7th Circuit

Judge Richard Posner isn’t amused — but we are!

Judge Richard Posner isn’t trying to entertain us. He just does.

When he benchslaps prominent Biglaw partners or government lawyers fighting marriage equality, he’s not trying to be funny. He’s just trying to understand the facts of a case or get to the bottom of the legal arguments — and he’s, well, maybe not as diplomatic as some other judges in going about his business.

Let’s check out the latest argument where Judge Posner snarked on hapless counsel….

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Judge Richard Posner

* A unanimous Seventh Circuit panel, in an opinion by Judge Posner, just struck down Wisconsin and Indiana’s bans on same-sex marriage. The result isn’t surprising in light of the blistering benchslaps delivered by Judge Posner at oral argument, but the timing is faster than usual (for a federal appellate opinion in a high-profile case, not for the prolific Posner). [BuzzFeed]

* Bad news for Cahill Gordon: the Third Circuit just revived a fraud case against the high-powered firm and one of its clients, a unit of BASF. [WSJ Law Blog]

* And badder news for BP: a federal judge just concluded that the oil giant was grossly negligent in connection with the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. [New York Times]

* Freshfields gets fresh talent, adding former Wachtell partner Mitchell Presser and former Skadden partner James Douglas to its ranks. [American Lawyer]

* The dean of Seton Hall Law, Patrick Hobbs, will step down from the deanship at the end of the current academic year. Congratulations to Dean Hobbs on a long and successful tenure. [South Orange Juice]

* And congratulations to John Grisham and Jason Bailey, winners of, respectively, the 2014 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction and the 2014 ABA Journal/Ross Short Fiction Contest. [ABA Journal]

* Brittany McGrath, Brooklyn Law class of 2014, RIP. [TaxProf Blog]

Judge Richard Posner isn’t amused.

As we mentioned in Morning Docket and on Twitter, yesterday’s Seventh Circuit arguments weren’t fun for the defenders of Wisconsin and Indiana’s same-sex marriage bans. The three judges, especially Judge Richard Posner, were tough — very tough.

Chris Geidner of BuzzFeed, a leading chronicler of marriage-equality litigation, described the proceedings as “the most lopsided arguments over marriage bans at a federal appeals court this year.” Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress called it “a bloodbath.”

That’s no exaggeration. Let’s check out the specifics….

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Burger King bounty for Biglaw.

* Judge Posner dished out a whole lot of benchslaps at yesterday’s Seventh Circuit arguments over Indiana and Wisconsin’s bans on same-sex marriage. [BuzzFeed]

* Major U.S. and Canadian law firms chow down on Burger King’s whopper of a deal with Tim Hortons. [Am Law Daily]

* A recent Delaware court ruling on attorney-client privilege might allow in-house lawyers to speak more freely about wrongdoing at their companies, according to Professor Steven Davidoff Solomon. [DealBook / New York Times]

* The corruption trial of former Virginia governor continues; yesterday Bob McDonnell’s sister took the stand. [Washington Post]

* A favorable evidentiary ruling for Aaron Hernandez. [Fox Sports]

* And good news for Zephyr Teachout and Tim Wu, the two law professors running for governor and lieutenant governor of New York: the Times dissed their opponent, Andrew Cuomo, with a non-endorsement. [New York Times]

* I recently spoke with one of my cousins Joao Atienza of the Cebu Sun Star, about Above the Law and the world of legal blogging. [Cebu Sun Star]

And you’d think it would be Justice Scalia. But you’d be wrong!

So what darkened this legal luminary?

If you guessed “shadowy intelligence services,” you’re right. Congratulations! ATL would like to send you your prize! You win &#9608&#9608&#9608&#9608&#9608&#9608&#9608. Remember to ask for it by name.

Opinions get redacted or sealed all the time, but the latest from the Seventh Circuit is a doozy….

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Judge Richard Posner isn’t amused.

Please convey my congratulations to Bryan Garner on inventing a new form of arbitration. Two parties have a dispute; one appoints an arbitrator to resolve the dispute; the other disputant is not consulted. How beautifully that simplifies arbitration! No need for the parties to agree on an arbitrator, or for the American Arbitration Association to list possible arbitrators and the disputants cross out the ones they don’t like.

– Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit, in response to the latest barb dealt in his long-running dispute with Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court. In June 2012, Bryan Garner co-authored Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts (affiliate link) with Scalia, and Posner criticized it for “misrepresent[ing] case rationales.” Garner recently hired Keker & Van Nest partner Steven Hirsch to evaluate those criticisms, saying he wanted an “objective third party.” Posner wasn’t particularly impressed.

Picture of Banana Lady taken from Judge Posner’s opinion.

As it turns out, it was in fact a banana, and she was absolutely not happy to see Judge Posner.

The ridiculous isn’t entirely new to Judge Posner. He’s seen lawyers treating his courtroom as a schoolyard and issued benchslaps complete with pictures of men burying their heads in sand.

But he doubtless never expected to be writing an opinion chastising a woman in a banana suit….

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Here’s a sentence from a recent Seventh Circuit opinion:

[T]his case shows every sign of being an overzealous prosecution for a technical violation of a criminal regulatory statute — the kind of rigid and severe exercise of law-enforcement discretion that would make Inspector Javert proud.

This was a sentence from the dissent.

Amazingly, though, the majority voted to reverse the conviction. Judge Sykes, who authored the dissent, would have affirmed the conviction — though, presumably, not because she thinks a Javert-like prosecution is a model that the Department of Justice ought to aspire to.

It’s an odd day when such strong language appears in an opinion that supports a court of appeals affirming a district court decision. And this case, United States v. Abair, is odd. (And thank you, Professor Volokh, for pointing the case out!)

Why is the case odd?

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When I was a lawyer, I often fantasized about being in a non-fatal traffic accident to get out of work. Not “faking” a non-fatal accident, but actually allowing myself to be struck by a moving vehicle.

I didn’t like my job. But I’m no liar. I’m not like this guy who pretended he was too sick to go to work when he was really just unprepared…

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The defendants’ appeal brief is a gaunt, pathetic document (there is no reply brief). Minus formal matter, it is only eight and a half pages long. Brevity is the soul of wit, and all that, but still: the first seven and a half pages are simply a recitation of the history of the Georgia lawsuit, the settlement negotiations, and the present suit, along with questionable and irrelevant facts; and the tiny argument section of the brief — 118 words, including citations — states merely, without detail or elaboration, that the defendants do not possess the settlement funds and therefore can’t restore them.

– Judge Richard Posner, in an opinion ripping apart a brief submitted by David Lashgari, a Georgia lawyer attempting to appeal a contempt citation. Posner called Lashgari’s behavior “outrageous,” and his appeal “frivolous,” and issued a show-cause order as to why Lashgari should not be sanctioned.

(Keep reading to see Judge Posner’s entertaining opinion.)

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