District of Columbia Court of Appeals Judge Kathryn Oberly will step down in November after four and a half years on the bench.
The District of Columbia Judicial Nomination Commission announced Oberly's retirement plans yesterday. The commission is now accepting applications from lawyers interested in filling her spot through September 20.
Oberly's decision to retire less than a third of the way through her first 15-year term on the city's highest court is unusual. Over the past two decades, the majority of retiring appeals court judges served at least 10 years, and most had served a full term before retiring, according to a review of public records. Oberly declined to comment.
The judge had not asked for appointment as a senior judge as of today, according to the District of Columbia Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure, which manages those requests. However, Oberly, who is 63, could make that request up to a year after she steps down in November.
Oberly joined the bench after a distinguished career in private practice and in the business world. When President George W. Bush appointed her to the court in late 2008, she had spent nearly two decades at Ernst & Young and was vice chair and general counsel of the company at the time.
Her nomination wade waves within the legal community, given her relative lack of experience practicing in the District's local courts. Before going to Ernst & Young in 1991, though, she helped launch the appellate practice in Mayer Brown's Washington office and served as an appellate lawyer in the U.S. Department of Justice and the Solicitor General's office.
Oberly was also politically well-connected. A close friend of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Oberly was a fundraiser for Clinton during her 2008 presidential election bid. Clinton testified in favor of Oberly's appointment to the bench, and Oberly administered the oath of office to Clinton when she joined President Barack Obama's cabinet in early 2009.
Oberly was married to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Haynes Johnson, who died May 24.
"Judge Oberly's retirement is a significant loss to the D.C. Court of Appeals and to the citizens of the District of Columbia," said U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, chair of the judicial nomination commission, via email. "I have a very high regard for Judge Oberly and wish her the very best in any future endeavors." He said he did not know about her plans for the future.
Her seat is the only pending vacancy on the appeals court. The seven-member judicial nomination commission will vet applicants and recommend three candidates to the White House for consideration. The president's nominee will go before the U.S. Senate for a confirmation hearing.
Besides Sullivan, the commission members include William Lucy, a vice president at the AFL-CIO; Natalie Ludaway of Leftwich & Ludaway; Dickstein Shapiro's Woody Peterson; Venable's Karl Racine; the Rev. Morris Shearin Sr.; and Grace Speights of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius.