On July 21, a federal judge in Texas mocked some lawyers in an opinion that included this language:
When the undersigned accepted the appointment from the President of the United States of the position now held, he was ready to face the daily practice of law in federal courts with presumably competent lawyers. No one warned the undersigned that in many instances his responsibility would be the same as a person who supervised kindergarten.
The full opinion can be found here (PDF). It was mentioned on a number of weblogs, including Begging to Differ, The Curmudgeonly Clerk, and Overlawyered.com. On Begging to Differ, the opinion was said to include this message to lawyers:
Just because the lawyers are litigators doesn't make overly litigious behavior acceptable. Petty sniping and inability to agree on matters that won't affect the outcome of the case are traits that will surely get a lawyer on the judge's bad side. And that just might affect the outcome of the case. It's not just bad manners, it's bad lawyering.
As a lawyer who litigates before many different judges, I tend to agree. On the other hand, I know some judges who, ironically, don’t seem to like lawyers very much anyway. Or perhaps I can put it more bluntly: they seem to hate lawyers. So when I see an opinion like the one from Texas, I assume there might be another side to the story.
[Below the fold: Differing views of the Texas opinion.]
Apparently, I’m not alone. Following are three comments about the Texas opinion from readers at Begging to Differ (the first one) and the The Curmudgeonly Clerk (the following two):
- This opinion suggests failure to control the litigation. If the judge had paid sufficient attention to the case, there should be no need to bully the lawyers this way. If you search around the Internet, you'll see that this judge has written several dismissive opinions in verse. Life tenure should not be a license to impose a foul temper on litigants and lawyers.
- This is crap. If either judge were able to control the litigation he wouldn’t need to resort to alliteration. I think this behavior by judges and attorneys is the inevitable result of a legal culture which has turned out a bunch of egomaniacal idiots.
- I agree with [the previous comment], and as I've said before, I don't find judges' attempts to be witty and clever in their judicial opinions to be funny, entertaining, or appropriate. If I want wit and humor I'll turn on the tv.
Would I be risking my law license if I said I agree with these comments? I'm not sure, but it doesn't matter, since I don’t know enough about the Texas case to form an opinion. I do think I’m safe in saying this, however: Shouldn't judges be civil, just as lawyers are expected to be?