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

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

Background

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

History of the Seat

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

Legal Experience

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

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

Political Activity

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

Overall Assessment

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

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

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

Background

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

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

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

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

History of the Seat

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

Legal Experience

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

Federal Prosecutor

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

Private Practice

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

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

Writings 

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

Political Activity

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

Overall Assessment

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

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


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

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

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

[4] Id.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[16] Id.

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

Judge Zahid Quraishi – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey

When President Biden released his list of 11 judicial nominees, they were described by many as “history-making.”  That moniker certainly holds for his nomination of New Jersey Magistrate Judge Zahid Quraishi, who would be, if confirmed the first Muslim American (as well as the first Pakistani American) Article III judge.

Background

Zahid Nisar Quraishi was born in 1975 in New York City and grew up in Fanwood, NJ in an immigrant family from Pakistan.[1]  Quraishi graduated from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 1997 and then attended Rutgers University School of Law, getting his J.D in 2000.

After graduating, Quraishi clerked on the Superior Court of New Jersey and then joined the Newark office of LeBouef, Lamb, Greene & MacRae, LLP.  In 2003, Quraishi left the firm to join the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Corps. (JAG).  

In 2007, Quraishi joined the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as Assistant Chief Counsel and then became a federal prosecutor in New Jersey in 2008.  In 2013, Quraishi became a Partner at Riker Danzig.  Since 2019, Quraishi has been serving as a U.S. Magistrate Judge based in Trenton.

History of the Seat

The seat Quraishi has been nominated for opened on June 14, 2018, with Judge Peter Sheridan’s move to senior status.  The Trump Administration never put forward a nominee to fill this vacancy. For his part, Quraishi had been in contact with Sen. Cory Booker regarding this vacancy since February 2020 but his nomination only started to move after the election of President Biden, who nominated him on March 30, 2021.

Legal Experience

Quraishi has held a number of different positions throughout his career, including working in private practice, working as a federal government, and working as a JAG officer.  Throughout these positions, Quraishi has gained litigation experience in both criminal and civil law.  

Among the notable cases he has handled, Quraishi prosecuted New Jersey State Senator Wayne Bryant for honest services mail fraud, bribery, and extortion.[2] After a bench trial, U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson found Bryant “Not Guilty” of all charges, finding that the government had failed to prove that Bryant accepted payments in exchange for an official act.[3] 

On the defense side, Quraishi represented Apple employee Toni Ann Branca, who was convicted of embezzlement for double-billed Apple for expenses on her company credit card.[4]  Branca was sentenced to prison and paid $95,000 in restitution.[5]   

Judicial Experience

Quraishi has served as a U.S. Magistrate judge in New Jersey since his appointment in 2019.  In this role, he handles settlement, discovery, and makes recommendations on dispositive motions.  He also presides over cases where the parties consent.

Due to his relatively short tenure on the bench, Quraishi has not had many substantive matters under his belt.  However, in one notable case, Quraishi presided over a lawsuit alleging fraud on the part of Caesars Interactive, which operated an online poker platform.[6]  The suit concluded when Quraishi granted summary judgment to Caesars on all of the plaintiff’s claims.[7]

Overall Assessment

As we have previously noted, the District of New Jersey is desperately short-handed.  As Quraishi has a wide spectrum of legal experience, and little controversial about his background, he is poised to join the bench in due course.

[1] See Carl Glassman, Nisar Quraishi, 73, Longtime Tribeca MD, ‘Gave His Life to What He Loved’, The Tribeca Tribune, Apr. 19, 2020, http://www.tribecatrib.com/content/nisar-quraishi-73-longtime-tribeca-md-gave-his-life-what-he-loved.

[2] See United States v. Bryant, 885 F. Supp. 2d 749 (D.N.J. 2012).

[3] See id. at 751.

[4] See Michael Tanenbaum, Former New Jersey Apple Employee Gets Prison for Embezzling $243,000, The Philadelphia Voice, June 1, 2018, https://www.phillyvoice.com/new-jersey-apple-employee-embezzlement-sentenced-prison/

[5] See id.

[6] Shah v. Caesars Interactive Entm’t, Civil Action No. 18-14108 (FLW) (ZNQ), 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 185354 (D.N.J. Oct. 6, 2020).

[7] See id.

Julien Neals – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey

In February 2015, Newark attorney Julien Neals was nominated by President Obama for a federal judgeship.  Neals’ nomination then sat in limbo before the Republican-controlled Senate for nearly two years before the election of President Trump ended his chances.  Today, more than six years later, Neals is getting a second shot to become a federal judge.

Background

Julien Xavier Neals was born in Newark, NJ on January 1, 1965.  Neals graduated from Morehouse College in 1984 and then spent the next few years as a self-employed musician.[1]  He then attended Emory University School of Law, getting his J.D in 1991.[2]

After graduating, Neals clerked on the Superior Court of New Jersey and then joined the Secaucus office of Chasan Leyner & Lamparello, PC, where he became a Partner in 2003.  In 2006, Neals was chosen by Mayor Cory Booker to serve on the Newark Municipal Court.  

In 2008 Booker tapped Neals to be the city’s Corporation Counsel.[3]  In 2010, Neals shifted position again, to become the City’s Business Administrator as well.  Since 2015, Neals has been serving as County Counsel and acting County Administrator for Bergen County.

History of the Seat

The seat Neals has been nominated for opened on February 10, 2015, with Judge William Martini’s move to senior status.  On February 26, 2015, upon Booker’s recommendation, Neals was nominated by President Obama to fill the vacancy opening with Judge Faith Hochberg’s move to senior status on March 6, 2015.  Neals received a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 30, 2015 and was approved by voice vote on November 5, 2015.  However, the nomination sat on the Senate floor without action for 14 months before the inauguration of President Trump resulted in its withdrawal.

In 2017, Booker and the Trump Administration attempted to reach an agreement of New Jersey nominees that would include the renomination of Neals to fill a district court vacancy.[4]  However, the deal never came to fruition and Neals was not renominated.  Instead, the vacancy left by Judge Hochberg, along with six other New Jersey vacancies were left without nominees throughout the Trump Presidency.

Legal Experience

Neals spent the first half of his legal career as an attorney with Chasan Leyner & Lamparello, where he handled general litigation, including around 35 trials.[5]  Among the notable matters he handled at the firm, he represented the City of Paterson in defending against lawsuits alleging excessive force resulting from a riot at the City’s Peruvian Day festival.[6]  

In 2008, Neals became the Corporation Counsel for the City of Newark, which began the second phase of his career, where he primarily worked within municipalities.  As Corporation Counsel, Neals helped implement the city’s community court project as an alternative to jail for petty crimes.[7]  He also oversaw the repeal of the City’s loitering ordinance, which had been declared unconstitutional by the New Jersey Supreme Court.  

During his tenure as Corporation Counsel, Neals was also the target of a blackmail attempt, in which his subordinate Neil Braunstein threatened to accuse Neals of corruption and workplace discrimination if he was not given a promotion and $750,000 in cash.[8]  After Neals reported the attempt, Braunstein was criminally charged, convicted, fired, and had his law license suspended.[9]

After his tenure as Corporation Counsel, Neals served as the City’s Business Adminstrator, where, due to declining revenues, Neals was forced to cut back on police expenditures,[10] and as County Counsel for Bergen County.

Judicial Experience

Neals served as the Chief Judge of the Newark Municipal Court from 2006 to 2008, a court with jurisdiction over traffic infractions, housing and code violations, and minor criminal offenses.[11]  As Chief Judge of the court, Neals supervised the other judges and presided over approximately 6000 cases.[12]

Overall Assessment

Deprived of new judges for the last four years, the District of New Jersey is desperately short-handed.  As Neals’ past nomination was approved by a Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee without opposition, one could argue that his current nomination should receive similar support.

However, there may be reasons why Neals’ current nomination may draw greater opposition than his previous one.  In particular, Neals having presided over cuts to the Newark Police Department may draw greater salience in the backdrop of police reform movements and calls to “defund the police.”  

Nonetheless, Neals is still much more likely than not to be confirmed.  However, he may draw more active opposition than his nomination did in 2015.

[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 114th Cong. Julien Neals: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 2.

[2] See id. at 1.

[3] See Andrew Jacobs, Booker is Losing 2 Top Officials, 18 Months Into His Newark Administration, N.Y. Times, Jan. 5, 2008.

[4] See Andrew Seidman and Jonathan Tamari, Trump Poised to Nominate Christie Ally for U.S. Attorney in Complex Political Deal, Philadelphia Inquirer, Aug. 11, 2017.

[5] See Neals, supra n. 1 at 40.

[6] Rossmorey et al. v. City of Paterson, et al., 2:97-cv-03964-JLL-RJH (D.N.J.).

[7] See Donna Leinwand, Alternative Courts Gain Ground for Petty Crimes, USA Today, June 10, 2008.

[8] See Rohan Mascarenhas, Newark City Attorney Is Arrested for Alleged Blackmail of Boss, NJ.com, Apr. 2, 2009, https://www.nj.com/news/2009/05/newark_attorney_arrested_at_ci.html.

[9] See Debra Cassens Weiss, Lawyer is Suspended from Law Practice for Taking Quest for a Promotion Too Far, ABA Journal, May 10, 2012, https://www.abajournal.com/news/article/lawyer_is_suspended_from_law_practice_for_taking_quest_for_a_promotion_too_.

[10] See David Ariosto, As City Cutbacks Cause Police Layoffs, Bullets in Night Claim Young Mother’s Life, CNN.com, Oct. 28, 2012.

[11] See Neals, supra n. 1 at 33-34.

[12] See id.

Margaret Strickland – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico

The pending vacancy in the Las Cruces division of the District of New Mexico has been declared a judicial emergency based on the caseloads of the judges and the extended time the seat has been open.  However, the emergency may be coming to an end with the nomination of criminal defense attorney Margaret Strickland. 

Background

Born on May 24, 1980, Margaret Strickland received her B.A. from the University of Texas-El Paso  in 2003 and a J.D. from New York University Law School in 2006.  Strickland then spent the next five years as a Public Defender in New Mexico.

Since 2011, Strickland has worked as a partner at McGraw & Strickland LLC in Las Cruces.  She was also the President of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association from 2017 to 2019. 

History of the Seat

Strickland has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico.  This seat opened on July 25, 2018, when Judge Robert Brack moved to senior status.  President Trump made two attempts to fill this seat, first nominating U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin Sweazea and then federal prosecutor Fred Federici.  However, neither nominee received a hearing due to the opposition of New Mexico Senators.

Legal Career

Strickland has primarily spent her career as a criminal defense attorney, spending five years as a Public Defender and ten years in private practice.  Among her most notable cases, Strickland successfully won a reversal of her client’s fraud conviction before the New Mexico Court of Appeals based on insufficient evidence.[1]  She was also able to win a challenge to a defendant’s trial court conviction based on violations of his speedy trial rights and Sixth Amendment right to counsel.[2]  

On the non-criminal side, Strickland represented the family of a 13-year-old student who was nearly shot by an officer of the Las Cruces Police Department who accidentally discharged his weapon in a school.[3]  The family filed suit against the Department and the Officer.[4]

Political Activity

Strickland has a few political contributions to her name, specifically two donations to Rep. Maggie Toulouse Oliver and one to former Rep. Xochilt Torres-Small.

Statements

Throughout her legal career, Strickland has addressed the criminal justice system, including as a member of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Crime Analysis & Policy Partnership.[5]  In 2013, Strickland spoke out against cuts to the New Mexico Public Defender system.[6]  In 2017, Strickland defended New Mexico bail reforms, which were under criticism after a defendant out on bail died after opening fire on police officers.[7]  In 2018, Strickland spoke in support of the use of the pardon power in New Mexico, which Republican Gov. Susana Martinez used sparingly.[8] Strickland noted that New Mexico does not allow expungement, which makes the pardon power even more important in restorative justice.[9]  Furthermore, in 2019, Strickland spoke out against increasing penalties for threats of mass violence, noting that “longer sentences do not deter crimes” and advocating for preventative measures.[10]

Overall Assessment

In many ways, Strickland is a mirror image of the candidates frequently sought out by the Trump Administration for the bench.  She is young, outspoken regarding the issues she holds dear, and has a distinguished legal record.  While many Republicans will likely oppose Strickland based on her age and advocacy on criminal justice issues, she should nonetheless be favored for confirmation due to the narrow Democratic majority.

[1] State of New Mexico v. Garcia, 356 P.3d 45 (N.M. App. 2015).

[2] State v. Castro, 381 P.3d 694 (N.M. App. 2016).

[3] A.P., Lawsuit: Police Bullet at New Mexico School Harmed Student, A.P. State & Local, Mar. 25, 2020.

[4] See id.

[5] Press Release, Office of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, New Mexico Gov. Grisham Establishes Crime Advisory Group (June 10, 2019).

[6] See Anne Constable, Public Defender Cuts May Hike Costs, Jeopardize Justice, Santa Fe New Mexican, July 14, 2013.

[7] See Susan Montoya Bryan, Police Shooting Spurs Criticism of New Mexico’s Bail Reforms, A.P. State & Local, Aug. 28, 2017.

[8] Jeff Proctor, Analysis: Pardons Have Plummeted in New Mexico Under Gov. Martinez, New Mexico In Depth, May 23, 2018.

[9]See id.

[10] See Mathew Brock, DA Weighs In on Criminalizing Threats of Mass Violence, Clovis News Journal, Nov. 24, 2019.

Judge Deborah Boardman – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland

In 2019, Judge Stephanie Gallagher, a magistrate judge in the District of Maryland, was confirmed to the federal bench.  She was replaced as a magistrate judge by federal public defender Deborah Boardman.  Boardman herself is now a nominee to join Gallagher on the Maryland District Court.

Background

The 46-year-old Boardman was born in Silver Spring, Maryland and grew up in nearby Frederick.  Boardman received a B.A. summa cum laude from Villanova University in 1996, and then spent a year in Amman, Jordan, on a Fulbright Scholarship.  Boardman then obtained a J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law in 2000.

After graduation, Boardman clerked for Judge James Cacheris on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. She then joined the D.C. office of Hogan & Hartson as an associate.  In 2008, Boardman left the firm to become a federal public defender in Maryland. 

In 2019, when Gallagher was elevated to be a U.S. District Judge, Boardman was appointed to replace her as a U.S. Magistrate Judge, where she currently serves.

History of the Seat

Boardman has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.  While the exact seat has not been specified, Boardman will likely fill the seat opened by Judge Richard Bennett’s move to senior status upon the confirmation of his successor.

Legal Career

Boardman began her legal career as a law clerk on the Eastern District of Virginia.  From 2001 to 2008, she worked as an associate at Hogan & Hartson in Washington D.C.  During her tenure there, Boardman worked on the legal team for Derek Tice, a former Navy officer who had been convicted of rape and murder in Norfolk.[1]  Boardman was able to convince Judge Everett Martin to overturn Tice’s conviction based on violations of his right against self-incrimination.[2] However, Martin’s decision was overturned by the Virginia Supreme Court (in a decision written by future Fourth Circuit Judge Barbara Keenan).

From 2008 to 2019, Boardman worked as a Federal Public Defender in Maryland, where she represented indigent defendants in federal court.  Among her notable matters there, Boardman represented Thomas Drake, an employee of the National Security Agency charged with mishandling classified information.[3]  The prosecution ended with the dropping of all charges in exchange for a plea on a single misdemeanor.  Boardman also represented Anthony McIntosh, a Prince George’s County jail worker who was charged with failing to seek medical attention when coming across an inmate who was found “hanging from a sheet in his cell.”[4] 

Political Activity

Boardman has a couple of political donations under her belt.  In 2007, Boardman gave $500 to the Presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, while in 2008, she gave $300 to Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign.

Jurisprudence 

Boardman has served as a U.S. Magistrate judge in Maryland since her appointment in 2019.  In this role, she handles settlement, discovery, and makes recommendations on dispositive motions.  She also presides over cases where the parties consent.

Given her short tenure as a magistrate, Boardman has relatively few substantive decisions under her belt, generally involving issues of pretrial release and detention.  For example, Boardman denied the government’s motion to hold Michael Davis, who was charged with drug and firearm related offenses, finding that Davis has no history of violence and there were conditions other than detention that could protect the community.[5]

In another case, Boardman granted an inmate’s motion for pretrial release, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic materially changed the circumstances of his detention and that additional conditions could ensure the safety of the community.[6]  

Overall Assessment

With two decades of litigation experience, and a relatively uncontroversial background, Boardman should, barring the unexpected, see a relatively comfortable confirmation to the District of Maryland.

[1]See Matt Reed, Judge Overturns Conviction in 1997 Norfolk Murder Case, A.P., Nov. 30, 2006.

[2]Id.

[3] See Alex Dominguez, Motion to Drop Charges in NSA Leaks Case Denied, A.P., March 31, 2011.

[4] See Brian White, Man Pleads Guilty in Case Involving Inmate Death, A.P., Jan. 4, 2013.

[5]United States v. Davis, 449 F. Supp. 3d 532 (D. Md. 2020).

[6] United States v. Shaheed, 455 F. Supp. 225 (D. Md. 2020).

Judge Lydia Griggsby – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland

Judge Lydia Griggsby, nominated to be a federal trial judge in Maryland, should have a short learning curve for her new role, given that she has served as a trial judge on the specialized Court of Federal Claims for the last seven years.

Background

A native Marylander, Lydia Kay Griggsby was born on January 16, 1968 in Baltimore.  Griggsby received a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1990, and then obtained a J.D. from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1993.[1]

After graduation, Griggsby worked for the Baltimore office of DLA Piper for two years before joining the U.S. Department of Justice as a trial attorney. [2]  In 1998, Griggsby became a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.

In 2004, Griggsby left to become Counsel for the Senate Committee on Ethics.  In 2006, she became Counsel to Sen. Patrick Leahy at the Senate Judiciary Committee, working on privacy and technology issues.[3]

In 2014, Griggsby was nominated by President Obama to be a Judge on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, replacing Judge Francis Allegra.  Griggsby was confirmed by voice vote on December 5, 2014, and has served in that position ever since.

History of the Seat

Griggsby has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.  While the exact seat has not been specified, Griggsby will likely fill the seat opened by Judge Ellen Lipton Hollander’s move to senior status upon the confirmation of her successor.

Legal Career

Griggsby has held a number of positions throughout her career, including work in private practice, for the federal government, and as a staffer for the U.S. Senate.  Interestingly, by her own description, most of these roles did not involve Griggsby working on litigation, and Griggsby did not actively try any cases except on the pleadings.[4]

Nonetheless, Griggsby has worked on a number of complex cases.  For example, Griggsby worked as part of the federal government in negotiating a consent decree requiring better environmental protections in vehicles produced by Toyota. [5]  She also defended the Bureau of Prisons against a constitutional lawsuit challenging regulations governing the inmates’ use of mail.[6] 

Political Activity

Griggsby has a fairly short political history, consisting primarily of two stints conducting voter protection for the Obama campaigns in 2008 and 2012.[7]

Jurisprudence 

Griggsby has served as a U.S. Court of Federal Claims judge since her appointment in 2014.  In this role, she adjudicates suits involving monetary claims against the federal government as well as specialized cases, including vaccine injury suits.  Among her notable rulings on the Court of Federal Claims, Griggsby ruled, in a decision upheld by the Federal Circuit, that a protester to the award of a government contract did not have standing to file a challenge if the protester was unable to perform the contract.[8]  

Overall Assessment

Seven years ago, Griggsby was confirmed unanimously for a seat on the Court of Federal Claims.  Given the lack of controversy in her background, there is little reason to think that her confirmation to the District of Maryland will be too different.

[1]See Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 113rd Cong., Lydia Griggsby: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2]Id. at 2.

[3] See id.

[4] Id. at 14-15.

[5]See United States v. Toyota Motor Corp., No. 99-018888 (D.D.C. July 1, 2003).

[6] McCain v. Reno, 98 F. Supp. 2d 5 (D.D.C. 2000).

[7] See Griggsby, supra n. 1 at 11.

[8] See Stuart Turner and Nathaniel Castellano, Fed. Circ. Ruling Highlights Bid Protester Standing Issues, Mondaq, Sept. 28, 2018.

Judge Florence Pan – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

In 2016, D.C. Superior Court Judge Florence Pan became the first Asian woman tapped for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.  Despite a favorable recommendation from the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee, Pan’s nomination was never confirmed.  Now, more than four years later, Pan has a second chance to join the federal bench.     

Background

Born in 1966, Florence Yu Pan graduated summa cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania in 1988 and then received her J.D. cum laude from Stanford Law School in 1993. 

After graduating, Pan clerked for Judge Michael Mukasey on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and for Judge Ralph Winter on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit before joining the Department of Justice as a Bristow Fellow in the Office of the Solicitor General.  Pan then worked in the Department of Treasury between 1998 and 1999.

In 1999, Pan became a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.  She stayed with the office until her appointment by President Obama to the D.C. Superior Court in 2009.  

On April 28, 2016, Pan was nominated by President Barack Obama to become a U.S. District Judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, replacing Judge Reggie Walton.  However, her nomination was not confirmed by the U.S. Senate, which was then under Republican control, and after President Donald Trump was elected, he nominated Dabney Freidrich to fill the vacancy.

History of the Seat

The seat Pan has been nominated for will open upon the confirmation of Judge Ketanji Jackson to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.  

Legal Experience

Pan started her legal career as a clerk to Judge Michael Mukasey on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and then for Judge Ralph Winter on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.  Since then, Pan worked for the federal government until her appointment to the D.C. Superior Court, going from the Department of Justice to the Department of the Treasury to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.  During her tenure, Pan tried around forty cases, half of which were jury trials. 

Among the significant matters that she worked on, Pan argued before the en banc D.C. Circuit in support of the police partially unzipping the jacket of a suspect during a Terry stop. See U.S. v. Askew, 529 F.3d 1119 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (en banc).  The D.C. Circuit ruled against her on the issue, finding that the facts surrounding the stop did not create reasonable suspicion for unzipping the jacket. See id.

Pan also argued in front of the D.C. Court of Appeals in defending a conviction against a defendant alleging an insanity defense to killing her child. See McNeil v. United States, 933 A.2d 354 (D.C. 2007).  The D.C. Court of Appeals overturned the conviction, finding that the prosecutor below improperly used the defendant’s invocation of her Miranda rights to argue that she was sane. See id. at 369.

Judicial Experience

Since her confirmation in 2009, Pan has served as a Judge on the D.C. Superior Court.  She started her time in the court on a Felony docket, but has since served on the Family, Misdemeanor, and Civil dockets as well.     

While serving on the Felony docket, Pan presided over a number of prosecutions of violent offenders, frequently handing out significant sentences, including a 15-year-sentence for a man who assaulted a victim in LeDroit Park, a 12-year-sentence for a man who stabbed the victim in Southeast D.C., and a 60-year-sentence to Antwon Pitt, who sexually assaulted a woman in Southeast D.C. as part of two home invasions.  On the civil side, Pan dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Center for Inquiry against Walmart for selling homeopathic medicines.

In her twelve years on the bench, a handful of Pan’s rulings have been reversed by the D.C. Court of Appeals.  In two cases, Pan presided over convictions for assault with significant bodily injury that were reversed because the Court of Appeals found insufficient evidence of significant injury. Compare In re D.P., 122 A.3d 903 (D.C. 2015) with Quintanilla v. United States, 62 A.3d 1261 (D.C. 2013).  On the civil side, in 2020, the D.C. Court of Appeals reversed Pan’s decision not to award treble damages in a wage-and-hour suit, finding that she had no discretion not to award the damages. Sivaraman v. Guizzetti & Associates., 228 A.3d 1066 (D.C. 2020).

Political Activity

Pan made a $500 contribution to the Presidential Campaign of John Kerry in 2004, her only contribution of record.  

Overall Assessment

This will be the third time that Pan has faced the U.S. Senate. In 2009, she was confirmed unanimously by a Democratic-controlled Senate. In 2016, she was approved by a Republican-controlled Committee but ultimately did not receive a confirmation vote before the U.S. Senate. Today, with a relatively uncontroversial moderate-liberal record, Pan is favored for a bipartisan confirmation.

Joseph Dawson – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina

The J. Waites Waring Judicial Center in Charleston, SC

There has never been an African American judge on the South Carolina federal bench appointed by a Republican President.  If confirmed, Charleston County attorney Joseph Dawson would break that notable barrier.

Background

Born in 1970, Joseph Dawson III received a B.A. from The Citadel in 1991 and a J.D. from the University of South Carolina Law School in 1997.[1]  While a law student, Dawson worked as a clerk at the Charleston County Attorney’s Office.  Upon graduation, Dawson was hired there as an Assistant County Attorney.  In 2000, Dawson became Deputy County Attorney and has served as County Attorney since 2001.[2] 

Additionally, Dawson has also maintained a part-time solo practice since 2001.

History of the Seat

The seat Dawson has been nominated for opened on February 28, 2019, with Judge Terry Wooten’s move to senior status.  Dawson was nominated on October 23, 2020 at the recommendation of U.S. Sen. Tim Scott.

Legal Experience

Dawson’s primary role is as County Attorney for Charleston County.  In this capacity, Dawson oversees all legal matters for the County and manages the County Attorney’s Office, with a budget of approximately $1.7 million.[3]  Among Dawson’s more prominent cases, he was the primary lawyer defending the County Assessor in a suit challenging tax assessments laid against a new Hampton Inn & Suites.[4]  After losing the suit at trial, Dawson appealed the matter to the South Carolina Court of Appeals and the South Carolina Supreme Court, which ultimately upheld the assessment.[5]

However, Dawson’s tenure as County Attorney has not been without some controversy.  In 2011, Dawson drew criticism for drawing an income of over $300,000 a year from the County, significantly more than other County Attorneys across the state.[6]  Dawson’s contract maintained a fixed salary of $172,500 but permitted compensation for additional legal services, which allowed for the greater income.[7] 

Overall Assessment

Salary issues aside, there is little in Dawson’s background that should attract controversy during his confirmation.  Rather, the biggest issue Dawson is facing is the depleting Senate calendar.  Nonetheless, I expect that, as Dawson has already received a hearing and the Judiciary Chairman is his home-state senator, his nomination will be one of the last confirmed before the end of the Congress.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Joseph Dawson III: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id. at 17-18.

[4] See Charleston Cnty. Assessor v. Univ. Ventures, LLC, 427 S.C. 273 (2019).

[5] Id. 

[6] Bill Sharpe, Charleston County Attorney Dodges Questions About His Salary, Live 5 News, May 3, 2011, https://www.live5news.com/story/14566073/charleston-county-attorney-dodges-questions-about-his-salary/.

[7] See id.

Charles Atchley – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee

Longtime federal prosecutor Charles Atchley is President Trump’s latest nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee.  While Atchley has the support of his home-state senators, he has a very short confirmation window before the end of the year.

Background

A Tennessee native, Charles Edward Atchley Jr. was born in Knoxville in 1966.  He graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1989 and then attended Cumberland School of Law at Samford University, graduating in 1993.[1]  Atchley then joined the Office of the District Attorney General as a state prosecutor in 1994.

In 2001, Atchley became a federal prosecutor at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee.[2]  Atchley became First Assistant with the Office in 2018 and has served in that capacity since.  

History of the Seat

Atchley has been nominated to fill a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee.  This seat opened on March 10, 2020, when Judge Harry Mattice moved to senior status.  Atchley applied for a federal judgeship and was recommended by Tennessee’s senators to the White House in September 2019.[3]  However, he was not formally nominated until September 2020, more than a year later.

Legal Career

Atchley has spent virtually his entire legal career as a prosecutor, spending seven years at the state level and nineteen at the federal level.  In this time, Atchley has tried more than 50 cases to judgment or verdict.[4]

During his time as a prosecutor, Atchley has handled a number of high profile cases, most notably prosecuting Allen Ho for trying to recruit nuclear experts to help the Chinese government.[5]  Atchley also prosecuted Tennessee Rep. Joseph Armstrong, a Democrat, for allegedly manipulating the state’s cigarette tax system to make more than $300,000.[6]  Additionally, Atchley prosecuted four Campbell County Sheriff’s deputies for the beating and torture of a suspected drug dealer.[7] 

Overall Assessment

As a relatively apolitical career prosecutor, Atchley’s nomination is likely to be fairly uncontroversial, except for its timing.  With the Trump Administration’s term winding down, Democrats are likely to oppose any nominee at this late stage, arguing that these seats deserve to be filled by President Biden.  If Republicans stick together and prioritize the nomination, they are likely to be able to push Atchley onto the bench.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Charles E. Atchley Jr: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id. at 30-31.

[4] Id. at 17.

[5] See Robin Pagnamenta, Nuclear ‘Spy’ Claims FBI Tricked Him Into Confession, The London Times, Aug. 18, 2016.

[6] Erik Schelzig, Prosecutors: Tennessee Lawmaker Acted ‘Above the Law’, A.P. State & Local, Aug. 2, 2016.

[7] See Four Former Campbell Officers Sentenced in Torture Case, A.P. State & Local Wire, July 13, 2005.