Officials seek applicants for District Court Vacancies created by judges taking senior status

By Paul Janczewski

Legal News

Applications are being taken to fill two vacancies on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

Last week, in a joint release to the media, Michigan Democratic Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow said an advisory committee will consider nominees and evaluate candidates for the open seats.

Interested persons should contact Senator Levin's Detroit office to obtain an application. He is located in Room 1860, McNamara Building, 477 Michigan Avenue, Detroit, 48226-2576, or by calling (313) 226-6020. All applications are due by Monday, Jan. 24, 2011.

The Advisory Committee will be chaired by Detroit attorney Eugene Driker, of the law firm of Barris, Sott, Denn and Driker.

Driker said this is actually a reconvening of the advisory committee he chaired several years ago to select candidates for U.S. Attorney, U.S. Marshal, and two federal district court judges. Driker said the application is eight or nine pages long and asks candidates about their academic background, law and federal court experiences, community involvement, legal organizations, pro bono work, ability to write clearly, and judicial temperament, among other matters.

The committee will establish procedures for the review and present Levin and Stabenow its assessment of the candidates' qualifications. Driker said the applications would be narrowed down to those selected for an interview. Driker said no time frame for filling the seats on the U.S. District Court bench has been established, but added this committee will follow a process that in the past "has produced high quality candidates."

Gerald E. Rosen, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District, said the vacancies were created when two judges on the bench recently took senior status--Arthur J. Tarnow and Bernard A. Friedman.

"Whenever a judge takes senior status, it creates a vacancy," said Rosen, chief judge since January 2009.

Both have claimed that designation in the last few years, he said. Friedman has been on senior status since 2008.

Earlier this month, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge David Allen withdrew his name from consideration for nomination on the federal bench after being recommended two years ago by Levin and Stabenow.

According to published media reports, Allen expressed his frustration in a letter to Levin and Stabenow with the two-year wait after being nominated by President Barack Obama, saying the system for nomination has been "broken," and said he envisioned additional delays in January when a "much changed" Congress is seated.

Media reports have said Republicans have blocked votes on many of President Obama's judicial nominations in the past two years, leaving many vacancies on the federal bench, appeals court and district court levels.

Rosen, who was nominated by President George Bush in November 1989, and invested four months later, said judges on senior status are entitled to take on a lesser number of cases and get additional latitude in case management. To achieve senior status, a judge must be at least 65 years old with at least 10 years of service on the bench, but their age and years of service must add up to 80.

Friedman was appointed to the bench in 1988 by President Ronald Reagan. He formerly was a judge in the 48th District Court of Michigan for six years. His background also includes serving as a city attorney for several municipalities, as well as being involved in civil litigation, criminal prosecutions, arbitration, negotiations and appearances before administrative agencies.

"He was a leader of the court," Rosen said of Friedman, who served as chief judge for four years. "He was a wonderful judge recognized by all, both his colleagues and the bar, for his civility, his concern and his impartiality and fairness to all the litigants that appeared before him."

Tarnow, 67, of Detroit, was nominated for appointment in September 1997 by President Bill Clinton, and confirmed by the Senate eight months later. He received his undergraduate degree from Wayne State University in 1963 and his law degree from Wayne State University Law School two years later. He was a law clerk to several Michigan Court of Appeals judges, a chief deputy defender of appeals for Legal Aid and Defender Association Inc., a partner in a law firm, and an adjunct professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.

"Judge Tarnow is known as a very thoughtful, intelligent jurist with a keen sense of humor and a very dry wit," Rosen said.

Both Friedman and Tarnow are still hearing their entire dockets, he said.

"They have both brought a lot to the court over the years," Rosen said.

Rosen said the federal court of the Eastern District is the eighth largest federal court in the country, with 13 active judges and nine judges on senior status for 22 judges in all.

Besides Detroit, judges also preside in courts in Ann Arbor, Flint, Bay City and Port Huron. Rosen said he and other judges are not involved in the appointment process, which is left to the committee, the Senators and President Obama.

"But I'm sure they'll find very qualified candidates, both by virtue of their temperament, intellect and character, and I'm sure Senator Levin, Senator Stabenow and President Obama will make a very educated decision."

Rosen said he foresees no additional vacancies on the court in the next year.

Published: Wed, Dec 22, 2010