‘Realizing His Dream’ Robert F. Rossiter, Jr. Settles into New Role as U.S. District Court Judge 8/26/16 08/26/16 11:07:15 AM
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U.S. District Court Chief Judge Laurie Smith Camp congratulates Judge Rossiter at his private swearing-in ceremony held July 1. The official investiture ceremony is to be held today at 3:00 p.m. at the Roman L. Hruska United States Courthouse.
‘Realizing His Dream’
Robert F. Rossiter, Jr. Settles into
New Role as U.S. District Court Judge
By Lorraine Boyd
The Daily Record
For Bob Rossiter, the long wait is finally over!
While he has officially been sworn in to the federal district court bench, his ceremonial investiture comes today at 3 p.m. at the Roman L. Hruska United States Courthouse on 18th Street in downtown Omaha.
Meanwhile, he’s been furnishing his office – formerly inhabited by his friend, the late Thomas Shanahan, banishing the red carpeting for a more neutral beige, and asking his colleagues lots of questions. He’s getting used to his new view of downtown and the river; he was formerly less than three blocks south at Fraser Stryker on 17th Street.
Much has been written about the new federal judge since his recommendation was submitted to President Obama by Nebraska’s U.S. Senators Mike Johanns and Deb Fischer in August 2014. Sen. Johanns has since been replaced by Sen. Ben Sasse. Obama has gone into his eighth and final year as POTUS. And U.S. District Judge Joe Bataillon has continued working pretty much full-time since he officially retired and took senior status nearly two years ago. He had even announced his intentions a year before that to give the process plenty of time to play out.
Not enough time, apparently. Rossiter was nominated by President Obama a year ago, but almost suffered the same fate as his predecessor who had to be re-nominated when the process spilled over into the presidential election in 1996 because the Senate had failed to confirm him.
And so, the Senate finally unanimously confirmed Robert F. Rossiter, Jr. on June 27, 2016. Taking no chances, he was sworn in on July 1. Today will be the icing on the cake.
A Q&A with Rossiter
We recently sat down with Judge Rossiter to get his thoughts on the job and the path he took to get there.
Q. “I understand you’ve wanted to be a judge for some time. What drew you to that aspect of the law?”
A. “I got out of law school and knew I wanted to do some kind of litigation. Working for Judge Arlen Beam, I really enjoyed that process and knew I wanted to do that – and at the federal level. Most of my cases were in federal court. When I first put in for this in 2002, I told my firm there’s only one job I’d leave the firm for, and this is that job.”
Q. “Were there lawyers in your family when you were growing up?”
A. “My dad [Robert Rossiter Sr.] was a lawyer in Ft. Wayne and eastern Pennsylvania before returning to Omaha. He mostly handled medical malpractice defense cases. My maternal grandfather was a lawyer too. And my wife, MaryBeth, is a lawyer as well.”
Rossiter followed his mother to her alma mater, Purdue University, for an undergraduate degree, but returned to Omaha and Creighton University School of Law for his law degree.
Words used to describe his father in his obituary in 2014 could just as easily be talking about the son: “Bob was a truly great attorney, with outstanding trial skills. He served each client with dedication and distinction.”
While Rossiter’s shelving still features a few bare spots (“my wife said the pictures of us and the kids I displayed at my law firm were outdated and I needed new ones for this office”), there was one frame that he made a point of explaining. It was the Indiana attorney certificate of his maternal grandfather, Paul V. Paden Sr.
On the back of the frame, a cardboard poster was added for support. It was a 12” x 16” photograph of Teddy Roosevelt, which the new judge treasures as much as the certificate.
Will there be more lawyers in the family tree? Rossiter’s daughter, Maggie, started law school at Creighton last week. Two of his other three children took the LSAT, but decided not to go to law school.
Q. “Were there any advantages – or lessons learned – from the drawn-out process of being appointed? What was the hardest part of the whole process?”
A. “The advantage was probably also the disadvantage. The lengthy process gave me an opportunity to transition all my long-term clients to a great team at Fraser Stryker. The bad part: you really didn’t know when to fully transition.
“The hardest part was probably on my wife hearing me complain about the process [laughs]. Really though, from a business standpoint the hardest part was that transitioning. As I did that, I wasn’t as busy, but my firm carried me, and for that I am most grateful.
“Not only do you wait forever, but when it does happen, you are urged to get on board as quickly as you can. It was probably only a week between the hearing and when I took the oath. You think you’re prepared, you think you’ve transitioned everything, and then you try to do all those things in a week.”
He said his “spring cleaning” included clearing out “33 years of stuff!”
Q. “You have an impressive resumé [broad-based employment and traditional labor experience and extensive federal and state employment litigation] but I didn’t see criminal work. I assume you will handle criminal cases as a judge. What are the challenges in that?”
A. “The criminal work is going to be my learning curve. Right now, I’m getting new criminal cases and Joe [Bataillon] is not taking any new criminal cases. His current criminal cases still pending will all move over to me October 1. They’re dribbling in now. I’ll have a full diet soon.”
Judge Rossiter has already ruled on a major case. Last week, he ruled against two companies – Aetna Better Health of Nebraska and Art Health Plan – that sought to stop the state of Nebraska from proceeding with a major shakeup in the way it manages Medicaid services. The plaintiffs argued that they lost the bidding war for a share of over $1 billion in managed care contracts in Nebraska because of irregularities. Rossiter ruled against them on a number of key points, denying them the preliminary injunction they sought.
The case was the kind of law with which Rossiter is most familiar: civil litigation.
Q. “How will your courtroom experience help you in your new role?”
A. “As for my courtroom experience, I think comfort with the courtroom, comfort with the rules of evidence, how evidence is presented to the court, comfort with juries – all that will help me. [Working with criminal cases is] something I’ve got to learn and I’m sure I’ll get a lot of good help.”
Q. “How DOES one prepare to transition from attorney to judge?”
A. “Having to learn some of the substantive things in criminal law. The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Federal Public Defender’s Office have been very good at walking me through. I have taken advantage of empty spaces on the benches in my colleagues’ courtrooms, going in for different kinds of criminal hearings. I try to do that when I have free time here at the beginning. And they’ve all been very helpful. This is a great bench, with an open door policy.
“I don’t know that you DO know how to transition from attorney to judge, so I’m still learning that. I’m not sure there’s anything I could have done while waiting to help transition. I came in here and there were two straight weeks of meeting with everybody. Their orientation is just so great. It’s the proverbial ‘drinking water out of a fire hose’ – it’s a lot of information. The nice thing is I know who to go to now.”
Q. “Drug cases are a big part of the docket. How are you preparing for them?”
A. “I’ve had some meetings and some mini-training with regard to some of the drug issues: terminology, demographics in this part of the country, what to expect and what kinds of drugs they are seeing…that sort of thing.
“And there are still a good number of civil cases on the employment-related cases, so at least I know something coming in (laughs).
“The profession has become so specialized now that, in most cases, a judge is going to come in deficient in either criminal or civil. I did a few criminal cases at the beginning of my career [as a law clerk for Judge Arlen Beam].”
Q. “You’ve been on the bench since July 1. Has it been a steep learning curve?”
A. “I kind of expected to have cases waiting to be heard. I had a TRO fairly soon. But there were a lot of things I needed to learn administratively to run a chamber. I had to hire a staff fairly quickly. The motions were piling up. I had to establish a rhythm in how to deal with them. [You must decide] How you are going to approach things; Judges have different ways of scheduling and things. I’m looking at how other judges do it. The problem is I don’t know enough to know whether or not what I’ve chosen is a good approach yet. We’ll see how it works in practice. My advantage is I’ve got a lot of good judges who’ve developed these procedures over time.”
Q. “Who have been your mentors there?”
A. “Certainly all of the judges, every one of them. They’re so welcoming and helpful. They’re all great people.”
Q. “What are the biggest challenges for the courts – and your court in particular – today?”
A. “It’s hard to say being a rookie. I think keeping up with different types of crimes, the different kinds of drugs and how they’re being distributed.”
Q. “What has been your biggest adjustment to this job?”
A. “The move. Actually one of the big adjustments is greeting people and being called ‘Judge’ or ‘Your Honor’ instead of ‘Bob.’ And answering the phone – do you say ‘This is Judge Rossiter,’ or ‘This is Bob?’ This is a pretty friendly legal community and this adds a little formality.”
Q. “What has been the most surprising thing about this job? The best thing?”
A. “The most surprising – a good surprise – is how much help and support there is here. The judiciary is so helpful. The staff is amazing. From the Clerk’s office, the Probation Office, the IT department, everybody here is great.
“The best thing is realizing this dream. Many things go into it, and all the stars have got to align. I was fortunate. A lot of very talented people put in for this position. I’m forever grateful to Senators Johanns and Fischer and to the President for their support.”
“We’ve done a good job in this district in getting the right people on the bench. It’s a lot to live up to. We’ve had some fabulous judges here, and still do.”
Chances are, Judge Rossiter will have little trouble living up to those standards.