Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Friday, January 17, 2014


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Ninth Circuit Nominees Owens, Friedland Advance Out of U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee




Two Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals nominees were approved yesterday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, likely assuring their confirmation.

The nomination of John Owens was approved on a voice vote, while Michelle Friedland drew approval by a vote of 14-3. All of the “no” votes came from Republicans.

Both nominees are litigation partners in Munger, Tolles & Olson, Owens in Los Angeles and Friedland in San Francisco.

At a meeting that was webcast live, Owens and Friedland were among 29 judicial nominees approved by the committee. Their eventual confirmation is likely in light of the Senate’s recent rules change, eliminating the filibuster for judicial nominees other than those for the Supreme Court.

Owens’ nomination has drawn fire for reasons unrelated to the nominee. Senators from Idaho have contended that the seat should go to a resident of that state because Judge Stephen Trott, who held the seat before taking senior status in 2004, has chambers in Boise.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a member of the committee, addressed that issue before the vote on Owens.

Trott, she said, was a “California nominee for a California seat.” She noted that he spent his entire practicing career in this state before going to Washington, D.C to serve in the Reagan Justice Department; that his predecessor, Judge Joseph Sneed, was a Californian; and that a Republican senator from California, S.I. Hayakawa, recommended him for the seat while the other California senator, Pete Wilson, introduced him at his confirmation hearing.

Trott’s “personal choice” to locate his chambers in Boise was “an arbitrary occurrence” that should not be allowed to dictate the future occupants of the seat, she said.

Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the committee, said some senators in his party had a different view of that issue but that he would support Owens, at least at the committee level. “…But I will withhold final judgment on this nomination until it is considered in the full Senate,” he said.

At the time Trott took senior status, Idaho was the only state in the circuit without an active, resident circuit judge, as Judge Thomas G. Nelson, since deceased, had taken senior status in November 2003. President Bush, who had nominated Boise attorney William G. Myers III to succeed Nelson, tapped N. Randy Smith, then a state trial judge in Idaho, to succeed Trott.

Democrats, however, filibustered Myers on ideological grounds and objected to Smith on the ground that the seat should go to a Californian. After Democrats won control of the Senate in the November 2006 elections, however, the president did not resubmit Myers’ nomination, withdrew Smith’s nomination to the Trott seat, and replaced Myers with Smith as the nominee for the Nelson seat.

Smith subsequently won confirmation by a vote of 94-0.

 Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the Judiciary Committee chair, treated the Trott seat as a California seat for purposes of the “blue slip” process, by which a confirmation hearing is scheduled upon the approval of the two senators from a nominee’s home state.

Owens, 41, is a former federal prosecutor in Los Angeles and San Diego, where he headed the Criminal Division before joining Munger Tolles in January of last year.

He is a UC Berkeley and Stanford Law School graduate and, according to his firm profile, “specializes in anticipating the government’s investigative, trial and settlement strategies and mapping out the client’s best response, both inside and outside the courtroom.” His clients include the drilling company Transocean, which he and others at the firm represent in the criminal investigation arising from the April 20, 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Friedland is a Berkeley native who graduated Stanford Law School in 2000.

Grassley said there was concern on the Republican side with some of Friedland’s “advocacy.” He gave no examples, but Friedland has played an active role in gay rights litigation, including the challenge to California’s Proposition 8 and the defense of California’s law banning gay conversion therapy for minors.

Her expected confirmation would fill a vacancy created when Judge Raymond Fisher took senior status in April.

Among those approved yesterday for district judges were four Californians, James Donato, Beth Labson Freeman, and Vince Girdhari Chhabria, of the Northern District and

Cynthia Ann Bashant of the Southern District. Chhabria was approved by a vote of 13-5—Grassley said some Republicans had problems with positions he had taken as a lawyer, and did not believe he could serve impartially—and the others were approved by voice vote.


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