Federal Judges

In an event I did a few years ago at the University of Chicago with Judge Richard Posner (check out the podcast here), Judge Posner tossed out a delicious little blind item. He mentioned a federal judge in Chicago who would fire law clerks for what she viewed as a very grave offense: splitting infinitives in written work product.

But is splitting infinitives really such a crime?

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One of the interesting concepts in Professor Rosenbaum’s book (affiliate link) is that the law lacks a soul. The law lacks tenderness. The law is objective and cold and inhumane. The law abhors emotion. I don’t think that’s true.

Every time I sentence a defendant, there is a lot of emotion. I think there is a lot of humanity in the law.

– Judge Denny Chin (2d Cir.), quoted in an interesting New York Times article focused on his sentencing practices (back when he was an S.D.N.Y. judge).

I’m hoping the living Constitution will die.

– Justice Antonin Scalia, in remarks made yesterday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Justice Scalia and Justice Stephen G. Breyer were invited by the Committee to discuss their views on constitutional interpretation and the proper role of judges in our democracy.

Ribs are delicious, but try not to eat your husband's.

* With about 90 vacancies in the federal court system, the Senate approved six for judgeships, including Judge John Roll’s replacement. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]

* $400 per wasted hour? That’s not what you’re paying your lawyer. That’s what he’s paying in sanctions for futzing around during depositions. [Daily Business Review]

* Texas Roadhouse: old farts need not apply. Apparently qualifications for working at a chain restaurant now include being young, hot, and chipper. [Los Angeles Times]

* Friendly’s used to be the place where ice cream made the meal, but now it’s the place where ice cream makes you bankrupt. That’s just sad. [Bloomberg]

* Memo to file: the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, not yours. A former model is seeking parole after she chopped up, cooked, and ate her husband. [Daily Mail]

* Derrick Bell, law professor and racial advocate, RIP. [New York Times]

* Steve Jobs, creator of the iPhone, one of the most popular tools for lawyers, RIP. [Apple]

Several prominent judges, like Richard Posner (left) and Alex Kozinski (right), hire 'off-plan.'

Over the weekend, we mentioned a very interesting New York Times article on the chaotic state of the clerkship application process, and said we’d have more to say about it later. Well, now is later, quite a bit later — so let’s discuss.

The piece — by Catherine Rampell, who has written about the legal world before — paints a depressing picture of a dysfunctional system. Rampell reports that the clerkship process “has become a frenzied free-for-all, with the arbiters of justice undermining each other at every turn to snatch up the best talent.”

Let’s look at the reasons behind this, and discuss whether the process can be fixed….

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At birth.

– Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, explaining when he begins recruiting law clerks.

(Chief Judge Kozinski is quoted in a very interesting New York Times article on the chaotic state of the clerkship application process, which we’ll have more to say about later.)

UPDATE (9/27/11): Here is our commentary on the NYT piece.

* Police suspect that a client may have been the one to plant a bomb in attorney Erik G. Chappell’s car. Stay far away from family law, folks. [New York Daily News]

* “How come there’s not a school where people can go if they want to become trial lawyers?” How come you don’t know we already have 200 other law schools? [National Law Journal]

* I hope they signed a prenup, because AT&T and T-Mobile have added two more firms to their huge Biglaw wedding party — O’Melveny and Kellogg Huber. [Am Law Daily]

* “A lawsuit has been filed . . . by a female law clerk who alleges that [a] judge slapped her in the buttocks with a legal file.” And Lat wonders why law clerks hate their jobs. [Billings Gazette]

* LiLo may be behind on her court-ordered service hours, but surely she should be credited for the community service of wearing low-cut tops. [New York Post]

* Ninth Circuit Judge Pamela Rymer, RIP. [San Francisco Chronicle]

Law clerks aren't jumping for joy these days, especially when it comes to pay.

I spent last weekend in Portland, Oregon, where I attended the 25th judicial anniversary celebration and law clerk reunion of my former boss, Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain of the Ninth Circuit. It was a warm and wonderful occasion, a chance to reconnect with old friends and to catch up with the O’Scannlains (Judge and Mrs. O’Scannlain were joined by all eight of their children for the festivities). Former clerks shared happy memories from their time in PDX clerking for DFO.

Most former law clerks I meet — mainly law clerks to federal judges, whether Article III or magistrate or bankruptcy — recall their clerkships fondly. They praise the excellent experience, the clerkly camaraderie, and the training and mentoring they received from their judges (for the most part; a few describe judicial clerkships from hell).

It struck me as strange, then, that “law clerk” recently came in at #7 on CNBC’s list of 10 Most Hated Jobs. I can’t help wondering whether courthouse administrative personnel with the title of “clerk” were somehow mixed in with federal judicial law clerks. The median salary of $39,780 a year suggests that this might be the case, since federal law clerks (and many state law clerks) make more than $40K these days.

Then again, people don’t clerk for the money. Sure, clerkship bonuses, especially Supreme Court clerkship bonuses, can be considerable — but in most cases, a graduate who goes straight into a law firm will do better financially than her classmate who clerks after graduation.

If you’re planning to clerk or interested in clerking for a federal judge, you should be aware of the latest news about law clerk compensation….

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Chief Judge Edith Jones: Underneath her robe beats a judicial diva's heart.

Can you enforce civility by being… uncivil? That’s the question being raised, over and over again, by federal judges from Texas these days.

Before we get to the latest ridiculousness, let’s review. Back in August, Judge Sam Sparks (W.D. Tex.) benchslapped some rude lawyers with a snarky order inviting them to a “kindergarten party,” where they would learn such lessons as reasonableness and courtesy.

Ironically enough, some found Judge Sparks’s civility-seeking order to be… rude. Chief Judge Edith Jones (5th Cir.) issued an email reprimand to Judge Sparks, condemning his “caustic, demeaning, and gratuitous” order as “cast[ing] disrespect on the judiciary.” Some observers in turn thought it rude of Chief Judge Jones to call out Judge Sparks in writing, so publicly — she cc’d all of the other Western District of Texas judges on her email — when she could have just made a private phone call.

Chief Judge Jones is a highly regarded conservative jurist and a fixture on Supreme Court short lists, but she might not be the best authority on civility and etiquette these days. Check out the latest craziness — an en banc hearing before the Fifth Circuit that generated judicial fireworks, culminating in Judge Jones essentially telling a colleague to STFU or GTFO….

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'At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought.'

It’s not every day that attorneys repeatedly file “unintelligible” complaints that are “riddled with errors.” (Okay, maybe it is every day.)

But it’s really not every day that Drew Peterson’s attorney — yes, that Drew Peterson — attempts to file the same complaint three times, appeals to the Seventh Circuit only to get smacked down, and is then ordered to show cause as to why his federal license to practice shouldn’t be tossed out.

Let’s take a look at what Walter Maksym attempted to file, and why he faced the wrath of the Seventh Circuit earlier this week….

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