Federal Judges

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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Westboro Baptist Church might be protected under the First Amendment. But maybe we can nail them for child abuse?

The Supreme Court just handed down its decision in the Westboro Baptist Church case, Snyder v. Phelps. The court ruled, 8-1, that the father of a slain Marine could not successfully sue the Westboro church in tort for protesting during his son’s funeral.

Call it Free Speech 101. The hard part about the First Amendment is that you have to allow people to say all manner of annoying, vulgar, and inappropriate things, at the wrong times.

Not that Justice Samuel Alito thinks so. Justice Alito was the lone dissenter in this case. He was also the lone dissenter in the Stevens case, in which the Court overturned a ban on animal crush videos on First Amendment grounds. But he voted with the majority in Citizens United.

I can’t wait until Sam “Not True” Alito writes a book or something explaining why regular people don’t deserve the free speech given to American corporations and sitting Supreme Court justices….

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Were you disappointed by James Franco and Anne Hathaway as Oscars hosts? If so, you weren’t alone. PopEater described their hosting efforts, especially Franco’s, as “a disaster.” The New York Times declared the proceedings to be “downright painful” at points.

Next year, the Academy Awards should go in a different direction. Enough pandering to the youth. For 2012, the Oscars host should be a certain hilarious, older Jewish gentleman, who has been celebrated over the years for his brilliance and wit, and who knows a great deal about movies.

Bring back Billy Crystal? Not a bad idea — but here’s a better one. Bring on Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit!

In addition to his incredible intellect and superb sense of humor, Chief Judge Kozinski has an encyclopedic knowledge of film. Recall his famous ruling in the movie-industry case of United States v. Syufy Enterprises, featuring over 200 film titles woven artfully into the text of his opinion.

Chief Judge Kozinski knows movies, and he loves movies. He goes to the cinema every chance he gets. In fact, His Honor recently sent a movie recommendation my way — and it’s PG-13, in case you’re wondering….

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It was quite shocking last October when word first surfaced that then-federal judge Jack Camp, at the time a senior judge for the Northern District of Georgia (Atlanta), might have indulged in cocaine, marijuana, and sex with a prostitute. The charges were hard to believe, especially given Judge Camp’s judicial office.

But, as it turned out, there was some truth to the allegations. In November, Judge Camp pleaded guilty to criminal charges stemming from his role in a scandal that involved drugs, guns, sex, and a stripper named Sherry Ann Ramos.

Now new information has come to light that makes Judge Jack Camp’s behavior perhaps more understandable, even if still illegal….

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And what I think is important for you all, is that when you see people standing in defense of what’s right, that you make sure that your voice is not remembered as one of the silent. Because there’s gonna be a day when you’re gonna look around and you’re gonna look at your kids and your grandkids and they’re gonna ask you a question: What happened to the great country that was here when you grew up, and why isn’t it here now, and what did you do?

– Justice Clarence Thomas, in the powerful keynote address he delivered over the weekend at UVA Law, at the 30th annual student symposium of the Federalist Society (Politico via WSJ Law Blog).

'Judge Tacha, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.'

Here’s a new mini-trend: federal judges leaving the bench to lead law schools.

In 2007, David F. Levi stepped down as chief judge of the Eastern District of California, to assume the deanship of Duke Law School.

Today, Pepperdine University School of Law announced that Judge Deanell Reece Tacha — who has served on the Tenth Circuit for over 25 years, including a term as chief judge (2001-2007) — will be the school’s new dean, effective June 1.

Judge Tacha follows in the footsteps of another federal judge: former D.C. Circuit Judge Ken Starr, of Whitewater / Monica Lewinsky fame. Judge Starr served as Pepperdine Law’s dean until he left last year for the presidency of Baylor University.

How are students reacting to news of Judge Tacha’s appointment?

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