WASHINGTON � Chief Judge William Wilkins, who has presided over the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals for four years, sent President Bush a letter last week announcing his plans to step down in June.

Though Wilkins, a South Carolina native who will turn 65 in March, will still hear cases as a senior judge, his quasi-retirement creates a fourth official vacancy on the 15-member bench.

The large number of vacancies during a Republican administration is particularly striking given the Fourth Circuit’s reputation as one of the most stalwart conservative courts in the nation. The circuit is the key appellate arena for the administration’s terrorism cases, largely prosecuted in the Eastern District of Virginia.

“You’d think they’d want to fill them and fill them as quickly as possible,” says Arthur Hellman, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

Though the Bush administration has tried to fill a few open seats, it has faced stiff opposition even during the Republican-controlled Congress. U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle’s nomination to the Fourth Circuit has languished since 2001, and senators have blocked Haynes’ confirmation over questions about his involvement with the Justice Department’s infamous “torture memo.” It’s unlikely the administration will fare any better under the incoming Democratic-controlled Congress.

So the question some court watchers are asking is whether future picks to the Fourth Circuit could inch this reliably conservative bench closer to the center.

“A lot of people have said this is a lost opportunity for the Bush administration, because it has been considered quite a conservative court, and they haven’t been able to confirm their nominees,” says Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law.

Legal Times


Denver-based Brownstein Hyatt & Farber has announced it will merge with Las Vegas firm Schreck Brignone effective Jan. 1, 2007.

The new firm will be called Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.

Brownstein Hyatt will have more than 170 attorneys and policy consultants in seven locations. Offices in addition to the Las Vegas location and the Denver headquarters include Albuquerque and Santa Fe, N.M.; Aspen, Colo.; Costa Mesa; and Washington, D.C.

The 25-attorney Schreck Brignone is known for its gaming practice, while Brownstein Hyatt has political, real estate, corporate and litigation practices.

Steven Farber, founding partner and president of Brownstein Hyatt, says that his firm has been doing business in Las Vegas for some time and has been looking to expand in that market for the past four or five years. Brownstein Hyatt has previously worked with Schreck Brignone on gaming-related issues.

Brownstein Hyatt has doubled its size since 2001. It opened its sixth office in May in Orange County. Farber says Brownstein Hyatt isn’t actively seeking to expand further but that the firm is always on the lookout for good merger fits.