Aimee, Lisa, Judge Cambridge and the Party Barge

I have this picture in mind.  It is of my middle daughter, Lisa, and her friend Aimee Bataillon in the kitchen in our former home in Omaha.  Aimee is one of Judge Joe Bataillon’s daughters. While Joe and I may not agree on everything, we agree that Aimee is smart, funny and very nice. She is much like her beautiful mother and wise father.

Anyway, the girls were students together at Marian High School (an all girls school).  They were working on something related to a mock trial.  I remember how young and a little silly they were.  I recall Aimee being more serious than Lisa, but that was par for the course. I don’t remember much more.

Aimee is all grown up now.  She is a highly respected trial lawyer, and former chair of our Federal Practice Committee.  I should hasten to add that Aimee got that appointment on merit.  She remains the same smart, funny and very nice person I knew as a girl.  On top of her busy practice, she has carved out time to be a wife and mother.

Aimee Bataillon

Aimee Bataillon

Lisa (the kid who once went to Mexico and returned complaining that “they sure speak a lot of Spanish down there”) has turned out well too.  While travelling the world and earning a Master’s degree, she has become a gifted and experienced teacher, a wife and mother to two of my grandchildren.

Connected to these two girls (and Joe and me) was Judge Bill Cambridge.  Bill is now dead–the last photo I have of him shows him riding an elephant in Thailand. Too funny.Judge William Cambridge

Bill came to our court after serving as a distinguished trial judge out in central Nebraska.  I appeared before Bill when he was a state judge. When it came to money (and many other things), Bill was very careful.  I once waited several hours to take an uncontested mortgage foreclosure decree while Bill recalculated an amortization schedule, by hand, that had been run by a computer.  Bill didn’t find any errors, but he sure as hell was not going to take my guy’s testimony and the computer for granted.

Anyway, Bill had this big 1970 something Chevy Impala. (See facsimile below.)  It was sort of red or maroon or burnt orange.  It had a huge engine in it, and Bill drove it very fast to and from the various courthouses in central Nebraska.  In fact, Bill admitted to me that he buried the speedometer more than once.  Sometime after Bill took the federal bench, and when nearly 175,000 miles had passed over the odometer, Bill decided to sell the car.  He knew that I was looking for a vehicle so Lisa could drive back and forth to school.  We agreed on a price and completed the deal.

Much to her chagrin, Lisa drove that old Chevy to and from school and while she was in college.  It was so big that eight Marian girls could nearly fit into the front seat.  It was a monster.  Once Lisa ran it into a city bus, and the only thing that was dented was the damn bus.

Fast forward to Joe’s investiture as a federal judge when, after the ceremony, Joe would formally join Bill, and the rest of us.  It was only at this happy occasion that I learned that Lisa and Aimee and the girls from Marian called Bill’s old car “the party barge.”  Bill was amused.  Joe and I less so.  Aimee and Lisa never told me why the old Chevy ended up with that sobriquet, and I have always been too afraid to ask.

It is a wonder how our lives intertwine.  Some things are more important than others.


Photo credit:  Carlust

Photo credit: Carlust and Big Chris.  The photo is a pretty good depiction of the party barge.  We ultimately gave the barge to a shelter for men, and, so far as I know, it has not been used for any recent bank robberies.


Once in a while, our national government does something truly useful.  That is the case with PACER and the federal courts.  PACER makes almost all of the records of the federal trial courts and courts of appeal perfectly transparent and easily accessible over the internet at a very modest price.

The Administrative Office of the United States Courts has just released a summary of an independent customer satisfaction survey regarding PACER. That summary is reproduced below, and is worth reading if you practice in federal court.

PACER has seen a sharp rise in overall user satisfaction since a comparable survey was conducted in 2009, with 90 percent of users saying they are satisfied or highly satisfied with the internet-based public case information system. That compares with 75 percent satisfaction with the overall user experience in the previous survey.

Conversely, only 3 percent of users consider themselves “dissatisfied,” compared with 15 percent four years ago. On a scale of 1 to 5, users also gave a higher average overall satisfaction rating: 4.26 in 2012, versus 3.97 in 2009. The findings, prepared by an independent consultant, were based on an analysis of 1,752 completed surveys, representing a response rate of 20 percent from a randomly selected pool of users.

“It’s a reflection of the conscientious work done up and down the judiciary. They’ve been responsive to the public, and to users generally,” said U.S. Circuit Court Judge Andre Davis, who is a member of the Judicial Conference’s Information Technology Committee.

Figure A: Overall Satisfaction with PACER for 2012 & 2009
Satisfied (4 or 5)
Neither Satisfied nor Dissatisfied (3)
Dissatisfied (1 or 2)
2012 Overall Satisfaction with PACER (1752 respondents) Average Rating =4.26
2009 Overall Satisfaction with PACER (3055 respondents) Average Rating =3.97

Formally called Public Access to Court Electronic Records, the PACER service provides courts, litigants, and the public with access to more than 500 million documents filed in federal courts through the Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system. In any given year, about a half-million accounts are used to access PACER. (To learn more about PACER, visit

According to an executive summary of the newest survey, numerous upgrades have been made to PACER in recent years—changes that were informed by the results of the 2009 study. Those changes include:

An improved PACER Case Locator, with expanded search capabilities
A redesigned website
Expanded training, including a partnership with law libraries to train PACER users, a free PACER training database, and online video tutorials
A mobile PACER interface
Streamlined billing for firms and organizations with multiple PACER users, and a redesigned PACER invoice
Expanded availability of free, text-searchable, online public access to court opinions, through the Government Printing Office’s Federal Digital System (FDsys)
Automatic case alerts, through expanded RSS feeds
Audio recordings of some court proceedings

Results indicate that search capabilities remain important to PACER users. Of those surveyed in 2012, 87 percent had used the PACER Case Locator, a tool that allows users to search for information across courts, at least once, compared with 51 percent in 2009. Satisfaction rose in all areas related to searching: 86 percent were pleased with their ability to find cases; 85 were satisfied with the search results, and 79 percent were satisfied with their ability to search for cases across courts. All of those numbers were six to eight percentage points higher than in 2009.

“PACER is user friendly,” one survey taker wrote. “Easy retrieval of documents with no wait time. The most up-to-date information is available.”

PACER users also reported satisfaction with the value they receive for the money they pay, with 81 percent saying they were satisfied and 13 percent describing themselves as neutral. Only 6 percent of users said they were dissatisfied with the value received. Users also gave a 73 percent satisfaction rating for “understanding how PACER is priced,” with 22 percent describing themselves as neutral.

As one user wrote: “Our office utilizes PACER regularly and is very satisfied with the ease of use, availability of documents, and the way PACER charges for documents. Please don’t change it!”

“PACER is a great value for the money,” said Judge Davis, who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and is the IT Committee’s liaison to the PACER Working Group. “Unfortunately, nothing is free, but it enables us to provide a lot of service. PACER and CM/ECF really are the gold standard of court information systems.”

Figure B: PACER User Types

Legal Sector: 57%
Educational/Research Institutions or Students: 3 %
Pro Se Litigants and Named Parties: 15%
Service Providers to Legal Sector: 1%
Commercial Businesses: 9%
Creditors: 4%
Media: 2%
Private Investigators: 2%
Others: 6%
*Due to rounding, percentages may not add up to 100%.

The survey found that the demographics and usage of PACER were similar to 2009. The two largest user groups were the legal sector (57 percent) and pro se litigants and named parties (15 percent), followed by commercial businesses (9 percent).

Satisfaction improved among all user groups, with the highest ratings from those who use PACER most frequently, and those who know of the PACER Service Center.

More improvements are planned in conjunction with the Next Generation of CM/ECF, slated for release in 2014.

These include a central sign-on, to give dual users, those who access both PACER and CM/ECF, the ability to move seamlessly between the two systems and across multiple courts. A new user interface also is planned.

“The hope is that it will just continue to get easier to use,” said Judge Davis, who said he is pleased with the transparency PACER has brought to U.S. courts. “As a judge, I want people to know about the courts, and have access to the courts. PACER helps this in a very meaningful way.”


The inexcusable silliness of Garrett Epps

In addition to teaching law students creative writing and constitutional law, Garrett Epps, a former reporter with the Washington Post, is a student of judicial body language.  Please take a look at his piece that ran yesterday in the Atlantic.  It is entitled, “Justice Alito’s Inexcusable Rudeness; A justice of the Supreme Court should not act like a high schooler on the bench; when the target is a fellow justice, the offense is even greater.

Assume Justice Alito did exactly what Epp alleges.  That is, while Justice Ginsburg was summarizing her dissent on Monday addressing his majority opinion, “Alito pursed his lips, rolled his eyes to the ceiling, and shook his head ‘no.'” Why should anyone care?

The Justices are human beings and very weary ones right about now.  A grimace, grin, nose wrinkle, ear tug, eye roll, a silent “no” and the like in response to your colleague’s dissent from an opinion you worked your butt off to craft is hardly worth writing about in the Atlantic–unless, of course, you teach creative writing and you really don’t like someone.  God, how I hate Washington.


PS  Several times, I have had occasion to spend a little time with Justice Alito. He strikes me as a serious but painfully shy man.  Several times, I have had occasion to spend a little time with Justice Ginsburg.  Reserved but gracious, she strikes me as someone who needs no defenders.

O Chanada

Photo credit:  s.yume's photostream (Canada's golden moment) per Creative Commons license.

Photo credit: s.yume’s photostream  (Canada’s Golden Moment, Vancouver Olympics, 2010) per Creative Commons license.

My first grandchild, Petra, loves Chanada even though at four years of age she can’t pronounce “Canada” properly yet. She can’t pronounce ‘merika either, even though she spells it like Michael Moore.  Her daddy Karel grew up, and her paternal grandparents live, in Canada. Karel, Petra and the rest of the family now hang their hats in China, across the bay from Hong Kong.

Anyway, behind the scenes, I can see how many folks from a specific country visit this blog.  I was surprised to see the number of hits from Canada today and yesterday.  They were way up.  Now, I am worried. I made some snide comments about Canada in my post regarding the movie Battle Earth.

To be clear, I love Canada, I love Petra and I love my son-in-law, Karel.  Karel is a helluva hockey player. He particularly endeared himself to me when he got into a good old-fashioned Canadian fist fight with a player from a Chinese national hockey team during a scrimmage in China.  Karel was skating for an ex-pat team of has been hockey jocks.

So, to Chanada, let me say I am sorry.  That said, I still think Canadian Bacon was the best movie ever made.  But, then again, John Candy was a Canadian.  So, everything is OK, right?


Image credit:  bhaggs’ photostream (John Candy Lives On) per Creative Commons license.


Robert Bork, Michael Dolan and me

When Judge Robert Bork was up for confirmation before the Senate for a seat on the Supreme Court, an enterprising reporter by  the name of Michael Dolan convinced the local rental place to give him a copy of the movies Bork had rented.  That bit of reportage became legendary in the annals of judicial confirmation sleaze.  It was also pretty funny.

Anyway, as I write this, I am thinking of Judge Bork and Mr.  Dolan.  Last night, I watched Battle Earth.  (“A squad of Canadian soldiers survive a helicopter crash deep behind enemy lines during an alien invasion of Earth, now they have to survive the night.”)

This is a film about the invasion of earth where the “squid” threaten to take over the world, most particularly Canada.  In my pantheon of worst movies ever, this one has risen to the top.  It has it all.  Canada defending the world.  Cinematography by Handicam.  Special effects that are not special like really bad fake helicopters.  Monsters suits that don’t fit.  And, the best cinematic device of all is the head-brain of all the squid, captured by our intrepid Canadian fighting men and lugged around in a tackle box.  I am absolutely certain that the brain was an American football covered in Saran wrap.

One critic put it perfectly, “this is barely filmmaking.”  So, if some summer evening you are worrying about the end of the earth, and desperately need to feel secure, rent and watch Battle Earth.  O Canada!

By the way, I am very interested in hearing from readers about their nominations for the worst currently rentable movie.   There may be a prize, perhaps your very own DVD of Battle Earth.


PS.  I’d sooner give out my DSM-IV diagnosis (yes, I know there is a DSM-V, but I am a conservative) than I would release a list of movies that I have rented.  You can see why.

How long should it take to pick a jury in a murder case?

I have previously written about the English method (frequently seen in the federal courts) and the American method (frequently seen in the state courts) for jury selection.  With that in mind, I see that a jury of six women has been picked in the State of Florida’s prosecution of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.  They started with a pool of 40 people.  Jury selection took two weeks.

The time it took to select a jury in the Florida case illustrates the differences in how judges from different venues view jury selection.  While I have absolutely no criticism of the Florida judge, and while I realize that the national publicity regarding the Florida incident makes that case unique, I thought it might be useful to look at how long it took to select a jury in a roughly comparable case here in Federal court.

Let’s take, for example, United States v. Hoover,   After a nine-day trial, Jeffrey Hoover was convicted, and sentenced to life in prison, on two counts of using a firearm in connection with a drug trafficking offense in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1), resulting in the first degree murders of Harold Fowler and Duane Johnson.  Hoover was white and the victims were men of color (Black or Native American).  Hoover, using two teenage kids to help him, executed Fowler and Johnson, with a rifle at close range, after they stiffed him on a $850 marijuana deal.  He shot one of them in the genitals.

The prosecutors and defense counsel involved in the Hoover case were the best in the business.  One of the defense lawyers was appointed precisely because of his great skill and vast experience dealing with murder cases.  He talked Main Justice out of seeking the death penalty.  The nearly two-week trial saw 30 government witnesses and five defense witnesses.

In the Zimmerman case, it took two weeks to select a six person jury from a pool of 40.  In the Hoover case it took two hours to select a 12 person jury plus an alternate out of a pool of 40.  Perhaps you can see now why I prefer the English method of jury selection–short and sweet even in big cases.


%d bloggers like this: