If only every judicial nominee were this lucky. A little over a week after appearing before a U.S. Senate committee for a confirmation hearing, the Senate voted yesterday to confirm two local attorneys to the District of Columbia Superior Court.
President Barack Obama nominated solo practitioner Michael O'Keefe and federal prosecutor Robert Okun to the court in March and they appeared before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on May 15. They faced no opposition, and the committee gave them a favorable vote on May 22.
Nominees to the city's local courts—who, unlike other state and local court judges, are picked by the White House and confirmed by the Senate—tend not to get caught up in partisan gridlock that can snag nominees to the federal trial and appellate courts. However, the nominations are never a sure thing: senators put holds on at least two nominees during Obama's first term and the Senate returned three nominees to the White House in January, including Okun, after senators failed to take action before the end of the term.
Yesterday's confirmations filled two of five current or expected vacancies on the Superior Court bench. The White House is considering possible nominees for the remaining open seats recommended by the local group that vets judicial applicants, the District of Columbia Judicial Nomination Commission.
O'Keefe is the second sitting Superior Court judge to be nominated directly from a solo practice. His practice was mostly in criminal defense and family law. In an interview today, he said he was "ready to jump in." The confirmation process, he said, was a "roller coaster."
"There are so many hurdles you have to go over, there's never any confidence,” O’Keefe said. “You're always sort of worried about the next hurdle. But it was a positive experience.”
Okun, who was not immediately available for comment, is chief of the special proceedings division at the U.S. attorney's office in Washington. He has served in the U.S. attorney's office for more than 19 years. Okun heard attorney disciplinary matters as a past member of the Board on Professional Responsibility.
National Law Journal photo by Diego M. Radzinschi.