1st Circuit, Benchslaps, Federal Judges, Judge of the Day

Federal Judge Goes Ballistic On Defense Counsel During Hearing

Judges can usually keep it together even when the lawyers deserve a paddlin’ for their disrespectful behavior. And I cannot imagine how a judge summons the depth of patience required to deal with a pro se litigant without constantly losing their composure. While lawyers may privately think of judges as arrogant and imperious from time to time, when you really look at the job, judges spend most of their time holding their tongues.

Which is why a uncontrolled outburst from a federal judge is such a rare treat.

Now you may think, “This is probably a minor rebuke blown out of proportion.” To that I quote David Frank, the managing editor of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly: “I have heard judges raise their voice. I’ve heard judges get tense. I have never heard something as loud as that.”

I guess this was less of a benchslap and more of a benchpunch….

Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV, presiding over a hearing in the upcoming corruption trial of former Probation Commissioner John O’Brien and his alleged accomplices, wasn’t a happy camper yesterday when he launched into a tirade against the defense attorneys in his Boston courtroom:

When soft-spoken defense attorney Stellio Sinnis quietly objected, interrupting the judge, Saylor snapped.

“Mr. Sinnis,” Saylor screamed, “do not interrupt me!”


Responding to Saylor’s conduct Monday, defense attorney John Amabile rose, saying, “Your Honor is so entwined in this, you have lost your ability to conduct these proceedings in a fair manner.”

He continued briefly until the judge snapped.

“Mr. Amabile, I said I did not want to hear about this,” he said. “Sit down.”

Amabile requested he be heard on the facts.

“Thank you,” the judge said. “Sit down.”

“I will sit down,” Amabile said. “But I want the record to reflect I haven’t been allowed to make my argument.”

“Sit down,” the judge said.

Is this a breach of decorum? Sure. But even without hearing Judge Saylor’s side of the story, it seems like the defense counsel deserved what they got.

The strategy employed by defense counsel in seeking to recuse Judge Saylor went far beyond diplomatically raising concerns about the “appearance of impropriety.” First the defense counsel tried to trump up the fact that a federal judge in Boston might have professional connections with the Goodwin Proctor lawyer, Paul Ware, who conducted the independent investigation. Judge Saylor denied this as laughable. Then the defense came back. The Probation Department corruption case alleges that the former leadership of the department set up a rigged hiring system to guarantee that its hires favored the politically connected in return to budgetary preference and outsized clout. In its renewed motion for recusal, defense counsel fixate on Judge Timothy Hillman, Judge Saylor’s colleague, who once worked in the state court and sponsored candidates for promotion in the probation office. According to defense lawyers that means the scheme was not corrupt, but a widespread practice that even future federal judges embraced.

So another federal judge is tangentially involved in the case so… no federal judge can hear it? If anything, wouldn’t Judge Saylor’s sympathy for his colleague make him more biased toward the defense?

Basically the defense lawyers stole a page from the playbook of younger siblings everywhere. Pick, pick, pick. Over the course of weeks the defense attorneys kept this up. And now the strategy has paid off like it always does because that constant, obnoxious badgering eventually elicited a violent outburst, and mom is going to blame the judge. With the role of mom probably played by the First Circuit.

Now the defense will shift from hinting that Judge Saylor is biased — which would reveal their provocation — and start calling him crazy and unbalanced:

Stunned by the 0 to 60 acceleration of anger, the courtroom heard the judge accuse Sinnis of being “emotional” and not being able to control his emotions.

“Well, let me put it this way,” [Boston lawyer Harvey] Silverglate said. “When a defense attorney manages to elicit a volcanic reaction from a judge and the defense attorney doesn’t do anything that can vaguely be considered contemptuous then you really do have to wonder how much invested in the case and sitting on the case the judge is.”

Yep. Classic.

In other news, Judge Saylor is currently serving on the FISA Court, ensuring that the federal government’s broad search programs are held to non-existent the strictest constitutional scrutiny. Maybe he can direct a little of this righteous rage toward the prosecutors in that Star Chamber, eh?

In Recusal Hearing, Probation Case Judge Explodes In Anger [WBUR]

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