As the two Indiana nominees for a pair of vacancies on the federal bench begin the confirmation process, one Indiana senator is withholding his support of the candidate for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.
President Barack Obama announced Tuesday the nomination of Winfield Ong, chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Indiana, for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, and Myra Selby, former justice of the Indiana Supreme Court, to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Indiana Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly described both nominees as well-qualified candidates and urged his colleagues in the U.S. Senate to quickly consider their nominations.
Ong has spent the bulk of his career in the U.S. Attorney’s Office where he has garnered praise for prosecuting white collar crime. Selby stepped down from the bench about 15 years ago to return to private practice and continues to serve as chair of the Indiana Supreme Court’s Commission on Race and Gender Fairness.
Ong was nominated to fill the opening created when Judge Sarah Evans Barker took senior status June 30, 2014. Selby was tapped for the vacancy that occurred when Judge John Tinder retired in July 2015.
Indiana Republican Sen. Dan Coats said he would support Ong for the district court but called for the formation of an Indiana Federal Nominating Commission to consider Selby.
Coats said he is supporting Ong’s nomination because of the judicial emergency in the Southern District of Indiana.
“The Judicial Conference of the United States has declared a judicial emergency in Indiana’s Southern District and this important role needs to be filled quickly,” Coats said in a statement. “The role demands a sharp legal mind and a thoughtful, fair temperament. After carefully reviewing Winfield Ong’s record and background and meeting with him personally, I believe he is qualified for this position.”
The federal judiciary designates an emergency based on the number of case filings per judge and the length of time the vacancy has been open. The opening in the Southern District has been pending for 562 days and with a weighted filing of 658.
Coats said the process of selecting a nominee for the 7th Circuit should be turned over to a commission since the appellate court has not been declared as having a judicial emergency.
“The citizens of Indiana will be best served by a nomination process that is taken completely out of politics,” Coats said in a statement. “We still have time to establish an equitable process for the remainder of this Congress. Myra Selby’s nomination should be considered by an Indiana Federal Nominating Commission.”
Coats called for a nominating commission in May 2015, saying the process would ensure that qualified individuals are put forward as nominees. He reiterated assembling such a commission would not be unprecedented since former Republican Sens. Richard Lugar and Dan Quayle formed a similar body to recruit, interview and make recommendations for federal appointments.
Ong, an Evansville native, graduated cum laude from DePauw University and earned his law degree at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon. He was admitted to the Indiana bar in 1987.
After serving as a law clerk for Judge Gene Brooks of the Southern District of Indiana, Ong joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 1989 where he worked in the civil division until 1995. Then he became the director of program integrity for Anthem Inc. He returned to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District in 1996.
In March 2014, Ong received the prestigious Director’s Award from the Department of Justice for his work in prosecuting the massive white collar fraud case involving Tim Durham, James Cochran and Rick Snow, who were convicted of bilking more than $200 million from 5,000 victims.
“From his early experience as a law clerk to a former judge on this very court, to his years of service as a federal prosecutor working on matters ranging from employment law to organized crime, and his current role as Chief of the Criminal Division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Winfield Ong has an impressive range of experience in federal practice,” Donnelly said in a statement. “He has demonstrated the legal acumen and temperament necessary to serve Hoosiers well on the federal bench, and I hope the Senate will quickly consider his nomination.”
Selby is currently a partner at Ice Miller LLP where she handles commercial litigation. A Michigan native, she graduated from Kalamazoo College and earned her J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School in 1980.
After working for three years at the Washington, D.C., office of Seyfarth Shaw, Selby came to Indiana in 1983 and joined Ice Miller Donadio and Ryan. She served as director of Health Care Policy for Gov. Evan Bayh before being appointed to the Indiana Supreme Court in 1995. She was the first African-American and the first woman appointed to Indiana’s highest court.
She left the Supreme Court in 1999 and was selected to serve as the chair of the newly created Indiana Supreme Court’s Commission on Race and Gender Fairness. She continues to lead the commission’s efforts to study and make recommendations on increasing gender and racial fairness in the legal system.
“Myra Selby has been a trailblazer, as the first woman and first African-American to serve on the Indiana Supreme Court and the first African-American partner in a major Indianapolis law firm,” Donnelly said. “Throughout her career, she has sought to ensure fairness in our courts and among our legal services providers and related organizations. She would be a strong addition to the Seventh Circuit bench, and I urge the Senate to move quickly to consider her nomination.”