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  • WisBar News
    November 21, 2014

    U.S. Senate Confirms Pamela Pepper to Eastern District of Wisconsin’s Federal Bench, Judge has a New Role

    Joe Forward

    Nov. 21, 2014 – By a 95-0 vote, the U.S. Senate yesterday confirmed Pamela Pepper as the newest judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Pepper will leave her post as chief judge of the Eastern District’s U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

    A member of the State Bar of Wisconsin, Judge Pepper is the first female to attain that position. She’ll begin after a formal investiture, which includes an oath of office. Pepper fills the vacancy left by Judge Charles Clevert Jr., who took senior status in 2012.

    The U.S. Senators from Wisconsin, Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson, both supported Judge Pepper’s confirmation and appeared to testify at her confirmation hearing in June. Yesterday, both Senators applauded Pepper’s confirmation by the full Senate.

    “Pamela Pepper has had a distinguished career as a judge, federal prosecutor, public defender and attorney in private practice. She will be an outstanding U.S. Federal District Judge for the Eastern District of Wisconsin,” Baldwin said in a press release.

    Johnson said Pepper’s “intellectual curiosity, compassion and faithful adherence to the rule of law will serve the nation and the people of Wisconsin’s eastern district well.”

    President Barack Obama nominated Pepper in May. She was one of three candidates chosen by Wisconsin’s bipartisan Federal Nominating Commission, which makes recommendations to U.S. senators to fill vacancies on the federal bench. Ultimately, Johnson and Baldwin recognized Pepper as the top person for the post.

    Pepper graduated from Cornell Law School in 1989 after obtaining an undergraduate degree from Northwestern University. She was a law clerk for Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Frank J. Johnson Jr., then worked as a federal prosecutor in Milwaukee and Chicago from 1990 to 1997. She was also a solo criminal defense practitioner for eight years before her appointment to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin in 2004. In 2010, Pepper became chief judge of the bankruptcy court.

    Former president of the Milwaukee Bar Association, Judge Pepper served as chair of the State Bar of Wisconsin’s 52-member Board of Governors in 2004. Madison attorney Michelle Behnke was president of the State Bar of Wisconsin during Pepper’s tenure.

    “I am thrilled about Pam Pepper’s confirmation,” said Behnke, co-chair of the Federal Nominating Commission convened in 2013 to select candidates for the Eastern District vacancy. “Pam is bright, capable, and hardworking. She is by definition what a judge should be. I know that she will serve the people of Wisconsin extremely well.”

    Paul Swanson, current chair of the State Bar’s Board of Governors, is a bankruptcy lawyer who is familiar with Judge Pepper's work as a judge on the bankruptcy court.

    “She will bring not only her intellect to the job, but the grace and charm that is her hallmark,” said Swanson, also co-chair of the Federal Nominating Commission.

    “The Senators should be commended for their astute recommendation to the White House as well as their efforts in achieving full Senate confirmation.”

    William T. Curran, Richard Esenberg, Frederic Fleishauer, and Barbara Zack Quindel also served on the nominating commission, which has been busy in recent years.

    In May, the U.S. Senate confirmed Madison attorney James D. Peterson to fill a vacant judicial seat on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. Peterson filled the vacancy left by the retirement and subsequent passing of Judge John Shabaz.

    Peterson was a member of Godfrey & Kahn’s litigation and intellectual property practice groups. Johnson and Baldwin both supported Peterson’s nomination. Thus, Pepper’s confirmation was the second successful bipartisan nomination by these Senators.

    “I appreciate all the hard work of those serving on our federal nominating commission, and I thank my colleague, Sen. Baldwin, for working with me on creating a successful bipartisan process that has now resulted in two new, well-qualified jurists in Wisconsin,” said Johnson in a press release.

    “I am proud to have worked with Senator Johnson to put in place a nonpartisan Federal Nominating Commission and a process for moving judicial nominations forward because the people of Wisconsin deserve to have experienced and qualified judges working for them,” Baldwin said.

    The State Bar of Wisconsin provides administrative support to Wisconsin’s Federal Nominating Commission, which is currently reviewing applications to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. The candidate will replace Judge Terrance Evans, who took senior status in 2010 and passed away in 2011.

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