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Posted at 1:56 PM ET, 03/ 1/2011

Federal judge sworn in in D.C.

By Del Quentin Wilber

Two decades ago, a young lawyer wearing a blue pinstripe suit stepped before an appeals court to argue his first case in Washington, and he succeeded in having his client's conviction on first-degree murder charges overturned.

Today, that same lawyer -- wearing that same suit -- was sworn in as a federal judge for the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia. "It's been altered a bit," Robert L. Wilkins joked to a courtroom filled with his friends and relatives as he explained the symbolism of the attire under his black judicial robe.

Wilkins, nominated by President Obama in May and confirmed by the Senate in December, is a graduate of Harvard Law School and had been a partner at Venable LLP, where he focused on white-collar defense work and commercial litigation.

Wilkins was also chief of the District's Public Defender Service's special litigation section from 1996 through 2000. But the 49-year-old is best-known for being the lead plaintiff in a landmark racial profiling lawsuit filed in the early 1990s against the Maryland State Police. The suit led to sweeping changes in how troopers conduct and track traffic stops.

Tuesday's brief ceremony, which was to be followed by a more formal investiture, drew more than a dozen federal judges to a sixth-floor courtroom for the swearing-in, and they all clapped enthusiastically after Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberthadministered the oath.

Though clearly excited for Wilkins, their long ovation may have been spurred by an ulterior motive.

With Wilkins' addition, there are now 12 full-time federal judges serving in the District -- three short of the allotted 15 slots. Lamberth said the judges were grinning and clapping because they were anxious to pass off some cases to the new judge.

"Though Robert is smiling today, we hope he is still smiling tomorrow," Lamberth said.

By Del Quentin Wilber  | March 1, 2011; 1:56 PM ET
Categories:  Del Quentin Wilber, From the Courthouse, The District  
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