Critiques of the Judiciary
The departure from the bench of Judge Helen "Ginger" Berrigan in 2016, allegedly over health issues, opened a vacancy in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana for which President Donald Trump will propose a nominee to the Senate Judiciary Committee for confirmation. Candidates for the position are traditionally presented to the president by U.S. senators of the state in which the District Court is located, in this case Senators Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy. Of three candidates under consideration, the apparent front runner is attorney Wendy Vitter, the wife of former U.S. Senator David Vitter to whom Cassidy is indebted for Vitter's critical role in helping him win his senate seat. The patronage has the hallmark of a quid pro quo and shows how a personal relationship can trump other qualifications.
Sen. Cassidy submits 3 names, including Wendy Vitter's, for federal judgeshipTYLER BRIDGESAugust 18, 2017
U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy has submitted three names to the White House for a vacant federal judgeship in New Orleans, including that of Wendy Vitter, the wife of his former Senate colleague, David Vitter, according to an email obtained by The Advocate.
The other two are Thomas Flanagan, a longtime attorney in New Orleans, and Jay Wilkinson, a federal magistrate judge.
Of the three, Wendy Vitter is easily the best known and potentially the most controversial, given the potential appearance of a quid pro quo. David Vitter played a key role in getting Cassidy elected to the Senate three years ago.
David Vitter is now a lawyer in private practice and a lobbyist. He chose not to seek re-election to the Senate in 2016, a year after losing the governor's race to John Bel Edwards. Prior to that race, he had a long career as a member of the state House, the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
Federal judgeships, which are lifetime appointments, are highly coveted among attorneys. At stake is a district court judgeship in Louisiana's Eastern District, one of three federal judicial districts in the state. Of the 15 judgeships in the New Orleans-based court, two are vacant.
A second federal judgeship has opened up in New Orleans with the recent announcement that U.S. District Judge Helen "Ginger" Berrigan has taken "senior status," a form of semi-retirement.
The White House generally makes nominations for federal judgeships and U.S. attorneys based on recommendations from the state's two senators. Cassidy and U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, who was elected to the seat Vitter vacated, have split up the open seats, which each taking the lead on about half of them.
"As ultimately the decision is up to the president, we will withhold further comment until the White House makes a formal announcement," Cassidy's office said in a statement, declining to answer questions.
Kennedy also declined to comment, instead issuing a statement saying: "As previously reported by The Advocate, Sen. Cassidy is taking the lead on some federal nominations, and Sen. Kennedy is taking the lead on others. We can confirm that Sen. Cassidy is taking the lead on the most recent nomination for the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana, and it is our understanding that Sen. Cassidy has submitted names to the White House to fill that vacancy."
Cassidy has created a panel of influential citizens to vet potential judgeship candidates. The panel is led by his brother, David, a partner with Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson, which has offices in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
David Cassidy confirmed that the panel interviewed Flanagan, Vitter and Wilkinson, among others.
"The committee does not choose whose name is submitted," David Cassidy said. "That is entirely up to the senators."
Annoyed, perhaps, at a steady drumbeat of news stories pointing out that he has yet to fill hundreds of appointed positions, President Donald Trump has put out word that he wants nominees soon for many of the federal jobs he has yet to fill.
Once the White House announces the final selection, he or she would have to win approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee and then the full Senate.
Wendy Vitter, a Tulane Law School graduate, has been the general counsel for the Archdiocese of New Orleans since 2012. Her courtroom experience came years ago from 1984-92 when she worked under Orleans Parish District Attorney Harry Connick Sr., first as a law clerk and then, after passing the bar exam in 1987, as an assistant district attorney. During part of that time, she served as chief of felony trials and prosecuted more than 100 jury trials, specializing in homicide cases.
"The most important thing I thought I could ever do was to be a voice for victims who could not speak for themselves," she once said.
Wendy Vitter also served as the campaign manager for her husband's three elections to the U.S. House and assisted his two victorious Senate campaigns.
Her resumé lists as references New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond; U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt, a close Vitter friend and former Vitter campaign official; and Connick.
Cassidy would certainly have reason to want to reward Wendy Vitter, whose husband, Republican Party sources said, has been pushing for his wife's appointment.
David Vitter was the architect and engineer of Cassidy's 2014 election to the Senate. He lent a top aide to run Cassidy's campaign, and Cassidy hewed closely to Vitter's political playbook by repeatedly tying his Democratic opponent, in this case Sen. Mary Landrieu, to President Barack Obama.
"Sen. David Vitter and Wendy helped us from the very beginning," Cassidy told jubilant supporters on the night of his victory.
Flanagan, who was first in his class at Tulane Law School, has his own law firm. He is on the executive committee of the New Orleans chapter of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, an important gathering place for politically ambitious conservative attorneys. He clerked for John Minor Wisdom, a revered federal judge who died in 1999 and for whom the federal appeals court building in New Orleans is named.
Wilkinson, also a Tulane Law School graduate, signs search warrants and handles arraignments and other lesser duties as a federal magistrate judge. He was a law clerk to Morey Sear, a federal judge who died in 2004. He also spent two years as a reporter in the late 1970s working for The Times-Picayune.Copyright 2017, The Advocate / Capital City Press LLC
From: Tyler Bridges, "Sen. Cassidy submits 3 names, including Wendy Vitter's, for federal judgeship," The New Orleans Advocate, August 18, 2017. Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C.
§ 107for a non-profit educational purpose. Tyler Bridges can be reached at: email@example.com.
Will Wendy Vitter have any idea what she's doing as a federal judge? Her resume says noJAMES GILLOctober 7, 2017
There is an old saying among attorneys about what one of their number turns into on becoming a federal judge.
The unflattering term they employ cannot be quoted here.
But whether it will apply to Wendy Vitter will not be the focus of their attention when, as seems highly likely, she joins the bench in New Orleans. In her case, the question must be not how she will treat counsel appearing before her, but whether she will have any idea what she is doing.
Since federal judges are chosen by politicians, the most qualified candidate by no means always gets the nod. You want a plum government appointment, you'd better have influential connections. Fair enough; that's part of democracy and the system seems to have given us a judiciary that is accomplished enough. U.S. Senators may generally be trusted to recruit from among their most qualified cronies.
But not always. No misdeeds have been publicly alleged against Vitter, and it may be that she will turn out to be a distinguished jurist one of these days. But, if she does, it will be a bolt from the blue; there is absolutely nothing in her background to suggest it.
You could find a slew of attorneys with more compelling resumes any Friday lunchtime at Galatoire's. The only reason she could ever be considered for a federal judgeship is that she is married to former U.S. Senator David Vitter.
Wendy Vitter attracted widespread sympathy for the public humiliation she suffered when her husband was fingered as a client of a Washington madam and confessed to "very serious sin" 10 years ago. His determination to remain in office meant that the media would continue to harp on his infidelity, especially when he ran for re-election in 2010.
He won, but the experience must have been distressing for his household. A federal judgeship will no doubt provide some recompense for the sufferings of a famously wronged wife, but this is patronage at its most self-serving.
There was no shortage of contenders for the job, but the fix was clearly in from day one. It was up to U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy to advise the White House who merited the appointment. Cassidy is in his first term in the Senate, where he joined Vitter a couple of years ago. Cassidy won that election in large measure thanks to the support and advice of Vitter, who went on to lose a gubernatorial race before deserting the Senate at the beginning of this year for the lobbying racket.
When it fell to Cassidy to find judicial candidates, he went through the right motions, appointing a search committee. He presumably remained privy to its deliberations, however, for he put his lawyer brother David in charge. The committee interviewed several candidates for the vacant judgeship, and, as a result of its labors Bill Cassidy identified three possibilities for White House consideration.
That Wendy Vitter was one of them was inexplicable in terms of experience or qualifications. When David Vitter made it plain he wanted his wife to get the job, Bill Cassidy must have felt obliged to listen.
Both the other two attorneys who made the final cut boast wide and relevant experience. Both had clerked for clerked for federal judges, for instance, and one is a federal magistrate right now.
Search the website on Louisiana's Eastern District, however, and you will one find only one case involving Wendy Vitter; she was one of several attorneys enrolled in an offshore accident claim that was settled a quarter of a century ago.
Around the same time, she wound up a stint as an Assistant District Attorney in New Orleans. Thus her courtroom experience is both long ago and limited to the state system. Hers, nevertheless, is the name that seems certain to be forwarded for the consideration of her husband's former colleagues in the Senate.
That may not make her a cinch for confirmation, because David Vitter never was widely popular. Still, the proposition that being a senator's wife should get special treatment will be regarded as axiomatic in this forum.Copyright 2017, The Advocate / Capital City Press LLC
From: James Gill, "Will Wendy Vitter have any idea what she's doing as a federal judge? Her resume says no," The New Orleans Advocate, October 7, 2017. Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C.
§ 107for a non-profit educational purpose. James Gill can be reached at: Gill1407@bellsouth.net.
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