Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf made national news recently when he published a post on his blog about the frequent irrelevancy of the Supreme Court. “A lot of what the Supreme Court does is simply irrelevant to what federal trial judges do on a daily basis,” wrote Kopf, who presides and blogs from Lincoln, Neb.
As unusual as it is for a federal judge to call the Supreme Court irrelevant, it is perhaps even more unusual for a federal judge to have a blog.
Kopf launched his, “Hercules and the Umpire” blog last February, explaining in his introductory post that, having assumed senior status, he wanted to write about “what it means to be a federal judge on a day-to-day basis.”
Even as blogging has taken off within the legal profession, it remains rare to find judges who blog, and even rarer to find federal judges who blog. Probably the best-known blogger on the federal bench — indeed, perhaps the only other blogger on the federal bench — is Judge Richard Posner of the 7th U.S. Circuit of Appeals in Chicago, who has been co-author of “The Becker-Posner Blog” for nearly a decade.
In 2008, another federal district judge, Nancy Gertner of Massachusetts, became a contributor to “Slate’s Convictions” blog but wrote only four posts. Now, she is no longer a judge and the blog has not been updated since 2009.
There is good reason, perhaps, for this judicial reticence. Judges are constrained in what and how they can communicate — both by ethical rules and practical considerations. The atmosphere for blogging is even chillier in the U.K., where judges were warned last year that inappropriate blogging could result in disciplinary action.
A 2012 survey of new media use by state courts and judges, conducted by the Conference of Court Public Information Officers, found 73 judges who said that they “use blogs.” It is not clear from reading the survey whether this means that the judges write blogs or read them.
I recently conducted my own search for blogs written by judges. I found nowhere near 73. In fact, from what I can find, the pickings are slim for judge-written blogs — even factoring in judges outside the U.S.
Blogs by Current Judges
Described as a blog “to record and convey the daily experiences of a Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge,” “Bench and Bar Experiences” is the blog of Judge John Di Motto. He has been a judge since 1990 and has blogged since 2009. His posts tend to be of a general public-education nature, covering broad topics such as civil discovery and class-action lawsuits.
Tom McCarthy, a Minnesota District Court judge for 25 years, launched his blog, “Country Judge,” in February 2013. His purpose, he writes, is to “reflect on the people, cases and work that have made my judicial career interesting and fulfilling.” His posts range from explaining why he does not use a gavel to describing the difficulty of deciding a child-custody case.
The title of the blog “12th Chancery Court District of Mississippi” leaves no guesswork as to what it covers. Written by Chancery Judge Larry Primeaux, the blog provides news and information about practice in Lauderdale and Clarke counties.
“So much in Chancery Court practice depends on the preferences and predilections of the judge,” he explains. “I hope that this blog will give you an insight into some of my preferences and predilections about practice in Chancery Court in the 12th District.”
The eponymous blog “Judge Bonnie Sudderth” is written by a judge of the 352nd District Court of Tarrant County, Texas. Judge Sudderth writes exclusively about the Texas Rules of Evidence. By way of example, one recent post discusses how statements that sound like hearsay may not be hearsay at all. “While it is generally true that if an animal looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck, when it comes to hearsay statements, this isn’t necessarily so,” Sudderth wrote.
From the U.K. comes “The Magistrates Blog,” a blog about the Magistrates’ Courts. Although the authors are anonymous, they are identified as a team “who may or may not be JPs.”
A JP is a justice of the peace, a title given to the magistrates, and it is safe to assume, after reading the blog, that at least some of these authors are, in fact, JPs. (JPs are not full-time judges and are not compensated for their work.)
Trevor Coultart is another blogging U.K. magistrate. His blog, “A Work in Progress,” rarely touches on his work as a magistrate. Rather, he blogs primarily about personal topics ranging from faith to cycling to photography.
Judge Kevin Burke is the author of the “AJA Blog,” the blog of the American Judges Association. A trial judge in Minneapolis since 1984, Burke writes about a range of topics of interest to judges and tracks notable cases and articles.
“Contentandcarrier” is a blog that covers European electronic communications and media law. One of its four authors, Hans Peter Lehofer, is a judge at the Austrian Administrative Court. He writes about cases and legal developments, but not about his own work as a judge.
The blog “When the Abuser Goes to Work” is written by a judge, but it is not about judging. Although the author, Patricia Barnes, is an appellate judge with the Fallon Paiute Shoshone tribe in Nevada, her blog covers legal and social issues pertaining to workplace bullying, discrimination and abuse.
Still up on the Web but now shuttered, “A Criminal Waste of Space” was a blog started in 2003 by William Bedsworth, associate justice of California’s 4th District Court of Appeal. Bedsworth remains a judge, but he put up his last blog post in 2010.
Blogs by Former Judges
One of the best blogs by a former judge is authored by someone who not only is no longer a judge, he is no longer even alive! For nearly 30 years, U.S. District Judge Jerry Buchmeyer wrote a courtroom humor column for the Texas Bar Journal, based largely on actual trial and deposition testimony. The blog “Say What?!” published by the Texas Bar, keeps Buchmeyer’s humor alive, recycling a regular stream of courtroom cut-ups.
Gregory Ward, a former judge of the Santa Clara County Superior Court, writes the blog “Developments in California Trial Practice.” The blog covers cases and legislation of interest to trial lawyers and judges in California. As of this writing, the last update to the blog was in August 2012.
Another former judge is the author of the blog “Judge Tom Talks.” Tom Leonard, a former judge of the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Court, shares his views on current issues in workers’ compensation law. It is unclear whether the blog remains active, as the last update was in August 2011.
Last but not least is Tom Jacobs, a former juvenile and family court judge in the Maricopa County Superior Court in Arizona, who has created a blog and website where he uses the knowledge and insights he gained on the bench to help teens understand their legal rights. His site, “AsktheJudge.info,” is intended to serve as a resource for teens, with posts covering topics such as cyberbullying, rights at school, freedom of speech and LGBT youth rights.
No doubt my survey of blogs by judges has missed some. If you know of others, send them my way. I’ll include them in my next column. •