Judge Marian Gaston – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California

State Judge Marian Gaston, who has spent all of her pre-bench career as a public defender, has now been nominated to the federal bench in San Diego.

Background

Marian Gaston received a Bachelor of Arts from Emory University in 1993 and then a Juris Doctor from UC Berkeley School of Law in 1996.

Gaston then joined the San Diego County Public Defender’s Office. She held that position until Governor Edmund Brown appointed Gaston to the San Diego County Superior Court in 2015, where she currently serves.

History of the Seat

Gaston has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, to a seat vacated on August 1, 2021, by Judge William Hayes’ move to senior status.

Legal Experience

Before she was appointed to the state bench, Gaston spent nineteen years, her entire legal career, as a public defender.in San Diego. Among the cases she handled there, Gaston represented Jason Williams, who pleaded guilty to a hate crime for attacking a black neighbor with a flamethrower. See Escondido Man Sentenced to Prison for Hate Attack, A.P. State & Local Wire, June 28, 2000.

In other matters, Gaston represented Matthew Hedge, who was alleged with violating his release as a sexually violent prisoner. See Kelly Wheeler, Polygraph Expert: Sexually Violent Predator Lied During Routine Test, City News Service, Dec. 9, 2009. She also represented Philong Huynh, charging with sexually assaulting multiple heterosexual men in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter, and with killing one. See Kelly Wheeler, Prosectuor: Accused Killer Targeted Heterosexual Men, City News Service, June 1, 2011.

Jurisprudence

Since 2015, Gaston has served as a judge on the San Diego Superior Court. In this role, she presides over trial court matters in criminal, civil, family, and other state law matters. Among the cases she handled, Gaston terminated the parental relationships for juvenile M.P., finding that the father’s drug addiction and the mother’s inability to care for the minor justified termination, a decision that was upheld on appeal. See In re M.P., 2021 WL 1960088 (Cal. App. 4th May 17, 2021).

Writings

In 2000, Gaston was interviewed about her work as a public defender by Renee Harrison. Renee Harrison, Part Two: Domestic Violence: Representing Defendants in Domestic Violence Prosecutions: Interview with a Public Defender, 11 J. Contemp. Legal Issues 63 (2000). The interview focused specifically on domestic violence cases, and, during the interview, Gaston elaborated on her strategies for fighting and winning domestic violence cases. In the interview, Gaston criticizes mandatory arrest for domestic violence, stating that such laws place the burden of arrest on men. See id. (“The police always arrest men, so men are usually the ones on trial.”). Gaston also defended individuals charged with domestic violence, noting:

“Most of the men cry over what has happened. About half of our clients are in mutually abusive, pathetic relationships. Both people in the relationship are alcoholics or drug addicts, and/or emotionally undeveloped, and/or uncommunicative.” Id. i

Political Activity

Gaston has made a handful of political contributions during her time as a public defender, including one to President Obama in 2008.

Overall Assessment

With over 25 years of legal experience, Gaston certainly has the base level of qualifications to be a federal judge. She will likely draw opposition for her time in public defense and some may draw questions as well about her statements on domestic violence, although Gaston can reasonably argue that she was speaking as part of her role as an advocate.

Matthew Brookman – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana

Longtime magistrate judge Matthew Brookman is Biden’s first nominee to the federal district court bench in Indiana.

Background

The 54-year-old Brookman received his B.A. from DePauw University in Indiana in 1990 and a J.D. from the Washington University School of Law in 1993. He then spent a year with Brown & James in St. Louis before becoming a prosecutor with Jefferson County, Missouri.

In 1997, Brookman returned to private practice to the firm of Herzog, Crebs & McGhee. In 1999, Brookman became a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri. In 2002, he shifted to become a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Indiana.

Since 2016, Brookman has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.

History of the Seat

Brookman has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, to a seat to be vacated by Judge Richard Young, who will take senior status upon confirmation of a successor.

Legal Experience

Brookman started his legal career in St. Louis at Brown & James but then shifted to Jefferson County, Missouri to be a prosecutor. Among the cases he handled there, Brookman prosecuted Nancy Montplaisir for stealing money from the Ambulance District. See Monte Reel, Woman Guilty of Theft; Ex-Secretary Claimed Boss Made Her Take $16800 from Ambulance District, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Apr. 14, 1997. He also prosecuted Donald Roberts for the murder of Christopher McLafferty as part of a road rage incident. See Monte Reel, Jury Finds Man Guilty in Murder at Highway 141 Stoplight Last Year, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Aug. 29, 1997. Roberts was sentenced to four consecutive life terms. See Robert Kelly, Affton Man Gets 4 Life Terms in Fatal Fight Alongside Road, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sept. 23, 1997.

Between 1997 and 1999, Brookman worked on civil cases at Herzog, Crebs & McGhee P.C. See, e.g., Dorsey v. SEKISUI America Corp., 79 F. Supp. 2d 1089 (E.D. Mo. 1999).

In 1999, Brookman became a federal prosecutor in Missouri and, in 2002, shifted to Evansville, Indiana. While in Missouri, Brookman prosecuted Rodney Hollis for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. See United States v. Hollis, 245 F.3d 671 (8th Cir. 2001). In Indiana, Brookman prosecuted individuals connected with a crime spree conducted by Jarvis Brown that led to multiple deaths and injuries. See Hogsett Praises Assistant United States Attorney from Evansville, Targeted News Service, Feb. 1, 2011. His work on the case led to Brookman receiving a Department of Justice award. See id.

Judicial Experience

Since 2016, Brookman has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Southern District of Indiana. 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.

In his capacity, Brookman has ruled on a number of appeals from denial of social security benefits. On appeal, some of his rulings affirming the denial of benefits were overturned by the Seventh Circuit. In one case, a Seventh Circuit panel overruled Brookman’s affirmance in a per curiam opinion, finding that the administrative judge erred in not consulting a medical expert regarding MRI evidence. See McHenry v. Berryhill, 911 F.3d 866 (7th Cir. 2018). In another case, the Seventh Circuit agreed with the plaintiff that the administrative judge improperly made adverse credibility determinations against him. See Ray v. Berryhill, 915 F.3d 486 (7th Cir. 2019).

In another opinion, Biden appointee Candance Jackson-Akiwumi reversed Brookman’s grant of summary judgment to a Homeowner’s Association (HOA). See Watters v. Homeowners’ Ass’n, 48 F.4th 779 (7th Cir. 2022). Jackson-Akiwaumi wrote for the panel majority in reversing the dismissal of a Fair Housing and 1982 claim on behalf of an African American couple alleging racial discrimination. See id. Judge Amy St. Eve dissented, arguing that she would affirm Brookman’s ruling because there was no nexus between discrimination faced by the plaintiffs and a legally cognizable adverse employment action. See id. at 790 (St. Eve, J., dissenting).

Overall Assessment

As a well-credential juror, Brookman has a relatively uncontroversial background. Additionally, he has received favorable reviews from Sen. Todd Young. However, as long as the blue slip policy remains in effect, Brookman’s nomination turns on whether Sen. Mike Braun returns a blue slip. Given the fact that the nomination was submitted to the Senate, I expect that Brookman should be confirmed easily.

Judge Robert Kirsch – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey

A Republican nominated to the state bench by a Democratic Governor, Judge Robert Kirsch is now poised to be elevated to the federal bench by a Democratic President.

Background

Born in 1966, Robert Andrew Kirsch grew up in South Orange in New Jersey. Kirsch received a Bachelor’s Degree from Emory University in 1988 and a J.D. from Fordham University School of Law in 1991.

After graduating, Kirsch clerked on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida for Judge William Zloch and then spent four years with the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Division. In 1997, Kirsch became a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey. In 2010, Kirsch was appointed to be a state judge in New Jersey by Democratic Governor Jon Corzine at the recommendation of Republican State Senator Tom Kean. Kirsch still serves as a state judge.

History of the Seat

Kirsch, a Republican, was recommended for the federal bench in New Jersey by Senator Robert Menendez. He has been nominated to replace Judge Freda Wolfson, who will take senior status on February 1, 2023.

Legal Experience

Kirsch started his legal career as a law clerk to Judge William Zloch. He then spent four years with the Civil Division at DOJ. While there, Kirsch participated in a legal malpractice suit against a federally chartered Savings & Loan. See Resolution Trust Corp. v. Rosenthal, 160 F.R.D. 112 (N.D. Ill. 1995).

Between 1997 and 2010, Kirsch worked as a federal prosecutor in New Jersey. At the office, Kirsch primarily handled white collar cases. Notably, he prosecuted Chip Hoffecker, who was sentenced to 17 years in prison for defrauding investors. See Ted Sherman, Ex-Federal Prosecutor is Sworn in as Union County Superior Court Judge, Apr. 18, 2010, https://www.nj.com/news/2010/04/former_us_attorney_judge_sworn.html.

Outside of the white collar context, Kirsch participated in suits over the detention of individuals at Guantanamo Bay. See Gina Holland, Judge Refuses to Stop Hearings at Guantanamo Bay, Rejects Unfair Claim, A.P., Aug. 3, 2004. He also worked to prosecute the distribution of illegal steriods in New Jersey. See Michael O’Keefe, Huge Roid Raid in N.J. Basement, New York Daily News, Sept. 21, 2007.

Judicial Experience

Kirsch has served on the Superior Court in Union County since 2010. Among the cases he handled there, Kirsch presided over the juvenile adjudication of Carlton Franklin for the murder committed in 1976, when he was 15. See Kate Zernike, Man, 52, is Convicted as a Juvenile in a 1976 Murder, Creating a Legal Tangle, N.Y. Times, Dec. 22, 2012. Kirsch sentenced Franklin to ten years in prison, which was upheld on appeal. State in Interest of C.F., 132 A.3d 426 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2016).

Overall Assessment

Kirsch has received bipartisan support throughout his legal career, and this is unlikely to change at this stage. While many progressives may be disappointed with Menendez (and Biden) choosing to appoint a Republican to this seat, it is unlikely to derail Kirsch’s confirmation.

Michael Farbiarz – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey

Port Authority General Counsel Michael Farbiarz has spent virtually his entire legal career in New York City, but has now been nominated to a seat on the federal bench in New Jersey.

Background

The 48-year-old Farbiarz received a Bachelor of Arts from Harvard University in 1995 and a J.D. from Yale Law School in 1999. He then clerked for Judge Michael Mukasey on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and for Judge Jose Cabranes on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

After his clerkships, Farbiarz spent three years with the New York office of Davis Polk & Hardwell before becoming a federal prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. In 2014, Farbiarz became a Senior Fellow with the New York University School of Law.

Since 2016, Farbiarz has served as general counsel for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

History of the Seat

At the recommendation of Senator Cory Booker, Farbiarz has been nominated to replace Judge Noel Hillman, who took senior status on April 4, 2022.

Legal Experience

Farbiarz started his career as an associate at Davis Polk & Hardwell in New York City. While at the firm, Farbiarz was part of the legal team for Duane Reade, who was suing to recover damages from an insurer after the September 11 attacks. See Duane Reade Inc. v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 279 F. Supp. 2d 235 (S.D.N.Y. 2003).

From 2004 to 2014, Farbiarz worked at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. At the office, Farbiarz notably handled terrorism prosecutions. See, e.g., Haouari v. United States, 429 F. Supp. 2d 671 (S.D.N.Y. 2006) (concerning prosecution of participant in LAX millennium bombing plot). Farbiarz notably prosecuted Al Qaeda member Ahmed Ghailani. See, e.g., United States v. Ghailani, 751 F. Supp. 2d 508 (S.D.N.Y. 2010). Ghailani was ultimately convicted of one count of conspiracy to destroy government property but acquitted of 279 other counts. See Benjamin Weiser, U.S. Jury Acquits Former Detainee of Most Charges, N.Y. Times, Nov. 18, 2010. Farbiarz also prosecuted Tongsun Park, who was alleged to siphon money from the United Nations Oil for Food program. See Paul H.B. Shin, Saddam Gave Bizman 2.5M: Feds, New York Daily News, June 28, 2006.

Notably, Farbiarz prosecuted Somali nationals charged with piracy for their attack on the Marsk Alabama, an American vessel. See Benjamin Weiser, A Suspect in Somali Piracy Denies United States Charges, N.Y. Times, May 22, 2009. He also led the prosecutions related to a “nest” of 11 Russian spies who allegedly lived in Manhattan. See Scott Shifrel and Helen Kennedy, Russian Spy Ring Lived Among Us! Shocker Reminiscent of the Cold War as FBI Takes Down Nest of ‘Deep Cover’ Agents,New York Daily News, June 29, 2010.

Since 2016, Farbiarz has served as general counsel for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees the regional transportation instructure for the tristate area. In this role, Farbiarz’s name appeared in briefs in litigation involving the Port Authority, including in suits over arbitration awards involving the Port Authority Police. See Port Authority of New York and New Jersey v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Benev. Association, Inc., 209 A.3d 897 (N.J. Super. 2019).

Writings

In his time as a Fellow at NYU Law School, Farbiarz has written on terrorism and extraterritorial prosecutions. In one paper, Farbiarz advocates for more robust due process protections to apply in extraterritorial and international prosecutions. See Michael Farbiarz, Accuracy and Adjudication: The Promise of Extraterritorial Due Process, 116 Colum. L. Rev. 625 (April 2016). In another paper, Farbiarz criticizes the tendency of federal courts to apply Constitutional due process protections in international prosecutions, arguing that a better due process scheme would be to focus on “conflicts” between American legal standards and local law and to shore up those gaps. See Michael Farbiarz, Extraterritorial Criminal Jurisdiction, 114 Mich. L. Rev. 507 (Feb. 2016).

Overall Assessment

With impeccable academic credentials and a relatively uncontroversial background, Farbiarz looks likely to have a relatively comfortable confirmation. On the bench, he’s likely to be a relatively mainstream judge.

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.