Federal Judges

I recently heard a panel of judges speak about e-discovery issues. Their opinions on several subjects varied, but on one subject they agreed unanimously: Clawback provisions under Federal Rule of Evidence 502 are valuable tools in most significant litigation, but they remain rarely used.

This piqued my interest, so I asked several in-house litigators (not necessarily at the place where I work) whether they routinely seek FRE 502 clawback provisions in their cases. The in-house lawyers do not. And I asked whether outside counsel routinely recommend seeking those provisions. Not surprisingly (because the in-house folks aren’t using them), outside counsel do not.

The judges think clawback provisions are a good idea; in most situations, it strikes me that the judges are right. So what are FRE 502 clawback provisions, and why are inside and outside counsel routinely missing this trick?

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I don’t have a problem with appointing an openly gay person. Because they’re not going to try to put sharia law in our laws.

Herman Cain, Republican presidential candidate, explaining why he would consider appointing an openly gay person to his cabinet, even though he would not appoint a Muslim to the federal bench or to his cabinet. (Gavel bang: Andrew Sullivan / The Dish.)

Judge Fred Biery

Three years ago, we bestowed Judge of the Day honors upon the Honorable Fred Biery, a federal judge in the Western District of Texas. Back in 2008, Judge Biery rejected a religious school’s attempt to join an influential statewide extracurricular organization. In the process of ruling against Cornerstone Christian Schools, Judge Biery took the Bible and turned it around on them, in a snarky opinion quoting religious texts to refute a religious school.

(His Honor apparently enjoys colorful writing. See also this amusing ruling, with shout-outs in the footnotes to such fabulous creatures as Barbra Streisand and Stephen Sondheim.)

Well, it seems that Judge Biery — make that Chief Judge Biery, as of last June — continues to antagonize organized religion. Let’s read about the latest controversy he’s incited, this time involving an imminent high school graduation ceremony….

UPDATE: Judge Biery’s ruling in the case discussed below was overturned on Friday afternoon by the Fifth Circuit. Details and links appear in the update at the end of this post.

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Justice Stephen G. Breyer

Are justices of the U.S. Supreme Court gods, or men? There’s evidence on both sides. Their brilliant legal minds and dazzling résumés weigh in favor of deity designation. Their ability to make mistakes suggests that they’re mere mortals.

Supreme Court justices: they’re just like us! They get into accidents — as Justice Stephen Breyer did over Memorial Day weekend, while riding his bicycle near his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Justice Breyer broke his right collarbone in the incident — ouch (and more evidence to support my dislike of cycling).

This isn’t even the first vehicular mishap for one of the nine in 2011. As you may recall, Justice Antonin Scalia got in a car accident, back in March — and received a ticket for it.

Physical accidents involving federal judges might not be shocking; brainiacs aren’t known for their grace and agility. But ethical oversights might be more surprising.

Let’s look at the latest controversy involving Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. — and whether the hubbub is justified….

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Katherine Forrest: You'd smile too if you were this rich.

I recently wrote about Katherine B. Forrest, the celebrated litigatrix nominated to a federal judgeship on the breathtakingly prestigious Southern District of New York. Forrest currently serves as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice’s antitrust division, but before joining the DOJ she was a longtime partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore — a premier, if not the premier, American law firm. Forrest was one of CSM’s most popular (and most powerful) young partners.

Katherine Forrest has a reputation as an incredible attorney, and she has the awards to prove it (see question 8). Not surprisingly, the ABA deemed her “unanimously well-qualified” as an S.D.N.Y. nominee.

So here’s what I wondered: Why did the amazingly accomplished Forrest, a partner at super-lucrative Cravath for over a dozen years, declare a mere $4.3 million on her net worth statement? Granted, $4.3 million is nothing to scoff at; KBF is rich (even by Elie’s standards). But it seemed to me that a lawyer of her distinction, who was a partner at a top firm for such a long time, should be even richer.

Thanks to information from helpful readers who saw my earlier post, I now know the truth. As it turns out, Katherine Forrest is considerably wealthier than that $4.3 million number suggests.

Way richer, in fact. Let’s find out….

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Katherine Forrest: Why isn't her net worth higher?

As I’ve previously mentioned, one of my favorite parts of the judicial nomination process is the attendant financial voyeurism. Judicial nominees are required to make detailed disclosures about their finances, allowing us to learn about their income and net worth. For example, thanks to her nomination to the Supreme Court last year, we got to learn about Elena Kagan’s net worth.

Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee released financial disclosure reports for several of President Obama’s recent judicial nominees — including antitrust litigatrix Katherine B. Forrest. Forrest has been nominated to the mind-blowingly prestigious Southern District of New York, perhaps the nation’s finest federal trial court. As a highly regarded lawyer who has won numerous awards and accolades (listed in her SJC questionnaire), Forrest will fit right in if confirmed to the S.D.N.Y. — a superstar among superstars.

The fabulous Forrest currently serves as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice’s antitrust division. She joined the DOJ last October — a commendable public-service commitment that required her to relinquish her partnership in one of America’s mightiest and most prestigious law firms, Cravath, Swaine & Moore. When she left to pursue government service, Forrest had been a Cravath partner for over 12 years (since 1998), and had been with the firm for about 20 years in all (since 1990).

At the time of her departure for the Justice Department, Katherine Forrest had been taking home hefty paychecks for decades. First she was an associate at Cravath, which pays its people quite well, in case you hadn’t heard. Then she was a partner at the firm (reportedly one of the most well-liked and most powerful younger partners) — from 1998 to 2010, a period in which average profits per partner at CSM routinely topped $2 million and occasionally exceeded $3 million. And remember that Cravath is a lockstep partnership with a reported 3:1 spread, meaning that the highest-paid partners make no more than three times as much as the lowest-paid partners. So it’s not possible that she was earning, say, $400,000, while other partners were earning millions (which can be the case at firms with higher spreads).

In light of the foregoing, what is Katherine Forrest’s net worth, according to her Senate Judiciary Committee financial disclosures? Not as much as you might expect….

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Reports indicate that cloture has not been invoked for Goodwin Liu’s nomination to the Ninth Circuit. That means the filibuster is still on. That means he’s going to be a law professor, not a judge (at least until the next election cycle).

Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and the totally [curse words] Ben Nelson (Something – NE) all voted against Liu. Game, set, match.

Maybe Goodwin Liu and Miguel Estrada should start a support group.

UPDATE (2:40 PM): The vote to end debate failed, 52-43; 60 votes were required.

Senate votes on cloture for Goodwin Liu confirmation [Daily Kos]

I think there is a disease of illiteracy or laziness, because just the commentary will tell you they haven’t read [the opinions they're critiquing]….

You don’t go to a Georgia fan to get commentary on the University of Florida, because it’s not objective commentary. Unfortunately, much of the commentary about the court is from the standpoint of people who have vested interests in particular outcomes, particular policies or particular results. Do you think you are getting an honest assessment?

– Justice Clarence Thomas, in remarks he delivered at the Augusta Bar Association’s Law Day Banquet. (Gavel bang: ABA Journal; see also Morning Docket.)

If I were in their role and in their position, I probably wouldn’t understand it either, that a club really can’t attract minority members.

– Judge Gilbert S. Merritt Jr. of the Sixth Circuit, commenting to the New York Times about two of his colleagues on the court — Eric L. Clay and R. Guy Cole Jr., both African-American — and their strong reactions against a bankruptcy judge’s membership in an all-white, all-male country club.

(Judge Merritt is also a member of the Belle Meade Country Club, although an honorary one without voting privileges.)

I have not the slightest doubt that it was entirely appropriate for U.S. forces to [take out Osama bin Laden]…. I must say I was proud of the SEALs.

– Justice John Paul Stevens, in remarks made yesterday at a dinner in Chicago. (Recall that Justice Stevens served in the Navy during World War II.)

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