Benchslaps, Federal Judges, Musical Chairs, Sam Sparks, Samuel Kent, State Judges, Weirdness

Musical Chairs: Federal Judges Fleeing the Bench?

What’s up with all these federal judges seeking to leave their life-tenured quarters? We understand that the pay’s not great (which is why we urge them to marry rich). But being an Article III judge is still nice work if you can get it.

Despite the power and prestige, two federal judges are moving on — temporarily or permanently. First, from the Daily Business Review:

Martin Jenkins Judge Martin J Jenkins Above the Law blog.jpgIn a highly unusual move, U.S. District Judge Martin Jenkins [N.D. Cal. (at right)], a life-tenured federal judge in San Francisco, is prepared to give up his seat and has applied for an opening on the California State Court of Appeal bench.

Jenkins, 54, a moderate Democrat and former state trial court judge in Oakland, Calif., was appointed by President Clinton a decade ago. He confirmed rumors that he has submitted an application with Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for the vacancy.

We understand the allure of an appellate over a trial court gig. But still, giving up the federal bench for a state court is “highly unusual” — especially since the state court in question isn’t even the California Supreme Court (the move that Judge Morrison England (E.D. Cal.) was contemplating, before he withdrew his name from consideration).

Second, from the Houston Chronicle (via Sophistic Miltonian Serbonian Blog):

U.S. District Judge Sam Kent [S.D. Tex.] will take a four-month leave from his Galveston bench for unspecified reasons, according to an order made public Monday.

No one involved would comment on the order, but students of the federal judiciary said it is unusual.

We smell a story here. A little more about Judge Kent, after the jump.

It seems that Judge Kent isn’t eager to talk about his upcoming leave:

Kent declined to comment, sending his wife, Sarah, outside their house in Santa Fe to meet a reporter.

“He does not want to talk to you. He is not allowed to talk to you,” Sarah Kent said. “Please don’t come back or he’s going to call the police.”

Since when is a federal judge “not allowed” to do anything? Something weird is going on here. As noted over at the Sophistic Miltonian Serbonian Blog, “the chain of events in his chambers seems to point to something more related to disciplinary sanction than to personal time constraints.” If you have the skinny, please email us.

We’d note that Judge Kent is not exactly a shrinking violet. Indeed, he is one of the most gifted benchslappers of the federal trial courts. As noted by the blog Legal Trade:

Kent has garnered some attention locally and around the nation for his biting opinions, making fun of lawyers who filed briefs or in one case lawyers who asked that a case be moved from Galveston.

See, e.g., Bradshaw v. Unity Marine Corp., 147 F. Supp. 2d 668 (S.D. Tex. 2001); Smith v. Colonial Penn. Ins. Co., 943 F. Supp. 782 (S.D. Tex. 1996).

(Longer excerpts from these two benchslapping opinions appear at the very end of this post.)

P.S. Judge Sam Kent (S.D. Tex.) is not to be confused with Judge Sam Sparks (W.D. Tex.), another Texas trial judge with a penchant for benchslappery.

On The Bench: Life-tenured judge wants off the federal bench [Daily Business Review]
Judge Sam Kent put on leave [Legal Trade]
Judge Kent to take “intended absence” until December [Sophistic Miltonian Serbonian Blog ©]
Galveston federal judge will take leave [Houston Chronicle]

EXCERPTS FROM OPINIONS BY JUDGE SAM KENT

Bradshaw v. Unity Marine Corp., 147 F. Supp. 2d 668 (S.D. Tex. 2001)

“The Court notes that this case involves two extremely likable lawyers, who have together delivered some of the most amateurish pleadings ever to cross the hallowed causeway into Galveston, an effort which leads the Court to surmise but one plausible explanation. Both attorneys have obviously entered into a secret pact-complete with hats, handshakes and cryptic words-to draft their pleadings entirely in crayon on the back sides of gravy-stained paper place mats, in the hope that the Court would be so charmed by their child-like efforts that their utter dearth of legal authorities in their briefing would go unnoticed. Whatever actually occurred, the Court is now faced with the daunting task of deciphering their submissions. With Big Chief tablet readied, thick black pencil in hand, and a devil-may-care laugh in the face of death, life on the razor’s edge sense of exhilaration, the Court begins. . . .

After this remarkably long walk on a short legal pier, having received no useful guidance whatever from either party, the Court has endeavored, primarily based upon its affection for both counsel, but also out of its own sense of morbid curiosity, to resolve what it perceived to be the legal issue presented. Despite the waste of perfectly good crayon seen in both parties’ briefing (and the inexplicable odor of wet dog emanating from such) the Court believes it has satisfactorily resolved this matter. Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

At this juncture, Plaintiff retains, albeit seemingly to his befuddlement and/or consternation, a maritime law cause of action versus his alleged Jones Act employer, Defendant Unity Marine Corporation, Inc. However, it is well known around these parts that Unity Marine’s lawyer is equally likable and has been writing crisply in ink since the second grade. Some old-timers even spin yarns of an ability to type. The Court cannot speak to the veracity of such loose talk, but out of caution, the Court suggests that Plaintiff’s lovable counsel had best upgrade to a nice shiny No. 2 pencil or at least sharpen what’s left of the stubs of his crayons for what remains of this heart-stopping, spine-tingling action.FN4

FN4. In either case, the Court cautions Plaintiff’s counsel not to run with a sharpened writing utensil in hand-he could put his eye out.

Smith v. Colonial Penn. Ins. Co., 943 F. Supp. 782 (S.D. Tex. 1996)

“The Court, being somewhat familiar with the Northeast, notes that perceptions about travel are different in that part of the country than they are in Texas. A litigant in that part of the country could cross several states in a few hours and might be shocked at having to travel fifty miles to try a case, but in this vast state of Texas, such a travel distance would not be viewed with any surprise or consternation. FN1 Defendant should be assured that it is not embarking on a three-week-long trip via covered wagons when it travels to Galveston. Rather, Defendant will be pleased to discover that the highway is paved and lighted all the way to Galveston, and thanks to the efforts of this Court’s predecessor, Judge Roy Bean, the trip should be free of rustlers, hooligans, or vicious varmints of unsavory kind. Moreover, the speed limit was recently increased to seventy miles per hour on most of the road leading to Galveston, so Defendant should be able to hurtle to justice at lightning speed. . . . Alas, this Court’s kingdom for a commercial airport! FN2 The Court is unpersuaded by this argument because it is not this Court’s concern how Plaintiff gets here, whether it be by plane, train, automobile, horseback, foot, or on the back of a huge Texas jackrabbit, as long as Plaintiff is here at the proper date and time.”

FN1. “The sun is ‘rize, the sun is set, and we is still in Texas yet!”

FN2. Defendant will again be pleased to know that regular limousine service is available from Hobby Airport, even to the steps of this humble courthouse, which has got lights, indoor plummin’, ‘lectric doors, and all sorts of new stuff, almost like them big courthouses back East.

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