Today is our lucky day in terms of media coverage. In addition to the great WaPo shout-out, Above the Law is also mentioned in the Philadelphia Inquirer (front page, above the fold).
The article, by Inquirer book critic Carlin Romano, is all about Chambermaid, the highly entertaining debut novel of Saira Rao, loosely based on her clerkship for Judge Dolores Sloviter of the Third Circuit. You’ve probably already read tons of blog posts and articles about this buzz-generating book.
But this piece is different. It includes some choice comments from Judge Sloviter herself — who, until now, has remained silent about her former clerk’s literary endeavors (as far as we know).
More discussion, after the jump.
From the article, here’s a clear and concise description of the author and her book:
Saira Rao, 33, graduate of New York University Law School, daughter of Indian American parents, is a former news producer for Washington’s CBS affiliate and Miami’s Fox News station. She held a prestigious clerkship from 2002 to 2003 with Judge Sloviter, 75, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia.
Rao, who grew up in Richmond, Va., has just published Chambermaid (Grove, $22), a highly entertaining, often insightful, frequently sarcastic and at times extremely nasty first novel about folks at the Third Circuit.
It’s narrated by Sheila Raj, an Indian American graduate of Columbia Law School, and former TV news producer from Reston, Va., who serves a year as law clerk to famously liberal Judge Helga Friedman of the Third Circuit. It depicts Judge Friedman as a “sociopathic, homicidal, bipolar jurist” and “toxic bitch.”
Raj describes Friedman as “definitely insane,” the “craziest person” at the federal courthouse at Sixth and Market, a “robed rascal who wouldn’t hesitate blowing up anybody who failed to give her due respect.”
In the world of the federal judiciary, where no lawyer speaks disrespectfully of a judge, this ranks with mooning the Supreme Court during oral argument.
HA, that’s awesome. So what does the Honorable Dolores K. Sloviter think of all this?
Reached by phone at her home, Judge Sloviter [at right] is polite and dismissive about the book: “All I know is it must present an unfavorable picture of me because I’ve gotten letters from law clerks and judges saying they commiserate, and that it’s not true. I haven’t read it, and I don’t intend to.”
Because she’s rilly rilly busy…
And what does Judge Sloviter have to say about Saira Rao?
Asked if she had a “bad relationship” with Rao during their time together, Sloviter said, “Not that I know of. She was my clerk in what was a bad year for me. It was the year my husband had gotten sick and died.”
Oooh, here’s some interesting scuttlebutt we hadn’t seen in print before:
“I actually just got pissed off,” said Rao, who left her New York law firm, Cleary Gottlieb, in November when the subject of her book became known, and, she said, the firm made her feel unwelcome.
“I understand why law clerks can’t talk about case deliberations,” she said. “But why can’t law clerks talk about the personalities, the cultural aspects, of being a clerk? Why is there a huge blanket of silence over the third branch of our federal government? . . . I just became obsessed with this idea.”
We’re with Rao on this. There’s a big difference between writing about substantive matters, including case deliberations — hello, Eddie Lazarus! — and sharing nightmare boss stories (which everyone does). Why should you be precluded from telling “bad boss” horror stories, just because your boss happens to be an Article III judge?
Some say that Judge Sloviter gave Rao a huge opportunity in selecting her to be a clerk. That’s true. But it’s also true that Rao had excellent credentials, and presumably she worked hard during her clerkship (since DKS seems to have no complaints). And it’s also true that EVERY high-powered boss, even Anna Wintour, could be viewed as giving every underling they hire a huge opportunity.
“You know,” said Sloviter, a native Philadelphian who graduated from Philadelphia High School for Girls, Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania Law School (fourth in her 1956 class), “I guess I’ve had maybe close to a hundred law clerks, and it’s not surprising that one or two hated me.”
“One or two”? Oh, Judge Sloviter, just keep telling yourself that.
(But WE love you here at ATL, even if your ex-clerks don’t, because you’re so diva-licious. And we’ve never had to work for you.)
Our impression of Judge Sloviter’s reaction to Chambermaid thus far has been that she’s trying to take an above-the-fray approach. But near the end of the article, the facade of indifference starts to break down:
Asked if, given the gathering storm, she might soon feel she has to read Chambermaid despite her plaint that “I just have too much else to read,” Sloviter makes things clear: “I haven’t read it. I don’t intend to. I really don’t care. OK?”
Amusingly enough, Saira Rao’s Philadelphia reading for Chambermaid is taking place tonight. We’d advise her to bring some bodyguards. And not just ’cause it’s Philly.
Saira Rao reads from her first novel, “Chambermaid.”
When: Tonight at 7.
Where: Barnes & Noble, Rittenhouse Square, 1805 Walnut St.
Novel does no honor to judge [Philadelphia Inquirer]