JP Hanlon – Nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana

James Patrick (“J.P.”) Hanlon is President Trump’s nominee for a seat in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.[1]  Based on of Indianapolis, Indiana, Hanlon has worked both as a prosecutor and a criminal defense lawyer.  He is currently a partner at a prominent Indianapolis firm, where his work centers on white collar criminal defense.[2]  As of the publishing of this article, he had not yet been rated by the ABA.[3]

Background

Born in 1970, Hanlon earned his B.A. in history from DePauw University (1992) and his J.D., magna cum laude, from the Valparaiso University School of Law (1996), where he served as an articles editor of the Valparaiso University Law Review.[4]  Shortly thereafter, he clerked for Judge Robert L. Miller, Jr., of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana.[5]  He worked as an associate in the defense-side labor and employment practice group at Seyfarth Shaw LLP for three years, after which he began a five-year stint as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana.[6]

In 2006, Hanlon moved to Baker & Daniels LLP, which in 2012 merged with Faegre & Benson LLP to become Faegre Baker Daniels, where Hanlon is currently a partner and co-chair of the firm’s white collar defense and investigations practice.[7]  His work at Faegre Baker Daniels includes representing clients in government investigations, enforcement proceedings, and related civil litigation; leading corporate internal investigations; and helping clients resolve complex compliance issues.[8]  From 2010-11, Hanlon taught courses on white collar crime as an adjunct professor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law.[9]

Hanlon has received extensive professional honors and recognition, including The Best Lawyers in America — White Collar Criminal Defense (2013-18), Indianapolis White Collar Criminal Defense Lawyer of the Year (2015-16), Indianapolis Business Journal Forty Under 40 Award (2010), Indiana Super Lawyers — Rising Star, Criminal Defense: White Collar (2009-10), and Indy’s Best and Brightest — Recipient, Law Category (2008).[10]

Indiana’s senators have publicly supported Hanlon alongside Holly Brady, President Trump’s nominee for the Northern District of Indiana.  Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind) said they have “earned excellent reputations in the legal community as experienced litigators in the types of cases that come before federal trial courts.” He described them as “fair, impartial and highly regarded attorneys with the right temperament to serve on Indiana’s district courts.”  Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) echoed these sentiments, stating that “Both nominees have strong legal backgrounds and a range of experiences that have prepared them for the federal bench.”[11]

History of the Seat 

Hanlon has been nominated for a vacancy that will open on July 1, 2018, when Judge William Lawrence moves to senior status.  He was already under consideration, however, for the seat vacated by Judge Sarah Evans Barker (the White House nominated Indianapolis attorney James Sweeney to fill that seat), for which he applied to Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.).  While he interviewed with Young in April 2017, Hanlon was not contacted by the White House until December.  Hanlon also began contact with the office of Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) shortly therafter.  He was nominated on April 12, 2018.

Legal Career

In a Westlaw search, Hanlon appears on behalf of the government and criminal defendants in a handful of unpublished cases involving supervised release disputes and evidence suppression hearings.

The only published cases Hanlon appears in on Westlaw are from his labor and employment defense days. In Moriarty v. Svec, 55 F.Supp.2d 876 (N.D. Ill. 1999), a union trustee sued the owner of funeral home and livery business under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), seeking payment of delinquent contributions action to recover unpaid pension fund contributions on behalf of some of the owner’s employees.  The defendant funeral home owner, represented by Hanlon, was part of the Funeral Directors Services Association (“FDSA”), a multi-employer bargaining association representing approximately 250 businesses, until he withdrew from the FDSA in 1995.  Id. at 877-78.  Accepting Hanlon’s argument that recovery of three instances of allegedly unpaid pension contributions could have been litigated in prior related litigation, the court granted summary judgment to defendants on res judicata grounds as to those three instances.  The court held, however, that a material issue of fact existed for a separate count for recovery of pension funds occurring after defendant announced its withdrawal from the FDSA.  Whether defendant properly withdrew from the FDSA and was capable of paying those funds after his withdrawal required a trial.

In Alverio v. Sam’s Warehouse Club, 9 F. Supp. 2d 955 (N.D. Ill. 1998), a retaliation claim under Title VII, the district court granted summary judgment to the defendant employer, represented by Hanlon.  The court found that the plaintiff, a former employee, had failed to show a causal connection between her filing the discrimination charge and her dismissal over one year later, noting that the employer’s reason for discharge (the plaintiff’s alleged involvement in altercation with a coemployee) was not “patently inconsistent with the evidence.”  Id. at 963.  The court denied summary judgment on the employee’s hostile environment claim, holding that the defendant employer was vicariously liable for the bad actor’s conduct.

Hanlon has also engaged in pro bono work, including serving on Indiana University School of Law’s wrongful conviction clinic, representing asylum applicants in removal proceedings, and representing victims of domestic violence in obtaining orders of protection.[12]

Speeches/ Writings

Hanlon has published extensively over the past decade on practical guidance in white collar criminal defense.  In 2008, he co-authored the article, Rethinking How to Respond to Government Investigations, which responded to growing concern among corporations and white-collar defense lawyers in the wake of the 2006 Enron criminal prosecutions, at which point many practitioners contended that federal prosecutors routinely required companies to waive the attorney-client and work-product privileges as a prerequisite to getting credit for cooperation.[13]  Then-Deputy Attorney General Mark Filip (himself a former federal judge) released a 2008 memo announcing substantial changes to the DOJ’s policies then in effect, explicitly prohibiting seeking waiver of the privilege (although a corporation could still choose to waive).  Despite these changes, “the fundamental questions the government will ask in judging the corporation’s culpability remain essentially the same: 1) what steps did the corporation take to prevent the misconduct; and 2) what steps did the corporation take after learning of the misconduct to prevent it from happening again.”  Hanlon’s article provides practical guidance to the corporate criminal defense lawyer: beef up, proactively review, and fine-tune corporate compliance programs before any criminal investigation commences. Id. at 35.  “By proactively rethinking how to respond to a government investigation, a corporation can take action today that will help it when the government comes knocking.”  Id. at 36.

In his 2009 book, Punishing Corporate Crime: Legal Penalties for Criminal and Regulatory Violations, Hanlon discusses criminal punishment trends directed at corporations, analyzing the historical and statutory bases of corporate punishment and reviewing the remedies now employed by the government.  The book also offers advice in addressing the new and evolving punishments that face corporations and discusses preventative programs.[14]

Hanlon co-authored the 2013 article Keeping a Watchful Eye: The FBI’s Crackdown on Insider Trading, explaining the government’s crackdown on insider trading, admonishing “ organisations and compliance professionals [to] take steps to ensure that compliance processes are in place to prevent and detect insider trading activity before the government does.”[15]  Among the processes Hanlon  recommends are “creat[ing] an environment in which prompt reporting is culturally and professionally encouraged, thereby avoiding Dodd-Frank prohibitions against retaliation against whistleblowers,” and monitoring and establishing policies regarding employees’ use of social media for social vs. business purposes, consistent with the employees’ privacy interests.  Id. at 14-15.

Hanlon has also spoken on a wide range of corporate and white collar criminal defense topics as a panelist or presenter.  At the Seventh Circuit Bar Association’s Annual Meeting in 2017, he discussed the DOJ’s new enforcement priorities under the Trump administration and how those changes could impact the defense bar and U.S. Attorney’s Offices.[16]  He also presented at a 2016 CLE entitled “Crisis Management and the Legal Responses to a Government Investigation,” and a 2015 ABA roundtable, “How the DOJ’s Yates Memo Impacts Corporate Liability and Internal Investigations.”[17]

Overall Assessment

Hanlon’s experience in criminal law, both as a prosecutor and criminal defense attorney, labor and employment experience, and demonstrated expertise in corporate law issues make him an experienced and relatively noncontroversial candidate for the federal bench.  Research has not revealed any public political affiliations, consistent with Sen. Young’s (R-Ind.) effusive review of Hanlon as “fair, impartial and highly regarded … with the right temperament to serve on Indiana’s district courts.”  As such, Hanlon will likely be confirmed.


James Sweeney – Nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana

A white collar criminal defense attorney and commercial civil litigator from Indianapolis, James Sweeney has been tapped for the federal bench in Indiana’s Southern District, one of Trump’s first district court nominees in a state with a Democratic senator.

Background

A native Hoosier, James Russell Sweeney III was born in Indianapolis in 1961.  In 1979, Sweeney joined the U.S. Naval Academy, graduating with a B.S. in 1983.  He then joined the U.S. Marine Corps as an Officer of Marines, as well as earning certificates of completion from East China Normal University, The Basic School, Naval Flight Officer School, U.S. Air Force Electronic Warfare School, U.S. Navy/Marine Corps EA-6B Fleet Replacement Squadron Training, U.S. Air Force Squadron Officer School, U.S. Marine Corps Amphibious Warfare School, Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course, and the NATO Joint Service Advance Electronic Warfare Staff Officer Course.[1]

In 1993, Sweeney matriculated at Notre Dame Law School, graduating in 1996 magna cum laude.  After graduation, Sweeney clerked for Judge John Daniel Tinder on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana,[2] and then for Judge James Ryan on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.  After his clerkships, Sweeney joined Barnes & Thornburg LLP’s Indianapolis office as an Associate.  In 2005, he was named a Partner and continues to serve in that capacity today.

History of the Seat

Sweeney has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, to a seat vacated by Judge Sarah Evans Barker on June 30, 2014.  On January 12, 2016, President Obama nominated Winfield Ong, the Criminal Division Chief in the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, to fill the vacancy.[3]  Ong, who had the support of Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly and Republican Senator Dan Coats,[4] received a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 18 and was approved by the Committee unanimously on June 16.[5]  Unfortunately, Ong’s nomination was blocked from a floor vote by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and the vacancy was left unfilled at the end of the Obama Presidency.

In March 2017, Sweeney submitted an application for the vacancy to Sen. Todd Young (R-IN), who replaced Coats.[6]  After interviewing with Young’s staff and with Young, Sweeney was recommended to the White House in late April.[7]  Sweeney interviewed with the White House and the Department of Justice in early May and then with Donnelly’s staff in late June.[8]  Trump formally nominated Sweney on Nov. 1, 2017.

Legal Experience

Sweeney has spent his entire post-clerkship legal career at the firm of Barnes & Thornburg, LLP, handling a mix of commercial litigation, criminal defense, and intellectual property cases.   Sweeney’s time was split approximately evenly between federal court proceedings and administrative actions, as well as between civil and criminal cases.[9]

Among the most notable civil case he handled, Sweeney represented the surviving members and families of the crew of the USS Pueblo, the research ship attacked by North Korean forces in 1968.[10]  Sweeney served as lead plaintiff’s counsel in the case, which ultimately led to a $65 million judgment against the Government of North Korea.[11]  In another case, Sweeney represented Burlington Coat Factory in defending against an infringement action based on a patent on a child’s safety seat buckle.[12]

On the criminal side, Sweeney primarily worked on white collar defense.[13]  Notably, Sweeney represented William Matthews, a former Executive Vice President at Blackwater Worldwide (now Academi), a defense contractring company.[14]  Matthews, along with four other officials, was charged in 2010 after federal officers discovered 22 weapons that had been purchased in violation of federal firearm laws.[15]  However, Sweeney and other defense counsel argued that the purchases had been made at the direction of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).[16]  Ultimately, Matthews ended up pleading to a misdemeanor charge with time served, avoiding the felony violations he had initially been charged with.[17]  The sentence drew criticism from investigative journalist Marcy Wheeler, who described the deal as “an undeserved and inexplicable sweetheart misdemeanor plea.” and suggested that the deal had been a product of “graymail.”[18]

Political Activity

Sweeney, a Republican, has served as a delegate to the Indiana State Republican Convention and as a Marion County Precinct Judge.[19]  The vast majority of Sweeney’s contributions are directed to fellow Republicans.[20]  For example, Sweeney has given to many Indiana Republicans including Coats, Young, former senator Richard Lugar, Gov. Eric Holcomb and Representatives Luke Messer, Todd Rokita, Larry Buschon, and Susan Brooks.[21]  All in all, since 2003, Sweeney has given more than $87000 to Republican candidates, organizations, and PACs, including almost $20000 to Young.[22]

Sweeney has also made a few contributions to Indiana Democrats, including a $1000 contribution to Donnelly, $250 to former senator Evan Bayh, and $250 to House candidate Scott Reske.[23]  Interestingly, in each of the above examples, Sweeney also donated to the Democrat’s Republican opponent.

Overall Assessment

As a well-credential federal litigator, Sweeney has a fairly typical background for a judicial nominee.  Furthermore, he does not have a record of controversial statements or blog posts similar to those that have brought down other nominees.

Senators who ultimately vote against Sweeney will likely do so for one of two reasons.  First, they may cite the criticisms made by Wheeler regarding his representation of Matthews.  Second, they may balk at his extensive political contributions, making criticisms similar to those made against Obama appointee John McConnell in 2010.[24]  Ultimately, both arguments have easy counters.  First, supporters can argue that, as a criminal defense attorney, Sweeney has the ethical responsibility to engage in zealous representation.  As such, barring any unethical conduct on his part, it would be unfair to hold his representation of an unpopular client against him.  Second, supporters can note that engaging in political contributions is a form of First Amendment activity.  Barring a quid pro quo, punishing a nominee for making too many contributions would be akin to punishing a nominee for writing too many editorials or engaging in too many protests.

Overall, it is likely that Sweeney will see a smooth confirmation.  After all, if Sweeney comes before the Senate Judiciary Committee, it’ll be because Donnelly has returned a blue slip on his behalf.  In such a case, Sweeney will have at least one Democrat in his corner.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., James R. Sweeney II: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1-2.

[2] Tinder was later elevated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

[3] Press Release, White House, President Obama Nominates Winfield D. Ong to Serve on the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana (Jan. 12, 2016) (on file at https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov).  

[4] Press Release, Office of Sen. Joe Donnelly, Donnelly and Coats Pleased Senate Judiciary Committee Will Hold Hearing on U.S. District Court Nominee Winfield Ong (May 16, 2016) (on file at https://www.donnelly.senate.gov/newsroom/press/).

[5] Michael Macagnone, Senate Panel Advances 4 Federal Judges, Hints at Floor Votes, Law 360, June 16, 2016, https://www.law360.com/articles/807489/senate-panel-advances-4-federal-judges-hints-at-floor-votes.

[6] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., James R. Sweeney II: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 37.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] See id. at 19-20.

[10] Massie v. Gov’t of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, 592 F. Supp. 2d 57 (D.D.C. 2008).

[11] Rebecca Berfanger, Justice a Long Time Coming; Lawyers Win $65 Million for Tortured Crew, The Indiana Lawyer, Jan. 21, 2009.

[12] Galbreath v. Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse of Arundel, Inc., No. 1:03-cv-0555 (D. Md. Dec. 22, 2003).

[13] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., James R. Sweeney II: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 20.

[14] United States v. Jackson, Case No. 2:10-cr-00008-FL (E.D.N.C. Feb. 21, 2013) (case dismissed pursuant to plea agreement).

[15] James Risen and Mark Mazzetti, Case Ends Against Ex-Blackwater Officials, N.Y. Times, Feb. 21, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/22/us/case-ends-against-five-ex-blackwater-officials.html.  

[16] See id.

[17] Id.

[18] Marcy Wheeler, DOJ Gives Blackwater a Whitewash on Felony Charges, Emptywheel, Feb. 21, 2013, https://www.emptywheel.net/2013/02/21/doj-gives-blackwater-a-whitewash-on-felony-charges/.

[19] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., James R. Sweeney II: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 17.

[21] See id.

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] John O’Brien, Obama’s Judicial Picks Sent Back to Senate, Legal News Line, Sept. 15, 2010, https://legalnewsline.com/stories/510523503-obama-s-judicial-picks-sent-back-to-senate.