Federal Judges

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.)

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Quote(s) of the Day: Oh, professionalism is overrated.
(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the Supreme Court in Felkner v. Jackson, benchslapping the Ninth Circuit through a unanimous, per curiam reversal of an unpublished memorandum disposition.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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Who says the Midwest is more laid back than the coasts? Who says Midwesterners are more polite than people who live in big cities? Who says working in a place like Iowa affords a higher quality of life and a better work/life balance than working in a place like Chicago?

Not United States District Court Judge Mark Bennett. No sir.

We’ve written about Judge Bennett before. He’s a funny guy. The last time we saw him, he was expressing his personal bias against “East Coast law firms,” in part because he think big city lawyers possess “unsurpassed arrogance.”

But Judge Bennett might be selling himself short. I don’t think the average East Coast lawyer’s arrogance even approaches what His Honor rolls with…

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We add that the appellants’ brief is rambling, and would be more effective if compressed to 14,000 words.

– Judge Richard Posner, in a benchslap that denied appellants’ motion to file an oversized brief — and summarily affirmed the district court (full opinion here, via How Appealing).

One day, after I had been questioned for weeks at a time, I was so frustrated I looked at my assistant and said ‘I think they already know the color of my underwear.’

– Justice Sonia Sotomayor, complaining about the intrusive questioning she was subjected to during the Supreme Court nomination process, in an appearance yesterday at Northwestern Law.

Plus, you always surrender in an argument with your wife, right? Isn’t that the formula for marital happiness?

– Judge Richard Posner, quoted recently in the New York Times in an article about “sell by” or “use by” dates for food.

Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Inside Straight, Above the Law’s column for in-house counsel, written by Mark Herrmann.

Here are two stories, from nearly thirty years apart. They’re bookends on the subject of why standard of review counts.

Travel back with me, if you will, to the summer of 1983. I’m ten minutes out of law school, and I’ve just arrived in the chambers of Judge Dorothy W. Nelson of the Ninth Circuit, for whom I’ll clerk. Our wise and sagacious predecessor-clerks — out of law school for an entire year! — are introducing us to the job. (We overlapped for one week.)

One of my predecessor-clerks, John Danforth, asked the new group: “Do you think standard of review matters in appeals?”

I knew the answer, and I was about to pop off: “Of course not! Once you convince the court that your side is right, the judges will do whatever it takes to rule in favor of your client. Standard of review is just a silly lawyers’ game.”

Fortunately, Danforth talks quickly. Before I was able to make a fool of myself, he said: “Standard of review decides cases. It decides cases. That’s the most important thing I’ve learned in a year of clerking. Standard of review makes all the difference in the world.”

Why?

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