Judge William Pocan – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin

Wisconsin has been home to some pitched federal judicial confirmation battles during both the Obama and Trump Administrations, as the state’s politically divided senate duo have alternately cooperated and clashed on nominees. As such, it’ll be interesting to see which side of that pattern Milwaukee Circuit Court Judge William Pocan will follow.

Background

William S. Pocan received his B.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in 1981 and his J.D. from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1984. After a year as an associate at Brookhouse & Brookhouse in Kenosha, Pocan joined Jastroch & LaBarge, where he stayed until 2006.

In 2006, Governor Jim Doyle appointed Pocan to the Milwaukee County Circuit Court, where Pocan has served ever since.

In 2014, Pocan was one of three candidates recommended to President Barack Obama to replace Judge Charles Clevert on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Gayle Worland, Three Nominees for Eastern District Judgeship Named, Wisconsin State Journal, Feb. 15, 2014, https://madison.com/wsj/news/local/crime_and_courts/three-nominees-for-eastern-district-court-judgeship-named/article_ff3e8bc3-9cbf-55c0-b516-58df781cd045.html. President Obama nominated U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Pamela Pepper, who was confirmed and currently serves on the bench.

History of the Seat

Pocan has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, to a seat vacated on December 31, 2019, by Judge William Griesbach. In June 2021, Pocan was one of four candidates recommended by the White House for the vacancy by Wisconsin senators Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin, a Republican and a Democrat, respectively. See Craig Gilbert, Baldwin and Johnson Bring Forward Four Candidates to Fill Federal Judgeship in Green Bay, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 22, 2021, https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/politics/2021/06/22/four-candidates-named-fill-federal-judgeship-green-bay/5312798001/. Pocan was nominated on December 15, 2021.

Political Activity

Pocan has been active in making political donations to Wisconsin candidates, largely giving to Democrats including Supreme Court candidates Shirley Abrahamson, Ann Walsh Bradley, and Louis Butler.

Legal Experience

Excluding a year at Brookhouse & Brookhouse, Pocan has spent his entire pre-bench career at the firm of Jastroch & LaBarge, where he focused primarily on plaintiff’s side litigation. Pocan was particularly notable in “Lemon Law” litigation involving cars in poor condition that were sold to consumers. See, e.g., Eric Freedman, Ford Loses Lemon Law Appeal, Automotive News, Mar. 5, 2001. Pocan also represented Adele Garcia, who filed a “Lemon Law” suit after the transmission on her Mazda left her stranded in Montana. See Anita Weier, DOT, Consumers Tell Panel: Don’t Weaken State Lemon Law, Capital Times, Feb. 20, 2004.

Jurisprudence

Since his appointment in 2006, Pocan has served on the Milwaukee County Circuit Court, where he has presided over juvenile, civil, and criminal cases. Among the notable matters he presided over, Pocan awarded a $3.2 million judgment to a man burned in an apartment fire started by a co-tenant, after a jury found the landlord and insurer liable. See Bruce Vielmetti, Tenant Burned in Apartment Fire Wins $3.2 Million Award, Proof and Hearsay, Oct. 12, 2012.

Notably, Pocan rejected a settlement agreement between dairy groups and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, finding that the ruling improperly limited environmental protection authority and powers held by the Department. See Steven Verburg, Judge Denies DNR on Dairies: He Rules Agency Can’t Change Laws to Placate Big Farms, Water Pollution, Wisconsin State Journal, Jan. 16, 2019.

Among other notable rulings, Pocan ruled that Stuart Yates, a convicted sex offender, could have limited visitation with his severely ill 9 year old son, overruling a hospital restriction on such visits. See Ivan Moreno, Milwaukee Sex Offender Granted Limited Visits With Sick Son, A.P., Apr. 3, 2018.

Some of Pocan’s rulings over his fifteen year long judicial career have been reversed by higher courts. For example, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals reversed Pocan’s ruling denying David Turnpaugh compensation for wrongful conviction for solicitation. See Bruce Vielmetti, Appeals Court Says State Owes Man Wrongly Convicted of Soliciting Prostitute, Proof and Hearsay, May 22, 2012.

Overall Assessment

A couple of points that have yet to be mentioned in this article: Pocan would be the first openly gay judge on the Wisconsin federal bench; he is also the brother of U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, a political lineage that does not appear to have caused him active Republican opposition. Overall, Pocan’s nomination will live and die based on Sen. Ron Johnson’s blue slip. Given that the White House chose to nominate him over longtime federal defender Krista Halla Valdes, it is likely that Johnson has agreed not to blue slip Pocan, even if he doesn’t ultimately vote for him.