President Joe Biden’s nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit defended his background as a federal public defender Wednesday amid criticism from Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee (article available here).
During Richard Federico’s confirmation hearing, several GOP senators grilled the nominee on positions he took for clients as a federal public defender in Kansas.
Federico joined the federal public defender’s office in 2017 and serves as a senior litigator in that office. He started his career on active duty in the U.S. Navy JAG Corps as a prosecutor from 2002 to 2008 and as a defense counsel for several years after that.
Federico now serves as a captain in the U.S. Navy Reserve and has been a military judge for the Navy Reserve Trial Judiciary since 2019.
Sen. Joshua Hawley, R-Missouri, focused in on a case where he said Federico was appointed to represent a man who pleaded guilty to distributing child pornography and recommended his client be sentenced to 105 months in prison, as opposed to the up to 210 to 240-month sentence recommended in the sentencing guidelines.
“You advocated for 105 [months]. Do you think that that’s a sentence that does justice to his victims?” Hawley asked.
Federico noted the ultimate sentencing decision rested with the district judge overseeing the case. The prosecution for the case also recommended a sentence below the federal guidelines.
“As a defense lawyer, of course, when I am court appointed to represent someone, it’s not a personal endorsement upon their conduct,” he said. “It is my job under our Sixth Amendment.”
“He chose to be a public defender,” Hawley said. “That’s fine, that’s his choice. But that’s not a get out of jail free card in the sense that that means we can’t ask about your choices as a lawyer. He could have recommended any number of a range of sentences.”
Sen. Peter Welch, a Vermont Democrat who used to work as a public defender, thanked Federico for doing a job he said it often unpopular.
If confirmed, Federico would be the second judge President Biden appointed to the Tenth Circuit.