Virginia’s two U.S. senators have recommended two candidates for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.
In a Nov. 4 letter to President Joe Biden, Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine recommended U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Hanes and Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa O’Boyle for the vacancy.
“Both would serve with great distinction and have our highest recommendation,” the senators wrote. “Ultimately, we believe either of these individuals would win confirmation from the Senate and serve capably on the bench.”
Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor who tracks the judicial nomination process, said the candidates are “experienced and well qualified.”
Hanes began serving as a federal magistrate judge in the Eastern District in 2020. Previously, she served in private practice with Consumer Litigation Associates for five years in Richmond and Newport News. From 2009 through 2016, Hanes served in the office of the federal public defender in Richmond.
Prior to her legal career, Hanes worked in New York in corporate finance and served as an AmeriCorp VISTA volunteer in West Virginia, where she helped establish and run a nonprofit that provided services to abused children and crime victims.
Tobias said Hanes clerked for Judge Joseph Goodwin in the Southern District of West Virginia and Judge Robert Bruce King on the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
He added that Hanes’ experience satisfies diversity qualifications that the Biden administration has looked for in judicial appointees.
“The White House has expressed a strong preference for and nominated many candidates who are diverse in terms of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ideology and experience,” Tobias said. “It has emphasized experience, particularly in federal public defender offices and representing consumers, each of which Hanes has done.”
Most of Hanes’ practice has been conducted in Richmond, which, Tobias said, “members of the bar prefer because candidates appreciate and are knowledgeable about local practices and local legal culture.”
O’Boyle has served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District since 2007, where she currently serves as the criminal chief of the Norfolk Division.
In recommending O’Boyle, Warner and Kaine highlighted several high profile cases she prosecuted, including the public corruption cases against Norfolk Vice Mayor Anthony Burfoot and Norfolk Police Detective Robert Glenn Ford. O’Boyle also prosecuted a 2013 bank fraud case against former Bank of the Commonwealth President Edward Woodward.
“This experience gives us confidence that Ms. O’Boyle would make an excellent nominee for the seat,” Warner and Kaine wrote.
Tobias said O’Boyle “has prosecuted a number of high profile cases” and is well qualified to serve on the bench.
The vacancy was created when Judge John A. Gibney Jr. assumed senior status on Nov. 1. Gibney announced his intention to take senior status during the summer after over a decade on the federal bench.
The vacancy is one of two pending in the Eastern District. Judge Raymond Alvin Jackson will be taking senior status on Nov. 26, creating the fourth vacancy on the Eastern District bench to be filled by Biden.
Additionally, Judge James Parker Jones took senior status on Aug. 30, creating a vacancy on the Western District bench. Warner and Kaine recommended federal public defender Juval Scott and U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Ballou to Biden on Aug. 9 to fill Jones’ seat. As of Nov. 17, no official nominee for the vacancy has been named by Biden.