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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Rubio releases hold on African-American judicial candidate but continues to block another



Sen. Marco Rubio has removed a hold on an African-American judicial candidate from Nassau County but continues to block another in Miami-Dade.

Rubio's office says nominee Brian Davis, for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District, has satisfied concerns about statements he made years ago. The senator will submit a "blue slip" to the Judiciary Committee, paving the way for a vote.

But Rubio has all but ended William L. Thomas' opportunity to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District.

"The nomination of Judge Thomas has also been thoroughly reviewed, and Senator Rubio has determined that Thomas’s record on the state court raises serious concerns about his fitness for a lifetime federal appointment," spokeswoman Brooke Sammon said. "Those concerns include questions about his judicial temperament and his willingness to impose appropriate criminal sentences, particularly in the two high-profile cases of Michele Traverso and Joel Lebron earlier this year. After reviewing Thomas’s record, Senator Rubio cannot support moving forward with the nomination at this time."

Thomas, a Miami-Dade Circuit Court judge who is openly gay, gave Traverso 364 days in jail for a hit-and-run incident that left another man dead. In the other case, according to Rubio's office, "Twice Judge Thomas suppressed confessions of perpetrators of the crime including the confession of Joel Lebron, the man who pulled the trigger killing Ana Maria Angel."

Rubio's actions have stirred controversy and news coverage. The Congressional Black Caucus held a news conference earlier this year denouncing the holds, and Thomas backers say Rubio has distorted circumstances in the cases.

Both candidates made it through Florida's Federal Judicial Nominating Commission, a panel that makes recommendations to the state's senators. The senators, who met with the candidates, sent letters to the White House supporting them. President Barack Obama then nominated the men.

Rubio introduced Davis at his nomination hearing but yielded to concerns by Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, who questioned statements Davis made in the mid 1990s, including suggesting Joycelyn Elders was forced to resign as U.S. surgeon general because she is black.

In a Sept. 12 letter to Sen. Rubio and Sen. Bill Nelson, Davis said issues of race are important to discuss but that some of his words were "improper."

"After thoroughly reviewing the objections to Judge Davis by Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, Senator Rubio has determined that Davis has adequately addressed these concerns, particularly in a letter sent to him on Friday," Sammon said. "He will return the blue slip for Davis, allowing the nomination to move forward."

[Last modified: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 12:14am]


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