Judge Julia K. Munley – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania

The daughter of former federal judge James Munley, Julia K. Munley is poised to fill her father’s old seat on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

Background

The 57 year old Munley was born into a storied Pennsylvania family, with her great-grandfather, grandfather, and grandmother having served in the Pennsylvania General Assembly as Democrats. Munley attended Marywood University in Scranton, receiving a B.A. degree in 1987, and subsequently getting a law degree from Penn State Dickinson Law in 1992.

After graduating, Munley clerked for Judge Stephen McEwen with the Pennsylvania Superior Court and then joined Masterson, Braunfield, Maguire & Brown as an Associate. In 1995, Munley switched to Mazzoni & Karam, and in 2001, became a partner at Munley Law.

In 2016, Governor Tom Wolf appointed Munley to the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County, where she currently serves.

History of the Seat

The seat Munley has been nominated for opened on September 30, 2022, with the move to senior status of Judge Robert Mariani. Mariani, in turn, replaced Munley’s father, Judge James Munley, in 2011.

Legal Experience

While she has shifted firms on occasion, Munley spent the first twenty five years of her career in private practice, practicing in state and federal court. Notably, Munley argued before the Third Circuit (with a panel including then-Judge Samuel Alito) on behalf of Wayne Stevens, who was accused of sexual harassment and won a four-day jury trial. See Johnson v. Elk Lake Sch. Dist., 283 F.3d 138 (3d Cir. 2002). The Third Circuit unanimously upheld the district court’s denial of the plaintiff’s motion for a new trial. See id. Munley also represented numerous Allstate agents in a suit against the insurance company alleging improper termination. See Romero v. Allstate Ins. Co., (E.D. Pa. July 6, 2016).

On the state court side, Munley has handled civil claims, including insurance litigation. See, e.g., Md. Casualty Co. v. McGrath, No. 355 MDA 2015 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2015).

Judicial Experience

From 2016, Munley has served as a Judge on the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas, which are the primary trial courts in Pennsylvania. As a judge, Munley presided over cases in civil and criminal matters, as well as domestic relations, juvenile, and family law matters. A number of Munley’s rulings in family law matters have been appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, which has affirmed. See, e.g., In the Interest of MM-A, No. 928 MDA 2017 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2017); Jablonowski v. Jablonowski, No. 1481 MDA 2018 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2019); B.V. v. J.W., No. 746 MDA 2020 (Pa. Super. 2020); Jones v. Jones, No. 1647 MDA 2021 (Pa. Super. 2022).

In a notable opinion, Munley held that a plaintiff corporation could sue in Pennsylvania state court without registering with the state as it had sufficient activity within the state. See SMS Financial Ch., LLC v. Bolus Truck Parts & Towing, Inc., No. 542 MDA 2022 (Pa. Super. 2022). The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed Munley’s ruling, finding it to be “detailed and well-reasoned” and that it “accurately and thoroughly disposes of the standing issue.” See id.

Political Activity

Munley has donated extensively throughout her political career until her ascension to the bench. Her donations are exclusively to Democrats, including Wolf, President Biden, and former Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Overall Assessment

Munley is the first Pennsylvania nominee, since Senator Eastland made the blue slip a home-state veto, who would not need a blue slip from a Republican senator to reach the bench. That being said, her extensive home state contacts and legal experience, alongside her relative lack of controversy makes her a consensus nominee.

Jennifer Philpott Wilson – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania

The scion of a well-established central Pennsylvania legal family, Jennifer Philpott Wilson has been nominated to fill a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

Background

Wilson was born Jennifer Marie Philpott in 1975 in Washington D.C..[1]  She was one of seven children born to Jerry and Sandra Philpott, with her father being a longtime attorney in central Pennsylvania.[2]  Wilson attended Swarthmore College, receiving a B.A. degree in 1997, and subsequently getting a law degree from Brooklyn Law School.[3]

After graduating, Wilson clerked for Judge Jon McCalla on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee and then for Judge Julio Fuentes on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.[4]  After her clerkships, Wilson worked as an Associate at Chadbourne & Parke LLP in New York City.  

In 2005, Wilson became a trial attorney with the Tax Division at the Department of Justice.[5]  She left in 2009 to join her father’s practice as a Partner in Duncannon, Pennsylvania, and still practices there.

History of the Seat

The seat Wilson has been nominated for opened on October 11, 2018, with the move to senior status of Judge Yvette Kane.  In July 2018, Wilson applied for a federal judgeship with the application committee set up by Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Pat Toomey (R-PA).[6]  Wilson was jointly recommended to the White House on February 13, 2019 and was nominated on May 3, 2019.[7] 

Legal Experience

Wilson started her career by working at Chadbourne & Parke LLP in New York City, where she worked on civil matters in New York courts.  Then, from 2005 to 2009, Wilson worked for the Tax Division with the Department of Justice.  During this time, Wilson represented the U.S. in a key case seeking unpaid taxes hidden behind “Son of BOSS” tax shelters.[8] 

Since 2009, Wilson has been a Partner with her father in Philpott Wilson, primarily practicing criminal defense.  Most notably, Wilson represented Mark Ciaverella, a Wilkes-Barre judge who was convicted for accepting kickbacks in exchange for sending children to private children’s detention facilities (“Kids for Cash”).[9]  Wilson succeeded in convincing Judge Christopher Conner to reverse three counts of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, and conspiracy on statute of limitations grounds.[10]

Writings

In 2000, as a law student, Wilson co-authored a note criticizing public entity lawsuits against tobacco and gun industries for harms resulting from their products.[11]  The note explains the legal basis for state claims against tobacco industries in the 1990s and the substantial settlements obtained therefrom.  It also criticizes such litigation by Attorneys General, arguing that legislation is a more appropriate avenue to regulate tobacco.[12]  It also suggests that such suits against the gun industry is “motivated more by the prospect of regulating the manufacturers and generating revenue through settlements than by a desire to redress past wrongs.”[13] All in all, the note is deeply critical of such lawsuits, and suggests that they be cut back in favor of legislative solutions.[14]

Political Activity 

Wilson had no noticeable political activity until 2018, when she gave $570 to the Republican Federal Committee of Pennsylvania.[15]  The same year, Wilson joined the Perry County Republican Committee.[16]  Interestingly, Wilson’s father, Jerry Philpott has donated consistently to Democrats, giving 31 contributions to Hillary Clinton and other Democrats since 2016.[17]

Overall Assessment

As most Pennsylvania district court nominees have generally been confirmed with bipartisan majorities, Wilson looks likely to do the same.  Nevertheless, she may attract some opposition based on her relative youth and her criticism of public entity lawsuits (a tactic generally supported across the aisle as a way to recover the costs of smoking).  Overall, given her support and endorsement by Republican Sen. Toomey and Democratic Sen. Casey, Wilson is unlikely to be considered controversial.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Jennifer Philpott Wilson: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] See Attorney Profile, Philpott Wilson LLP, http://philpottwilson.com/jerry-philpott/3687394.

[3] See Wilson, supra n. 1 at 1.

[4] Id. at 1-2.

[5] Id. at 2.

[6] See id. at 25-26.

[7] Id. at 26.

[8] See Jade Trading, LLC. v. United States, 80 Fed. Cl. 11 (2007).

[9] James Halpin, Ciavarella’s Trial Lawyers Admit Failing to Address Potential Key Issue, The Citizens’ Voice, Sept. 15, 2017.

[10] James Halpin, Judge Rules in Ciavarella’s Favor in Kids-For-Cash Appeal, The Citizens’ Voice, Jan. 8, 2018.

[11] Philip C. Patterson & Jennifer M. Philpott, In Search of a Smoking Gun: A Comparison of Public Entity Tobacco and Gun Litigation, 66 Brooklyn L. Rev. 549 (Summer/Fall 2000).

[12] See id. at 576-78.

[13] Id. at 602.

[14] See id. at 606-07.

[16] See Wilson, supra n. 1 at 12.