UC Berkeley alumnus nominated for federal judgeship

A UC Berkeley School of Law alumnus was nominated by President Barack Obama for a federal judgeship in Los Angeles on July 20, making him the first openly gay nominee to the federal court in California and Obama’s fourth openly gay nominee to federal court in his term.

Obama nominated Michael Fitzgerald, an attorney and campus law school alum, to the U.S. District Court, Central District of California, after an interview and vetting process by a bipartisan advisory committee. If confirmed, Fitzgerald would replace senior judge Howard Matz.

“His impressive career stands as a testament to his formidable intellect and integrity,” Obama said in a statement. “I am confident he will serve the people of California with distinction on the District Court bench.”

After graduating from the law school in 1985, Fitzgerald served as a federal prosecutor in Los Angeles from 1988 to 1991. Since 1998 he has been a named partner at the law firm Corbin, Fitzgerald & Athey LLP, where he handles civil and criminal litigation in both federal and state courts.

Fitzgerald was recommended to Obama by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who said in a statement his “sharp intellect, record of public service and broad legal experience will be a real asset on the federal bench.”

According to Zachary Coile, communications director for Boxer, Fitzgerald will begin confirmation hearings with the Senate Judiciary Committee in the fall.
Fitzgerald said he is not able to comment on his nomination before the hearings begin.

Nora Manella, an associate justice on the California Court of Appeal, 2nd Appellate District, supervised Fitzgerald’s appellate work while he was federal prosecutor and said Fitzgerald has “the patience to make an excellent federal judge.”

“I was able to see his written work, evaluate his skills as a lawyer and get to know him personally through discussions,” she said. “He is very persistent.”

While Fitzgerald’s nomination has the possibility of being blocked, a congressional source familiar with the process said Fitzgerald’s confirmation should not be an issue due to his broad legal experience.

If confirmed, Fitzgerald would be the first openly gay judge to sit on a federal bench in the state and Obama’s fourth gay nominee to the federal courts.

Two of Obama’s openly gay nominees — Paul Oetken and Alison Nathan — were confirmed earlier this month. However, the nomination of Obama’s third openly gay nominee, Edward DuMont, has been stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Laurie Levenson, a professor of law at Loyola Law School, who has known Fitzgerald on a professional basis since the late 1980s and also worked with him as a federal prosecutor, said she doesn’t think Fitzgerald’s sexual orientation is relevant in determining his qualifications for the judgeship.

“I think he is the best candidate, not just the best gay candidate,” she said. “He is a bit of trailblazer (and) ground-breaker … I applaud him. I applaud the public attitude to accept people with who they are. He is not going to rule on cases because he is gay. He is going to rule on cases because it’s the law.”

Amruta Trivedi covers academics and administration.