2013-02-22 / People

Cape resident takes over as federal judge after long wait

Staff Writer
By Jack Flagler

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Cape Elizabeth resident William Kayatta has waited more than a year to take over as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit. Now, after sitting through months of election-year politics delaying his confirmation, Kayatta can finally take his new position in Boston.

The U.S. Senate voted to confirm Kayatta to the 1st Circuit by an 88-12 majority on Feb. 13. All of Maine’s senators and representatives, on both sides of the political spectrum, praised the Senate’s decision.

On the Senate floor, Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins said the appointment was “long overdue” for Kayatta, an attorney at the Pierce Atwood law firm in Portland. He was originally nominated to the 1st Circuit position in January 2012 to replace Judge Kermit Lipez of South Portland, who decided to take senior status to reduce his caseload.

“As I have long said, Bill is a brilliant lawyer and he’s extraordinarily well-qualified for the position – and I believe that the broad bipartisan support his nomination garnered today is a reflection of the Senate’s agreement. I wish Bill the very best of luck as he assumes his judgeship,” added Maine’s independent Sen. Angus King in a prepared statement.

Kayatta’s confirmation was delayed in June, when Senate Republicans decided to invoke a longstanding tradition called the “Thurmond Rule” to pause appointments of federal judiciary appointees. The idea behind the rule is to allow a new president to make appointments once he or she assumes the Oval Office should there be a transition in power.

Kayatta was, by all accounts, an uncontroversial nominee with strong bipartisan support, and his confirmation was all but assured once the appointment made it to a vote.

Carl Tobias, a professor of law at the University of Richmond in Virginia, said there was a possibility Kayatta could have taken his seat earlier if a vote was scheduled before June or if President Obama had made the nomination earlier, but ultimately, Tobias said, “It was election-year politics that did him in.”

The 12 senators who voted against Kayatta’s appointment did not publicly give a reason for their opposition. Tobias said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R- Alabama) gave the only “no” vote on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sessions did not support the appointment because Kayatta was part of an American Bar Association committee that gave a high rating to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan when Obama nominated her for the position in 2010.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit hears cases appealed from district courts in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Puerto Rico. The 1st Circuit is the smallest of the 12 regional circuits in the U.S. Kayatta will become the sixth judge on the court to take a full caseload. The 1st Circuit also includes three senior circuit judges who take reduced caseloads.

Lipez is one of those senior circuit judges. Although Lipez filed for the senior status in late 2011, he took on a full caseload through summer 2012 while the court waited on Kayatta’s appointment to ensure the small circuit didn’t fall behind.

“It’s only through his good graces that they were able to keep up,” Tobias said.

Kayatta is the first of Obama’s federal judicial nominees to receive Senate confirmation. Tobias said most of the 32 other nominations will likely pass, but the issue is scheduling floor votes. Some nominees, such as Robert Bacharach on the 10th Circuit and Richard Taranto on the Federal Circuit, have also been waiting months. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D- Vermont) said in a press release he hopes the Senate will act quickly to confirm the remaining nominees.

“President Obama has nominated qualified, mainstream lawyers, and the Senate should consider them in regular order, without unnecessary delays. That is what we had done for as long as I have served in the Senate, whether the nominations came from a Democratic or a Republican president. We should work together to restore and uphold the best traditions of the Senate,” Leahy said.

Kayatta, who has declined to speak to the media about his confirmation, has been a partner at Pierce Atwood for more than 27 years.

“While we are sorry to lose Bill Kayatta, as lawyers and citizens we are happy that the (1st) Circuit Court of Appeals is getting a first rate person who is an excellent lawyer, highly regarded for his judgment and ethics,” said Pierce Atwood Managing Partner Gloria Pinza in a media release.

Days after Kayatta was confirmed for the 1st Circuit position, Pierce Atwood announced his daughter, Katharine Kayatta, had joined the firm as an associate in its litigation group, based in Boston. Jim Matsoukas, director of marketing and business development at Pierce Atwood, said the timing of the two personnel moves was simply coincidence.

Return to top