Portman Presses Nominees to DC Courts to Address Case Backlog to Deter Rising Crime in Nation’s Capital

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, pressed Errol Arthur, Kendra Briggs, and Carl Ross, nominees to serve as Associate Judges on the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, on the need to address the continued criminal case backlog which has doubled since 2020 as well as the crime surge occurring in the District of Columbia. So far this year, there have already been more armed robberies and homicides than there were by this time last year. Portman stated that by addressing the case backlog, the DC courts would ensure timely justice, not just for victims but also for defendants. 

A transcript of his questioning can be found below and a video can be found here.

Portman: “Thank you, Mr. Chairman. So Mr. Ross said that judicial temperament is in large part patience. And Judge Arthur, the young man behind you, has clearly learned patience. I think he has judicial temperament. Is he with you?” 

Errol R. Arthur, Nominee to be an Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia: “He is.” 

Portman: “Would you like to introduce him?” 

Mr. Arthur: “It’s my son, Miles Arthur. Oh, hold on.” 

Portman: “Miles is being pretty patient, too, but I’m more impressed with the young guy.” 

Mr. Arthur: “I’m sorry about that. Miles will always be my baby.” 

Portman: Who’s the other young man?” 

Kendra D. Briggs, Nominee to be an Associate Judge for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia: “The young guy belongs to me. That’s my six-year-old son, Jojo.” 

Portman: “I’m sorry, Ms. Briggs. I didn’t realize he was yours. Okay, good. Well, that just woke him up. I’m sorry about that, but seriously, great patience. So we talked about violent crime earlier, and it’s a huge problem around our country right now, and it’s making so many communities unsafe and hurting the residents of some of our poorest communities and small businesses and others. D.C., unfortunately, is experiencing that surge as well. Homicides, armed robberies are on the rise. I talked earlier about the number of armed robberies this year compared to last year. It’s shocking. I think reducing crime has to be a top priority of our judicial system all the way through. For all the witnesses, quickly, what do you think the court’s role is in reducing crime? And how can the D.C. court system do a better job to prevent this crime wave from continuing to grow? Maybe start with Mr. Ross.” 

Carl Ezekiel Ross, Nominee to be an Associate Judge for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia: “Thank you for the question, Senator. The best thing the D.C. courts can do to address crime is address the backlog of cases that are before it. The courts have limited authority, and that authority is limited to the cases and controversies that come before it. It does have the power to address the backlog of cases, move their docket efficiently, and ensure that the victims of crime receive timely justice.” 

Portman: “Ms. Briggs?” 

Ms. Briggs: “Thank you, Senator. I agree with Mr. Ross. I think the timely adjudication of cases in addressing the court’s backlog will assist in the endeavor of trying to conquer the crime problem here in the District. Thank you.” 

Portman: “Mr. Arthur?” 

Mr. Arthur: “I agree with my co-nominees, Senator. I would just add that the timely resolution of the cases is essential because it does address issues of uncertainty for the defendants. It does ensure resolution of cases for complaining witnesses and victims in the community. And also it affects the public’s confidence in the court system. So addressing the backlog and addressing the cases in a timely fashion is essential.” 

Portman: “Mayor Bowser has criticized the backlog. She said it is a public safety concern. So I don’t disagree with what any of you said, but it’s also about how the case is ultimately resolved, right? In other words, the decisions that you will make with regard to cases, with regard to saying to those habitual criminals, you know you can’t keep doing this, there’s going to be a consequence. Do you agree with that, Mr. Ross?” 

Mr. Ross: “Yes. The court, in all of its cases, has to look at the facts before it objectively. And in the issue of crime, there are certain factors that the court must look at when, say, carrying out sentencing, and the court must stick to those factors when issuing its sentencing.” 

Portman: “Ms. Briggs?” 

Ms. Briggs: “I agree with my co-nominee.” 

Portman: “Mr. Arthur?” 

Mr. Arthur: “I agree with my co-nominees. The court must make its decisions based solely on the facts and the law, Senator.” 

Portman: “Let me ask you a little, if I could, Judge Arthur, about your background. You’ve been a magistrate judge in D.C. Superior Court for more than ten years. But before that, you practiced in a lot of areas of law, including criminal defense. As a judge, you’ve also served in the Criminal Division. How do you approach that transition from being an advocate for criminal defendants to being a judge in criminal cases where your job is to, again, have consequences for those habitual criminals who are causing these crime waves in places like D.C.” 

Mr. Arthur: “Thank you, Senator. Again, when I was appointed to the bench in 2010, I had been practicing for over ten years in the District of Columbia, primarily doing criminal defense. In preparation for my appointment, I spoke to my colleagues on the bench, including my mentor, the Honorable Mary A. Gooden Terrell, and went through the process of how to make judicial decisions. It was stressed upon me, not only in my time in preparation for my appointment but also during my training sessions, preparing to take the bench. That training, in my view, was essential in making decisions and being able to separate the role that I had once as an advocate and now currently as a judge.” 

Portman: “Ms. Briggs, you’ve been a prosecutor for more than ten years. You prosecute public officials charged with corruption and police charged with civil rights offenses. How would you approach your transition from being a prosecutor to being a judge in criminal cases, including those cases involving alleged wrongdoing by public officials and law enforcement?” 

Ms. Briggs: “My transition would be I would not have additional information before me that I have when I’m prosecuting cases. So the role of a judge is to understand the law, gather the facts, and hear from the parties before it, and so that’s what my focus would be. And then I would apply the law to the facts that have been gathered and make sure that I issue well-thought-out opinions and rulings. Thank you.” 

Portman: “In terms of personal views and politics, in your disclosure, you have to reveal your contributions. And, Ms. Briggs, you’ve donated to political candidates of one party in the past. Will you commit to setting aside your partisan or personal views as a judge?” 

Ms. Briggs: “Thank you, Senator. Absolutely. Those are personal expressions. I will be governed by the Code of Judicial Conduct if I’m fortunate enough to be confirmed, that has limitations on what political activity I can be involved in, and I will be bound by those rules. Thank you.” 

Portman: Mr. Ross, your legal experience involves civil cases and cases in federal court. Hearing criminal cases is different, and it’s even different than the work you’re doing now on the Ethics Committee. Although I understand you’ve looked at allegations that would be criminal as well as violating our rules here in the House and Senate. How would you prepare to hear criminal cases and to be a judge, and what in your background qualifies you to take on the criminal cases?” 

Mr. Ross: “Thank you for the question, Senator. In terms of what in my background qualifies me to handle criminal cases, as you mentioned, in my current position, I investigate matters that are both civil and criminal in nature and help prepare those matters for adjudication for the House Ethics Committee. With respect to the transition to actually being a judge, it would be important to get up to speed on both the criminal code here in D.C., the rules regarding criminal procedure here in D.C., and ensure that I can view every case that comes before me objectively, with a nuanced understanding of the law and apply the law evenhandedly in all of those matters.” 

Portman: “Thanks to all three of you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”