Happy Anniversary!

Yesterday marked the first anniversary of Bench Conference. My how time flies when you are publishing blog posts at the rate of 1.03 per day, including weekends and holidays! I won't pretend it has been easy, and we've certainly had our ups and downs, you and I. But I wouldn't have traded the experience of blogging for washingtonpost.com for anything else in journalism. (OK, a few things, but you know what I mean.)

For this post, I will share some of my impressions on my anniversary. Since some of my most favorite columns have come in the form of Top Ten lists, I will indulge myself one more time.

10. This blog has worked best when it has closely tracked big legal news or particularly controversial legal news. My consistent criticism of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has scratched an itch for many of you, while my writing on the Duke lacrosse case generated a lot of scorn (I was labeled a pro-prosecution sap by supporters of the three accused students). When I wrote about quirky cases, or little known legal decisions that I thought warranted greater attention, hardly anyone noticed.

9. Having never before paid much attention to blogs or blog comments, I was struck by how often you guys would simply begin to discuss issues among yourselves in your comments, often going well beyond anything I had written. Sometimes I would read 15 or 20 comments in a row without any mention of my original piece before someone would circle back to my points. I am not complaining -- not at all. I think it's great that I could foster such a discussion.

8. I also was struck by how vehemently angry so many of you are with the Bush administration. Yes, I know the blogosphere allows a level of anonymity that probably encourages sweaty rhetoric. And, yes, I have been quite strident with some of the things I have written about the Justice Department and its current leader. But through the course of the year I really was surprised by how many of you took the time to write with such passion and at such length about your disdain for the president.

7. And what's up with the prank comments or the obviously silly ones? I mean, why would anyone spend time here, at Bench Conference, and then decide to waste a few minutes of his or her life writing a comment that doesn't add anything meaningful to the debate, much less to the grand historical record of our time.

6. I used to worry about what other online legal bloggers had to say about Bench Conference. But I have long since gotten over that. There are many great legal blogs out there, many of them manned (or womanned) by earnest and intelligent people. Then there are a great many silly legal blogs, which read like parody. Unfortunately, the great equalizer that is the Internet often does not help online consumers determine which are the good ones and which are the bad ones. Bench Conference? If you are reading this, you've already decided -- and I thank you.

5. OK, now on to mention some things I am going to try to do differently. I am going to try to ask you more often which legal stories you want me to help analyze. I also intend to interject myself in the debates within the comment section more often, and to note in the blog some of the better comments. There should be more interaction between us than I have managed so far.

4. Since clearly one of the more successful endeavors of the year was the "Rough Justice" series about Alberto Gonzales, I plan this coming year to do more original reporting and then include the results in my entries. Sure, sometimes law happens, and I have to cover it. But sometimes important themes and undercurrents get lost in the press of day-to-day events. I want to look at the former without sacrificing the quality of the latter.

3. I also will try harder to better explain the stories I do cover. Based upon many of your comments, and saying this in a completely neutral way, I should not assume that most of you are lawyers, or have gone to law school, or otherwise understand some of the legal principles that often are the focus of Bench Conference. So I will try harder not to make assumptions about your knowledge of prior legal events or foundational legal issues and in so doing I hope I can answer some of your questions before you even ask them.

2. I will continue to write about horses and legislative and judicial efforts to ban horse slaughter in this country. As a horseman, I feel it it my duty to write about this niche issue whenever a development about it warrants coverage. I know that my "horse" posts annoy some of you, but you know what? In the end our legal and political leaders will be judged not just how they dealt with the front-page issues like war and peace, but upon how they dealt with the back-page issues like the treatment of horses. So I hope you will forgive the indulgence and perhaps even read those pieces with a different lens than you normally use.

1. Finally, I truly value your comments when you offer something of value in them. And I can easily say that I have learned a lot about the law (and myself) from having read through them. So to all of you who have taken the time over the past year to write in with a smart comment, or a fair critique, or even a suggestion for a different angle: Thank you. I will try harder in my second year to use your views to improve this blog in both style and substance. And I feel fairly confident that you will let me know how I am doing.

Have a great weekend.

By Andrew Cohen |  May 11, 2007; 8:30 AM ET
Previous: House GOP to Gonzo: Scandal, What Scandal? | Next: The Attorney General's "Monica" Problem

Comments

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The central argument that Frank Mankiewicz made in his book about Watergate was that those who really understood what was going on as it unfolded were those who were keeping their eyes on the legal developments rather than the political ones. As a person with no legal training, I find it difficult to get a handle on how all this tangle of Congressional inquiry (and perhaps at DOJ too) into the firings of US attorneys might make its way into a courtroom. What is it likely that any one of these people will say in Congressional hearings that would move this out of the strictly political arena and into the judicial? At this point it would appear that the Bush administration and Gonzales are utterly impervious to embarrassment over incompetence and thus, absent the indictment of somebody, they will simply stand pat.

Posted by: LHJ | May 11, 2007 10:00 AM

I really like when you explain in non-legalese terms what is going on on some cases and the ramifications of the rulings. What might seem minor to a layman can be huge, and visa versa. Your column is great.

Posted by: Chris M | May 11, 2007 10:39 AM

I want to disagree with the last sentence of #10. My favorite posts are those that address little known or quirky legal issues. Perhaps the reason they get little notice or comment is that few people have anything intelligent to say beyond the post- but if we didn't have the post, we wouldn't know anything at all!

Posted by: Ryan B | May 11, 2007 11:04 AM

- One of the reasons your column is so very important has to do with the fact that it's part of the Washington Post's publications. (And I sincerely hope my observation isn't perceived as 'taking anything away' from the quality of your analyzes in light of that observation.) Over the years we Post readers have watched as OpEd ringleader Fred Hiatt has swung the paper's editorials toward right-wing uber-conservative territory. We've noted how this right-wing slant has overflowed into the "NEWS" division side of the newspaper as well. (How else could one account for the fact that the Front-Page coverage of the Republican presidential debate failed to even mention that three of the ten GOP candidates - 30%! - who want to run our country don't believe in evolution? The Post doesn't even consider such a revelation as newsworthy? Frightening.)

- Howard Kurtz can say get away with calling reporters who challenged the administration's lies, meant to justify occupying Iraq, "journalists of questionable patriotism" - yet maintain his status as a "legitimate" newsman: while Dan Froomkin - whose pin-point accurate criticisms of the same administration's blatant untruths - is derogatorily labeled an "Opinion" spinmeister...

- Dear Andrew Cohen: your observations on the travesty of this Bush-Gonzales 'Dept. of Just-US' is illuminating, stimulating and - most importantly - alarmingly accurate. I wish the Washington Post management had 'even a clue' as to how many readers still frequent this site solely because of valuable reportage like yours.

-Congratulations.

Posted by: WaPo Must-Reads | May 11, 2007 11:15 AM

Congratulations on your 1st year. Your blog allows more in-depth coverage and context than what I can get from straight news stories. I have also found the comments to often be as interesting as your column (and I say this even though I am not a regular contributor to the comments, heh heh). Please continue to cover other interesting legal cases other than those already on the front-page as well.

Posted by: TEL | May 11, 2007 01:31 PM

Monica's coming! Go Monica! GET PAUL MCNULTY! (smile)

Posted by: schmetterlingtoo | May 11, 2007 01:34 PM

Tho' I've belted you an' flayed you,
By the livin' Gawd that made you,
You're a better man than I am, Andy Cohen!

Posted by: Dave | May 11, 2007 04:16 PM

Congratulations, Mr. Cohen! I enjoy your blog daily and hope that you will expose legal injustice in our country for years to come.

Posted by: Roopa | May 11, 2007 05:44 PM

Mazeltov! Your coverage of Gonzogate has been terrific. The partisan politicization of the Justice Department is a very serious threat to democracy, an attempt to use the tremendous powers of federal prosecutors to subvert the election process. It would be dangerous if done by a Democratic administration and is no less dangerous when done by a Republican administration. Just look at the persecution of the Wisconsin civil servant who spent 4 months in federal prison before being released from the bench by the federal appeals court in Chicago. The Wisconsin Republicans and their talk show allies push the prosecutor to go against 'corruption' in the state's Democratic administration, then pressures the White House and DOJ about laxity in prosecution, then, when an indictment is brought, fill the airwaves before the election with shrieks about the 'corruption.' The situation in Missouri with Mr. Schlozman is similar. It's a frightening abuse of prosecutorial power and the mainstream media has not done a very good job of explaining it to the public. Lawyers and politicos understand what's going on but I suspect most Americans don't really get it. Your blog has been a great help. Keep up the good work. There is plenty enough injustice in our 'justice system' to provide grist for your mill for years. Give 'em hell, Andrew.

Posted by: P Bosley Slogthrop | May 11, 2007 06:44 PM

Congratulations on a successful year one!

I raise a glass in toast to many more successful years ahead. Your blog has been a great addition to WashingtonPost.com.

I agree with Ryan B in reference to point #10. People are more likely to have opinions about the national issues, simply because they know more of the details. However, the non-national legal stories with real implications are equally useful to know about. I hope these also continue to run periodically as well.

Posted by: JP2 | May 11, 2007 08:39 PM

"And what's up with the prank comments or the obviously silly ones?" Second tier students have been driven "silly" by rampant tierism in the legal profession.

Posted by: Loyola 2L | May 12, 2007 12:14 AM

Happy anniversary Mr. Cohen! You're often my second-read, after Froomkin.

Why do I read you from where I sit in Melbourne, Victoria? Perspective. It's one thing to read the facts in the news stories, but it's another to have someone put them into context. I have my opinions, prejudices and takes on what an incident MEANS. A lot of the time, I've got it wrong, or don't fully appreciate the import of something. You flesh out my knowledge. Plus, you're paying closer attention to the twists and turns of everything. So readers like me, a non-lawyer, can catch the nuances.

As for the cross-comments among posters, you should realise that blogs function like bars and social clubs. In this anonymous, impersonal age, people need a way to interact. That's what blogs do -- give an outlet for like-thinking people to chat amongst themselves, and learn a few things in the bargain.

You're surprised at the vehemence of the Bush-hatred? Mate, I think a lot of us sense the future disaster that's coming from these murderers. We glom the immorality of the genocide that the Bush Crime Family is committing. My wife and I are so conscience-stricken and incensed over it that we actually moved out of the country, which was not easy, because we're bourgeois people in our late 40s. That's how deeply Bush has divided America.

Good luck with the future, and watch your back!

Posted by: Bukko in Australia | May 12, 2007 10:12 PM

Congratulations on your first year!

Echoing what was said above: do not imagine for a moment that just because no one comments, that means that no one reads or cares! this blog is one of my favorite online stops every day (yes, you and Froomkin as someone else already said).

I have a JD and I've been practicing for 20+ years but it's always informative to read your analysis of what's going on (since the vast bulk of what you write about is outside my specialty).

Please keep up the great work.

Posted by: Stephanie V | May 15, 2007 11:55 PM

Mr. Cohen, Your blogs about gonzogate have me rethinking my opinion of lawyers. The US is nothing without a fair and impartial justice system. Maybe after this the GOP candidates will think twice before trotting out the "scourge of Trial Lawyers" attack.

Don't let up on the AG, but what about a column on the Wilson-Cheney suit. Apparently, the request for summary judgement is under consideration. Is it really impossible for a VP to commit a crime while on duty?

Posted by: steveb | May 17, 2007 09:50 PM

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