Miami-Dade Judge's Nomination for Federal Bench Stalled

A bipartisan panel, the Florida Judicial Nominating Conference, vetted Miami-Dade Circuit Judge William Thomas and Judge Brian Davis of Jacksonville to become federal judges – but Sen. Marco Rubio has blocked their confirmations. Leigh-Ann Buchanan of the Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. Bar Association discussed the issue, while an aide for Rubio addressed it in a statement. (Published Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013)

You may remember Miami-Dade Circuit Judge William Thomas from the Joel Lebron trial, when he gave the killer a death sentence. Judge Thomas has been nominated by the president, along with Judge Brian Davis of Jacksonville, to become a federal judge.

A bipartisan panel, the Florida Judicial Nominating Conference, vetted both judges – but Sen. Marco Rubio has blocked their confirmations.

Joel Lebron, 33, was sentenced to death Thursday for his conviction in the April 2002 rape and murder of Ana Maria Angel. Miami-Dade Judge William Thomas ordered Lebron's execution as he fought back tears. Angel's boyfriend Nelson Portobanco, who survived the attack by Lebron and four other Orlando men, said he became emotional when he saw the judge crying. (Published Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013)

"So what happened in this case is both Senator Bill Nelson and Senator Rubio forwarded the names of Judge Thomas and Judge Davis to President Obama, recommending them to become federal judges, but now there's no return of the blue slip," explained Leigh-Ann Buchanan, a member of the Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. Bar Association.

In the United States Senate, senators turn in a "blue slip" signaling their approval for a confirmation process to begin. Judge Thomas is openly gay. Could that have something to do with his nomination being stalled?

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge William Thomas, Miami Beach Det. Armando Sarabia, prosecutor Reid Rubin and defense attorney Jeff Fink spoke in court as the sentencing phase of Joel Lebron's trial began Wednesday. (Published Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012)

"I can't speculate as to why there's a delay because quite frankly, no one knows," Buchanan said.

She says her organization has contacted Rubio's office numerous times, and has not received an explanation as to why judges the senator approved for nomination have been languishing without confirmation hearings.

Thomas has been waiting 300 days for his confirmation process to begin, and Davis 500 days.

An aide for Rubio sent NBC 6 a statement, saying only, "Senator Rubio takes his constitutional responsibility to review lifetime judicial appointments very seriously and is continuing to do his due diligence before moving forward."

Buchanan says there are 42 vacancies on the federal bench nationwide. Delaying nominees exacerbates delays in the court system for the public, she says, pointing out that each judge typically handles about 500 cases.

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