Benchslaps, Federal Judges, Music, Rudeness

This Federal Judge Does Not Like Hippies One Darn Bit

No one really likes hippies.

In addition to being dirty, they toss out annoying liberal platitudes to mask a self-absorbed worldview based around “freedom” as defined by easy access to drugs and not being hassled by regulators who aren’t cool with a commune squatting in a tenement. They’re like libertarians without showers and with the decency to pretend they care about other people.

But this federal judge hates them a lot more than the average bear. And he hates their lawyer even more…

I never really understood the appeal of Burning Man. The ritualistic final event would make me look nervously over my shoulder for Lord Summerisle. But hippies love the opportunity to drive to the middle of the Nevada desert to camp out with 60,000 other college kids and trip out as a giant wood statue burns down. You won’t believe the tracers a massive bonfire can create.

As opposed to a bunch of environmental poetry majors, Chief Judge Robert C. Jones seems like a bit of a prude. He’s a George W. Bush appointee who once wrote this gem in Sevick v. Sandoval:

Should that institution be expanded to include same-sex couples with the state’s imprimatur, it is conceivable that a meaningful percentage of heterosexual persons would cease to value the civil institution as highly as they previously had and hence enter into it less frequently, opting for purely private ceremonies, if any, whether religious or secular, but in any case without civil sanction, because they no longer wish to be associated with the civil institution as redefined…

Delightful. So this is exactly the sort of guy you’d expect to get seriously bent out of shape by the prospect of a bunch of hippies getting baked under the desert sun. So when the organizers of Burning Man got into a legal scuffle with its host, Pershing County, about the festival’s contribution to security and law enforcement priorities, Chief Judge Jones was the worst possible judge to get the case.

After the parties reached a settlement where Burning Man would put up a hefty chunk of money and Pershing County would coordinate with the festival over police priorities (read: not setting up narcs at the gate), they went to the court for its blessing. They did not get it.

“It’s absurd and it’s illegal,” said Jones, though it wasn’t clear what would be illegal about the agreement. Jones said under the agreement the county was waiving its right to enforce state laws, including its ability to keep children from being exposed to people “running around nude on the desert.”

“You give them virtually a veto authority over what the sheriff is doing,” he said.

Both sides said Jones misunderstood.

“We didn’t give up any right to enforce any law,” insisted Brent Kolvet, a lawyer for the county.

“We concur,” said Annette Hurst, a lawyer for Burning Man’s owner, Black Rock City LLC.

Jones shot back, “I’m sure you do.”

Aw, snap! But the jurist was just getting warmed up when it came to being a condescending jerk to everyone in the room.

Later, the judge said Kolvet was insulting his intelligence and described one of Hurst’s arguments as “mealy-mouthed.” Twice while mocking their positions, he said, “The record will reflect I’m laughing.”

He refused Hurst’s first request to speak.

“No. Just take careful notes,” Jones said.

Later, she asked again.

“I’m going to suggest, ma’am, you go back to law school,” he said. “Sit down.”

When Hurst said she was trying to complete a sentence, Jones told his clerk: “Call security.”

“For the last time, sit down,” he said.

Hurst sat and a U.S. marshal arrived seconds later but the hearing continued.

If this is the kind of treatment she could expect, maybe she’d reconsider her whole life if she had to go to law school again.

We’re looking forward to reading whatever unhinged rant the court intends to throw into its upcoming written opinion. Maybe he’ll take a page out of his Sevick v. Sandoval opinion and explain that if he allows Burning Man, “it is conceivable that a meaningful percentage of potential concertgoers would cease to value Kenny G concerts.”

But let’s focus on the last bit of the above passage. This guy called in a U.S. marshal because he didn’t want a lawyer to finish her sentence? If you’re feeling unduly threatened by lawyers who want to make arguments, maybe district judge isn’t the gig for you. It’s not like the lawyer was some dirty hippie — she’s an Orrick partner. Even in the San Francisco office, Biglaw partners tend to be more straight-laced than that.

Regardless of the Chief Judge’s outrage, this is still probably a done deal. Maybe that’s what torqued him off so much — the impotence that comes with knowing the parties are just going to ignore your rant about moral sensibilities. Normally when a middle-aged man wants to compensate he buys a sports car. Federal judges get to call on armed guards to intimidate lawyers.

Court fireworks, but Burning Man deal likely done [Associated Press via San Francisco Chronicle]

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