For those of you who were left scratching your heads over it, here's a Courthouse Forum letter from Judge Alex Kozinski himself, providing the backstory:
About three weeks ago, I was keynote speaker at a one day conference sponsored by the judges and lawyers of the District of Nevada. [See thumbnail of conference pamphlet, below right -- gotta love that title...]
The luncheon speaker was Barry Levenson, author of Habeas Codfish, a funny book about food law. Levenson was an appellate lawyer with the Wisconsin Attorney General's office and his claim to fame -- as he tells it -- is that he's the only lawyer to have argued a case in the US S. Ct. with a mustard jar in his pocket. It's a very funny story, and I don't want to steal his thunder by giving away the circumstances.
In any event, he eventually quit law and is now the curator of the Mustard Museum and a popular speaker.
Among the "shtick" of Levenson's very funny and informative speech was the presentation to me of a case of mustard (one of which I sent you), an autographed copy of his book, and two honorary degrees (click on the thumbnails for a better view):
I thought that Levenson and his Mustard Museum might be worth a plug, esp. because of his connection with the S. Ct. He's a very funny guy, a bit reminiscent of Eugene Levy. In fact, one might ask about them: Separated at birth?
Delightfully bizarre! Perfect fodder for UTR. A3G thanks Judge Kozinski for sharing -- and congratulates him on his two honorary degrees.
Here are a few blind items of judicial gossip to usher in the new year:
1. This prominent appeals court judge parties a little too heartily for his own good. At one legal conference, he got so drunk that he had to be carried back to his hotel room -- where the partying continued, through the consumption of tequila shots! The following day, he was spotted with a bad hangover and a pronounced limp (the result of injuring his foot on the dance floor the night before).
2. In contrast to the jurist just mentioned, who may engage in excessive fraternization with non-judges, this Supreme Court short-lister isn't exactly Miss Congeniality. After she delivered a speech at a midwestern law school, she had lunch with some law students and faculty members -- where she proceeded to alienate the entire group, with her pedantic, constant correction of minor misstatements, made by her dining companions in casual conversation.
This judge's distance caused several attendees to dub her "an ice queen." When one law student asked about the judge's family, in a well-intentioned effort at small talk, the judge responded frostily: "I'd rather not get into such matters -- and certainly not with you!" (While a judge's reluctance to discuss her personal life is entirely understandable, the "certainly not with you" was gratuitious; the inquiry could have been deflected far more politely.)
3. This East Coast circuit judge, who was a distinguished legal academic before taking the bench, has a weakness for reruns of Xena: Warrior Princess.
4. After this comely district judge was nominated as a judicial hottie, a former colleague emailed her about the contest and said that he would vote for her. The judge subsequently declared herself to be "mortified" by the proceedings -- but maybe she was just upset that she didn't make the top five!
5. This female circuit judge was asked for her reaction when a colleague of hers was nominated as a judicial superhottie, but she was not. This judge quipped: "Well, I've been dubbed a judicial diva. Hotness fades; but diva-hood is forever!"
In emails to Article III Groupie and in comments to recent posts, several of you have expressed a desire for better coverage in these pages of federal judges who are not conservatives of mono-monikered fame (e.g., Scalia, Kozinski, Posner, Easterbrook, etc.). As it turns out, A3G recognizes the validity of this criticism, and she's happy to oblige. Going forward, she will make a conscious effort to expand the universe of judges that she covers.*
A3G will kick things off by reprinting some praise of Judge Edmund H. Sargus, Jr., a 1996 Clinton appointee to the Southern District of Ohio. This email comes from a celebrated trial lawyer and loyal UTR reader:
Just noticed in your old "hottie" listJudge Edmund Sargus (S.D. Ohio). Now there is somebody who ought to be on the court of appeals, at the very least. He is personable, affable, smart, and well-read; he listens to lawyers, and he knows how to run a contentious courtroom while making sure everybody gets heard. I was counsel in a big dollar/big ego class action last year, and came away with enormous respect for him.
Catch that rave -- Judge Sargus, pat yourself on the back for doing such a fine job on the bench!
And here are some very nice words about another district court judge and Democratic appointee,** Judge Myron H. Thompson of the Middle District of Alabama (who is, by the way, a former boss of current Stevens clerk Dan Lenerz):
Judge Myron Thompson (M.D. Ala.) is a great judge who was appointed by President Carter in 1980. Judge Thompson was only 33 at the time, and he became the first African-American judge in that district. He has handled a number of very notable cases, including the historic Wyatt case challenging the inhumane treatment of individuals held in Alabama's Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, which has had a tremendous impact on the treatment of people with mental illness in the United States.
Judge Thompson also decided Glassroth v. Moore, the Alabama "10 Commandments case." His decision in that case, ordering Chief Justice Roy Moore to remove the 10 Commandments monument from the Alabama State Judicial Building, earned him a huge amount of harsh criticism from the religious right, even though it was upheld more than once by the 11th Circuit.
WOW -- a federal judge by the age of 33? If it's possible, A3G feels even worse about herself than she did when she woke up this morning!
But before you conclude that life is a bowl of cherries for Judge Thompson, consider the following anecdote from this article about his visit last year to Yale, his alma mater (for both college and law school):
Only a year after he began serving on the bench, Thompson made a difficult ruling concerning the use of deadly force by the police. After a friend critiqued his decision as arbitrary, Thompson said he questioned whether he was making or interpreting law.
"After seeing the [appellate] panel of judges that was set to rule on the case, one of the older judges said to me, 'I saw the panel; get ready to be reversed.' At the time I was really upset. People think that because we are selected for life that we don't have feelings," Thompson said.
Gee, that's kinda true! It's something A3G should keep in mind when blogging about Article III celebrities. Just because federal judges have flowing robes and big gavels doesn't mean they don't get hurt when people say mean things about them.
Judge Thompson's story, however, has a happy ending:
Thompson was vindicated in the end when the case went before the U.S. Supreme Court, which used Thompson's language verbatim in its ruling. Thompson said he is humbled by the influence he has.
Awesome -- keep on truckin', Judge Thompson!
And now, a few words of "meta-blogging." In the pages of UTR, A3G devotes most of her attention to Supreme Court justices and a handful of glamorous circuit judges. But there's no denying that district court judges have much harder jobs than their appellate court counterparts. Their dockets are much larger; they face greater time pressures; and they have fewer resources than their colleagues upstairs.
Despite these obstacles, and with the help of their trusty law clerks, trial judges in the federal system do a superb job dispensing justice to the people of the United States. The excellent work that district judges perform, day in and day out, makes the American federal judiciary the great institution that it is today -- the envy of the entire free world.
A special message to all district court judges: even if she doesn't blog about you as often as circuit judges and SCOTUS justices, A3G still loves you very very much. YOU RULE!!!
* It's worth noting that this criticism of UTR is not a new one. Check out this post, from almost exactly a year ago, in which A3G reprinted this reader email:
You tend to write about the same small group of judges over, and over, and over. How about casting your net a bit wider? There are so many judges about whom I'd like to learn. Mad props otherwise, Devoted Fan
And here is part of what A3G wrote in her own defense:
As noted in UTR's mission statement, Underneath Their Robes is like People or US Weekly, but for the federal judiciary. Would anyone ever write in to People or US Weekly to complain that they spend too much time on the likes of Julia and Jude, and not enough time on Wallace Shawn and Lupe Ontiveros? With all due respect to Mr. Shawn and Ms. Ontiveros, both of whom A3G deeply admires as actors, clearly the answer is no.
As explained above, A3G will attempt to broaden her coverage in the weeks ahead. But please don't be surprised if she eventually reverts to her old ways after a few weeks (or hours).
** See? A3G is capable of blogging about judges who are neither Republican appointees nor circuit/Supreme Court judges. Please, dear readers -- give your blogress a round of applause!
According to this article by Timothy L. O'Brien, based on O'Brien's forthcoming book, TrumpNation, "The Donald" has received dole-outs from "The Maryanne" in the past. O'Brien offers the following report:
By 1993, with his casinos in hock, most of his real estate holdings either forfeited or stagnant and his father slipping into the fog of Alzheimer's disease, Donald Trump, at the age of 47, had run out of money.... [H]e ordered Nick Ribis, the Trump Organization's president, to call his siblings and ask for a handout from their trusts. Donald needed about $10 million for his living and office expenses, but he had no collateral to provide his brother and sisters, all three of whom wanted a guarantee that he would repay them.
The Trump children's anticipated share of their father's fortune amounted to about $35 million each, and Donald's siblings demanded that he sign a promissory note pledging future distributions from his trust fund against the $10 million he wanted to borrow.
Donald got his loan, but about a year later he was almost broke again. When he went to the trough the second time, he asked his siblings for $20 million more. His brother Robert Trump, who briefly oversaw Donald's casinos before fleeing the pressure of working for him to take over their father's real estate operation, balked. Desperate to scrape some money together, Donald tasked Alan Marcus, one of his advisers, to contact his brother-in-law John Barry and see if he could intervene with Robert and his other siblings.
The late John J. Barry, a prominent New Jersey lawyer who represented Donald Trump in various matters, was married to The Maryanne. As one might have expected from a power broker of his stature, John Barry succeeded in getting The Donald the critical assistance that he needed:
Mr. Barry successfully lobbied other members of the Trump clan and that another handout was arranged, with Donald agreeing again that whatever he failed to pay back would be taken out of his share of their father's estate.
"We would have literally closed down," said another former member of the Trump Organization familiar with Donald's efforts to keep the company afloat. "The key would have been in the door and there would have been no more Donald Trump. The family saved him."
So how about that? According to one of UTR's Third Circuit sources, "Judge Barry is a judicial diva par excellence, renowned for her sharp mind and her equally sharp tongue." But perhaps The Maryanne should also be known for her generosity. When her bold and brash brother finds himself in a pinch, Judge Barry simply reaches into those deep pockets under her robe, to spot him some of the fortune that she inherited from their late father, Fred Trump. Without her help, Donald Trump would not be where he is today.
Judge Barry is not only generous towards her little brother; she's also discreet. When contacted by O'Brien, "Maryanne Trump Barry, a federal judge, said that she could not recollect any efforts to offer her brother financial help."
I had no idea Judge Posner has such a great sense of humor! Just thought I would fill you in on some of the things that Judge Posner had to say:
1. Debate over extreme positions has taken over in America. He views the Ten Commandments case as an insignificant case, as the majority of the country just doesn't care whether there are Commandments in public places and "no one is going around worrying about graven images anymore."
2. The ACLU has become a partisan interest group like any other that takes up insignificant issues and can be ignored because of their predictability, unless they come across some monumental conflict like one which "pits picketing against abortion" (his crack, not mine).
3. In deciding a case about the consitutionality of an Indianapolis statute banning children under the age of 18 from being in an arcade with violent games, he had to research video games, since apparently he had never played one. He said he liked Mortal Kombat!
Mortal Kombat!?!?That little detail definitely got A3G's attention! Could it be true that one of the federal judiciary's leading lights has a weakness for video games?
A digression: if so, that would be two leading lights of the federal judiciary with a weakness for video games. Judge Alex Kozinski's love of video games is well-known. As noted in Emily Bazelon's great profile of him, Judge Kozinski even writes videogamereviews for the Wall Street Journal!
In her interview with Will Baude of Crescat Sententia, A3G dodged the question (#15) of who would prevail in a judicial celebrity death-match between Judge Posner and Judge Kozinski. Maybe the best way to answer that query would be to pit the two jurists against each other in a Mortal Kombat tournament!
(Update: Check out the comment by Ted Frank to learn about another super-prestigious judge who enjoys video games. Here's a hint: A3G previously volunteered to be this judge's "honey pot.")
Okay, back to Judge Posner. Because A3G has been burned in the past by passing along erroneous information about Posnerian sight-ations, she decided to do something that "real journalists" are known for: fact-checking. She sent the following email to Judge Posner himself:
Dear Judge Posner:
Greetings. How are you? I hope all is well; it has been a while since our last communication.
I was just writing with a bit of fact-checking. Recently I received the email printed below from a loyal UTR reader, concerning a debate you recently had with Professor Geoffrey Stone. Before I reprinted it in blog, in whole or in part, I wanted to confirm its accuracy with you; I would not want to misquote you again....
Is there anything in the email below (reprinted after the asterisks) that is incorrect (or that, even if correct, you would not want to appear in UTR)? In particular, is it true that you have played Mortal Kombat? And if so, who is your favorite character or player (a.k.a. "kombat-tant") to employ, and do you have a favorite "special move" or "fatality"?
I completely understand if you don't have the time to take a look at this. But if you do, I would be most grateful for your confirmation of the accuracy or inaccuracy of this message. I do try to be as accurate as possible in my blog!
And she received the following, fabulous response from Judge Posner:
Dear Ms. Groupie, the email is completely accurate and I have no objection to your publishing it. However, to correct a minor point in your email (not in the email from your reader), I have not actually played Mortal Kombat, much as I would like to. I just saw a tape of it being played, which was part of the record of the Indianapolis case.
WOW! How cool is that? For those of you who enjoy reading UTR, you had better hope Judge Posner never writes that article -- because once he does, and A3G reads it, its sheer fabulousity will give her a fatal heart attack!**
In fact, even the idea of Judge Posner playing Mortal Kombat -- which, as he mentioned in his email, he is eager to do -- gives Article 3 Groupie heart palpitations. In her mind's eye, she sees the following scene:
Judge Richard Posner and his grandson, Nathaniel, are sitting on an Oriental rug on the floor of the Posners' Hyde Park home. The two are playing Mortal Kombat with unbelievable intensity and zeal, oblivious to everything but the television screen in front of them. Judicial spouse Charlene Posner stands behind the pair, her arms folded, looking on with good-natured exasperation.
The doorbell rings. Transfixed by their video game, Judge Posner and Nathaniel don't even notice; Charlene goes to answer the door.
Charlene Posner opens the door just a crack, to see who's there. But as soon as she does so -- WHAM! -- the door flies open, and Charlene falls backwards onto the floor. She is powerless to stop the whirlwind that has just blown into the Posnerian living room: that irresistible force of nature, Senatrix Hillary Rodham Clinton!!!
Clad in her trademark black pantsuit, and showing no respect whatsoever for the separation of powers, the Article I diva strides across the room and plants herself squarely in front of the Article III deity. Senator Clinton is now blocking Judge Posner's view of the screen.
Judge Posner is not fazed by the presence in his home of America's most famous legislatrix. He is, however, annoyed that she is disrupting his video game.
"Excuse me, Senator Clinton, but would you please step away from the television," he says dryly. "You are blocking our view. My grandson and I are in the middle of a game of Mortal Kombat."
"And that, Judge Posner, is exactly the problem!" exclaims the good Senatrix. "Here's a copy of my press release, announcing my proposed legislation to institute a video game ratings system. Violent video games are stealing the innocence of our children. How can you allow your grandson to play Mortal Kombat? Have you no sense of decency?"
And with that, Senator Hillary Clinton reaches down, wrenches the video game controls away from Judge Posner and Nathaniel, and heads for the door. The stunned Judge Posner does not move; little Nathaniel starts to cry.
When Senator Clinton reaches the threshold of the Posners' front door, she pauses briefly to address Charlene Posner, who is still on the ground, in a daze.
"Take it from me, Charlene," says Senator Clinton. "You can't let your husband play too much with his joystick . A wife must learn how to control her husband's self-destructive behavior. If a wife can't control her husband, nobody can!"
And with those parting words, our future president sweeps out of the Posnerian residence, towards her black limousine idling at the curb...
* If you missed the live Posner v. Stone debate, you can catch the virtual one going on at Legal Affairs. Dan Markel of PrawfsBlawg highlights one especially "tasty" exchange, in this post (which also contains some tidbits about Judge Posner's upbringing that may be new to some of you, although not to readers of this brilliant profile).
** Okay, maybe "fabulosity" is not a real word -- but come on, you know what A3G means!