The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held hearings on Tuesday afternoon for three D.C. Superior Court nominees: Milton Lee and Judith Smith, currently D.C. magistrate judges, and Todd Edelman, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center.
In contrast to the debate on the Senate floor — where Marisa Demeo was confirmed to the Superior Court on a near party line vote late Tuesday afternoon — there was little controversy in the 45-minute committee hearing. Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) chaired the hearing, which was attended by just one other committee member, Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio).
"I hope that this committee and the Senate will be able to act quickly on your nominations," Akaka said before adjourning the meeting.
President Barack Obama nominated Lee on Jan. 22 and Smith and Edelman on March 25. If confirmed by the Senate, the judges will serve 15-year terms.
Akaka and Voinovich both said that they thought the lawyers were well qualified.
Akaka made a point to ask the nominees, who have all worked for the D.C. Public Defenders Service in the past, how they would react if they were presiding over a case and it was obvious that one of the sides wasn’t receiving competent counsel.
All three nominees stressed they would ask the party if he or she was satisfied with the lawyer early in the process. “We have to make sure everyone is receiving appropriate counsel,” Lee said.
Voinovich asked Edelman specifically if he would be able to make the transition to a judge from his role as a professor and trial lawyer.
Edelman responded that he would strive to remain objective and would seek out mentors on the court to advise him. “The wisest course for me would be to seek out their counsel,” he said.
Lee has served as a D.C. Superior Court magistrate judge since 1997, most recently in the Family Court and previously in the criminal and civil divisions. He has also taught as a professor at the University of the District of Columbia's David A. Clarke School of Law.
Smith was appointed to the D.C. Superior Court as a magistrate judge in 2008, where she presides over neglect and abuse matters. She has also served as an attorney advisor in the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education.
Before becoming a full-time professor, Edelman was a counsel at Bredhoff & Kaiser in Washington from 2004 to 2008. He focused on complex state and federal litigation, with an emphasis in RICO, employment, labor, employee benefits and civil rights issues.
In the hour prior to the hearing, Akaka and Voinovich also held a nomination hearing for Dennis Walsh to become chairman of the Special Panel of Appeals, which hears cases when the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission cannot agree on an outcome.
Walsh served on the National Labor Relations Board under both the Clinton and Bush administrations.