Judicial Divas

Justice Joan Orie Melvin

Justice Joan Orie Melvin is a member of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. As touted on the court’s website, it is “the highest court in the Commonwealth and the oldest appellate court in the nation.”

Yesterday the court acquired a more dubious distinction: it’s the latest state supreme court to see one of its members convicted of a serious felony. And yes, we mean “latest,” not “only” or “first.” Just last month, for example, former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Diane Hathaway pleaded guilty to federal bank fraud. Here in New York, Chief Judge Sol Wachtler of the Court of Appeals, our state’s highest court, served a prison sentence back in the early 1990s.

(Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Back in 2004, I opined that “state court judges are icky.” Article III all the way, baby.)

Back to Justice Orie Melvin of Pennsylvania. What could send Her Honor from the high court to the big house?

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RBG, Law Diva

People ask me, “If you could be whatever you wanted to be, what would you be?” My first answer is not “a great lawyer.” It is, “I would be a great diva.” But I totally lacked that talent, so the next best thing is the law.

– Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, commenting on her true career ambitions during a recent interview about opera on New York Public Radio station WQXR’s “Operavore” program. (In Italian, a diva is a celebrated opera singer.)

Judge Cynthia Brim

The Honorable Cynthia Brim, a two-time winner of Judge of the Day honors, has returned to the headlines. But this time the news for Judge Brim is positive — well, for the most part.

On Tuesday, Judge Brim won re-election to the Cook County Circuit Court. The following day, she showed up in court — not as a judge, but as a defendant in a battery case.

You might be surprised by how much of the vote she won. Take a guess, then keep reading to find out (and to see Her Honor’s mugshot, which isn’t pretty)….

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* Chief Judge Edith Jones of the Fifth Circuit, the judicial diva herself, will be stepping down from her role at the head of the bench earlier than expected, due to “family issues.” Perhaps she told someone to “shut up” too many times? [Tex Parte Blog]

* Apple asked U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh to deny Samsung’s request that she bar all further communication with trial jurors, because the company claims it wants “equal access to information” (aka jury foreman Velvin Hogan). [Bloomberg]

* “[T]here’s no way to preserve the definition of marriage [as one man and one woman] other than by preserving the definition. It becomes somewhat circular.” That, and you rely on law from 1885. Argh! [BuzzFeed]

* ASU Law wants to move from Tempe to Phoenix, and to make it financially feasible, the school may increase enrollment and raise tuition. Sound like a good idea, prospective law students cash cows? [Arizona Republic]

* Now compare/contrast: Stanford Law had to dip into its coffers to come up with the cash to cover its financial aid promises this year, but the school isn’t cutting out a dime that’s owed to students. [National Law Journal]

* Massachusetts appealed the Michelle Kosilek sex-change ruling. The state claims it provided “adequate medical care,” but it’s questionable whether that was the case if the prisoner tried to castrate herself. [CNN]

* Tully Rinckey, a midsize firm, is planning to open an office in Buffalo, New York, so it sent out recruitment letters to 5,469 attorneys in the region. Unemployed law grads: open the letter, it’s not a bill! [Buffalo News]

Every day it seems the Apple v. Samsung trial couldn’t get any more exciting, but somehow every day, the court proceedings seem to ratchet up the ridiculousness. Samsung has rested its case, and commentators expect closing arguments to happen on Tuesday.

But the trial won’t close out quietly. The vitriol from all sides shows no signs of slowing down — least of all from Judge Lucy Koh, who has quite simply had it up to here with the tech giants’ bickering.

Yesterday she again tried to convince the parties to settle, without much success. Today, the judicial badass inquired as to whether or not counsel was on drugs. Good times!

Can you guess which side received the verbal beating?

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As the Apple v. Samsung trial continues speeding along at the speed of, well, a first generation iPhone with low battery, we finally had some real developments in court yesterday, breaking up the recent monotony of expert witnesses and attorney v. attorney quibbling.

Apple rested its case, and Samsung managed to score a minor victory by getting a few of its phones dropped from the case. Seeing as there are more than a dozen phones at issue, it’s definitely a minor victory, but it’s better than nothing — especially since Samsung’s Quinn Emmanuel lawyers haven’t exactly been the popular kids in court so far…

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This may sound like advice coming from a broken record, but in case you are somehow still unaware of this very important fact, you generally cannot discharge your law school loan debt in bankruptcy. Sure, there’s an “undue hardship” exception to this steadfast rule, but it’s a difficult standard to meet.

The government will go to the ends of the earth to prove that you are capable of paying back what you owe and just unwilling to do so. To be frank, you’d probably be better off becoming totally and permanently disabled or dying, because then you or your estate would only have the ensuing tax nightmare to deal with.

Judges know that the burden of “undue hardship” is a difficult one to prove, and most of them probably think that it’s a load of crap. Unfortunately, most of them are unwilling to say so. But not this Oregon judge — she launched into a pointed, four-page critique of legal education, while ruling on a law school debtor’s attempt to discharge his student loans in bankruptcy.

No, she won’t grant you a discharge, but that doesn’t mean she has to like it. You know it’s going to be good when a judge cites to Above the Law while discussing student loans….

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Most of the time, the orders coming from certain judicial divas seem slightly, if not overtly, ridiculous and unnecessary. Like, I’m pretty sure Eric Holder knows that he is supposed to respect the Constitution. And sometimes when people sneeze in court, it’s just allergies, not disrespect.

But occasionally, judicial homework assignments seem to make more than a little bit of sense. Take this recent ruling regarding a defendant from Richmond, California. For a 23-year-old accused of trying to sell a grenade launcher to undercover ATF agents in a deal that went wrong and led to a bunch of shooting, the condition of his bond release is quite simple.

In the words of LeVar Burton: take a look, it’s in a book…

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Judge William Alsup

With proceedings in the “World Series” of high-tech law cases underway (aka Oracle v. Google), lawyers have discovered that the judge overseeing the matter is, well… kind of a hard ass.

His idea of work/life balance? Seemingly nonexistent. He arrives at work no later than 5:30 a.m. This judicial drill sergeant reportedly gets his workouts in by running up and down the stairs of the 20-floor federal building where he works. And most of all, he’s a stickler for the rules — he likes a quiet courtroom.

Got a cough? Need to sneeze? You’d be better off calling in sick than entering this man’s courtroom….

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Remember the homework assignment issued by Judge Jerry Smith of the Fifth Circuit to the U.S. Department of Justice? Earlier this week, Judge Smith ordered the DOJ to file a three-page, single-spaced letter discussing the principles of judicial review, in light of prior comments by President Barack Obama that could be construed as questioning the doctrine.

The response was due today at noon (Houston time) — about 20 minutes ago. It was filed on behalf of the Department by Attorney General Eric Holder.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

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