Scott Colom – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi

Mississippi District Attorney Scott Colom has built a name for himself as a “progressive” prosecutor, frequently writing and advocating for changes in the justice system. Colom has now been tapped for a vacancy on the federal bench in Mississippi.

Background

A native of Columbus, Mississippi, Colom was born on December 25, 1983. He graduated from Millsaps College in 2005 and from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 2009. He subsequently spent two years as a staff lawyer for the Mississippi Center for Justice before joining Colom & Colom in private practice.

While maintaining his private practice, Colom also served as a city and municipal court judge as well as a part-time prosecutor in Columbus.

In 2015, Colom defeated 30-year-incumbent Forrest Allgood in a contentious race for district attorney for the 16th Judicial District of Mississippi, where Colom currently serves.

History of the Seat

Colom has been nominated for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi. This seat opened on November 1, 2021, when Judge Michael Mills took senior status. Colom was recommended to the White House in November 2021 by U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, the sole Democrat in Mississippi’s Congressional delegation.

Legal Experience

Colom started his legal career at the Mississippi Center for Justice, a nonprofit law firm focused on racial justice issues and then spent five years in private practice. Among the most notable cases he handled with the firm, Colom represented Taylor Bell, an Itawamba Agricultural School student who was disciplined by the school for publishing a rap song on Facebook that contained vulgar lyrics and criticized two coaches at the school. See Miss. Student Challenges Suspension Over Rap Song, A.P. State & Local Wire, Dec. 4, 2012. The district court dismissed Bell’s challenge, finding that the song was not protected under the First Amendment. See Bell v. Itawamba Cnty. Sch. Bd., 859 F. Supp. 2d 834 (N.D. Miss. 2012). However, a divided panel of the Fifth Circuit reversed the dismissal, finding that the disciplining of a student for purely off-campus activities violates the First Amendment. See Bell v. Itawamba Cnty. Sch. Bd., 774 F.3d 280 (5th Cir. 2014). The full Fifth Circuit took the matter en banc and affirmed the district court’s decision. See Bell v. Itawamba Cnty. Sch. Bd., 799 F.3d 379 (5th Cir. 2015) (en banc).

Since 2016, Colom has served as district attorney for the 16th Judicial District in Mississippi, which covers four counties in Northeastern Mississippi. His campaign against longtime incumbent Forrest Allgood involved criticism of the incumbent’s “tough on crime” record and the number of overturned convictions under his watch. See Leon Neyfakh, How to Run Against a Tough-on-Crime DA – And Win, Slate, Nov. 12, 2015.

Notably, as D.A., Colom was asked to review criminal charges related to the shooting death of Ricky Ball from police officer Canyon Boykin. Colom controversially decided to hand the case to the Attorney General’s office for prosecution, stating that his office handling the case would have an appearance of bias given their close relationship with the police department. See Jeff Amy, District Attorney Hands Police Shooting Prosecution to State, A.P. State & Local, July 6, 2016. However, after Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood was replaced by Republican Lynn Fitch in the 2019 elections, Fitch dropped the charges against Boykin, prompting criticism by Colom, who claimed that he was not consulted in the decision. See DA: Bad Time to Drop Charge of Ex-Cop in Black Man’s Death, A.P. Int’l, May 29, 2020.

In other matters, Colom supported the release of Steven Jessie Harris, who had been held for 11 years without trial, to a state mental health facility. Emily Wagster Pettus, Man Held 11 Years Without Trial Will Go to Mental Facility, A.P. State & Local, June 14, 2016. He also dropped murder charges against Brittania Smith, noting that toxicology reports did not support that she had fatally poisoned her child. See Murder Charge Dropped Against West Point Woman, A.P. State & Local, July 11, 2016. Colom also dropped murder charges against Eddie Lee Howard, who spent 23 years on death row, after his conviction was based on debunked bite mark evidence. See Leah Willingham, Murder Charge Dismissed After Debunked Bite-Mark Testimony, A.P. Int’l, Jan. 11, 2021.

Statements and Writings

As a district attorney, Colom has frequently issued statements regarding prosecutions of his office. He has also issued statements on other issues as well. For example, in 2021, Colom was one of the politicians who was discovered to have unpaid campaign finance fines (in his case $50). See Taylor Vance, Mississippi Elected Officials, Candidates Owe Thousands in Unpaid Campaign Finance Fines, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, July 1, 2021. In the article, Colom blamed the failure to pay on a lack of notice from the Secretary of State’s office, noting that a predecessor had sent out email notifications. See id. (quoting Scott Colom).

Specifically, Colom has been vocal about the use of special prosecutors to prosecute cases of police misconduct, arguing that keeping the cases with the elected prosecutors’ offices creates an appearance of bias. See Why one North Mississippi D.A. Thinks Special Prosecutors Hold the Key in Police Shootings, Mississippi Today, Aug. 20, 2018.

In addition, Colom has frequently joined amicus briefs and letters with other prosecutors. For example, Colom signed onto an amicus brief with the Fifth Circuit opposing cash bail for misdemeanor defendants. See Attorney General Racine, Other Prosecutors and Law Enforcement Leaders Call for End to Cash Bail for Misdemeanor Defendants, States News Service, Aug. 10, 2017. Colom also signed onto a Supreme Court brief seeking to overturn a 241 year sentence imposed by Missouri on a juvenile. See 75 Judges, Prosecutors, Probation, Corrections, Law Enforcement Leaders Call on Supreme Court to Reject 241-Year Sentence for Juvenile, Targeted News Service, Mar. 15, 2018. Colom also joined an amicus brief seeking the overturning of a Missouri conviction after new evidence was unearthed. See Elected Prosecutors File State Supreme Court Brief in Support of New Trial for Innocent Man Behind Bars, States News Service, Feb. 11, 2020. He also wrote in support of reducing prison populations in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. See Scott Colom and Miriam Aroni Krinsky, Tragedy of COVID-19 in Prison Shows Need for Decarceration, The People’s Vanguard of Davis, July 3, 2020. See also Elected Prosecutors Call for Dramatic Reduction in Incarcerated and Detained Populations in Response to Coronavirus, The People’s Vanguard of Davis, Mar. 18, 2020.

Overall Assessment

Given Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Durbin’s commitment to preserve home-state veto power over district court nominees, Colom makes for a curious choice from the Biden Administration for Mississippi. His record overall is strongly liberal and willing to court controversy. Additionally, at only 38, Colom is young enough to have a lengthy tenure on the court. One would think that these would be reasons for Mississippi’s home state senators to block his nomination.

However, the fact that Colom’s nomination has become public suggests that the senators have, at least tentatively, signed off on him. For all of the Administration’s judicial assertiveness, they have largely resisted the urge to override home-state senators on nominations, even in states where they could have arguably done so. As such, it will be interesting to see if Colom’s nomination represents part of a deal with Mississippi senators (perhaps as part of the state’s U.S. Attorney picks), or if Colom was able to strongly impress the senators in meeting with them. As Colom is also a good friend of Mississippi Republican Representative Trent Kelly, it is possible that Colom has fans on the other side of the aisle.

Judge Jonathan Grey – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan

Just last year, federal prosecutor Jonathan Grey was tapped to be a U.S. Magistrate Judge on the Eastern District of Michigan. Grey has now been nominated for a lifetime appointment on the court.

Background

Jonathan James Canada Grey received a B.Sc. from Morehouse College in 2004 and a J.D. from the Georgetown University Law Center in 2007. He then clerked for Judge Willie Sands on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia and for Judge Damon Keith on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

After his clerkships, Grey returned to the firm of Seyfarth Shaw, where he had briefly worked before clerking, but left after just a year to become a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan. In 2016, he shifted to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio.

In 2021, Grey became a U.S. Magistrate Judge on the Eastern District of Michigan, where he currently serves.

History of the Seat

Grey has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. This seat opened on May 1, 2022, when Judge Denise Hood moved to senior status.

Legal Career

Grey started his legal career at the firm of Seyfarth Shaw but then spent approximately a decade as a federal prosecutor in Michigan and Ohio. Among the matters he handled as a federal prosecutor, Grey defended the Internal Revenue Service’s failure to file complaints alleged tax evasion against businesses within 90 days of seizure of assets. See Ed White, Feds Returning $205K to Businesses Targeted by IRS, A.P. State & Local Wire, Nov, 20, 2013. Judge Sean Cox ordered the return of the seized funds. See id. While in Ohio, Grey tried the case against Richard Jerel Doyle for illegally possessing a firearm. Northern Ohio Felon Sentenced to 100 Months for Illegally Possessing a Firearm, States News Service, Apr. 7, 2017. Doyle was convicted after a two day jury trial and was sentenced to a prison term of 100 months by Judge Edmund Sargus. See id.

While Grey was with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan, Judge David Lawson threw out a conviction in a case he was handling (it is unclear if Grey was trial counsel or joined the case post-trial) for a violation of Brady (the Brady rule requires prosecutors to turn over all exculpatory or mitigating evidence). See United States v. McClellon, 260 F. Supp. 3d 880 (E.D. Mich. 2017). Specifically, Judge Lawson ruled that the government should have turned over information that a key police witness had been suspended for false statements but also noted: “The Assistant United States Attorney cannot be faulted here for the nondisclosure.” Id. at 884.

Political Activity

Grey’s only donation of record that could be found was a $50 donation in 2016 to Charles Hill, a Democrat running for mayor of Stonecrest, Georgia.

Jurisprudence

Grey has served as a federal magistrate judge since his appointment in 2021. One of Grey’s duties as magistrate judge is to issue Reports and Recommendations on substantive motions for the district judge. See, e.g., Huizar v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 119873 (E.D. Mich. Mar. 4, 2022). During his short tenure, Grey has had a handful of his recommendations rejected in part. For example, Judge Terrence Berg rejected in part Grey’s report recommending the granting in part of motions for summary judgment in an ERISA suit. See Washington v. AT&T Umbrella Ben. Plan No. 3, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 177510 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 29, 2022). Similarly, Judge Shalina Kumar rejected Grey’s recommendation that a plaintiff’s First Amendment retaliation claim be dismissed. See Seymoure v. Ferguson, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 179603 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 30, 2022).

Overall Assessment

Given the compressed timeline this year for judicial nominations, it is looking less likely that Grey will be confirmed to the Eastern District before the end of the Congress. However, his nomination should be relatively uncontroversial before the next Congress.

Judge Colleen Lawless – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois

Three years onto the state court bench, Judge Colleen Lawless has been nominated for a seat for the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois.

Background

Born Colleen Rae Schuster, Lawless received a B.A. from Illinois Wesleyan University in 2005 and a J.D. from Northern Illinois University School of Law in 2009.

After graduation, Lawless joined Londrigan, Potter & Randle P.C., becoming a shareholder with the firm.

In 2019, Lawless became an associate judge on the Illinois 7th district Circuit Court. She currently serves on the court.

History of the Seat

Lawless has been nominated for a future vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois, which Judge Sue Myerscough has indicated will open upon the confirmation of a successor. In June 2022, Lawless was recommended by Illinois’ Democratic Senators Richard Durbin and Tammy Duckworth for the seat alongside Chicago attorney Johanes Maliza and University of Illinois attorney Rhonda Perry.

Legal Career

Before she became a judge, Lawless spent her entire legal career at Londrigan, Potter & Randle P.C. in Springfield.

At the firm, Lawless handled civil litigation, including representing a plaintiff suing her insurance company in seeking coverage regarding her stay in a facility (the company disputed whether the facility qualifies as a nursing home for benefit purposes). See Perry v. Transamerica Life Ins. Co., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 67973 (C.D. Ill. July 8, 2010). She also represented Marvin Manns, an African American water maintenance worker who sued the City of Decatur for discrimination after he was terminated after refusing to sign an agreement that gave him a lower pay but allowed him to bypass civil service selection rules. See Manns v. City of Decatur, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 82780 (C.D. Ill. July 28, 2011) (granting summary judgment to defendants).

Lawless has also handled class action suits, including a Fair Labor Standards Act suit against Treasure Hunters Roadshow. See Lee v. THR & Associates, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 208963 (C.D. Ill. Apr. 5, 2013).

Jurisprudence

Since 2019, Lawless has served as a judge on the Illinois 7th Judicial Circuit Court, which covers the Springfield area. As a Circuit Court judge, Lawless handles civil and criminal trial-level cases, as well as administrative appeals.

Among the cases that Lawless handled on the bench, she denied an emergency motion from Sean Shea seeking the return of his minor child, who had left the state with the mother. See Cagwin v. Shea, 2022 IL App (4th) 210619-U (Ill. App. Mar. 11, 2022). An appellate court affirmed Lawless’ decision, finding that she appropriately found that injunctive relief was inappropriate.

Overall Assessment

With a career focused on civil cases (which usually draw less controversy), and an uneventful tenure on the state bench, Lawless should be unlikely to draw much ire through the confirmation process. Nonetheless, this may also be why Democrats choose to deprioritize her nomination, pushing more controversial names through while they retain their majority.

Orelia Merchant – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York

Orelia Merchant currently serves as the Chief Deputy to New York Attorney General Letitia James, a role which has given her scope to participate in much of the office’s key litigation. Merchant has now been nominated for a federal judgeship.

Background

Merchant attended Dillard University, an HBCU in New Orleans, getting a B.Sc. in 1992. She then got a Master of Arts in marine science from the College of William & Mary in 1995 and then a J.D. from Tulane University Law School in 1998.

Merchant subsequently worked for four years as regional counsel to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and then spent two years as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

In 2002, Merchant became a federal prosecutor at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. She held this role until she joined the New York Attorney General’s Office in 2019, where she currently serves.

History of the Seat

Merchant has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. This seat opened on January 1, 2022 when Judge William Kuntz took senior status.

Legal Experience

Merchant started her legal advocacy career early, working as a law student to fight plans by a Japanese chemical company to build a plant in Convent, Louisiana, earning the ire of Gov. Mike Foster, who called her and her fellow students “vigilantes” and “outlaws.” See Tulane University Law Students Help Poor People of Convent, Louisiana, Keep Out Another Chemical Plant, CBS News Transcripts, Oct. 19, 1998. After law school, Merchant continued her environmental advocacy, working with the EPA on complaints against Pole Air Corp. for alleged violations of clean air laws from the company’s radio tower. See Epa Cites Pole Zero for Air Pollution, PR Newswire, July 27, 2001.

Merchant subsequently worked as a special assistant U.S. Attorney (SAUSA) with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana, where she handled civil cases, including employment discrimination. See, e.g., Capers v. Henderson, 153 F. Supp. 2d 846 (E.D. La. 2001).

From 2002 to 2019, Merchant worked as a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, working in the Civil Division. Among her time with the office, Merchant was awarded for her work on litigation post-Hurricane Sandy involving FEMA. Other matters she handled for the office included defending civil asset forfeitures in criminal cases. See, e.g., Buculei v. United States, 440 F. Supp. 2d 225 (E.D.N.Y. 2006). Merchant also handled government defense against employment discrimination cases and tort claims. Compare Andretta v. Napolitano, 922 F. Supp. 2d 411 (E.D.N.Y. 2013) to Korotkova v. United States, 990 F. Supp. 2d 324 (E.D.N.Y. 2014).

Since 2019, Merchant has served as Chief Deputy Attorney General for the State of New York. In this position, Merchant heads the Division of State Counsel, which includes the Litigation Bureau and the Civil Recoveries Bureau.

Political Activity

Merchant has a handful of political donations to her name, all to Democrats.

Overall Assessment

Having spent the past two and a half decades in litigation, Merchant comes to the federal bench well prepared for its challenges. However, given the limited Senate calendar, Merchant is unlikely to be confirmed before the end of the Congress.

Judge Ramon Reyes – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York

A federal magistrate judge with sixteen years on the bench, Judge Ramon Reyes is a relatively conventional nominee from the Biden Administration for the Eastern District bench.

Background

Reyes received a B.Sc. from Cornell University in 1988, a J.D. from Brooklyn Law School in 1992 and an LLM. from the New York University School of Law in 1992. Reyes then clerked for Judge David Trager on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York before joining O’Melveny & Myers in New York City.

In 1998, Reyes joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York as an AUSA.

In 2006, Reyes became a federal magistrate judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. He serves on that court today.

History of the Seat

Reyes has been nominated to fill a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. This seat opened on July 23, 2022 when Judge Kiyo Matsumoto moved to senior status.

Legal Career

Reyes started his legal career by clerking on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. He then worked as an associate at O’Melveny & Myers in New York City. While at the firm, Reyes represented the Insurance Company of North America in a liability suit regarding damages from the cleanup of environmental damage caused at natural gas lines. See Interstate Power Co. v. Insurance Co. of N. Am., 603 N.W.2d 751 (Iowa 1999).

From 1998 to 2006, Reyes worked for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York as a federal prosecutor. At the office, Reyes handled civil charges, including defending against a Title VII lawsuit alleging employment discrimination brought by a postal worker. See Brown v. Henderson, 115 F. Supp. 2d 445 (S.D.N.Y. 2000). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Postal Service and Reyes argued the case on appeal before the Second Circuit, which affirmed. See Brown v. Henderson, 257 F.3d 246 (2d Cir. 2001). He also defended the constitutionality of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. See Kalsson v. United States FEC, 356 F. Supp. 2d 371 (S.D.N.Y. 2005).

Jurisprudence

Reyes has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge since his appointment in 2006. In this role, Reyes handles arraignments, bail hearings, and discovery disputes. Additionally, Reyes also presides over cases by the consent of the parties. One of the trials he presided over involved a naming dispute between Patsy’s Italian Restaurant and Patsy’s Pizzeria. See John Marzulli, Jury Mulls Name Fight of 2 Patsy’s. W. Side Spot, Harlem Pizzeria Battle, New York Daily News, Apr. 9, 2008. Reyes ruled that both eateries were barred from using only the name “Patsy’s.” See Simone Weichselbaum, Eateries Can’t Stand Pat(sy), Judge Insists, New York Daily News, Sept. 10, 2008.

Reyes also handled a sexual contact charge against an Orthodox rabbi involving allegations that he touched the groin and breast of an Israeli army officer sitting next to him. See John Marzulli, Rabbi Groped Me on Flight, Faking Sleep. Israeli Dad of 11 Denies All, New York Daily News, May 5, 2011. Reyes found the defendant guilty, finding the victim’s testimony “compelling and wholly believable.” See John Marzulli, Rabbi Guilty in Grope of Female Soldier, New York Daily News, May 6, 2011. Reyes sentenced the defendant to 60 days in jail. See John Marzulli, Perv Rabbi Gets 60 Days in Jail, New York Daily News, May 5, 2011.

Writings

Over the course of his legal career, Reyes has occasionally commented on the law. For example, as a magistrate, Reyes coauthored a paper discussing the Eastern District’s efforts to manage a flood of lawsuits brought about as a result of Hurricane Sandy. See Cheryl L. Pollak, Ramon E. Reyes, & Robyn Weinstein, Esq., “Hurricane” Sandy: A Case Study of the Eastern District of New York’s Effort to Address Mass Litigation Resulting From the Effects of Climate Change, 5 Tex. A&M J. Prop. L. 158 (2019).

As an associate at O’Melveny, Reyes authored an article discussing the home taping of copyrighted audio soundtracks. See Ramon E. Reyes, Jr., Can the Common Law Adequately Justify a Home Taping Royalty Using Economic Efficiency Alone?, 16 N.Y.L. Sch. J. Int’l & Comp. L. 235 (1996). The article details the various regimes different countries have employed to account for losses from the home copying of copyrighted materials, criticizing the use of a “home taping royalty” or a surcharge on the purchase of recording devices and blank tapes as a method of addressing this issue. See id. at 263-64. In another article, Reyes extrapolates from a settlement between Australia and Nauru to cover damages caused by phosphate mining at Nauru that international law establishes a fiduciary duty for administering bodies to properly manage colonies and territories. See Ramon E. Reyes, Jr., Nauru v. Australia: The International Fiduciary Duty and the Settlement of Nauru’s Claims for Rehabilitation of its Phosphate Lands, 16 N.Y.L. Sch. J. Int’l & Comp. L. 1 (1996).

Overall Assessment

It is unlikely that Reyes will face much opposition in the confirmation process. His tenure as a magistrate judge and an AUSA has been relatively uneventful and his experience would allow him to hit the ground running as a district court judge.

Arun Subramanian – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York

Susman Godfrey partner Arun Subramaniam has spent the last fifteen years at one of New York’s most prominent white shoe law firms. He is now poised to become the first Indian American judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Background

Arun Subramanian graduated from Case Western Reserve University in 2001 and then from Columbia Law School in 2004. After graduating, Subramanian clerked for Judge Dennis Jacobs on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and for Judge Gerard Lynch on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (Lynch, a former Columbia law professor, would later be elevated to the Second Circuit himself). Subramanian then clerked for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme Court (alongside future federal judges Eric Murphy (Kennedy), Dan Bress (Scalia), and future Senator Mike Lee).

Subramanian then joined the firm of Susman Godfrey, where he still serves as a partner.

History of the Seat

Subramanian has been tapped for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to a seat vacated by Judge Alison Nathan’s elevation to the Second Circuit on March 31, 2022. He was recommended for the position by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. See Tim Balk, Chuck Touts Three Judges for Fed Courts, Daily News, June 10, 2022.

Legal Career

Subramanian has spent his entire legal career post-clerkship at the firm of Susman Godfrey, where he has worked primarily in commercial litigation and advisory work. Subramanian’s work also included bankruptcy cases. See, e.g., Buchwald Capital Advisors LLC v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A., 447 B.R. 170 (S.D.N.Y. Bankr. 2011).

Notably, Subramanian represented a class of plaintiffs suing Barclays and other banks for manipulating interest rates. See Maureen Farrell, Barclays Not Alone in Rate-Fixing Scandal, CNNMoney.com, July 3, 2012. Subramanian also represented the parents of DNC staffer Seth Rich in a suit against Fox News alleging that the network’s promotion of conspiracy theories about Rich’s death intentionally caused them emotional distress. See Rich v. Fox News Network LLC., 939 F.3d 112 (2d Cir. 2019).

In other matters, Subramanian has represented parties on the appellate level in New York state courts, see, e.g., Transparent Value, LLC v. Johnson, 93 A.3d 599 (N.Y. App. Div. 2012), and on the federal level. See, e.g., Gelboin v. Bank of Am. Corp., 823 F.3d 759 (2d 2015). Notably, Subramanian argued before the Federal Circuit, convincing the court to reverse the dismissal of a patent infringement action. See BASCOM Global Internet Servs. V. AT&T Mobility LLC, 827 F.3d 1341 (Fed. Cir. 2016).

Writings and Statements

In his role as an attorney, Subramanian has occasionally commented in the media. For example, as part of his role in the Barclays lawsuit, Subramanian was quoted in an article discussing the manipulation of interest rates by big banks. See James O’Toole, Big Banks at Center of Interest Rate Probe, CNNMoney.com, Mar. 11, 2012. See also James O’Toole, Lawsuits Against Banks Loom in Libor Scandal, CNNMoney.com, July 6, 2012.

Political Activity

Subramanian has been a frequent donor to Democratic party candidates for office, giving more than $58000 over the last fifteen years, including a $10000 contribution to Governor Kathy Hochul’s campaign in 2022.

Overall Assessment

With a star-studded resume and extensive experience with the commercial litigation that makes up a large part of the Southern District of New York’s docket, Subramanian makes for a qualified, if conventional, judicial nominee.

P. Casey Pitts – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California

Altshuler Berzon partner P. Casey Pitts has spent most of his career as a union-side labor lawyer. He is now poised to join the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, where he would be the only judge to identify as LGBTQ.

Background

Pitts got his B.A. from Yale University in 2003 and his J.D. from Yale Law School in 2008. After graduating, Pitts clerked for Judge Stephen Reinhardt on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and then joined Altshuler Berzon LLP in San Francisco, serving currently as a Partner in the firm.

History of the Seat

Casey has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, to a seat vacated on December 15, 2021, by Judge Lucy Koh’s elevation to the Ninth Circuit.

Legal Experience

Pitts has spent his entire legal career at the left-leaning law firm Altshuler Berzon LLP (co-founded by Ninth Circuit liberal lion Marsha Berzon). At the firm, Pitts focused primarily on union-side labor law. Notably, Pitts represented the Writers Guild of America in a suit challenging talent agencies from accepting packaging fees from studios. See Writers Guild Suggests Judge’s Recusal in Agency Packaging Suit, Variety, May 1, 2019. The suit ended in a settlement. See Bryan Koenig, Writers Guild Cuts Deal With Last Talent Agency in Fee Suit, Law360, Feb. 8, 2021. Pitts also represented SEIU Local 668 in defending against a claim seeking repayment of union dues. See Bill Wichert, 3d Circ. Nixes Post-Janus Challenges to Union Dues, Law360, Jan. 19, 2021.

Among non-labor matters, Pitts argued before the California Court of Appeals on behalf of a class of plaintiffs challenging alleged false advertising on behalf of Apple Inc. See Justices Recharge iPhone Marketing Suit Against Apple, ICT Monitor Worldwide, Sept. 16, 2014. Pitts also represented a transgender employee fired by Tower Loan after he refused to sign a document stating that he was not in compliance with their personnel policies. See Civil Rights Groups Sue National Finance Company for Illegally Firing Transgender Employee, Targeted News Service, Apr. 13, 2015.

Statements and Writings

As a law student, Pitts authored an article critical of the military’s then policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” arguing that it hurts recruitment among the youth. See P. Casey Pitts, To Young People, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Means “Don’t Enlist,”, 116 Yale L.J. Pocket Part. 254 (November 14, 2006).

Overall Assessment

Pitts is facing a tight deadline to get confirmed by the end of the year. If not confirmed, Pitts’ confirmation would depend on Democrats keeping the Senate as it’s unlikely that a Republican senate would find him an acceptable nominee.

Charnelle Bjelkengren – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington is poised to get a new judge, with the Biden Administration putting forward the nomination of Judge Charnelle Bjelkengren to replace Judge Salvador Mendoza.

Background

Charnelle Marie Bjelkengren received her B.A. from Mankato State University University in 1997 and a J.D. from Gonzaga University School of Law in 2000. Bjelkengren then served as an assistant attorney general for the Washington Attorney General’s Office.

In 2013, Bjelkengren became an administrative judge for the Office of Administrative Hearings with Washington State.

In 2019, Bjelkengren was appointed to be a Superior Court judge in Washington, where she currently serves.

History of the Seat

Bjelkengren has been nominated for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington. This seat opened on September 16, 2022, when Judge Salvador Mendoza was elevated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Legal Experience

Between 2001 and 2013, Bjelkengren served as an assistant attorney general with the Washington Attorney General’s Office. Among her duties with the office, Bjelkengren defended the administrative suspensions of the licenses of drivers convicted of DUI. See, e.g., In re License Suspension of Richie, 113 P.3d 1045 (Wash. App. 2005). She also handled administrative disputes involving employment benefits. See, e.g., Markam Group, Inc. v. Employment Sec. Dep’t, 200 P.3d 748 (Wash. App. 2009).

Jurisprudence

From 2013 to 2019, Bjelkengren worked as an administrative law judge, working with the Employment Security Department and the Department of Social and Health Services. In 2019, Bjelkengren was appointed to the Spokane County Superior Court, becoming the first black female judge in Eastern Washington. See Will Campbell, Inslee Appoints 1st Black Female Judge in E. Washington, Spokesman Review, Apr. 11, 2019.

Overall Assessment

Bjelkengren has attracted little controversy throughout her career, and that is likely to continue in the confirmation process.

Judge Gordon Gallagher – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado

Judge Gordon Gallagher, who has served as a federal magistrate judge for the past decade, is Biden’s fourth nominee to the federal district court bench in Colorado.

Background

Gordon Gallagher attended Macalester College in St. Paul, graduating in 1991. He then received a J.D. from the University of Denver Strum Law School in 1996.

After graduating, Gallagher spent two years at Underhill and Underhill P.C. and then joined the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office. In 2000, Gallagher became a solo practitioner.

In 2012, Gallagher was appointed to be a U.S. Magistrate Judge and has served as such since.

History of the Seat

Gallagher has been nominated for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. This seat will open on February 10, 2023 when Judge William Martinez takes senior status. Gallagher was previously recommended by Colorado Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper to replace Judge Christine Arguello, but fellow magistrate judge Nina Wang was chosen instead. Gallagher was then nominated to replace Martinez.

Legal Experience

Gallagher began his legal career at the firm of Underhill and Underhill P.C. before spending two years as a state prosecutor. However, the vast majority of his pre-bench career was spent as a solo practitioner, where he worked primarily in criminal defense. Among his notable cases, Gallagher represented Cheyenne Corbett, a teen mom charged with murder for the death of her baby shortly after it was born. See Teen Mom Charged with Murder Invoked Privacy Law, A.P. State & Local Wire, July 28, 2006.

Jurisprudence

Gallagher has served as a federal magistrate judge since his appointment in 2012. In this role, he presides by consent over civil matters and misdemeanors, assists district judges with discovery and settlement, and writes reports and recommendations on legal issues. Among the cases that he presided over, Gallagher handled a number of cases involving damage to federal lands. For example, he found Scott Wagner guilty of damage for building an unapproved pond partially on federal property. See Man Found Guilty for Altering and Damaging Forest Service Lands Within the Gunnison National Forest, Targeted News Service, Dec. 7, 2012. In another case, Gallagher sentenced Earl Bennett to a year of probation and $30000 in restitution for illegally building a road on federal property. See Man Sentenced for Illegally Building Road on U.S. Forest Service Land, U.S. Fed News, Aug. 27, 2018.

Writings and Statements

Gallagher has made a couple of media statements in his role as an attorney. For example, in 2003, Gallagher commented on the performance of Pamela Mackey, the defense attorney for Kobe Bryant in his rape trial. See Mike Wiggins and Michael C. Bender, Questions of Ethical Propriety Arise Over Bryant’s Defense, Cox News Service, Oct. 10, 2003.

Overall Assessment

Throughout his legal career, Gallagher has held a variety of positions, including as a prosecutor, a defense lawyer, and a judge. As such, his qualifications for a federal judgeship are undeniable. If Gallagher is given a hearing this Congress, he will likely be confirmed easily. However, given that Martinez is not taking senior status until next February and that a Republican senate might find Gallagher an acceptable nominee, it wouldn’t be surprising if Democrats prioritized other judges.

Judge Jeffery Hopkins – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio

Judge Jeffery Hopkins has served as a federal bankruptcy judge in Ohio for twenty-five years and is now poised to gain a lifetime appointment to the district court bench.

Background

Born in Georgia, Jeffery Hopkins was drawn to the law because an uncle, Robert Hall, was murdered by Georgia sheriff Claude Screws while trying to execute an arrest. Screws’ conviction was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. See Screws v. U.S., 325 U.S. 91 (1945). Hopkins subsequently received a B.A. from Bowdoin College in 1982 and his J.D. from the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law in 1985. After graduation, Hopkins was hired as a clerk by Judge Alan Norris on the Ohio Court of Appeals. When Norris was appointed by President Reagan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit the following year, Hopkins followed him as a clerk on that court.

Subsequently, Hopkins spent three years at Squire Sanders & Dempsey LLP (now Squire Patton Boggs) before joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio.

In 1996, Hopkins was appointed to be a U.S. Bankruptcy Judge, and has served as such ever since.

In 2009, Hopkins was recommended to replace Judge Sandra Beckwith on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, alongside U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy Black and Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas Judge Mary Wiseman. See Jessica Wehrman and Steve Bennish, Wiseman Finalist for Bench; Sen. Sherrod Brown Will Meet With Her, Two Others Before Recommending His Choice For Federal Court Vacancy, Dayton Daily News, June 26, 2009. However, the Obama Administration nominated and appointed Black instead after he was the final choice of Ohio senators.

History of the Seat

Hopkins has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. This seat was vacated on May 18, 2022, when Judge Timothy Black moved to senior status. Hopkins applied with a selection commission put together by Ohio Senators Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and Rob Portman, a Republican and was recommended to the White House by the senators. He was nominated on July 29, 2022.

Legal Experience

After clerking for Judge Norris on the state and federal benches, Hopkins joined the Cincinnati office of Squire Sanders & Dempsey LLP (now Squire Patton Boggs), where he represented the Bexley City School District in fighting a teacher’s suit seeking a continued teaching contract. See State ex rel. Fraysier v. Bexley City Sch. Bd. of Educ., 583 N.E.2d 1000 (Ohio App. 1989).

Hopkins then shifted to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, where he worked in the Civil Division. Hopkins would become Chief of the Civil Division by March 1993. Among the cases he handled there, Hopkins represented the government in bankruptcy matters. See, e.g., In re Ernst & Young, Inc., 129 B.R. 147 (S.D. Ohio Bankr. 1991).

Jurisprudence

Since 1996, Hopkins has served as a U.S. Bankruptcy Judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, which covers much of Southern Ohio. In that capacity, Hopkins reviews federal bankruptcy filings and proceedings.

Among the cases he handled, Hopkins approved the sale of Cambridge Eye Associates and Douglas Vision Worlds, two Cincinnati based vision companies to Davis Vision Inc., a New York based company. See Ben Fidler, Davis Vision Wins Sight Resource, The Deal, Apr. 12, 2005.

Among his notable rulings, Hopkins allowed Troulies Ledbetter to discharge one of his student loans through the bankruptcy process, finding that it imposed an undue hardship. See In re Ledbetter, 254 B.R. 714 (S.D. Ohio Bankr. 2000). However, he declined to discharge a second loan that Ledbetter held, finding it ineligible for discharge. See id. at 717. In another ruling, Hopkins permitted the discharge of an obligation to hold a spouse harmless on joint debts, finding that it did not constitute a non-dischargeable award of alimony. See Davis v. Davis, 261 B.R. 659 (S.D. Ohio Bankr. 2001).

Overall Assessment

Recommended for the federal bench by Ohio’s bipartisan duo of senators, Hopkins should see little trouble with a comfortable confirmation. If Hopkins is not confirmed this Congress however, the election of a new senator to replace Portman in Ohio may complicate his path to the bench.