Two D.C. lawyers who are vying for a spot on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, Patricia Millett and Richard Simpson, garnered a “highly qualified” rating from the Virginia State Bar in a report that is being sent to Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Jim Webb today.
Simpson, a McLean resident, is a partner at Wiley Rein, where he practices in professional liability defense. Millett, who lives in Alexandria, co-chairs the Supreme Court practice at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. Twenty-one lawyers, including several judges, applied for 4th Circuit consideration by the VSB’s Judicial Nominations Committee.
Two other D.C. private bar lawyers threw their names into the mix for 4th Circuit evaluation—Covington & Burling partner Michael Baxter and Holland & Knight senior counsel Sharon Eubanks. The VSB determined Baxter, a bankruptcy law specialist, was qualified to serve on the appeals court; Eubanks, a former Justice Department commercial litigation lawyer, was deemed not qualified. The VSB rated as qualified the Justice Department's Lisa Jones, assistant chief of the Appellate Section in the Environment and Natural Resources Division.
Senators Webb and Warner asked the VSB to consider Virginia residents, whether or not the lawyer or judge is a member of the state bar. Circuit judges (except for judges on the D.C. Circuit) must live in the circuit. Millett, Baxter, and Eubanks are not members of the Virginia bar; Simpson is a member. Millett plans to take the Virginia bar exam in July.
The VSB, which does not make recommendations, also deemed two others highly qualified to serve on the 4th Circuit: Virginia Supreme Court Justice Barbara Keenan and state Sen. John Edwards (D-Roanoke). Keenan garnered unanimous VSB support for her highly qualified designation.
VSB committee members met last week to interview candidates for the 4th Circuit. The screening process included a background investigation in which VSB committee members talk with judges and lawyers who are familiar with the candidate.
The financial problems that plagued some of President Obama’s cabinet picks prompted the VSB committee members to start each candidate interview with questions about liens and taxes. The VSB apparently was looking to stave off any problems down the road. The questions included: Do you have any tax issues that you think this committee should know about? Have you ever had a civil judgment entered against you? Have you ever been sanctioned by a government, administrative, or regulatory agency?
The VSB reported, somewhat cryptically: “These questions did elicit some information from the candidates.”
The background investigation on Simpson, according to the VSB report, noted clients followed him from Ross, Dixon & Bell to Wiley Rein when he joined the firm in September 2008. Committee members said they were impressed by Simpson, an adjunct instructor in trial advocacy at the University of Virginia Law School. “He is a brilliant person and an extremely hard worker,” the VSB committee members reported.
The VSB noted a comment that came up in the background investigation of Millett—her modesty. “Despite the fact that she has argued almost as many cases before the United States Supreme Court as any woman alive, Ms. Millett’s comments displayed her modesty and at times, self-deprecation,” the VSB reported. The VSB praised Millett’s sharp writing and “heightened legal intellect.”