On July 12, 2022, President Joe Biden nominated Judge Mia Roberts Perez to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to replace Judge Timothy J. Savage, who assumed senior status in March 2021. Judge Perez has served as a judge on the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas since her election in 2016. Prior to her judicial experience, Judge Perez worked in private practice and as a public defender. If confirmed, Judge Perez would be the second Latina judge and the first Asian American judge to serve on the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Judge Perez was born in the Fairmont neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1981 and raised in Germantown, Philadelphia. A Latina woman of multi-racial heritage, including Black and Asian, she grew up in a bilingual household with two brothers. She developed an interest in the law at a young age, writing a report about Justice Thurgood Marshall in 5th Grade and being part of an award-winning mock trial team at Masterman High School. She received her B.A. from Tufts University in 2003, where she coordinated the Students of Color Outreach Program. She earned her J.D. from Temple University’s Beasley School of Law in 2006. While in law school, she received an award from the National Institute of Trial Advocacy for her performance in the James H. Seckinger National Trial Competition.
Prior to her time as a judge, Judge Perez gained substantial litigation experience. She primarily practiced criminal law in Pennsylvania state courts, but also litigated in U.S. federal courts and handled some civil proceedings. By her own estimation, she tried approximately 1,000 cases to verdict or final decision.
Judge Perez began her career as an assistant public defender, working for the Defender Association of Philadelphia during both of her law school summers and then joining the organization full-time after graduation. From 2006 to 2010, she represented indigent criminal defendants and ensured their constitutional and statutory rights were protected throughout the legal process. For example, in the case Commonwealth v. Blackman, she represented a 20-year-old defendant at his hearing for a motion to suppress. CP-51-CR-0005742-2007 (Pa. Ct. Com. Pl. Aug 24, 2007). The motion was based on case law barring anonymous radio calls from establishing probable cause for a traffic stop, but the motion was denied, and her client was convicted and sentenced for possession of crack cocaine. Judge Perez filed an appeal and the Superior Court eventually ruled in favor of the defendant, concluding that the motion to suppress should have been granted.
In 2010, Judge Perez then joined Friedman Schuman as an associate, where she gained civil litigation experience. At the firm, she worked with townships and municipalities in Bucks and Montgomery Counties on zoning and land-use issues and assisted them in drafting local ordinances. She also represented members of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) in criminal, family, and landlord-tenant matters.
In 2011, Judge Perez opened her own law firm, Perez Law LLC, and spent the following five years representing individuals of all backgrounds in criminal and family law matters. She also worked as court-appointed counsel in both state and federal matters. In Commonwealth v. Goodman, the Commonwealth pursued the death penalty against Judge Perez’s client for the charges of murder in the first degree and multiple firearm offenses. CP-51-CR-003084-2013 (Pa. Ct. Com. Pl. Aug. 17, 2015). Judge Perez collected and presented mitigating evidence, which ultimately resulted in the Assistant District Attorney rescinding the request for the death penalty.
Judge Perez litigated numerous other high-stakes cases, representing individuals accused of serious crimes. In Commonwealth v. Adams, the Commonwealth alleged that Judge Perez’s client, Mr. Davis, opened fire on a motorcycle club and injured two individuals. CP-51-CR-0013625-2012 (Pa. Ct. Com. Pl. July 9, 2017). After a jury trial, Mr. Davis was acquitted with respect to one victim, but the jury hung with respect to the second victim. Due to the split verdict, Judge Perez filed a motion to dismiss the charges based on collateral estoppel which the trial court granted, resulting in the dismissal of all charges against her client.
In 2016, Judge Perez was elected to the First Judicial District of the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas as one of the youngest judges in the court’s history. Judge Perez has extensive judicial experience, presiding over approximately 1,850 cases, 400 of which were jury or bench trials that went to verdict or judgment. The following cases are demonstrative of Judge Perez’s evenhanded approach to the law.
Judge Perez has experience adjudicating civil law cases. For example, in Allen v. Alvaro, Mr. Allen was a passenger on a bus operated by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), which was struck by another vehicle. 200901233 (Pa. Ct. Com. Pl. Feb. 23, 2021). Mr. Allen sued SEPTA and its bus driver alleging negligent hiring, training, supervision, and entrustment. The defendants argued the claims should be dismissed due to sovereign immunity, which Judge Perez granted. The remaining claims were settled, and the case was dismissed.
Since joining the bench, most of Judge Perez’s cases have involved criminal law issues, including a wide array of subject matters and complex procedural issues. In Commonwealth v. Taylor, the defendant, Ms. Taylor, systematically neglected and tortured her five-year-old niece for three years. CP-51-CR-0002323-2018 (Pa. Ct. Com. Pl. Apr. 19, 2019). Ms. Taylor repeatedly harassed the child, hit the child with a chord on the back of the head, kicked her in the back causing her to fall down the stairs, and frequently punished the child for “stealing” food. A medical team at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia determined that the abuse amounted to torture. Based on evidence presented by the medical team and text conversations between Ms. Taylor and others, Judge Perez sentenced Ms. Taylor to the maximum available sentence. Judge Perez heard the case on appeal, where the defendant alleged that the court abused its discretion in imposing its sentence. After considering the defense’s mitigating factors, Judge Perez concluded that the underlying sentence should be upheld.
In Commonwealth v. Brock, Mr. Brock was charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault, and violations of the Uniform Firearms Act, but fled the jurisdiction causing delay in the proceedings. CP-51-CR-0708871-2003 (Pa. Ct. Com. Pl. Mar. 3, 2017). Fifteen years after the initial charges, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court remanded for a trial in Judge Perez’s chambers. Due to the extensive time gap, several pieces of significant evidence including the gun and a key witness were no longer available; the defense attempted to exclude this evidence due to the time delay. Judge Perez navigated the many challenges and ultimately found the defendant guilty of all charges, sentencing him to 15.5 to 31 years of prison time. The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed his conviction and sentence, and a post-conviction appeal remains pending.
In Commonwealth v McClam, Mr. McClam was charged with several crimes after allegedly pointing a gun at juveniles during a dispute. CP-51-CR-0003712-2015 (Pa. Ct. Com. Pl. Apr. 30, 2018). Judge Perez presided over a four-day jury trial, after which Mr. McClam was found guilty of possession of a prohibited firearm. Because there was evidence that Mr. McClam may have been suffering from brain damage, Judge Perez ordered further testing. A neuropsychological evaluation revealed he had severe cognitive deficits. Based on this information and applying relevant sentencing guidelines, Judge Perez sentenced Mr. McClam to a minimum of four years and maximum of eight years of incarceration.
Judge Perez also has experience adjudicating constitutional law matters. For example, in Commonwealth v. Thomas, off-duty Police Officer Rainford Thomas had a verbal dispute with another man over a parking spot. CP-51-CR-0012195-2014, 1192 EDA 2016 (Pa. Ct. Com. Pl. Mar. 16, 2016). During the dispute, Officer Thomas noticed the individual had a weapon in his waistband, which was neither gestured to nor used. Officer Thomas later notified the police and provided a description of the man and a woman passenger. When police apprehended the individuals, they frisked the woman and discovered nothing on her person; however, they searched her purse and found a gun. Judge Perez, applying relevant precedent under the Fourth Amendment, found the stop and frisk of the woman was not justified because police did not establish an independent reasonable belief that she was “armed and dangerous.” Additionally, Judge Perez determined that the search of her purse was unconstitutional because she was not arrested and there was neither probable cause nor an articulable suspicion that she was involved in criminal activity. Accordingly, Judge Perez granted the woman’s motion to suppress evidence of the gun.
Professional Activities and Memberships
Judge Perez has a lengthy track record of legal service. She has represented indigent defendants in state and federal courts as a member of the Criminal Justice Act Panel and has volunteered at expungement clinics organized by the Barristers’ Association of Philadelphia. She was a member of the Development Committee for Women Against Abuse from 2014 to 2016 and is a founding member of the Women in Law Networking Group, a network of female lawyers who meet with female judges to discuss issues of access, diversity, and inclusion. In recognition of her efforts, Judge Perez received the Odessa Award from the National Conference of Puerto Rican Women in 2015. She also served as an adjunct professor at the Temple University Beasley School of Law, her alma mater, from 2011 to 2021.
Within the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania, Judge Perez serves as Co-Chair of the Judicial Education Committee, a member of the Pandemic Working Group in the Criminal Division, and a member of the Language Access Focus Group. She is a member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Pennsylvania Hispanic Bar Association. She also has experience in judicial ethics, as she serves on the Judicial Conduct Board of Pennsylvania after being appointed by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf in January 2022.