News Release

For Immediate Release
November 12, 1999
Contact: Michael Courlander
Public Affairs Officer
(202) 502-4597


Seven New Commissioners Confirmed

WASHINGTON, D.C. (November 12, 1999) — U.S. Circuit Judge Diana E. Murphy, following her nomination by President Clinton and Senate confirmation on November 10, 1999, is the new chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission. The Senate also confirmed as new commissioners Judge Ruben Castillo, Judge Sterling Johnson, Jr., Judge Joe Kendall, Professor Michael O’Neill, Judge William K. Sessions, III, and Mr. John R. Steer. These seven voting commissioners join ex officio members Mr. Michael J. Gaines and Mr. Laird C. Kirkpatrick. The Commission had been without any voting commissioners since October 31, 1998.

Said Judge Murphy, “I know I speak for all the commissioners when I say that we are honored to have been chosen by the President and confirmed by the Senate to serve on this truly important commission. I am further gratified that I will be working with such a distinguished group of commissioners. Many challenges lie ahead for us as commissioners, and I know that all of us are eager to roll up our sleeves and get started.”

The U.S. Sentencing Commission, an independent agency in the judicial branch of the federal government, was organized in 1985 to develop a national sentencing strategy for the federal courts. The resulting guidelines, which went into effect November 1, 1987, structure the courts’ sentencing discretion to ensure that similar offenders who commit similar offenses receive similar sentences. The Sentencing Commission is composed of seven voting members, at least three of whom must be federal judges selected after considering a list of six judges recommended to the President by the Judicial Conference of the United States and two non-voting ex officio members. No more than four commissioners may be members of the same political party, and no voting member may serve for more than two full six-year terms.

Judge Diana E. Murphy has served as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit since 1994. Judge Murphy has been on the federal bench since February 1980 when she was appointed to the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota. From 1992-1994, she served as that court’s chief judge. She has worked with the federal sentencing guidelines since their introduction in 1987, first as a sentencing judge in the trial court and then as an appellate judge reviewing sentences imposed by other judges. Judge Murphy was a state district court judge from 1976-1978 and an associate with Lindquist & Vennum from 1974-1976.

Judge Murphy has served as national president of the Federal Judges Association, chair of the board of the American Judicature Society, and as a member of the board of the Federal Judicial Center. She is currently chair of the Judges Advisory Committee to the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility. Judge Murphy received a B.A. degree from the University of Minnesota and a J.D. degree from the University of Minnesota School of Law. She attended the Johannes Gutenburg University in Mainz, Germany, on a Fulbright scholarship.

Judge Ruben Castillo has served as a district judge for the Northern District of Illinois since 1994. From 1991-1994, he was a partner in the Chicago office of Kirkland & Ellis. He was the regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund from 1988-1991. Judge Castillo served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois from 1984-1988 and was previously with the firm of Jenner & Block. He is an adjunct professor of trial advocacy at Northwestern University School of Law, where he has taught since 1988. Judge Castillo received a B.A. degree from Loyola University of Chicago and a J.D. degree from Northwestern University School of Law, where he served on the editorial board of the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. Judge Castillo has been involved with the criminal justice system since 1978 when he was appointed as a deputy clerk for the local criminal courts, a position he maintained throughout college and law school.

Judge Sterling Johnson, Jr. has served as a district judge for the Eastern District of New York since 1991. From 1975-1991, he was the special narcotics prosecutor for New York City. From 1974-1975, he was executive liaison officer for the Drug Enforcement Administration. From 1970-1974, he was executive director of the New York City Civilian Complaint Board. He served with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 1967-1970 as an assistant U.S. attorney. Judge Johnson received a B.A. degree from Brooklyn College and a J.D. degree from Brooklyn Law School.

Judge Joe Kendall has served as a United States district judge for the Northern District of Texas since 1992. From 1987-1992, he served as a state criminal district judge for the 195th Judicial District Court in Dallas. Previously, Judge Kendall was a private practice trial lawyer, an assistant district attorney in Dallas County, and a police officer for the Dallas Police Department. Judge Kendall has been a board-certified criminal law specialist in Texas since 1985. He received a Bachelor’s degree from Southern Methodist University and a J.D. degree from the Baylor University School of Law.

Professor Michael O’Neill has served as an assistant professor of law at George Mason University School of Law since 1998. He is an expert in criminal law and criminal procedure. Previously, he has served as general counsel for the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, as a special assistant U.S. attorney in the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, and as an appellate litigator in the Justice Department’s Criminal Division Appellate Section. He clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and for the Honorable David B. Sentelle, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Professor O’Neill received a B.A. degree from Brigham Young University and a J.D. degree from Yale Law School.

Judge William K. Sessions, III has served as a district judge for the District of Vermont since 1995. From 1978-1995, he was a partner with the Middlebury firm of Sessions, Keiner, Dumont & Barnes. He previously served in the Office of the Public Defender for Addison County. He has served as a professor at the Vermont Law School. He currently serves on the Board of Trustees of the Vermont Law School. Judge Sessions received a B.A. degree from Middlebury College and a J.D. degree from the George Washington School of Law.

Mr. John R. Steer served since 1987 as the general counsel of the United States Sentencing Commission, where he was responsible for advising the Commission on the statutory mandates and the application and amendment of the federal sentencing guidelines. From 1986-1987, he served as deputy general counsel to the Commission. Previously, Mr. Steer had a long career with the United States Senate, including service as legislative director for U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond and counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1979-1985 and as administrative assistant to Senator Thurmond from 1985-1986. He received B.S. and M.S. degrees from Clemson University and a J.D. degree from the University of South Carolina School of Law.