Jennifer Rearden – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York

In 2020, upon the recommendation of Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the Trump Administration nominated Jennifer Rearden to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.  Rearden was, however, not confirmed before the end of the Administration.  She now has a second chance after being renominated by Biden.

Background

50-year-old Jennifer Hutchison Rearden received her B.A. from Yale University in 1992 and a J.D. in 1996 from New York University School of Law.  After law school, Hutchison joined Davis Polk & Wardwell, before moving to the Atlanta office of King & Spalding.  Since 2003, Rearden has been a Partner with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in New York City.

History of the Seat

Rearden has been nominated to the vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York vacated on October 25, 2018 by Judge Richard Sullivan’s elevation to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.  Rearden was previously nominated for this vacancy by President Trump on February 12, 2020 but was not confirmed by the Senate. Rearden was renominated by Biden on January 19, 2022.

Political Activity

Rearden has been an active political donor, having made over thirty political contributions over the last thirteen years.[1]  While Rearden has given to politicians of both parties (her Republican donees include Rudolph Giuliani and Chris Christie), most of her donations have been to Democrats.[2]  She has contributed particularly to female Democratic senators and senate candidates, giving them almost $12000 in the 2016 cycle.[3]

Legal Career

Rearden has spent her entire career in private practice, working at various big law firms as a commercial litigator.  Specifically, Rearden has handled a number of complex commercial cases, including matters related to tax, contract, and compliance matters.[4]

Among her more prominent cases, Rearden represented Philip Morris Inc. and other tobacco companies in a suit against the City of New York challenging the City’s regulation of tobacco prices.[5]  She also represented Home Depot in an Arizona suit involving tax deductions.[6]

Notably, Rearden argued in New York State Court a suit seeking Worker’s Compensation benefits for an employee’s domestic partner (through a civil union).[7]  The Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court found, in a divided opinion, that statutory provisions supporting worker’s compensation benefits for surviving spouses did not cover partners in a civil union.[8]

Rearden’s nomination has drawn criticism from Rep. Rashida Tlaib for her alleged role in the prosecution against Steven Donziger.[9]  Donziger, an environmental lawyer, had obtained a $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron for environmental damages in Ecuador, leading to Chevron pulling their assets from that country and suing Donziger in New York for racketeering.[10]  The latter suit eventually led to criminal contempt charges when Donziger refused to follow a court order to surrender his electronic devices, arguing that they contained confidential client information.[11]  While Tlaib’s statement, a tweet by Donziger, and the related article suggests that Rearden was among the Gibson attorneys who sued Donziger, a search of the case documents does not show Rearden’s name.  The key opinion instead identifies five other Gibson attorneys.  Additionally, there appears to be no evidence on the case’s PACER record of Rearden entering an appearance in the case.

Writings

Rearden has been a fairly prolific author, frequently writing articles on various legal issues, including issues of civil practice, procedure, and substantive law.

For example, Rearden has written on the Columbia Pictures v. Bunnell ruling in the Central District of California, which held that random access memory (RAM) could be discoverable material that needed to be preserved in preparation for litigation.[12]  She has similarly expounded on a similar decision by Judge Shira Scheindlin on production of metadata during discovery.[13] 

Overall Assessment

While Rearden was not confirmed under Trump, she has a strong chance under the current Administration.  While she is likely to draw the requisite opposition from the right that all Biden nominees are drawing, Rearden may also see some liberal opposition based on her time at Gibson Dunn and her perceived role in the Donziger prosecution.


[2] See id.

[3] Id.

[5] See Nat’l Ass’n of Tobacco Outlets v. City of New York, 27 F. Supp. 3d 415 (S.D.N.Y. 2014).

[6] Home Depot USA, Inc. v. Ariz. Dep’t of Rev., 230 Ariz. 498 (Ariz. Ct. App. Div. 1 2012).

[7] Matter of Langan v. State Farm Fire & Cas., 48 A.D.3d 76 (N.Y. Sup. App. Div. 2007).

[8] See id. at 78-79.

[9] Zack Budryk, Tlaib Blasts Biden Judicial Nominee Whose Firm Sued Environmental Lawyer, The Hill, Jan. 21, 2022, https://thehill.com/policy/defense/590819-tlaib-blasts-biden-judicial-nominee-whose-firm-sued-environmental-lawyer. 

[10] See id. 

[11] See id. 

[12] Jennifer H. Rearden and Farrah Pepper, Oh No, Ephemeral Data, N.Y. Law Journal, Mar. 22, 2010, https://www.gibsondunn.com/wp-content/uploads/documents/publications/Rearden-Pepper-OhNoEphemeralData.pdf.  

[13] Jennifer Rearden, Farrah Pepper, and Adam Jantzi, Scheindlin’s ‘Day Laborer’ Decision: Much Ado About Metadata, Law Technology News, Feb. 22, 2011, https://www.gibsondunn.com/wp-content/uploads/documents/publications/Rearden-%20Pepper-%20Scheindlin%27s-Day-Laborer%27-Decision-LTN-2-22-11.pdf.

Jennifer Rochon – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York

New York’s Democratic Senators share a split in recommending candidates for the federal bench, with the more junior Kirsten Gillibrand getting one pick for every three or four that the more senior Chuck Schumer gets. After nominating four Schumer picks to New York District Courts, the White House has chosen Gillibrand selection Jennifer Rochon.

Background

Born in 1970 in Michigan, Jennifer Louise Rochon received her B.A. from the University of Michigan in 1992 and, after volunteering with the Peace Corps, a J.D. in 1997 from New York University School of Law. After law school, Rochon clerked for Judge Maryanne Trump Barry on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, before joining Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel, where she became a Partner in 2006. Since 2013, Rochon has been general counsel for Girl Scouts of the USA.

History of the Seat

Rochon has been nominated to the vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York vacated on May 1, 2021 by Judge George Daniels’ move to senior status. Rochon was recommended for the vacancy by Gillibrand and was nominated on December 15, 2021.

Political Activity

Rochon has made occasional political donations throughout her career, including donations to Biden, Reps. Antonio Delgado, Anthony Brindisi, and Max Rose.

Legal Career

Rochon spent the first thirteen years of her post-clerkship career at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel, where she served both as associate and as a litigation partner. Early in her career, she represented immigration organizations as amici in constitutional challenges to the Immigration and Nationality Act. See Patel v. Zemski, 275 F.3d 299 (3d Cir. 2001); Phu Chan Hoang v. Comfort, 282 F.3d 1247 (10th Cir. 2002); Welch v. Ashcroft, 293 F.3d 213 (4th Cir. 2002).

Among her more prominent cases, Rochon represented a dental floss manufacturer in a false advertising suit against Pfizer for claims that its mouthwash was as effective as flossing, securing a preliminary injunction against the challenged advertising. See McNeil-PPC, Inc. v. Pfizer, Inc., 351 F. Supp. 2d 226 (S.D.N.Y. 2005).

In 2013, Rochon, a third generation girl scout herself, was appointed to be the first general counsel for the Girl Scouts of America, where she currently serves.

Overall Assessment

Coming from an in-house environment, Rochon would come to the bench with a slightly different background that most federal judges. Additionally, her affiliation with the Girl Scouts, an organization that is widely praised across the political spectrum, is also likely to garner Rochon bipartisan support for confirmation.

Judge Sherilyn Peace Garnett – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California

U.S. District Judge Barry Moskowitz has had luck placing his clerks under the Biden Administration. After Judge Jinsook Ohta, Judge Sherilyn Garnett has now been nominated to the federal bench.

Background

The 52 year old Garnett attended the University of California Riverside, getting a B.A. with honors in 1991, She then received a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1995.

After law school, Garnett joined the Chicago office of Altheimer & Gray as an associate before clerking for Judge Barry Moskowitz on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. After a year at the Los Angeles Office of Arnold & Porter, Garnett became a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.

In 2014, Governor Jerry Brown of California appointed Garnett to the Los Angeles County Superior Court. Garnett currently serves on the Court.

History of the Seat

Garnett has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, to a seat vacated on November 4, 2018 by Judge Manuel Real, who the last judge appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson still serving in active status when he left the bench.

On August 28, 2019, President Trump nominated Rick Richmond, a longtime leader in the Federalist Society, to fill this vacancy. However, Richmond never received a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the seat was left open at the end of the Trump Administration.

Legal Experience

Garnett spent the vast majority of her pre-bench legal career as a federal prosecutor. Among the matters she handled, Garnett prosecuted Dana Christian Welch, who was sentenced to 30 months of federal prison for shooting lasers into the cockpits of commercial airliners about to land, causing “flash blindness” in the pilots. See Press Release, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Los Angeles Field Office, Orange County Man Who Fired Lasers at Commercial Aircraft Sentenced to 2.5 Years in Federal Prison, Nov. 3, 2009. Garnett also prosecuted Billy Cottrell, a former Caltech graduate student convicted of participating in a conspiracy to firebomb over 130 vehicles as an act of ecoterrorism. See Nathan McIntire, Judge Orders Former Caltech Grad Student to Serve At Least 18 More Months in Federal Prison, Pasadena Star News, Nov. 16, 2009.

Judicial Experience

Since 2014, Garnett has served as a judge on the Los Angeles County Superior Court. In this role, Garnett presides over trial court matters in criminal, civil, family, and other state law matters.

Statements

While Garnett has been fairly reticent throughout her career, she was quoted in a number of articles during a 2013 government shutdown caused by a conflict between the Obama Administration and Congressional Republicans. See, e.g., Ian Lovett, Unable to Take Care of Business in L.A., N.Y. Times Blogs, Oct. 1, 2013. In the articles, Garnett was sharply critical of Congress for the burden they placed on government employees, calling their lack of action “really stupid.” See id.

Overall Assessment

As a state judge with a background as a prosecutor, Garnett could attract bipartisan support for confirmation. While some lawmakers may raise eyebrows with her willingness to call their actions “stupid”, it is unlikely that those comments will derail an otherwise smooth confirmation.

Judge Sunshine Sykes – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California

The first native american judge on the California state bench, Judge Sunshine Sykes looks likely to break barriers on the federal bench as well.

Background

Born on the Navajo Nation Reservation in Arizona in 1974, Sykes attended Stanford University, getting a B.A. in 1997. She then received a J.D. from Stanford Law School in 2001.

After law school, Sykes joined California Indian Legal Services and then spent two years at the Southwest Justice Center and the California Department of Social Services. In 2005, Sykes joined the County Counsel’s Office in Riverside County.

In 2013, Governor Jerry Brown of California appointed Sykes to the Riverside County Superior Court. She currently serves on the Court.

History of the Seat

Sykes has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, to a seat vacated on March 3, 2020 by Judge James Selna. The Trump Administration did not nominate a candidate for this vacancy before the end of the Presidency.

Legal Experience

Sykes started her career working for California Indian Legal Services. She then spent two years with the Southwest Justice Center and the California Department of Social Services, where she served as an attorney for juvenile offenders. See County Attorney Appointed to Judicial Seat, City News Service, Dec. 5, 2013. See, e.g., Leland L. v. Superior Ct. of Riverside, 2004 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 2871 (Mar. 30, 2004).

From 2005 to 2013, Sykes worked as Deputy County Counsel in Riverside County, working on writing ordinances, vetting documents, and representing the county in judicial proceedings.

During her time as County Counsel, Sykes saw her name in a discrimination suit, where the plaintiff alleged that his colleague responsible for the discrimination developed a dislike for him because he protested against an adulterous relationship she was engaged in with Sykes’ then-boyfriend. See Rodriguez v. Cal. Rural Legal Assistance, Inc., Case No. ED CV 13-958-JFW, 2014 WL 3900234 (C.D. Cal. June 30, 2014). The suit was ultimately dismissed by U.S. District Judge John Walter, after U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym found the affidavits involving the extra-marital relationship to be irrelevant. See id.

Judicial Experience

Since 2013, Sykes has served as a judge on the Riverside County Superior Court. In this role, Sykes presides over trial court matters in criminal, civil, family, and other state law matters. At the time of her appointment, Sykes was the first native american state court judge in California. See County Attorney Appointed to Judicial Seat, City News Service, Dec. 5, 2013.

Among her notable cases from the bench, Sykes presided over a suit against Monster Beverage Corp. by a man who accused the beverage of causing his heart attack. See Mike Curley, Appeals Court Upholds Verdict in Monster Heart Attack Case, Law 360, Mar. 26, 2021. Sykes bifurcated the trial between causation and damages, and the jury unanimously found for Monster, a verdict upheld on appeal. See id. Sykes also presided over a lawsuit brought by the families of three girls allegedly molested at Liberty Elementary School. See School District Settles Suit Arising From Alleged Sexual Abuse of Students, City News Service, Dec. 3, 2018. The suit ended in a $6.2 million settlement.

Statements

Sykes has spoken out on the need for greater diversity in the legal profession and, in particular, the prejudice she has faced for being Native American. See, e.g., Diverse Judges Share Paths to Bench, Advise Young Lawyers, U.S. Official News, Feb. 9, 2016. In a 2016 panel with the American Bar Association (moderated by U.S. District Judge J. Michelle Childs), Sykes noted that her re-election appointment had indicated that she was not qualified to be a judge because she was Native American. See id.

Overall Assessment

As a state judge with nearly a decade of experience and little controversy during her tenure, Sykes should have little trouble retaining the Democratic support she would need for confirmation.

Judge Kenly Kato – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California

On October 8, 2017, Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell, a federal judge in Los Angeles, unexpectedly and tragically passed away after collapsing in a middle of a speech to the California State Bar. Her seat still sits vacant to this day, with the nomination of U.S. Magistrate Judge Kenly Kato being the Biden Administration’s first attempt to fill it.

Background

Kenly Kiya Kato got her B.A. summa cum laude from the University of California Los Angeles in 1993, and a J.D. cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1996. After graduating, Kato clerked for Judge Robert Takasugi on the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California before joining the federal public defender’s office in Los Angeles.

In 2003, Kato returned to private practice, and worked as a solo practitioner for ten years.

In 2014, Kato was selected as a U.S. Magistrate Judge for the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California

History of the Seat

Kato has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, to a seat vacated on October 8, 2017 by the untimely death of Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell.

On November 21, 2019, the Trump Administration nominated U.S. Magistrate Judge Steve Kim, a colleague’s of Kato. However, Kim never received a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee and his nomination expired at the end of the Trump Administration.

Legal Experience

Kato started her career as a federal public defender, representing indigent defendants in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Among her clients, Kato defended Steven and Philip Alexander, brothers who allegedly flashed white power signals and harassed a white woman walking with her black fiance and biracial sons. See David Houston, Hate Crimes, City News Service, July 13, 1999. She also represented Desmond Abraham, a cruise ship worker accused of sexually assaulting two female passengers, when prosecutors declined to proceed to trial on the charges due to a lack of evidence. See Matt Krasnowski, Sexual Assault Charges Dropped Against Cruise Ship Workers, Copley News Service, May 23, 2000.

Kato also represented clients on appeal, successfully persuading the Ninth Circuit to order the dismissal of charges against her client on the grounds that the trial judge erred in ordering a mistrial and that her client’s Double Jeopardy rights would be violated by a retrial. United States v. Bonas, 344 F.3d 945 (9th Cir. 2003).

Jurisprudence

Since 2014, Kato has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge in Los Angeles. In this role, she presides over settlement, preliminary hearings, bail, and any cases where the parties consent to his jurisdiction. Among the matters she has handled as a magistrate judge, Kato recommended that an inmate’s civil rights claim for violations of privacy be dismissed, noting that the inmate had failed to establish that the violative conduct alleged rose to the level of a constitutional violation. See Morris v. CDCR, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 71473 (C.D. Cal. Mar. 13, 2017).

In a benefits case, the Ninth Circuit affirmed Kato’s ruling remanding the case back to the Administrative Law Judge after finding error instead of awarding benefits to the petitioner. See Brandon v. Saul, 821 F. App’x 857 (9th Cir. 2020).

Political Activity

Kim has a few political contributions to her name, including a $1000 contribution to the Kerry for President campaign in 2004.

Statements and Writings

As a law student, Kato coauthored a review discussing the political and cultural status of Asian Americans. See Perry S. Chen and Kenly Kiya Kato, The State of Asian America: Activism and Resistance in the 1990s, 30 Harv. C.R.-C.L. L. Rev. 279 (Winter 1995). In the paper, Kato discusses the essays from the book “The State of Asian America” and notes that the essays reinforce the need for the Asian American community to self-advocate without falling into pre-existing stereotypes imposed by the political right and left. See id.

Overall Assessment

Judge Kato’s career threads the needle between the more unconventional nominees sought by the White House and the more traditional candidates picked by California’s senators. As such, Kato is likely to see a comfortable confirmation.

Judge Fred Slaughter – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California

The son of former college basketball star and notable sports agent, Judge Fred Slaughter has made a name for himself in the Southern California legal field, and is now poised for confirmation to the Central District of California.

Background

Fred W. Slaughter got a B.A. degree from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1996, and a J.D. from U.C.L.A. School of Law in 1999. After graduating, Slaughter joined the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office as a Deputy City Attorney.

In 2002, Slaughter joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Central District of California as a federal prosecutor. In 2014, he was named by Gov. Jerry Brown to the Orange County Superior Court, where he currently serves.

History of the Seat

Slaughter has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, to a seat vacated on July 5, 2019, by Judge Andrew Guilford. The Trump Administration never made a nomination to fill this vacancy. Slaughter was nominated on December 15, 2021.

Legal Experience

Slaughter started his legal career as a Deputy City Attorney with the City of Los Angeles, where he led prosecutions against bandit taxi cab drivers, who operated without city licenses. See Tax Fraud, City News Service, Feb. 7, 2001.

While Slaughter held a number of legal positions throughout his career, the primary focus has been as a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.

As a federal prosecutor, Slaughter prosecuted Magdaleno Ramirez-Banuelos for transporting over 50 pounds of marijuana in a backpack. See Mexican Citizen Sentenced for Marijuana Related Felony, U.S. Fed News, May 14, 2004. He also prosecuted David Patrick Williams, a white supremacist, for providing a firearm to a felon. See Founding Member of White Supremacist Organization, European Kindred (EK) Gang, Pleaads [sic] Guilty in Federal Court to a Firearms Offense, States News Service, Aug. 10, 2009.

Jurisprudence

Since 2014, Slaughter has served as a judge on the Orange County Superior Court. In this role, Slaughter presides over trial court matters in criminal, civil, family, and other state law matters. Among the notable matters that he presided over as a judge, Slaughter found a juvenile defendant guilty of five counts of felony vandalism, by using average calculations of damage from the graffiti to be over $400 per count. See In re A.W., 39 Cal. App. 5th 941, 944 (2019). The California Court of Appeals reversed, finding that there was insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the damage from each count was over the $400 threshold, and remanded, ordering Slaughter to find the juvenile guilty of misdemeanors instead of felonies. See id.

Overall Assessment

There is little in Slaughter’s background that should cause him issue during the confirmation process. As such, senators are likely to focus attention on other nominees and Slaughrer should be a relatively smooth confirmation.

Jessica Clarke – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York

Civil rights attorney Jessica Clarke, currently with the New York Attorney General’s Office, is President Biden’s second nomination to the Southern District of New York.

Background

The 38 year old Clarke gained her undergraduate degree from Northwestern University in 2005 and then gained a J.D. from the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law in 2008.

After graduating, Clarke clerked for Judge Solomon Oliver on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. Clarke then joined the Department of Justice, working in the Civil Rights Division during the Obama Administration. In 2016, Clarke left to join the civil rights firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady. In 2019, Clarke joined the New York Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau as Chief, where she currently works.

History of the Seat

Clarke 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 Colleen McMahon, who took senior status on April 21, 2021. Clarke was recommended by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on September 1, 2021 and was nominated on December 15, 2021.

Legal Career

Clarke started her post-clerkship career at the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, where she worked on the Housing & Civil Enforcement Division. Notably, Clarke was trial counsel for the government in prosecuting the towns of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, for discriminating in housing against individuals who were not members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. See Fernanda Santos, Town on Trial in Complaints of Bias Against Sect Outsiders, N.Y. Times, Jan. 21, 2016. Lawyers for the town accused the government of discriminating against an unpopular religion. See id. The trial ended with a verdict for the government, which was upheld on appeal. See Howard Fischer, Court Upholds Ruling Colorado City Abused Power, Arizona Capitol Times, Aug. 26, 2019, https://azcapitoltimes.com/news/2019/08/26/court-upholds-ruling-colorado-city-abused-power/.

From 2016 to 2019, Clarke was at the Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady. During this time, Clarke represented Stephanie Rosenfeld, a Brooklyn prosecutor who alleged that her colleagues illegally wiretapped her cellphone. See Rosenfeld v. Leach, 370 F. Supp. 3d 335 (E.D.N.Y. 2019).

Since 2019, Clarke has been with the New York Attorney General’s Office. Among the matters she handled there, Clarke led the Attorney General’s successful suit against Rennselear County’s use of limited early voting polling locations, in which a judge found that the locations chosen would not lead to equitable access to the polls. See People v. Schofield, 2021 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 5247 (N.Y.S. June 7, 2021).

Overall Assessment

Given her youth and focus on civil rights litigation, Clarke is likely to draw opposition from Republican Senators. However, there is little that would draw Democratic senators to oppose her, which gives Clarke a strong chance at both confirmation and, potentially, elevation.

Hector Gonzalez – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York

Hector Gonzalez is a well-experienced litigator who, despite his nomination to the federal bench by Trump last year, has strong Democratic party ties.  While Gonzalez was not confirmed in 2020, he stands favored to take the bench next year.

Background

The 58-year-old Gonzalez got his B.S. from Manhattan College in 1985 and then attended the University of Pennsylvania Law School, graduating in 1988.[1] 

After graduation, Gonzalez started as an associate at Rogers & Wells and then joined the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office as an Assistant District Attorney in 1990.  Gonzalez then shifted over to federal prosecution in 1994, working his way to Chief of the Narcotics Unit at the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York.[2] 

In 1999, Gonzalez became a Partner at Mayer Brown and moved to Dechert LLP in 2011, where he currently works and chairs the Global Litigation Practice.[3] 

In 2014, Gonzalez was recommended for a seat on the New York Court of Appeals (which ,despite its name, is New York’s highest court), but Judge Eugene Fahey was appointed instead.[4]

History of the Seat

Gonzalez has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York to the seat vacated by Judge Brian Cogan on June 12, 2020.  Gonzalez was previously nominated for this seat late in the Trump Administration but was never confirmed.

Legal Career

While Gonzalez started his career as a firm associate, his first major position was as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.  In the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Gonzalez rose to be Chief of the Narcotics Unit, practicing both at the trial level and the Second Circuit.  In 1999, Gonzalez moved to Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw LLP.  At Mayer Brown, Gonzalez notably was one of the lead attorneys represented telecommunications companies in the landmark Bell Atlantic v. Twombly case, which tightened pleading requirements for plaintiffs in the federal government.[5]

Since 2011, Gonzalez has been a Partner with Dechert LLP.  While at the firm, Gonzalez represented the Takata Corporation in investigations of airbag inflator ruptures.[6]  He also represented the Bank of New York Mellon in a series of investigations and litigation.[7]

Political Activity

Gonzalez’s political history is strongly Democratic.  Over the course of his career, Gonzalez has given to President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a number of New York house members, and Montana Governor Steve Bullock.[8]

Civilian Complaint Review Board

In 2002, Gonzalez was named by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to be Chairman of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, an independent agency that investigates police misconduct.[9]  Gonzalez’s tenure almost immediately was bogged in controversy when a whistleblower claimed that the agency ignored racial discrimination and was biased towards police.[10]  As Chairman, Gonzalez pushed back against strip searching practices in the NYPD, recommending new training on the issue.[11]  Additionally, Gonzalez led the Board as it charged a deputy chief with misconduct for ordering the arrest of a protester at the 2004 Republican National Convention.[12]  The action, and related statements, drew sharp criticism from NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who argued that the Department had been careful in its policing.[13]  He also, paradoxically, was criticized by other observers for not doing enough to reign in the Police Department.[14]

Overall Assessment

Gonzalez’s record overall is fairly liberal, and his renomination by the Biden Administration is a recognition of that fact.  While Gonzalez is likely to draw strong opposition from Republicans due to his record on policing in particular, Gonzalez looks likely to be confirmed the second time around.


[1] Hector Gonzalez, Profile, Dechert.com, available at https://www.dechert.com/people/g/hector-gonzalez.pdf (last visited Aug. 21, 2020).

[2] See Peter Lattman, Lead Rajaratnam Prosecutor to Join Dechert, N.Y. Times Blogs, Jan. 13, 2012.

[3] Denise Champagne, COA Nominees Forwarded to Governor, Daily Record of Rochester, Dec. 2, 2014.

[4] See id.

[5] See Twombly v. Bell Atl. Corp., 425 F.3d 99 (2d Cir. 2004).

[6] See Gonzalez, supra n. 1.

[7] See id. 

[9] Diane Cardwell, Bloomberg Fills Gaps, Naming Four to Posts In His Administration, N.Y. Times, Apr. 5, 2002.

[10] Kevin Flynn, Civilian Board on Police Misconduct Defends Itself on Claim That It is Soft, N.Y. Times, Sept. 25, 2002.

[11] William Rashbaum, Police Complaint Board Finds Some Strip Searches Improper, N.Y. Times, May 13, 2004.

[12] Jim Dwyer, Charges, But No Penalty, for a Chief’s Role in a Convention Arrest – Correction Appended, N.Y. Times, Mar. 9, 2006.

[13]See Bradley Hope, Complaints Spike But Police Punish Fewer Officers, N.Y. Sun, June 30, 2006.

[14] See CCRB: Dead Board Walking, NYPD Confidential, Sept. 18, 2006, http://nypdconfidential.com/print/2006p/060918p.html. 

Judge William Pocan – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin

Wisconsin has been home to some pitched federal judicial confirmation battles during both the Obama and Trump Administrations, as the state’s politically divided senate duo have alternately cooperated and clashed on nominees. As such, it’ll be interesting to see which side of that pattern Milwaukee Circuit Court Judge William Pocan will follow.

Background

William S. Pocan received his B.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in 1981 and his J.D. from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1984. After a year as an associate at Brookhouse & Brookhouse in Kenosha, Pocan joined Jastroch & LaBarge, where he stayed until 2006.

In 2006, Governor Jim Doyle appointed Pocan to the Milwaukee County Circuit Court, where Pocan has served ever since.

In 2014, Pocan was one of three candidates recommended to President Barack Obama to replace Judge Charles Clevert on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Gayle Worland, Three Nominees for Eastern District Judgeship Named, Wisconsin State Journal, Feb. 15, 2014, https://madison.com/wsj/news/local/crime_and_courts/three-nominees-for-eastern-district-court-judgeship-named/article_ff3e8bc3-9cbf-55c0-b516-58df781cd045.html. President Obama nominated U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Pamela Pepper, who was confirmed and currently serves on the bench.

History of the Seat

Pocan has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, to a seat vacated on December 31, 2019, by Judge William Griesbach. In June 2021, Pocan was one of four candidates recommended by the White House for the vacancy by Wisconsin senators Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin, a Republican and a Democrat, respectively. See Craig Gilbert, Baldwin and Johnson Bring Forward Four Candidates to Fill Federal Judgeship in Green Bay, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 22, 2021, https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/politics/2021/06/22/four-candidates-named-fill-federal-judgeship-green-bay/5312798001/. Pocan was nominated on December 15, 2021.

Political Activity

Pocan has been active in making political donations to Wisconsin candidates, largely giving to Democrats including Supreme Court candidates Shirley Abrahamson, Ann Walsh Bradley, and Louis Butler.

Legal Experience

Excluding a year at Brookhouse & Brookhouse, Pocan has spent his entire pre-bench career at the firm of Jastroch & LaBarge, where he focused primarily on plaintiff’s side litigation. Pocan was particularly notable in “Lemon Law” litigation involving cars in poor condition that were sold to consumers. See, e.g., Eric Freedman, Ford Loses Lemon Law Appeal, Automotive News, Mar. 5, 2001. Pocan also represented Adele Garcia, who filed a “Lemon Law” suit after the transmission on her Mazda left her stranded in Montana. See Anita Weier, DOT, Consumers Tell Panel: Don’t Weaken State Lemon Law, Capital Times, Feb. 20, 2004.

Jurisprudence

Since his appointment in 2006, Pocan has served on the Milwaukee County Circuit Court, where he has presided over juvenile, civil, and criminal cases. Among the notable matters he presided over, Pocan awarded a $3.2 million judgment to a man burned in an apartment fire started by a co-tenant, after a jury found the landlord and insurer liable. See Bruce Vielmetti, Tenant Burned in Apartment Fire Wins $3.2 Million Award, Proof and Hearsay, Oct. 12, 2012.

Notably, Pocan rejected a settlement agreement between dairy groups and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, finding that the ruling improperly limited environmental protection authority and powers held by the Department. See Steven Verburg, Judge Denies DNR on Dairies: He Rules Agency Can’t Change Laws to Placate Big Farms, Water Pollution, Wisconsin State Journal, Jan. 16, 2019.

Among other notable rulings, Pocan ruled that Stuart Yates, a convicted sex offender, could have limited visitation with his severely ill 9 year old son, overruling a hospital restriction on such visits. See Ivan Moreno, Milwaukee Sex Offender Granted Limited Visits With Sick Son, A.P., Apr. 3, 2018.

Some of Pocan’s rulings over his fifteen year long judicial career have been reversed by higher courts. For example, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals reversed Pocan’s ruling denying David Turnpaugh compensation for wrongful conviction for solicitation. See Bruce Vielmetti, Appeals Court Says State Owes Man Wrongly Convicted of Soliciting Prostitute, Proof and Hearsay, May 22, 2012.

Overall Assessment

A couple of points that have yet to be mentioned in this article: Pocan would be the first openly gay judge on the Wisconsin federal bench; he is also the brother of U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, a political lineage that does not appear to have caused him active Republican opposition. Overall, Pocan’s nomination will live and die based on Sen. Ron Johnson’s blue slip. Given that the White House chose to nominate him over longtime federal defender Krista Halla Valdes, it is likely that Johnson has agreed not to blue slip Pocan, even if he doesn’t ultimately vote for him.

Evelyn Padin – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey

Despite being the oldest judicial vacancy in New Jersey, and the country, the seat vacated by Judge Faith Hochberg in March 2015 sat for months without a nominee. However, on December 15, the Biden Administration finally sent the nomination of solo practitioner Evelyn Padin to fill the vacancy.

Background

Evelyn Padin received a B.A. from Rutgers University of Delaware in 1983, and a M.S.W. from Fordham University in 1985, before spending four years as a social worker. Padin then obtained a J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law and joined the firm of Linares & Coviello in 1992, working with future federal judge Jose Linares. Padin left to start her own practice in 1995 and has maintained it ever since.

In addition, Padin has been active in the New Jersey State Bar Association, including serving as the First Latina Secretary in 2014 and later serving as President of the Association in 2019. She also served as a member of the NJ Secretary of Higher Education’s Campus Sexual Assault Commission and the NJ Puerto Rico Commission.

History of the Seat

The seat Padin has been nominated for opened on March 6, 2015, with Judge Faith Hochberg’s move to senior status. The Obama Administration nominated Julien Neals to fill this vacancy, but Neals was blocked by the then-Republican controlled Senate (Neals was subsequently renominated to a different seat by President Biden and confirmed). 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. Padin was nominated to fill the vacancy on December 15, 2021.

Legal Experience

Padin has spent her entire career practicing in Jersey City, where she focuses on family law and personal injury matters. For example, Padin represented two women in suing the Jersey City Police Department, and the owner of a residential building, after a man with outstanding warrants broke into the building and attacked one of the women, pushing her out of a window and killing her child. See New Jersey: Jersey City Man Charged With Killing Son Also Faces Lawsuits From His Ex, Her Friend, U.S. Official News, Apr. 28, 2015.

Additionally, as President of the New Jersey State Bar Association, Padin frequently participated as amicus in cases before the Supreme Court of New Jersey. See, e.g., S.C. v. New Jersey Dep’t of Children & Families, 231 A.3d 576 (N.J. 2020); Nieves v. Adolf, 230 A.3d 227 (N.J. 2020); Estate of Van Riper v. Director, Div. of Taxation, 226 A.3d 55 (N.J. 2020); Balducci v. Cige, 223 A.3d 1229 (N.J. 2020); Meisels v. Fox Rothschild LLP, 222 A.3d 649 (N.J. 2020). Notably, the Bar Association, as amicus, argued that the Fifth Amendment protected against the compelled disclosure of passcodes to cellphones seized by law, a position rejected by a 4-3 majority of the New Jersey Supreme Court. State v. Andrews, 234 A.3d 1254 (N.J. 2020).

In other matters, Padin received an admonishment from the Supreme Court of New Jersey’s Review Board on March 6, 2001 (the subject of the admonishment is unclear as the Board’s records only go back five years), which was vacated and dismissed by the New Jersey Supreme Court, which ruled that there was not clear and convincing evidence supporting the admonishment. See In re Padin, 791 A.2d 196 (N.J. 2002).

Political Activity

Padin has a few political contributions to her name, all to Democrats, including Menendez and Booker.

Overall Assessment

From an Administration pushing to draw nominees from unusual backgrounds, Padin, a sixty-year-old litigator active in the state bar, makes for a relatively safe choice. The White House can nonetheless point to her background as a social worker in arguing that Padin will bring a unique perspective to the federal bench.