Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Kindergarten cop

District Judge Sam Sparks recently got the attention of blogs and email lists with his "Kindergarten Order."

Edith Jones, the Chief Judge of the 5th Circuit, wasn't happy with the order and sent Judge Sparks this email:

Dear Sam, It has not escaped my attention, or that of my colleagues or, I am told, nationally known blog sites that you have issued several ‘cute’ orders in the past few weeks. The order attached below is the most recent. Frankly, this kind of rhetoric is not funny. In fact, it is so caustic, demeaning, and gratuitous that it casts more disrespect on the judiciary than on the now-besmirched reputation of the counsel. It suggests either that the judge is simply indulging himself at the expense of counsel or that he is fighting with counsel in what, as Judge Gee used to say, is surely not a fair contest. It suggests bias against counsel. No doubt, none of us has been consistently above reproach in our professional communications with counsel. We are all prone to human error. But no judge who writes an order should allow such rhetoric to overcome common sense. Ultimately, this kind of excess, as I noted, reflects badly on all of us. I urge you to think before you write. Sincerely, Edith Jones.

Ouch. According to the Texas Lawyer, Jones wasn't happy her email got out:

Jones declines comment on the substance of the e-mail but says she was “saddened” that it had been released to others, including Texas Lawyer. “It’s an internal matter,” Jones says. “And I’m saddened that somebody breached the intended limited scope of the intended distribution.”

What do you all think of Sparks' initial order and Jones' email? I guess all of this could segue into the discussion of the new Florida Bar rule on civility, but I'm tired after watching the Dolphins last night so I can't think of a witty way to do it.


Anonymous said...

she is absolutely right. we have enough uncivility among the lawyers. judges should always be above the fray and never let themselves become part of the problem. Judge Brown could keep that in mind. p.s. some law clerk is in a world of hurt for leaking that email.

Anonymous said...

She has no business chiming in on what a judge does or does not do, unless it is on appeal before her or in response to inquiry re the fitness of the judge.

Bob Becerra said...

Court orders should be serious, without such blatant, sarcastic attempts at humor. Such attempts may be funny to lawyers, but our clients are not lawyers, and I doubt any would find the tone or form of such orders funny in their legal disputes where they are spending alot of their money.

Calli said...

Edith Jones overturned District Judge David Hittner, who ruled that death row inmate Calvin Burdine deserved a new trial because his court-appointed attorney fell asleep between two to five times during the trial. Judge Hittner held that "sleeping counsel is akin to having no counsel at all." Edith diagreed, opining that "[I]t is impossible to determine whether, for example, counsel slept during the presentation of crucial inculpatory evidence, or during the introduction of unobjectionable, uncontested evidence."

And don't forget when Edith complained to a defense attorney that the last minute appeal of a death row inmate was keeping her from a child's birthday party.

Turn out Edith knows a thing or two regarding lack of decorum and judicial temperament, and that the actions of one judge may reflect badly "on all of us," after all.

That's not true. Edith's actions reflect only on Edith.

She should mind her business, glass houses and all.

Anonymous said...

my problem with the order is that he referred to himself as a "busy federal judge," as if he has better and more important things to do than resolve a dispute arising in litigation. In fact, federal judges earn their tax dollars precisely in exchange for spending their time resolving disputes in litigation. If he thinks this is a "waste of his time," then he needs to find another job; otherwise, he is unsuited for it.

Anonymous said...

without excusing her judicial decisions, right or wrong, she is chief of the Circuit and has every right to remind a judge in the Circuit of proper decorum.

Anonymous said...

she wouldn't know proper decorum if it bit her in the ass (we're in texas - i can talk like that)

Anonymous said...

Sparks is right, and his order was perfect. It was not unprofessional. He was holding a mirror up to the litigants before him. He--all judges-- are too busy to play kindergarden teacher to poorly trained civil litigators (this coming from a civil litigator guilty of making the same poor decisions regularly because the practice is so common I mistake it for proper). He stopped short of sanctioning them but hopefully he embarassed them into thinking twice before racing each other to the judge to complain. Hats off to you Sparks. And Jones should know better than to put anything in writing she doesn't want to see published in the local paper. If we all lived by that restriction, our profession would be much better off.

Les said...

There are many other issues with judges in this district. In a recent civil case in Texas, District Judge Royal Furgeson made the following remarks on the record in a civil case:

"THE COURT: They do and I have jurisdiction, too. So I'll tell you what.... You want to challenge the court order, I have the marshals behind me. I can come to your house, pick you up, put you in jail. I can seize your property, do anything I need to do to enforce my orders. I'm telling you don't screw with me. You are a fool, a fool, a fool, a fool to screw with a federal judge, and if you don't understand that, I can make you understand it. I have the force of the Navy, Army, Marines and Navy behind me."

"THE COURT: You realize that order is an order of the Court. So any failure to comply with that order is contempt, punishable by lots of dollars, punishable by possible jail, death"

The conduct in the rest of the case is even more harrowing. More information about this case is available at http://www.lawinjustice.com