a smooth confirmation.

Background

Barker was born Pamela Ann Addison in Cleveland, Ohio in 1957.  Barker received her B.A. magna cum laude from Kenyon College in 1979 and her J.D. from the Ohio State College of Law in 1982.

Barker worked primarily in insurance litigation, working in various positions including as a Claims Attorney at Progressive Insurance Company, a Claims Litigation Manager at Bristol West Insurance Group and as a solo practitioner.  Barker also served as a magistrate for the City of Brecksville, Ohio.

In 2011, Gov. John Kasich appointed Barker to serve on the Cuyahoga County Superior Court. She continues to serve in that capacity today.

History of the Seat

Barker has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.  This seat was vacated on January 1, 2017, when Judge Donald Nugent moved to senior status.

In October 2017, Senators Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and Rob Portman, a Republican recommended Barker to fill the vacancy.[1]  Barker interviewed with the White House in October 2017 and was officially nominated on April 12, 2018.[2]

Legal Experience

While Barker has held a number of different positions throughout her legal career, her focus has largely remained the same: insurance litigation.  During her time as an attorney, Barker has represented plaintiffs and defendants.   For example, Barker represented a Bedford Heights police officer who was struck by a vehicle during a highway stop.[3]  On the flip side, Barker represented Progressive Insurance Co. against an insurance coverage suit before the Ohio Court of Appeals.[4]

Jurisprudence

Barker has served as a judge on the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas since her appointment in 2011 by Gov. John Kasich.  In that capacity, Barker handles civil cases as well as criminal felony cases as has presided over 78 jury trials.[5]  Among her most notable cases, Barker sentenced a high ranking member of the Heartless Felons gang to life in prison[6] and presided over five convictions of “cold case” rapes and kidnappings against a defendant.[7]

Overall Assessment

With a largely uncontroversial record on the state bench and the support of Ohio liberal Sherrod Brown, Barker is largely considered a moderate-conservative in the mold of other Republicans on the Northern District of Ohio.  As such, she should be confirmed shortly with little opposition.


[1] Earl Rinehart, Trump May Not Like Ohio’s Federal Judge Choices, Columbus Dispatch, Nov. 20, 2017, https://www.dispatch.com/news/20171120/trump-may-not-like-ohios-federal-judge-choices.  

[2] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Pamela A. Barker: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 67-68.szaa

[3] Leonardi, et al. v. Franzreb and Allstate Ins. Co., Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, Case No. CV-94-278901.

[4] See Nussbaum v. Progressive Cas. Ins. Co., 61 Ohio App.3d 1, 572 N.E.2d 119 (1988). 

[5] See Barker, supra n. 2 at 30.

[6] State of Ohio v. Nitsche, No. CR-14-581917 (Ohio Com. Pl.).

[7] State of Ohio v. Ford, Nos. CR-15-598281 and CR-17-614544 (Ohio Com. Pl.).

Judge Wendy Williams Berger – Nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida

Judge Wendy Williams Berger is not a stranger to the art of judging, having been a state judge in Florida for the last thirteen years.  Berger, who served as an aide under Gov. Jeb Bush, looks favored to take a lifetime appointment on the Florida federal bench.

Background

Berger was born Wendy Leigh Williams on December 1, 1968 in Athens, Georgia.  Berger graduated cum laude from Florida State University in 1990 and from the Florida State University College of Law in 1992.[1]  After graduating, Berger joined the Office of the State’s Attorney for the Seventh Judicial Circuit in St. Augustine.[2]

In 2001, Berger joined the Office of Governor Jeb Bush as Assistant General Counsel and a Clemency Aide.[3]  She held that position until she was appointed in 2005 to be a Circuit Judge on the Seventh Judicial Circuit.[4]  In 2012, Gov. Rick Scott elevated Berger to be on the Fifth District Court of Appeal.[5]  She holds that position today.

In 2016, Berger was one of three finalists for an appointment to the Florida Supreme Court to the seat vacated by Justice James Perry.[6]  Scott ultimately chose to elevate Judge C. Alan Lawson, her colleague.

History of the Seat

Berger has been nominated to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.  This seat opened on June 3, 2015, when Judge John Steele moved to senior status.  On April 28, 2016, U.S. Magistrate Judge Patricia Barksdale was nominated by President Obama to fill this vacancy.  However, even though Barksdale had the support of both Democratic Senator Bill Nelson and Republican Senator Marco Rubio, the Senate did not take any action on her nomination.

In early 2017, Nelson and Rubio urged Trump to renominate Barksdale and two other unconfirmed Obama picks in Florida.[7]  While Trump renominated one of the candidates, William Jung, Barksdale was not renominated.

In October 2017, Berger applied for the judgeship with the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) set up by Nelson and Rubio.[8]  She was interviewed by the JNC and was selected as a finalist in December 2017.[9]  After interviews with Nelson, Rubio, and the White House, Berger was nominated on April 10, 2018.

Legal Experience

Berger started her legal career as a Florida state prosecutor.  In this role, Berger tried approximately 50 trials, ranging from misdemeanors to capital cases.[10]  Notably, Berger prosecuted Tanya Hudson for the death of her baby, successfully obtaining two manslaughter convictions.[11]  For her part, Hudson argued that her baby was stillborn and that she had never intended to kill the child.[12]

In 2001, Berger joined the Office of Gov. Jeb Bush, advising him on legal issues and serving as his clemency aide.  In this role, Berger advised Bush on clemency petitions, monitored death row cases, and prepared death warrants for the Governor’s signature.[13]

Jurisprudence

Berger served as a Circuit Judge for Florida’s Seventh Judicial Circuit from 2005 to 2012, where she handled approximately 200 cases, including around 60 jury verdicts.[14]  Since 2012, Berger has served on the Fifth District Court of Appeal.

In the course of Berger’s time as an appellate judge, she has been reversed by the Florida Supreme Court in approximately 15 cases.[15]  Similarly, Berger has been reversed 17 times during her tenure as a trial judge.[16]  Judging against the panoply of cases she has handled, this means that Berger’s rulings have been reversed in approximately 8-10% of her cases, a slightly higher level of reversal than other nominees profiled on this blog.

Overall Assessment

As Berger has served on the Florida state bench with little controversy over the past thirteen years, there seem to be few barriers to her successful confirmation.  Furthermore, Berger has the support of the Judicial Nominating Commission set up by Rubio and Nelson.  Even as Nelson is no longer in the Senate, this should help Berger gain a comfortable confirmation.  Nevertheless, we may see some questions raised about Berger’s prosecution of Hudson.  Nonetheless, while the Hudson case is controversial, it is unlikely to derail Berger’s confirmation entirely.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 114th Cong., Wendy Williams Berger: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2]Id. at 2.

[3] See id.

[4] In Brief, Daytona Beach News Journal, Apr. 29, 2005.

[5] Judge Berger Appointed to State Court of Appeal, Florida Times-Union, Aug. 22, 2012.

[6] Frank Fernandez, 2 Judges from Daytona Appeals Court Finalists for State Supreme Court, Daytona Beach News Journal, Nov. 29, 2016.

[7] Andrew Pantazi, Rubio, Nelson Urge Trump on 3 Judges, Florida Times-Union, March 24, 2017.

[8] See Berger supra n. 1 at 61-62.

[9] See id.

[10] See id. at 49.

[11] See Hudson v. State, 745 So. 2d 1014 (Fla. 5th DCA 1999); Hudson v. State, 792 So. 2d 474 (Fla. 5th DCA 2001).

[12] Alexa Jaworski, Convicted Baby Killer Pleads For a New Life: Tanya Hudson Seeks to Overturn Verdict, The Florida Times Union, June 8, 2001, https://www.questia.com/newspaper/1G1-75408721/convicted-baby-killer-pleads-for-a-new-life-tanya.  

[13] See Berger supra n. 1 at 47-48.

[14] Id. at 16.

[15] See, e.g., Burton v. State, 191 So. 3d 543 (Fla. 5th DCA 2016), quashed by Burton v. State, No. SC16-1116, 2018 WL 798521 (Fla. Feb. 9, 2018); Churchill v. State, 169 So. 3d 1260 (Fla. 5th DCA 2015), quashed by 219 So. 3d 13 (Fla. 2017); Florence v. State, 128 So. 3d 198 (Fla. 5th DCA 2013), disapproved by Weatherspoon v. State, 214 So. 3d 578 (Fla. 2017); State v. Myers, 169 So. 3d 1227 (Fla. 5th DCA 2015), quashed by 211 So. 3d 962 (Fla. 2017); Worley v. Cent. Fla. Young Men’s Christian Ass’n, 163 So. 3d 1240 (Fla. 5th DCA 2015); Hilton Hotel Corp. v. Anderson, 153 So. 3d 412 (Fla. 5th DCA 2014), quashed by Anderson v. Hilton Hotel Corp., 202 So. 3d 846 (Fla. 2016).  

[16] See Biller v. State, 109 So. 3d 1240 (Fla. 5th DCA 2013), disapproved by Smith v. State, 204 So. 3d 18 (Fla. 2016); Leatherwood v. State, 108 So. 3d 1154 (Fla. 5th DCA 2013); Lee v. State, 89 So. 3d 290 (Fla. 5th DCA 2012); Long v. State, 99 So. 3d 997 (Fla. 5th DCA 2012); McKinnon v. State, 85 So. 3d 1188 (Fla. 5th DCA 2013);  Rose v. State, 68 So. 3d 377 (Fla. 5th DCA 2011); Wilbur v. State, 64 So. 3d 756 (Fla. 5th DCA 2011); Gonzalez-Ramos v. State, 46 So. 3d 67 (Fla. 5th DCA 2010); Allen v. State, 43 So. 3d 874 (Fla. 5th DCA 2010); Outin v. State, 12 So. 3d 322 (Fla. 5th DCA 2009); Eberhardt v. State, 5 So. 3d 783 (Fla. 5th DCA 2009); Helms v. State, 993 So. 2d 1135 (Fla. 5th DCA 2008); McCauslin v. State, 985 So. 2d 558 (Fla. 5th DCA 2008); Lawrence v. State, 991 So. 2d 406 (Fla. 5th DCA 2008); Sadler v. State, 980 So. 2d 567 (Fla. 5th DCA 2008); Dasher v. State, 956 So. 2d 1209 (Fla. 5th DCA 2007); Infinity Design Builders v. Hutchinson, 964 So. 2d 752 (Fla. 5th DCA 2007).

Judge T. Kent Wetherell – Nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida

A nonpartisan jurist with close ties to Florida Democrats, Judge Thomas Kent Wetherell looks fairly likely to receive a bipartisan confirmation to the federal bench.

Background

The son of former Florida State House Speaker T. Kent Wetherell, Judge Thomas Kent Wetherell II was born in Daytona Beach on August 26, 1970.  When Wetherell was ten, his father was elected to the Florida House of Representatives, where he would serve for twelve years, the last two as speaker.  For his part, Wetherell graduated magna cum laude from Florida State University and with High Honors from Florida State University College of Law.[1]

After graduating, Wetherell joined Hopping Green Sams & Smith in Tallahassee as an Associate.  Four years later, he joined the Florida Attorney General’s Office under Democrat Bob Butterworth as Deputy Solicitor General.[2]

In 2002, Wetherell became an Administrative Law Judge with the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings.[3]  In 2009, Gov. Charlie Crist appointed him to be a Judge on the First District Court of Appeal, where he serves to this day.

History of the Seat

The seat Wetherell has been nominated for opened on Dec. 31, 2015, with Judge John Smoak’s move to senior status.  Florida Senators Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and Marco Rubio, a Republican, continued the use of a Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) to solicit recommendations for vacancies.  Acting on the recommendations of the JNC, President Obama nominated Philip Lammens, a magistrate judge for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, to fill the vacancy.[4]  However, even though Lammens had the support of both Nelson and Rubio, he never received a hearing in the 114th Congress and his nomination was returned unconfirmed upon the election of Donald Trump.

In early 2017, Rubio and Nelson jointly recommended that Trump renominate Lammens and two other unsuccessful Obama nominees.[5]  However, while one of the other picks, William Jung, was renominated, Lammens was not.  Meanwhile, the JNC recommended Wetherell for the Northern District alongside three other candidates on November 16, 2017.[6]  Wetherell was nominated alongside another finalist, Judge Allen Winsor.[7]

Legal Experience

Wetherell started his career at the Tallahassee firm of Hopping Green Sams & Smith, where he practiced land use law, mostly representing developers seeking municipal approval.  He also worked as a lobbyist, handling matters related to the Administrative Procedure Act and the motor vehicle lemon law.

From 1999 to 2002, Wetherell served as Deputy Solicitor General under the newly created Solicitor General’s Office.  In this capacity, Wetherell handled appeals on behalf of the state, but also participated in trial efforts seeking to shield media attention from Dale Earnhart’s autopsy photos.[8]

Jurisprudence

Wetherell has served as a judge since 2002, serving as an Administrative Judge for seven years, and as a judge on the First District Court of Appeal for the last nine years.  In the former position, Wetherell handled licensing, permitting, and discrimination claims on an administrative level.  In the latter, Wetherell heard civil and criminal appeals from the Florida Circuit Courts.  During his time as an appellate judge, Wetherell heard approximately 6500 cases.[9]  Of these cases, Wetherell has been reversed three times.

In the first matter where Wetherell was reversed, he ruled that legislators were protected from being deposed in challenges to congressional reapportionment by legislative immunity.[10]  The Florida Supreme Court reversed over a dissent by Justice Charles Canady, finding that legislative privilege did not apply in the matter as legislative intent was essential for the lawsuit.[11]  In the second, Wetherell upheld an agency determination that the City of Miami could unilaterally modify a collective bargaining agreement with the police under the “financial urgency statute,” and the Florida Supreme Court reversed.[12]  In the third, the Florida Supreme Court reversed Wetherell’s ruling upholding a defendant’s convictions for use of a computer to solicit a minor and traveling to meet a minor.[13]

Political Activity

Wetherell has a fairly limited political history, including campaigning for his father in his state house campaigns.  For his own part, Wetherell has just one contribution of record, to Colorado Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a Democrat-turned-Republican.[14]

Overall Assessment

Overall, Wetherell looks to be set for a comfortable confirmation.  His record shows little that is controversial and he is the product of a well-respected bipartisan commission.  Furthermore, given his ties to Florida Democrats including his father, Crist, and Butterworth, it is unlikely that he will draw strong opposition.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., T. Kent Wetherell II: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id. 

[4] Press Release, President Obama Nominates Eight to Serve on United States District Courts (Apr. 28, 2016) (on file at https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/).

[5] Andrew Pantazi, Rubio and Nelson Ask Trump to Keep Judicial Picks They Sent to Obama, Florida Times-Union, Mar. 23, 2017, https://www.jacksonville.com/news/national/2017-03-23/rubio-and-nelson-ask-trump-keep-judicial-picks-they-sent-obama.  

[6] Alex Leary, Finalists Named for Federal Bench in Northern District of Florida, The Buzz, Nov. 16, 2017, http://www.tbo.com/florida-politics/buzz/2017/11/16/finalists-named-for-federal-bench-in-northern-district-of-florida/.  

[7] Press Release, President Donald J. Trump Announces Thirteenth Wave of Judicial Nominees, and Seventh Wave of United States Marshal Nominees (April 26, 2018) (on file at www.whitehouse.gov/thepressoffice).

[8] See Wetherell, supra n.1 at 37.

[9] Id. at 16-17.

[10] Fla. House of Representatives v. Romo, 113 So. 3d 117 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013).

[11] League of Women Voters of Florida v. Fla. House of Representatives, 132 So. 3d 135 (Fla. 2013).

[12] Headley v. City of Miami, 118 So. 3d 885 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013), quashed, 215 So. 3d 1 (Fla. 2017).

[13] Griffis v. State, 133 So. 3d 650 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014), quashed, 2016 WL 1664979 (Fla. Apr. 27, 2016).

Judge John Milton Younge – Nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

When Judge John Milton Younge was nominated to the federal bench by President Obama, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley killed the nomination by refusing to give it a final Committee vote.  With Younge renominated by President Trump, Grassley appears to have dropped his opposition and scheduled the vote, making it significantly more likely that Younge will be confirmed.

Background

A native of Philadelphia, John Milton Younge was born there in 1955.  He attended Boston University, graduating in 1977 and then getting a J.D. from Howard University School of Law in 1981.[1]

After graduation, Younge worked as a solo practitioner for three years and then joined the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority as a Staff Attorney.[2]  He moved up through the ranks of the organization, becoming General Counsel in 1990 and Deputy Executive Director in 1991.[3]

In 1996, Younge ran for and won a seat on the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas as a Democrat.[4]  He has served in that position ever since.  Younge made two unsuccessful runs for the Superior Court, losing elections in 2007 and 2009 to Republican candidates.

History of the Seat

Younge has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  This seat opened on November 18, 2013, when Judge Mary McLaughlin moved to senior status.  Younge, who had applied for a judgeship with Pennsylvania Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey back in 2011, was nominated on July 30, 2015.[5]  Younge received a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on December 9, 2015, but never received a vote to move to the floor.  In blocking Younge, Chairman Chuck Grassley cited Younge seeking the endorsement of Planned Parenthood during his judicial campaigns.[6]  As such, Younge was never confirmed and the seat remained open throughout the Obama Presidency.

In early 2017, Casey and Toomey asked the White House to renominate Younge for the position.[7]  Younge was initially interviewed by the White House in April 2017, but then sat in limbo for a year before the vetting process began.[8]  President Trump announced Younge’s nomination to the vacancy on July 17, 2018.

Jurisprudence

From 1996, Younge has served as a Judge on the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, which are the primary trial courts in Pennsylvania.  As a Judge, Younge presided over cases in civil and criminal matters, as well as domestic relations, juvenile, and family law matters.  Over the last twenty two years, Younge has presided over approximately 2300 cases.[9]

Among his more notable cases, Younge presided over a settlement between victims of gun violence and WalMart in relation to charges that WalMart negligently sold ammunition.[10]  Younge also presided over the settlement of claims arising from the sex abuse of Sean McIlmail by a priest at the Philadelphia Archdiocese.[11]

Over his twenty two years on the bench, Younge’s rulings have been reversed by higher courts twenty times.  Of these reversals, the most significant is in Zenak v. Police Athletic League City of Philadelphia.[12]  In that case, Younge allowed whistleblower claims brought by a police officer to proceed in a jury action against the City.[13]  The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court reversed the decision, finding that the claims needed to statutorily be decided by a judge, not a jury.[14]

Political Activity

Younge has been involved with the Philadelphia Democratic Party since 1984, when he served on the Ward Executive Committee for the Party.[15]  Younge won election to the bench as a Democrat and ran twice unsuccessfully as a Democrat for the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

Overall Assessment

While the Trump Administration has renominated a fair number of Obama judicial nominees, Younge is a particularly unusual choice for renomination.  This is because, unlike the other picks renominated, Younge was actively opposed by Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley.  As such, Younge could potentially not be considered a mainstream choice and could attract strong opposition from Republican senators.

However, even in the (slightly) more Republican senate of 2019, it is still likely that Younge gets confirmed.  Assuming all Democrats support Younge, he only needs three Republican votes to be confirmed.  One of those votes will undoubtedly come from Sen. Toomey, who pushed for his renomination.  Sens. Collins and Murkowski will likely provide the other two.  In addition, there are probably a fair number of Republicans who do not wish to see a Trump nominee fail on their watch.

Nevertheless, Younge will likely attract more opposition than most other Trump nominees, and does face a non-zero chance of being blocked by conservative opposition.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., John M. Younge.: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at 65.

[6] Philip Wegmann, After Facing Questions on Abortion, 2 Obama Judicial Nominees Fail to Advance, The Daily Signal, Jan. 29, 2016, https://www.dailysignal.com/2016/01/29/after-facing-questions-on-abortion-2-obama-judicial-nominees-fail-to-advance/.  

[7] See Younge, supra n. 1 at 65.

[8] Id.

[9] See Younge, supra n. 1 at 32.

[10] Peter Hall, Wal-Mart, Victims’ Families Settle, The Morning Call, Apr. 7, 2017.  

[11] Craig R. McCoy, In Largest Reported Payout Yet, Philadelphia Archdiocese Settles Abuse Suit, June 25, 2018.

[12] 132 A.3d 541 (Pa. Cmnwlth 2016).

[13] See id. 

[14] Id.

[15] See Younge, supra n. 1 at 58.