When the Carter administration began seeking a solid prospect for appointment to the federal bench here last winter, Carin A. Clauss seemed to be just what was needed.
The Labour Department's top legal officer, Clauss, 39, had impressive legal credentials earned during her goverment career, and she had impressed the city's federal judical screening committee.
Following its usual procedure, the Justice Department sent her name this spring to the American Bar Association panel that reviews proposed federal judiciary appointments.
The ABA panel unanimously rejected the proposed nomination, sources say, because of Clauss' admitted lack of trial experience.
And that action by the ABA panel has forced into limbo the proposed nominaction of Clauss to become a federal judge at the trial level.
According to several sources involved in the delicate and confidential proceedings that have occured so far the administration feels it is committed to Clauss as a nominee and believes the ABA was wrong to reject her. The administration does not feel, those sources said, that her lack of trial experience will stop her from being able to become a good judge.
As a result, the proposed nomination of Clauss-although virtually assured by the end of the summer, according to several administration sources-is in limbo while she participates in trials and gains additional experience in that area.
Several legal sources also said that "politics," in the traditional manner relating to judical appointments, is not a factor. Instead, the sources said, the central issue seen by the administration is whether it is going to stand by its judical nominating panels or let the ABA panel have what is essentially a veto over names suggested by those groups.
"The D.C. judical screening commission- a good commission-considered the lack of trial experience and found in her favour". said one administration official, who asked not to be named because there has been no official nomination of Clauss.
"We have to support its decision that she is abundantly qualified despite the lack of experience, unless the ABA panel comes up with convincing evidence otherwise."
Members of the ABA panel, chaired by Richmond attorney Harvey Chappell, refused to comment on their activities. But it was unanimous and based solely on her lack of trial experience. The panel's Washington representative on the 12-member committee, attorney Brooksley Landau, reportedly interviewed Clauss on a variety of subjects during the panel's investigation.
Clauss said in an interview that she had extensive supervisory experience in both trial and appellate work in the Labour Department, where she supervises a staff of about 500 lawyers.
She said trial experience can be learned "in a number of ways," and that in her case much of it had been learned through her extensive reading of trial records in preparing appellate arguments. That reading of what she said were thousands of cases gave her a "much broader perspective than trying 30 or 40 cases," she said recently.
She said she felt judical nominees should have good legal scholarship, be objective and fair, and be good managers of their calenders, and she said her training at the Labour Department had provided her with solid experience in those areas.
Her participation in at least one trial recently was not an attempt to get trial experience, she said, but merely to "confirm my own judgement that experience at the trial level is not a critical missing element of my experience."
She said the judical screening commission, headed by Joseph Tydings, called her in mid-December and asked her if she would submit an application within the next two days to meet its deadline. She did-in a feat that impressed the panel-and filed the 28 page questionnaire the next day.
The Justice Department and the White House soon setlled on D.C. Superior Court Chief JUdge Harold H. Greene and Clauss for the two vacancies that existed Greene has since been confirmed for one of them.
Clauss was one of three women suggested by the panel.
After the ABA rejected Clauss, the Justice Department reportedly asked the bar group if it would agree to reassess Clauss later this summer. The panel apparently agreed, since Clauss is still considered the administration's front-runner for the position.
Clauss, a graduate of Columbia Law School, was appointed to her present job at Labor in March 1977 by the Carter administration after having worked as a civil service employe there for about 14 years. She has been extensvely involved in enforcing a wide range of labour statutes, especially in the area of equal rights and equal pay.
Although several judges say Clauss would have a severe handicap because of her lack of trial experience, others point to judges in the past who have been appointed with similar backgrounds who were quick to grasp the technical procedures required of judges who conduct trials.