The Ninth Circuit Asks the California Supreme Court to Weigh in on Bag Checks

On August 16, 2017, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order certifying a question regarding an important wage and hour issue to the California Supreme Court: Is time spent on an employer’s premises waiting for and undergoing required exit searches of bags or packages voluntarily brought to work for purely personal convenience by employees compensable as “hours worked” under California law?

The question arose in Frlekin v. Apple, Inc., an appeal in a wage and hour class action brought against Apple, Inc., by current and former nonexempt California retail store employees. In the suit, the plaintiffs sought compensation for time that they spent waiting for and undergoing exit searches whenever they left Apple’s retail store locations, pursuant to the company’s Employee Package and Bag Searches policy. The at-issue policy, which is similar to ones in place at many other large retailers, required that employees undergo unpaid, manager-performed bag/package checks before leaving the stores—at breaks or at the end of their shifts.

In July 2015, a district court certified the case as a class action. However, in November 2015, the district court granted Apple’s motion for summary judgment and denied the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and ruled that time spent by class members waiting for and undergoing exit-related bag searches pursuant to Apple’s policy was not compensable as “hours worked” under California law because such time was neither “subject to the control” of the employer nor time during which the class members were “suffered or permitted” to work.

On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that employees are under the control of the employer while waiting for and undergoing the bag checks because they are required whenever entering or leaving the premises. Apple countered that the time is not compensable because employees are not required to bring bags to work, and may avoid the searches altogether by not bringing a bag or package to the workplace. In its order certifying the issue for the California Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit noted that Apple’s position “finds strong support” in the seminal California Supreme Court decision Morillion v. Royal Packing Co., 22 Cal. 4th 575 (2000), in which the court held that time spent by employees using employer-mandated transportation to get to a worksite was compensable, while noting that time spent on “optional free transportation” would not be compensable. However, the Ninth Circuit expressed questions about whether differences in context—i.e., employer-provided transport to and from the workplace versus searches at the worksite—rendered Morillion distinguishable.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court previously determined that similar bag checks were not compensable in Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, 135 S. Ct. 513 (2014), the California Supreme Court has not addressed the compensability of bag checks under California’s wage and hour laws, which involve a somewhat different definition of compensable work time. As the Ninth Circuit noted in its order, the consequences of any interpretation of California law with respect to bag searches “will have significant legal, economic, and practical consequences for employers and employees” throughout California and will materially affect the outcome of many pending lawsuits. For the time being, employers should consult with qualified employment counsel to mitigate risk while we wait for the California Supreme Court to weigh in.

This post was written by Philippe A. Lebel of  Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP.
Read more on litigation of wage and hour issues at the National Law Review.

High Time for Massachusetts Employers to Consider a Marijuana Use Policy

All employers should maintain an employee handbook or similar policy statement that clearly sets out the employer’s position on drug and alcohol use. While federal laws relating to marijuana possession and use have not changed, many states have revised their statutes to legalize, decriminalize, or otherwise permit marijuana possession and use. This has caused some confusion for employers, who must balance the conflicting state and federal rules.

Over thirty states have enacted legislation allowing marijuana use in certain situations. In some states (California and Massachusetts, for example), medical and recreational use is permitted.  In many other states, such as Connecticut and Rhode Island, only medical use is permitted.  A number of states have also adopted legislation that specifically protects marijuana users from termination from employment based solely on a positive test for marijuana.

Massachusetts does not have such a statute. However, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently issued a ruling that greatly complicates the issue of how to deal with an employee who is using marijuana. In Barbuto vs. Advantage Sales and Marketing (July 17, 2017), the SJC ruled that an employee who had been terminated as a result of a positive marijuana test could bring a claim for handicap discrimination under the Massachusetts anti-discrimination statute.  In Barbuto, the plaintiff was an employee of the defendant, who had a valid prescription for marijuana to help in treating Crohn’s disease.  After the employee was terminated because of a positive marijuana test, she brought a claim against the employer alleging, among other counts, a failure to provide a reasonable accommodation under the Massachusetts anti-discrimination statute.  The trial court dismissed all of the employee’s claims.  On appeal, the SJC upheld the trial court’s dismissal of most of the claims, but held that the employee could bring a claim under the anti-discrimination statute for disability discrimination and a failure to accommodate.  The SJC then reversed the dismissal of that count and sent the matter back to the trial court.

The SJC was careful to point out that employers could limit or defeat such claims by showing that allowing marijuana use would cause an undue hardship on an employer’s business, such as where the permitted use would conflict with other requirements like the Federal Drug Free Workplace Act. The SJC also clearly stated that Massachusetts law does not require any employer to permit on-site marijuana use as an employee accommodation. Even with those limitations, however, the Barbuto ruling does create some landmines for employers.  Massachusetts employers should become very familiar with the marijuana laws applicable in all states in which they have employees, and should enact employment policies consistent with those laws (which may differ significantly from state to state).  In addition, employers should consider and adopt (and consistently apply) policies that address how a positive test is handled (including addressing any reasonable accommodation issues).  For now, in Massachusetts, an employer will need to show how accommodating an employee’s medically prescribed marijuana use creates an undue hardship on the employer, and employers wishing to prohibit all marijuana use will need to be able to show this.

This post was written byMark J. Tarallo of Murtha Cullina.

Read more employment law news at the National Law Review.

Share Recent Eighth Circuit Case Illustrates the Need for Newest Members of the NLRB to Be Confirmed Sooner Rather Than Later

In another example of a federal circuit court taking the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to task for stretching federal labor law past the point of recognition, the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals recently refused to enforce a NLRB order reinstating several former employees. The former employees were discharged after they posted flyers around town insinuating their employer was selling unsafe, germ-laden sandwiches as part of a campaign to enhance their sick leave. MikLin Enterprises, Inc. v. NLRB, No. 14-3099 (July 3, 2017).

In its decision, the Eight Circuit upbraided the NLRB for abandoning and ignoring the Supreme Court of the United States’ precedent regarding when an employee can be disciplined for “disloyalty” in the midst of a union organizing drive. The Eighth Circuit took particular issue with the NLRB’s interpretation of the seminal Supreme Court case NLRB v. Local Union No. 1229, IBEW (Jefferson Standard) and found that the NLRB’s reasoning effectively overruled Jefferson Standard.

Background

MikLin is a family business that owns and operates 10 Jimmy John’s sandwich shop franchises in the Minneapolis-St.Paul area. In 2007, several MikLin workers began an organizing campaign seeking representation by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) union.

In an attempt to garner more support for a rerun election, union supporters began a sick leave campaign in early 2011. They posted a flyer on community bulletin boards in MikLin stores with two identical images of a Jimmy John’s sandwich. Above the first image were the words, “YOUR SANDWICH MADE BY A HEALTHY JIMMY JOHN’S WORKER.” The text above the second image said, “YOUR SANDWICH MADE BY A SICK JIMMY JOHN’S WORKER.” Below the pictures, the white text asked: “CAN’T TELL THE DIFFERENCE?” The response, in red and slightly smaller, said: “THAT’S TOO BAD BECAUSE JIMMY JOHN’S WORKERS DON’T GET PAID SICK DAYS. SHOOT, WE CAN’T EVEN CALL IN SICK.” Below, in slightly smaller white text, was the warning, “WE HOPE YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM IS READY BECAUSE YOU’RE ABOUT TO TAKE THE SANDWICH TEST.” The text at the bottom of the poster asked readers to help the workers win paid sick days by going to their website.

The day before the IWW could request a rerun election, its supporters distributed a press release, letter, and the sandwich poster to more than 100 media contacts. The press release highlighted discussed the employees’ need for sick leave and ended with a threat: If MikLin would not talk with the IWW about their demands for paid sick leave, they would proceed with “dramatic action” by “plastering the city with thousands of Sick Day posters.”

Days later, IWW supporters implemented their threat to plaster the city with posters. However, in the new version of the poster, rather than asking for support of the employees’ request for paid sick leave, the public posters listed the MikLin CEO’s personal telephone number and instructed customers to call him to “LET HIM KNOW YOU WANT HEALTHY WORKERS MAKING YOUR SANDWICH!” Two days later, MikLin fired six employees who coordinated the attack and issued written warnings to three others who assisted in it.

The NLRB Proceedings

The Board’s administrative law judge (ALJ) determined that MikLin violated the National Labor Relations Act by discharging the employees. Citing prior Board decisions, the ALJ ruled that the NLRA “protects employee communications to the public that are part of and related to an ongoing labor dispute” unless they are “so disloyal, reckless, or maliciously untrue as to lose the Act’s protections.” The ALJ found that to lose the act’s protections “an employee’s public criticism . . . must evidence ‘a malicious motive’ or be made with knowledge of the statements’ falsity or with reckless disregard for their truth or falsity.”

The ALJ found that the posters in question were not maliciously untrue. “While ‘it is not literally true that employees could not call in sick,’ the ALJ observed, employees ‘are subject to discipline if they call in sick without finding a replacement,’” and thus—according to the ALJ—the assertion that employees were required to work when sick was protected hyperbole. Though MikLin had a strong track record with the health department, the ALJ found that “it is at least arguable that [MikLin’s] sick leave policy subjects the public to an increased risk of food borne disease.”

A divided panel of the Board affirmed the ALJ’s findings and conclusions. The majority found “that neither the posters nor the press release were shown to be so disloyal, reckless, or maliciously untrue as to lose the Act’s protection.” The public communications “were clearly related to the ongoing labor dispute concerning the employees’ desire for paid sick leave. . . . Indeed, any person viewing the posters and press release would reasonably understand that the motive for the communications was to garner support for the campaign to improve the employees’ terms and conditions of employment by obtaining paid sick leave rather than to disparage [MikLin] or its product.”

MikLin appealed the Board’s order reinstating the employees to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. On appeal, a three-judge panel upheld the NLRB’s ruling, but upon rehearing en banc by the full court, the ruling was overturned.

The Eighth Circuit’s Analysis

In its full court hearing, the Eighth Circuit took the NLRB to task for significantly misreading the Supreme Court’s decision in Jefferson Standard. First, the majority focused on the Board’s interpretation that no act of employee disparagement is unprotected disloyalty unless it is “maliciously motivated to harm the employer.” They found this additional requirement impermissibly overruled Jefferson Standard.

Second the court balked at the Board’s definition of “malicious motive.” The Board excluded from Jefferson Standard’s interpretation of Section 10(c) of the NLRA all employee disparagement that is part of or directly related to an ongoing labor dispute as improper. In other words, the Board refused to treat as “disloyal” any public communication intended to advance employees’ aims in a labor dispute, regardless of the manner in which, and the extent to which, it harms the employer.

The court rejected that idea:

By requiring an employer to show that employees had a subjective intent to harm, and burdening that requirement with an overly restrictive need to show “malicious motive,” the Board has effectively removed from the Jefferson Standard inquiry the central Section 10(c) issue as defined by the Supreme Court — whether the means used reflect indefensible employee disloyalty. This is an error of law.

Rather than employee motive, the Eighth Circuit explained that critical question in the Jefferson Standard disloyalty inquiry is whether the employees’ public communications reasonably targeted the employer’s labor practices or indefensibly disparaged the quality of the employer’s products or services. The Eight Circuit found that when employees convince customers not to patronize an employer because its labor practices are unfair, subsequent settlement of the labor dispute brings the customers back—to the benefit of both employer and employee. By contrast, the court found, sharply disparaging the employer’s products or services as unsafe, unhealthy, or of shoddy quality causes harm that outlasts the labor dispute to the detriment of employees, as well as the employer.

Key Takeaways

While the Eighth Circuit’s decision is heartening, its effect will be limited for the time being as the NLRB is under no obligation to recognize the court’s interpretation of federal labor law. Further, the decision highlights the cost of fighting incorrect NLRB decisions for employers; MikLin had to appeal the ALJ’s decision to the NLRB, then appeal that decision to the Eighth Circuit, and then request a rehearing after the three-judge panel wrongly decided the appeal. Many employers simply do not have the resources to see a fight like this through to the end.

With President Trump’s selections to the NLRB being vetted by Congress this week, we can hope for a light at the end of this long, dark tunnel for employers.

This post was written byMatthew J. Kelley of Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.
Go to the National Law Review for more legal analysis.

Stanford University’s Loss in Interferences of Three Patents Covering Testing Methods for Fetal Aneuploidies for Lack of Written Description is Vacated

The Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University v. The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Jun. 27, 2017, Before O’Malley, Reyna, and Chen.

Takeaway:

  • The Federal Circuit declined to reconsider its decision in Biogen MA, Inc. v. Japanese Found. for Cancer Research, 785 F.3d 648 (Fed. Cir. 2015) that parties cannot bring civil actions in district court under 35 U.S.C. § 146 for review of the PTAB’s decisions in interferences declared on or after September 16, 2012.

  • In evaluating whether a claim satisfies the written description requirement, the fact finder may consider what a person of ordinary skill in the art would understand from a description of a product or technique in the specification as of the filing date of the application. Post-filing date publications may only be used as evidence of the state of the art existing on the filing date.

Procedural Posture:

Stanford University (“Stanford”) appealed from orders of the PTAB in three interference proceedings between Stanford and Chinese University of Hong Kong (“CUHK”), which found the claims of three Stanford patents directed to testing methods for fetal aneuploidies unpatenable for lack of written description.  The appeal was initially filed pursuant to 35 U.S.C. § 146 in the District Court for the Northern District of California, and the parties engaged in discovery there.  On May 7, 2015, the Federal Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision in Biogen MA, Inc. v. Japanese Found. for Cancer Research, 785 F.3d 648 (Fed. Cir. 2015), holding that under the AIA, for interferences declared after September 15, 2012, an appeal from an interference decision has to be made to the Federal Circuit.  The parties then jointly requested transfer from the Northern District of California to the Federal Circuit, which was granted.  The Federal Circuit considered the case on the merits, vacated and remanded.

Interference:

  • The Federal Circuit declined to revisit its holding in Biogen, noting that although Stanford briefed this issue in its opening brief, Stanford did not raise this issue again in its reply brief or in oral argument. Rehearing en banc and a petition for certiorari in the Biogen case were denied; thus, in the Federal Circuit’s view, “Biogen is the law in this circuit and we, as a panel, will not revisit it.”

  • The Federal Circuit declined to consider the record developed during discovery in the district court. Because the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to review the interference decisions, the Federal Circuit agreed with CUHK’s position that the activities in the district court were a nullity and should not be considered by the Federal Circuit or remanded to the Board for consideration.

Written Description:

  • Sufficiency of written description is evaluated from the perspective of one of ordinary skill in the art at the time of the invention, “by examining the record evidence as to pre-filing date art-related facts.” The post-filing date publications may be considered to the extent they “contain art-related facts … existing on the filing date,” but may not be used as a source for the knowledge about art-related facts that did not exist on the filing date.

  • The Board awarded patents in interferences to CUHK because it found that the Stanford patents’ specification disclosed “targeted” rather than “random” sequencing, and the specification would not have indicated to one of ordinary skill in the art that Stanford’s inventor Dr. Quake was in possession of the claimed random massively parallel sequencing (“MPS”) method. The Federal Circuit held that the PTAB erred because it did not adequately explain why the Illumina platform for sequencing DNA, referenced and described in Stanford’s original application, did not provide sufficient written description support for random sequencing.  The Board improperly relied on the testimony of CUHK’s expert, who only described that an earlier sequencing technique, Roche 454, was used for targeted sequencing, and “failed to cite to the Roche 454 references with specificity.”  The Board also erred in finding that, because Stanford’s application did not preclude targeted MPS sequencing, it did not disclose to a person of ordinary skill in the art random MPS sequencing.

This post was written by Georg C. Reitboeck  Ksenia Takhistova Christopher Gresalfi of Andrews Kurth Kenyon.

California Supreme Court Rules Homeowners Forfeited Right to Challenge Coastal Development Permit Conditions By Undertaking Work Authorized By Permit

The California Supreme Court ruled on Thursday in Lynch v. California Coastal Commission that two homeowners who obtained a coastal development permit (CDP) from the California Coastal Commission (Commission) to construct a new seawall forfeited their right to challenge mitigation conditions attached to the permit because they accepted the benefits conferred by the permit by undertaking the work authorized.

Key procedural takeaway: With exceptions noted below, if a permit applicant accepts a proffered CDP and acts on that permit – even while expressly reserving its asserted right to challenge the legality of the permit – the permittee has forfeited its right to subsequently challenge the permit in court.

Key takeaway on the merits of the claim: None. Since the Supreme Court ruled that the permittees had forfeited their right to challenge the CDP by undertaking the authorized construction, it found no need to address the underlying merits of the permittee’s challenge. In particular, the Court left unaddressed the contention that the mitigation conditions were unconstitutional, including the condition that limited the life of the seawall to 20 years unless reauthorized at the end of the term.

Homeowners Challenge CDP Conditions

The homeowners, Barbara Lynch and Thomas Frick, sought a CDP (more precisely, an amendment to the 1989 CDP authorizing construction of the existing seawall) to authorize demolition of an existing seawall, construction of a replacement seawall and rebuilding of a lower stairway providing access from the bluff to the beach. The Commission granted the CDP allowing seawall demolition and reconstruction but imposed several permit conditions.

The homeowners filed an administrative writ petition in superior court challenging the following three permit conditions: (1) a prohibition on reconstruction of the lower stairway; (2) a 20-year expiration period on the seawall permit and a prohibition on relying on the seawall as a source of geologic stability or protection for future blufftop redevelopment; and (3) a requirement that prior to expiration of the 20-year period, the homeowners must apply for a new permit to remove the seawall, change its size or configuration, or extend the authorization period.

Around the same time, the homeowners recorded deed restrictions on their property stating that the CDP conditions were covenants, conditions and restrictions on the use and enjoyment of their properties, satisfied all other permits conditions, obtained the permit and demolished and reconstructed the seawall.

Lower Court Rulings

The trial court issued a writ directing the Commission to remove the three challenged conditions from the CDP and found that the conditions prohibiting reconstruction of the stairway and imposing a 20-year expiration period were not valid. The appellate court reversed the trial court, determining that plaintiffs had waived their claims and, in any event, both conditions were valid.

California Supreme Court Ruling

Though the Court affirmed the appellate court’s reversal of the trial court decision, it did so on a different basis. The appellate court’s ruling rested on the concept of waiver while the Court found that the homeowners forfeited their right to challenge by accepting the benefits of the permit. The Court explained that forfeiture differs from waiver in that forfeiture results from a failure to invoke a right and waiver denotes an express relinquishment of a known right. The Court identified the crucial point as being that the homeowners “went forward with construction before obtaining a judicial determination of their objections.” By accepting the benefits of the CDP and undertaking the permitted project, the homeowners effectively forfeited the right to maintain their otherwise timely objections.

The Court rejected the homeowners’ argument that because the challenged permit conditions did not affect the design or construction of the seawall, it was possible to challenge the conditions while the project was being built. Such a rule, the Court said, would effectively expand the Mitigation Fee Act (Gov. Code, §§ 66000 et seq.), which establishes a procedure for developers to proceed with a project and still protest the imposition of “fees, dedications, reservations, or other exactions.” Not included in this list, however, are land use restrictions. The Court stated that only the Legislature has the power to declare that permits may be accepted and acted upon, even while the underlying land use restrictions imposed as a condition of that permit are being challenged in court.

The Court did note that there are potential remedies available to permit applicants. Responding to the homeowners’ protest that imposing a forfeiture under the circumstances present here – where the seawall was in danger of collapsing into the sea thus allowing no time to delay repairs until resolution of the litigation – the Court offered two solutions. First, property owners can address imminent dangers by obtaining an emergency permit from the Commission under Public Resources Code section 30624. Second, property owners can try to reach an agreement with the permitting agency to allow construction to proceed while a challenge to permit conditions is resolved in court, which the court noted could prevent a finding of equitable forfeiture. Neither remedy appears to have been pursued in this case.

Insights

Developers and property owners should view the unanimous Court’s holding as applying beyond CDPs and should thus proceed with extreme caution when faced with objectionable permit conditions. By refusing to extend the Mitigation Fee Act’s “pay and protest” option beyond fees and exactions, this decision gives permitting agencies leverage to impose potentially controversial permit conditions, knowing that permit applicants are often constrained in terms of time and money when choosing between moving forward with objectionable permit conditions or going to court. Legislative action on this issue could provide some relief, but may not be likely for the foreseeable future.

This post was written by Courtney A. Davis and James T. Burroughs  Allen Matkins Leck Gamble Mallory & Natsis LLP.

Litigating Religious Land Use Cases, Second Edition

This second edition of Litigating Religious Land Use Cases is a must have resource for religious entities and practitioners alike. It provides practical advice intended to afford sound instruction for religious entities and lawyers representing them to navigate the challenges and uncertainties surrounding a religious land use claim.

Litigating Religious Land Use Cases, Second Edition is a thorough, detailed treatise that explains how to manage complex religious land use cases book in a manner that is easily understood. Although the subject-matter is complex, the author, an authority on land use issues, took great care to include practical case studies in the book that will assist anyone dealing with religious land use issues or practicing in this area of the law.

This edition includes:
• Updates in case law RLUIPA claims through March 1, 2016.
• An analysis of claims that can be raised in addition to religious land use claims.
• Text of the RLUIPA statute and attorney fee statute.
• Charts every single RLUIPA land use case decided:
o Breaking down the elements, whether a claim was justiciable or not.
o The success of the claims.
• Leading law review articles covering RLUIPA—some of which predate the statute

 

To purchase, please click here.

Trump Continues Focus on State Prosecutorial Experience in United States Attorney Nominations

On June 29, 2017, President Donald Trump made his second group of nominations of prospective United States Attorneys. With the eight lawyers he nominated earlier in June, this group brings the current number of Trump’s United States Attorney nominations to seventeen – around 20% of the total number of positions. The nine lawyers he nominated last week are:

  • Kurt Alme, the President and General Counsel of the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch Foundation, to be the United States Attorney for the District of Montana.

  • Donald Q. Cochran, a Professor of Law at Belmont University College of Law, to be the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee.

  • Russell M. Coleman, a member of the Frost Brown Todd law firm, to be the United States Attorney for the Western District of Kentucky.

  • Bart M. Davis, the Majority Leader in the Idaho State Senate since 2002, to be the United States Attorney for the District of Idaho.

  • Halsey B. Frank, an Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Maine, to be the United States Attorney for the District of Maine.

  • J. Cody Hiland, the District Attorney in Arkansas’s 20th Judicial District, to be the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

  • D. Michael Hurst, Jr., the director of the Mississippi Justice Institute and General Counsel for the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, to be the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi.

  • William C. Lamar, an Assistant United States Attorney in the Northern District of Mississippi, to be the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Mississippi.

  • R. Trent Shores, an Assistant United States Attorney in the Northern District of Oklahoma, to be the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma.

So far, thirteen of Trump’s seventeen nominees have come from states with two Republican Senators where the “blue slips” approving Presidential nominations are likely easier to come by. Thirteen of Trump’s nominees are also from small or medium districts as DOJ categorizes them. Small and medium districts are those with fewer personnel resources (especially given the DOJ hiring freeze currently in effect), so adding Presidentially-appointed United States Attorneys to these districts will free up the acting United States Attorneys (career prosecutors who were already in the office) to return to prosecuting cases and other matters – no small addition in offices that may only contain twenty or thirty lawyers.

This batch of Trump nominees is very similar to his initial group, as well as similar to the Obama nominees as a whole:

  • Trump’s first batch of nominees had around 26 years of legal experience on average. Reverting to the mean, Trump’s seventeen nominees as a whole average around 23 years of legal experience – the same as the average Obama nominee.

  • Sixteen of the seventeen Trump nominees have prior state or federal prosecutorial experience (everyone but Idaho’s Bart Davis), compared with the more than 80% of Obama nominees who had prosecutorial experience prior to nomination. Eleven of Trump’s nominees have federal prosecutorial experience, consistent with the approximately 60% of Obama nominees who served as federal prosecutors prior to nomination.

  • Two of Trump’s seventeen nominees are former Congressional staff members: Donald Coleman for current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and D. Michael Hurst, Jr., for former Representative Chip Pickering of Mississippi and for the House Judiciary Committee. This is also consistent with the Obama nominees, of which around 10% had service as staffers on the Hill. These types of relationships are thought to be helpful when issues involving DOJ are being decided by Congress.

Despite the similarities, Trump continues to emphasize state prosecutorial experience in a way that Obama did not. While less than a third of the Obama nominees had state prosecutorial experience, over half of Trump’s nominees to this point do. Furthermore, three of Trump’s nominees are elected District Attorneys; while three of Obama’s more than 100 total United States Attorney nominees had prior service as an elected District Attorney, none were serving in that capacity at the time of nomination. As noted before, studies have shown that violent crime is more often addressed by state courts than by federal courts. Trump’s continued focus on lawyers with state prosecution experience is still in keeping with his recent executive order emphasizing DOJ efforts to fight violent crime.

A couple of stray observations:

In 2015, Donald Cochran wrote a research paper for the American Journal of Trial Advocacy about how Malcolm Gladwell’s teachings in his book The Tipping Point can be helpful to lawyers during jury trials, which probably upped his “cool factor” among the law students he taught.

Shortly after Trump’s inauguration, Halsey Frank wrote an editorial in the southern Maine newspaper The Forecaster arguing in part that “President Trump is appointing some able people” – a nifty coincidence, that (or maybe an indicator he thought he might get the nomination?).

And a final note: This batch of nominees puts the pace of Trump’s United States Attorney nominations slightly ahead of Obama’s – Trump began July 2017 with seventeen nominations, while at the end of June 2009 Obama only had nine. Given that Obama finished July 2009 with nineteen total United States Attorney nominations, it is not unlikely that Trump’s nominations will continue to move along somewhat more quickly than Obama’s, at least in the short to medium term.

This post was written by Ripley Rand of  Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, PLLC.