Two nominees for the District of Columbia Superior Court, Sherry Trafford and Steven Wellner, faced no opposition during their Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday.
Trafford is a staff attorney in the mental health division of the Public Defender Service. She said she would bring experience handling cases in nearly every branch of Superior Court and working with clients living in a variety of circumstances, from shelters and hospitals to group homes.
“I have a very broad knowledge of what it’s like for people living in this city,” she said. Coming from the mental health division, Trafford said she’s also comfortable with the role of experts in litigation, adding that she’s “not intimidated” by them.
Wellner has served as a local administrative law judge since 2006 and is the principal administrative law judge for unemployment insurance appeals. He previously was a partner at Kirkland & Ellis and managed the firm’s pro bono program.
Wellner said he was already familiar with the job of being a judge, given his current position, and was looking forward to the challenge of learning new areas of law. He spoke about his experience finding ways to improve case management, something he recognized Superior Court officials were also trying to do.
“You have to look for new and innovative ways to do things more efficiently,” he said. “We did that. I think that is directly translatable to what could be done in Superior Court, and as I said, I think they’re doing that.”
Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), who chairs the Senate subcommittee that oversees D.C. affairs, was the lone questioner during Thursday’s hearing, as is often the case for local nominees. Confirmation proceedings for nominees to the city’s local courts, which go through the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and not the Judiciary Committee, are usually less politicized than those for federal court nominees.
Both nominees spoke about the importance of making sure unrepresented parties understand court proceedings. D.C. court officials in 2012 adopted a new judicial code of conduct that gave judges more leeway to take a more “affirmative role” when pro se litigants are before them.
“It’s the judge’s responsibility to make sure that everything is explained clearly, that plain language is used—not just by the judge, but by everybody,” Wellner said. Trafford agreed, adding that she’s found litigants’ overall satisfaction with the judicial process “depends less, in fact, on the outcome than on people’s feelings about how they were treated during that process.”