Benchslaps

Judge Bruce Markell

Were there ever a time to use “fail,” as the contemporary vernacular permits, it is now, and in reference to this deplorable display of legal representation: it was an epic fail.

– Judge Bruce Markell, in a recent opinion in a Las Vegas Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceeding, which concluded that the debtors’ attorneys, Barry Levinson and Jeremy Mondejar, should be sanctioned for their ineffective representation.

(What did these Cooley Law graduates allegedly do to irk Judge Markell in this way? Take a look, after the jump.)

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Majority opinions are hardly sitting ducks for the criticism dissentals may heap on them. If a panel majority finds that a dissental scores some valid points, it can modify its opinion to eliminate the problem, something that happens regularly in the Ninth Circuit. Indeed, fear that internal criticisms will be taken public often causes judges to moderate outlier opinions so as to present a smaller target for public criticism and possible certiorari. One of us (yes, the hot one) is even aware of a case where the panel withdrew its opinion and reversed the result, after winning the en banc vote, in the teeth of a stinging dissental.

– Chief Judge Alex Kozinski (9th Cir.) and his former law clerk, James Burnham of Jones Day, in a Yale Law Journal online essay entitled I Say Dissental, You Say Concurral (defending the practice of filing a dissental, aka dissenting from the denial of rehearing en banc).

(Additional discussion, after the jump.)

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Remember the homework assignment issued by Judge Jerry Smith of the Fifth Circuit to the U.S. Department of Justice? Earlier this week, Judge Smith ordered the DOJ to file a three-page, single-spaced letter discussing the principles of judicial review, in light of prior comments by President Barack Obama that could be construed as questioning the doctrine.

The response was due today at noon (Houston time) — about 20 minutes ago. It was filed on behalf of the Department by Attorney General Eric Holder.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

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'I'm so glad the Justice Department respects judicial review!'

The nation recently received a lesson in constitutional law from President Barack Obama (who famously taught Con Law at the University of Chicago). As we mentioned yesterday, President Obama said on Monday that striking down the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, would constitute an “unprecedented, extraordinary step,” amounting to “judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint — that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law.”

The problem with this lesson: it wasn’t exactly accurate. Those “unelected” federal judges “overturn … duly constituted and passed law[s]” all the time — well, maybe not all the time, but on occasion, when said laws are inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution. It’s neither “unprecedented” nor “extraordinary,” and it doesn’t amount to judicial activism; rather, it’s called judicial review.

One prominent conservative jurist, Judge Jerry E. Smith of the Fifth Circuit, took it upon himself to set the record straight on this matter….

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I feel queasy just looking at this photo of Nutriloaf.

Deliberate withholding of nutritious food or substitution of tainted or otherwise sickening food, with the effect of causing substantial weight loss, vomiting, stomach pains, and maybe an anal fissure (which is no fun at all, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anal_fissure (visited March 15, 2012)), or other severe hardship, would violate the Eighth Amendment.

– Judge Richard Posner, in Tuesday’s ruling in Prude v. Clarke. The Seventh Circuit reinstated a lawsuit filed by a prisoner who alleged that being fed nutriloaf (a.k.a. Nutraloaf) in the Milwaukee County Jail amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

(Judge Posner had more strong words to say about nutriloaf, as well an in-depth analysis to answer this crucial question: what the heck is nutriloaf?)

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There is no better way to head into the weekend feeling good about yourself than with a little bit of schadenfreude.

To that end, we have a nice, swift benchslap to the pants from a federal court in California. Even more fun, the receiving attorneys work for a Biglaw firm.

Let’s check out one judge’s reaction to the latest in discovery shenanigans…

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Judge Jed Rakoff

It is commonplace for settlements to include no binding admission of liability. A settlement is by definition a compromise. We know of no precedent that supports the proposition that a settlement will not be found to be fair, adequate, reasonable, or in the public interest unless liability has been conceded or proved and is embodied in the judgment. We doubt whether it lies within a court’s proper discretion to reject a settlement on the basis that liability has not been conclusively determined.

Having considered the various explanations given by the district court for its refusal to permit the settlement, we conclude that the S.E.C. and Citigroup have a strong likelihood of success in their joint effort to overturn the district court’s ruling.

– A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in a per curiam opinion granting a stay pending appeal in the SEC’s case against Citigroup.

(A quick refresher on this case, after the jump.)

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Periodically, we catch wind of bizarre lawsuit filings, usually pro se, and seemingly from the the minds of people with serious mental problems. We don’t write about these lawsuits, because presumably they never go anywhere. They are not newsworthy; they are just sad.

Thus, it is quite unusual to come across a 30-page district court ruling devoted entirely to addressing far-fetched Da Vinci Code-style conspiracy allegations.

The judges handling this case must go home every night and weep while drinking Jameson from the bottle. I do not envy them.

In our Benchslap of the Day, let’s watch a federal magistrate judge shoot down complaints that his judicial colleague is part of a “large, amorphous conspiracy” — like a boss…

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CHECK YOU PRECEDENT.

The issues presented in this appeal have been previously decided. Counsel were given an opportunity to distinguish our prior cases but Appellant’s counsel used that opportunity to criticize, rather than distinguish, them. There is nothing more to say. AFFIRMED.

– A unanimous panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, in a non-precedential order disposing of the appeal in Commonwealth Property Advocates v. U.S. Bank National Association.

(This unpublished order reminded me of two prior benchslaps, discussed below.)

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Law is not like baseball. A lawyer cannot play for one team, make a name for himself, build a local following, and then jump ship and join the New York Yankees, only to come back next season to destroy his old teammates.

In law, once you represent a client for a significant amount of time, you can’t simply oppose them down the road, even if they are no longer your client and you now work at a new firm. Obvious, right?

Unfortunately for several former DLA Piper attorneys, something there got lost in translation. A federal judge in San Francisco booted the lawyers, now at the litigation boutique of Feinberg Day, from a patent dispute involving Toshiba and Talon Research. It turned out that the attorneys, who represented Talon Research, had logged more than 3,000 hours for Toshiba when they were still at DLA. Not good.

Let’s look more closely at our benchslap of the day

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