Vetting of Federal Judge Candidates is Under Way

Panelist at UGA Law & Politics event says 'logjam' has been cleared

, Daily Report

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The American Bar Association and the FBI have finished vetting two of four candidates on a list of prospective nominees for the U.S. District Court in Atlanta, a former U.S. congressman told Georgia law students Friday.

Former U.S. Rep. Buddy Darden—who chaired Georgia Democrats' judicial selection committee in 2009—said during a panel discussion Friday at the University of Georgia's School of Law that a "logjam" that has stalled the appointment of federal judicial nominees in Georgia "has been broken."

Darden told students and faculty attending the law school's annual Georgia Symposium on Law & Politics that it was his "understanding" that federal authorities and the ABA have completed their vetting of Leigh Martin May, a partner at Butler Wooten & Fryhofer, and Troutman Sanders partner Mark Cohen for empty seats in the Northern District of Georgia. The vetting of two more candidates for the Northern District bench, whom he did not name, is still to be completed, he said.

Darden said people associated with the law school as well as other friends of his "have been called by the FBI and the ABA and tell me that the process is in place." He also said he anticipates the White House will announce nominations for the state's open federal judicial posts before the end of this year.

Darden was joined on the panel by Heath Garrett, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson's former chief of staff and a partner at Garrett McNatt Hennessey & Carpenter 360; U.S. District Judge Clay Land of the Middle District of Georgia in Columbus; and Professor Richard Vining, an associate professor of political science at UGA.

Darden later told the Daily Report that he has been told the ABA also has begun inquiries about Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Michael Boggs, who was appointed to the state appellate bench last year by Gov. Nathan Deal, for a third open seat on the Northern District. He added that he understood vetting of U.S. District Chief Judge Julie Carnes for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit is under way.

Darden said he had no independent information about the prospective fourth candidate for the Northern District bench, who presumably would fill Carnes' slot should she be confirmed as a circuit court judge.

Georgia lawyers familiar with the nomination process who spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of the negotiations have told the Daily Report that the fourth candidate is DeKalb State Court Judge Eleanor Ross, a Deal appointee who is the only African-American prospective nominee on the list of proposed Northern District nominees.

Carnes, if nominated for the Eleventh Circuit, would be considered along with Jill Pryor, a partner at Atlanta's Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore who twice has been nominated to the Eleventh Circuit by President Barack Obama. To date, Georgia's two U.S. senators, both Republicans, have blocked Pryor's nomination. Georgia lawyers familiar with the process have told the Daily Report that Isakson and Sen. Saxby Chambliss have agreed to withdraw their objections to Pryor and to May, whom they initially rejected as a district court candidate in 2009, as part of a package deal that would include the nominations of Carnes to the federal appellate court, and Boggs, Cohen and Ross to the district court.

Darden said Friday that the logjam that kept the vacancies from being filled—including two seats that were empty for most of the president's first term—was broken after the White House designated Atlanta attorney and Obama fundraiser Ken Canfield, a partner at Shields, Doffermyre, Shields, Canfield & Knowles in Atlanta, to represent it in negotiations with Georgia's senators and with a six-man committee of lawyers who have been advising them.

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