Trump Judicial Nominee Matthew Petersen Has NO Trial Experience – and it Shows | Levin Papantonio Rafferty - Personal Injury Law Firm

Trump Judicial Nominee Matthew Petersen Has NO Trial Experience – and it Shows

For all his failures and incompetence, Trump has been having resounding success in one area: stacking the federal courts with right-wing hacks. So far, he has nominated 68 judges who are little more than toadies to Corporate America and the oligarchy. Nearly one-third of these nominees have been confirmed – which is no small accomplishment. It is also alarming, because these are lifetime appointments. This means that Trump's corrupt, pro-corporate, anti-citizen policies can continue for decades after his term of office is over and his enablers in Congress have been voted out of office or retired. There is one silver lining to this dark cloud, however: like his so-called “science” nominees, a number of Trump's judicial nominees appear to be clueless when it comes to their field.

This kind of incompetence was on public display last Thursday evening during the confirmation hearings for D.C. district court nominee Matthew Petersen, who was unable to answer even the most basic legal questions that any first-year law school student would clearly have understood.

Petersen graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1999. His first job was with the Washington D.C. law firm of Wiley Rein LLP, a major lobbying firm where he spent 3 years as an associate attorney. In 2002, he went to work with the House Administration Committee, which among other issues, deals with contested elections. In 2005, Petersen had moved on to become Republican Chief Counsel for the Senate Rules & Administration Committee, which oversees the Federal Election Commission. In 2008, Petersen became FEC Commissioner, a position he has held ever since. He has also served as Chairman at various times during his tenure.

In light of his career path, it becomes clear why the Trump Administration would want someone with Petersen's particular experience on the Federal bench. There is no doubt that Petersen is very knowledgeable about contested elections. However, he knows next to nothing about courtroom procedure – or has forgotten it since leaving law school.

During Thursday's hearing, he was grilled by freshman GOP Senator John Neely Kennedy of Louisiana on the basics of trial procedure. Petersen acknowledged that he had never tried a case before a judge and jury. The last time he took a deposition (in other words, heard a witness give sworn testimony) was almost twenty years ago, when he was an associate with Wiley Rein, fresh out of law school. When asked how many depositions he'd taken, he struggled to remember – but guessed it was less than five.

And he's never taken a deposition by himself. Nor has he ever argued a motion in court.

Senator Kennedy went on to ask, “When's the last time you read the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure?”

Petersen's bumbling answer: “The Federal Rules of Procedure...? Uh...in my current position, I obviously don't need to stay as, um, you know, invested in those on a day-to-day basis, but I do try to keep up to speed.” He quickly added, “We do have...uh, at the Federal Election Commission, roughly 70 attorneys who work under our guidance...uh, including a large litigation division...” Petersen made a point of mentioning the he (using the royal “we”) advises the litigation team on strategy.

Senator Kennedy's next question: “When's the last time you read the Federal Rules of Evidence?”

Petersen: “All the way through...? Um...well, comprehensively, [it] would have been in law school. Uh...obviously, I have been involved in...um, when I was an associate...that was something, uh, closely abreast of, and...um...there have been some issues, dealing with evidentiary issues that w-will cause me to, um examine those periodically...”

Enough of that. Understand that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are the rules that must be followed in civil litigation – and presiding over such litigation is a federal judge's primary job. The Federal Rules of Evidence, which determine how evidence is introduced and used in court proceedings, are frequently updated and amended. Yet Petersen, who would presume to serve as a federal judge, has barely bothered to look at either for almost two decades.

In fact, Petersen's ignorance on rules and issues surrounding the gathering and presentation of evidence is laughable. When asked about the “Daubert Standard” (a basic rule that determines whether or not testimony from an expert witness can be used), Petersen replied, “I don't have that readily at my disposal.” He couldn't even clearly define motion in limine, which is made at the start of a jury trial when one or both parties want certain evidence excluded.

A video recording of this farce (which can be viewed here for those wanting a good laugh) has gone viral, getting well over one million views. Embarrassing as it is, it is not the first time such a questionable candidate has been in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee in recent weeks. Earlier this week, Trump was forced to withdraw two of his nominations: Brett Talley, who, like Petersen, has never tried a court case, and Jeff Mateer, a pseudo-religious nutcase who has called transgendered children “part of Satan's plan.”

This all raises the question of how candidates so utterly unqualified have been put forward for these jobs in the first place. It turns out that Petersen, like Talley and Mateer, is endorsed by the right-wing Federalist Society, an organization determined to reshape the U.S. judiciary in the mold of Ayn Rand – and which has Trump's ear.

This is actually good news: as long as Trump continues to make nominations based on Federalist Society recommendations, chances are those nominees will be such utter buffoons that even GOP members of Congress will not be able to give them their stamp of approval. It may not stop the Trump-GOP agenda of filling the nation's federal courts with far-right corporatists and theocrats, but it is likely to slow that agenda to a crawl – and as an added bonus, will destroy any credibility the Federalist Society may still have.

So far, Trump has managed to push through 20 of his nominees – and the GOP plans to install a total of 650 before they're finished. Good luck on that; if recent events in Alabama are any indication, a significant number of Republican lawmakers will be looking for new jobs about a year from now – and hopefully, a future Democratic Administration will have learned from the mistakes made by President Obama, who for all his accomplishments, fell down on the job when it came to nominating Federal judges.