Benchslapped: Judge Invites Lawyers To 'Kindergarten Party' To Learn How To Be A Lawyer

from the ouch dept

Judge Sam Sparks of the US District Court in Western Texas (not the patent troll haven of Eastern Texas) apparently has quite a way with words when it comes to criticizing lawyers for questionable activities in his court. As the folks at AboveTheLaw like to put it, he’s the “king of the benchslaps.” One of his more recent such benchslaps is really worth reading. Via Paul Alan Levy, we learn that Judge Sparks was apparently displeased about the actions of some lawyers and decided to invite them to a “kindergarten party.”

In case you can’t read it, the relevant part:

Greetings and Salutations!

You are invited to a kindergarten party on THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 1, 2011, at 10:00 a.m. in Courtroom 2 of the United States Courthouse, 200 W. Eighth Street, Austin, Texas.

The party will feature many exciting and informative lessons, including:

  • How to telephone and communicate with a lawyer
  • How to enter into reasonable agreements about deposition dates
  • How to limit depositions to reasonable subject matter
  • Why it is neither cute nor clever to attempt to quash a subpoena for technical failures of service when notice is reasonably given; and
  • An advanced seminar on not wasting the time of a busy federal judge and his staff because you are unable to practice law at the level of a first year law student.

Invitation to this exclusive event is not RSVP. Please remember to bring a sack lunch! The United States Marshals have beds available if necessary, so you may wish to bring a toothbrush in case the party runs late.

Of course, while incredibly amusing, David Lat does ask if this goes too far:

Has Judge Sparks gone too far? Is he being too hard on lawyers for, well, doing what lawyers do?

And is Judge Sparks?s snark excessive? Don?t get us wrong; it?s amusing to compare lawyers to kindergarteners ? which Judge Sparks has been doing since 2004 (subscription). But is Judge Sparks trying too hard to entertain? These are judicial orders, not blog posts (where snark and entertainment are welcome).

On the other hand, and in defense of Judge Sparks, judicial orders and opinions can be pretty dry and boring. Can you fault a judge for trying to make them more engaging?

It’s a good question. I really don’t have much of a problem with a little snark and humor in a judicial order — especially if lawyers are being particularly ridiculous. But, there is certainly the risk that the attention these kinds of orders get only encourages judges to use them when it’s not particularly appropriate. Assuming that a judge like Judge Sparks knows when it’s time to break out the benchslap and when to keep it reined in, I don’t see anything wrong with it.

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Comments on “Benchslapped: Judge Invites Lawyers To 'Kindergarten Party' To Learn How To Be A Lawyer”

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Anonymous Coward says:

He risks having his judgements overturned by this sort of action, because he puts plenty of extra stuff in the judgements that could be argued as invalid. It also opens up plenty of potential for appeals based on the judge being biased.

It seems like a pretty stupid thing for a judge to be doing, especially to this level.

iamtheky (profile) says:

It is the Orders Section, maybe they should also have a separate opinion section. Though in the first sentence the court was nice enough to note they were including opinions and orders.

Seems the berating would be better served when publicly filing his ruling against them, rather than midstream where being all wordy is more likely to end up as a perceived bias based on technicalities, or other grounds for appeal.

Jes Lookin says:

Nice to See Some Accountability

It won’t create a trend for these ‘professionals’, but some accountability for stupid actions is nice to see. I’d like to include all the usual TechDirt suspects: Patent Trolls, Music/Film Whiners, and Copyright/Trademark Fools. They should be held responsible with their clients for all legal fees and charges for their baseless cases.

Vukovar (profile) says:

If you read the entire order, it sounds like the judge was fed up with the antics of the attorneys. A subpoena is signed by the judge before being executed so to file a motion to quash is tantamount to telling the judge to stick it. I’d also bet there’s been a lot of similar crap in this case that preceeded this order/attorney smackdown. I’ll bet there’s thousands of judges who would agree.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Notice, what notice?

This is the part that really bugs me:
“Why it is neither cute nor clever to attempt to quash a subpoena for technical failures of service when notice is reasonably given”

This is what practitioners refer to as a “local-local” rule – it’s not actually set forth in the formal rules of court, or the FRCP, but if you’re in front of this judge, you darn well better know it.

Which, of course, severely handicaps counsel that are not regular practitioners in front of this judge, and increases the chance of getting “hometowned”. Not like Texas is noted for hometowning, or anything like that, in the wider legal community.

Oh, nevermind – actually, I really like this. If I ever get in front of this judge, I just have to provide “reasonable notice” as opposed to the legally required notice! Soooooo much easier!

I mean, it’s not like the means, manner and time of notice is actually set forth, right? Or that most practitioners understand that under that funny thing called “law” it’s void if those aren’t met.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Notice, what notice?

You mean it is better to have experience to practise law in specific jurisdictions? And every magistrate/judge/arbitrator is unique? And rules of court etiquette, not just bench rules, are sometimes full of common sense.. and some Judges enforce them?

OMG.. Honest and for true? No way! /sarc off

On a serious note, his lesson plan should be embedded in stone for any practitioner, and are very much standard ADR (Alternate Dispute resolution) protocols/methods.

Though the last one should of been thumped into your brain by law school in your first year, if not first weeks of semester 1 ๐Ÿ˜‰

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Notice, what notice?

Ha! Why bother with service rules? Screw it. Oh, just screw civil procedure as well. Kill it all, ya don’t need notice that something is happening. While yer at it then, go start working on the 14th amendment to the Constitution, and due process. I bet you can get through that by lunchtime if you work hard enough there, local/local idjits.

Paul Alan Levy (profile) says:

Judge Sparks is, in turn, benchslapped

The chief judge of the Fifth Circuit sent Judge Sparks an email, supposedly intended to be kept private, that reprimands him for being cute and being quoted in national blogs. In the future, she warns, Sparks is not to “allow such rhetoric to overcome common sense.”

Harris says:

Judicial Misconduct

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”

More information about this case is available at

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