Federal district court nominee Matthew Spencer Petersen’s embarrassing unfamiliarity with basic trial court and litigation concepts recently led me to observe that concrete trial and pretrial experience should be a baseline requirement for all federal trial court nominees. Not everyone sees it that way. At the National Review, Carrie Severino downplays Peterson’s lack of trial experience, noting that his work at the Federal Election Commission over the past decade “gave him significant exposure to the sort of regulatory cases that the [U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the court to which Peterson has been nominated] regularly decides.” And at Prawfsblawg, Howard Wasserman similarly suggested that “[t]here is a benefit to having judges of various backgrounds” on the district court, and that a nominee’s failure to have tried a case should not be disqualifying. Other commentators have made comparable observations.
I respectfully disagree. Trial judges simply must have real trial experience, for the sake of the judicial institution and its users.
Continue reading “Why trial experience matters for new district judges”
I noted in May that Canadian authorities were weighing whether to mandate training on sexual assault and domestic violence cases for the country’s judges. That training has now begun for new judges, and the Toronto Star provides a thoughtful report here on how it operates.
Brian Tupper, a claims analyst with Berkshire Hathaway, will take the bench in Wilkes-Barre. The seat was held by Tupper’s father until his recent retirement. The local story notes: “Because he is not a law graduate, Tupper prepared for his new job by completing a four week certification course with the Justified Judicial System of Pennsylvania in June 2016.”
From the story:
The Canadian Judicial Council is pushing back against the idea of having sexual assault survivors and support organizations help develop training for aspiring and sitting judges, fearing it could interfere with the independence of those on the bench.
The requirement was a recent change to proposed legislation introduced by Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose, whose Bill C-337 calls for would-be federally appointed judges to first undergo comprehensive training in sexual assault law.
Once enacted, the legislation would also require the council to report on continuing education courses on sexual assault law, including telling the government how many sexual assault cases were heard each year by judges who lack the training.
The Canadian Judicial Council issued a statement Tuesday saying it still believes the bill, which was sent to the Senate with all-party support Monday, goes too far.
“While the council has been clear from the beginning that it finds the objectives of the bill laudable, we continue to have some concerns about the constitutionality of some aspects of the proposed law which may infringe on judicial independence,” spokeswoman Johanna Laporte wrote in an email.
“Specifically, reporting the number of sexual assault cases heard by judges who have never participated in seminars and opening the door for special interest groups dictating the kinds of education judges should adopt.”
I’m curious what readers of this blog think. Similar issues arise in other contexts, such as the placement of allegedly defense-oriented or plaintiff-oriented attorneys on rules committees. Courts want to strike the proper balance between informing judges and indoctrinating them, but sometimes that general principle is hard to put into practice.