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Jones Day Lawyer Not Qualified for U.S. Trial Court: ABA (2)

Sept. 9, 2020, 2:32 PM; Updated: Sept. 9, 2020, 4:37 PM

A Jones Day attorney nominated by President Donald Trump to the federal district court covering Jacksonville, Florida, isn’t qualified to serve as a trial court judge due to her limited experience as an attorney, the American Bar Association said.

In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee leadership, the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary found Kathryn Kimball Mizelle “Not Qualified” based on her lack of experience practicing law. Mizelle is among the nominees being questioned by the Senate Judiciary Committee today.

The ABA typically requires a minimum of 12 years experience to rate a nominee qualified. Mizelle was admitted to the Florida bar in September 2012, the ABA said, which “represents a rather marked departure from the 12 year minimum.”

Mizelle is the tenth Trump nominee to receive a “Not Qualified” rating, though the majority of Trump nominees are rated “Qualified” or “Well Qualified.” The ratings have been an ongoing source of tension between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate.

The “Not Qualified” nomination is the first the ABA has given to a Trump nominee since Lawrence VanDyke, now a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

But unlike VanDyke, whose rating was due to his temperament, the ABA said Mizelle’s rating is no reflection of her character.

The ABA says Mizelle has a “very keen intellect, a strong work ethic, and an impressive resume.” It also said she “presents as a delightful person” and that “Her integrity and demeanor are not in question.”

At her hearing, Mizelle pointed to other aspects of her record that she said have prepared her to serve as a federal trial court judge.

“My experience in court as a federal prosecutor is what makes me qualified to do this job,” Mizelle said. She said she’s appeared and argued on behalf of the federal government 40 times in district court, conducted dozens of direct examinations of witnesses, and prosecuted of 30 federal defendants.

‘Strong’ Resume

According to her Jones Day profile, Mizelle worked as an attorney in the Justice Department’s Tax Division, served as a special assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, and was a counsel to the Associate Attorney General. Mizelle also clerked at each level of the federal judiciary, including at the Supreme Court for Justice Clarence Thomas.

“Your clerkship history is as strong as I’ve ever seen,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who noted there are “reasonable questions this committee can ask” about her professional experience eight years out of law school.

In response, Mizelle noted she frequently led teams of people who were sometimes two and three times her age.

“I found that in each of those circumstances, even if folks came to a meeting thinking I’m green, that my work ethic, my competency in the law, and my integrity quickly dispelled ideas that I didn’t warrant their respect,” Mizelle said.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a critic of the ABA’s ratings, said the said the “Not Qualified” rating is an opinion of an outside organization that’s not an official part of the constitutional process for confirming judges.

“You have in your career as a lawyer amassed more experience than many lawyers I’ve known who have been out of law school for twice that amount of time,” Lee said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the committee’s ranking Democrat, referenced Mizelle’s limited professional experience in her opening statement.

“Criminal defendants, civil litigants, prosecutors and fellow judges deserve nominees whose legal experience and knowledge are beyond question,” Feinstein said.

Other Nominees

Also facing questions at the hearing were Trump nominees Benjamin J Beaton, for the Western District of Kentucky; Kristi Haskins Johnson, for the Southern District of Mississippi; Taylor B. McNeel, for the Southern District of Mississippi; and Thompson M. Dietz for the Court of Federal Claims.

The three other district nominees were all rated either “Qualified” or “Well Qualified.” Federal Claims nominees don’t receive ABA ratings.

The hearing comes as the Republican-led Senate undertakes more confirmation votes for five of Trump’s district court picks following a recess. The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Brett Ludwig to the Eastern District of Wisconsin, 91-5. Four other nominees await cloture votes.

(Updates with additional testimony and senators' remarks at hearing.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Madison Alder in Washington at malder@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com

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