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U.S. Senate confirms Thomas P. Barber as Tampa federal judge

The U.S. Senate voted Wednesday to confirm Hillsborough Circuit Judge Thomas P. Barber to be the Tampa Bay area’s next federal judge.
Published Jun. 12

The U.S. Senate voted Wednesday to confirm Thomas P. Barber as the Tampa Bay area's next federal judge.

Barber, who has been a Hillsborough circuit judge since 2008, was confirmed by a vote of 77 to 19 for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. He fills the vacancy left by Judge James D. Whittemore, who retired to senior judicial status in 2017.

President Donald Trump nominated Barber to the federal bench more than a year ago with the support of Senator Marco Rubio and former Senator Bill Nelson. The Senate Judiciary Committee conducted interviews with him and several other judicial nominees in October. But the committee did not take up a vote on the nomination before the end of the 2018 congressional term and it was returned to the White House.

Barber was re-nominated in January. This week, the Senate took up a vote on the full Senate floor.

Although his federal nomination was without much controversy, Barber did draw some opposition from some Senate Democrats.

In written inquiries, he was asked about his membership in the Federalist Society, a legal organization generally regarded as advocating a conservative or libertarian approach to law. Barber said his membership stems from the ideal that judges should decide cases based on facts and the law without regard for their personal opinions or policy preferences.

He joins a court that covers 35 counties stretching from Naples to Jacksonville. Judges there have grappled with a heavy case load and two other vacancies.

As a circuit judge, Barber has been one of the most visible faces on Hillsborough's criminal bench.

He handled Trevor Dooley's request for an appellate bond after the Valrico man's manslaughter conviction became the focus of an appeal. He also coordinated the competency restoration training of Joseph Corrao, who stands accused of killing Pinky, a beloved flamingo at Busch Gardens.

Among Barber's most notable rulings was a 2017 opinion in which he said that a newly tweaked version of Florida's stand your ground self-defense law could not apply retroactively to cases that were pending when the law was passed. He was one of numerous judges to weigh in with conflicting opinions on the issue, which eventually made its way to the Florida Supreme Court.

Barber, 52, was appointed as a Hillsborough County judge in 2004. He previously handled trial and business litigation for Carlton Fields P.A. and worked as an assistant statewide prosecutor and an assistant state attorney in Hillsborough County. He earned his B.A. from the University of Florida, where he was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, and his J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Contact Dan Sullivan at dsullivan@tampabay.com. Follow @TimesDan.

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