Vicious Infighting

Judge Sam Sparks: Probably not smiling now.

The benchslapper has become the benchslapped. Judge Sam Sparks, of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, just got smacked around by a higher authority: Chief Judge Edith Jones, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Last month, Judge Sparks issued a sharply worded order in which he compared the counsel appearing before him to squabbling schoolchildren — and invited them to a “kindergarten party,” where they would learn such lessons as “how to telephone and communicate with a lawyer” and “how to enter into reasonable agreements about deposition dates.” In the end, Judge Sparks ended up canceling the party, after the publicly shamed lawyers worked out their issues — but not before his infamous order received national attention within the legal community.

Many observers were amused by Judge Sparks’s order — which was not the first time His Honor has gotten saucy with lawyers in recent weeks (or in his judicial career, for that matter). But a minority felt that the order was over the top and gratuitously nasty.

Among the unamused: Edith Jones, who oversees the federal courts of Texas in her capacity as Chief Judge of the Fifth Circuit. What did she have to say to Sam Sparks?

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Judge Sam Sparks

You do not want to mess with Judge Sam Sparks, of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. We recently wrote about Judge Sparks accusing a lawyer appearing before him of incompetence — in a harshly worded order that pulled no punches.

Judge Sparks has been doling out stinging benchslaps for years, and he’s gotten pretty good at it. In particular, His Honor has little patience for discovery disputes. In 2007, for example, he smacked down some lawyers squabbling over a deposition — in rhymed couplets, no less.

Last week, Judge Sparks lit more lawyers on fire….

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GULC students go way over the line.

You might think that watching law students play sports would be like watching U. Conn. and Butler play basketball. You know, undersized, intense people playing in an ugly and painful style. You’d think that watching law students play a pick-up game of 21 would be indistinguishable from watching Butler unsuccessfully try to throw a ball in the ocean.

But you’d be wrong. Because at some point in the athletic competition, law students would undoubtedly halt competition and begin arguing over rules and regulations. Granted, halfway through the second half of the National Championship game, I wanted somebody to file an injunction on behalf of the rims in Houston that were being murdered. But in general I like my athletic competitions to be devoid of brief writing.

Which means it’s a good thing I didn’t go to Georgetown University Law Center….

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There must be no more of this childish abuse…. No more or there will be sanctions. In more than 29 years as a judge, I have never encountered such bickering, quarrelsome lawyers. You are wasting my time and your clients’ money.

– Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit, sitting by designation as a district judge (N.D. Ill.), ruling on motions in limine in Chamberlain Group, Inc. v. Lear Corp. (PDF).

(The context of this quotation, which contains additional benchslappery, appears below.)

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Earlier this month, we presented you with a trademark law hypothetical. It was based on a dispute between Lawyerist and PeerViews Inc., parent company of TechnoLawyer, over the term “Small Law.” Lawyerist used the words “Small Law” in the title and text of this post — about Above the Law’s new offerings for small-firm readers, incidentally — and PeerViews objected.

In a letter by Kristen McCallion of Fish & Richardson, PeerViews expressed the concern that Lawyerist’s use of the words “Small Law” would diminish PeerViews’s goodwill in its “distinctive SmallLaw trademark.” PeerViews uses the mark for the TechnoLawyer newsletter on small firms.

We asked you, our readers, for your opinions on this matter. In the comments to our post, most of you sided with Lawyerist (but there were a handful of very vocal dissenters).

How will a judge or jury feel about this dispute? Because that’s who will get the next crack at this controversy. Lawyerist Media just filed a lawsuit against PeerViews in federal district court in Minnesota, seeking to invalidate the PeerViews trademarks on the terms “BigLaw” and “SmallLaw”….

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The closest English translation for the Wisconsin word "stand" is actually "run away like a little kid."

Effing Wisconsin. First I have to spend 10 minutes with my clicker searching around for something ridiculous called “TruTV” to catch the Michigan tournament game. I can’t find it so I have to stream the game on the radio while I watch Texas coach Rick Barnes continue his brave struggle to become the first developmentally disabled coach to make it to the Final Four. But then I have to kill the sound and change the channel because there’s “breaking” news from Wisconsin regarding its ongoing labor union bukkake session and, technically, I’m “working” today. Freaking cheese eating mofos just trying to hassle brothers.

But whatever, when last we checked in on Wisconsin the state was in a governmental standstill because Democrats fled the state in order to prevent Republicans from passing a bill that would eviscerate the rights of labor unions. Since then, the people of Wisconsin have demanded a recall election to oust the Republican state legislators (apparently being elected and trying to pass horrible bills is more offensive than being elected and refusing to show up for work at all).

Meanwhile, Republicans decided to pass their anti-union bill anyway, without the Democrats or a quorum. Was it legal for Republicans to pass the bill under those circumstances? Not exactly says a Wisconsin judge…

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Start messing with democracy and you'll find tyranny at your front door.

Earlier this week, I compared Wisconsin to a North African country. Now I think that comparison is unfair to North African countries.

The crisis in Wisconsin continues. Democratic state legislators are still on the lam from their jobs, denying the Wisconsin legislature the quorum necessary to conduct state business.

Some of our commenters think that fleeing the state to avoid a quorum call is just another procedural right given to the minority party, kind of like an ultimate filibuster. I think that’s a self-serving analysis. Quorum rules are there because reliable motorized transportation is a relatively modern innovation. Quorum rules are there because laws shouldn’t be passed by the first two guys to show up to work in the morning. Legislators don’t have a right to flee the state as a political maneuver to prevent democracy from occurring.

Of course, if Wisconsin Democrats don’t want to respect democracy, Wisconsin Republicans are more than happy to give them a big dose of tyranny. That’s just how Republicans roll…

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In our most recent practice area survey of the Above the Law readership, the most popular single response was “Intellectual Property.” Eighteen percent of survey respondents identified themselves as IP attorneys.

So many of you might be interested in the latest controversy to heat up the small-firm blogosphere. If you’re an IP lawyer, if you work at a small law firm, or if you’re a law student who enjoys intellectual-property hypotheticals, keep reading….

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Is Wisconsin experiencing the worst Super Bowl hangover ever?

Is there a huge difference between living in a North African country and living in the state of Wisconsin right now? Can somebody please send in Richard Engel to conduct an interview with a bearded lumberjack making a barricade out of cheese?

In case you haven’t been following along (and I understand that it’s not as exciting as the next Charlie Sheen interview), Wisconsin no longer has a functioning government. I’m not exaggerating. The Republican Governor, Scott Walker, and the Republican legislature basically want to take away the right of unions to collectively bargain.

In response, Democrats have fled the state. Again, I’m not exaggerating here. Instead of allowing democracy, however disagreeable the outcome, to play out, 14 Democratic legislators have simply decided not to play. They’ve fled, preventing the legislature from getting together a quorum to vote on Walker’s budget.

And man, are there protests. It’s getting to the point where if Wisconsin had a functioning government, it would probably declare martial law….

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billboard advertisement truth in advertising commercials.jpgThe performance of litigation as a Biglaw business line during the Great Recession has been widely viewed as disappointing. But at least one type of litigation seems to be picking up. From the New York Times:

A diamond is forever? Prove it.

Companies that were once content to fight in grocery-store aisles and on television commercials are now choosing a different route — filing lawsuits and other formal grievances challenging their competitors’ claims…. The goal is usually not money but market share. Companies file complaints to get competitors’ ads withdrawn or amended.

The cases themselves might seem a little absurd — an argument over hyped-up advertising copy that not many consumers even take at face value. Pantene has attacked Dove’s claim that its conditioner “repairs” hair better, and Iams has been challenged on one of its lines, “No other dog food stacks up like Iams.”

Dueling over dog food quality? Desperate times call for desperate measures.

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