On June 15, 2022, President Biden nominated Judge Dana M. Douglas to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Judge Douglas currently serves as a U.S. Magistrate Judge for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Prior to joining the bench, Judge Douglas was a partner at the New Orleans office of Liskow and Lewis, a firm focused on energy and oil industries. If confirmed, Judge Douglas will become the first Black woman to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and will be among the youngest judges to serve on the Fifth Circuit.
Judge Douglas was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1975. Judge Douglas comes from a family dedicated to service; her father worked at the Hotel Intercontinental, and her mother served in Sherrif Paul Valteau’s Orleans Parish Civil Office.
Judge Douglas graduated St. Mary’s Academic High School with high honors and went on to earn her bachelor’s degree from Miami University (Ohio) in 1997, where she studied social work. Following her graduation from Miami University, she attended Loyola University School of Law, where she served as editor-in-chief of the Poverty Law Journal, worked as a research assistant, and was awarded the Louis A. Martinet Scholar, the Corpus Juris Secondum Award, and Warren E. Mouledoux award.
After graduating law school in 2000, Judge Douglas served as a law clerk to Hon. Ivan L.R. Lemelle in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. After completing her clerkship, Judge Douglas joined Liskow and Lewis as a litigation associate. During her six years as a litigation associate, Judge Douglas primarily worked in bench trials dealing with trade secrets issues and disputes between landowners and oil companies. Later, she also began working on white collar criminal defense matters.
In 2007, Judge Douglas was promoted to shareholder. Judge Douglas expanded her practice to include matters related to energy, product liability, and intellectual property in both state and federal courts in Louisiana. Her intellectual property practice also expanded to include transactional matters and cybersquatting disputes. Later, she began handling administrative matters and product liability claims. For example, in Dixon v. Spurlin, Judge Douglas served as lead counsel for the defendant, an automobile manufacturer. The plaintiff alleged negligence and manufacturing defect after a car accident that resulted in a fatality and several injuries to the plaintiff. Under Judge Douglas’s guidance, the case was successfully removed to federal court, and eventually the suit was settled.
From 2004-2013, Judge Douglas served first as the commissioner, then as the vice president for the New Orleans Civil Commission. She received her appointment to the position through a formal nomination from Xavier University of Louisiana. As commissioner and vice president Judge Douglas oversaw a quasi-judicial body which served as the court of first instance for all City of New Orleans employee appeals resulting from disciplinary action.
In 2019, Judge Douglas was appointed as a United States Magistrate Judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana. She was appointed to the position by the District Court Judges for the Eastern District of Louisiana. As a magistrate judge, Judge Douglas presided over both civil and criminal law matters. Of the 111 opinions that Judge Douglas authored, all were adopted either in whole or in part; only one objection to an opinion was sustained, and one opinion was overturned.
The following cases are demonstrative of Judge Douglas’s record.
Criminal law cases
Judge Douglas has extensive experience presiding over criminal law matters. For example, in United States v. Hooks, Judge Douglas determined an individual’s competency to stand trial. The defendant was charged with violating Title 18 of the United States Code for making a call to the New Orleans Police Department threatening to shoot police officers. The defendant was a person diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and an intellectual disability. The defense raised an incompetency issue at trial, and Judge Douglas found that the defendant suffered from a mental disease which rendered him incompetent to stand trial. Judge Douglas, reflecting her even-handed approach, ordered the defendant to be committed to civil confinement for a reasonable period of time.
Judge Douglas also has robust experience presiding over federal habeas petitions. In Thompson v. Hooper, the petitioner was charged with attempted sexual battery of a minor, aggravated incest, and sexual battery. The defendant argued that his conviction violated double jeopardy rules. Judge Douglas, finding that the defendant’s double jeopardy claim raised a mixed issue of fact and law, deferred to the state’s court decision and denied the petitioner’s double jeopardy claim. The petitioner also claimed there was insufficient evidence. Judge Douglas, using firmly established precedent, found the evidence to be sufficient. After dismissing the petitioner’s frivolous arguments, Judge Douglas denied the petitioner’s federal habeas petition. In Brown v Vannoy, the petitioner filed a federal application seeking habeas relief. Chester Brown, petitioner, was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. Brown filed the order as a protective petition arguing that there was an affidavit from one of his original accusers that stated Brown was not involved with the crime. Judge Douglas, using the applicable standards of law, found that the question is whether an individual’s constitutional rights were preserved, not innocence or guilt, so there was no cognizable ground for federal habeas relief, and dismissed the petition.
Civil Rights Cases
Judge Douglas has presided over numerous civil rights cases. In Keller v. Dejoy, Judge Douglas addressed an employment discrimination claim. The plaintiff, Sandy Keller, a white women employed by United States Postal Service (USPS) as a letter carrier, brought a Title VII employment-discrimination claim and First Amendment claim against USPS. Keller claimed that she had been the victim of reverse racial discrimination, and that during her time at USPS her supervisors treated Black employees more favorably. Judge Douglas granted USPS’ motion to dismiss the First Amendment claim. The case then went to a settlement conference but was not resolved. After presiding over several motions and denying a motion for summary judgement made by USPS, Judge Douglas helped the parties negotiate a settlement of the case.
Judge Douglas has also managed civil rights suits brought by incarcerated individuals against state officials. In James v. Edwards, plaintiff Charley James, an incarcerated person at Tangipahoa jail, sued state officials including Sheriff Daniel Edwards alleging that he was denied access to clean drinking water and the ability to exercise his Baptist religion. The defendants moved for summary judgement. Judge Douglas found that there was adequate water (plaintiff had a faucet in his cell with uncontaminated water) and that James Charles had been free to exercise his religion (there were religious services and programming in the jail). She granted summary judgement to the defendants and dismissed the plaintiff’s claims. In Lebouef v. Terrebonne, plaintiff Tony Joseph Lebouef sued Major Stephen Bergeron and other state officials alleging that insufficient measures were taken to protect him from COVID-19 while incarcerated. Lebouef alleged that the lack of masks, hand sanitizer, sanitation protocols, and admission of new inmates constituted “deliberate indifference.” Judge Douglas recommended the dismissal of the lack of masks and new inmates claims but denied the motion for summary judgement for the claims regarding hand sanitizer and sanitation of common spaces. The district court, finding Judge Douglas’s reasoning to be sound, adopted her recommendations.
Professional Activities and Community Involvement
Judge Douglas is deeply committed to the New Orleans legal community. In 2017, she served as just the third Black President of the New Orleans Bar Association, where she led the organization in its goal to promote justice, educate members, and enhance the legal profession. As President, Judge Douglas spearheaded efforts to establish legal clinics to help indigent clients in various churches and community centers in underserved areas such as Treme, Central City, and Uptown in New Orleans.
Also, previously Judge Douglas served on the Board of Directors of the Louisiana Bar Foundation where she led community efforts to provide disenfranchised individuals access to legal counsel.