For three Washington lawyers nominated to serve on the city's trial court, the waiting game continues.
After the Senate failed to act on a slew of judicial nominations before the session expired, President Barack Obama renominated 33 individuals to federal courts yesterday. But missing from that list were the three pending nominees for the District of Columbia Superior Court, whose nominations also expired at the start of 2013.
Local judges in Washington, like federal judges, are appointed by the White House and confirmed by the Senate. Obama can renominate the three candidates – Donna Murphy, Rainey Brandt, and Robert Okun – or choose from other candidates also recommended to fill those vacancies by the local body that vets applicants, the District of Columbia Judicial Nomination Commission.
Murphy, a lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Division, was nominated in February 2011 and approved by a Senate committee in June of that year.
D.C. court nominations are historically less likely than federal judge nominees to get caught up in partisan politics, but Murphy's nomination was blocked last year by Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) for unspecified reasons. DeMint is stepping down this month to lead The Heritage Foundation, potentially clearing the way for Murphy if she's renominated.
Brandt, special counsel to the chief judge of Superior Court, was nominated in March and testified before a Senate committee in July. The committee never voted on her nomination. She was appointed as a magistrate judge in Superior Court in October.
Okun is chief of the special proceedings division of the U.S. attorney's office in Washington. He was nominated in September and testified before a Senate committee in November, but the committee also never voted on his nomination.
Superior Court officials are used to coping with a handful of judicial vacancies; a full bench is rare. Chief Judge Lee Satterfield said in an interview late last year that court officials assign calendars with the expectation of a few vacancies at any given time.
The court entered 2013 with several leadership changes. Judge Robert Morin took over from Judge Russell Canan as presiding judge of the criminal division. Morin had served previously as the deputy presiding judge. Judge Lynn Leibovitz is the new deputy.
In the probate and tax division, Judge John Campbell took over as presiding judge from Judge Rhonda Reid Winston. Judge Erik Christian filled Campbell's previous role as deputy presiding judge.