Judge Karen Williams – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey

New Jersey’s federal district court sat without any new judges during the Trump Administration, and, with six vacancies, the Biden Administration is moving swiftly to transform the court. Among the nominees are U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Williams.

Background

Karen McGlashan Williams, not to be confused with the distinguished jurist who sat on the Fourth Circuit for seventeen years, grew up in Long Island with four siblings. Williams graduated from Penn State University in 1985 and then attended Temple University Beasley School of Law, getting her J.D in 1992.

After graduating, Williams joined the firm of Jasinki & Williams, P.C. in Atlantic City. She stayed with the firm until 2009, when she was appointed to be U.S. Magistrate Judge based in Camden, where she has served since.

History of the Seat

The seat Williams has been nominated for opened on May 31, 2017, with Judge Jerome Simandle’s move to senior status. The Trump Administration never put forward a nominee to fill this vacancy. Williams was nominated on May 12, 2021.

Legal Experience

Williams has spent her entire career before becoming a judge at the firm of Jasinski & Williams, P.C., where she primarily focused on employment law.

Among the notable cases she has handled, Williams represented Atlantic City in an appeal of a decision finding that the City had violated a firefighter’s First Amendment rights by disciplining him for using a racial slur against an African-American police officer. Karins v. Atl. City, 152 N.J. 532 (N.J. 1998). The New Jersey Supreme Court sided in favor of the City, holding that the use of the racial slur was not protected speech under the First Amendment. See id. at 552.

Judicial Experience

Williams has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge in New Jersey since her appointment in 2009. In this role, she handles settlement, discovery, and makes recommendations on dispositive motions. She also presides over cases where the parties consent and reviews bail and detention motions.

Among the cases she handled as a U.S. Magistrate Judge, Williams chose to detain Richard Tobin, an 18-year-old Camden man accused of trying to recruit attackers against synagogues on neo-Nazi social networking platforms. See Jeremy Roebuck, Feds Link NJ Man to Synagogue Vandalism; He is Accused of Using a Neo-Nazi Social Network to Recruit Attackers on Two Sites in the Midwest. He Allegedly Had Much Wider Plans, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 17, 2019. She also ordered the detention of Carlos Matchett, who allegedly used social media to encourage looting and rioting during protests against police brutality following the death of George Floyd, Amy Rosenberg, A.C. man Faces Riot Charge; He is Accused of Using Social Media To Encourage People to Loot Stores, The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 5, 2020, and of Alex Capasso, accused of taking sexually explicit photos of and molesting a minor. See Barbara Boyer, No Bail for Philly Restauranteur Charged with Molesting Young Girl, The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 12, 2016.

In one notable case, Williams was asked by prosecutors to detain police officers Antonio Figueroa and Robert Bayard who were accused of abusing their power and of stealing cash and drugs from local drug dealers. See George Anastasia, Prosecutors Want Camden Police Held Without Bail in Corruption Case, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 19, 2010. However, Williams declined to hold the defendants, instead setting bail at $100,000 with pretrial conditions including electronic monitoring and a curfew. See George Anatasia, $100,000 Bail Set for Accused Camden Officers, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 20, 2010.

Overall Assessment

With over a decade of experience on the federal bench and two decades of experience as a practicing attorney, Williams has the expertise needed to hit the ground running as a U.S. District Judge. She will likely be confirmed with bipartisan support.

Christine O’Hearn – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey

Camden-based labor and employment attorney Christine O’Hearn is President Biden’s third nominee to the District of New Jersey, a short-staffed court with a number of vacancies that need filling.

Background

Born on June 26, 1969 in Camden, New Jersey, Christine P. O’Hearn received a B.A. from the University of Delaware in 1990 and a J.D. cum laude from Temple University School of Law in 1993.  O’Hearn has been at the firm of Brown & Connery since her graduation, and currently works as a Partner in their Labor and Employment and Litigation groups.

History of the Seat

The seat O’Hearn has been nominated for opened on November 2, 2018, with Judge Robert Kugler’s move to senior status.  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.  O’Hearn was nominated to fill the vacancy on April 29, 2021.

Legal Experience

O’Hearn has spent her entire career at Brown & Connery, where she worked primarily in labor and employment litigation, while also taking some cases involving negligence and professional liability matters.  Among her notable matters, O’Hearn represented the parents of John Fiocco Jr., a student at the College of New Jersey who passed away and whose body was found in a Bucks County landfill, in a suit against the College and the State of New Jersey.  The suit ended in a settlement for $425,000.

On the employment side, O’Hearn generally represented employers in suits brought by employees.  For example, O’Hearn defended against a suit brought by former Gloucester County Sheriff Sharon Illas, who alleged that she had been sexually assaulted by one of her supervisors.  The suit concluded in a settlement, which included a statement by Illas retracting the allegation and clearing the County of any wrongdoing.  In a media statement, O’Hearn described the lawsuit as “the most frivolous case I have encountered.”  O’Hearn also noted that “[a]llegations of sexual assault which are knowingly false cause[] irreparable harm to the accused…A letter of apology does not erase that damage.” 

Political Activity

O’Hearn has a few political contributions to her name, all to Democrats, including Menendez and former Rep. Rob Andrews.

Overall Assessment

As a private practice attorney with plenty of experience in federal practice, O’Hearn is a conventional, if a bit safe, choice for the federal bench.  However, there is little in her experience or background that is likely to draw controversy, and she will likely receive bipartisan support on the way to confirmation.

Judge Zahid Quraishi – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey

When President Biden released his list of 11 judicial nominees, they were described by many as “history-making.”  That moniker certainly holds for his nomination of New Jersey Magistrate Judge Zahid Quraishi, who would be, if confirmed the first Muslim American (as well as the first Pakistani American) Article III judge.

Background

Zahid Nisar Quraishi was born in 1975 in New York City and grew up in Fanwood, NJ in an immigrant family from Pakistan.[1]  Quraishi graduated from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 1997 and then attended Rutgers University School of Law, getting his J.D in 2000.

After graduating, Quraishi clerked on the Superior Court of New Jersey and then joined the Newark office of LeBouef, Lamb, Greene & MacRae, LLP.  In 2003, Quraishi left the firm to join the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Corps. (JAG).  

In 2007, Quraishi joined the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as Assistant Chief Counsel and then became a federal prosecutor in New Jersey in 2008.  In 2013, Quraishi became a Partner at Riker Danzig.  Since 2019, Quraishi has been serving as a U.S. Magistrate Judge based in Trenton.

History of the Seat

The seat Quraishi has been nominated for opened on June 14, 2018, with Judge Peter Sheridan’s move to senior status.  The Trump Administration never put forward a nominee to fill this vacancy. For his part, Quraishi had been in contact with Sen. Cory Booker regarding this vacancy since February 2020 but his nomination only started to move after the election of President Biden, who nominated him on March 30, 2021.

Legal Experience

Quraishi has held a number of different positions throughout his career, including working in private practice, working as a federal government, and working as a JAG officer.  Throughout these positions, Quraishi has gained litigation experience in both criminal and civil law.  

Among the notable cases he has handled, Quraishi prosecuted New Jersey State Senator Wayne Bryant for honest services mail fraud, bribery, and extortion.[2] After a bench trial, U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson found Bryant “Not Guilty” of all charges, finding that the government had failed to prove that Bryant accepted payments in exchange for an official act.[3] 

On the defense side, Quraishi represented Apple employee Toni Ann Branca, who was convicted of embezzlement for double-billed Apple for expenses on her company credit card.[4]  Branca was sentenced to prison and paid $95,000 in restitution.[5]   

Judicial Experience

Quraishi has served as a U.S. Magistrate judge in New Jersey since his appointment in 2019.  In this role, he handles settlement, discovery, and makes recommendations on dispositive motions.  He also presides over cases where the parties consent.

Due to his relatively short tenure on the bench, Quraishi has not had many substantive matters under his belt.  However, in one notable case, Quraishi presided over a lawsuit alleging fraud on the part of Caesars Interactive, which operated an online poker platform.[6]  The suit concluded when Quraishi granted summary judgment to Caesars on all of the plaintiff’s claims.[7]

Overall Assessment

As we have previously noted, the District of New Jersey is desperately short-handed.  As Quraishi has a wide spectrum of legal experience, and little controversial about his background, he is poised to join the bench in due course.

[1] See Carl Glassman, Nisar Quraishi, 73, Longtime Tribeca MD, ‘Gave His Life to What He Loved’, The Tribeca Tribune, Apr. 19, 2020, http://www.tribecatrib.com/content/nisar-quraishi-73-longtime-tribeca-md-gave-his-life-what-he-loved.

[2] See United States v. Bryant, 885 F. Supp. 2d 749 (D.N.J. 2012).

[3] See id. at 751.

[4] See Michael Tanenbaum, Former New Jersey Apple Employee Gets Prison for Embezzling $243,000, The Philadelphia Voice, June 1, 2018, https://www.phillyvoice.com/new-jersey-apple-employee-embezzlement-sentenced-prison/

[5] See id.

[6] Shah v. Caesars Interactive Entm’t, Civil Action No. 18-14108 (FLW) (ZNQ), 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 185354 (D.N.J. Oct. 6, 2020).

[7] See id.

Julien Neals – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey

In February 2015, Newark attorney Julien Neals was nominated by President Obama for a federal judgeship.  Neals’ nomination then sat in limbo before the Republican-controlled Senate for nearly two years before the election of President Trump ended his chances.  Today, more than six years later, Neals is getting a second shot to become a federal judge.

Background

Julien Xavier Neals was born in Newark, NJ on January 1, 1965.  Neals graduated from Morehouse College in 1984 and then spent the next few years as a self-employed musician.[1]  He then attended Emory University School of Law, getting his J.D in 1991.[2]

After graduating, Neals clerked on the Superior Court of New Jersey and then joined the Secaucus office of Chasan Leyner & Lamparello, PC, where he became a Partner in 2003.  In 2006, Neals was chosen by Mayor Cory Booker to serve on the Newark Municipal Court.  

In 2008 Booker tapped Neals to be the city’s Corporation Counsel.[3]  In 2010, Neals shifted position again, to become the City’s Business Administrator as well.  Since 2015, Neals has been serving as County Counsel and acting County Administrator for Bergen County.

History of the Seat

The seat Neals has been nominated for opened on February 10, 2015, with Judge William Martini’s move to senior status.  On February 26, 2015, upon Booker’s recommendation, Neals was nominated by President Obama to fill the vacancy opening with Judge Faith Hochberg’s move to senior status on March 6, 2015.  Neals received a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 30, 2015 and was approved by voice vote on November 5, 2015.  However, the nomination sat on the Senate floor without action for 14 months before the inauguration of President Trump resulted in its withdrawal.

In 2017, Booker and the Trump Administration attempted to reach an agreement of New Jersey nominees that would include the renomination of Neals to fill a district court vacancy.[4]  However, the deal never came to fruition and Neals was not renominated.  Instead, the vacancy left by Judge Hochberg, along with six other New Jersey vacancies were left without nominees throughout the Trump Presidency.

Legal Experience

Neals spent the first half of his legal career as an attorney with Chasan Leyner & Lamparello, where he handled general litigation, including around 35 trials.[5]  Among the notable matters he handled at the firm, he represented the City of Paterson in defending against lawsuits alleging excessive force resulting from a riot at the City’s Peruvian Day festival.[6]  

In 2008, Neals became the Corporation Counsel for the City of Newark, which began the second phase of his career, where he primarily worked within municipalities.  As Corporation Counsel, Neals helped implement the city’s community court project as an alternative to jail for petty crimes.[7]  He also oversaw the repeal of the City’s loitering ordinance, which had been declared unconstitutional by the New Jersey Supreme Court.  

During his tenure as Corporation Counsel, Neals was also the target of a blackmail attempt, in which his subordinate Neil Braunstein threatened to accuse Neals of corruption and workplace discrimination if he was not given a promotion and $750,000 in cash.[8]  After Neals reported the attempt, Braunstein was criminally charged, convicted, fired, and had his law license suspended.[9]

After his tenure as Corporation Counsel, Neals served as the City’s Business Adminstrator, where, due to declining revenues, Neals was forced to cut back on police expenditures,[10] and as County Counsel for Bergen County.

Judicial Experience

Neals served as the Chief Judge of the Newark Municipal Court from 2006 to 2008, a court with jurisdiction over traffic infractions, housing and code violations, and minor criminal offenses.[11]  As Chief Judge of the court, Neals supervised the other judges and presided over approximately 6000 cases.[12]

Overall Assessment

Deprived of new judges for the last four years, the District of New Jersey is desperately short-handed.  As Neals’ past nomination was approved by a Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee without opposition, one could argue that his current nomination should receive similar support.

However, there may be reasons why Neals’ current nomination may draw greater opposition than his previous one.  In particular, Neals having presided over cuts to the Newark Police Department may draw greater salience in the backdrop of police reform movements and calls to “defund the police.”  

Nonetheless, Neals is still much more likely than not to be confirmed.  However, he may draw more active opposition than his nomination did in 2015.

[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 114th Cong. Julien Neals: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 2.

[2] See id. at 1.

[3] See Andrew Jacobs, Booker is Losing 2 Top Officials, 18 Months Into His Newark Administration, N.Y. Times, Jan. 5, 2008.

[4] See Andrew Seidman and Jonathan Tamari, Trump Poised to Nominate Christie Ally for U.S. Attorney in Complex Political Deal, Philadelphia Inquirer, Aug. 11, 2017.

[5] See Neals, supra n. 1 at 40.

[6] Rossmorey et al. v. City of Paterson, et al., 2:97-cv-03964-JLL-RJH (D.N.J.).

[7] See Donna Leinwand, Alternative Courts Gain Ground for Petty Crimes, USA Today, June 10, 2008.

[8] See Rohan Mascarenhas, Newark City Attorney Is Arrested for Alleged Blackmail of Boss, NJ.com, Apr. 2, 2009, https://www.nj.com/news/2009/05/newark_attorney_arrested_at_ci.html.

[9] See Debra Cassens Weiss, Lawyer is Suspended from Law Practice for Taking Quest for a Promotion Too Far, ABA Journal, May 10, 2012, https://www.abajournal.com/news/article/lawyer_is_suspended_from_law_practice_for_taking_quest_for_a_promotion_too_.

[10] See David Ariosto, As City Cutbacks Cause Police Layoffs, Bullets in Night Claim Young Mother’s Life, CNN.com, Oct. 28, 2012.

[11] See Neals, supra n. 1 at 33-34.

[12] See id.