Judge Frank Volk – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia

Judge Frank Volk currently serves as the Chief U.S. Bankruptcy Judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.  He has been nominated to replace his former boss Judge John Copenhaver.

Background

A West Virginia native, Frank William Volk Jr. was born in Morgantown on November 10, 1965.  He graduated from West Virginia University in 1989 and received a Juris Doctor from the West Virginia University College of Law in 1992.[1]  After graduating from law school, Volk clerked for Judge Charles Haden on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, for Judge M. Blane Michael on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and for Justice Margaret Workman on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.[2]  After these positions, Volk joined Haden’s chambers as a Law Clerk, where he stayed for nine years.  He then moved to Judge John Copenhaver’s chambers, working as a Law Clerk there between 2004 and 2015.[3] 

In 2015, Volk was selected to be a federal bankruptcy judge, holding that position to the present.

History of the Seat

Volk has been nominated to fill a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.  The seat opened on November 1, 2018, when Judge John Copenhaver moved to senior status.[4]  In June 2018, Volk sent his resume to West Virginia Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Joe Manchin (D-WV).[5]  After interviews with Capito, Manchin, and the White House, Volk was nominated on April 4, 2019.

Legal Experience/Jurisprudence

Volk has spent virtually his entire pre-bench legal career as a career law clerk, working for many of West Virginia’s most prominent jurists.  Notably, Volk worked for both Democrats, such as Michael and Workman, and Republicans, such as Haden and Copenhaver.  As such, he had significant experience in the workings of the court by the time he was appointed to the bench in 2015.  As a U.S. Bankruptcy Judge, Volk review federal bankruptcy filings and proceedings.  By his own account, Volk has presided over 6000 cases and over 3000 hearings.[6]  However, he has not presided over any trials.[7]

Notably, Volk presided over the bankruptcy and sale of the Charles Gazette-Mail, organizing the sale of the newspaper.[8]  He also approved the sale of the newspaper to H.D. Media, a Huntingdon based media company.[9]  In doing so, he rejected a rival bid from Ogden Newspapers, which announced that they did not wish to pursue the sale but did not formally withdraw their bid.[10]

Overall Assessment

It is not common to appoint U.S. Bankruptcy Judges to lifetime appointments.  It is also unusual to appoint career law clerks to the federal bench.  However, as a career law clerk who then became a bankruptcy judge, Volk brings a particularly unique resume for a lifetime appointment.  Strictly speaking, Volk should have little trouble being confirmed to the bench as he has the strong support of his home-state senators and a relatively uncontroversial record.  

The only hiccup, if any, may arise from his lack of litigation experience.  As Volk has acknowledged, his time as a career law clerk precluded him from the practice of law.  As such, Volk has never tried cases or even appeared as counsel of record throughout the bulk of his legal career.

Nevertheless, senators may find that Volk’s long experience working with Judge Haden and Copenhaver would more than make up for this lack of practice.  As such, this lack of litigation experience is unlikely to hamper Volk through the confirmation process.


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

[2] See id. at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] Judge Copenhaver was the last active district judge in the country appointed by President Gerald Ford.

[5] See Volk, supra n. 1 at 42.

[6] Id. at 9.

[7] Id.

[8] See Lacie Pierson, Judge Delays Ruling on Bidding Process for Gazette-Mail, Charleston Gazette-Mail, Feb. 1, 2018.

[9] Lacie Pierson, Judge Delays Ruling on Bidding Process for Gazette-Mail, Charleston Gazette-Mail, Mar. 10, 2018.

[10] Id.