WASHINGTON – After testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday,Birmingham attorney R. David Proctor appears destined for the federal bench,a position other lawyers,senators and his soon-to-be colleagues said is well-deserved.
“I have the highest regard for his legal ability and his personal ethics,” said U.W. Clemon,chief judge of the Birmingham-based U.S. District Court for Northern Alabama,to which Proctor has been nominated.
Clemon said Proctor “has the capacity to listen,” a sentiment echoed by attorney Richard Lehr,Proctor's friend of 15 years and partner in their firm that handles labor and employment law cases.
“He is a real strong listener who approaches issues and matters with an open mind,” Lehr said.
President Bush nominated Proctor,42,in May. At his hearing this week,the two senators present asked only general questions about legal theory of the six court nominees up for consideration.
Proctor got a much friendlier reception from the committee than fellow Alabamian,Attorney General Bill Pryor. The committee approved Pryor’s nomination to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday on a party-line vote after an acrimonious debate,and the nomination may be headed for a filibuster on the Senate floor.
Lehr said Proctor's experience after law school as a clerk to Judge H. Emory Widener,who sits on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals “planted the seed” for Proctor's future success.
In a phone interview Tuesday,Widener remembered Proctor as a hard-working apprentice with a “willingness to take on anything.”
Widener said he was impressed by Proctor's discipline while still in college to make good grades and play championship-level football at Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City,Tenn.,where Proctor earned his undergraduate degree in 1983. He graduated with honors from the University of Tennessee College of Law in 1986.
Widener,who still talks to Proctor occasionally,said he stressed to his protégé the importance of restraint by federal courts.
During his testimony,Proctor described how Widener established Proctor's understanding of the federal court's role and instilled in him a respect for the rule of law.
“We should decide cases and controversies using the Constitution and not by legislating,” he said in response to a question about his view of the law from Sen. Jeff Sessions,R-Ala.,who sits on the Judiciary Committee.
Sessions warned of the difficulties that Proctor and the five other nominees at the hearing would face as federal judges.
“There are a lot of pressures and a lot of intensity and a lot of deadlines that have to be met,” Sessions said. “Frequently there are … cases that require weekends and nights. The backlog is there. Clients have large amounts of money at stake. … It's certainly not an easy job.”
Clemon agreed that the job is challenging.
“Our workload in the Northern District is particularly busy,” he said.
Proctor said he would face the challenge with the same approach to his career he's always taken.
“I plan to bring the diligence and work ethic I've demonstrated as a lawyer,” Proctor said.
Lehr said Proctor,while in private practice,has taken on a heavy load that he manages efficiently.
“He can handle a tremendous amount of work,” Lehr said.
The father of three children,Proctor married his wife,Teresa,while still in law school. Lehr,who hired Proctor at a previous law firm before the two joined with two other lawyers to form a new firm,said Proctor is not all about work.
When he has spare time,Proctor spends it with friends and family. He's also a youth Sunday school teacher and an deacon at Briarwood Presbyterian Church and has coached children’s baseball,football and basketball.
Lehr,a Jew,said he considers Proctor,a Christian,his brother. It's respect for other people's views and beliefs that Lehr said has garnered Proctor a strong reputation even among opposing counsel in court cases.
After musing over the loss of his partner to the federal bench,Lehr said,“It's an honor for our firm,but,yeah,we're gonna miss him.”