Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Judge Behind The Ruling Overturning the Ruling on Off Shore Drilling

The Judge Behind The Ruling


The federal judge who slapped down the Obama administration's moratorium on deepwater drilling Tuesday has made a name for himself among the New Orleans legal community as a scholarly and conservative jurist.

U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman was a Reagan appointee and has served on the bench in the Eastern District of Louisiana since 1983. A graduate of Tulane University Law School in 1957, Judge Feldman, 76 years old, also serves on the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which operates in secrecy to handle surveillance warrants involving terror suspects.

"He has a great institutional respect for the federal court system," said U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt, an Eastern District colleague.

Judge Feldman did not return calls seeking comment.

Some legal experts on Tuesday called the judge's ruling unusual and even audacious and suspected it could become a case for testing the limits of executive power. The ruling is under appeal to the historically conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

"I don't know that anyone up to this point had any substantial doubts that a temporary moratorium wasn't within presidential authority," said Richard Nagareda, a professor at Vanderbilt University Law School.

Current financial disclosures were not available but Judge Feldman has had investments in companies that have been affected by the moratorium. In 2008, he owned stock in Transocean, the deepwater-drilling specialist that owned the Deepwater Horizon rig involved in the spill. In a May order he declared he did not have a conflict in a case tied to Transocean.

Several other judges in Louisiana have recused themselves from oil-related cases.

Lawyers who have worked with Judge Feldman for years described him as well read and as having a literal take on the law.

"He's very bright, very well respected and it's no secret he's a conservative judge," said Paul Sterbcow, a plaintiffs' attorney who currently has an oil spill-related case before the judge and has known him for years.

Inside the courthouse in Louisiana, Judge Feldman is known for mentoring new judges. He has also made an impression on fellow judges and local lawyers for his friendship with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Justice Scalia's office did not return a call for comment.

Judge Feldman converted from Judaism to Catholicism about two years ago, said Judge Engelhardt, who is a friend of Judge Feldman. Several lawyers said they see Judge Feldman walking down the street to attend a Catholic Church almost daily.

"He's a guy who really searches," said Judge Engelhardt. "Through that journey he ultimately felt this belief system was for him."

—Ben Casselman contributed to this article.

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