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Tulane Law alum Restrepo called ideal pick for 3rd Circuit

December 03, 2014

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U.S. District Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo (L ’86), speaking here at Temple University law school in Philadelphia, has been nominated to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by President Barack Obama.

Photo courtesy of Temple University law school 

If anyone has the credentials and temperament for the federal bench, it’s Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo, say lawyers who’ve known and worked with him.

He also has the confidence of Republican as well as Democratic senators — and the president. On Nov. 12, President Barack Obama nominated Restrepo (L ’86) to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, saying he would be a “diligent, judicious and esteemed” addition to the appellate judiciary.

Both Pennsylvania senators, Democrat Robert P. Casey Jr. and Republican Pat Toomey, recommended Restrepo for the new post. He has been a U.S. District Judge only since June 2013 but served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge in Pennsylvania’s Eastern District for seven years before that. The Philadelphia-based 3rd Circuit covers Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and the Virgin Islands. 

“I don’t know a more ethical, more moral, more kind person in the whole world,” said New Orleans attorney Tony Gelderman (L ’86), a Restrepo friend since their Tulane Law School days. “He’s an exceptional human being.”

Born in Colombia, Restrepo was 2 when his family moved to the United States, and he grew up in the Washington, D.C., area. He spent two years at George Mason University then transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, where he received his undergraduate degree in 1981.

Restrepo, who goes by "Phil," later taught as an adjunct professor at Penn and Temple University law schools. His wife, also an attorney, currently works at Penn.

“Phil is a widely respected member of the Philadelphia legal community and a distinguished Tulane alumnus," said Tulane University President Michael Fitts, who spent 14 years as Penn Law dean. "He has developed an excellent reputation over the years, and he will be a great addition to the federal appellate bench. Phil is also just a warm and engaging guy.”

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U.S. District Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo

Before enrolling at Tulane Law, Restrepo worked in sports marketing, and he could have returned to a successful career in that field, said Gelderman, who heads the Louisiana office of Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann. 

Instead, Restrepo became a public defender in Pennsylvania. Later, he started a two-partner firm where he practiced criminal defense in state and federal courts and handled civil rights cases raising allegations of police abuse as well as various civil suits. His clients included indigent defendants and individuals charged with racketeering, and he’s handled death penalty cases.

Despite what he’s seen, Restrepo isn’t jaded, friends said. They described him as good-natured and unassuming, idealistic but also street-smart, and a devoted family man.

Leigh Skipper, chief federal defender for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, called Restrepo “very dedicated to the law, practical, well-reasoned and analytical.”

Skipper said that as a public defender Restrepo showed good judgment and a firm grasp of the law. And as a magistrate judge, he supervised a program that helped federal offenders re-enter society after serving their sentences. 

Most impressive, Skipper said, was the respect and dignity Restrepo demonstrated to everyone involved. “He has that with everyone, regardless of their walk in life.”

He said Restrepo’s latest nomination was “a great recognition of how well he’s regarded.”

Former Tulane Law classmate Ann Gorton Boyd (L ’86) said Restrepo always was someone whose core values were clear and consistent. During law school, he worked as a dorm resident adviser and as a bookstore clerk. 

Boyd once saw him in the law library looking through a Spanish dictionary and was puzzled because he’s fluent in Spanish. He explained that he was writing to his grandmother, Boyd recalled. “He was making sure his Spanish was polished,” she said. “That really touched me.” 

She called him level-headed, even-tempered and an engaged listener, all valuable traits for a judge.

“He’s just a natural leader,” said Boyd, an attorney-adviser in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission general counsel’s office. “He’s the right person to be a judge.”

Restrepo faces another Senate confirmation hearing and vote, which have not yet been scheduled. But he was confirmed to the district bench by voice vote without opposition.


Tulane Lawyer Magazine  

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