Colm F. Connolly and Maryellen Noreika broke their public silence for the first time this week after being tapped to fill two vacancies on Delaware’s federal bench.
Speaking before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, both nominees cited present and past members of the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware as examples of what federal judges should strive to be. And while they faced a limited number of questions, each were asked to reflect on their experience arguing before the court, which they are now poised to join.
Video of the hearing was monitored by Delaware Law Weekly via a recording posted to the committee website.
Noreika, a well-known patent litigator, thanked her “friend and law partner” Jack Blumenfeld, with whom she has worked with closely since joining Morris, Nichols, Arsht & Tunnell as a summer associate in 1992. She said that in her federal court practice, Delaware’s federal judges were always prepared and give litigants the opportunity to be heard.
“I think patience is important just to give litigants the opportunity to make the best argument that’s possible for their clients,” she said.
Connolly, a partner with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, said his work as a federal prosecutor and private practice attorney was shaped by his experience clerking for Judge Walter K. Stapleton, who served on both the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and the Delaware District Court.
“Judge Stapleton, for me embodies all of the qualities I would look for in a judge,” he said in response to a question from Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, a member of the Judiciary Committee.
“Above all, he was very gracious. He was always a gentleman, and I hope, as I say, I could emulate that.
A former federal prosecutor, Connolly spoke briefly in his opening statement about his work in helping to secure the 1999 conviction of Thomas Capano, a wealthy Wilmington lawyer who was found guilty of murdering his girlfriend Anne Marie Fahey, a scheduling assistant for then-Gov. Tom Carper. Carper now serves as Delaware’s senior senator.
The Capano case, Connolly said, created a lasting personal bond with members of the Fahey family, some of whom were on hand for the hearing in Washington, D.C.
Connolly served as assistant U.S. attorney from 1992 to 1999. He then returned to private practice at Morgan Lewis before rejoining the office as U.S. attorney under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2009.
Connolly was also asked about his work handling the first federal criminal civil rights case in Delaware history.
In that case, three men had opened fire on a playground in a low-income housing project, whose residents were mostly minorities. Connolly and his team gained the cooperation of one defendant to use in the prosecution of two other men with ties to white supremacist groups, eventually obtaining guilty pleas from all three.
“It was, I think, a very good moment for the office and sent a very good message to the state,” he said.
Noreika and Connolly also received praise from Coons and Carper, who had recommended their nominations to President Donald Trump and White House Counsel Don McGahn.
Carper, who convened a judicial nominating commission to assess applicants for the positions, called both attorneys “Delaware’s gift” to the court and the nation, who embody the qualities that the state values in its judges. And Coons said the nominees were the “consensus” picks to fill the vacancies left by Judges Sue L. Robinson and Gregory M. Sleet.
“Colm Connolly and Maryellen Noreika are seasoned attorneys with impressive trial skills, deep experience in federal practice and profound respect for the law,” Coons said.
The Judiciary Committee is expected to vote in the coming weeks to send the nominations to the full Senate for a final confirmation vote.