Benchslaps

ALL YOUR DOCS ARE BELONG TO US.

Litigators at large law firms spend an inordinate (and depressing) amount of time on discovery disputes. They bombard poor magistrate judges with motions to compel. They bicker over deposition timing and location. They compile massive privilege logs. They file letter briefs with the court, explaining their entitlement to certain documents that opposing counsel is withholding, without justification.

Partners who work on such matters often say to their associates, “Find me a case in which a judge sanctioned a party for failure to comply with discovery obligations — preferably a case in which the non-compliance is exactly what opposing counsel is doing here, and ideally featuring soaring rhetoric about the importance of following discovery rules.” The associate spends several hours on Westlaw or Lexis, then returns empty-handed; there was nothing quite on-point. There was certainly no soaring rhetoric.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Do you think successful lawyers give up the practice of law in order to keep dealing with discovery-related headaches, for a fraction of what they earned in the private sector? Of course not. Federal district judges prefer to write published opinions about Sexy Constitutional Issues, leaving their magistrates to oversee the discovery playpen. In the rare discovery-related cases that do go up on appeal, federal circuit judges affirm as quickly and summarily as possible, so they can get back to the fun stuff. [FN1]

If you’re a Biglaw litigator searching for a published opinion addressing discovery issues, well, today is your lucky day. Check out this great opinion, just handed down — not by a mere magistrate or district judge, but by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit….

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Judge Eric Melgren (D. Kansas)

A trial was scheduled to start in Kansas federal court on June 14, 2011. Defendants moved for a short continuance because one of their lawyers is expecting his first child on July 3. (The lawyer in question, Bryan Erman, is quite cute — check out that chin dimple.)

Plaintiffs’ counsel objected to the continuance — strenuously. This took Judge Eric Melgren by surprise. And not in a good way.

Judge Melgren granted the continuance — and took the opportunity to benchslap the lawyers who refused to consent….

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The Winklevoss twins might be hot -- but their case is not, according to the Ninth Circuit.

If you enjoyed The Social Network, then perhaps you should be grateful to Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss. The lawsuit they filed against Facebook and Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, gave rise to excellent entertainment. The movie wouldn’t have been possible without it.

But now the litigation is getting… old. And some people just want the Winklevoss twins to go away. Like three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

In a ruling handed down today, rejecting the Winklevosses’s effort to overturn an earlier settlement with Facebook and Zuckerberg, the Ninth Circuit dispensed some stinging benchslaps. The opinion contains detailed and erudite analysis of both California contract law and federal securities law, but it can be summarized in four words: “Winklevii, STFU and GTFO.” (Feel free to use that in your headnotes, Westlaw and Lexis.)

Who wrote the opinion? None other than the ever-colorful Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, of course!

Let’s see what His Honor had to say — plus learn about additional Kozinski-related and movie-related news….

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On what basis can one be confident that law schools acquaint students with prosecutors’ unique obligation under Brady? Whittaker told the jury he did not recall covering Brady in his criminal procedure class in law school. Dubelier’s alma mater, like most other law faculties, does not make criminal procedure a required course. [FN21]

[FN21] See Tulane University Law School, Curriculum, http://www.law.tulane.edu (select “Academics”; select “Curriculum”) (as visited Mar. 21, 2011, and in Clerk of Court’s case file).

– Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, dissenting, in Connick v. Thompson (via Josh Blackman, who provides additional context and excerpts from the opinions; there’s also discussion of the case at Gawker).

There must be no more of this childish abuse…. No more or there will be sanctions. In more than 29 years as a judge, I have never encountered such bickering, quarrelsome lawyers. You are wasting my time and your clients’ money.

– Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit, sitting by designation as a district judge (N.D. Ill.), ruling on motions in limine in Chamberlain Group, Inc. v. Lear Corp. (PDF).

(The context of this quotation, which contains additional benchslappery, appears below.)

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Time to put down the gavel and hang up the robe.

We recently covered the Third Circuit’s benchslap of Judge John Fullam, an 89-year-old judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. In his opinion in United States v. Higdon, issuing a writ of mandamus and directing that the case mishandled by Judge Fullam be reassigned on remand, Chief Judge Theodore McKee had some harsh words for the aged jurist: “Neither this court, nor any other court, can tolerate a situation where a judge decides to follow his/her own custom and concepts of justice rather than the precedent of the applicable appellate court or the United States Supreme Court. Ours is a nation of laws, not judges.”

At the same time, Chief Judge McKee had some kind words for Judge Fullam, praising him as “a very experienced and hard working jurist [who] has devoted decades of service to the federal bench.” In the comments to our post, some readers interpreted the combination of statements — criticism for Judge Fullam’s mishandling of one case, but compliments for his “decades of service” — as the Third Circuit trying to nudge Judge Fullam into retirement.

Well, it seems to have worked — and it’s apparently the culmination of a long-running effort to get Judge Fullam off the bench….

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Greco is a menace to his clients and a scofflaw with respect to appellate procedure. The district court may wish to consider whether he should remain a member of its bar. Would-be clients should consider how Greco has treated [his clients] Lee, Washington, and Moore.

– Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook of the Seventh Circuit, benchslapping attorney Michael J. Greco in Lee v. Cook County.

(Additional gems from the opinion — this is just the tip of the iceberg — appear after the jump.)

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(Or: Mess with the Easterbrook, you get the horns.)

That decision is as inexplicable as it is unexplained. It is reversed.

– opinion of the Supreme Court in Felkner v. Jackson, benchslapping the Ninth Circuit through a unanimous, per curiam reversal of an unpublished memorandum disposition. (For more context, see Josh Blackman or read the SCOTUS opinion.)

Judge Fullam is a very experienced and hard working jurist and he has devoted decades of service to the federal bench. Nothing we have said in this opinion should detract from that. However, neither this court, nor any other court, can tolerate a situation where a judge decides to follow his/her own custom and concepts of justice rather than the precedent of the applicable appellate court or the United States Supreme Court. Ours is a nation of laws, not judges.

– Chief Judge Theodore McKee (3d Cir.), benchslapping the 89-year-old Judge John Fullam (E.D. Pa.) through issuance of a writ of mandamus, in United States v. Higdon.

It’s not everyday you get porn, file sharing lawsuits, amateur motions to quash subpoenas, and a federal judge quoting Shakespeare’s King John, all wrapped up in a nice legal bundle of joy.

Here we go, from the beginning:

Chicago attorney John Steele, whose firm website is located at www.WeFightPiracy.com, represents CP Productions, the filmmakers behind — wait for it — Cowgirl Creampie. The movie was part of their website, www.chicasplace.com (obviously NSFW; I can’t believe I just looked that up in Starbucks).

On behalf of his client, Steele sued 300 people who allegedly downloaded and shared the movie via BitTorrent. No one actually knew, however, who these supposed downloaders were. The plaintiffs only had IP addresses — not names, phone numbers or mailing addresses.

Steele subpoenaed various Internet service providers to get the personal data. He spent months unsuccessfully trying to contact all of the defendants, who lived conveniently in a single Chicago apartment building all over the damn country….

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