State Judiciary

Justice Joan Orie Melvin

Justice Joan Orie Melvin is a member of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. As touted on the court’s website, it is “the highest court in the Commonwealth and the oldest appellate court in the nation.”

Yesterday the court acquired a more dubious distinction: it’s the latest state supreme court to see one of its members convicted of a serious felony. And yes, we mean “latest,” not “only” or “first.” Just last month, for example, former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Diane Hathaway pleaded guilty to federal bank fraud. Here in New York, Chief Judge Sol Wachtler of the Court of Appeals, our state’s highest court, served a prison sentence back in the early 1990s.

(Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Back in 2004, I opined that “state court judges are icky.” Article III all the way, baby.)

Back to Justice Orie Melvin of Pennsylvania. What could send Her Honor from the high court to the big house?

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Here is an excerpt from Manhertz v. State, handed down on October 9 by the Georgia Court of Appeals:

Specifically, Joyner explained that she met a dancer at a strip club, who went by the stage name Paradise. After a brief conversation, Paradise asked Joyner how she was employed, and Joyner informed her that she worked as an assistant manager at an apartment complex. Paradise responded by informing Joyner that she had a friend named Kane, who would pay $1,000 for tenants’ names, social-security numbers, driver’s-license numbers, and copies of signed checks. Joyner agreed to do so and later provided Paradise with the requested information. However, Joyner asserted that she was never paid any money. And although Joyner claimed that she went back to the strip club on one or two occasions in an attempt to collect the promised payment, she was unable to find Paradise — no doubt finding little comfort in the axiom that “solitude sometimes is best society.” [FN2]

Keep reading for the fun footnote….

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This little girl seems to be able to count better than some members of the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Apparently some judges’ tenures are more equal than others.

An interesting lawsuit was filed last week in Louisiana. The chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court is stepping down, and the judge with the most seniority is supposed to be next in line to hold the post.

Logic suggests that the position should fall to Justice Bernette Johnson, who was elected to the Supreme Court in 1994, and is the longest serving judge on the Court.

But a different judge claims he is the longest serving judge, since he was elected in 1995. The math doesn’t work out, but Justice Jeffrey Victory claims that Johnson’s extra year doesn’t count because Johnson won a special, court-ordered election, and so there.

If it makes no sense to you how one election means less than another election, let me add that Johnson is black and Victory is not. That’s the rug that ties this room together….

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Wielding power and oozing prestige, judges can be thought of as “rock stars of the law.” But some judges are, in a more literal sense, rock stars.

Several judges around the country possess impressive musical talents. For example, as we mentioned earlier this month, Judge Randall R. Rader recently rocked out at San Diego’s House of Blues with his band, DeNovo.

Judge Rader is not alone is making music as well as rulings. A Georgia jurist recently released a critically acclaimed album, in which his gavel-wielding fingers strum the guitar alongside some musical greats.

Keep reading for the Above the Law interview with this colorful and creative judge….

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Judge Maryesther Merlo. Who will play her in the movie? Suggestions welcome.

Earlier this year, we brought you the story of Judge Rae Lee Chabot, a state court judge in Michigan. Judge Chabot was accused of taking three-hour lunch breaks and long shopping trips to the Gap, in the middle of the workday.

I wrote in defense of Judge Chabot, whose judicial work was well-regarded despite her, ummm, flexible work schedule. I opined that “[a]s long as a judge is reasonably current with his docket, he should be left alone. There is no face-time requirement for judges.”

But even I would have a hard time defending the latest judicial diva under fire, Judge Maryesther Merlo of Allentown District Court in Pennsylvania. Judge Merlo — or make that ex-judge Merlo, since she just got removed from the bench — allegedly missed 116 days of work, from September 2007 to December 2009. That amounts to over 23 weeks, in a period of about two years.

And that’s not all Maryesther Merlo stands accused of. Her treatment of defendants appearing before her may have strayed beyond the merely tough into the downright rude….

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(Not that she spent much time on it anyway.)

Say hello to Justice Liu.

Congratulations to Goodwin Liu — until today Professor Liu, but after today, Justice Liu.

In July, California Governor Jerry Brown nominated the 40-year-old Liu, a law professor at Boalt Hall, to serve on the California Supreme Court. The nomination was subject to the approval of a three-member state commission.

What did the commission have to say about the Liu nomination?

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Hurricane Irene: She came. She saw. She blew. She sucked? In the wake of Hurricane Tropical Storm Irene, people have been expressing their displeasure with the way this natural disaster panned out. Apparently, we’re now so bitter as a society that we’re wishing greater harm upon ourselves. That’s a little sick, no?

After days of preparation, there is still a lot of damage to deal with in the aftermath of the storm. So, for all of you Irene naysayers, consider these facts. Across the Eastern Seaboard, millions of people are without power. As of this morning, at least 21 people have lost their lives. We’re looking at estimated property losses of $7 billion.

UPDATE (1:10 PM): The property losses could actually run as high as $13 billion, meaning that total economic losses could reach $14 billion to $26 billion (because “the rule of thumb is that total economic losses are equal to about twice property losses”). See this interesting post, entitled “How Irene Lived Up to the Hype,” by Nate Silver.

In the legal world, we know that it pays to be prepared, but there are some things that we just can’t work around….

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We recently imagined a scenario in which Professor Goodwin Liu, the controversial Boalt Hall law prof whose Ninth Circuit nomination was successfully filibustered, became Justice Goodwin Liu. It now looks like this might happen earlier than we had expected.

But he would be a justice on a non-SCOTUS court (for now). California Governor Jerry Brown just nominated Professor Liu, 40, to serve on the California Supreme Court.

How might Goodwin Liu’s nomination be received by the people of California? He’s smart, he’s liberal — er, progressive — but there’s one potential rub….

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Layoffs at law firms have slowed to a trickle (although we still hear the occasional rumor; email us with your tips). In the public sector, however, layoffs continue — and may even accelerate, as state governments and the federal government grapple with contentious budget issues.

Today brings word of major layoffs in Connecticut. In a just-issued report, Judge Barbara Quinn, Chief Court Administrator, laid out some serious cuts to positions in the judicial branch.

How serious? This may be hard to believe, but the number of jobs being axed exceeds the February 2009 bloodbath at Latham & Watkins….

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Jay Spechler Judge Jay Spechler Jay Sprechler Above the Law blog.jpgThe fabulous Monica Goodling — if you’re on Facebook, join her fan club — isn’t the only person being accused of anti-lesbian bias these days. From the Daily Business Review (via JAABlog):

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