Author: Howard Wasserman


Farewell to my favorite federal judge

Last week, Judge James T. Giles, senior judge and former chief judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, resigned from the bench after almost thirty years, to become Of Counsel at a law firm in Philadelphia.

I had the privilege and honor of clerking for Judge Giles from 1998-2000 (the early stages of his stint as chief). Judge Giles did not have the national cache of a SCOTUS Justice, nor was he the sort of judicial rock star that made our long-lost A3G swoon. He was, instead, a “lawyer’s judge,” exemplifying what makes a good trial-court judge: smart, pragmatic, caring, and quite at ease working in close quarters with lawyers and parties. He also was about the nicest, most humble person you ever will meet holding a position of power. His were the most pleasant chambers to work in–relaxed, friendly, and very thoughtful. Giles frequently would walk into the clerks’ area to sit and chat about just about anything.

Best of all, much of what I bring to my civil procedure class on the nuts-and-bolts workings of the pre-trial process I learned from working in his chambers.

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Professors showing their political stripes

This presidential election has had much discussion about the voting preferences of academics, particularly law professors–from the legal advisory teams (consisting of many law professors) that every major-party candidate established during the primaries to the joke (made in this forum) about “Law Professors for McCain” holding their meeting in a booth in a diner somewhere between Chicago and South Bend to news and academic studies about where law professors and law faculties donate money.

I want to ask a more pedestrian question that arose with some colleagues: How appropriate is it for professors to include political signs or messages around their offices, particularly in the doorway? Is it OK to have a candidate poster on your door or on the walls of your office? How about in the window facing out onto campus, visible to all who walk by? Is there something about that space that ought to be “welcoming” to students of all stripes and views, such that a prominent visual display of one’s political and partisan views is inappropriate? Is the office different than a classroom, where (I am guessing) most would believe it is inappropriate to display political preferences in that way? Or is this all simply a “grow-up-and-deal-with-it” issue for the students, something they should become accustomed to as they enter the legal world?

Cross-posted at PrawfsBlawg


Chicago Cubs and the Curse of Legal Formalism

On Saturday night, Deven’s Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Cubs 3-1, completely a dominating three-game sweep in the National League Division Series in which they outscored the Cubs 20-6. Thus will it be more than 100 years between world championships for the Cubs, who famously last won in 1908. This century of losing has been blamed on everything from billy goats to black cats to twenty-something fans in head phones to the refusal to install lights at Wrigley Field. I want to suggest a new source: legal formalism.

In addition to being the centennial of the Cubs’ last championship, 1908 also was the centennial of one of the game’s most infamous gaffes, by Fred “Bonehead’ Merkle. Some detailed history. On September 23 of that year, the Giants and Cubs, tied for first place, played at New York’s Polo Grounds. Tied 1-1 with two outs and runners at first (Merkle, then a rookie first-baseman) and third, the Giants’ Al Bridwell singled, scoring the runner from third, and apparently winning the game.Giant fans immediately ran onto the field, a common practice in those days, both to celebrate and to head to the stadium exit in right field that was closest to the trains and streetcars home. To get out of the crowd, Merkle turned right and headed for the clubhouse, which was located behind centerfield (the Polo Grounds remains my favorite of the now-deceased ballparks), without touching second base. That left the force at second base in effect. Amid the chaos, Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers got a ball (no one knows for sure whether it was the actual ball that had been hit on the play and that fact never has been established; some stories have a Giants player throwing the actual batted ball into the stands) and tagged second base and umpire Hank O’Day called Merkle out on the force, which nullified the run and ended the inning. The game then was called because of darkness and declared a tie. The teams finished the season tied, so the tie game was replayed; the Cubs won 4-2, winning the pennant and then the World Series–their last.

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The Bailout and the Hero Politician

Coming as it does less than two months before presidential and congressional elections, the bailout debacle has been inextricably entangled with electoral politics. One issue that seems to have revived is the myth of the indispensable public official, the person who must be present and involved, electoral rules be damned.

The obvious example is John McCain’s “suspension” of his campaign last week and his call for cancellation of the first presidential debate so he could return to Washington and be personally involved in negotiations, rather than “phoning it in” (a phrase that must be retired soon). At the time, I argued that the notion of halting our electoral processes to handle a crisis was the wrong approach, that our rules and procedures for selecting those who govern on our behalf had and must move forward even in the most dangerous times. We all know how well this move turned out, both for McCain and for legislative progress on the bill. Of course, economics and finance are not McCain’s strong suits (a point I think he readily concedes), so he never was going to be able to offer much of substance (and news accounts of the White House summit confirm this). McCain was there to provide “leadership” in the negotiations process–his presence alone was both necessary and sufficient to get something done. But I always have doubted that leadership without substantive content accomplishes much and, to some extent, this bears that out.

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Eamus Catuli 100!

My thanks to Dan, Deven, Frank and everyone else at CoOp for the invitation to spend the month here. There should be a lot to talk about, what with the election, a new Supreme Court term, and, on a personal level, my participation on an amicus brief. Most important, of course, is the beginning of baseball’s post-season this evening. And, as the introductory post indicates, I have one team that I would like to see win for the first time since the end of the (Theodore) Roosevelt administration.

Deven kindly agreed not to rescind the guesting offer, despite his commitment to the Dodgers. Perhaps a friendly wager is in order?