In December of 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia consented to the transfer of Paragard T380A intrauterine birth control devices to multidistrict litigation. Entered in the JPML’s online docket on Dec. 16, the Consent of Transferee Court was signed on Dec. 8 and noted that the multidistrict litigation docket was to be assigned to Hon. Leigh Martin May for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings.
A woman judge for women’s issues
The appointment was notable. During the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) hearing to decide whether Paragard claims should be consolidated, prominent Atlanta attorney Robert Hammers urged the panel to assign the pending Paragard class action to May, in part because of her gender. “We believe that she’s the best judge to get this of all (the judges) proposed because she’s a woman and this is a woman’s product dealing with women’s issues,” Hammer told the JPML.
Gender, however, wasn’t Hammers’ only argument for assigning the Paragard class action lawsuit to May. May’s Northern Georgia district, he said, has the lightest caseload of the four federal judicial districts under consideration. He also pointed out that the panel values opportunities for new judges to gain experience in complex MDL cases, characterizing May as “new” although she was appointed in 2014. Paragard is May’s first MDL.
Paragard IUD lawsuits claim manufacturers failed to warn the public that the birth control device could break upon removal, causing serious injuries. While the MDL is in its early stages, many praised the selection of May and are hopeful a woman judge will fairly represent all interested parties, particularly the women coming forward with valid claims. Past MDLs, particularly the massive consolidation of transvaginal mesh claims in 2011, left many female plaintiffs with a poor view of consolidation of their claims. Others felt that the presiding judge, attorneys on both sides and media failed to adequately understand and acknowledge the depths of their injuries and the impact on their lives and the lives of their loved ones. May’s role requires her to preside over pretrial motions, discovery proceedings and any potential settlement conferences.
May’s Journey to the bench
May is United States District Judge of the US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. On December 19, 2013, President Barack Obama nominated May to serve as a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, to the seat vacated by Judge Beverly B. Martin, whose service terminated on February 1, 2010, due to her elevation to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. May received a hearing before the full panel of the United States Senate Judiciary Committee on May 13, 2014. She received her judicial commission on November 14, 2014.
Prior to joining the court, May was a partner at the personal injury law firm Butler, Wooten & Fryhofer LLP in Atlanta where she was a nationally recognized trial attorney and partner. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management from Georgia Tech in 1993. While at Georgia Tech, Judge May served as General Manager of WREK radio and participated in the co-op program. After graduation from Georgia Tech, Judge May continued working for her co-op employer. She then entered law school and received her law degree from the University of Georgia School of Law in 1998.
Following law school, she served as a law clerk to the Honorable Dudley H. Bowen, Jr. of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia.
In 1979, 23 women were appointed to life-tenured U.S. judgeships—more than doubling the number of women appointed as federal judges in the previous 190 years. The doors they opened never swung shut again. Today, there are 463 female judges, including three Supreme Court justices. Women make up one-third of the courts’ full-time, active Article III judges.
The entry of women judges into spaces from which they had historically been excluded has been a positive step in the direction of judiciaries being perceived as being more transparent, inclusive, and representative of the people whose lives they affect. By their mere presence, women judges enhance the legitimacy of courts, sending a powerful signal that they are open and accessible to those who seek recourse to justice.
However, women judges contribute far more to justice than improving its appearance: they also contribute significantly to the quality of decision-making, and thus to the quality of justice itself.
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Written by Jerise Henson