Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan (R) on Monday tapped a former federal prosecutor – who was part of a national opioid manufacturer’s defense team in a legal proceeding with the state of Maryland – to fill a vacancy on the state’s highest court.
Hogan announced he was nominating Jonathan Biran, a shareholder in the Baltimore office of the national law firm Baker Donelson, for the vacancy on the Maryland Court of Appeals created when Judge Clayton Greene Jr. retired earlier this year.
Hogan also announced that he was appointing former prosecutor and solo practitioner Richard Trunnell for a slot on the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, and James Lee Tanavage, also a former prosecutor and solo practitioner, for a vacancy on the St. Mary’s County District Court.
“The appointment of these qualified individuals to serve across our state’s justice system is paramount to upholding our responsibilities to the people of Maryland and the rule of law,” Hogan said in a statement. “I have every confidence that Mr. Biran, Mr. Trunnell, and Mr. Tanavage will continue to be strong advocates for the law and will serve the citizens of Maryland admirably.”
Biran is one of 10 people who applied to the state’s Appellate Courts Judicial Nominating Commission to replace Greene. The vacancy was specifically for a resident of Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles or St. Mary’s counties. The commission, which is appointed by the governor, forwarded its recommendations to Hogan.
According to his Baker Donelson biography, Biran is part of the defense team representing “a national opioid manufacturer” in a deceptive practices case filed by the state of Maryland.
While Biran’s online biography does not mention who his client is, Baker Donelson is one of a battery of law firms representing Insys Therapeutics Inc. in lawsuits filed by various governments against the opioid manufacturer. Biran is part of the team defending the company against legal action in Maryland.
State Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) brought consumer protection charges against Insys in 2018, saying the company engaged in unfair and deceptive practices that hooked Marylanders on powerful, fentanyl-based painkillers.
Frosh’s administrative charges suggest the Arizona-based company attempted to bribe doctors into widely prescribing its medication Subsys, which originally was developed to treat cancer patients.
Insys Therapeutics filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in June, just five days after agreeing to pay $225 million to settle the federal government’s criminal and civil cases against the company. With the company in bankruptcy, the state’s case against the opioid manufacturer has been stayed, a spokeswoman for Frosh said.
Birwan was a federal prosecutor for 17 years and is currently a shareholder at Baker Donelson, practicing both criminal defense and appellate law. He worked at the U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Division and also served in the U.S. Attorney’s office for Maryland under Rod J. Rosenstein, working on fraud and public corruption matters. He served on the Maryland Mortgage Fraud Task Force and served as Appellate Chief of the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office from 2010-2013, supervising the appellate work of dozens of attorneys.
Biran previously worked as a law clerk for a federal judge in California. He received his B.A. from Swarthmore College and his J.D. from Stanford Law School.
In the private sector, Biran has been with Baker Donelson for about a year, according to his LinkedIn profile. He co-owned a firm, Biran Kelly LLC, for five years, before it was purchased by Rifkin Weiner Livingston LLC, in January 2018. Biran was affiliated with that firm, which has both a lobbying shop and a litigation practice, until he joined Baker Donelson.
He is also one of the seven original editors of the Maryland Appellate Blog, which is run by the Maryland State Bar Association.
According to the Maryland Courts website, Biran’s was one of three names passed along to Hogan for consideration for the Appeals Court nomination, along with Timothy E. Meredith, a judge on the Court of Special Appeals, the state’s second-highest court, since 2004, and T. Sky Woodward, an attorney in the Washington, D.C., office of the national firm Bradley Arant Boult Cummings – who until recently was a member of the judicial nominations commission.
Biran’s nomination must be voted on by the state Senate during the upcoming General Assembly session.
If Biran is confirmed, he’ll become the fourth of seven Appeals Court judges appointed by Hogan. By the time Hogan’s second term ends in January 2023, he should be able to make three more appointments to the court – including a replacement for one of the judges he’s already appointed – due to the state’s mandatory 70-year-old retirement age for judges.