Without further ado, here's the second half of Article III Groupie's interview with a judicial celebrity so hot that he gives off sparks: Judge John D. Tinder, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana!*
The first half of the interview, including a brief bio of Judge Tinder, is available here. As before, A3G's questions appear below in italics, and Judge Tinder's answers follow in ordinary roman type.
11. What about your non-robescent attire -- what do you like to wear "underneath your robe," as well as outside the courtroom? How would you describe your personal style?
I have heard lawyers say that there are suit judges, sport coat judges and, these days, golf shirt judges. I would be labeled as a suit judge.
I ordinarily wear a suit if I have a court day. If a hearing could result in someone going to prison or the entry of an adverse judgment against a party, the litigants deserve to have the judge wear a dress shirt, a tie and a suit. My suits are strictly off-the-rack stuff, with the purchase decision being based on price rather than designer label. The same is true for shirts, etc. I try to find the cheapest presentable ties I can find, generally at T.J. Maxx, because, as anyone who ever has eaten with me knows, I am lucky to get two meals out of a tie. I should be covered with visqueen before I eat, like the front row spectators at a Gallagher concert.
However, if I have no court activities scheduled on particular days, those are always casual days in my office for my staff. Because of public expectations and attendance at public functions, I usually wear at least a sport coat on those days, or have one in my office closet that I can throw on, if needed.
Outside the office, there are no ties, no suits and no sport coats. My preferred attire would be a beat up pair of blue jeans, a golf shirt, a sweater and comfortable shoes (no particular brands on any of these items). If an event requires being more dressed up than that, I would generally rather not go.
12. Rumor has it that you have a fierce golf rivalry with your colleague, Judge Richard L. Young, and that you enjoy live music concerts and watching the Indy 500 time trials. Can you comment on these rumors?
The rumors of a golf rivalry, or that I golf at all, are patently false. It is true that I used to occasionally play golf, and that Judge Young and I have competed, perhaps fiercely, for the fabled Brooks Cup in the past. But that is over. It is now 30 degrees here in central Indiana, I no longer have my golf clubs in the trunk of my car, and I am spending this winter in a 12-step program to beat a bad case of golf addiction, so I fully expect to never play golf again. At least not for several months.
The Indianapolis 500 is one of the unique events held here, so I try to get my law clerks to spend an hour or two at the track each spring. I am not a big racing fan, but if you live in a city that hosts 3 major racing events (including the Brickyard 400 and the U.S. Grand Prix Formula One race), you can’t avoid some exposure to it. We also get some race-related litigation from time to time, so this could be considered field research.
13. In addition to being seen on the links, you have also been spotted by judicial celebrity stalkers at a James Taylor concert. Aside from golf, what are some of your favorite leisure time activities?
Too many hobbies, not enough time. It is with reluctance that I discuss this subject at all because as soon as lawyers find out you have any kind of interest in something, they fall all over themselves trying throw analogies into their arguments and briefs to mention they think your favorite hobby is. When reports of my interest in baseball surfaced (I attended Dodger Fantasy Camp years ago), for months, I heard about foul balls, curve balls, home runs and balks until I could hardly stand it.
Per A3G: Click on the thumbnails for a better view; the back of the card notes that "[o]ne of John's favorite activites is being affirmed by the 7th Circuit." Also, she believes Judge Tinder made the right choice in ditching the mustache. Sans facial hair, he is quite the judicial hottie!
Also, I am a little embarrassed for people to know about the frivolous ways I spend leisure time -- and I don’t want people to think that I ever do anything other than work. Litigants (and lawyers) waiting for decisions don’t like to read about how their judge goofs off. Additionally, my out-of-office interests could be charitably described as eclectic, but perhaps more honestly could be labeled trivial and schizophrenic.
My wife and I enjoy attending live concerts, mostly rock and pop bands -– the list of performers that we have seen is too long to remember, but a few examples will demonstrate the variety of our interests: The Rolling Stones; Nanci Griffith; Judy Collins; Chris Isaak; Joni Mitchell; Crosby, Still, Nash and Young (and the various combinations that tour); Sarah McLachlan; the Nevilles (brothers, sisters, cousins, etc.); Emmylou Harris; The Eagles; Phil Collins; The Chieftans; Paul Simon; James Taylor; etc., etc. Actually, we have probably seen the Chieftans about 10 times (attributable to my Irish heritage, I suppose), and I may be the only federal judge who has ever been to a back stage party with the Chieftans.
There are few types of music that I don’t like (I have no ear for rap or hip hop), but I am strictly a recreational listener. I know nothing about music, except what I like. This play list is typical of the variety of things I enjoy: on a recent drive to the Evansville division of our court, I listened to Live, Pearl Jam, U2, Handel’s Messiah and the Beatles covers on the soundtrack from the film “I Am Sam.”
We enjoy traveling, especially when it combines several of our interests. For example, a great trip for us is to attend Jazz Fest in New Orleans in the spring. This is my wife’s home town, and her best friend still lives there. Plus, Jazz Fest is a great eating and music venue. I describe it as like being in college again, except having money to buy things.
I enjoy a variety of sports. I run, bike and cross country ski, depending on the season, but solely for recreation and fitness at this point. I used to run in 5 and 10k races, and have completed several mini-marathons, and one marathon, but that was years and about 30 pounds ago. As a spectator, I enjoy professional golf and baseball and college basketball.
14. It's sometimes hard to believe, but federal judges are people too. Just like the rest of us, federal judges read books (and not just case reporter volumes), go to the movies, watch television, etc. Please tell us a little bit about your tastes in books, movies, and television.
I suppose that my tastes would be described as very wide but not very deep. I love to read, novels especially. Some of my favorite authors are Scott Turow, John Irving, Susan Isaacs, Elmore Leonard, Larry McMurtry, Carl Hiaasen, and Nelson DeMille. There are many others, but I won’t bore your readers with a catalogue. I do want to mention three books that I especially enjoyed which may demonstrate the variety of things I read for pleasure: “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” by Dave Eggers -– I think he is one of the great new writers; Dennis Lehane (author of "Mystic River" -– which is good) also wrote “Shutter Island,” which is one of the best mysteries I have ever read (if you figure out what is going on in this book before the ending, you are very clever); and finally, Nelson DeMille’s “The Gold Coast” should be in the pantheon of great books about the Mafia.
I watch a lot of movies. I especially enjoy the sort of off-beat, small movies that have a different perspective. For example, here are some of the movies that would make my top hundred list: Memento, Being John Malkovich, Say Anything, Sideways, Body Heat, I (Heart) Huckabees, Raising Arizona, The Man Who Wasn’t There (and I suppose about anything by the Coen brothers.) The most recent film I saw was The Merchant of Venice.
My television viewing has diminished greatly with the demise of the sitcom. Through the years, I have been a fan of Taxi, Cheers, Frasier, Wings, Sports Night, Seinfeld and a few others. I have no interest in the so-called reality shows. Lately, about all I watch are certain HBO series (The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Deadwood, Curb Your Enthusiasm), Keith Olbermann’s Countdown on MSNBC and, of course, the Golf Channel.
15. Federal judges have sometimes been compared to lions and lionesses, the fearsome rulers of the legal professional jungle. They might also be thought of as eagles, soaring high above the plebeians toiling below them. If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be?
I really have never thought of myself as an animal, although I recall that in my days as an AUSA, we used to refer to one of the district judges as “The Great American Eagle” because he appeared to be perched on his chair behind the bench, with his eyes darting around the courtroom, taking everything in, ready to pounce if things in the courtroom got out of line. If I had to choose an animal to be, I would want to be a Labrador Retriever. (I am partial to dogs, especially Labs, and am definitely not a cat person.) I think of Labs as ordinarily being friendly, listening carefully to what people say, trying earnestly, with a furrowed brow, to understand, but not always being able to do so, and probably preferring to be outside, running around and playing fetch. After lawyers read my rulings, they may think they would have done better arguing to a dog?
16. Speaking of animals, might you have been a party animal? Rumor has it that you were a member of the Beta Theta Pi chapter at Indiana University. If the rumors are true, can you comment on what your fraternity experience was like? Also, do you think that fraternities get a bum rap in the media and popular culture?
Rumors of my affiliation with Beta are true. Suspicions about whether I was a party animal are not well founded. If I had been cast in the classic movie “Animal House,” I would have been Hoover, not Bluto Blutarsky. I had a terrific experience. The Beta house had a wide range of members, some from very wealthy backgrounds to others who had to wash dishes to help pay room and board. Although the membership was not diverse in race or gender, we had a wide range of political, moral and personal beliefs. It was a fascinating experiment in communal living. I think the world should allow for experiences like this as people are growing up.
17. Your wife is a trial lawyer with an active practice. You, of course, are a federal judge. How do you and your wife talk (or vent) about work, in the way that married couples have done since time immemorial, while at the same time honoring the confidences that you are each duty-bound to maintain?
My wife and I have plenty to talk about other than law. We never discuss any work that is ongoing, and if we talk about a case that she or I have, it would only involve things that are in the public record. The bright line of the confidentiality of our respective jobs is very clear. If anything, we would be more likely to discuss the personalities of the participants in cases rather than factual or legal issues. I try not to talk about my work very much. In fact, it is not unusual for my wife to read about a decision I have made without hearing from me that I had the case.
18. Earlier in our interview, you referenced your Catholic faith. Some judges -- such as former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore -- have gotten in trouble for letting their religious beliefs affect their professional conduct. What role does your own religious faith play in your work as a federal judge?
No one who attended Catholic grade school for 8 years and a Jesuit high school in the 50's and 60's left unaffected. The experience shapes your perspective on matters of morality, religion, philosophy, discipline and many other subjects. But religious affiliation and religious beliefs should have no role in the performance of a judge’s duties. In my professional career, I have prosecuted death penalty cases, ruled that Wicca is a religion subject to anti-discrimination protection, and issued many other rulings that probably would have caused the nuns of my youth to rap my knuckles heavily. Decisions are to be made on the law and the facts, not slanted because of personal beliefs.
19. If you had not entered the legal profession, what do you think you would have become instead?
Before I went to law school, I really wasn’t headed anywhere. When I started undergraduate school, I had intended to get an accounting degree, work as an accountant for a while to accumulate some funds, and then decide whether to go on to graduate school. But then something happened when I was a first semester sophomore -– I took my first (and last) accounting course. I hated it.
I then sampled a variety of subjects in business, psychology, statistics, political science, sociology and religion. My undergraduate degree is from the business school, but my transcript looked as though I randomly took courses from each page of the college catalogue. I had no particular academic concentration as an undergraduate, so I doubt that I was employable.
I started into law school within a couple of weeks after graduating, and have been in law ever since. Political activity, both on and off campus, was a big hobby, and I suppose I might have drifted toward that as a career if the law hadn’t gotten in the way.
20. You have very detailed courtroom practices and procedures; clearly you have put a great deal of thought into maximizing the efficiency of your chambers. What advice -- perhaps in the form of five or ten helpful hints -- would you offer to newly commissioned federal district judges? [Photo at right courtesy of Carol M. Highsmith Photography, Inc.; click on the thumbnail for a closer look.]
The practices and procedures to which you refer were the result of responding to a questionnaire from Aspen Publishing for its Directory of Federal Court Guidelines. Because those responses were being included in that publication, I posted them on the court’s web site. If left to my own devices, I probably would not have structured those things in that particular way.
Generally, I don’t think that formal procedures are necessary and feel that I am willing to adjust to the needs of particular cases. I usually don’t have a problem with lawyers doing whatever they want to do, however they want to do it, as long as they have a plan which furthers the communication of necessary information. But often good courtroom practices are often perceived to be requirements of the judge.
For example, I don’t think it is a bad idea to question a witness or make an argument from counsel table instead of from a lectern -– if the lawyer makes him/herself heard. But experience shows that lawyers often slump in their chairs and talk down into their notes instead of to the witnesses, and it can become very hard to hear them. They also see to be more comfortable if they have a structure imposed for them and I think that they like to think that they are required to conduct their case from the lectern. Of course, it is a matter of respect for a lawyer to stand (if he/she can) when addressing opposing counsel, the court, the jury or a witness. But I don’t require that. Nonetheless, because my courtroom is equipped with a lectern, lawyers tend to end up there when making presentations. It puts them closer to the witnesses, the jury, the court reporter and the document camera. In the end, I think that the appearance of a lawyer conducting his/her case from the lectern is very professional but I don’t think it has to be required. The same is true of most so-called rules of courtroom practice or procedure. They are usually just good practices of professional communication which become perceived of as rules.
Unsolicited advice to new federal district judges:
1. You are participating in a marathon, not a sprint. You need to maintain your health, a clear head and a pace that will carry you to completion.
2. Everything you have learned about law before beginning this job is just the starting point. Do you remember studying for the bar exam, especially on subjects that you didn’t take in law school? Welcome to a U.S. District Court.
3. The case that you prepare for thoroughly will settle. The case that you ignore will go to trial–badly.
4. Oral arguments are useful if you are prepared nearly well enough to make your ruling before the argument starts, so that you know the case about as well as the lawyers do.
5. It would be a mistake to lower your law clerk hiring standards to employ someone as a favor to a friend.
WOW -- Judge Tinder hit a real home run! Article 3 Groupie thanks Judge Tinder for taking the time to chat with her in cyberspace, as well as for putting such care and thought into his extremely thorough, witty, and informative responses.
Well, dear readers, you know what the end of a "Questions Presented" interview means: the start of a new period in which A3G begs for her next judicial interviewee. Think of UTR as PBS or NPR, where programming must be interrupted on a regular basis to make time for abject pleading. So, if you happen to be a federal judge willing to be fawned over by A3G, or if you know of a federal judge who might fit the bill, please don't hesitate to e-mail.** Only YOU can prevent forest fires!
She's got questions, you've got answers,
* Some of you may have noticed that the photograph at left is different from the photograph used in the first interview post. Both are official photographs of Judge Tinder, but the picture at left is the more recent of the two.
** A3G has previously interviewed two district court judges from the Midwest, Judge Tinder and Judge Gettleman, and one circuit court judge from the West Coast, Judge Wardlaw. For demographic balance, A3G would love to have an East Coast appeals court judge as her next interviewee. But beggars can't be choosers, so she will take what she can get!