Screw-Ups

Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook: do not mess with this man.

Aficionados of appellate law are familiar with the Seventh Circuit’s reputation for procedural punctiliousness. The court has a track record of benchslapping lawyers who fail to follow rules, lawyers who seek to deviate from rules without justification, lawyers who engage in substandard advocacy, and lawyers who are “menace[s]” to their clients.

Lately the Seventh Circuit has been laying down its pimp hand. Last Friday, for example, Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook declared one Bridget Boyle-Saxton, who allegedly blew deadlines and ignored multiple orders to show cause, “unfit to practice law in this court.” Ouch.

Now, snobs might think, “Sure, Boyle-Saxton might be a well-known Milwaukee lawyer — but she works at a small law firm, apparently with two relatives of hers. What can you expect from such an outfit? This is why people hire the large white-shoe law firms. You pay through the nose, but you expect (and receive) perfection.”

If that’s your attitude, think again. Biglaw just got a big benchslap — from none other than Chief Judge Easterbrook.

Which firm incurred His Honor’s wrath, and for what alleged infraction?

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SCOTUS has spoken on S&C's screw-up.

We’ve previously written about the mailroom of death at Sullivan & Cromwell. To make a long story short (read our prior posts for the full background), a mailroom mix-up at 125 Broad Street caused an Alabama death-row inmate to miss a deadline for filing an appeal. The Eleventh Circuit rejected the condemned man’s attempt to reopen his case.

Presumably feeling bad for what had happened, S&C appealed to the Supreme Court. The firm hired a leading SCOTUS advocate — former Solicitor General Gregory Garre, now a partner at Latham & Watkins — to argue that prisoner Cory Maples shouldn’t forfeit his life because of S&C’s screw-up.

This morning, the Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Maples v. Thomas. What did the high court have to say?

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He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

It’s playoff time in the National Football League. Fun times. This year’s playoffs are more intense than usual, since Tim Tebow is probably the only conservative who can challenge Obama this fall.

I’m a Tim Tebow convert. Sure, if Tim Tebow were black, he’d be a back-up tight end, but that’s not a reason to hate on Tebow. He wins football games. What more do you want from him? There aren’t a lot of elite quarterbacks in the NFL. Tebow’s not elite, but he wins games. Wouldn’t you rather roll the dice with the Tebow show than going with the practiced mediocrity of Kevin Kolb, or Colt McCoy, or David Garrard? I honestly think that Tebow gets a lot of hate because so many people passed on Tebow to go with guys like that.

Jacksonville did. Tebow is a god in Florida (I mean, Tebow threw for 316 prophetic yards last night, so I do not rule out the possibility that he’s a God everywhere), and he was sitting there in the draft when Jacksonville was starting David Garrard and they passed on him. Now, the Jacksonville Jaguars have a new owner. Coincidence?

In fairness, the Jaguars seem to be a terribly run organization. It appears that even the Jags’ lawyers can’t get it together. The new owner reportedly removed the team’s general counsel for something that looks like an unforgivable error for a lawyer to make….

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This is not the case for Biglaw partnership (and hasn't been for quite some time).

As mentioned yesterday in Non-Sequiturs, the white-shoe law firm of Milbank Tweed, in a recent press release about its new partnership class, gave a special shout-out to Atara Miller. It identified Miller as “likely the only Orthodox Jewish woman partner at a major Wall Street firm” (emphasis in the original).

The release continued: “Milbank has four other Orthodox partners who cope with the same issues, but each of them has a wife to run the household and children, while Ms. Miller takes on those duties at home.”

A big shot in Biglaw, and a baleboste to boot — that’s nice, very nice. But is it accurate to assert that Miller is unique?

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You know that it’s the holiday season when your inbox begins to fill up with holiday cards. Some are cute, some are clever, some are heartfelt, and some come from people and companies you don’t even remember meeting or doing business with.

And even though these people can’t be bothered to spend the time and money necessary to send real holiday cards in the mail, they still took a few minutes out of their day to send an email. At least sending out a holiday card via mass email gives the appearance that the sender cares about you. As many mothers would say, it’s the thought that counts.

So what happens when a law school sends out a holiday card, but completely botches it? This New York law school previously provided walking instructions to its students, but maybe the administration needs instructions on how to send out emails that are a little less insulting….

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How hard is it to write an exam for a course you’ve taught all semester? Seriously, tell me, how hard is it? On a scale of one to ten — ten involving programing a rocket ship, one somewhere around putting on pants in the morning — where does formulating a law school exam rate? A two? Maybe three if you are teaching the course for the first time?

It cannot possibly be so hard that you have to use the same exam over and over again, in the digital age. We’re not talking about something as complicated as the wheel. A law school exam can be reinvented, every year, with subtle and simple changes.

Using the exact same exam is just lazy. There’s no other word for it. LAZY. The high cost of law school is largely attributed to the hefty salaries of law school faculty. The least these people can do is write a novel exam each and every semester that they teach.

And yet during this finals period alone, we’ve got students from three law schools, including two law schools in the top ten, alleging that their professors couldn’t be bothered to come up with fresh exams for this year’s students….

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Of course not! But the headline got your attention, didn’t it? The notion of Judge Richard Posner as being anything other than a genius will certainly make people sit up and take notice. There’s a reason why there’s a Facebook group called Richard Posner for Philosopher King (of which I am a proud member).

It should be noted, however, that Judge Posner’s opinion in Gonzalez-Servin v. Ford Motor Co. was not 100 percent perfect. It initially contained some infelicitous wording — which has since been fixed.

Let’s look at the language that was perhaps imprecise….

UPDATE (4 PM): Additional comment from Judge Posner, added after the jump.

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Judge Matz

[T]his Court is compelled to find that the Government team allowed a key FBI agent to testify untruthfully before the grand jury, inserted material falsehoods into affidavits submitted to magistrate judges in support of applications for search warrants and seizure warrants, improperly reviewed e-mail communications between one Defendant and her lawyer, recklessly failed to comply with its discovery obligations, posed questions to certain witnesses in violation of the Court’s rulings, engaged in questionable behavior during closing argument and even made misrepresentations to the Court.

– Judge A. Howard Matz of the Central District of California, benchslapping federal prosecutors — and vacating the convictions, and dismissing the indictment — in a high-profile Foreign Corrupt Practices Act prosecution. (Gavel bang: Daniel Fisher.)

(Additional links and information about this case — if you do FCPA or white-collar criminal work, this may be of interest to you — after the jump.)

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Here at Above the Law, we regularly cover benchslaps: judges laying the smackdown on poorly performing attorneys. But what about when it’s the judge who says, “I’ve made a tiny huge mistake”?

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh made a significant technological blunder in a patent case between two of Silicon Valley’s heaviest hitters. Yet her mistake is almost quaint. It harkens back to an earlier, simpler time –– like, pre-2006. When legal technology was a bit more primitive, and, more specifically, when the legal profession was still learning to master PDF files.

So, what did she do? Let’s just say she couldn’t keep a secret….

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On Thanksgiving Day, while you were enjoying your turkey (or tofurkey), we wrote about a different bird: namely, the ostrich. In a somewhat snarky opinion, Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit compared a lawyer appearing before him to an ostrich: “The ostrich is a noble animal, but not a proper model for an appellate advocate. The ‘ostrich-like tactic of pretending that potentially dispositive authority against a litigant’s contention does not exist is as unprofessional as it is pointless.'”

Ouch. Judge Posner even included a photo (above right) of a man in a suit burying his head in the sand.

What did the lawyer in question, David “Mac” McKeand of Houston, have to say for himself? And what did McKeand have to say about Judge Posner?

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