Veronica Rossman – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

In the history of the Tenth Circuit, only one Democratic appointee has ever been named to the court from Colorado: Judge Carlos Lucero.  With Judge Lucero’s move to senior status, Federal Defender Veronica Rossman is now poised to become the second.

Background

Rossman was born Veronica Sophia Parkansky to a Jewish family in Moscow in 1972.[1]  After getting a B.A. from Columbia University in 1993, Rossman joined the University of California Hastings Law School, graduating in 1997.  After graduating, Rossman clerked for Chief Justice A. William Maupin on the Nevada Supreme Court before joining Morrison & Foerster as a litigation associate.

In 2003, Rossman became an assistant federal defender in the Districts of Colorado and Wyoming for a year and then spent a year at Mastbaum & Moffat, and a year as a staff attorney with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit before becoming a professor at the University of Denver, Sturm College of Law.

Since 2010, Rossman has worked as a Federal Defender for the Districts of Colorado and Wyoming, serving as Senior Counsel since 2017.

History of the Seat

Rossman was tapped for a Colorado seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.  The seat was vacated by Judge Carlos Lucero’s move to senior status on February 1, 2021.  

Legal Career

Rossman has held a variety of positions throughout her legal career, including as a law professor, federal defender, and attorney in private practice.  Rossman started her career as an Associate with Morrison and Foerster, where, among other matters, she represented Dr. Edward McSweegan, a National Institute of Health (“NIH”) doctor, in a cross-filed defamation lawsuit against the founders of the Lyme Disease Foundation (“LDF”).[2]

The bulk of Rossman’s career has been at the Federal Defender Service, representing indigent defendants in federal courts in Colorado and Wyoming.  Among the matters she handled with the office, Rossman represented Arlo Looking Cloud, who was charged with murdering Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash in Denver.[3] 

Much of Rossman’s work, however, has been in appellate courts.[4]  Among the notable cases she handled, Rossman successfully persuaded the Tenth Circuit to reject a probation condition allowing probation officers to require third-party notification by the defendant upon the probation officer’s determination of a threat by the defendant.[5]  In an opinion by Judge Carolyn McHugh, the Tenth Circuit agreed that the condition improperly delegated judicial power to the probation officer.[6]

In another case, Rossman argued that U.S. District Judge Philip Brimmer committed plain error in holding that the defendant’s 1992 conviction for “Sale or Transportation of Marijuana” constituted a drug trafficking felony under the sentencing guidelines.[7]  In an opinion by Judge Lucero, the Tenth Circuit agreed that Brimmer had committed plain error in finding that the offense was a “drug trafficking” offense, but affirmed on the basis that the error did not affect the defendant’s “substantive” rights.[8]

Additionally, Rossman joined a team of public defenders filing an amicus brief in Welch v. United States, asking the Supreme Court to hold that Johnson v. United States, which voided the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act, should be applied retroactively.[9]  The Supreme Court agreed with Rossman’s position in a 7-1 decision (with Justice Thomas as a lone dissenter).[10]

Overall Assessment

With experience in private practice, academia, and indigent defense, Rossman appears to be qualified for a seat on the Tenth Circuit.  While she has few writings or policy positions expressed that can be triggers for opposition, some senators may nonetheless oppose Rossman on the basis on her representation of indigent defendants.  Needless to say, such opposition is unlikely to carry the day and Rossman should join the Tenth Circuit bench by the fall.

[1] Veronica S. Rossman Fact Sheet, Alliance for Justice, https://www.afj.org/document/veronica-s-rossman-fact-sheet/ (last visited Jun. 3, 2021).

[2] Vanderhoof-Forschner v. McSweegan, No. 99-1615, No. 99-1616, 2000 U.S. App. LEXIS 10682 (4th Cir. May 16, 2000).

[3] See Deborah Mendez, Judge Orders Denver Man to Face Murder Charge in South Dakota, A.P. State & Local Wire, Apr. 4, 2003.

[4] See, e.g., United States v. Paup, 933 F.3d 1226 (10th Cir. 2019); United States v. Bacon, 900 F.3d 1234 (10th Cir. 2018); United States v. Dunbar, 718 F.3d 1268 (10th Cir. 2013); United States v. Loya-Rodriguez, 672 F.3d 849 (10th Cir. 2012).

[5] United States v. Cabral, 925 F.3d 687 (10th Cir. 2019).

[6] See id. at 690.

[7] United States v. Castellanos-Barba, 648 F.3d 1130 (10th Cir. 2011).

[8] Id. at 1133.

[9] See Welch v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 1257, 1260 n. 1 (U.S. 2016).

[10] Id. at 1261.