Jeffrey A. Meyer Appointed U.S. District Judge for the District of Connecticut
By James I. Glasser
On February 24, 2014, the Senate confirmed Jeffrey A. Meyer as the 37th U.S. District Judge appointed to serve the District of Connecticut. At his investiture, Judge Meyer commented on the judicial robes he had just donned. Not only is the robe itself emblematic of the neutrality and impartiality required in judges, but the various robes he wore in the first few months of his tenure were lent to him by judges who preceded him and were meaningful to him in different stages of development as a lawyer. In fact, the robe that his wife, Linda Ross Meyer, placed over his shoulders during the ceremony was worn by the Honorable James L. Oakes, for whom Judge Meyer had clerked after law school. For Judge Meyer, the robe is a symbol of the deep tradition of the bench and the many important relationships that brought him to, and prepared him for, his new position as a U.S. District Judge.
Judge Meyer’s confirmation marked an important moment in the essential process of filling appointments to the federal bench, which in the recent past had been stymied by Congressional impasse. Invoking its new cloture rules, the Senate ended a Republican filibuster and proceeded to a confirmation vote with a majority, rather than the previously required supermajority. The Senate voted 91-2 in favor of Judge Meyer’s confirmation, filling a vacancy that had existed in the understaffed district court since the tragic and untimely death of Hon. Mark R. Kravitz in late 2012.
The Senate was well justified in its expression of confidence in Judge Meyer.
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, who recommended Judge Meyer to President Obama for nomination, celebrated his confirmation, noting that Judge Meyer is “truly a lawyer’s lawyer and a prosecutor’s prosecutor – and now he will be a judge’s judge.” During Judge Meyer’s tenure as an Assistant U.S. Attorney I had the pleasure of working with him. He habitually was well-prepared and knowledgeable about the applicable law and all relevant facts. Equally important, Judge Meyer was always scrupulously fair and treated all with respect, including those he was charged with prosecuting. As the Chief of Appeals, Judge Meyer’s intellect and legal acumen was apparent as he improved the quality of the “red briefs” and conducted moot courts that were both challenging and demanding. After being prepared for an argument by Judge Meyer, the real thing often seemed like the proverbial “walk in the park.” His keen intellect and passion for justice and fairness will be evident to all litigants who appear before him.
Background and Education
Born in 1963 in North Tarrytown (now known as Sleepy Hollow), New York, to Edward and Patty Ann Meyer, Judge Meyer was destined for a life in law and public service. His father, whom Judge Meyer often has called his role model, first took office as a New York assemblyman when Judge Meyer was only seven years old and now is serving his fifth term as a Connecticut state senator. Judge Meyer credits his father’s life in public service and his role in shaping policy as his reason for choosing a career in law. After 50 years of public service, Judge Meyer’s father announced earlier this year that he will not seek reelection and will be retiring from the state senate.
Judge Meyer received his bachelor’s degree in 1985 from Yale University and his J.D. in 1989 from Yale Law School, where he began his own commitment to public service. While a law student, he counseled homeless clients as a student director of the Yale Law School Homelessness Legal Services Clinic and received the Thomas I. Emerson Prize for his distinguished paper on homelessness in Connecticut, entitled, “Establishing a Right to Shelter: Lessons from Connecticut.” The city of New Haven awarded Judge Meyer the Elm-Ivy Award in 1989 in recognition for his service to its homeless community. This is an award that honors those whose efforts strengthen the ties between Yale University and its hometown. Judge Meyer returned to Yale’s clinical programs in 2010 as a visiting professor of the Yale Law School Supreme Court Advocacy Clinic, through which he has helped represent pro bono clients in more than two dozen matters before the U.S. Supreme Court by petitioning for certiorari, opposing certiorari, crafting merit briefs, and mooting others for arguments before the Court.
Professor Harold Koh, Sterling Professor of Law at Yale Law School, spoke at Judge Meyer’s investiture and described a nearly 30-year friendship that began when Judge Meyer was his student. Professor Koh remarked on Judge Meyer’s brilliance and referred to him as the most accomplished international lawyer serving as an Article III judge today. He praised Judge Meyer’s commitment to public service, dedication to the less fortunate, fundamental decency and, not least, his boyish good looks – referring to him as “Captain America.” Professor Koh expressed confidence that Judge Meyer’s career in the judiciary will be marked by intellectual rigor, empathy, and fearlessness.
After graduating from Yale Law School in 1989, Meyer served as a law clerk to three federal judges: Hon. James L. Oakes of the Second Circuit, Hon. Donald R. Ross of the Eighth Circuit, and Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun. With his stellar academic background and coveted Supreme Court and appellate court clerkships, Judge Meyer could have landed any job. He elected public service as a staff attorney at Vermont Legal Aid, where he represented clients who were subject to civil commitment proceedings on grounds of mental illness. That early experience stuck with Judge Meyer. In his response to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s nomination questionnaire, Judge Meyer counted among his 10 most significant litigated matters one of his first cases as a staff attorney at Vermont Legal Aid, in which he argued before the Vermont Supreme Court that his client had the right to receive mental health treatment on a voluntary basis rather than have it forced upon him through involuntary civil commitment. The Vermont Supreme Court sided with Judge Meyer and ruled that once a patient requests voluntary treatment, the state must show that voluntary treatment is not feasible before it may order involuntary treatment. In re R.L., 657 A.2d 180 (Vt. 1995). In our discussion, Judge Meyer described his work for Vermont Legal Aid as “a tremendously formative period” because he experienced “what it was like to represent the powerless and because it was humbling losing virtually every case.” Judge Meyer also commented that it was extremely enlightening to discover and appreciate the role mental health plays in both the legal system and important client interactions.
Following his tenure at Vermont Legal Aid, Judge Meyer spent two years in private practice before returning to public service as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut. During his nine-year tenure at the U.S. Attorney’s office, Judge Meyer prosecuted 12 criminal jury trials and countless others cases ranging from complex environmental crimes, to official corruption, to civil right violations, to wire fraud, to gun and drug cases. From 2000 to 2004, Judge Meyer served as Appeals Chief for the U.S. Attorney’s Office and argued numerous appeals before the Second Circuit. Judge Meyer considers a complex money laundering case that he tried with colleague Mark Califano to be among the most significant matters he has litigated. The case involved a Connecticut family’s laundering of large sums of money generated by a major Florida narcotics trafficker. Following an 11-week trial, the jury returned guilty verdicts on all counts against all five defendants. All convictions and sentences were affirmed on appeal. For his work on the case, Judge Meyer and his colleague were awarded the Department of Justice’s Director’s Award in 1999.
Hugh Keefe, who defended one of the defendants in the money laundering case, said that he and his fellow defense counsel dubbed Judge Meyer “The Computer” during the prosecution. “During the trial day an esoteric or complex issue of law would arise and two hours after court adjourned we would be copied on a succinct six page memorandum of law authored by Jeff clearly setting out the issue and persuasively presenting the controlling law. That happened after every trial day. In addition to besting us daily on the law, Jeff Meyer was terrific in the courtroom. He is the complete package as a litigator and will bring those same tremendous skills with him to the bench.”
Ronald Apter, now assistant general counsel at The Hartford, was a law school classmate and later worked with Judge Meyer for nearly a decade in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Apter said if he was going to appear in a case he would want to be before Judge Meyer. The combination of his intellect, legal, and life experience, and his ability to listen and “hear the parties,” will make him a truly great judge.
Reflecting on his tenure in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Judge Meyer said that he considers his prosecutorial experience the perfect preparation for his new position. He specifically mentioned the value of time spent in court and lessons learned from role models in the U.S. Attorney’s office and from the judges of Connecticut’s district court.
Judge Meyer left the U.S. Attorney’s office in 2004 to serve as senior counsel to the U.N.’s global investigation, led by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul A. Volcker, into fraud and corruption arising from the United Nations Oil-for-Food Program in Iraq. As senior counsel, Judge Meyer led teams of lawyers investigating poor oversight and investigating and tracking more than $1.5 billion of illegal kickbacks paid to the Iraqi regime. Judge Meyer was the principal author of the committee’s final reports (totaling more than 2,000 pages), which served as the basis for a book that Judge Meyer later co-authored with Mark Califano concerning the scandal. When Volcker led a 2007 investigation into the World Bank’s anti-corruption safeguards, he again tapped Judge Meyer to assist in the investigation and to assist in compilation of the panel’s final report. “Working for the U.N. was a remarkable opportunity to travel the world and to learn about the legal systems of other countries” Judge Meyer declared. He described his work for Volcker’s commission as “a truly unique investigation into an international body that had been free from self-scrutiny with the regrettable result of exposing shortfalls in its ability to protect itself against significant corruption.”
In 2006, Judge Meyer joined the faculty of Quinnipiac University School of Law in Hamden, Connecticut, where he taught diverse courses including professional ethics, international law, environmental law, and criminal procedure. In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Judge Meyer supported several student societies and joined students on trips to Nicaragua and Guatemala to organize conferences on human rights, domestic violence, and mediation. These trips reflect Judge Meyer’s continuing interest in South and Central America; he spent a year as a Fulbright Scholar in Ecuador after his college graduation, and is fluent in Spanish. In 2010, Quinnipiac University awarded Judge Meyer the Excellence in Teaching Award – the university’s most prestigious academic honor. Upon Judge Meyer’s confirmation, Jennifer Brown, dean of the Quinnipiac University School of Law, said, “Jeff has enriched our curriculum, mentored students, and supported scholarship in ways that have made Quinnipiac a better place. We are pleased and proud to know that Jeff will bring that same rigor, dedication, and compassion to his work as a federal judge.”
In addition to his other commitments, in 2011 Judge Meyer represented Dr. William A. Petit, Jr., whose wife and two daughters were viciously murdered in a 2007 home invasion in Cheshire, Connecticut. Representing and advising Dr. Petit on a pro bono basis, Judge Meyer advocated for legislative reform to allow victim impact statements in death penalty cases, and sought to prevent the mid-trial repeal of Connecticut’s death penalty statute. The Connecticut legislature ultimately repealed Connecticut’s death penalty law, but for future cases only. The murderers of Dr. Petit’s family still are on death row. Judge Meyer told me that representing Dr. Petit and sitting through the trials of both defendants in that case gave him tremendous insight into victims of crime and the importance of recognizing victims’ rights in the adjudicative process.
Judge Meyer met his wife Linda while clerking in the Supreme Court; she clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor when he clerked for Justice Blackmun. Following her clerkship, Professor Linda Meyer taught at Vanderbilt Law School. Since 1994, she has been teaching at Quinnipiac Law School. In addition, Professor Meyer teaches “Western Civilizations,” a college-level course, at Niantic Prison for Women. Next year, in addition to her law school courses, Professor Meyer will teach a new course at Amherst College in Children’s Literature and the Law. Judge and Professor Meyer have two children, one in college and the other in high school. In their precious free time they enjoy hiking, kayaking, playing tennis and being entertained by their dog and cat.
Taking the Bench
Judge Meyer took the oath on February 28, 2014, and has had a full docket from that moment forward. Indeed, the interview for this article took place while Judge Meyer was simultaneously conducting two trials – a jury trial and a bench trial. Judge Meyer loves trial work and the give-and-take in the courtroom and looks forward to the challenges. Judge Meyer commented that the first several months have been “stunningly challenging” but the remarkable generosity of Judges Underhill, Eginton, Fitzsimmons, and Garfinkel, his judicial colleagues in the Bridgeport courthouse who have given freely of their time and counsel, has helped him immeasurably.
Referring back to the symbolic importance of the judicial robes and the judges who were important to him in his formative years as a lawyer, Judge Meyer shared with me and finds no small irony in the fact that he now occupies the chambers of the very first federal judge he ever met, Judge T. F. Gilroy Daly. Judge Meyer recalled being before Judge Daly while working as a student with Yale Law School’s Homelessness Legal Services Clinic in a matter that resulted in a favorable settlement requiring the government to fund much needed improvements to the blighted Father Panik Village housing project in Bridgeport. Judge Meyer has come full circle and is now presiding over the courtroom where he began his legal career.