Benchslap

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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Justice Sotomayor: you wouldn’t like her when she’s angry.

As we recently observed, Justice Sonia Sotomayor could be thought of as the people’s justice. The Wise Latina is also the Warm Latina.

Justice Sotomayor shows up on Sesame Street as well as One First Street. She hugs little girls on her book tour. She hires law clerks from outside the top 14 law schools.

But you need to stay on her good side; if you tick her off, woe unto you. Let’s check out the Beloved World (affiliate link) — of pain — that Her Honor just inflicted on a federal prosecutor down in Texas….

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Earlier this week, we wrote about a pair of prominent partners at Skadden Arps who got hit with a big-time benchslap. A federal judge in Chicago issued an order to show cause, requiring the Skadden lawyers to explain why they should not be sanctioned for failing to cite a highly relevant (arguably dispositive) Seventh Circuit case when briefing a motion to dismiss. The judge also set “a status hearing in open court…. [at which the attorneys] are all directed to appear in person.”

The Skadden partners filed a contrite response. They apologized profusely to the court, explained why they viewed the Seventh Circuit as distinguishable, and argued that even though they erred, their conduct didn’t merit sanctions. They announced to the court that they had settled the case in question, with Skadden “contributing to the settlement amount in order to personally redress plaintiffs’ counsel for responding to the motion to dismiss.” (In a classy move, they also extracted their associate from under the bus, explaining that he played no substantive role in the briefing.)

Despite the apology and the settlement, the status hearing went forward as scheduled yesterday. What happened?

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On the transactional side, things seem to be going gangbusters for Skadden Arps. As we noted yesterday, the firm took the top spot in three separate rankings of 2012 M&A work. In 2011, a different firm sat atop each set of rankings, but in 2012, Skadden ruled them all.

On the litigation side, though, the new year has brought new headaches for Skadden. Earlier this month, a high-profile partner at the firm, along with another partner and an associate, got hit with a big benchslap. A federal judge issued an order to show cause, asking the Skadden lawyers to explain why they should not be sanctioned, and set “a status hearing in open court…. [at which the attorneys] are all directed to appear in person.” Ouch.

Skadden recently filed its response to the OSC. Let’s review the benchslap, then see what the Skadden lawyers had to say for themselves….

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There’s no love lost between cops and guys in wheelchairs.

You know things are not going well for the police when a judge uses the citation “U.S. Const. amend. IV.” Not a case interpreting the Fourth Amendment, not a scholarly analysis of search and seizure law, just a straight-up shout-out to the plain text of the constitutional prohibition. It kind of tells you where the judge is going.

Today’s installment of “Why Can’t You Just Get A Warrant” comes out of the Montgomery County courthouse near Dayton, Ohio. According to the judge’s order granting a suppression motion, the police subdued a wheelchair-bound paraplegic and searched his home. And by “subdued,” I of course mean: tackled a man in a wheelchair, handcuffed him, then pretended to be worried about the man’s grabbable area.

Fun times…

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Bryan Garner

How old is “bench slap”? Should I put it in Black’s Law Dictionary? How would you define it?

– Legal writing guru Bryan Garner, editor of Black’s Law Dictionary and co-author (with Justice Scalia) of Reading Law (affiliate links), asking on Twitter about a possible addition to Black’s.

(Information about the origins of “benchslap,” after the jump.)

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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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This past Wednesday, Judge Richard Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit delivered the Madison Lecture on Judicial Engagement at Columbia Law School. The lecture series, sponsored by the CLS chapter of the Federalist Society, brings distinguished jurists to Columbia to discuss topics relevant to the federal judiciary and the administration of justice.

(Perhaps we should put “at” Columbia Law in quotation marks; Judge Posner actually appeared via video conference. That shouldn’t surprise, coming from a judge who lists The Matrix as one of his favorite films.)

In his talk, entitled “How I Interpret Statutes and the Constitution,” Judge Posner was his usual candid self. He offered commentary on two recent books about statutory and constitutional interpretation — books that he’s not a fan of.

Yes, readers. There will be benchslaps….

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Justice Scalia (left) and Judge Posner

Responding to a Supreme Court Justice who calls one a liar requires special care in expression.

– Judge Richard Posner, in a cover email introducing his written response to Justice Antonin Scalia’s recent “You lie!” accusation.

(More about this tiff, which we’ve been covering quite closely here at Above the Law, after the jump.)

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