Obama chooses S.C. attorney for federal bench

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 18, 2011 

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s nomination of a prominent Columbia lawyer to be a U.S. district judge was the South Carolinian he’s chosen for the federal bench.

Obama said Mary Geiger Lewis, 52, “will serve the American people with integrity and an unwavering commitment to justice.”

Lewis, a partner with her husband Camden at the Hampton Street firm Lewis & Babcock, said she was honored by the nomination. “I’m just deeply excited about this,” Lewis told McClatchy. “I hope it all works out.”

Lewis was interviewed in Washington by White House deputy counsel Susan Davies in December as part of the vetting process for potential federal judicial nominees.

Lewis was recommended to Obama by House Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn, a Columbia Democrat, and supported by Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Seneca Republican.

“I was pleased to recommend Ms. Lewis to the president for this post, and I believe that she will make an outstanding jurist,” Clyburn said. “She is a South Carolinian with a distinguished legal career, and she is an active member of the community she seeks to serve.”

Lewis, who holds an undergraduate degree from Clemson and a USC law degree, has represented both plaintiffs and defendants in complex product-liability and class-action cases among a broad range of civil litigation.

Lewis and her husband are currently representing Sumter’s Tuomey hospital in a whistleblower case against federal charges of having inflated Medicare and other reimbursements to doctors and for other services.

A federal jury last year cleared the hospital of Medicare fraud but found it guilty of giving physicians kickbacks in exchange for referrals. The case is now before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.

In the late 1990s and into the current decade, Lewis defended video-poker operators in a high-profile class-action suit in federal court that was eventually settled.

Dick Harpootlian, a Columbia trial lawyer and former prosecutor, worked with Lewis in the video-poker lawsuit.

Harpootlian has known Lewis for almost three decades, dating to her clerkship with him in the early 1980s while she attended USC Law School and he was a prosecutor in Richland and Kershaw counties.

“Her analysis of legal and factual issues, and how to deal with them in front of a judge and jury, is extraordinary,” Harpootlian said. “She’s a great lawyer. The federal bench is very lucky to have her.”

Mary and Camden Lewis have two children -- daughter Wallis is an undergrad at USC and son Will is attending USC Law School.

Camden Lewis’ daughter by a previous marriage, Aimee Schraidman, is a non-practicing attorney who lives in Columbia with her three children.

Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor, said the bipartisan support for Lewis in the state’s congressional delegation augers well for her confirmation prospects in the Senate.

“It’s a sign that she’s well qualified and not controversial, so I would expect confirmation to go relative well,” Tobias said.

Two of Obama’s earlier U.S. district court nominees from Columbia were confirmed – Richard Gergel, now sitting in Charleston, and Michelle Childs, who holds court in Greenville.

Obama nominated Upstate family court Judge Timothy Cain last month to the federal district bench.

In January, Obama elevated U.S. District Judge Henry Floyd to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, a promotion now awaiting Senate confirmation along with Cain’s nomination.

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