More than 40 years ago, District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Melvin Wright took a job at the courthouse as a clerk in the landlord and tenant and small claims division. This week, he was reappointed to a second-term on the bench.
The local body that reviews judges up for reappointment, the District of Columbia Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure, sent its official evaluation (PDF) of Wright's first term to the White House on February 5, giving Wright the highest rating of "well qualified." Under the federal law governing D.C. courts, the "well qualified" rating means Wright is automatically reappointed.
The commission praised Wright's "dedication, industry and innovation" and his leadership of the civil division, where he served as deputy presiding judge from 2008 to 2011 and is now presiding judge. According to the report, comments submitted to the commission from lawyers and court personnel were overwhelmingly positive.
Wright was appointed by President Clinton in 1998. Before joining the bench, he worked in private practice and as an assistant U.S. attorney. He worked in the courthouse for nearly a decade before earning his law degree in 1982 from Georgetown University Law Center.
In its report, the commission highlighted Wright's early service in Superior Court's Drug Court, noting that he pushed for reforms at the D.C. Jail after growing concerned about conditions for prisoners. They lauded his role in creating the Housing Conditions Calendar, a separate forum where tenants could take bad landlords to court.
As presiding judge of the civil division, the commission credited Wright with bringing down the backlog of appeals from magistrate judge decisions. They also praised him for serving on internal court and bar committees and doing community service.
"He has worked hard, provided leadership to the Court, respected and had compassion for those who appeared before him, and gave generously of his time and energy to an institution he reveres," the commission wrote.
The seven-member commission is led by U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler. It includes four local attorneys – William Lightfoot of Koonz, McKenney, Johnson, DePaolis & Lightfoot; Jones Day's Noel Francisco; Shirley Ann Higuchi of the American Psychological Association; and Jeannine Sanford of Bread for the City – and two non-attorneys – Michael Fauntroy and Michael deVere Williams. Williams didn't participate in the review, according to the report.
National Law Journal photo by Diego M. Radzinschi.