Jabari Wamble, Cleaver’s son-in-law, withdraws as nominee for federal judge in Kansas

President Joe Biden’s nominee to serve as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas withdrew his name from consideration late Tuesday, marking the second time in two years that his nomination to the federal bench failed to get through the Senate.

Jabari Wamble, who has served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the District of Kansas since 2011, was first nominated to serve as a judge on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in August of last year. His nomination never made it through the Senate Judiciary Committee and he was instead nominated for the district court, a step down, in February.

“My path to this nomination began more than 18 months ago and after careful thought and consideration, I feel that it is best for me to continue my work at the United States Attorney’s Office in the District of Kansas,” Wamble wrote in a withdrawal letter obtained by the Star. “I have been humbled and honored by the faith you placed in me with this nomination.”

Wamble is the son-in-law of Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Kansas City Democrat who was an early supporter of Biden in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.

“President Biden is proud to have nominated Jabari Wamble, a deeply qualified attorney who has served with distinction as a prosecutor at the state and federal level in Kansas, who received his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Kansas, and who has dedicated his life to serving the people of Kansas,” said Andrew Bates, the deputy White House press secretary.

Sen. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican, congratulated Wamble on his circuit nomination last year, but was silent on his nomination to the lower court this year.

Moran and Sen. Roger Marshall, a Republican from Kansas, wanted an independent group — the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary — to determine whether Wamble was qualified before they supported his nomination.

It never weighed in.

The group, which conducts independent peer evaluations of judges, never issued a rating on Wamble’s circuit court nomination. As of Tuesday, it was still reviewing Wamble for the district court position, even though it had already rated several nominees after him.

The Alliance for Justice, a progressive judicial advocacy group, said Wamble was qualified and highlighted cases he prosecuted related to health care fraud, tax fraud and corporate fraud.

But Wamble was also involved in a case where the U.S. Attorney’s office was held in contempt of court for failing to cooperate with an investigation into the extent in which prosecutors accessed confidential phone calls between attorneys and clients at Leavenworth Detention Center, a federal prison which was managed by private contractor CoreCivic.

Over the course of the case, Wamble offered conflicting statements regarding how he handled a recording where he recognized the voice of Christian Cox, an attorney who at the time was representing Brenda Wood, a client charged with 26 counts related to fraud.

The case largely focused on other attorneys in the office, but Judge Julie Robinson criticized Wamble in the scathing 188-page ruling in 2019 for failing to tell Cox that he possessed his calls with Wood.

Wamble said he stopped listening to the tape when he recognized the voice and requested new recordings from the prison without the Cox’s calls in them. He also said he told Cox that he had possibly obtained his calls with Wood and suggested Cox have his number “privatized.”

Cox testified that Wamble did not tell him that he had obtained or possessed his calls with Wood. Wamble later said he did not actually tell Cox he possessed the calls, according to Robinson.

Cox, who characterized the situation as a miscommunication, said he didn’t think Wamble’s role in the case should disqualify him from becoming a judge.

“No, I don’t,” Cox said. “I think he is a smart, good lawyer. Nobody does this perfectly all the time. I would not want to hinder his movement in life. He’s a good guy, I wish him all the best.”

Charles Geyh, a law professor at Indiana University who focuses on judicial ethics, said if he were a senator he would want to know more about the circumstances and whether it was an isolated event because there is a high standard of integrity for judges.

“’Integrity’ is one of the ‘three I’s’ of judicial ethics (the other two being independence and impartiality) — the core values that codes of conduct require of an ethical judge,” Geyh wrote in an email. “Lawyers who are dishonest in their dealings with others call their integrity into question, which is a red flag for a judicial candidate, whose integrity should be above reproach.”