Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Sunshine and Judge Seidlin

In 1933, Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis advised, "Sunlight is the greatest disinfectant." True to this notion, Florida is known as the Sunshine State not only for its weather -- it has long been a leader in open government. But when it comes to cameras in the courtroom, does openness serve an injustice?

After watching Judge Larry Seidlin's on-camera antics in the Anna Nicole Smith proceedings, Norm Pattis thinks so. At his blog Crime & Federalism, he says Seidlin singlehandedly rests the case against cameras in the courtroom. "The judge sniveled and emoted like a pro se in traffic court for the cameras today, when he gave the lifeless body of Anna Nicole Smith to the lawyer for her five-year-old daughter."

Pattis is not alone in the belief that Seidlin played to the cameras. The Miami Herald called the judge "something of a national spectacle." The Associated Press described him as "showboating for the cameras." CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said he let the case meander, "mostly because he seems to enjoy being on television." Any doubts about Seidlin's soft spot for TV were erased when it was reported that he had a demo tape and hoped to audition for his own series. Sure enough, it was revealed over the weekend that CBS offered Seidlin a gig as host of a new Saturday morning feature. (No, not a cartoon.)

Pattis acknowledges that cameras in the courtroom can play an important role  in public education. "But how do we prevent cameras from influencing the proceedings?" he asks, adding, "Does anything go in the Sunshine State?"

Focusing blame on cameras was inevitable, says Mark Obbie at LawBeat.  But to view cameras as the problem is to get it "exactly wrong," he argues.

"[W]e should rejoice in what Florida's open-courts law gave us in this case: a full-on view of the kinds of idiots who can make it onto the bench, even in sizable metropolitan areas like Fort Lauderdale. Seidlin didn't know the difference between 'anecdote' and 'antidote.' But his voters now know the difference between competence and incompetence."

At Bench Conference, Andrew Cohen argues that Seidlin's performance was so unseemly and inappropriate "that the Florida bar ought to immediately launch an investigation into whether he is truly fit to determine the rights and liberties of others." It is probably Florida's Judicial Qualification Commission, not the bar, that should take this up, but that is beside the point. Obbie is right: Cameras should not be on trial -- the judge should be. This man has been on the bench for 29 years. If he is investigated and if he is found to be unqualified, we have cameras to thank, not blame. When sunlight illuminates misconduct, our response should not be to close the blinds.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on February 26, 2007 at 02:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Gender Bias at the Supreme Court

In 1873, the Supreme Court affirmed the Illinois Bar in denying admission to a woman, explaining, "The paramount destiny and mission of women are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother." We've come a long way in the 134 years since -- or have we?

By way of the blog Empirical Legal Studies comes word of new research showing that women attorneys have less success before the Supreme Court than men. This is true both when a woman argues the case and when women form part of the appellate team. In fact, the research indicates that the higher the proportion of women on the appellate team, the lower the likelihood of success.

Why is this? Two reasons, say the study's authors, political science professors John J. Szmer of the University of North Carolina and Tammy A. Sarver of Benedictine University. One is the "different voice theory," the notion that women "will construct different types of arguments than male attorneys, and the male-dominated U.S. Supreme Court will be less receptive to arguments presented by women attorneys." The second, more troubling reason is that a justice's political ideology is a measure of his responsiveness to women lawyers. The authors explain:

"Conservative justices are significantly more likely to support litigants that are represented by more men. Conservative justices are less receptive to arguments constructed by women."

The dominance of men on the Supreme Court bench makes it impossible to generalize more broadly about the interaction of justice and attorney gender, the authors say. They urge further research examining the role of attorney gender in other courts, "particularly those with more gender diversity amongst the judges." But at the Supreme Court, they conclude, the picture their research draws is "rather grim."

Read their paper and decide for yourself: Have We Come A Long Way, Baby?: Female Attorneys Before the United States Supreme Court.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on February 26, 2007 at 02:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

How to Start a Mediation Practice

One sure-fire shortcut: Win the lottery. It worked for Diane Levin of Online Guide to Mediation, but even lottery dollars get you only so far. There remains that nagging need for new business. So how do successful mediators get started? Thanks to the impetus of lawyer and mediator Victoria Pynchon, we are finding out.

At her blog, Settle it Now, Pynchon recently shared her advice for how to start a mediation practice. Pynchon's post inspired another mediator, Tammy Lenski, to write about how she started her practice. She promises a second post on what she would do differently with the benefit of hindsight. Lenski invited other mediators to share their stories, tagging Levin, who told us of her lottery luck, and Dina Beach Lynch, who has yet to weigh in. Levin, in turn, passed the start-up baton to others, inviting them to share their own stories and advice.

Common themes among these successful mediators: Have a plan. Build a network. Pursue training and experience. Take the plunge.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on February 26, 2007 at 02:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

The User-Friendly Lawyer

Wendy L. Werner is a business and career adviser to lawyers. She is also an award-winning photographer who believes that her ability to see a good picture complements her ability to teach lawyers what they need to see about themselves and their businesses. She pulls together her thoughts on where lawyers lack vision in an article, How to be More User-Friendly, published in the ABA's Law Practice Today. She describes it as "a list of things that lawyers need to do or think about to not just be tolerated by the rest of the world, but to flourish." On her list:

  • Talk less, listen more.
  • Sharing information with those around you is not a bad thing.
  • Know what your colleagues are working on.
  • Being rigorous doesn't mean being a jerk.
  • Risk is sometimes necessary to find new opportunities.
  • If you only spend time with lawyers, you won't know how to talk to juries or clients.
  • Lawyers are frequently smart people -- but lots of other people are smart too.
  • Diversity is a fact of life. If you want a successful and smart organization, hire and promote a diverse work force.
  • Seek opportunities for feedback.
  • No matter what your level in the organization, find a mentor, coach or adviser.
  • Having fun at work isn't a crime.
  • At the end of your life you probably won't say, "I wish I had spent more time at the office."

Read Werner's full article, and perhaps you'll end up more user-friendly.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on February 26, 2007 at 02:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saludos cordiales
Renato Sánchez 3586 dep 10
Santiago, Chile