Judicial Waiting Game
After a statewide selection process, federal review, recommendations by both U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and former U.S. Sen. George Voinovich ’66, and introduction before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Toledo lawyer Jeffrey Helmick ’88 has been nominated as a federal district court judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.
His official nomination came on May 11, 2011, when President Obama nominated Helmick to the bench along with two other district court judge nominees.
Helmick’s nomination followed the January 2010 retirement of former Chief Judge James Carr. Helmick’s long wait for confirmation – going on two years since the beginning of the process – is a common experience for judicial nominees in today’s highly polarized political climate, according to one legal expert.
“There doesn’t seem to be anything about Mr. Helmick that would trigger a hold or explicable stoppage to his confirmation, politically or otherwise,” said Gregory Caldeira, professor of law at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, Distinguished University Professor, and the Ann and Darrell Dreher Chair in Political Communication and Policy Thinking in the Department of Political Science. “He is simply caught up in the bureaucratic machinery. He has been caught up in queuing with the slow-down of government that occurs around election time.”
Helmick could not provide comment for this article due to the ongoing nomination proceedings. However, in an interview with the Toledo Blade following his nomination, he said, “To be nominated by the President of the United States to be a federal judge is the greatest honor of my professional life, and I hope to have a hearing soon before the Senate Judiciary Committee.”
Meanwhile, Helmick is a principal in the law firm of Gamso, Helmick & Hoolahan in Toledo, Ohio. He served on the Ohio Supreme Court’s commissions on Continuing Legal Education and Professionalism, and he is a member of the U.S. Attorney’s Advisory Council for the Northern District of Ohio.
Helmick has more than 20 years of experience in the practice of law. He co-founded his current law firm in 1998 and concentrates in federal criminal defense litigation. Prior to that, Helmick was a principal in the law firm of Helmick, Jacobs & Solomon from 1996 to 1998 and Kaplan, Richardson, Rost & Helmick from 1989 to 1995. From 1988 to 1989, he worked as an associate at Marshall & Melhorn, LLC.
He has practiced in federal and state courts, having tried cases at the trial and appellate court levels. He has counseled small-business owners and large corporations in complex business and corporate cases, and he has represented defendants in capital murder and terrorism cases, while working closely with U.S. Department of Justice officials, U.S. attorneys, and federal and state authorities.
“In their totality, his experiences illustrate a skilled lawyer, an outstanding professional of the bar, and an imminently qualified nominee for the bench,” Brown stated in his August 2010 endorsement of Helmick. “In addition to having a brilliant legal mind, Jeff Helmick understands the needs and challenges facing the Northern District of Ohio – and our legal system generally. Rising costs of litigation and increasing size and scope of court dockets pose numerous challenges to any system of justice.”
Carefully vetted with bipartisan backing
Helmick’s nomination started in March 2011 with the recommendation of a bipartisan judicial selection commission convened by Sens. Brown and Voinovich. The commission, comprised of legal professionals from the southern district of the state, screened applicants for the Toledo vacancy. The commission was created with the hope that the individual who won its endorsement would move more quickly through the nomination and confirmation process.
However, getting nominees confirmed has proved to be a challenge for the current administration. According to the Constitutional Accountability Center, there are currently 39 nominees pending before the Senate, with a total of 83 vacancies in the federal judiciary.
The judicial selection commission back in Ohio worked independent of the senators’ offices, as an advisory committee. It performed its own substantial research and review of all applicants. The commission interviewed more than 15 candidates in the legal community before selecting Helmick as one of its top three nominees. Brown and Voinovich ultimately selected Helmick for their endorsement.
Other advantages of the commission include the ability to screen applicants and catch problems before the American Bar Association or White House get involved; provide a voice to varied constituencies, including nonlawyers and members of both political parties; and invite applications from individuals who might not otherwise come to the senators’ attention.
Helmick received the highest marks of approval from the commission and has widespread support from the Toledo legal community overall. The committee’s investigation showed that other lawyers thought highly of Helmick as a litigator, problem-solver, and person who cared a great deal about the community.
Professor Nancy Rogers, the Michael E. Moritz Chair in Alternative Dispute Resolution, former dean of the Moritz College of Law, and former Ohio Attorney General, chaired the commission.
“The commission believes that Jeffrey Helmick will be a superb judge. During his years of practice on both the criminal and civil sides, Mr. Helmick has shown a commitment to excellence,” Rogers said. “He treats people with respect, whether they are on the opposite or same side in litigation and regardless of their station. He has handled tough cases, and handled them with a great deal of integrity and good judgment.
“People who know him think that he has the temperament, dedication, and integrity to be a wonderful federal district judge. His dedication to his community and to the administration of justice has been shown in his volunteer work and came through strongly in his interview with the commission.”
Outside the courtroom Helmick is equally dedicated to serving the public. A supporter of pro bono service, he volunteers at the Maumee Valley Criminal Defense Lawyers Association to improve the professionalism of lawyers and access to justice for the underserved. He is past president of the Pemberville Boys Ranch, which helps troubled young men who needed a home or safer environment to reach their potential.
“He is a courtroom innovator – having worked with the courts to integrate cutting-edge technologies into courtrooms to ensure that the administration of justice is efficient, equal, fair, and open for all who seek it,” Brown said.