Judicial Ethics

Judge Richard KopfNine days ago, Judge Richard Kopf wrote an article about the Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby that suggested, “[a]s the kids say, it is time for the Court to stfu.” It was a good post, but something that seemed of such little controversy that we relegated it to an in-blurb mention within Non-Sequiturs.

And then all manner of shock and hand-wringing commenced.

It’s not the first time a federal judge received criticism for speaking out. Are jurists like Judge Kopf out of control?

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Several years back, the Washington Post uncovered multiple instances of federal judges committing basic ethical breaches related to ruling on cases despite holding significant financial stakes in one party. It was an embarrassing black eye for the federal judiciary and the legal system altogether. It forced the bench to develop a comprehensive financial reporting system and an automated computer check to avoid any further ethical lapses. Sounded reasonable at the time.

Well, it turns out the computer system doesn’t work.

Or at least it doesn’t work as well as anyone would have hoped. The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) just released a report this morning reflecting their efforts to manually review a sampling of federal court decisions and cross-check those with financial disclosure forms. The report found multiple lapses. The most egregious involved a judge with as much as $100,000 in Johnson & Johnson when he ruled in their favor on an appeal regarding a malfunctioning implant.

But by and large the legal world’s responses to these findings vary from tone-deaf to downright hypocritical….

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Judge Mike Maggio was the now-infamous Geauxjudge on the Tiger Droppings board. Just like we all thought.

The rapidly unfolding scandal broke Monday and confirmation came Wednesday night, when Maggio admitted to his Geauxjudge alter ego and withdrew from the impending Court of Appeals race. Still unclear is whether the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission will demand that he immediately step down from his current judgeship, which Judge Maggio will otherwise hold for the rest of the year.

The latest statement from Judge Maggio is reproduced below. It’s light on the racism, sexism, homophobia, and obvious breaches of judicial ethics, but it still captures the tone-deaf attitude of entitlement. At least we know Geauxjudge is still in there somewhere….

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* Upskirt photos not illegal in Massachusetts. The spirit of Kennedy lives on! [Mass Live]

* The investigation continues into whether Judge Mike Maggio, who might be the infamous Geauxjudge, suffers from a bad case of the Internet Crazies — but in the meantime, his campaign for the Court of Appeals took a hit. [Arkansas Times]

* Speaking of judicial ethics, Judge Kimberly Brown has been removed from the bench in Indiana. She’s only the third judge ever to be permanently removed from the job. [Indy Star]

* Wachtell Lipton partner Ricky Mason and his wife, Hoboken mayoral candidate Beth Mason, have been charged with several election-law violations. Uh-oh. [PolitickerNJ]

* Which state just ruled that you have a reasonable expectation of privacy in texting… even if you’re texting about a heroin deal? [IT-Lex]

* Dewey love the judge’s name in the Barclays suit over the dead firm’s debts? Yes. Because “Popplewell” is an awesome name. [The Lawyer]

* The data are in, and the top college grads have passed an all-important math test: they figured out law school is a bad deal. [Associate's Mind]

* Yet another Florida law school dean has stepped down. This is what happens when you take a job in a state full of retired people. [Daily Business Review]

* Obamacare has been credited — and bashed — for a lot, but are we underselling its role in reducing prison populations? [Sentencing Law and Policy]

The psychological term for it is The Online Disinhibition Effect, a condition brought on by the interlocking effects of dissociative anonymity, invisibility, asynchronicity, solipsistic introjection, dissociative imagination, and minimization of authority. This is the condition that leads people otherwise aware of proper social and professional behavior to go off the rails and say things they would know not to broadcast publicly if the world could easily identify them.

That’s what happened to a self-identified judge who routinely posted under a pseudonym on a popular college sports board.

And now it looks like we’ve cracked the code and figured out who this judge is, and if we’re right, he’s a rising star. Or he was a rising star, before this….

(It turns out that we’re right. Please note the UPDATE at the end of this post.)

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* A Miami attorney is gearing up for legalized medical marijuana. He’s even selling franchises, hopefully called McKinebud’s. [Daily Business Review]

* Is Gwyneth cheating on Chris Martin with an entertainment lawyer? [Defamer]

* A Florida village has become a refuge to sex offenders because there’s nowhere else they can go. Isn’t this the plot of Arrested Development? [Agence France-Presse via Yahoo!]

* As if law schools aren’t charging enough, they also absolutely ravage students on casebook prices. It doesn’t have to be this way. [PrawfsBlawg]

* Who’d have thought it would be this hard to define a pig? [Modern Farmer]

* If you aren’t following DLA Piper’s boss Sir Nigel Knowles on Twitter, then… you’re lucky. [Legal Cheek]

* The vice president of the Constitutional Accountability Center weighs in on Judge Wright Allen’s marriage equality decision from the perspective of a gay, married Virginian. [Pilot Online]

* See, it’s not just lawyers who get annoyed when TV doesn’t live up to the realities of the profession. Political communications professionals can get pretty irked by House of Cards. [Ditto Public Affairs]

* A circuit judge just seized control of a lower court’s docket, setting restrictions on a judge’s ability to hear domestic violence cases after finding a repeated pattern of improperly blowing off these matters. It may be the Benchslap-Heard-Round-the-Nation since the slapped jurist is also the president-elect of the American Judges Association. [Detroit Free Press]

Judge Boyce F. Martin Jr.

Judicial misconduct comes from all across the ideological spectrum. Judge Richard Cebull of Montana, who reportedly spewed out racist emails like an ATM dispensing twenties, was an anti-Obama conservative. Meanwhile, Judge Boyce F. Martin Jr., whose ethical troubles we alluded to yesterday, was a prominent progressive on the Sixth Circuit.

Judge Martin was appointed to the court in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter and wrote major opinions attacking the death penalty and defending affirmative action. He also penned fun opinions that included references to The Simpsons and Austin Powers.

Alas, this liberal lion has roared his last. Did an investigation into possible judicial misconduct help drive Judge Martin from the bench?

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How many racist emails does it take to brand someone a racist? My personal rule is “one.” If you send one horribly racist email that actually manages to leak out into public discourse, it’s probably not your only one. Seeing a racist email from someone is like seeing a mouse in your apartment: there’s never just one. I believe in temporary insanity, but I don’t believe in sudden onset racism that magically appears once and only once and then disappears forever.

Of course, whenever anybody gets caught in a racist email scandal, they always say that it’s the only one. It’s always “Whoops, that email was racist, but I’m not racist.” The racist email is always allegedly “out of character,” and the person always claims to have shown “poor judgment.” And that person always has some apologists, as if sending one or two racist emails is just something that “happens” in the normal course of business to non-racist people.

That’s what Judge Richard Cebull claimed. In 2012, he was busted sending around a racist email about President Obama. He claimed that he didn’t mean to be “racist” — he just meant to voice his displeasure with the president (as if it wasn’t bad enough for the judge to be taking public opinions about the sitting president).

Some people bought the Cebulls**t. Not me. And Cebull eventually retired. But the investigation into his misconduct continued, and now that investigation has been made public.

Surprise, Richard Cebull sent a ton of racist, sexist, and otherwise inappropriate emails….

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* Once again, a group is about to learn that “not being able to do whatever you want, whenever you want” is not really a Constitutional violation. This time it’s snowboarders. [St. Louis Tribune]

* Justice Scalia’s snarky lesson in public speaking 101 continues to divide commentators. [The Blog of the Legal Times]

* Former Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Josh Brent’s manslaughter trial kicked off with his attorney explaining that Brent was “guilty of being stupid behind the wheel of a car,” but not driving drunk. The toxicology expert disagreed, estimating that Brent needed about 17 drinks to reach the blood alcohol level of his blood samples. [The Expert Institute]

* Young lawyers should figure out what they want to specialize in before they find themselves looking to “open a vein.” [At Counsel Table]

* Judge Tracie Hunter may be facing a possible 14 year sentence, but she maintains her innocence. I could try to recap this story, but just read this instead. [Cincinnati.com]

* The Tenth Circuit will not be blocking same-sex marriages from occurring in Utah, so the next stop will be Supreme Court intervention. Sorry, but we have a feeling that Justice Sonia Sotomayor isn’t going to be too helpful with that. [MSNBC]

* Winston & Strawn, if you’re overbilling on pro bono motions and you want fees, you might want to be more descriptive. Please tell this judge what “preparation for filing” even means, and why you spent more than four hours doing it. [New York Law Journal]

* This judge felt she was “being played with,” so she took a man’s kid away from him during Christmas. Now a judicial ethics commission is showing her that it’s not one to be played with. [Texas Lawyer]

* Yay, happy news! Chapman Law’s associate dean for student affairs really takes her job responsibilities to heart. She’s performed several wedding ceremonies for both students and alumni. [National Law Journal]

* The Indian diplomat who got strip-searched was arrested over a silly mistake, says her lawyer. It’s too bad that a lack of reading comprehension can result in having to bend over and spread ‘em. [Bloomberg]

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