Statement of Clifford E. Haines,
Chancellor, Philadelphia Bar Association
Friday, October 3, 1997
United States Courthouse, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Good morning/afternoon, Senator Specter. Thank you for inviting me to talk with you today about the nomination of Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Frederica A. Massiah-Jackson to serve as a federal district judge here in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Before I address any specifics regarding Judge Massiah-Jacksons background and qualifications, I want first to say how very pleased the Philadelphia legal community is that the vacancies on the federal trial bench here are being addressed. Now that Judge Rendells nomination to serve on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has been confirmed, there are five vacancies on the Eastern District bench. These vacancies have imposed many hardships on those judges currently serving, on lawyers, and on litigants. We badly need quality candidates to be nominated by the President and approved promptly by the Senate.
I understand that Judge Massiah-Jacksons nomination has the support of both of Pennsylvanias senators, that her background has been investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and found to be satisfactory, and that Judge Massiah-Jackson also satisfied the American Bar Associations screening of federal court nominees.
I am not surprised about that because Judge Massiah-Jackson is exactly the kind of quality candidate we need to have nominated to sit on the Eastern District bench.
Let me tell you what we know about Judge Massiah-Jackson and her exemplary professional record. After graduating from Chestnut Hill College with a degree in political science, Judge Massiah-Jackson then enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where she earned her law degree. Upon graduation, Judge Massiah-Jackson served a full clerkship with the then Honorable, soon to be Chief Justice, of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Robert N.C. Nix, Jr.
Judge Massiah-Jackson then joined the Philadelphia law firm of Blank, Rome, Comisky and McCauley where she was involved in all aspects of civil and criminal litigation. In 1979, Judge Massiah-Jackson took a leave of absence from her practice at Blank, Rome to work for the Pennsylvania Senate in order to gain additional experience with the legislature and legislative process. On the Senate staff, she directed a special statewide Senate investigation as Chief Counsel to the special Senate Committee to Investigate Significant Business Closings, and also served as Chief Counsel to the Senate Insurance Committee. In March 1981, Judge Massiah-Jackson returned to Blank, Rome where she resumed her commercial litigation practice.
In 1983, she ran for her first term as a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge, earning a recommended rating from our Commission on Judicial Selection and Retention. She won that election and served her first eight years in the Criminal Division. In 1991, she was reassigned to the Civil Trial Division, becoming the first African-American woman to preside in the Philadelphia Common Pleas Courts Civil Division. In 1993, Judge Massiah-Jackson stood for retention election; the poll of Philadelphia lawyers regarding retention judges revealed nothing troubling about Judge Massiah-Jacksons tenure on the Common Pleas Court bench and our Bars Commission on Judicial Selection and Retention recommended that she be retained as a Common Pleas Court judge.
Maybe a better barometer of Judge Massiah-Jacksons worth is a sampling of written comments she has received from lawyers, litigants and others with whom Judge Massiah-Jackson has come into contact. In a January, 1993 letter to then administrative Judge Alex Bonavitacola, attorney Thomas F. Johnson wrote,
The judges of your court take a lot of heat, from the press, the public and the bar. Some of it is deserved. But I want you to know that we can also see superior performance when we see it. Judge Frederica A. Massiah-Jackson made the difference in this case between years of further litigation, and letting the parties get on with their lives after they were given their day in court. I wanted to let you know that we all appreciated it.
In 1990, an alternate juror wrote directly to Judge Massiah-Jackson, thanking her for the opportunity to work with her and her staff, saying
I remember being very upset upon receiving my summons to appear as a potential juror. ... I also remember being escorted to your courtroom ... and feeling apprehensive. Upon arriving in your courtroom, I thought that if I had to be selected to serve as a juror, I wanted to do so in your courtroom. There was something about you that made me feel at ease and I felt that justice would surely be served.
In addition to her positive presence on the trial bench, Judge Massiah-Jackson has also been an active, positive force in the community, particularly in areas affecting children. She frequently serves as a judge for school-based mock trial and moot court competitions, and in that capacity, has earned respect both personally and for the judicial system she represents. In 1991, Beth Farnbach, then Executive Director of Temple Universitys Law, Education & Participation project (Temple LEAP) wrote to communicate responses to Judge Massiah-Jacksons participation in a law-related education conference:
LEAP has run a lot of conferences over the years and weve had lots of wonderful speakers. But I dont think weve ever had such an overwhelming response from our guests. They thought you were superb and so did we. The written evaluations came back with words such as informative, relevant, outstanding.... These were some of my favorite written comments: Her personality is electrifying.... She was a judge who was a real person - approachable and knowledgeable....
As an ambassador for the judicial system in Philadelphia, Judge Massiah-Jackson has clearly made a positive impact. A letter to Judge Massiah-Jackson in 1991 from Sarah Lawhorne, Vice President, Secretary and General Counsel of the Pennsylvania Medical Society Liability Insurance Program, wrote:
I attended the mock trial over which you presided on Saturday.... Despite the unfortunate construction activity outdoors, I was very impressed by the program. More important, I was impressed by your willingness to devote considerable time for this activity and to provide the gentle yet strong guidance which you [gave] to the two teams. You maintained a judicial presence while encouraging students to be comfortable enough to perform to their best.
David Ridgway, then Assistant Principal at Philadelphias Overbrook High School, wrote to Judge Massiah-Jackson in 1990: Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to address the students in the Scholars program.... I know the message that you delivered ... will help our students make the right choices in life.
Clearly, Judge Massiah-Jackson is someone who cares deeply about the development of her own skills - witness her leave of absence from her prestigious civil practice at Blank, Rome in order to gain broader legal skills and experience. She is someone who takes her judicial responsibilities seriously and who by all accounts is extremely hardworking, a quality which she also engenders in her staff. She is someone who takes seriously the lawyers obligation to give back, as demonstrated by her extensive community activities.
I spoke earlier about the need for nomination and confirmation of quality candidates to fill our five Eastern District vacancies. I guess Im a little bit like the late Justice Potter Stewart and pornography - Im not sure how I would define quality in this context, but I do know it when I see it. Judge Massiah-Jackson is a compelling example of a quality nominee and precisely the kind of person we need to have on the Eastern District bench.
Thank you again for giving me an opportunity to speak on behalf of Judge Massiah-Jacksons nomination.