Judge James Knepp – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio

As a longtime civil litigator and federal magistrate judge, Judge James Knepp is well-qualified for a federal trial level position, and is expected to receive a comfortable confirmation.

Background

A native Ohioan, James Ray Knepp II was born in Akron in 1964.  Knepp received his B.A. magna cum laude from Mt. Union College in 1986, an M.A. from the Bowling Green State University School of Mass Communication in 1987 and his J.D. from the University of Toledo College of Law in 1992.[1]  After law school, Knepp clerked for Judge John Potter on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.  

After his clerkship, Knepp joined Robison, Curphey & O’Connell, LLC in Toledo as an Associate.[2]  In 2000, he became a Partner with the firm.  

In 2010, Knepp was selected to be a U.S. Magistrate Judge with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. He continues to serve in that capacity today.

History of the Seat

Knepp has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.  This seat was vacated on July 1, 2019, when Judge Jack Zouhary moved to senior status.  In April 2019, Knepp applied for the judgeship with Senator Rob Portman (R-OH).[3]  Knepp interviewed before a bipartisan advisory committee set up by Portman and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in October 2019.[4]  After getting the Committee’s recommendation, Knepp interviewed with the White House and was nominated in February 2020.

Legal Experience

Before he joined the federal bench, Knepp practiced with Robison, Curphey & O’Connell, LLC in Toledo.  At the firm, Knepp worked in civil litigation, primarily representing defendants.  Throughout his career, Knepp handled approximately 25 jury trials.[5]

Knepp was particularly notable for representing railroads and transporation companies.  For example, Knepp represented the Norfolk Southern Railway in defending against a suit after one of their trains collided with a car and killed the plaintiff.[6]  The case ended with a jury verdict in favor of the railroad, and an unsuccessful appeal by the plaintiff.[7]

In other matters, Knepp represented Lucas County Republican Central Committee Chairman Douglas Haynam, who was seeking to block candidates from joining the Committee because, as he argued, they were not Republicans.[8]

Jurisprudence

Knepp has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio since his appointment in 2010.  In his ten years on the bench, Knepp has presided over 8 cases that went to verdict or judgment.[9]  Among his most notable cases, Knepp presided over a five-day jury trial regarding whether a school had discriminated against a teacher based on her disability when she was terminated.[10]  The case ended in a verdict for the plaintiff.

Overall Assessment

Knepp has little that should cause him trouble during his confirmation.  As a relatively uncontroversial nominee, he should be confirmed before the end of the year.


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

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id. at 50-51.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at 40.

[6] See Gilbert ex rel. Clore v. Norfolk Southern Ry., 2010 WL 2333773 (Ohio Ct. App. June 10, 2010).

[7] See id.

[8] See Alex M. Parker, GOP Central Committee Meeting Delayed By Judge, The Blade, Apr. 12, 2008.

[9] See Knepp, supra n. 1 at 17.

[10] Smith v. Perkins Bd. of Educ., Case No. 3:11-cv-560 (N.D. Ohio).

Judge J. Philip Calabrese – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio

In 2019, J. Philip Calabrese was appointed to the Cuhayoga County Superior Court to replace Judge Pamela Barker, who was President Trump’s first appointee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.  Now, Calabrese looks likely to follow Barker onto the federal bench.

Background

Jude Philip Calabrese was born in Evanston, Illinois, in 1971.  Calabrese received his B.A. summa cum laude from the College of the Holy Cross in 1993 and his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2000.[1]  After law school, Calabrese clerked for Judge Alice Batchelder on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.    

After his clerkship, Calabrese joined Thompson Hine LLP in Cleveland as an Associate.[2]  In 2003, he moved to Squire Sanders LLP, where he became a Partner in 2009.  In 2014, he moved to become a Partner at Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLP.  

In 2019, Gov. Michael DeWine appointed Calabrese to serve on the Cuyahoga County Superior Court to replace Judge Pamela Barker, who was confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. He continues to serve in that capacity today.

History of the Seat

Calabrese has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.  This seat was vacated on January 6, 2020, when Judge Christopher Boyko moved to senior status.  In April 2019, Calabrese applied for the judgeship with Senator Rob Portman (R-OH).[3]  Calabrese interviewed before a bipartisan advisory committee set up by Portman and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in October 2019.[4]  After getting the Committee’s recommendation, Calabrese interviewed with the White House and was nominated in February 2020.

Legal Experience

Calabrese worked in private practice between 2001 and his appointment to the bench in 2019.  Over the course of his career, Calabrese tried approximately 12 cases.  Calabrese’s experience is primarily in civil litigation, particularly in representing various industries.

Notably, Calabrese represented Cavel International Inc., the last horse slaughterhouse in the United States, in seeking to block Illinois regulations that would have shut down the business.[5]  Calabrese argued that moral outrage against the consumption of horses should not govern whether they are permitted to be consumed.[6]  Calabrese’s position, however, was rejected by the Seventh Circuit.[7]         

Calabrese has also been active in defending industries against mass tort litigation alleging widespread damages.  For example, Calabrese defended the manufacturer of medical supplies against claims alleging that one of their “contrast agents” caused a rare skin thickening condition.[8]  Calabrese similarly defended a company against claims that a food additive they used for microwave popcorn caused lung damage in workers at their plants.[9]

Jurisprudence

Calabrese has served as a judge on the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas since his appointment in 2019 by Gov. Mike De Wine.  In that capacity, Calabrese handles civil cases as well as criminal felony cases and, in his short tenure on the bench has presided over 3 cases that have gone to judgment and verdict.[10]  Among his most notable cases, Calabrese presided over the jury trial of a 17-year-old defendant charged with the death of his cousin.[11] 

Political Activity

Calabrese is a Republican who has occasionally contributed to the Ohio Republican Party.[12] Notably, Calabrese made two contributions adding up to $550 to the Party in late 2019, after his appointment to the state bench.[13]

Overall Assessment

On the whole, there is little in Calabrese’s background that will cause him trouble in the confirmation process.  While some may object to Calabrese’s legal work before he joined the bench (particularly those with a moral objection to horse slaughter), such objections are unlikely to prove dispositive for the nomination.  Similarly, while some may raise an eyebrow regarding a judge making political contributions, such an act may be seen as par for the course in a state with judicial elections, such as Ohio.


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

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id. at 57.

[4] Id.

[5] See Cavel Int’l. v. Madigan, 500 F.3d 551 (7th Cir. 2007).

[6] See Brian Landman, Companions, ‘Not Dinner’, St. Petersburg Times, July 1, 2007.

[7] Andrew Harris and Tony C. Dreibus, Last U.S. Horse Slaughterer Loses Appeal; Court Rules That Illinois Legislature Has Right to Ban a Business, Int’l. Herald Tribune, Sept. 24, 2007.

[8] In re Gadolinum-Based Contrast Agents Prods. Liab. Litig., MDL No. 1909, No. 1:08-gd-50000 (N.D. Ohio).

[9] See Remmes v. Int’l. Flavors & Fragrances, Inc., 453 F. Supp. 2d 1058 (N.D. Iowa 2006).

[10] See Calabrese, supra n. 1 at 16.

[11] State v. Thorpe, Case No. CR-18-634964-A.

[13] See id.

Judge Pamela Barker – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio

A longtime insurance and civil practice attorney, Pamela Barker has served as a state judge in Ohio since 2011.  Her support from Ohio Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown makes her a likely candidate for a smooth confirmation.

Background

Barker was born Pamela Ann Addison in Cleveland, Ohio in 1957.  Barker received her B.A. magna cum laude from Kenyon College in 1979 and her J.D. from the Ohio State College of Law in 1982.

Barker worked primarily in insurance litigation, working in various positions including as a Claims Attorney at Progressive Insurance Company, a Claims Litigation Manager at Bristol West Insurance Group and as a solo practitioner.  Barker also served as a magistrate for the City of Brecksville, Ohio.

In 2011, Gov. John Kasich appointed Barker to serve on the Cuyahoga County Superior Court. She continues to serve in that capacity today.

History of the Seat

Barker has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.  This seat was vacated on January 1, 2017, when Judge Donald Nugent moved to senior status.

In October 2017, Senators Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and Rob Portman, a Republican recommended Barker to fill the vacancy.[1]  Barker interviewed with the White House in October 2017 and was officially nominated on April 12, 2018.[2]

Legal Experience

While Barker has held a number of different positions throughout her legal career, her focus has largely remained the same: insurance litigation.  During her time as an attorney, Barker has represented plaintiffs and defendants.   For example, Barker represented a Bedford Heights police officer who was struck by a vehicle during a highway stop.[3]  On the flip side, Barker represented Progressive Insurance Co. against an insurance coverage suit before the Ohio Court of Appeals.[4]

Jurisprudence

Barker has served as a judge on the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas since her appointment in 2011 by Gov. John Kasich.  In that capacity, Barker handles civil cases as well as criminal felony cases as has presided over 78 jury trials.[5]  Among her most notable cases, Barker sentenced a high ranking member of the Heartless Felons gang to life in prison[6] and presided over five convictions of “cold case” rapes and kidnappings against a defendant.[7]

Overall Assessment

With a largely uncontroversial record on the state bench and the support of Ohio liberal Sherrod Brown, Barker is largely considered a moderate-conservative in the mold of other Republicans on the Northern District of Ohio.  As such, she should be confirmed shortly with little opposition.


[1] Earl Rinehart, Trump May Not Like Ohio’s Federal Judge Choices, Columbus Dispatch, Nov. 20, 2017, https://www.dispatch.com/news/20171120/trump-may-not-like-ohios-federal-judge-choices.  

[2] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Pamela A. Barker: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 67-68.szaa

[3] Leonardi, et al. v. Franzreb and Allstate Ins. Co., Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, Case No. CV-94-278901.

[4] See Nussbaum v. Progressive Cas. Ins. Co., 61 Ohio App.3d 1, 572 N.E.2d 119 (1988). 

[5] See Barker, supra n. 2 at 30.

[6] State of Ohio v. Nitsche, No. CR-14-581917 (Ohio Com. Pl.).

[7] State of Ohio v. Ford, Nos. CR-15-598281 and CR-17-614544 (Ohio Com. Pl.).