Reid Blasts ABA Over Nevadan Nominee

Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., blasted the American Bar Association over its mixed evaluation of Gloria Navarro, his nominee to the United States District Court. Reid, who has previously relied on ABA ratings in opposing or supporting nominees, told the ABA to “get a new life.”

While I find Reid’s statements to be a bit hyporcritical in light of his past reliance (a problem not unknown to senators on both sides of the aisle), I share his confusion over the rating for Navarro. She seems to have an impressive resume. She has served as Chief Deputy District Attorney for Clark County since 2005 and previously served as Deputy Special Public Defender (2001-2004). She has represented defendants charged with capital and other serious crimes, and was also in private practice. She has won awards for pro bono service and access to justice from organizations such as the Nevada State Bar, and she was the former president of the Latino Bar Association.

In the very least, the ABA should explain why such a stellar professional background is insufficient.
The 15-member Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, a “substantial majority,” consisting of 10 to 13 members, rated Navarro “qualified,” while a minority rated her “not qualified.” Notably, she was not found to be “well-qualified” by members. Why? More importantly, how could such professional experience not render someone at least qualified in the eyes of these three minority members?

I have rarely seen a recommendation that was so lacking a stated foundation. If there is a question of temperament or intellect or conflict of interest, the committee should make those known so the nominee and her supporters can respond to them.

Quite frankly, I am glad to see a public defender nominated. All too often, judgeships are given to prosecutors — giving the courts a pro-prosecution bias in some cases.

The relatively cold review of Navarro, 42, has been explained by some as due to her lack of judicial experience, which makes no sense. She is being nominated for the district court. Most such nominees were not previously judges. More importantly, that should not be a determinative factor for evaluation. I am most concerned that there was not a bias against public defenders or criminal defense attorneys since I have seen former prosecutors with the same or less impressive resumes confirmed in the past. I have no basis to suggest such a bias and I do not want to be unfair to the committee. However, given the disconnect between the resume and recommendation, it would seem a case where more information would be needed.

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19 thoughts on “Reid Blasts ABA Over Nevadan Nominee”

  1. I wikied it and the only non that popped up was the wiki is non profit and non top tier law schools. So maybe I am wrong yet again. One wakes up just to learn.

  2. The Fourth Amendment likely carries as much weight to the majority of the ABA as it does to most of Congress in this age of the gated community. I’m willing to bet that her “transgression,” unspoken by the ABA is that she spent too much time slumming in the Public Defenders office.

    The price you typically pay for believing in Gideon v. Wainwright, and not recognizing that the path to judgeships flows almost exclusively through the DA’s office, is permanent exclusion from the upper levels of the hierarchy.

    If you want to be a judge, choose your jobs carefully, and hold your tongue, at least when it comes to standing up for the rights of those lacking political power.

    And for God’s sake, if you’re as brilliant as Dawn Johnsen, and possess as much of a conscience as she’s demonstrated, don’t let them see it until you’re placed in a position where you can utilize it. If you show it too early, they’ll make sure you’re kept out of the club, knowing that such displays reflect badly on those who’ve joined it, and checked their consciences at the door.

  3. Also, I’m not so sure the ABA even has non-profit status. It does have a 501(c)(3) entity–called the Fund for Justice and Education–but I’m not sure the ABA itself is organized as a non-profit.

  4. It’s actually perfectly legal for most non-profits to engage certain types of political advocacy by–for example–filing amicus briefs or even lobbying for legislation. A lot of non-profit groups (e.g. the ACLU or the NRA) are formed for the very purpose of political advocacy, and I have no particular beef with it.

    So there’s really nothing legally improper about the ABA having its own political agenda. I just wish more folks were aware of it.

  5. The take away the nonprofit status like the IRS is doing to some church’s which used the bully pulpit for that intended purposes.

  6. I think most of us agree that there should be places on the federal bench for both prosecutors and defense attorneys, so long as they’re qualified. I think the real question is why the ABA gave such a low rating to *this particular* defense attorney, in light of what appear to be excellent credentials and a distinguished resume.

    (And more broadly, why should the political branches give any special weight to the ABA’s views at all? The ABA isn’t politically neutral, and really doesn’t even pretend to be.)

  7. When everyone is bad then everyone will have a record and then there will be no use for either because there will only be you.

    Court appointed attorneys/public defenders are on the pay roll in the federal system. Rarely do they have much of a practice outside of this. All counties have court appointed as required by the decision in Giddeon.

    Most people that have worked on the defense side especially in Federal Court burn out as to the way things are really practiced. In most charges the feds have 5 years to bring charges. Now what were you doing on April 5, 2005? Who were you with, what did you spend money on, how much was spent, etc… I think you get the picture.

    The beauty of this again is that they bring the charges 5 years down the road. It may take a couple of more years to actually get into a trial. On the eve of the trial is is customary for the Prosecutor to comply with the discovery request. Try asking for a continuance in a case such as this, I am sorry but the court has docket control to worry about.

    You fly by your seat on that. So think again, one of so much information. The defense attorneys are not treated nearly as bad as most criminal defendants. Then if you happen to get a PDefender with half a brain and they actually beat the Prosecutor. It is not at all uncommon for the Defense attorney to have an IRS investigation. Take that with the pay and the attitude. It is a burn out job.

    Oh and to have to fight for your retainer. If its a drug case, they try forfeiture and this can include the fees paid to you. It makes for a good fight would you not say?

  8. Yeah, yeah. More of the same pro-criminal ranting – prosecutors are bad and defense attorneys are good. And you all complain about other people’s biases…

    Frankly, on matters such as this, the only people’s opinion that you begin to trust are those of the prosecutors; they’re the only ones, as a whole, on fixed salary system. Defense attorneys often – Public Defenders earning their chops aside – have private practices that are lucrative and are based upon their success rates. Of course they’d prefer more defense attorneys on the bench.

  9. A quick google search reveals also that the ABA gave similarly low “qualified/not-qualified” ratings to Richard Posner and Frank Easterbrook — two of the best (and certainly most-cited) judges in the federal judiciary.

    What are they smoking over there?

  10. AY,

    I’m glad to see Michigan requiring 5 years of experience. In Missouri, you can, and I know of one that has, be elected to the circuit court right out of law school. All it takes is a little family money.

  11. I too agree with JT. And more broadly, I’m concerned that the ABA has far too much power over Article III in general. Just a handful of examples off the top of my head:

    *The ABA lobbies for strict UPL statutes in all the states.

    *The ABA says that to get a law license, you have to go to an ABA-accredited law school, and follow an ABA-approved curriculum.

    *To become a judge, you effectively need the blessing of ABA standing committee.

    It’s troubling enough that a private organization has this much power over the legal field. But even worse, the ABA is a *politically-active* organization — it routinely files amicus briefs urging courts to rule one way or another on hot button constitutional issues. It doesn’t even pretend to be politically-neutral, and yet it wields enormous power over both the legal curriculum and the selection of judges. I can’t understand how we put up with it.

  12. So far Michigan is the only state that requires a Judge even if running for office to have been in practice for 5 years before they can run for office. It just so happened that an under qualified minority female was appointed and well, to be frank all hell broke loose.

    She was later removed from the bench for unethical practices.

    All too often Judges are recruited from the Prosecutors office. And you have a 13 juror on the bench. I can think of two who are on the Western District of Michigan that used to both be State/Attorney Prosecutors and appointed to the bench by the same president. However one is more liberal, but they both came out of the same office.

    It is good to see Defense Attorneys Nominated too.

  13. As bad as the descion seems to be,its good to see a fire lit under Senator Reid.
    Maybe this will carry over to other things that he is involed with.

  14. I agree with JT and Sen. Reid. If the ABA is going to label someone as unqualified, they should be required to provide their reasons. Too many judgeships are awarded to prosecutors.

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