News - Capital University Law School

Two Newest Federal Judges Hail from CapLaw

8/27/2020  -  The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio welcomed its newest members, Judge Sarah D. Morrison, L ’97, and Judge Matthew W. McFarland, CU ’89 and L ’92, following confirmation by the U.S. Senate and commissions from President Donald J. Trump.

With these new appointments to the federal bench, the majority of the seven active judges on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio are Capital University Law School graduates.

Juges Morrison and McFarland join Judge Michael H. Watson, L ’87, on the federal bench. In addition, Chief Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A. Preston Deavers is a 1994 graduate of the Law School, and Chief Judge Algenon L. Marbley holds an Honorary Doctor of Law degree from CapLaw awarded in 2000.

Judge Morrison was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on June 11, 2019 and received her commission from President Trump on June 14, 2019. A native of Lufkin, Texas, she worked for the Ohio Department of Health by day while attending Capital University Law School at night. She served as a law clerk for former U.S. District Court Judge John D. Holschuh, worked in private practice and most recently served as Administrator and CEO for the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.

It was while clerking for Judge Holschuh that she got her first exposure to the federal court system. The experience came about because of CapLaw’s externship program, which Judge Morrison called “outstanding.”

“It’s a great opportunity for students to get a sense of what their options are in the real world,” she said.

Judge Morrison said she was thrilled to learn from U.S. Senator Rob Portman that both he and U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, both of Ohio, had recommended her judicial nomination to the President. “I feel very blessed,” she said. “There are not a lot of these positions and a lot of it is timing.”

To get ready for her confirmation hearing, she prepared similarly to how she studied for the bar exam. “I think Capital does a good job of training critical thinkers,” she said. “I think it is a mindset that is training you for life.”

Judge Morrison says she still keeps in touch with her CapLaw classmates and professors, like Bradley Smith, the Josiah H. Blackmore II/Shirley M. Nault Professor of Law, who attended her investiture where she received her judicial robe.
“Sarah is smart, level-headed and a consensus builder,” Professor Smith said. “I was excited to see her nominated and confirmed, not just because she’s a former student, but because she will be an excellent judge.”

Professor Smith recalls Judge Morrison from the evening section of his Civil Procedure class. “I don’t think people always realize what discipline and sacrifice it takes to work full time during the day and then attend law school at night,” he said. “Sarah was an excellent student who approached problems with a lot of common sense, in addition to doctrinal knowledge. Her success post-Capital Law is no surprise to me.”

Judge Morrison said the biggest surprise of her new role is, “how much I’ve enjoyed doing the naturalization ceremonies. What a great honor it’s been on what’s really a special day as we welcome new citizens.”

Judge McFarland was confirmed by the Senate Dec. 18, 2019 and commissioned by the President on Dec. 31, 2019. He is only the second federal judge from Scioto County to serve in this role. The last, Judge Albert Thompson, was appointed by President William McKinley more than a century ago. “It’s very special to me,” Judge McFarland said. “Our roots are deep in Scioto County.”

When Judge McFarland was in the eighth grade, his teacher assigned the class to write 100 biographies on great Americans. Judge McFarland recalls writing reports on lawyers, including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Abraham Lincoln. “I told my parents, ‘I want to be a lawyer,’” he said.

His legal experience includes serving as an appellate judge for the Ohio 4th District Court of Appeals, a visiting judge for the Ohio Supreme Court, a Scioto County Common Pleas Court Magistrate and Assistant County Prosecutor for Scioto and Licking counties. In addition, he has been an adjunct professor for Capital University Law School and Shawnee State University, and served as a law clerk for former CapLaw Dean Rodney K. Smith.

Judge McFarland said that the former dean “has been like a father to me.” He recalls his first year in law school struggling to register for classes that would work around finding a job in order to make ends meet. He explained the issue to former Dean Smith who told him, “I have a solution: Why don’t you just work for me?”
“It was a godsend for me,” Judge McFarland said. “It was just a blessing to work for him and learn from him. I can’t thank Capital and Dean Smith enough. He really took a special interest in me.”

Former Dean Smith, along with CapLaw Professors Jeff Ferriell and the late Professor Jacqueline Orlando, helped prepare him for his confirmation hearings. Smith, now the director of the Center for Constitutional Studies at Utah Valley University, attended and was one of the speakers at Judge McFarland’s investiture on Feb. 7, 2020. He told the attendees that Judge McFarland left law school with three Cs and an F: competence, conscience, caring and faith. Smith counseled the new federal court judge to “work harder” and “embody them more richly” before telling him that he was so proud of his former student and that Judge McFarland’s father would be, too.

Judge McFarland called his parents, who have both passed away, two of the smartest people he has ever known. “Neither of my parents graduated college,” he said, but they wanted their children to go to college and made great sacrifices to allow them to do so.

“Looking back, as a law student, all I wanted was to pass the bar the first time and I did that, thanks to Capital,” Judge McFarland said. “Capital is just a great school. It really trains law students well to think and to reason.

“It all funnels back to Cap for giving me a chance,” he said. “I’m definitely true purple.”