PORTLAND, Maine — By the time the U.S. Senate got around to confirming attorney William Kayatta Jr. as a 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge, he had done more than clean out his desk at the Portland law firm Pierce Atwood.
In the nearly 13 months while his nomination to replace Kermit Lipez as Maine’s jurist on the appellate court was pending, Kayatta had handed off all of his cases to colleagues.
“By January 2013, I had no practice left,” Kayatta, 59, of Cape Elizabeth said in a telephone interview Thursday. “My wife and I took off and went to Florida for a month.”
Kayatta, whose formal investiture ceremony was held Friday afternoon at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, was nominated by President Barack Obama on Jan. 23, 2012. His nomination and the nominations of others for federal judgeships were stalled by party and re-election politics. Kayatta was confirmed by a vote of 88-12 on Feb. 13, 2013. He was sworn in privately on March 8 and has been on the job ever since.
Kayatta, whose chambers are in Portland, said Thursday that the lengthy delay from nomination to confirmation was not as stressful as it could have been because he knew it was all about politics and not about him personally.
“I knew what I was getting into in the nomination and confirmation process when I put my name in for the job,” he said. “But I do remain very concerned that there are very many practicing lawyers out there who would be willing to serve and would be superb federal judges who are watching how the process works and would be reluctant to put their names forward.
“The fact that the process takes so long will more narrowly limit the pool of potential judges by excluding more practicing lawyers,” Kayatta said. “Then, all you’ll be left with are lawyers who are employed in jobs as prosecutors or judges. It’s very important that the judiciary have a mix of backgrounds.”
Kayatta was raised in South Portland, the oldest of five children. His father worked as a representative for a pharmaceutical firm and his mother raised the family. He graduated from South Portland High School, Amherst College and Harvard Law School, both in Massachusetts.
His formal investiture was moved from the Edward T. Gignoux Federal Courthouse in Portland, where other investitures have been held, to USM to accommodate the more than 300 expected guests, Kayatta said. Those guests included U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who supported his nomination, U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud, his fellow jurists on the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, legal colleagues, friends and family.
“They say that good things come to those who wait,” Collins said Friday. “The people who rely on the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit waited far too long for a full complement of judges. That wait is over, and fortunately, the result, at long last, is very good.”
Collins concluded her remarks with a quote from the nation’s first president.
“When President George Washington appointed America’s first federal judges two and a quarter centuries ago, he said that the ‘administration of justice is the firmest pillar of government,’” the senator said. “It’s a pleasure to join you in finally officially welcoming Judge William Kayatta, whose wisdom, intellect and integrity will only strengthen that pillar of government.”
Leigh I. Saufley, chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, has known Kayatta since both were 12 years old. They attended junior high and high school together in South Portland. Saufley said at Kayatta’s investiture that she had come to the event to answer the question, “What was Judge Kayatta really like in his youth?”
“First, both of us were excellent students, exceptionally well-behaved, and a credit to our families,” she said. “And second, no Facebook, Twitter or Google existed in 1972, so we can assure you, there is no evidence to the contrary.”
Portland attorney Peter DeTroy was on the selection panel that recommend Kayatta’s name be sent to the White House.
“He’s one of these guys you come across once in a generation,” DeTroy said Thursday. “He falls in the same category as Judge Frank Coffin, for whom he clerked, and Judge Kermit Lipez, who he’s replacing. Like those men, Bill is recognized by myself and colleagues as one of the least egotistical people we know. He’s a supreme gentleman and absolute pleasure to be with.”
DeTroy also praised Kayatta for the free legal services he has donated to complex cases including some class-action lawsuits, one of which secured in-home care for hundreds of mentally disabled adults in Maine.
“Frankly, people like [Kayatta] and Coffin and Lipez make you feel better about being a lawyer,” DeTroy said. “They elevate everybody.”
Kayatta said Thursday that Coffin, who died in late 2009 after serving 40 years as an appellate judge, and Ralph Lancaster, a colleague and mentor at Pierce Atwood, were his role models.
Kayatta’s wife, Anne Swift-Kayatta, and their two daughters, Katherine Kayatta and Elizabeth Kayatta, assisted the new judge in donning his black robe. Kayatta’s daughters both are lawyers in Boston.