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Senate committee considers LA judge for district court

L.A. Superior Court Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell testified Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

An L.A. Superior Court judge is absent from the bench today, but she has a good excuse: she’s been nominated for the federal court and had to answer questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell’s nomination is largely without controversy.  Several committee members, including Republican Senator Mike Lee from Utah, asked the Northridge native to explain one sentence in her writings, that “an effective advocate is one who develops empathetic ties to decision makers, be they judge or jury, and exploits them to their clients’ advantage.”

Lee asked how judges should respond "when they feel an empathetic pull?" O’Connell told the Judiciary Committee empathy shouldn’t govern judicial decision-making. "The fact that I recognize that is important because then I can disregard it."

O’Connell was also asked about the admissibility of electronic evidence. The L.A. Superior Court judge said it is an evolving area of law, with questions lingering about the purpose of introducing such evidence and the chance that it can be manipulated. She said there are cases currently pending before the California Supreme Court "which will give us guidance at the trial court level" about the admissibility of everything from red light camera photographs to Facebook and My Space pages.

O’Connell’s nomination has the support of both California Senators.

Democrat Barbara Boxer said O’Connell was inspired to a legal career after an 8th grade trip to the California Supreme Court, which prompted her to create a program to introduce more students to the law. "As a result of this experience as a youngster," Boxer said, "she created a program that brings inner city students to the Superior Court to educate them about the legal process and to spend time with judges and lawyers."

O’Connell has been nominated to one of the busiest federal benches in the country.  Every judge in California’s Central District has more than 600 cases pending, nearly 30 percent above the national average. Boxer told her colleagues: "This is one great nominee and I hope we can move her quickly because we’re so short of judges in this district."

But swift confirmation is unlikely.  If approved by the Judiciary Committee, O’Connell’s nomination probably won’t get a vote on the Senate floor before Congress adjourns for the year. Senators indicated that after the required re-nomination by the President, O’Connell and three other nominees shouldn’t have to return for a second hearing before the Judiciary Committee. 

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