Judge Raag Singhal – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida

Florida state court judge Raag Singhal is nothing if not persistent, having applied to be a judge 15 times before he was selected.  Singhal is now up for a federal judgeship after narrowly missing an appointment to the Florida Supreme Court.

Background

Anuraag Hari “Raag” Singhal was born in Philadelphia in 1963, the son of Indian parents who had moved to the U.S. in 1960.[1]  Singhal attended Rice University and Wake Forest University Law School.[2]

After graduation, Singhal spent a year with Fleming, O’Brien & Fleming as an Associate and then became a prosecutor in Ft. Lauderdale.[3]  In 1993, Singhal became a Partner in a criminal defense practice in Ft. Lauderdale, which he maintained until 2011.[4] 

In 2011, Singhal, who had previously applied fifteen times to be a judge, was finally appointed to be a Circuit Court Judge in Broward County by Republican Governor Rick Scott.  His appointment made him the first Asian-American judge in the county and only the third in Florida.[5]  Singhal continues to serve on that court.

In 2019, Singhal was considered by Gov. Ron DeSantis for appointment to the Florida Supreme Court, but DeSantis chose three other candidates instead.[6]

History of the Seat

Singhal has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.  This seat opened on August 5, 2016, when Judge James Cohn moved to senior status.  In October 2017, Singhal applied and interviewed with the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) formed by Florida Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson.  The JNC chose Singhal as one of ten finalists to be passed onto the Senators.[7]  After interviews with Rubio and Nelson, Singhal was contacted by the Trump Administration in February 2018.[8]  After interviewing with the White House Counsel’s Office and the Department of Justice, Singhal was not contacted for a year before vetting resumed in April 2019.  Singhal was ultimately nominated in August 2019.  

Legal Career

For most of his pre-bench legal career, Singhal has worked as a criminal defense attorney, handling both white collar and violent crime cases.  Over the course of his career, Singhal tried over 200 jury trials, including 33 First Degree Murder cases.[9]  Singhal also accepted court appointments to represent difficult or problematic clients.

Among his most prominent appointments, Singhal was appointed to represent serial killer Aileen Wuornos, who was awaiting execution.[10]  While representing her, Singhal came to believe that Wuornos was not competent to be executed and communicated as such to the Florida Supreme Court.[11]  In response, then-Gov. Jeb Bush stayed Wuornos’ execution, pending review from psychiatrists.[12]  However, the examiners found Wuornos to be competent and she was subsequently executed.[13]  Even after the execution, which Wuornos had wanted, Singhal maintained his belief that she was insane.[14]

Jurisprudence

Singhal served as a Circuit Judge in Broward County since 2011.  As a Circuit Judge, Singhal handles major felonies and any civil cases with more than $15000 in controversy.  Over his eight year tenure on state court, Singhal has heard approximately 8000 cases, including over 450 trials.  Interestingly, Singhal was on the bench when an inmate slipped through his restraints and escaped in the middle of open court.[15]  The inmate later apologized to Singhal, who stayed on the case despite being named as a defense witness, arguing that he was escaping to obtain evidence of his innocence.[16] 

Most recently, Singhal presided over suits related to Brenda Snipes, the head of the Broward County Election Board, who has been criticized by Republicans for her poor management of elections.[17]  In August 2018, Singhal issued an injunction ordering Snipes not to open vote-by-mail ballots before they could be reviewed by the Canvassing Board.[18]  Singhal also presided over a suit brought by law professor Tim Canova, who alleged that ballots had been improperly destroyed by Snipes in his race against Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.[19]  Singhal ruled that Snipes acted contrary to state and federal law in destroying ballots in the race.[20]

Political Activity

Other than his own campaigns for judicial office, Singhal has volunteered with the Broward County Republican Party as an attorney.[21]  Singhal resigned his post with the Republican Party in 2010 to support the Independent Senate candidacy of Gov. Charlie Crist (Crist is now a Democrat serving in Congress).[22] 

Singhal has also been a member of the South Florida Chapter of the Federalist Society since 2011.[23]

Speeches, Writings, and Public Statements

As a criminal defense attorney, Singhal frequently spoke out in support of more compassionate sentencing and a reduction in over-incarceration.  For example, Singhal has generally pushed for treatment of drug addicts rather than incarceration.[24]  He has also argued for the reduction in federal disparities on crack cocaine sentencing, noting that the disparity unfairly targets African Americans for incarceration.[25]

Singhal has also been a strong advocate of more compassionate treatment of offenders convicted of white collar crimes, noting in one interview:

“Typically, the white collar criminal is more able to do good things than other people charged with violent offenses, and that’s just the way it is.”[26]

In the same interview, he pushed back against suggestions that white collar criminals are given special treatment, arguing that the disparity in sentencing for non-violent drug offenders and white collar criminals speaks in favor of leniency for both rather than stricter sentences.[27]

Overall Assessment

While Singhal has a long history with the Federalist Society and the Republican Party, he is unlikely be considered a controversial nominee.  This is primarily for two reasons.  First, as a criminal defense attorney, Singhal has a long record of advocating for the rights of defendants, which is likely to appeal to Democrats such as Sen. Cory Booker, who are passionate about overincarceration and implicit bias in criminal justice.  Second, Singhal’s record as a judge is fairly uncontroversial and does not demonstrate a bias towards any party.  As such, Singhal is likely to get a fairly comfortable confirmation and will present a moderate conservative voice on the Southern District of Florida.


[1] Paula McMahon, Broward’s First Asian-American Judge Formally Sworn In, South Florida Sun Sentinel, Jan. 20, 2012, https://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/fl-xpm-2012-01-20-fl-first-asian-american-judge-broward-20120120-story.html.  

[2] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Anuraag Singhal: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[3] Id. at 2.

[4] Id.

[5] See McMahon, supra n. 1.

[6] John Breslin, DeSantis Set to Announce Appointment of Second Supreme Court Justice, Florida Record, Jan. 14, 2019, https://flarecord.com/stories/511720805-desantis-set-to-announce-appointment-of-second-supreme-court-justice.  

[7] David Markus, Breaking — JNC Makes the Cut to 10 Finalists for District Judge, Southern District of Florida Blog, Nov. 29, 2017, http://sdfla.blogspot.com/2017/11/breaking-jnc-makes-cut-to-10-finalists.html.

[8] See Singhal, supra n. 1 at 64.

[9] Id. at 55.

[10] See Jackie Hallifax, Lawyer Tells High Court of ‘Grave Doubts’ About Wuornos, A.P., Sept. 24, 2002.

[11] Id. 

[12] Jackie Hallifax, Gov. Bush Issues Stays of Two Executions; Inmates’ Mental Competence to Waive Appeals at Issue, A.P., Sept. 30, 2002.

[13] Ron Word, Female Serial Killer Executed For Murders of Six Men, A.P., Oct. 9, 2002.

[14] Rich McKay, ‘I’ll Be Back,’ Serial Killer Declares Before Her Execution; Grin, Final Words Puzzle Witnesses, Orlando Sentinel, Oct. 10, 2002.

[15] See Elahe Izadi, ‘Worst Fears Were Realized’: Manhunt Underway for Murder Suspect Who Escaped Courthouse; Dayonte Resiles, 21, Escaped the Broward County Courthouse on Friday Morning, Leaving His Shackles and Jumpsuit Behind, Wash. Post, July 15, 2016.

[16] Ariel Zilber, ‘I Hope You Don’t Take It Personal’: Florida Man on Trial for Murder Pens Apology Letter to Judge After Escaping His Courtroom ‘To Gather Evidence That Would Prove My Innocence’, Daily Mail, Sept. 11, 2016.

[17] See Alana Goodman, Republicans Protest Broward County Election Overseer Who Is a Registered Democrat With Years of Ballot Blunders – As Lawyer Who Commissioned ‘Golden Showers’ Dossier Pushes For Recount to Topple Florida GOP ‘Winners’, Daily Mail, Nov. 9, 2018.

[18] See id.

[19] Marc Caputo, Florida to Monitor Broward Election Chief After Judge Finds ‘Unlawful’ Ballot Destruction in Wasserman Schultz Race, Politico, May 14, 2018.

[20] See id.

[21] See Anna Scott, Political System is Broken, Crist Says, Sarasota Herald Tribune, Apr. 30, 2010.

[22] See id.

[23] See Singhal, supra n. 1 at 5.

[24] See, e.g., William Raspberry, A Contemptible System, Wash. Post, Oct. 21, 2002.

[25] See Genaro C. Armas, State Prison Populations Levelling Off, While Federal Facilities Have Largest Increases, A.P. Int’l, Apr. 11, 2002.

[26] Interview with Neal Conan, Penalties Against White-Collar Crime, Nat’l Pub. Radio Talk of the Nation, Jan. 8, 2003.

[27] See id.