Kymberly Evanson – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington

Kymberly Evanson, who currently serves as a law partner at Pacifica Law Group, has been tapped for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

Background

Evanson received a B.A. from Seattle University in 1999 and a J.D. from the Georgetown University Law Center in 2007. After graduating, Evanson clerked for Judge Emmett Sullivan on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before joining the Seattle office of JK&L Gates as an associate. Evanson later shifted to Pacifica Law Group and became a partner in 2011. She is still with the firm.

History of the Seat

Evanson has been nominated to replace Judge Ricardo Martinez on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. Martinez will take senior status upon confirmation of a successor.

Legal Experience

Evanson started her legal career at the Seattle office of K&L Gates. Among her matters there, she represented AstenJohnson, Inc. against an employee suit alleging damages from asbestos exposure. See Coulter v. Asten Group, Inc., 230 P.3d 169 (Wash. App. 2009). She also worked on bankruptcy litigation. See, e.g., Sec. Investor Prot. Corp. v. Lehman Bros., 433 B.R. 127 (S.D.N.Y. Bankr. 2010).

Since 2011, Evanson has worked at Pacifica Law Group, where she defended Amazon against a defamation suit brought by James Parisi, who alleged that he was defamed in the publication of a book by Larry Sinclair, who had alleged that he had engaged in an affair with then-presidential candidate Barack Obama. See Parisi v. Sinclair, 806 F. Supp. 2d 93 (D.D.C. 2011).

Much of Evanson’s work at Pacifica has focused on municipal law. See, e.g., Elected Leaders, Activists File Lawsuit to Remove Tim Eyman’s I-1366 From 2015 Ballot, Newstex Blogs, Aug. 10, 2015. See also Lee v. State, 374 P.3d 157 (Wash. 2016). Notably, Evanson defended the Woodland Park Zoological Society against a lawsuit alleging that the housing of elephants at the Society violated animal cruelty laws. Sebek v. City of Seattle, 290 P.3d 159 (Wash. App. 2012). Evanson also represented a petitioner who sought to use public records requests to obtain zip code reports from Lyft. See Lyft, Inc. v. City of Seattle, 418 P.3d 102 (Wash. 2018).

In her pro bono matters, Evanson represented the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington in a suit against the Trump Administration’s foreign travel ban (colloquially called the “Muslim ban”). See Washington v. Trump, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16012 (W.D. Wash. Feb. 3, 2017).

Writings

As a law student in 2006, Evanson authored a paper on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars employment discrimination. See Kymberly K. Evanson, Employment Law Chapter: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 7 Geo. J. Gender & L. 981 (2006). The piece is largely descriptive of the structure and functioning of employment suits under Title VII, rather than commenting or recommending changes in the law. See id.

Political Activity

Evanson has occasionally donated to political and judicial candidates, including Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Supreme Court Justices Steve Gonzalez and Mary Yu.

Overall Assessment

With a record of working on both commercial and pro bono litigation, Evanson presents a left-of-center record as an attorney that is consistent with her fellow Seattle based nominees. It remains to be seen if that record will pose her confirmation issues.

Judge Margaret Guzman – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts

Massachusetts District Judge Margaret Guzman has been a fixture of the Worcester legal community for the past thirty years. She has now been tapped for the federal bench.

Background

Guzman received a B.A. from Clark University in 1989, and then obtained a J.D. from Boston University School of Law in 1992.

After graduation, Guzman became a public defender in Massachusetts. In 2005, she became a solo practitioner in Worcester, Massachusetts.

In 2009, Guzman was nominated by Governor Deval Patrick to be a Judge on the Dudley District Court. In 2017, Guzman joined the Ayer District Court, where she currently serves.

History of the Seat

Guzman has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts opened by Judge Timothy Hillman’s move to senior status on July 1, 2022.

Legal Career

Guzman started her legal career as a public defender in Massachusetts. Among the matters she handled as a public defender, Guzman represented Jose Ramos, who shot and killed Ramon Cruz for using a derogatory name for a homosexual when referring to Ramos. See Worcester Man Gets 14 Years for Shooting Neighbor, A.P. State & Local Wire, Aug. 10, 2000. She also represented Brian Martel, who was convicted of stabbing and killing his son while in a psychotic episode. See Father Who Stabbed Sons Pleads Guilty to Reduced Charges, A.P. State & Local Wire, Aug. 31, 2004.

From 2005 to 2009, Guzman worked as a solo practitioner in Worcester. During this time, Guzman represented Anthony Leo, who was convicted of raping a Worcester woman by force after entering her apartment. See Man Gets Life Sentence After Rape Conviction, A.P. State & Local Wire, Mar. 15, 2007.

Jurisprudence

Guzman has served as a state court judge in Massachusetts since her appointment in 2009. For the first eight years of her career, Guzman served on the Dudley District Court, which holds jurisdiction over felonies up to five years, misdemeanors, ordinance violations, and all civil matters involving less than $25,000 in damages. Since 2017, Guzman has served on the Ayer District Court.

Among the notable matters that she heard as a judge, Guzman held Alberto Sierra without bail after the disappearance of his girlfriend’s five-year-old son. See Amy Crawford, Boyfriend Ordered Held in Mass. Missing Boy Case, A.P., Dec. 24, 2013. Guzman also dismissed charges against Prof. Sabine von Mering arising from a protest where she blocked a coal train to Merrimack Station, the last coal powered power plant in New England. See Jen Crystal, Prof. Arrested For Blocking Coal Train in Climate Protest, The Justice: Brandeis University, Jan. 28, 2020.

Guzman’s tenure on the bench also overlapped with some criticism of the state bench for high rates of acquittals in Driving Under the Influence cases. See Chris Burrell and Neal Simpson, High Acquittal Rate in OUIs; 86% Innocent in Bench Trials; State Supreme Court Calls for Reform, The Patriot Ledger, Nov. 2, 2012. Special counsel for the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court noted that, in the period studied, Guzman had acquitted all 149 defendants who appeared before her in bench trials on drunk driving charges. See id. While the Court’s report made it clear that there was no misconduct on the part of the judges involved, it nonetheless called for reform of procedures to ensure that lawyers did not engage in judge shopping. See id.

Political Activity

Guzman has a relatively limited political history, including a donation to Democratic Governor Deval Patrick in 2006.

Overall Assessment

Having been a judge for thirteen years, Guzman is a relatively conventional choice for the federal bench. If obstacles arise in her path to the bench, they may be drawn from her acquittal rate while on the bench. However, if Guzman can explain that issue, she should have a relatively painless confirmation.

Judge Kai Scott – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

A longtime public defender and judge, Judge Kai Scott’s background appears tailor-made for a federal appointment by the Biden Administration.

Background

The 51-year-old Scott received her B.A. degree from Hampton University in 1991 and a J.D. from the West Virginia University College of Law in 1995. She then spent two years as a law clerk for the Pennsylvania Bureau of Workers Compensation.

In 1998, Scott joined the Defender Association of Philadelphia. In 2004, Scott moved to become a federal public defender. In 2010, Scott became the Trial Unit Chief of the Federal Community Defender’s office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

In 2015, Scott was elected to the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas as a Democrat, where she currently serves.

History of the Seat

Scott has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. This seat opened on March 15, 2021, when Judge C. Darnell Jones moved to senior status.

Legal Experience

Before she became a judge, Scott spent her entire legal career as a public defender representing indigent clients, first in the state and then in the federal system. Among her notable clients, Scott represented Theodore Woodson, who plead guilty of having sex with multiple inmates while serving as a jail worker. See Jim Smith, Jail Worker Guilty of Sex With Inmates; Jersey Man Worked at Federal Center, Philadelphia Daily News, Mar. 23, 2005. She also represented Michael King, who was convicted for robbing five banks. Jim Smith, Mentally Ill Druggie Gets 70 Months For Bank Holdups, Philadelphia Daily News, Sept. 8, 2005. A later representation involved John Benjamin Desper, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for soliciting sexually explicit images of minors over the internet. Michael Hinkelman, Child-Sex Offender Sentenced to 25 Years, Philadelphia Daily News, Nov. 9, 2010.

Jurisprudence

From 2015, Scott has served as a Judge on the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, which is the primary trial court in Pennsylvania. As a Judge, Scott presides over cases in civil and criminal matters, as well as domestic relations, juvenile, and family law matters.

Notably, Scott granted a motion to suppress drugs recovered from Tyree Carroll, ruling that officers lacked reasonable suspicion to stop Carroll simply because he was repeatedly riding his bicycle in an area known for drug sales. See Robert Moran, Judge Rules in Favor of Man in Violent 2015 Arrest, Philadelphia Inquirer, Feb. 17, 2017. Carroll’s subsequent arrest was captured in a viral video that appeared to show the officers beating and kicking him. See id.

Political Activity

Scott ran for the bench as a Democrat and has given to the Pennsylvania Democratic party.

Writings and Statements

In 2019, Scott was interviewed (alongside fellow judicial nominee and judge Mia Perez) in an article discussing African American vernacular creating issues with court transcripts and records. See Cassie Owens, Hearing What’s Really Said in Court: Lawyers, Judges Discuss African American English and How Not Understanding It Can Defeat Justice, Philadelphia Inquirer, June 7, 2019. In the article, Scott, who is described as “fluent in African-American English” noted that it’s difficult for judges to step in to clarify linguistic misunderstandings without appearing to influence the jury. See id.

Overall Assessment

Both as a public defender and as a judge, Scott’s record shows a willingness to hold law enforcement to account. While she has the support of Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, Scott is nonetheless likely to draw opposition in the Senate. However, she will likely still be confirmed before the end of the Congress.

Judge Mia Perez – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

A Philadelphia native, Judge Mia Perez is part of a four judge package for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Background

40-year-old Perez received her B.A. degree from Tufts University in 2003 and a J.D. from Temple University Beasley School of Law in 2006. Perez subsequently spent four years as a public defender in Philadelphia before joining Friedman Schuman as an associate. After a year there, Perez opened her own practice, handling criminal defense and family law.

In 2016, Perez was elected to the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas as a Democrat, where she currently serves.

History of the Seat

Perez has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. This seat opened on March 1, 2021, when Judge Timothy Savage moved to senior status.

Legal Experience

Perez started her legal career as a public defender representing indigent clients in the City of Philadelphia. She then spent six years in private practice handling both criminal defense and family law matters. Among her cases, Perez represented Democratic lawmaker Michelle Brownlee, who plead guilty to accepting money from an undercover informant. See Brad Bumsted, 4th Lawmaker Pleads Guilty in Sting Case, Pittsburgh Tribune Review, June 9, 2015.

Perez was also counsel for a co-defendant in a federal robbery case in which Judge Juan Sanchez excluded an out-of-court identification as unduly suggestive. See United States v. Centeno, Criminal Action No. 12-634-2, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 85913 (E.D. Pa. June 19, 2013).

Jurisprudence

From 2016, Perez has served as a Judge on the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, which is the primary trial court in Pennsylvania. As a Judge, Perez presides over cases in civil and criminal matters, as well as domestic relations, juvenile, and family law matters.

Among the matters she handled as a judge, Perez sentenced Blair Hawkins to two years of probation for operating an unlicensed mortuary. See Joseph A. Slobodzian, Unlicensed West Philly Undertaker Sentenced to Two Years’ Probation For Improperly Handling Bodies, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Mar. 8, 2017.

Among her legal rulings, Perez suppressed evidence of a gun recovered from a search of a defendant’s purse, ruling that the officers did not have reasonable suspicion to frisk the defendant and could not search her purse absent an arrest. See Comm. v. Thomas, 2016 Phila. Ct. Com. Pl. LEXIS 604 (Sept. 14, 2016). Perez also upheld a Defendant’s conviction for criminal trespass, finding that there was no statutory requirement that the Commonwealth prove a specific criminal intent in committing the trespass. Comm. v. Quijano, 2017 Phila. Ct. Comm. Pl. LEXIS 338 (Feb. 3, 2017).

In another notable case, Perez dismissed attempted murder charges against a defendant after the complaining witness failed to appear for the preliminary hearing and the Commonwealth attempted to establish probable cause by having the detective testify to statements the witness had made to him. See Comm. v. Harris, 269 A.3d 534 (PA Super. 2022). The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed Perez’s decision, finding that hearsay could not be the basis of establishing probable cause at a preliminary hearing. See id. at 536.

Political Activity

Perez ran for the bench as a Democrat and has given to the Pennsylvania Democratic party.

Writings and Statements

In 2019, Perez was interviewed (alongside fellow judicial nominee and judge Kai Scott) in an article discussing African American vernacular creating issues with court transcripts and records. See Cassie Owens, Hearing What’s Really Said in Court: Lawyers, Judges Discuss African American English and How Not Understanding It Can Defeat Justice, Philadelphia Inquirer, June 7, 2019.

Overall Assessment

Touted as a “millennial” judge when she was first elected, Perez, while young, has built up a significant reservoir of experience with the law. With the support of her two home state senators, Perez is likely to be confirmed before the end of the Congress.

John Frank Murphy – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Intellectual property attorney John Frank Murphy is Sen. Patrick Toomey’s selection in a package of four nominees to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Background

John Frank Murphy attended Cornell University, getting his B.S. in 1999, and then got a Masters in Science and a Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology in 2002 and 2004. Murphy then got a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2007.

After graduating, Murphy clerked for Judge Kimberly Moore on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Murphy then joined the Philadelphia office of Baker Hostetler, where he currently serves as a partner.

History of the Seat

Murphy has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. This seat opened on August 31, 2018, when Judge Lawrence Stengel moved to senior status.

Despite this seat opening with two years left in the Trump Administration, no nominee was put forward for this vacancy.

Legal Experience

Murphy has spent his entire legal career at Baker Hostetler, where he has primarily worked as an intellectual property litigator. At the firm, Murphy handled a significant amount of patent litigation. For example, Murphy was part of the legal team representing Muzak LLC in a suit covering patents for playback of music through telephones and public speaker systems. See Info-Hold, Inc. v. Muzac LLC., 783 F.3d 1365 (Fed. Cir. 2015). He also represented Nokia, Inc. in a patent infringement suit litigated in the Eastern District of Virginia. See Global Touch Solutions LLC v. Toshiba Corp., 109 F. Supp. 3d 882 (E.D. Va. 2015).

Notably, Murphy was part of the legal team for Comcast in a patent infringement suit filed against Sprint alleging that the latter had infringed four of its patents. See Comcast Cable Communications LLC v. Sprint Communications Co. LP., 203 F. Supp. 3d 499 (E.D. Pa. 2016).

Outside the intellectual property context, Murphy represented a number of plaintiffs suing to block the Pennsylvania Secretary of State’s certification of ExpressVote XL electronic voting machines, challenging the security, reliability, and accuracy of the machines. See Nat’l Election Def. Coalition v. Boockvar, 266 A.3d 76 (Pa. Commw. LEXIS 567 2021).

Political Activity

Murphy has donated to a number of candidates throughout his career, including Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, who has received approximately $4000. While most of Murphy’s donations have been to Republicans, he did donate $100 to the Attorney General campaign of Steve Dettelbach, a Democrat who currently serves as director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (Dettelbach was also a partner at Baker Hostetler).

Overall Assessment

With his background in intellectual property law and a willingness to back Republicans, Murphy is likely to attract support from members of both parties. As such, he will likely sail to confirmation.

Kelley Hodge – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

In 2017, Kelley Hodge became the first African American woman to serve as District Attorney for Philadelphia. Hodge is now poised to become a federal judge in the city.

Background

Born November 17, 1971in Abingdon, Pennsylvania, Kelley Brisbon Hodge grew up in Montgomery County. She received a B.A. from the University of Virginia in 1993 and a J.D. from the University of Richmond T.C. Williams School of Law in 1996. Hodge then joined the Richmond Public Defender’s Office.

In 2004, Hodge joined the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. In 2011, Hodge was appointed by Governor Tom Corbett to be safe schools advocate in Philadelphia and from 2015 to 2016, she was executive assistant to the president of the University of Virginia before returning to Pennsylvania to be of counsel at the firm of Elliott Greenleaf.

In 2017, after the resignation of Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, Hodge was appointed to be interim D.A., which she held until the inauguration of Larry Krasner in 2018.

Hodge subsequently returned to Elliott Greenleaf, where she stayed until moving to Fox Rothschild’s Philadelphia office in 2020, where she currently serves.

History of the Seat

Hodge has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. This seat opened on June 1, 2021, when Judge Petrese Tucker moved to senior status.

Legal Experience

Hodge has held a variety of legal positions throughout her career, from serving as a public defender, a prosecutor, in private practice, and in policy positions. She started her career at the Richmond Public Defender’s office, where she defended Roosevelt Brackett, who was charged with arson and murder for allegedly setting his friend on fire. See Alan Cooper, Man Convicted of Murder, Arson; Ruled Responsible for Friend’s Third-Degree Burns and Death, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Jan. 9, 2001. She also defended Donald McMillian, who was convicted of murder for stabbing Lonnice Wilson. See Alan Cooper, Judge Convicts Richmond Man of Murder in Stabbing, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Feb. 2, 2002.

In 2004, Hodge moved to become a prosecutor in Philadelphia. While with the office, Hodge prosecuted Dante Robinson for attempted murder, robbery, and weapons related charges arising from the shooting of a delivery driver in Southwest Philadelphia. See Julie Shaw, Daily News Driver Describes Holdup-Shooting, The Philadelphia Daily News, Aug. 11, 2007. Hodge also worked to establish Philadelphia’s Veterans Court. See Karen Heller, Veterans Court Winning Cases, The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 26, 2010.

In 2011, Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican appointed Hodge to the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to be a safe schools advocate in Philadelphia. In her role, Hodge worked on issues of crime and bullying at Germantown High School. See Dylan Purcell and Susan Snyder, Crime Lurks in Little-Used Areas of Philadelphia Schools, The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 11, 2012.

In 2017, after the resignation of Philadelphia DA Seth Williams, the city’s judges chose Hodge to serve out his term. See Chris Brennan, Judges Will Vote, Via Top Hat, For Interim DA, The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 19, 2017. While she headed the office, Hodge oversaw a series of prosecutions on illegal street gambling. See Chris Brennan, ‘Family Affair’: 9 Nabbed in Alleged Long-Running Philly Street Lottery, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 21, 2017. She also worked with Attorney General Josh Shapiro to prosecute Democratic members of an election board with intimidating Republican and Green party voters and seeking to change ballots. See Chris Brennan, Election Fraud Charges Filed in 197th District Special Election, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 31, 2017.

After returning to private practice, Hodge was appointed to a three-person committee overseeing the distribution of funds to victims of child abuse from the Philadelphia Achdiocese. See Mark Scolforo, Pennsylvania Dioceses Outline Child Sex Abuse Victim Funds, A.P. State & Local, Nov. 8, 2018. Hodge was also hired to conduct an external investigation at Vassar University regarding innappropriate behavior by women’s basketball coach Candice Signor-Brown. See Head Coach Signor-Brown Departed from Vassar Amidst Multiple Investigations, Swarthmore Phoenix, Nov. 20, 2020. She was also hired by the Sharon Hill Borough to conduct an independent use of force investigation after the shooting death of an 8 year old at a football game. See Robert Moran, DA: Initial Tests Say Police Shot 8-Year-Old; Fanta Bility Died, 3 Were Injured After Sharon Hill Football Game. A Grand Jury Empaneling Is Sought, Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept. 28, 2021.

Political Activity

Hodge is a Democrat and donated $500 to the Presidential campaign of Kamala Harris in 2020.

Overall Assessment

Hodge has, over the course of a 25 year legal career, built experience in criminal and civil law. As she has the bipartisan support of her home state senators, she will likely sail to confirmation.

Judge F. Kay Behm – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan

Judge Frances Kay Behm, who has been tapped for the federal bench in Michigan, currently serves as a state court judge based out of Flint.

Background

Frances Kay Behm received a B.A. from the Albion College in 1991 and her J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School in 1994.

After graduation, Behm joined the office of Braum Kendrick Finbeiner as an associate. In 1997, Behm moved to the firm of Winegarden, Haley, Lindholm & Robertson. In 2008, Behm became a solo practitioner. In 2009, Behm was appointed to the Genesee County Circuit and Probate Court by Governor Jennifer Granholm. She has served on the court ever since, currently assigned to the Family Division.

History of the Seat

Behm has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. This seat opened on August 6, 2021, when Judge David Lawson moved to senior status.

Legal Career

Behm has held two primary positions in her pre-bench career. From 1994 to 1997, Behm worked as an associate at Braum Kendrick Finbeiner in Saginaw. Then, from 1997 to 2008, Behm was an associate with Winegarden, Haley, Lindholm & Robertson in Flint. In both positions, Behm focused on business litigation and property law.

Political Activity

Before her appointment to the bench, Behm made a handful of political donations, including to Granholm and to Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Jurisprudence

Behm has served as a probate judge in Genesee County since her appointment in 2009. Behm has also migrated through the other divisions on the court, including the family division, where she currently serves.

Among the criminal cases she handled on the bench, Behm sentenced Allen Brown of Flint to 22.5 to 45 years in prison upon his plea to second-degree murder. In the strangulation-related death of Jessica Flood, Behm sentenced Aaron Thornton to a minimum of 25 years in prison.

In 2021, Behm was sued in federal court by pro se plaintiff Ca’ron Lloyd, who alleged damages against several defendants arising from his arrest and conviction before Behm. See Lloyd v. Drigett, Case No. 2:20-cv-13099, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 81157 (E.D. Mich. Apr. 28, 2021). Judge Sean Cox dismissed Behm from the suit for judicial immunity but allowed the suit to proceed against two of the defendants. See id. at *9.

Overall Assessment

While Behm has served on the state bench for approximately a dozen years, and as an attorney for another dozen before that, her background in probate and family law is still unusual as a path to the bench.

Nonetheless, Behm’s record as a jurist lacks any significant notes of controversy and, as such, is not likely to attract significant opposition.

Jerry Blackwell – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota

For more than thirty years, Jerry Blackwell has been a leader in the Minneapolis legal community. The outspoken attorney has now been tapped for the federal bench.

Background

A native of Kannapolis, NC, Jerry W. Blackwell received his B.A. from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in 1984 and then a J.D. from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill School of Law in 1987.

After graduation, Blackwell joined Robins Kaplan LLP in Minneapolis, serving as a partner until he moved to Nilan Johnson Lewis in 1996. In 2000, Blackwell started the firm of Blackwell Igbanugo in Edina, Minnesota. In 2006, he moved to Blackwell Burke where he currently works as a partner.

In 2015, Blackwell was named a possible candidate for the federal bench to replace Judge Michael Davis. See Randy Furst, Names Begin to Surface for New Federal Judge Post, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Jan. 3, 2015. Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Wilhemina Wright was nominated instead and confirmed.

History of the Seat

Blackwell has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. This seat opened on December 31, 2021, when Judge Susan Richard Nelson moved to senior status.

Legal Career

While he has moved firms a few times, Blackwell has spent his entire legal career in private practice in the Minneapolis area. However, this has netted him some prominent representations, including being the attorney for Minneapolis native Prince. See Cheryl Johnson, Purple House is Demolished; Prince’s Neighbors Say They Don’t Know Why He Leveled It, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Apr. 3, 2003.

Early in his career, Blackwell represented the Government of India in suits related to the Bhopal gas explosion. See David Phelps, ‘Zealous Advocate’ Wanted to Be Lawyer From Second Grade, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Aug. 5, 2012. Later, he defended 3M against lawsuits alleging that the company’s air blowers deposited infectious bacteria in surgical incisions. See Joe Carlson, 3M Case May Alter Medical Lawsuits, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Oct. 28, 2017. Blackwell also authored a successful pardon application for Max Mason, who was convicted in 1920 for allegedly raping a white woman (whose own doctor had testified that she had not been assaulted). See Brooks Johnson, Historic Pardon in Duluth Lynching, Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 13, 2020. The conviction had also prompted the lynching of three innocent black men in Duluth. See id.

Notably, Blackwell joined the prosecution team against police officer Derek Chauvin who was charged with murdering George Floyd in 2020. See Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, What to Know About Jerry W. Blackwell, The Prosecutor Making Opening Arguments, N.Y. Times, Mar. 29, 2021. As part of the trial, which ended in a conviction, Blackwell made opening and closing remarks.

Political Activity

Blackwell has been a frequent political donor throughout his legal career. Among the benefits of his donations are Governor Tim Walz, Attorney General Keith Ellison, and President Barack Obama.

Writings and Statements

Throughout the years, Blackwell has written and spoken frequently in the media, particularly on issues of race. In 1992, Blackwell commented regarding the acquittal of police officers charged with beating Rodney King and subsequent rioting, noting:

“When we have systems in place designed to protect people and mete out justice, and when it’s apparent that they don’t further justice, my concern is that people are left to their own devices. Self-preservation steps in at some point and you have outbreaks, resistance, throughout the country” See Mark Brunswick, Jim Walsh, Kevin Diaz, At Rallies in Twin Cities, Many Decry Injustices While Police Aim to Reassure, Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 1, 1992.

In another article, Blackwell noted his emphasis on diversity in hiring, noting that it is “good business” as it attracts clients who are “reluctant to work with a firm that was hostile to hiring people of color and women.” Deborah Caulfield Rybak, Diversity ‘Good Business’ For Black-Owned Law Firm, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Feb. 9, 2003 (quoting Jerry W. Blackwell).

As President of the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers, Blackwell had objected to the firm of Maslon, Edelman, Borman, & Brand from joining Twin Cities Diversity in Practice, a consortium of corporations and law firms seeking to hire minority attorneys, citing the firm’s representation of white students challenging affirmative action policies at the University of Michigan. See Katherine Kersten, 2 Standards for Diversity in the Legal Fraternity, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Sept. 7, 2006.

Overall Assessment

Jerry Blackwell would come to the federal bench with extensive experience with federal practice and with the Minneapolis legal community. While his outspokenness may draw some opposition, Blackwell is still nonetheless favored to join the federal bench before the end of the year.

Judge Gina Mendez-Miro – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico

One half of a judicial supercouple, Judge Gina Mendez-Miro was considered last year for appointment to the First Circuit but is now looking at a lifetime appointment to the District of Puerto Rico. It is an appointment that she is likely to get.

Background

Mendez-Miro received her B.A. magna cum laude from the University of Puerto Rico Rio Piedras Campus in 1996, a Masters in Romance Languages from Princeton University, and her J.D. from the University of Puerto Rico School of Law in 2001. After graduating, Mendez-Miro worked at O’Neill & Borges until 2006, when she joined the Puerto Rico Department of Justice. In 2008, Mendez-Miro shifted to the Office of Court Administration with the Puerto Rico judicial branch, and then served in the Legal Affairs Office until 2013.

In 2013, Mendez-Miro became Chief of Staff to the Puerto Rico Senate. In 2016, Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla appointed Mendez-Miro to the Puerto Rico Court of Appeals, where she currently serves.

Mendez-Miro is married to Maite Oronoz Rodriguez, who serves as Chief Justice of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court.

History of the Seat

Mendez-Miro has been nominated for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico. This seat opened when Judge Carmen Cerezo moved to senior status on February 28, 2021.

Legal Experience

Mendez-Miro has held a variety of legal positions throughout her career, including in private practice, government, and in the legislative branch. Early in her career, for example, she worked on defending the Puerto Rico electoral commission against a suit asserting constitutional claims arising out of the 2004 elections. See Rossello-Gonzalez v. Serra, 2005 U.S. LEXIS 52570 (D.P.R. June 27, 2005).

Later, while working as Chief of Staff to the Puerto Rico Senate, Mendez-Miro represented amici in a suit challenging Puerto Rico’s ban on gay marriage. See Conde-Vidal v. Rius-Armendariz, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 23042 (1st Cir. July 8, 2015).

Jurisprudence

Since 2016, Mendez-Miro has served as a Judge with the Puerto Rico Court of Appeals. In this role, Mendez-Miro served as an intermediate appellate judge reviewing trial court and agency decisions.

Because all Puerto Rico state court decisions are written in Spanish, no analysis of her opinions was conducted.

Overall Assessment

As the youngest of the trio, Mendez-Miro is arguably the most “controversial” of the nominees put forward for the District of Puerto Rico. However, even that is not saying much.

There is little in Mendez-Miro’s record that is likely to galvanize opposition, and while she, like most modern judicial nominees, will attract opposition, such opposition is unlikely to derail a smooth confirmation.

Judge Camille Velez-Rive – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico

Judge Camille Velez-Rive has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge for nearly two decades. As such, she can be considered a fairly uncontroversial selection for a federal judgeship.

Background

A Puerto Rico native, Camille Lizette Velez-Rive was born in San Juan on February 5, 1968. Velez-Rive received her B.A. from Washington University in St. Louis in 1989 and her J.D. from the University of Puerto Rico School of Law in 1993. After graduating, Velez-Rive clerked for Judge Francisco Rebollo Lopez of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico. She then joined Pietrantoni Mendez & Alvarez in San Juan as an Associate. In 1998, she became a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico. She held that position until her appointment as a federal magistrate judge in 2004.

History of the Seat

Velez-Rive has been nominated for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico. This seat opened when Judge Francisco Besosa moved to senior status on January 1, 2022.

Legal Experience

Velez-Rive started her legal career as a law clerk and then spent three years as an Associate in private practice. She then spent four years at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico, handling a wide variety of cases.

Notably, Velez-Rive handled a number of appellate matters before the First Circuit, defending the validity of convictions below. See, e.g., United States v. Hernandez-Albino, 177 F.3d 33 (1st Cir. 1999) (affirming conviction for conspiracy to possess cocaine); United States v. Rivera, 171 F.3d 37 (1st Cir. 1999) (affirming denial of motion for new trial); United States v. Morillo, 158 F.3d 18 (1st Cir. 1998) (reversing conviction for conspiracy for insufficiency of evidence); United States v. Hernandez, 146 F.3d 30 (1st Cir. 1998) (challenging sufficiency of evidence for conviction for felon in possession). She also helped brief challenges to suppression motions on appeals from the district court. See, e.g., United States v. Acosta-Colon, 157 F.3d 9 (1st Cir. 1998).

Velez-Rive later transitioned into handling civil cases, defending the federal government against claims brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). See, e.g., De Mangual v. United States, 131 F. Supp. 2d 263 (D.P.R. 2001). Notably, she successfully defended the federal government in a bench trial in a suit brought by a plaintiff who was injured by tripping on an uneven sidewalk. Sepulveda v. United States, 329 F. Supp. 2d 260 (D.P.R. 2004). She also, in that role, defended social security decisions. See, e.g., Cruz v. Barnhart, 265 F. Supp. 2d 173 (D.P.R. 2003); Chaparro v. Massanari, 190 F. Supp. 2d 260 (D.P.R. 2002).

Jurisprudence

Since 2004, Velez-Rive has served as a full-time U.S. Magistrate Judge with the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico. As a magistrate judge, Velez-Rive wrote reports and recommendations for substantive rulings, handled pleas and arraignments, and reviewed warrant applications.

Among the most notable cases in which she issued recommendations, Velez-Rive’s recommendation to dismiss a political discrimination case against the Mayor of San German was adopted as time-barred. See Llantin-Ballester v. Negron-Irizarry, 353 F. Supp. 2d 206 (D.P.R. 2005). By contrast, Velez-Rive denied motions to dismiss in another political discrimination case, finding that the case should move forward. Torres-Heredia v. Lopez-Pena, 708 F. Supp. 2d 148 (D.P.R. 2008).

On the criminal side, Velez-Rive recommended that a defendant’s motion for a Franks hearing should be denied for failure to offer sufficient factual support. See United States v. Perez Velasquez, 488 F. Supp. 2d 82 (D.P.R. 2006). In another case, Judge Aida Delgado-Colon concurred with Velez-Rive’s recommendation to deny a motion to suppress, finding that the defendant had been validly stopped based on reasonable suspicion. See United States v. Garcia-Robledo, 488 F. Supp. 2d 50 (D.P.R. 2007).

Velez-Rive’s rulings have generally been upheld on appeal. For example, the First Circuit upheld her grant of judgment on the pleadings to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in a constitutional claim involving a farmer’s tax credit program. See Perez-Acevedo v. Rivero-Cubano, 520 F.3d 26 (1st Cir. 2008).

Overall Assessment

Nominations to the District of Puerto Rico have rarely brought the same degree of partisan fervor as those to other courts. Judge Velez-Rive’s nomination is unlikely to be any different. Given her extensive experience as a federal magistrate judge, she will likely get bipartisan support.