On May 25, 2022, President Biden nominated Judge Doris L. Pryor, who currently serves as a U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Southern District of Indiana, to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Prior to joining the bench, Judge Pryor worked as a public defender for the state of Arkansas and served in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Indiana. If confirmed, Judge Pryor would be the first woman of color from Indiana to serve on the Seventh Circuit and would join fellow President Biden-appointee, Judge Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, as the only judges of color currently sitting on the Seventh Circuit.
Judge Doris L. Pryor was born in Hope, Arkansas in 1977 to parents James and Linda Clark. She has a family history of public service, as her mother works for Hope Public Schools and her grandmother, Doris Brown, is a Justice on the local Quorum Court — a legislative body of county governments in Arkansas. Judge Pryor was an honor student in her time at Hope High School in the early 1990s and returns to Hope regularly to stay connected to her roots. She earned her bachelor’s degree, cum laude, from the University of Central Arkansas in 1999, then obtained her law degree from the Indiana University Maurer School of Law in 2003. During law school, Judge Pryor was a member of the editorial staff of the Federal Communications Journal and won top oralist at the Sherman Minton Moot Court Competition.
Following law school, Judge Pryor served as a law clerk for two federal judges in Arkansas: Chief Judge Lavenski R. Smith of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit from 2003 to 2004 and Judge J. Leon Holmes of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas from 2004 to 2005. Both judges were appointed by President George W. Bush.
From 2005 to 2006, Judge Pryor was a Deputy Public Defender in the State of Arkansas Public Defender’s Commission, playing a crucial role in protecting the constitutional and civil rights of criminal defendants who could not afford an attorney. She handled an average of 75 cases at a time, including criminal cases, juvenile cases, and cases involving mental health guardianships. If confirmed to the Seventh Circuit, Judge Pryor would be just the second former public defender on the court.
In addition to her public defense experience, Judge Pryor spent 12 years as a federal prosecutor, providing her with a diverse and varied perspective. In 2006, she joined the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana. After eight years, she became the District’s National Security Chief, where she prosecuted individuals threatening the country’s national security. Judge Pryor worked closely with the DOJ National Security Division and several DOJ components on domestic terrorism, international terrorism, counterespionage, and terrorism financing matters. For example, in United States v. Musleh, Judge Pryor was part of the team that prosecuted a United States citizen for attempting to provide material support and resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations. She served as lead counsel, managing pre-trial discovery and written work products, while also appearing in court on behalf of the United States. Judge Pryor’s experiences as a public defender and federal prosecutor provided her with substantial federal court and appellate experience. She tried eight cases to verdict, including seven in federal court, and briefed and argued seven federal appeals.
On November 17, 2017, Judge Pryor was selected to serve as a U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Southern District of Indiana. Her appointment enjoyed support from the then presiding Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Judge Jane E. Magnus-Stinson. Judge Pryor has served in this capacity since March 1, 2018.
As a U.S. Magistrate Judge for more than four years, Judge Pryor has presided over a wide array of cases and hundreds of settlement matters. Out of the hundreds of reports and recommendations she has issued, a district court judge has only sustained an objection on two occasions. The following cases are demonstrative of Judge Pryor’s record as a fair and even-handed jurist.
During her time on the bench, Judge Pryor has presided over many civil law cases. In Barnhouse v. City of Muncie, William Barnhouse brought civil rights claims against the City of Muncie, individual police officers, and employees of the Indiana State Crime Lab after he was wrongfully convicted of rape and served more than twenty-five years in prison. Specifically, Barnhouse alleged the defendants took advantage of his mental disabilities to fabricate false statements, which led to his wrongful conviction; he was eventually exonerated through DNA evidence. After a lengthy settlement conference, over which Judge Pryor presided, all parties reached a settlement agreement.
In Edwards v Harrison College, former college students filed a class action seeking damages for breach of contract and fraud after Harrison College abruptly closed eleven campuses in Indiana and Ohio, impacting approximately 2,000 students. The plaintiffs alleged violations of several federal and state statutes, including the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. Judge Pryor mediated class action settlement awards for all but one defendant. The settlement was later approved by U.S. District Judge Richard L. Young, who found the settlement to be fair, adequate, and reasonable.
In Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana, Inc. v. Welton, the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana and twelve individuals sued defendants for violations of the Fair Housing Act and other federal and state civil rights statutes. The plaintiffs alleged that defendants engaged in an unlawful scheme, targeted at Latinos, to acquire abandoned homes and enter into lease-to-own agreements. Judge Pryor presided over numerous settlement conferences that eventually resulted in a settlement in principle. The parties have since entered into a consent decree, with the defendants agreeing to pay all claims, equitable relief, and attorneys’ fees.
Judge Pryor has presided over several cases involving motions to compel arbitration, a practice by which disputes are resolved behind closed doors by a private arbitrator, rather than in court by a judge or jury. Reflecting her evenhanded approach, she has issued rulings both for and against arbitration. For example, in Nextgear Capital, Inc. v. Premier Group Autos, Judge Pryor determined that Nextgear had implicitly waived its right to compel arbitration because it initiated a lawsuit in state court. However, in Mines v Galaxy International Purchasing, LLC, Judge Pryor granted a motion to compel arbitration after determining that a valid arbitration agreement existed and that defendants could compel arbitration under the doctrine of equitable estoppel.
Judge Pryor also has significant experience presiding over cases posing deep constitutional law questions. In Mitchum v City of Indianapolis, Gordon Mitchum brought a §1983 action against the City of Indianapolis, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, and several law enforcement officers after a police dog entered his backyard and bit his left calf and right foot. Mitchum required several months of treatment following the incident. He alleged the defendants negligently released the dog, thereby violating his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Judge Pryor granted in part and denied in part a motion for summary judgment, finding that Mitchum failed to establish a Fourteenth Amendment claim, but there remained a genuine issue of material fact as to whether a Fourth Amendment violation occurred. Eventually, the parties reached a settlement, and the case was dismissed.
In Cox v. City of Indianapolis, Ms. Cox alleged that while driving with her children, she was pulled over by law enforcement, ordered to exit the car at gunpoint, handcuffed, and then detained in the back of a police cruiser. During the stop, the police also approached Ms. Cox’s children with their guns drawn. Ms. Cox argued this violated her and her children’s Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure, as well as several Indiana laws. After multiple rounds of negotiation, over which Judge Pryor presided, the parties reached a settlement.
Professional Activities and Community Involvement
Throughout her career, Judge Pryor has been deeply involved in the Indianapolis community. During her time in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, she conducted middle school prevention programs that focused on the role that young people can play in reducing gun violence and connected female students with mentors in the legal profession. As a U.S. Magistrate Judge, Judge Pryor coordinates the court’s annual “Federal Courts Day” and has been instrumental in the development and growth of the district’s Re-Entry And Community Help (REACH) courts, which give formerly incarcerated individuals access to resources to help them transition back into the community.
Judge Pryor also serves her community as the Board Chair of Goodwill Education Initiatives, Inc. and as a member of Just the Beginning Foundation — a pipeline organization focused on encouraging young persons from various socioeconomic, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds to pursue career opportunities in the law. Judge Pryor has taught criminal law courses at her alma mater and the Indiana University McKinney School of Law, in addition to coaching Butler University’s mock trial team.