Judicial Divas

Judge Maryesther Merlo. Who will play her in the movie? Suggestions welcome.

Earlier this year, we brought you the story of Judge Rae Lee Chabot, a state court judge in Michigan. Judge Chabot was accused of taking three-hour lunch breaks and long shopping trips to the Gap, in the middle of the workday.

I wrote in defense of Judge Chabot, whose judicial work was well-regarded despite her, ummm, flexible work schedule. I opined that “[a]s long as a judge is reasonably current with his docket, he should be left alone. There is no face-time requirement for judges.”

But even I would have a hard time defending the latest judicial diva under fire, Judge Maryesther Merlo of Allentown District Court in Pennsylvania. Judge Merlo — or make that ex-judge Merlo, since she just got removed from the bench — allegedly missed 116 days of work, from September 2007 to December 2009. That amounts to over 23 weeks, in a period of about two years.

And that’s not all Maryesther Merlo stands accused of. Her treatment of defendants appearing before her may have strayed beyond the merely tough into the downright rude….

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(Not that she spent much time on it anyway.)

Chief Judge Edith Jones: Underneath her robe beats a judicial diva's heart.

Can you enforce civility by being… uncivil? That’s the question being raised, over and over again, by federal judges from Texas these days.

Before we get to the latest ridiculousness, let’s review. Back in August, Judge Sam Sparks (W.D. Tex.) benchslapped some rude lawyers with a snarky order inviting them to a “kindergarten party,” where they would learn such lessons as reasonableness and courtesy.

Ironically enough, some found Judge Sparks’s civility-seeking order to be… rude. Chief Judge Edith Jones (5th Cir.) issued an email reprimand to Judge Sparks, condemning his “caustic, demeaning, and gratuitous” order as “cast[ing] disrespect on the judiciary.” Some observers in turn thought it rude of Chief Judge Jones to call out Judge Sparks in writing, so publicly — she cc’d all of the other Western District of Texas judges on her email — when she could have just made a private phone call.

Chief Judge Jones is a highly regarded conservative jurist and a fixture on Supreme Court short lists, but she might not be the best authority on civility and etiquette these days. Check out the latest craziness — an en banc hearing before the Fifth Circuit that generated judicial fireworks, culminating in Judge Jones essentially telling a colleague to STFU or GTFO….

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'At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought.'

It’s not every day that attorneys repeatedly file “unintelligible” complaints that are “riddled with errors.” (Okay, maybe it is every day.)

But it’s really not every day that Drew Peterson’s attorney — yes, that Drew Peterson — attempts to file the same complaint three times, appeals to the Seventh Circuit only to get smacked down, and is then ordered to show cause as to why his federal license to practice shouldn’t be tossed out.

Let’s take a look at what Walter Maksym attempted to file, and why he faced the wrath of the Seventh Circuit earlier this week….

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Judge Sam Sparks: Probably not smiling now.

The benchslapper has become the benchslapped. Judge Sam Sparks, of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, just got smacked around by a higher authority: Chief Judge Edith Jones, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Last month, Judge Sparks issued a sharply worded order in which he compared the counsel appearing before him to squabbling schoolchildren — and invited them to a “kindergarten party,” where they would learn such lessons as “how to telephone and communicate with a lawyer” and “how to enter into reasonable agreements about deposition dates.” In the end, Judge Sparks ended up canceling the party, after the publicly shamed lawyers worked out their issues — but not before his infamous order received national attention within the legal community.

Many observers were amused by Judge Sparks’s order — which was not the first time His Honor has gotten saucy with lawyers in recent weeks (or in his judicial career, for that matter). But a minority felt that the order was over the top and gratuitously nasty.

Among the unamused: Edith Jones, who oversees the federal courts of Texas in her capacity as Chief Judge of the Fifth Circuit. What did she have to say to Sam Sparks?

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Peggy Ableman

Earlier this week, we reported on the latest benchslap from Judge Sam Sparks (W.D. Tex.). In his order, Judge Sparks invited attorneys to a “kindergarten party,” to address what he perceived as childish behavior.

Judge Sparks eventually called off the party. That makes sense, since he had already achieved his goal of publicly shaming the attorneys appearing before him.

Other judges have apparently taken notice. Now comes Judge Peggy Ableman of Delaware. She has called for attorneys appearing before her to attend “a ‘special’ emergency refresher course in first year ethics and civility.”

UPDATE (5:20 PM): Darn it. Delaware Superior Court Presiding Judge James T. Vaughn Jr. has taken over the case and canceled the “refresher course,” as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

What’s really going to make the allegedly childlike attorneys squeal is that Judge Ableman scheduled her remedial class for the middle of Labor Day weekend….

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* You call that a raise? After 12 years of stagnant salaries for state judges, New York’s Commission on Judicial Compensation sure has a funny way of “correcting injustice.” [New York Times]

* Hope you had some D.C. firms on your bid list for OCI, because they seem to be on a hiring spree. Is there room for all of these newbies? [Washington Post]

* Maybe if we let Jacoby & Meyers get some non-lawyer investors, they could afford better commercials. Come on, even the ABA thinks the law should be run like a business. [New York Law Journal]

* O’Melveny wants to give new parents advice on transitioning back to work. After losing talent earlier this year, perhaps the firm could have used some transition advice itself? [The Careerist]

* My parents “ruined my life” a lot when I was a teenager, but I never sued over it. Unfortunately for these plaintiffs, being a snotty little brat isn’t a valid cause of action in Illinois. [Chicago Tribune]

In March, we ran a story about how the justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court had basically devolved into caricatures of themselves worthy of MTV reality show fame.

Apparently, in the midst of a heated debate, Justice David Prosser fell into the role of the hothead. He called a female justice a “bitch” “total bitch,” and threatened to “destroy” her. I guess this is what happens when members of the judiciary stop being polite, and start getting real –- The Real Prize World.

Anyway, you know what usually happens on the next episode of the show. We find out that the hothead isn’t just abusive with his words, but also with his fists. And that is exactly what allegedly happened earlier this month behind closed doors.

Did Prosser need to choke a bitch?

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If you see this sign, turn in the opposite direction and START RUNNING.

We’ve spent a lot time covering Wisconsin’s dysfunctional state legislature. But did you know the state’s judicial branch is just as messed up?

We’ve discussed this before, but now there’s more to report. You know any semblance of bipartisan civility has broken down when one justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court calls the chief justice a “bitch” and vows to “destroy” her.

That would be shocking language if it was bandied about in a courthouse in the Bronx, but it’s just another day of state politics in Wisconsin. I’m telling you, we’re going to have to station the USS Inside Voices Please in the Great Lakes to chill this state out…

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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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Judge Vanessa Gilmore, a self-identified judicial diva.

Back in 2007, I declared Judge Vanessa D. Gilmore (S.D. Tex.) to be a judicial diva (a term I first popularized over at my original blog, Underneath Their Robes). Judge Gilmore earned this delicious distinction through such behavior as allegedly throwing objects at attorneys in open court and dumping motions in the trash for using the incorrect font.

Well, it appears that Judge Vanessa Gilmore was pleased rather than perturbed by her diva designation. As she told the Texas Lawyer, she used it in the title of her new book, You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: Tales From a Judicial Diva.

This is Judge Gilmore’s second book. Her first literary effort, A Boy Named Rocky, was “a coloring book for the children of incarcerated parents.” (They sure could use it — if any kids need to be taught to stay within the lines….)

Let’s learn more about Judge Gilmore’s latest book — and check out the delightfully ridiculous cover art….

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