Appellate Law

Judge Richard Posner isn’t amused — but we are!

Judge Richard Posner isn’t trying to entertain us. He just does.

When he benchslaps prominent Biglaw partners or government lawyers fighting marriage equality, he’s not trying to be funny. He’s just trying to understand the facts of a case or get to the bottom of the legal arguments — and he’s, well, maybe not as diplomatic as some other judges in going about his business.

Let’s check out the latest argument where Judge Posner snarked on hapless counsel….

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There’s not really much to say here. There are just a few things to remember to avoid an embarrassing oral argument. Basically, don’t condescend to the judges on your appellate panel, and try to show up wearing pants (and maybe some socks). Pretty simple, right?

We’ve seen this kind of confrontational tone out of lawyers before, and it never ends well for the attorney. Like when Jones Day’s Matthew Kairis thought it wise to continuously interrupt Judge Posner in Notre Dame v. Sibelius. What happened next was… entirely predictable: Kairis ended up with an earful from Judge Posner about the proper role of an advocate before an appellate panel.

This poor fellow earns the same basic tongue-lashing, just with a different accent…

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Judge Richard Posner

From the Above the Law mailbag: “Is ATL ever going to call out Judge Posner for being so needlessly nasty to litigants?”

Ummm, no. I’m a big fan of Judge Richard Posner, who is brilliant and hilarious. (Yes, hilarious — if you doubt that, check out the awesome podcast that he and I did together, which you can download and listen to during your commute or at the gym.)

But in the interest of fairness, I will make this reader’s case. This correspondent cited the recent oral argument in Notre Dame v. Sebelius, which we alluded to yesterday, in which Judge Posner dispensed some benchslaps to Matthew Kairis, head of litigation in the Columbus office of Jones Day. The reader also mentioned the argument on remand in the Conrad Black case, alleging that Posner “was particularly nasty to Miguel Estrada, seemingly piqued that Estrada got him reversed by SCOTUS.”

Let’s focus on the Notre Dame v. Sebelius argument, since it just happened. How bad was it?

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Judge Frank Easterbrook

Let’s play a game of circuit-court word association.

D.C. Circuit? Prestigious.

Ninth Circuit? Wacky.

Sixth Circuit? Vicious.

Seventh Circuit? Benchslappy.

If you question this assessment, please consider the latest benchslaps emanating from 219 South Dearborn Street….

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Elizabeth Wurtzel

* Elizabeth Wurtzel: “I am a lawyer. The first rule of law: All the promises will be broken. Attorneys could not be in business if people did not fail to do what they agreed to do all the time — and lawyers are very busy.” [Nerve.com]

* Laura Ingraham clerked for SCOTUS, so presumably she knows that Puerto Ricans are American citizens — right? [Media Matters]

* Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, known for zero tolerance of prosecutorial misconduct, has written the foreword to a new book on the subject. [Facebook]

* In addition to the one we mentioned yesterday, here’s another petition for the Obama Administration that’s aimed at addressing the student debt crisis. [WhiteHouse.gov]

* Thomson Reuters Concourse keeps getting bigger and better. [Thomson Reuters]

* Appellate law? In California? What’s not to like? Check out these job openings in the California SG’s office. [California Department of Justice; California Department of Justice]

* Want to know the backstory behind the awesome Jamie Casino Super Bowl ad? Keep reading….

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Justice Scalia is kind of a troll sometimes. He routinely snarks out his fellow justices and is a total dick to legal luminaries like Judge Posner. His belligerence is drenched in sarcasm and usually arbitrary.

In a sense, Antonin Scalia is ATL’s spirit guide.

But when he went after an attorney appearing before him, he got immediately chastised by a fellow justice and raised the ire of even conservative commentators.

In this instance, I’m going out on a limb and say Justice Scalia was absolutely, positively, 100 percent right….

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And no, it’s not about lowering their reversal rate in the Supreme Court. In fact, in recent years the Sixth Circuit has surpassed the Ninth Circuit as the most-reversed appeals court in SCOTUS. (Veteran Supreme Court litigator Tom Goldstein also pointed this out at our ATL reception with him a few weeks ago.)

So how can you help out the Ninth Circuit? It’s a very easy and simple request, sent to us from Chief Judge Alex Kozinski….

(Please note the UPDATE at the end of this post.)

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Supreme Court clerks are some of the brightest young legal minds in the country. But their talents don’t come cheap. Every year, Biglaw firms fall all over each other trying to woo outgoing SCOTUS clerks, showering them with six-figure signing bonuses (on top of robust base salaries and year-end bonuses, of course).

The going rate in terms of Supreme Court clerkship bonuses is a cool $300,000. Which top law firm just dropped $1.8 million in signing bonuses for a half-dozen SCOTUS clerks?

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Folks often ask me if there’s anything I did at a law firm that I now miss in my in-house role.

The truth is that there are a ton of things I miss. (That doesn’t mean that, overall, I regret having moved in-house. It just means that life involves trade-offs, and moving in-house, like everything else, has both advantages and disadvantages.)

What do I miss most about law firm life? Playing the good parts of the litigation game: I loved dismembering an expert witness at deposition and knowing that we’d never hear from the guy at trial. I loved arguing motions and, more than that, appeals (because the stakes on appeal were typically higher and the panel better prepared than a single judge hearing motions). I loved fretting about a legal issue for weeks, having an epiphany, and suddenly knowing how a client would escape a thorny problem. And I loved the camaraderie of a trial site and the excitement of awaiting a jury verdict.

So here’s today question (with the answer after the jump, of course): If you say you love arguing appeals, why don’t you argue some? Tell outside counsel that you appreciate the help he provided in the trial court and writing the appellate brief, but that you’re going to argue the appeal. You’re the in-house lawyer; you pay the bills; you can do this. If you want to argue appeals, why don’t you?

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After successfully challenging a $50 ticket, attorney Leonard Kohen was feeling pretty good. The Administrative Law Judge hearing the case had agreed that the ticket — for running in a park after dark in February — was flimsy, and the New York City Parks & Recreation Department had to give up the ghost of collecting that $50 fine.

But no one screws over New York’s ersatz Leslie Knope and gets away with it.

New York City is appealing the ticket because there is absolutely nothing more important to spend time and money on than pursuing $50 tickets.

We have a copy of what passes for the appellate brief….

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