Senior U.S. District Judge Harold L. Murphy

In this 2019 file photo, Senior U.S. District Judge Harold L. Murphy (center) puts his hand over his heart as the American flag is brought in by the Dobbins Air Force Honor Guard during a naturalization ceremony in Rome’s U.S. District Court.

The lack of a full-time judge on the federal bench for the Northern District of Georgia Rome Division is something attorneys across the region hope will be resolved when the Biden administration fills two vacancies in the district.

Longtime U.S. District Court Judge Harold L. Murphy, who was appointed to the post in 1977 by President Jimmy Carter, decided to take senior judge status in 2017 and still hears a limited number of cases in Rome.

The Biden administration is shopping around to fill two of the vacancies on the Northern District bench but both nominations are expected to be Atlanta-based judgeships.

At this point cases filed in the Rome division of the Northern District are being heard by other judges in the district on a rotating basis.

Occasionally those judges come to the courthouse in Rome, but as often as not hearings and trials are being held in Atlanta, which presents logistical issues for some attorneys who live in the extreme northern half of the district, Calhoun, LaFayette, Ringgold and Dalton for example.

Judge Steve Jones, Judge Mark Cohen and Judge William Ray II are among the judges who have made the trip to Rome to preside over some of the local cases.

Judge Ray confirmed to the Rome News-Tribune that his appointment to the bench in 2018 by President Trump was directly related to the vacancy created by Judge Murphy deciding to take senior status. The judge said he would be trying a case in Rome later this month and enjoyed making the trip to Rome from time to time.

One of the two attorneys who spoke to the Rome News on the condition of anonymity explained another issue with not having a resident judge is that juries are supposed to be picked from the surrounding area. If venue in any given case is changed to Atlanta, then the jury would be chosen from communities closer to Atlanta.

At this point it’s in the hands of our U.S. senators and the White House and nobody knows what will come of it.

Representatives of Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff aided in the collection of potential candidates for the position, however a spokesman for Sen. Ossoff said he had no idea when appointments might be forthcoming.

A committee headed by former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears and Judge Herbert Phipps, retired from the Georgia Court of Appeals, has been charged with heading the Warnock and Ossoff joint Federal Nominations Advisory Commission.

They are responsible for submitting nominees to fill the seats of now Judge Tom Thrash Jr. and Judge Amy Totenberg, both of whom have also taken senior status.

Judge Murphy, who is in his 90s, does have two full-time law clerks in the Rome Federal Building as well as his Clerk of Court Sam Johnston. Johnston often has to make the drive to Atlanta for cases which in theory should be held in Rome.

President Biden has been able to get three U.S. District Court appointments through confirmation from the Senate in this first five months of his presidency.

Julien Xavier Neals and Zahid Quraishi have been confirmed to seats on the U.S. District Court in New Jersey, while Regina Rodriguez won Senate approval for a District Court post in Colorado.

Six other Biden appointments to federal district court seats are awaiting a vote by the Senate Judiciary committee, while four others are still awaiting hearings.

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