Federal Judges

I am not the Maytag repairman of federal judges desperately hoping for something to do.

– Nevada Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen, explaining why it took her so long to issue a scathing sanction [PDF] of defense counsel.

(Gavel bang: Las Vegas Review-Journal via ABA Journal.)

Earlier today, on the Senate floor, debate took place on whether to confirm Solicitor General Elena Kagan as the nation’s 112th Supreme Court justice. The Kagan nomination is not very controversial, due to the nominee’s impeccable credentials and the Democrats’ 59 votes in the Senate.

In the legal blogosphere, a far more divisive debate is raging, over a subject just as important as confirming the fourth woman ever to the Supreme Court: Are peep-toe shoes appropriate professional footwear? Can female attorneys wear them to the office? What about to court?

The debate was ignited over at The Careerist, by Vivia Chen (no style slouch herself — not many legal journalists own floor-length mink coats). Chen recounted this anecdote:

Waiting in line in the ladies room at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel recently, I heard this discussion: “In my day, I always wore pumps to court,” said in a woman in her fifties. “Can you believe this associate went to court with open-toe shoes?” Her companion shook her head, then asked: “How did she do?” The first woman replied, “Her work was good, but her shoes weren’t right.”

Chen then surveyed a number of lawyers, from around the country, and they could not reach a consensus on the appropriateness of peep-toe shoes. The debate continued over at the ABA Journal, where a post by Debra Cassens Weiss generated a flurry of comments.

Given that so many law firms are business casual nowadays, it is probably safe to wear peep-toe shoes to the office. The fashion guidelines issued by the New York office of Weil Gotshal, for example, officially bless “open toe or open heel shoes.” (Still unacceptable: “Athletic shoes, clogs, beach shoes, flip flops, beach shoes.”)

But what about wearing peep-toe shoes to court? On this subject, we decided to turn to the experts: namely, a panel of fabulous female federal judges….

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I don’t believe you when you say just about anything anymore because I know that you will lie to a court any time it helps you. I know that. I saw you do it. I know you will do that. You have proven that to me beyond a reasonable doubt.

– Chief Judge James Holderman (N.D. Ill.) of Chicago, berating government lawyers — before a unanimous panel of the Seventh Circuit removed him from the case, in the middle of trial. Judge Richard Posner’s opinion cited Judge Holderman’s abuse of discretion and “unreasonable fury toward the prosecutors.”

Warren Jeffs

* A team of federal investigators called the “BP Squad” is starting up a criminal investigation into BP and its pals, Transocean and Halliburton. [Washington Post]

* The four justices of the Utah Supreme Court have reversed the rape convictions of polygamist leader Warren Jeffs. No word yet on their response to his marriage proposal. [How Appealing]

* The Sacramento firm of McDonough Holland & Allen is closing up shop by Labor Day, and its 80 or so attorneys are looking for new homes. [Am Law Daily]

* We can now return to not knowing or caring about Levinson Axelrod. [ABA Journal]

* Obama to Senate: plug the damn hole — in the ranks of the federal judiciary. [The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times]

* Texas is simultaneously fighting and following the new health care law — the Supremacy Clause is a real bi**h sometimes. [New York Times]

J. Michael ("Mike") LuttigIn May 2006, then-Judge J. Michael Luttig made major news in the legal world by resigning from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to become senior vice president and general counsel of aerospace giant Boeing. Luttig served as a Fourth Circuit judge for almost 15 years, during which time he reigned as the #1 feeder judge, sending almost all of his clerks into Supreme Court clerkships, and came extremely close to becoming a justice himself.

Luttig’s resignation from his life-tenured Fourth Circuit judgeship came as a shock to many (and was viewed by some as “taking his toys and going home,” after he got passed over for the SCOTUS seats that ultimately went to John Roberts and Samuel Alito). But Luttig, who’s only 56 — he was appointed to the Fourth Circuit at the tender age of 37 — seems to be enjoying the new challenges of serving as GC of a large public company.

During his four years at Boeing, Luttig has given its in-house ranks a major makeover. He has brought in some top talent, including at least four Supreme Court clerks: John Demers (OT 2005/Scalia), Grant Dixton (OT 2000/Kennedy), Brett Gerry (OT 2000/Kennedy), and Jake Phillips (OT 2004/Scalia). Is there any in-house legal department with more former Supreme Court clerks than Boeing? Don’t forget to count Luttig himself, who clerked for Chief Justice Burger (OT 1983), after clerking for then-Judge Scalia on the D.C. Circuit.

UPDATE: Boeing boasts at least eight (8) SCOTUS clerks. Here are three who were inadvertently omitted from the original version of this post: Bertrand-Marc Allen (OT 2003/Kennedy), Lynda Guild Simpson (OT 1984/Powell), and Eric Wolff (OT 2000/Scalia).

And Luttig has given his net worth a makeover, too. At the time of his May 2006 resignation, federal circuit judges earned $175,100 a year. As executive vice president and general counsel of Boeing — the country’s largest aerospace and defense company, #28 on the Fortune 500 — he makes millions.

Luttig no longer has to worry about covering college expenses for his two kids (which he cited in his resignation letter as a reason for leaving the bench). And this past May, he and his wife, Elizabeth Luttig, bought a fabulous second home in beautiful Kiawah Island, South Carolina.

How much did Mike Luttig pay for his new place? And how does the price tag compare to his in-house compensation at Boeing?

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Earlier this month, we provided you with a fairly complete listing of Supreme Court law clerks for October Term 2010. The OT 2010 clerks are starting up at the Court this month, staggered over a few weeks. To get a sense of what they’ll be working on this summer, see this SCOTUSblog post, by Lisa McElroy.

If you had any doubts about the accuracy of our list of OT 2010 clerks, consider them dispelled. The Public Information Office of the Supreme Court has kindly provided Above the Law with the official list of incoming law clerks, and the list is consistent with what we’ve previously reported. There’s just one name that we didn’t previously have: the law clerk to retired Justice David H. Souter.

Find out who he is, and check out the official list — we know you’re dying to learn the middle initials of the newest members of “The Elect” — after the jump.

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Here at Above the Law, we’re getting very excited for the upcoming Kagan confirmation hearings. We’ll be liveblogging Lady Kaga’s big show next week.

In the lead-up to the confirmation hearings, C-SPAN conducted a poll on what the people think about the Supreme Court. There are a bunch of interesting findings. As usual, the Supreme Court enjoys the highest approval rating of any branch of government:

Isn’t it interesting that the unelected branch of government is consistently the one that voters like the best? Maybe if members of Congress were appointed by fiat, instead of selected through popular elections, people would cheer?

The above question generated a curious response, but not a dumb one. To find “the stupid,” you have to drill a little deeper into the poll.

And, ye Gods, are Americans critically uninformed when it comes to the high court….

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Alex Kozinski and David Lat at CEI Dinner

Chief Judge Alex Kozinski (9th Cir.) and your above-signed writer, at the 2010 Annual Dinner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.


Last Thursday, June 17, I had the pleasure of attending the 2010 annual dinner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, in Washington, D.C. In case you’re not familiar with it, CEI is “a public interest group dedicated to free enterprise and limited government” — i.e., a libertarian think tank.

At this year’s dinner, the honoree was a legal luminary with libertarian leanings: Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Given my adoration of Judge Kozinski, the proximity of Washington to New York, and the fact that I was already going to be in D.C. — for a dinner of the Society of Professional Journalists (Kash and I wrote a magazine story that was nominated for an award) — how could I not attend?

A write-up of the proceedings and a slideshow, after the jump.

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U.S. District Judge Mark W. Bennett won’t get the publicity of Judge Martin Feldman. Obviously, blocking President Obama’s deep-water drilling moratorium — having already disclosed investments in Transocean and Halliburton — is big news.

But Judge Bennett is making waves of his own in his Iowa courtroom. He’s decided that he wants lawyers to participate in an auction to determine who will get to serve as lead counsel in some consolidated antitrust cases.

And he informed lawyers of this with a curious email. The subject line alone is not something one expects from a federal judge:

Waterman v. VS Holding Co. et al (10cv4038) – consolidated antitrust actions – “going once, twice, sold to the lowest bidder” – ready to rumble?

Not only is this judge “ready to rumble,” he’s also ready to insult lawyers from East Coast law firms…

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Warning to the female readers of Above the Law: the reading of this post may lead to the rending of your inappropriate clothing and pulling out of your questionably-styled hair.

Earlier this month, lady lawyers gathered in Philadelphia for the ABA’s Women in Law Leadership Academy. Gina Passarella of the Legal Intelligencer was in attendance and reported on a session featuring esteemed female judges offering advice to their trial lawyer counterparts (gavel bang: ABA Journal).

U.S. District Judge Norma L. Shapiro criticized women for being too timid in the courtroom. She said that “women lack the confidence that men seem to have.” Apparently the solution is the same one that women employ when they lack enthusiasm and confidence in certain other situations:

“You pretend. You fake it,” Shapiro said, adding that being prepared helps.

If faking confidence in the courtroom is as easy as feigning pleasure in the bedroom, perhaps many more women will soon be coming across as master litigators.

The judges had other advice. When a whole bunch of women get together, they just can’t help but complain about other women’s outfits and hair, after all….

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