Obama nominates Cathy Bissoon for vacancy on U.S. district court

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Just two years after U.S. Magistrate Judge Cathy Bissoon first took her seat on the bench, she has the chance to move up.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama nominated her to a position on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

The confirmation process will likely go into next year. Judge Bissoon will first go through hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee before being voted upon by the full Senate.

She was recommended to the president by Democratic U.S. Sens. Bob Casey and Arlen Specter.

Judge Bissoon, 42, was selected for an eight-year appointment to the magistrate's court in July 2008 by the federal court's Board of Judges.

The nomination for the district court position -- a lifetime appointment -- is an even greater honor.

"It's fairly overwhelming at this point," Judge Bissoon said. "I look forward to the rest of the process."

As is typical during a pending confirmation process, Judge Bissoon did not want to talk extensively about her goals or expectations on the bench.

She was raised in a blue-collar family in New York City, and decided in high school that she wanted to pursue a legal career.

Judge Bissoon attended Alfred University in New York and graduated in 1990 with a degree in political science. She went on to Harvard University to earn her law degree in 1993.

Following law school, Judge Bissoon joined the Reed Smith law firm in Pittsburgh.

She left the firm for a year to clerk for Chief U.S. District Judge Gary L. Lancaster, and returned to Reed Smith, where she specialized in employment law. She became a partner there in 2001, and in 2007, Judge Bissoon left to join the firm of Cohen & Grigsby.

Judge Lancaster on Thursday said he was thrilled by the nomination.

"I've been walking around here with my chest out for two days," he said. "I take a great deal of pride in her."

Judge Bissoon would be filling a seat on the district court vacated when Judge Thomas M. Hardiman was elevated to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in March 2007.

Even if she's confirmed, there will remain an open seat in the Western District, because U.S. District Judge Donetta W. Ambrose recently took senior status.

The court is supposed to include 10 active members.

Judge Lancaster and his colleagues are excited by the prospect of Judge Bissoon joining the court.

"She has an excellent temperament," he said. "I think temperament is underrated in terms of contributing to the overall performance of a trial judge."

Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.


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