Antitrust, Benchslaps, Federal Judges, Judge of the Day, Judicial Divas

Judge of the Day: Judge Mark Bennett of Iowa Is ‘Underwhelmed’ By East Coast Law Firms

U.S. District Judge Mark W. Bennett won’t get the publicity of Judge Martin Feldman. Obviously, blocking President Obama’s deep-water drilling moratorium — having already disclosed investments in Transocean and Halliburton — is big news.

But Judge Bennett is making waves of his own in his Iowa courtroom. He’s decided that he wants lawyers to participate in an auction to determine who will get to serve as lead counsel in some consolidated antitrust cases.

And he informed lawyers of this with a curious email. The subject line alone is not something one expects from a federal judge:

Waterman v. VS Holding Co. et al (10cv4038) – consolidated antitrust actions – “going once, twice, sold to the lowest bidder” – ready to rumble?

Not only is this judge “ready to rumble,” he’s also ready to insult lawyers from East Coast law firms…

The body of the email explaining the auction is sprinkled with spice:

Dear Counsel,

I have been furiously reading every case, law review article and economics journal I can get my hands on about auction procedures to assist in picking lead counsel. I have tentatively concluded that I may conduct an in court auction at the upcoming “beauty contest” to assist me in determining who lead counsel should be. I am not using a grid, declining percentages, a minimum recovery or other devices and economic gimmicks that interfere with comparability of bids. I intend to keep this simple because the liability aspect of these cases is no more complicated than a slip and fall at a local grocery store – perhaps much less complicated now that the Feds have done all the liability work for you.

Hey, there’s nothing wrong with a judge having a sense of humor and a little bit of flair. And really, this seems like exactly the kind of creative thinking that we need from our overtaxed judicial system. Judge Bennett is cutting through the BS and trying to get to the heart of the matter. Kudos.

And he’s funny:

All firms appearing in these cases are encouraged to seek “lead counsel” status. No prior experience as lead counsel in class cases required. In fact, it may be a disadvantage because I am not about “business as usual” especially in allegedly complex cases. Get ready to rumble on July 9th.

So the guy likes to think outside the box. So what? It’s not like he has an unreasonable prejudice against anybody just because of where they live and work:

P.S. In my 35 years of experience in the legal profession I have almost always been considerably under whelmed by East Coast law firms. I am not impressed by inflated rates and even more inflated billing practices, 6 lawyer to take a simple deposition, a total lack of civility, obstructionist discovery tactics at every turn, poor trial skills and unsurpassed arrogance. Also, not one lawyer could not name a single state that borders Iowa.

Is this guy looking for a lawyer or a cartographer? Since when did naming Illinois, Missouri, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and South Dakota — okay, I had to Google South Dakota — have anything to do with practicing law in an Iowa courtroom? What’s next, will lawyers be required to distinguish between a cornfield and a soybean field on sight?

Furthermore: prejudging East Coast discovery tactics (whatever those are) as “obstructionist” seems unfair, there’s a big difference between “East Coast” law firms based in New York versus Rhode Island, and I’ve got your total lack of civility right here.

Hey, we New Yorkers are always accused of acting like New York is the center of the universe. Having a little bit of parochialism turned back around on us is probably fair, right?

P.S. Judge Bennett, whom some have called a judicial hottie, is known for his sense of humor. While still a practicing attorney, he included a cartoon in a brief to the Fifth Circuit.

EMAIL FROM JUDGE MARK BENNETT TO COUNSEL IN WATERMAN V. VS HOLDING CO.

From: Judge Mark Bennett
Sent: Monday, June 21, 2010 9:17 PM
Subject: Waterman v. VS Holding Co. et al (10cv4038) – consolidated antitrust actions – “going once, twice, sold to the lowest bidder”- ready to rumble?

Dear Counsel,

I have been furiously reading every case, law review article and economics journal I can get my hands on about auction procedures to assist in picking lead counsel. I have tentatively concluded that I may conduct an in court auction at the upcoming “beauty contest” to assist me in determining who lead counsel should be. I am not using a grid, declining percentages, a minimum recovery or other devices and economic gimmicks that interfere with comparability of bids. I intend to keep this simple because the liability aspect of these cases is no more complicated than a slip and fall at a local grocery store – perhaps much less complicated now that the Feds have done all the liability work for you. The bid will be just one factor in selecting lead counsel. Therefore, you should be prepared to bid in open court- no sealed bids. I like transparency. No bids no lead counsel. The low percentage bid of the total recovery will win the auction. I will be the auctioneer. If I catch any parties or lawyers colluding with other counsel in the other consolidated cases on bidding you will be disqualified from the auction and from representing a party in this litigation. No group bids from more than one case allowed. Multiple firms representing a plaintiff or plaintiffs in a single case must submit a combined bid unless each firm is independently seeking “lead counsel” status. Any violations off the Iowa Rules of Professional Responsibility in obtaining a client in these cases will disqualify counsel from the auction and perhaps the case. Please file your objections to this procedure within 7 days of this e-mail. Limit 5 pages – save trees and money for the alleged victims if there is a recovery. I will file a short order attaching this e-mail to it. Looking forward to meeting those seeking “lead counsel” status on the 9th. All firms appearing in these cases are encouraged to seek “lead counsel” status. No prior experience as lead counsel in class cases required. In fact, it may be a disadvantage because I am not about “business as usual” especially in allegedly complex cases. Get ready to rumble on July 9th.

Sincerely,
[Judge Mark Bennett]

P.S. In my 35 years of experience in the legal profession I have almost always been considerably under whelmed by East Coast law firms. I am not impressed by inflated rates and even more inflated billing practices, 6 lawyer to take a simple deposition, a total lack of civility, obstructionist discovery tactics at every turn, poor trial skills and unsurpassed arrogance. Also, not one lawyer could not name a single state that borders Iowa.

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