Obama picks southern Maine lawyer for federal appeals court

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PORTLAND — Attorney William Kayatta Jr. was nominated Monday by President Obama to a seat on the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Kayatta, 58, lives in Cape Elizabeth with his wife Anne Swift-Kayatta, a former town councilor and Town Council chairwoman.

U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree forwarded the names of Kayatta and Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Jon Levy to Obama in May for consideration to replace Judge Kermit Lipez of South Portland, who is taking senior, or “active retired,” status.

In a prepared statement, Michaud and Pingree said they are pleased Obama is moving forward with this nomination.

“We know he’s chosen an extremely qualified candidate who will be an excellent addition to the court,” the Maine Democrats said.

U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, Maine Republicans, also issued statements in support of the nomination.

Snowe said Kayatta is considered one of the smartest lawyers in the state and touted his “excellent reputation” and “remarkable experience” during his 25 years as a partner at the Pierce Atwood law firm in Portland.

“He is an extremely well-regarded litigator, with a sterling reputation among his peers in our state,” Snowe said. “I look forward to strongly supporting his nomination, and urge the Senate to give his nomination prompt consideration.”

Collins noted Kayatta’s “exceptional intelligence, extensive experience, and demonstrated integrity,” and said “he deserves overwhelming bipartisan support, and I look forward to introducing him to my colleagues as soon as possible.”

The 1st Circuit has appellate jurisdiction over the district courts in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Puerto Rico. It is subordinate only to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Kayatta was raised in South Portland. He graduated from from Amherst College in 1976 and earned a law degree from Harvard Law School in 1979.

After graduating from law school, Kayatta clerked for the late U.S. Circuit Judge Frank M. Coffin of South Portland. He joined Pierce Atwood as an associate when his clerkship ended in 1980, and became a partner in the firm in 1986.

Daniel E. Wathen, a former chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court who is now a litigation expert at Pierce Atwood, on Tuesday said Kayatta is one of the best qualified lawyers in Maine and in the U.S.

“In addition to being an intelligent and experienced lawyer, he really is a thoughtful person,” Wathen said.

He said Kayatta’s “quiet but effective” style bears resemblance to Coffin’s. He called his experience handling trial and appellate cases unmatched and said he will be “a fantastic judge.”

Vincent L. McKusick, also a former Maine chief justice who is now associated with Pierce Atwood, on Tuesday said he admires Kayatta personally and professionally.

He said Kayatta “comes out of the same mold as Coffin,” and his dedication to offering pro bono, or free, legal work throughout his career makes him an exceptional person.

“He is just tops,” McKusick said. “He will be a great judge.”

Calien Lewis, executive director of the Maine Bar Foundation and a Cape Elizabeth resident, said it is safe to say Kayatta is one of the most respected attorneys in the state. She said his ability to analyze a situation “is stunning” and he the right person to follow in footsteps of Coffin and Lipez.

She said living in the same town as Kayatta has helped her realize that he cares about how he invests his time, both at work and in the community.

“Having him represent Maine on the federal bench is a credit to the state,” she said.

Kayatta, a trial lawyer, has argued 37 cases on appeal, including two before the U.S. Supreme Court, and has lost only two trials in 30 years, according to the Pierce Atwood website.

He is a fellow and regent of the American College of Trial Lawyers; served from 2007-2010 as a member of the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary; is a member of The American Law Institute; was chairman of the Magistrate Judge Selection Committee of the U.S. District Court in Maine in 2007; was chairman of Maine’s Campaign for Justice in 2006; president of the Maine Bar Foundation in 2004 and the chairman of Maine’s Professional Ethics Commission in 2002.

In 2010, Kayatta received the Howard H. Dana Award from the Maine Bar Foundation for his pro bono efforts on behalf of low-income Maine citizens. He has received special recognition awards from the Disability Rights Center of Maine, the Maine Equal Justice Partners, and the Maine Children’s Alliance for his pro bono representation of disabled Maine children.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @amy_k_anderson.

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