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.

Judge Hernan Vera – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California

Judge Hernan D. Vera currently serves on the Los Angeles Superior Court, a popular source for California judicial nominees. While his time on the bench is fairly brief, his extensive tenure at the pro bono firm Public Counsel is likely to bring scrutiny in evaluating Vera’s nomination to the bench.

Background

Hernan D. Vera got a B.A. with Distinction from Stanford University in 1991, and a J.D. from U.C.L.A. School of Law in 1994. After graduating, Vera briefly joined the Los Angeles office of O’Melveny & Myers before clerking for Judge Consuelo Marshall on the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. He then spent a year as a staff attorney at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) before returning to O’Melveny.

In 2002, Vera joined the public interest law firm Public Counsel and became President and CEO in 2008. In 2015, he moved to become a Principal at Bird Marella P.C.

In 2020, Vera was named by Gov. Gavin Newsom to the Los Angeles Superior Court, where he currently serves.

History of the Seat

Vera has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California to a seat vacated by Judge Margaret Morrow on October 29, 2015. Despite the seat opening with more than a year left in the Obama Administration, the Administration did not put a candidate forward to fill the vacancy.

In October 2018, the Trump Administration nominated Jeremy Rosen, a Los Angeles based appellate attorney and longtime member of the Federalist Society. However, Rosen’s nomination stalled due to the opposition of California Senators, and he was never confirmed.

Legal Experience

While he started his career in private practice, Vera spent a significant portion at the public-interest law firm, Public Counsel, where he served as President and CEO. Among the matters he handled there, Vera sued the Hollywood (CA) Presbytarian Medical Center for “dumping” a paraplegic homeless man on skid row. See Lawsuit Says Hospital ‘Dumped’ Homeless Man, Healthcare Risk Management, Mar. 1, 2008. Vera also sued the Pasadena school district to allow foster children in group homes to attend school. Jennifer English, Suit Brought Against Pasadena School District on Behalf of Foster Youth, City News Service, June 27, 2006.

Since 2015, Vera has been a Principal at Bird Marella, largely focusing on commercial litigation. For example, Vera represented Defendants in a private fraud and breach of fiduciary duty lawsuit in the Central District of California. See Tatung Co. v. Shu Tze Hsu, 217 F. Supp. 3d 1138 (C.D. Cal. 2016). Vera also represented a Charter School in challenging tax assessments that are not levied against public schools. Los Angeles Leadership Academy, Inc. v. Prang, 46 Cal. App. 5th 270 (2020).

Jurisprudence

Since 2020, Vera has served as a judge on the Los Angeles Superior Court. In this role, Vera presides over trial court matters in criminal, civil, family, and other state law matters. Vera’s brief tenure does not reveal enough about a judicial philosophy.

Writings and Statements

During his time at Public Counsel, Vera frequently wrote and spoke on the law. For example, in a 2012 column, Vera noted that the lack of comprehensive immigration reform leads to “rampant fraud” targeting immigrants. Hernan Vera, The Silent Casualties of Immigration Scams, Political Machine, May 18, 2012. He has also written in support of “access to justice” initiatives, noting that public interest lawyers perform an important role by offering free legal service to the underserved. See Hernan D. Vera, Closing Argument: Looking for Big Solutions For Access to Justice in California, 37 Los Angeles Lawyer 68 (November 2014).

Additionally, Vera advocated in favor of a Los Angeles ordinance against predatory lending, James K. Hahn, L.A. Council Expected to OK Predatory Measure, American Banker, Dec. 4, 2002, and against a ballot proposition that would narrow multiple-plaintiff lawsuits in California to class suits. Steve Lawrence, Targets of Unfair Competition Law Try to Make It Tougher to Use It, A.P. State & Local Wire, July 8, 2004.

In 2014, Vera awarded former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with Public Counsel’s William O. Douglas award, noting that Clinton “embodies the very highest American values of civic engagement and public service.” Hillary Rodham Clinton Signs Books, Receives Award During L.A. Visit, City News Service, June 19, 2014.

While at Bird Marella, Vera was critical of cooperation between the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and ICE, stating: “…people should know that [the Sheriff’s Department is] working for them only, and not for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.” See City News Service, Inc., Watchdog Group Wants Sheriff’s Department to Freeze Out ICE, Nov. 16, 2018 (quoting Hernan Vera).

Overall Assessment

As a longtime public interest lawyer with extensive experience with commercial litigation as well, Vera would be able to hit the ground running as a trial judge. Nonetheless, his nomination is likely to attract opposition for his long history of civil rights litigation, as well as potentially over his praise of Hillary Clinton.

Judge Maame Ewusi-Mensah Frimpong – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California

A longtime consumer protection attorney in private practice and at the Department of Justice, Judge Maame Ewusi-Mensah Frimpong has now been nominated for a seat on the federal bench.

Background

Born in Los Angeles to an immigrant family from Ghana, Frimpong got an B.A. from Harvard University in 1997, and a J.D. from Yale Law School in 2001. After graduating, Frimpong clerked for Judge Stephen Reinhardt on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and then joined Morrison & Foerster as an associate.

In 2007, Frimpong joined the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Division, rising to become Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, working on consumer protection litigation.

In 2015, Frimpong was named by Gov. Jerry Brown to the Los Angeles County Superior Court, where she currently serves.

History of the Seat

Frimpong has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California to replace Judge Christina Snyder, who took senior status on November 23, 2016. The Trump Administration had previously nominated Judge Sandy Leal from the Orange County Superior Court to fill this seat, but Leal was never confirmed.

Legal Experience

While she started her career at the big law firm, Morrison & Foerster, Frimpong spent the most significant portion of her career litigating with the Department of Justice in a variety of capacities. For example, as Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Consumer Protection Litigation, Frimpong helped assist with the prosecution of W. Scott Harkonen, the former CEO of Intermune, Inc. who was convicted of wire fraud for dissemination of false and misleading information.

During Frimpong’s tenure, the Second Circuit notably overturned a criminal conviction for promoting the off-label use of drugs, holding that such promotion of otherwise legal off-label use could not lead to criminal penalty. See United States v. Caronia, 703 F.3d 149 (2d Cir. 2012). Shortly after, the Fourth Circuit ruled that violations of FDA Good Manufacturing Practices regulations cannot be the basis for qui tam claims. United States ex rel. Rostholder v. Omnicare, 745 F.3d 694 (4th Cir. 2014). Despite the adverse decisions, Frimpong spoke before the 2013 CBI Pharmaceutical Compliance Congress, stating that cracking down on misbranding, adulteration, and off-label advertising was an essential part of consumer protection.

Jurisprudence

Since 2015, Frimpong has served as a judge on the Los Angeles County Superior Court. In this role, Frimpong presides over trial court matters in criminal, civil, family, and other state law matters. Among the matters that Frimpong has presided over, she ruled that a bail bondsman could not set aside the forfeiture of a bond after missing the deadline to file a motion to set aside the forfeiture, a ruling affirmed on appeal. See County of LA v. Lexington Nat. Ins. Corp., 2020 WL 830748 (Cal. App. Feb. 20, 2020).

Overall Assessment

Given her experience in private practice, the Department of Justice, and on the state court bench, Frimpong can certainly be deemed qualified for the federal bench. With little in her background that is likely to cause controversy, Frimpong will likely be confirmed by the end of the year.

Judge Sandy Leal – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California

Judge Sandy Leal currently serves on the Orange County Superior Court.  While Leal’s experience on the bench is fairly brief, she has extensive experience as a federal prosecutor.

Background

Sandy Nunes Leal was born in Longview Washington in 1972.  Leal got an B.A. from the University of Washington in 1995, and a J.D. from Boston College Law School in 1989.[1]  After graduating, Leal joined the Immigration and Naturalization Service as an assistant district counsel.[2] 

In 2004, Leal joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California as a federal prosecutor.  She stayed with the Office until her appointment to the bench.

In 2018, Leal was named by Gov. Jerry Brown to the Orange Superior Court, where she currently serves.[3] 

History of the Seat

Leal has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, to a seat vacated on November 23, 2016 by Judge Christina Snyder.

In February 2019, Leal was contacted by the White House Counsel’s Office to gauge her interest in a federal judgeship.[4]  After interviews with the Judicial Advisory Commission set up by Senators Feinstein and Harris, Leal was nominated on October 17, 2019.

Legal Experience

For the first few years of her career, Leal worked for INS, where she appeared in immigration court on removal proceedings, asylum hearings, and appeals.[5]  From 2004 to 2018, Leal has worked as a federal prosecutor, where she worked primarily on immigration and human trafficking matters.

As a federal prosecutor, Leal prosecuted Robert Ornelas, an Orange County teacher, who traveled to the Philippines to engage in sexual conduct with minors and produce child pornography.[6]  Ornelas was tried and convicted by a jury and was sentenced by Judge Cormac Carney to 190 years in prison.[7]  Leal also prosecuted Roshaun (“Kevin”) Nakia Porter for trafficking victims to engage in commercial sex acts.[8] 

Jurisprudence

Since 2018, Leal has served as a judge on the Orange County Superior Court.  In this role, Leal presides over trial court matters in criminal, civil, family, and other state law matters.  By her estimation, Leal has not authored any opinions during her tenure on the bench.[9]  Among the cases that Leal has presided over, they are primarily cases of family and domestic law, including petitions for dissolution,[10] request for restraining orders,[11] and child custody orders.[12]

Overall Assessment

Despite, or perhaps because of, her limited judicial record, there is little in Leal’s background that should cause trouble through the confirmation process.  When confirmed, she would be a fairly middle of the road judge on the Central District.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Sandy Nunes Leal: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] See Press Release, Office of Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Brown Names Aide, Five Others to Superior Courts, Dec. 18, 2018 (available at http://www.metnews.com/articles/2018/appt121818.htm).  

[3] See id. 

[4] See Leal, supra n. 1 at 26.

[5] See id. at 15.

[6] Press Release, Justice Department, Former Orange County Teacher in Sex Tourism Case Found Guilty of Traveling to Phillipines to Molest Young Girls and Filiming the Abuse, (Nov. 18, 2016).

[7] See United States v. Ornelas, SA CR 14-183-CJC (C.D. Cal.).

[8] See United States v. Porter, SA CR 12-97-JLS (C.D. Cal.).

[9] See Leal, supra n. 1 at 7.

[10] See, e.g., Campbell v. Campbell, No. 16D001563 (O.C. Sup. Ct.).

[11] See, e.g., Y.A. v. O.T., No. 19P000051 (O.C. Sup. Ct.).

[12] See, e.g., C.D. v. G.D., No.18D006591 (O.C. Sup. Ct.).

Rick Richmond – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California

Longtime Federalist Society leader Rick Richmond has been flagged as a potential federal judicial nominee since 2017, but the extensive process of negotiation over California nominees is allowing his nomination to move now.

Background

Rick Lloyd Richmond was born in Grand Junction, Colorado in 1959.  Richmond attended Brigham Young University, getting a B.S. in 1983.[1]  He then received a J.D. with Honors from the George Washington University Law School in 1986.[2]

After law school, Richmond clerked for Judge Harlington Wood on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit before joining the U.S. Department of Justice as an Appellate Attorney with the Civil Division.  After two years there, Richmond joined the D.C. office of Kirkland & Ellis, where he became a Partner in 1993.[3]  In 1997, Richmond moved to the Los Angeles office of Kirkland.  In 2009, Richmond moved to the Los Angeles office of Jenner & Block, where he currently works.

History of the Seat

Richmond 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, the last judge appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson still serving in active status.[4] 

Richmond was recruited to be a judicial nominee by the White House and interviewed with them in August 2017.[5]  Richmond then applied and interviewed with selection committees set up by California’s Democratic Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris.[6]  On August 28, 2019, Richmond was nominated by the White House.

Legal Experience

Richmond has practiced commercial litigation for over thirty years, with experience in contract cases, intellectual property, and class actions.  Over the course of his career, Richmond has tried 31 cases and has argued approximately 20 appeals.[7]  Notably, Richmond has briefed several cases at the U.S. Supreme Court, including Morse v. Frederick, in which Richmond represented a school district seeking to prohibit students from displaying pro-marijuana messages.[8]  The court sided with Richmond’s client on a 5-4 basis.[9]

Among other cases, Richmond represented the credit card company Discover in successfully enforcing arbitration agreements that prevented consumers from pursuing class actions to recovering interest and penalties.[10]  He also represented Louisiana citizens in challenging a black-majority Louisiana congressional district as an unconstitutional racial gerrymander.[11]

Political Activity

In addition to being a longtime member of the Federalist Society, Richmond has frequently donated to support Republican presidential and congressional candidates.  Richmond has been particularly generous in donating to Sen. Mitt Romney’s campaign for the Presidency, giving $5000 directly to the campaign and an additional $500 to Romney’s SuperPAC in 2012.[12]

Overall Assessment

Given his generally conservative record, Richmond’s greatest obstacle to confirmation is the return of blue slips from California’s Democratic senators.  However, given that Richmond was nominated as a part of a package of nominees which includes others chosen by the Senators, it is likely that he will be confirmed, albeit with some negative votes.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Rick Richmond: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] See id.

[3] See id. at 2.

[4] Judge Real passed away in 2019.

[5] See id. at 37.

[6] Id.

[7] Id. at 24.

[8] Morse v. Frederick, 551 U.S. 393 (2007).

[9] Id.

[10] W.A. Lee, Discover’s Legal Win May Be Industry’s, The American Banker, Jan. 21, 2003.

[11] Hays v. Louisiana, Nos. CV92-1522S & CV95-1241 (W.D. La. 1995).

John Holcomb – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California

An intellectual property lawyer based in Orange County, John Holcomb is one of several California nominees recommended by Democratic Senators and approved by the Administration.

Background

John William Holcomb was born in Olean, NY in 1963.  Holcomb attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology, getting an S.B. in civil engineering in 1984.[1]  He then spent five years in the U.S. Navy.  He then received a J.D. and M.B.A. from Harvard in 1993.  While in law school, Holcomb worked as a Research Assistant for a visiting professor named Elizabeth Warren (now a U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential contender).[2]

After law school, Holcomb clerked for U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Ronald Barliant before joining Irell & Manella LLP in Newport Beach as an Associate.[3]  In 1997, he moved to Knobbe, Martens, Olson & Bear LLP.  He became a Partner with the firm in 2002.

In 2019, Holcomb joined Greenberg Gross LLP in Costa Mesa as a Partner, where he currently serves.[4] 

History of the Seat

Holcomb has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, to a seat vacated on January 28, 2016, by Judge Dean Pregerson’s move to senior status.  On December 16, 2015, President Obama nominated Paul Abrams, a U.S. Magistrate Judge on the Central District to fill this vacancy.  However, while Abrams received a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 18, 2016, he was blocked from a confirmation vote by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Holcomb had broached his interest in a judicial appointment in October 2017 with the White House.[5]  He interviewed with selection committees set up by California’s Democratic Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris in 2017 and 2018.[6]  In March 2019, Holcomb interviewed with the White House and was selected as a nominee in September 2019. Holcomb was nominated on November 21, 2019.

Legal Experience

Holcomb has spent virtually his entire career focusing on intellectual property law, and has tried five cases throughout his career, including two jury trials.[7]  Notably, Holcomb represented Jean Sprengel, a physician who sought copyright protections over her book, which provided advice to cancer patients.[8]  Holcomb represented Dr. Sprengel in a bench trial in front of Judge Michael Fitzgerald who held that Dr. Sprengel retained the sole right to create derivative works from the book.[9]

Political Activity

Holcomb’s political history is fairly mixed.  While Holcomb has been a member of the Federalist Society since 1992, his only political contribution of record is to Rep. Matt Cartwright, a Democrat from Pennsylvania.[10]

Overall Assessment

Holcomb’s history with intellectual property law and his relatively uncontroversial history should ensure a smooth confirmation and a relatively moderate presence on the Central District.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., John Holcomb: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2-3.

[3] See id. at 2.

[4] See id. 

[5] See id. at 31.

[6] Id.

[7] Id. at 20.

[8] Sprengel v. Mohr, 2013 WL 645532 (C.D. Cal. 2013).

[9] Jason Frankovitz, Apple Patent Trial Goes to Jury: Why Fight When You Can License, TechZulu, Nov. 20, 2013.

Judge Steve Kim – 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.  Two years after Judge O’Connell’s passing, President Trump has nominated an apolitical magistrate judge to fill that vacancy.

Background

Judge Steve Kim was born in Seoul, South Korea in 1972.  Kim got his B.A. from the University of Oklahoma in 1996, and a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center in 1999.[1]  After graduating, Kim clerked for Judge Sidney Thomas on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and for Judge Stephen Wilson on the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California before joining Munger Tolles Olson in Los Angeles as an Associate.[2]

In 2003, Kim joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California as a federal prosecutor.[3]  In 2007, he joined Stroz Freidberg LLC.  In 2015, he left to found SK Advisory Services.

In 2016, Kim was selected as a U.S. Magistrate Judge for the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.[4] 

History of the Seat

Kim 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.

In November 2017, Kim applied and interviewed for a federal judgeship with selection committees set up by California’s Democratic Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris.[5]  In February 2019, Kim interviewed with the White House and was selected as a nominee in September 2019.  Kim was nominated on November 21, 2019.

Legal Experience

Before he joined the federal bench, Kim worked both as a prosecutor handling criminal matters in federal court, and in private practice handling white collar, cybersecurity, and forensic issues.  Over his career, Kim has litigated eight trials, and has argued five cases before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

As a federal prosecutor, Kim argued before the Ninth Circuit that forensic searches of computers crossing the U.S. border did not require reasonable suspicion, a position adopted by the appellate court.[6]  He also handled the trial and appeal involving a real estate agent convicted of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.[7] 

Jurisprudence

Since 2016, Kim has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge in Los Angeles.  In this role, Kim presides over settlement, preliminary hearings, bail, and any cases where the parties consent to his jurisdiction.  By his estimation, Kim has presided over five bench trials over his judicial career.[8] 

Notably, Kim presided over the arraignment of Lori Loughlin, who was arrested for her role in fraudulently obtaining college admissions.[9]  Kim allowed Loughlin to be released on a bail of $1 million, although he prohibited her from international travel beyond Vancouver, Canada, where she was filming.[10]  Kim also presided over the bench trial of Robert Rosebrock, who was charged with displaying U.S. flags on the fence of a Veteran’s Affairs facility without permission.[11]  Kim acquitted Rosebrock, finding that the state had failed to provide evidence that Rosebrock lacked permission to display the flags.[12]

Overall Assessment

Judge Steve Kim was recommended for appointment by California’s Democratic senators and has been approved by the White House.  Additionally, given his apolitical background and relatively noncontroversial record, Kim should be confirmed relatively comfortably and will create a relatively moderate record on the district court.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Steve Kim: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] See id. at 2.

[3] See id. 

[4] See id. 

[5] Id. at 46-47.

[6] See United States v. Arnold, 533 F.3d 1003 (9th Cir. 2008).

[7] See United States v. Lloyd, No. 05-50300, 2006 WL 1737564 ((th Cir. June 22, 2006).

[8] See Kim, supra n. 1 at 9.

[9] Jonah Valdez, Actress Released on Bail of $1 M, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Mar. 14, 2019.

[10] See id.

[11] U.S. Army Veteran Acquitted of Illegally Displaying Flags at Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Facility, City News Service, Apr. 18, 2017.

[12] See id.