As leaders on the Senate Judiciary Committee urged both parties to work together on judicial nominations during the first confirmation hearing for federal trial judges on Wednesday, several judge nominees were considered, including a pair bound for New Jersey federal court.
Sen. Dick Durbin said the five nominees all received blue slip approvals from their home state senators, including Matthew Brookman for the Southern District of Indiana whose two home state senators are Republicans.
“[Indiana’s senators] have shown once again the process can work on a bipartisan basis and can result in outstanding nominees. Now we need more. I’m urging my Republican colleagues—we’ve received 12 blue slips so far—I think we can do better,” Durbin said, noting that Democrats returned 130 blue slips under the Trump presidency.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, who took over as the panel’s top GOP member, echoed those sentiments. During Biden’s first two years, Graham gave needed GOP support to a number of the president’s picks for the lower courts, though he voted against Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s elevation to the Supreme Court.
“Elections have consequences. Let’s work together and see if we can get some nominations moving in the spirit of what we did in the last Congress,” Graham said.
Farbiarz and Kirsch Interviewed
Michael Farbiarz and Robert Kirsch are the nominees for the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. There are currently three current and future judicial vacancies in New Jersey.
Farbiarz, corporate counsel for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, would fill a seat vacated by Judge Noel Lawrence Hillman in April 2022 when he took senior status.
Prior to joining the authority in 2016, Farbiarz was a senior fellow at New York University School of Law and served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York Office for 10 years. He made more than $300,000 in his role as corporate counsel at the authority last year, according to his financial disclosure report.
Farbiarz shared his family’s background. Farbiarz said his father was born in a displaced persons camp in Germany after World War II and moved to the U.S. at age 13, where he met Farbiarz’ mother, whose parents moved to America from what was the Ottoman Empire.
As a prosecutor, Farbiarz handled a number of notable cases, including the prosecution of 10 Russian sleeper agents living in the U.S accused of spying and several Somali pirates who hijacked an American container ship in 2009.
“In those cases, and in all cases I prosecuted, I hope I brought to them the same approach… That is to seek justice and not victory, to pursue the guilty but to protect the innocent at the same time, and to see oneself not as using the law but so much as a servant of the law. I think that sensibility held me in good stead throughout all of those different kinds of cases,” Farbiarz said.
The other New Jersey nominee, Kirsch, has served as a judge in Union County Superior Court since 2010 and was an assistant U.S. attorney in New Jersey before that. As a judge, Kirsch oversaw the 70 trials, including the high-profile murder trial of the internet celebrity “Kai the Hitchhiker.”
As the sole judge in Union County handling juvenile matters at one point during his time on the bench, Kirsch said he was inspired to initiate a juvenile reentry program that was presented at every state youth detention facility.
“[Juvenile matters] might be the most challenging, difficult assignment that a state court judge has to handle, because you’re dealing with children,” he said. “Some children who commit rather serious offenses, but they’re children in crisis, who oftentimes lacked any semblance of a support system. So while I was presiding over these matters, and visiting my kids in the juvenile detention center, it occurred to me that maybe more could be done to break this chain.”
There are a number of district court vacancies in states controlled by two Republican senators that have long been without nominees, where progressive groups and court watchers are anxious to see movement. For example, there are five vacancies without nominees in Texas district courts, one of which has gone unfilled for nearly two years.
Brookman, of Indiana, received few questions at Wednesday’s hearing. Brookman has served as a federal magistrate judge in the Southern District of Indiana since 2016, and before joining the bench was an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Indiana.
“At a time when criminal justice, drug use and violent crime are a primary concern in my state, Hoosiers will be comforted knowing they have an experienced and fair judge on the bench,” said Indiana Sen. Todd Young in introducing Brookman.
If confirmed, Brookman would be one of only a few district court judges from red or purple states tapped by Biden to join the bench.
His first red state pick was Judge Stephen Henley Locher for the Southern District of Iowa, who was confirmed by a voice vote in July. A White House spokesperson told Bloomberg Law recently that another nominee from a purple state, William Pocan, won’t be renominated to the Eastern District of Wisconsin, after the state’s GOP senator Ron Johnson withdrew his support for Pocan.