Federal Judges

That’s the question posed by Linda Greenhouse, former Supreme Court correspondent for the New York Times, in an extremely interesting post on the Opinionator blog. In attempting to address “why other countries [don't] suffer from the same toxic confirmation battles that we do,” she first notes that other nations don’t give their judges life tenure:

High-court judges [in other countries] typically serve for a single nonrenewable term of 9 to 12 years — a period during which Supreme Court justices in the United States are just getting warmed up. These shorter terms ensure frequent turnover and allay fears about a party in power being able to lock up the court for decades through the fortuity of a large number of vacancies; each vacancy naturally carries less weight.

But we’re guessing that Greenhouse, whose politics tend to fall on the left side of the aisle, actually likes having life-tenured judges who are completely unaccountable insulated from the political process. So she tosses out another idea….

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We have a special place in our hearts for Judge Denny Chin (S.D.N.Y.). Last year, we dressed up as Judge Chin for Halloween (see right). Alas, even though Judge Chin has presided over some major matters — such as the Bernie Madoff case, in which he gave the Ponzi schemer 150 years, and the Google Books settlement talks — we were still mistaken for Judge Lance Ito by several people.

But Judge Chin’s profile is about to increase. Earlier today, by a vote of 98-0, Judge Chin was elevated to the Second Circuit.

The Asian-American community is thrilled. From one Asian ATL reader: “He was confirmed! Amazing and historic!”

But there have been Asian-American federal judges before. And there may be again in the not-too-distant future, depending on what happens to the controversial nomination of Berkeley law professor Goodwin Liu.

What is history-making about Judge Chin’s elevation?

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(As well as Judge Vanaskie, and five new U.S. Attorneys.)

Vaughn Walker Chief Judge Vaughn R Walker gay homosexual LGBT.jpgWe first heard about this months ago — back in September, from another speaker at the Lavender Law conference. We didn’t mention it at the time, though, since we’re not that comfortable outing people.
But now that the cat has been let out of the bag — or closet, as the case may be — by the mainstream media, let’s… go there. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

The biggest open secret in the landmark trial over same-sex marriage being heard in San Francisco is that the federal judge who will decide the case, Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, is himself gay.
Many gay politicians in San Francisco and lawyers who have had dealings with Walker say the 65-year-old jurist, appointed to the bench by President George H.W. Bush in 1989, has never taken pains to disguise — or advertise — his orientation.

Shocking? Not exactly. Judge Walker is a professionally successful white male, with great job security and a six-figure income, who’s in his sixties — and has never been married. A confirmed bachelor, if you will. Who lives in San Francisco. Umm, yeah.
(On the other hand, we hear His Honor’s favorite drink is a Maker’s Mark Manhattan — a fairly butch beverage, despite the maraschino cherry. We’ll stick with our cosmos, thank you very much.)
So this brings us to the question that Ashby Jones posed over at the WSJ Law Blog earlier today: If Judge Walker is gay, what should we make of that fact?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “The Prop 8 Judge May Be Gay: Does It Matter?”

Thomas Porteous Judge G Thomas Porteous Jr Eastern District Louisiana.jpgJudge G. Thomas Porteous (E.D. La.), the only Judge of the Day Hall of Fame honoree who is still actually a judge, may soon join Edward Nottingham, Samuel Kent and Elizabeth Halverson as a former judge.
From the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

The House Judiciary Committee today unanimously approved four articles of impeachment against U.S. District Judge Thomas Porteous. The panel, consisting of 23 Democrats and 16 Republicans, sent the articles to the full House of Representatives.
A vote by a majority of the 435-member House to impeach Porteous, 63, would result in a Senate trial on whether to remove the New Orleans judge, a 1994 appointee of President Bill Clinton, from office. It takes a two-thirds vote in the Senate to remove a judge from what otherwise is a lifetime appointment.

So what were the impeachment articles based on?

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gay marriage skadden.jpgA disclaimer: we’re not sure how we feel about Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the federal constitutional challenge brought by superlawyers Ted Olson and David Boies to Proposition 8, California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage. We are somewhat sympathetic to Jonathan Adler’s position: gay marriage makes perfect sense as a policy matter, but the constitutional case is less clear. (We suspect that Elie may be more supportive of the Perry litigation and its ultimate objective; see here.)

We do know, however, how we feel about cameras in the courtroom: we are strongly in favor of them. For more, see our Washington Post piece. The right to an open and public trial is guaranteed by the Constitution, and understanding what’s going on in our courts is a crucial part of democratic self-governance.

The standard for closing a courtroom to the public is very high, and justifiably so. We the People should be allowed to know — and to hear, and to see — what is transpiring within our courts. After all, these are our laws being interpreted, our rights being adjudicated, and our taxpayer dollars at work.

And in this age of videoconferencing, YouTube, blogging, and Twitter, the distinction between physical and virtual attendance of court proceedings is becoming increasingly artificial. If we can read reporter Dan Levine’s real-time tweets about the Prop 8 trial, or if we can read blog posts published during breaks about what just transpired in open court, why shouldn’t we be able to watch the proceedings ourselves, in livestreaming video? Or, if we can’t watch real-time video, why can’t we watch video posted online after the fact?

This is why we are so disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision to kill, at least for now, efforts to broadcast the Prop 8 trial. This is why we strongly support the efforts of Chief Judge Vaughn Walker (N.D. Cal.), who is presiding over the trial, and Chief Judge Alex Kozinski (9th Cir.), who is spearheading a Ninth Circuit pilot project providing for cameras in the courtroom, to offer some wider broadcast of the proceedings (whether on YouTube, an official court website, or even just to federal courthouses outside San Francisco).
More discussion, plus a READER POLL, after the jump.

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Gerard Lynch Judge Gerard E Lynch Gerard Edmund Lynch Second Circuit SDNY.jpgOn Monday, November 16, we attended an interesting talk by Judge Gerard Lynch, formerly of the Southern District of New York and now on the Second Circuit. He spoke before the Regis Bar Association, a group of lawyers and law students who are graduates of our shared alma matter — Regis High School, an all-boys Catholic school run by the Jesuits, located here in New York.

As one would expect from a federal judge, especially one in a high-powered city like NYC, Judge Lynch has an amazing résumé. He graduated first in his class from Regis, first in his class from Columbia College (1972), and first in his class from Columbia Law School (1975). He clerked for Judge Wilfred Feinberg on the Second Circuit, followed by Justice William Brennan on the Supreme Court. Prior to his appointment to the district court in 2000, Judge Lynch was a law professor at Columbia, worked in private practice (at a firm that would later become part of Covington & Burling), and served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the legendary U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District.

In September, Judge Lynch was confirmed to the Second Circuit by a vote of 94-3. He was the first Obama appointee to be confirmed to a circuit court.

Judge Lynch began his remarks to the RBA by discussing his background. He explained that he came from working-class roots and was the first in his family to graduate from college. He also noted that government lawyers and judges don’t make very much money: “As a public servant, first-year associates at large law firms have generally made more than I have,” he observed, before adding: “Thanks to the recession, that’s changed.”

(A federal district judge, which Judge Lynch was until his recent elevation, earns $169,300 a year — a bit above the New York starting salary of $160,000. As a circuit judge, he now earns $179,500. If Judge Lynch were to become Justice Lynch — he is sometimes mentioned on Supreme Court shortlists, although being a 58-year-old white male doesn’t help — he would earn $208,100, as an associate justice. Despite many years earning a government salary, Judge Lynch has done well for himself; his financial disclosures reveal a net worth of $1.6 million, with zero debt.)

Judge Lynch described being a trial judge as “the greatest job you can have.” Find out why, after the jump.

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(And a defense of elitism in law clerk hiring.)

Paul Michel Chief Judge Paul R Michel Federal Circuit.jpgWe received this info last night, from several readers in attendance. One of them wrote:

For the patent nerds out there, including me, Chief Judge Paul R. Michel of the Federal Circuit is retiring effective May 31, 2010. Just personally announced it at the FCBA annual dinner. Sent his resignation letter to Obama this morning.

Why is Chief Judge Michel stepping down? Is it due to inadequate judicial pay?
Apparently not, according to our source:

[H]e said he’s motivated to retire instead of moving to senior judge status because he hates the muzzle that comes with being an Article III judge. He wants to lobby. He feels pretty strongly that certain parts of the pending patent reform act are outrageous.

Read more at Patently-O and the BLT (links below).
Federal Circuit Chief Judge Paul Michel Announces that he is Leaving the Bench [Patently-O]
Federal Circuit Chief Judge Paul Michel Announces Retirement [The BLT: Blog of the Legal Times]

David Lat Judge Denny Chin.JPGWhat’s your Halloween costume this year? A slutty nurse? A creepy Notre Dame 1L? Or something far more scary — maybe Bob from Human Resources, the Grim Reaper who takes your Biglaw job away?

This year we decided to dress up as Judge Denny Chin (S.D.N.Y.), recently nominated by President Obama to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. If you’re a criminal, Judge Chin can be quite frightening — he sentenced Bernie Madoff to a whopping 150 years.

And where did we get the idea for our costume? ATL comments (see #2 and #17).

A slideshow of photos showing us in our Judge Chin costume, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Open Thread: Happy Halloween!”

tajudeen-oladiran.jpgTajudeen Oladiran is an Arizona attorney who is currently of counsel at Aguilera International Counsel. A Biglaw refugee, he spent a year at Greenberg Traurig, as well as a year working for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.

Given those credentials, we were surprised that he would file one of the craziest motions we’ve come across here at Above The Law.

From the U.S. District Court of Arizona:

Taj crazy motion.jpg
It is a motion in a case that Tajudeen Oladiran and his wife filed against Suntrust Bank for racketeering. We gather from the motion that Oladiran was not pleased with the ruling by “the Dishonorable Susan R. Bolton” (as she’s identified in the caption). Oladiran wrote: “I just read your Order and I am very disappointed in the fact that a brainless coward like you is a federal judge.”

A lesson on how not to address the court, after the jump.

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justice oconnor.jpgRetired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is not really retired yet. “I am more busy in retirement than before,” she told Above the Law in a recent interview. One of her myriad projects is Our Courts, a non-profit organization that develops Web-based games to teach seventh- and eighth-graders about government. We spoke with Justice O’Connor recently for our piece for the Washington Post reviewing the games.
We had hoped to actually play the games with her, but it turns out she’s not much of a gamer. Not being the computer type, she hasn’t actually played the Web-based games herself. “I watched young people play it. They have a lot of fun. They’re actively engaged. I think it’s very exciting,” she told us.
Justice O’Connor has been touring the country to promote the games. She even stopped in to chat with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. We got to catch up with her via conference call last month. We rung her up at One First Street — like some retired Biglaw partners, retired SCOTUS justices get to keep an office. After her secretary connected us, Justice O’Connor answered the phone: “Sandra Day O’Connor.”
We discovered that O’Connor is adamant about bringing an end to the election of judges in America. Read more from our interview, after the jump.

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(Or: ATL chats with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.)”

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