Special Committee on Judicial Nominations

Sean Kelly, chair

The Special Committee on Judicial Nominations screened and evaluated candidates for vacancies on the United States Districts Court for the Western and Eastern Districts of Virginia in April 2010. The summary report regarding the candidates for those positions was as follows:

Following notice of the vacancy in the Virginia Lawyers Weekly and the collection of extensive background information, the Judicial Nominations Committee conducted interviews of eleven individuals on April 19, 2010.  In addition to the eleven individuals interviewed, pursuant to the Senators’ request, two individuals, Senator John S. Edwards and U.S. Magistrate Judge M. Hannah Lauck, who were previously evaluated by the Committee in February 2009, were not reevaluated, and their February 2009 evaluations are included in this report. The Committee’s report and recommendations were reviewed and approved by the Virginia State Bar’s Executive Committee through email polling.

In addition to the candidates evaluated, one Virginia lawyer, James Ellenson of Newport News, asked on April 15, 2010, to be interviewed on April 19th. The chair of the Committee felt there was insufficient time for a background investigation to be conducted prior to the interviews taking place on April 19th. The background investigation is integral to the evaluation process and must take place prior to the interview since questions are frequently based upon information disclosed during the discussion of the background investigation. The vote on “qualified” and “highly qualified” also takes place immediately after the interview process and cannot be deferred. A Washington, D.C. attorney, not licensed in Virginia, Jeffrey Schwartz, contacted our office on April 19th requesting he be considered.  He was notified on April 20th that his request was not timely. It is unknown whether Mr. Schwartz is a Virginia resident.

Under the bar’s policy, most recently revised in October 2007, the Judicial Nominations Committee is charged with evaluating the qualifications of each candidate and rating those found to possess the requisite experience, temperament, integrity and ability as either qualified or highly qualified. Each person’s rating is also accompanied by an executive summary, prepared by the Committee, which explains the basis for the rating.

The Judicial Nominations Committee consists of well respected members of the practicing bar in the Commonwealth of Virginia, comprising a blue-ribbon panel of lawyers from each judicial circuit in Virginia. The following JNC members participated on April 19th:

Sean P. Kelly, Chair, McLean
Marni E. Byrum, Alexandria
Richard E. Ladd, Jr., Bristol
Daniel J. Meador, Jr., Charlottesville
Nancy G. Parr, Chesapeake
Calvin S. Spencer, Jr., Kenbridge
J. Bruce Strickland, Fredericksburg
Roscoe B. Stephenson, III, Covington
John M. Tran, Alexandria
Ronald R. Wesley, Richmond
Deborah A.J. Wilson, Fairfax

Irving M. Blank from Richmond participated as a representative of the VSB’s Executive Committee. Karen A. Gould attended as Executive Director of the VSB.

As is traditional, the JNC evaluated residents of Virginia for the position (subject to the exceptions discussed above), regardless of whether they are Virginia-licensed attorneys. Federal law requires that appointees to a federal district court (except for D.C. and the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York) be a resident of the district (28 U.S.C. § 134). We have indicated in the executive summaries where the person is licensed and where they reside.

The evaluation process undertaken by the JNC is time consuming and complex. The JNC members conduct an investigation of each candidate in advance of the meeting by interviewing lawyers and judges familiar with that individual. The JNC then receives the reports of each investigation before interviewing each candidate. After the candidates are interviewed, a vote is taken as to whether the candidate is “Qualified,” taking into consideration the factors outlined in the JNC policy, including integrity, professional competence, experience, temperament, civic activities and public service. The JNC policy further provides that appellate court nominees “should possess an especially high degree of scholarship and academic talent and an unusual degree of overall excellence.” A majority of the JNC members voting is required for a candidate to be designated as “Qualified.” A majority of those voting in a second vote is required for a candidate to be designated as “Highly Qualified.” The “Highly Qualified” designation is an evaluation of “whether any of the candidates deemed qualified possesses a level of qualification and distinction sufficiently greater than the others to merit the designation of ‘Highly Qualified.’” If a candidate is found not to be qualified for whatever reason, no report is prepared regarding that candidate.

Because of recent developments in the qualification of President Obama’s appointments to his cabinet, the Committee started each interview with the following series of questions:

Have you ever had a civil judgment entered against you? Have you ever been subject to a lien by a government or administrative agency? Have you ever been sanctioned by a government, administrative or regulatory agency? Have you ever been subject to a collection action for failure to satisfy a judgment, lien, or other sanction? Do you have any tax issues that you think this Committee should know about?


These questions did not elicit any pertinent information from the candidates.

The eight candidates evaluated by the Committee for the United States District Court for the Western District judgeship and found to be qualified or highly qualified were:

The Honorable John S. Edwards1
William F. Gould
William W. Helsley
Rachel A. Harmon
C. Franklin Hilton
Larry W. Shelton
The Honorable Pamela Meade Sargent
The Honorable Michael F. Urbanski

Richard Ladd abstained from voting on Judge Sargent.
     
The four candidates evaluated by the Committee for the United States District Court for the Eastern District judgeship were:

Arenda L. Wright Allen
Glen A. Huff
Linda S. Laibstain
The Honorable M. Hannah Lauck2

Nancy Parr abstained from voting on Glen Huff.

After reviewing the submissions of the candidates, receiving summaries of the background investigations and interviewing the candidates, the Committee made the following evaluations of the candidates for the district court judgeships.

For the judgeship on the United States District Court, Western District of Virginia, the Committee made the following evaluations, listed in alphabetical order, with the vote regarding each individual recorded in the parenthetical:

Highly Qualified

The Honorable John S. Edwards (6-4)
William F. Gould (8-3)
Rachel A. Harmon (9-2)
William W. Helsley (7-4)
C. Franklin Hilton (7-4)
The Honorable Pamela Meade Sargent (8-2)
Larry W. Shelton (9-2)
The Honorable Michael F. Urbanski (10-1)

For the judgeship on the United States District Court, Eastern District of Virginia, the Committee made the following evaluations, listed in alphabetical order, with the vote regarding each individual recorded in the parenthetical:

Highly Qualified

Arenda L. Wright Allen (7-4)
Glen A. Huff (8-2)
Linda S. Laibstain (7-4)
The Honorable M. Hannah Lauck (11-0)

1 Senator Edwards was interviewed and voted on by the Committee in February 2009 for a vacancy on the United States Court of Appeals. The report prepared and approved at that time was adopted for this report.

2 Judge Lauck was interviewed and voted on by the Committee in February 2009 for a vacancy on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The report prepared and approved at that time was adopted for this report. 

 

 

Updated: Jun 23, 2011