Charles Fleming – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio

Longtime federal defender Charles Fleming would be, if confirmed, the second black judge on the Northern District, after Judge Solomon Oliver.

Background

Born in 1962, Charles Esque Fleming received his B.A. from Kent State University in 1986 and his J.D. from Case Western Reserve University School of Law in 1990. After law school, Fleming spent a year as an associate at Forbes, Forbes & Associates before becoming an assistant federal defender, where he has worked ever since.

History of the Seat

Fleming has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. This seat was vacated on January 31, 2021, when Judge James Gwin moved to senior status.

Legal Experience

Other than a brief stint in private practice, Fleming has spent his entire legal career as a federal defender, representing indigent defendants at the trial and appellate levels in Northern Ohio. Among the matters he handled there, Fleming successfully suppressed evidence obtained against his client through an illegal arrest. See United States v. Walker, 43 F. Supp. 2d 828 (N.D. Ohio 1998).

Fleming has also had the opportunity to argue a number of appellate matters as federal defender. For example, Fleming challenged the conviction of one of his clients where a juror brought a dictionary into the deliberation room and looked up the definition of “reasonable.” See United States v. Gillespie, 61 F.3d 457 (6th Cir. 1995). The Sixth Circuit rejected the challenge by noting that the trial judge had taken appropriate measures to ensure that the independent investigation had not affected the jury verdict. See id. at 460. Fleming also challenged an in-court identification of his client after the victim was shown a photograph of him by the police during a line-up. United States v. Meyer, 359 F.3d 820 (6th Cir. 2004). A divided panel of the Sixth Circuit affirmed the conviction.

In one notable case, Fleming convinced Judge Gwin to suppress evidence obtained through a police stop where the officer asked the defendant to see his identification, leading to a warrantless arrest and search of his vehicle. See United States v. Campbell, 486 F.3d 949 (6th Cir. 2007). However, a divided panel of the Sixth Circuit reversed the grant of the motion to suppress, over the dissent of Judge Ransey Guy Cole. Id. at 958.

Political Activity

Fleming has a handful of political contributions to his name, one each to the senatorial and presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and one to Florida Democrat Kendrick Meek.

Overall Assessment

Fleming would bring three decades of criminal defense experience to the bench. While some nominees with public defense experience have been criticized lately for a narrow focus of experience (in a manner that nominees who have only been prosecutors have not been), it is unlikely that such arguments will derail Fleming’s nomination.