Benchslap of the Day

Yes, benchslaps are great fun to read about, especially if you enjoy a little schadenfreude. But benchslaps are not fun to receive — and they’re not always justified.

Because of the prestige of judicial office, judges generally get the benefit of the doubt when dishing out benchslaps. But sometimes judges go too far. For example, some observers felt that Judge Richard Posner crossed the line when interrogating a Jones Day partner during a recent Seventh Circuit argument.

This brings us to today’s benchslap — directed at a lawyer for the federal government, no less. It’s harsh, but is it warranted?

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That a major law firm would engage in such shenanigans distresses us. The firm’s argument regarding the amendment to the National Union insurance policy is censurable, and we hereby censure it.

– Judge Richard Posner, writing on behalf of a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit, issuing a harsh benchslap to Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft for the firm’s “frivolous interpretation” of an endorsement to its client’s Commercial General Liability insurance policy.

Or at least his laptop. After a conservative state court judge in Kentucky wrote an op-ed for the local paper arguing that the Supreme Court’s recent rulings on gay marriage didn’t affect the definition of marriage under Kentucky law, a retired federal judge called him on the carpet.

Benchslappery ensued. Let’s take a look….

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Chief Judge Alex Kozinski speaking at Yale Law School last year.

Perhaps this should be “benchslap of a few days ago,” since it happened last week. But it’s never too late to read about Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, right?

This latest benchslap involves the Ninth Circuit setting aside a murder conviction. So you might expect the benchslap to be coming from a unanimous Supreme Court in a summary reversal.

But no. The benchslap — actually, make that benchslaps, plural — come from the Ninth Circuit. On the receiving end: the police, prosecutors, a state judge, and a federal judge. Names are named.

And I wouldn’t hold my breath while waiting for SCOTUS to reverse. This decision looks pretty safe….

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Quit crying, you baby.

If there were such a thing as the perfect benchslap, this would probably be it. It comes from the great state of Texas, where federal judges are prone to calling attorneys stupid attention whores, where invitations to “kindergarten parties” are issued to lawyers who can’t be civil with their adversaries, and where judges order each other to “shut up” in open court.

And now, for your viewing pleasure, we present this gem….

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Federal judges don’t always tell lawyers that their writing is crap, but when they do, they’ll do it in a publicly filed court order. Because while judges have got many a tool in their benchslapping arsenal, a public shaming is perhaps the most useful of them all.

Today’s instance of public shaming comes to us courtesy of Judge Steven Merryday (M.D. Fla.), the same fellow who denied a motion to suspend trial in a death penalty case from an attorney who wanted to participate in an Ernest Hemingway look-alike contest.

Let’s jump right in and see what happened, because this judge had a field day with redlining….

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Chancellor Leo E. Strine Jr.

We remind Delaware judges that the obligation to write judicial opinions on the issues presented is not a license to use those opinions as a platform from which to propagate their individual world views on issues not presented. …

To the extent Delaware judges wish to stray beyond those issues and, without making any definitive pronouncements, ruminate on what the proper direction of Delaware law should be, there are appropriate platforms, such as law review articles, the classroom, continuing legal education presentations, and keynote speeches.

– The Delaware Supreme Court, in an en banc decision, stepping away from the case at hand in Gatz Properties v. Auriga Capital to comment on Delaware Court of Chancery Chancellor Leo E. Strine’s tendency to make rather colorful comments and observations in his opinions.

(Continue reading for one of Chancellor Strine’s most recent greatest hits, which came in the form of an awesome courtroom digression.)

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As we mentioned yesterday in Morning Docket, Judge Marcia Gail Cooke (S.D. Fla.) recently issued an omnibus order on multiple motions for sanctions in the high-profile case of Coquina Investments v. TD Bank. The plaintiff, Coquina Investments, moved for sanctions related to various alleged discovery violations.

At a contempt hearing held back in May, Judge Cooke heard testimony from employees of TD Bank and current and former lawyers from Greenberg Traurig, which previously represented the bank. She took the matter under advisement — but not before saying things like, “It is hard for me to describe in words the difficulty throughout this trial related to documents and discovery.”

Now Her Honor has ruled. What did she decide?

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As Brian Tannebaum wrote earlier today, many lawyers (and their cases) live and die by the ticking of the clock. Any attorney — or anyone who’s ever talked with an attorney — has heard about late nights struggling to file a brief by deadline.

So what happens when a litigant files a motion for appeal at 3 a.m. instead of the 12 a.m. deadline, and the judge allows the late filing anyway, then dismisses it on the merits… leading to yet another appeal?

In our Benchslap of the Day, Judge Frank Easterbrook writes, “it does not take a reference to Cinderella to show that midnight marks the end of one day and the start of another.” But maybe the plaintiff in the case does need to remember that he turns into a pumpkin at midnight, not 3 a.m….

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Respondent brandishes his opinion as a battering ram, intentionally offending people. This Panel does not believe these are “slips of the tongue” or inadvertant. Respondent is intentional in his conduct and bull whips people by his words with a zeal. While in private life he may be as rude, offensive and demeaning as he chooses, in his professional life he may not hide behind his First Amendment rights to ignore his sworn responsibilities.

– Presiding Disciplinary Judge William J. O’Neil of the Arizona Supreme Court, in a recent ethics opinion concluding that attorney Meyer L. Ziman should be suspended for one year’s time, with reinstatement on probation.

(So what did Ziman allegedly do that was bad enough to warrant his suspension? Let’s find out, after the jump.)

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