The Death of a Trial Judge
A former federal trial judge in Denver died this week. Chances are you never knew, or even heard of, Sherman Finesilver, despite the fact that he presided over some of the most important trials of his time in the Rocky Mountain West. I never practiced before him but I heard some great stories about the ways in which he controlled his courtroom and the litigants in it.
Federal trial judges are among the most powerful creatures on Earth. Their rulings, especially in the early stages of a case, are rarely reviewable and even more rarely overturned. They hold immense power through their written orders, including the power to hold in contempt any litigant who doesn't do precisely what the judge wants them to do when he wants them to do it. Some judges are light-handed when it comes to exercising this power. Some are not. For example, one judge I know routinely schedules hearings or conferences at 6 a.m. when he is ticked off with the lawyers appearing before him.
Finesilver? His forte was strong-arming parties into settling cases before they went to trial. Of course, when I say "strong-arming" I don't mean it in an illegal way. But I do mean it in a coercive way. If a settlement conference were called in a case, and one out-of-town party indicated that he or she wasn't planning on showing up, Judge Finesilver would all but order that person to appear, in person, to participate. And if you were that hesitant party, and you thought about the price you could pay in settlement as opposed to the price you would pay by getting your powerful trial judge mad at you heading into trial, you showed up and, as often as not, ended up settling the case. There is the law and justice of the textbook and the treatise. And then there is the law and justice of the courtroom. Judge Finesilver never lost sight of the first when he employed the practical techniques of the second.
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Posted by: perhaps he would have helped out here | October 13, 2006 11:37 PM
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