Benchslaps

With the death of the Law Clerk Hiring Plan, federal judges are hiring law clerks earlier and earlier in students’ law school careers. We recently wondered — jokingly, but only half-jokingly — whether 1Ls should start applying for clerkships.

So federal judges should be keenly interested in the insights of young legal minds — especially minds being cultivated at the Yale Law School, the nation’s #1 law school (according to both the U.S. News rankings and the Above the Law rankings). Right?

Well, just because a judge wants your advice as a law clerk doesn’t mean he wants to hear from you as an expert witness. A current Yale law student recently learned this lesson the hard way….

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You can take your analogy and shove it right up your [expletive], judge.

Kenneth Conley, a convicted bank robber, at his sentencing for having masterminded a daring escape from the Chicago MCC in 2012. Judge Gary Feinerman could only respond with a “thank you,” making this a rare “defendant-slap.”

The term “daring” is no understatement when it comes to this escape. Conley and his accomplice cut a hole in a concrete wall and then used a rope fashioned from bed sheets and dental floss to scale down the prison’s outer wall in the middle of the night.

(If you’d be scared scaling a two-story wall suspended only by dental floss, check out a picture of the wall they actually scaled down.)

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Judges can usually keep it together even when the lawyers deserve a paddlin’ for their disrespectful behavior. And I cannot imagine how a judge summons the depth of patience required to deal with a pro se litigant without constantly losing their composure. While lawyers may privately think of judges as arrogant and imperious from time to time, when you really look at the job, judges spend most of their time holding their tongues.

Which is why a uncontrolled outburst from a federal judge is such a rare treat.

Now you may think, “This is probably a minor rebuke blown out of proportion.” To that I quote David Frank, the managing editor of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly: “I have heard judges raise their voice. I’ve heard judges get tense. I have never heard something as loud as that.”

I guess this was less of a benchslap and more of a benchpunch….

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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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So much for collegiality.

When a divided state Supreme Court issued its opinion, one of the dissenters went further than registering disagreement — he wrote a scathing dissent labeling the majority “untruthful” and guilty of crafting a decision “based solely upon whom they want to win or lose” without regard for the law. This is off-the-rails stuff. And the rest of his opinion only goes further.

Well, this will make for an uncomfortable elevator ride….

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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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This seems a better way to go than a hunger strike.

* O.J. Simpson is pursuing a hunger strike because he’s looking to die. If only he knew who the real killers were, they could help him out. [Radar Online]

* Dean I. Richard Gershon of Ole Miss Law thinks Elie is just wrong. [Law Deans on Legal Education Blog]

* In continuing Seventh Circuit benchslappiness, Judge Richard Posner got feisty with an attorney for Notre Dame who kept interrupting him. If this lawyer keeps it up, Posner’s going to treat his client like Alabama did a year ago. [Chicago Tribune]

* Comcast wants to buy Time Warner, pending DOJ approval. The DOJ wants to talk to Comcast, but they’re only available to talk between 10 and 10:15 on alternating Wednesdays. [ATL Redline]

* California and New Jersey have banned gay conversion therapy programs. Is that the best way to combat these schemes? [New York Times]

* A look at getting started as an entrepreneur. See, there’s hope after bailing on practicing law. [Big Law Rebel]

* Daria Roithmayr of USC Law thinks The Triple Package (affiliate link), the new book by Yale’s Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, doesn’t hold water. I mean, since when are we holding academics to writing “scholarship” as opposed to “controversy bait”? Professors need to eat, after all. [Slate]

* A cop who got in trouble for bashing Obama online thought he was protected by the First Amendment. The court disagreed. [IT-Lex]

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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Amanda Knox

* Quinn Emanuel got a pretty harsh benchslap from Judge Paul Grewal over its litigation strategy in the Apple / Samsung case, calling it “650 lawyers wide and one lawyer deep.” Sick burn, Judge. [Courthouse News Service]

* At Cardozo Law, Jordan Belfort’s former lawyer says that the movie Wolf of Wall Street “played down the sex and drugs.” Dear Lord, if that’s the case, Leo’s muse should be happy he’s alive. [DealBook / New York Times]

* “I’ve been around the block. And I’ve never seen an attorney general sanctioned.” Ahh, the rarest rose. Nevada’s AG was sanctioned for failing to provide evidence in a fraud case against a mortgage lender. [Forbes]

* Eighteen people were arrested for their alleged attempts to market and sell Super Bowl “party packs” to football fans. It’s pretty sick, but you’d got to admit that hookers and blow beat wings any day of the week. [Bloomberg]

* Law schools in the Southeast closed their doors because their states were “unequipped for dealing with the roadways.” Send them up here, we’ve got school when there’s a foot of snow. [National Law Journal]

* A recent grad of a “good school” wanted to know how to get a job, so she asked an advice columnist. Here are five of the suggested jobs she probably already applied to and was rejected from. [Fortune]

* The third time’s apparently the charm in Italy: Amanda Knox was convicted of murder, again. Foxy Knoxy must be pissed that her case has turned into an extradition question on an international law exam. [CNN]

The court will not countenance the gross overreaching evidenced under the facts and circumstances of this case in which the client is not even being billed for legal services. To move any court to put its imprimatur of approval on such practices is simply intolerable.

– Judge Frank Nervo, denying a Biglaw firm’s request for more than $126,000 in attorneys’ fees in a lawsuit over a $6,400 security deposit. Judge Nervo added that the firm spent “a grossly unnecessary amount of time” on simple tasks, including “research on the most basic and banal legal principles.”

(Which firm was on the receiving end of this benchslap? Find out after the jump, where we’ve posted the full opinion.)

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