Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Senate, After Clearing Procedural Hurdles, Confirms Two Judges
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The U.S. Senate yesterday confirmed two new judges to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
Democrats pushed the nominations of San Mateo Superior Court Judge Beth Labson Freeman and San Francisco lawyer James Donato over Republican procedural opposition. GOP senators have insisted on a cloture vote and full debate on all nominees since Democrats exercised the “nuclear option” of changing Senate rules by permitting a simple majority, rather than 60 votes, to cut off debate on nominations.
The Senate confirmed Freeman on a 91-7 vote, and Donato by a 90-5 margin. With the addition of Freeman and Donato, President Barack Obama’s appointees now form a majority of federal judges in the region’s federal courts in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose. Vince Chhabria, a San Francisco deputy city attorney, is also awaiting Senate confirmation.
Freeman has been a judge since 2001 and served as assistant presiding judge in 2009 and 2010 and as presiding judge in 2011 and 2012. She was a deputy San Mateo County counsel for 18 years—litigating cases involving child abuse and dependency, and defending county agencies including school districts, the Housing Authority, and the Department of Children and Family Services—before becoming a judge.
She worked for two private firms between 1979 and 1983. The Washington, D.C. native grew up in San Mateo County and is a graduate of UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School.
She will fill a vacancy created when Judge Jeremy Fogel was named to head the Federal Judicial Center two years ago, which by statute creates an additional judgeship in the district.
Freeman was recommended by Sen. Dianne Feinstein after her original choice, Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal, was rejected by the White House, reportedly because of his Republican Party registration.
Delays in the confirmation process had left Freeman in limbo, and she filed a declaration of intent to run for reelection. Three other candidates—including Superior Court Commissioner Susan Greenberg, who has returned nominating papers—filed for the seat, according to the San Mateo County Elections Department website.
By law, the incumbent’s withdrawal would create an extended nominating period, during which additional candidates could enter the race.
Donato is a litigation partner in the San Francisco office of Shearman & Sterling LLP, where he has worked since 2009. His practice concentrates on antitrust litigation and class actions.
He also represents Internet companies and equipment manufacturers in matters involving wiretapping, stored communications, computer fraud and abuse, and consumer privacy claims.
Previously, Donato worked at Cooley LLP from 1996 to 2009 and served as a deputy city attorney in San Francisco from 1993 to 1996. Beginning in 1990, he spent three years working as an associate at Morrison & Foerster LLP.
He clerked for Judge Procter Hug Jr. on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals from 1988 to 1989. Donato graduated from Stanford Law School, where he was an Executive Board member of the Stanford Law Review, after receiving a master’s degree from Harvard and an undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley.
In 2008, he was president of the Bar Association of San Francisco. He will succeed Judge James Ware, who retired in 2012.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who alternates federal judge picks in California with Sen. Barbara Boxer, recommended Freeman and Donato to the White House last year. In a statement, Feinstein praised the two judges, saying they will bring “important experience” to the local federal courts.
“Both nominees will fill longstanding vacancies that have been declared ‘judicial emergencies’ by the Judicial Conference of the United States, the senator noted. “The seat Freeman fills has been vacant for more than 800 days. The seat Donato fills has been vacant for more than 500 days.”
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