A “shy boy”

The post regarding Shon Hopwood found its way to the New York Times in an article written by the highly regarded Adam Liptak. The article is entitled The Robber, the Judge, and the Case for Leniency. Initially, I am glad that Shon’s story of redemption is receiving attention. I am a (happily) chagrined that Shon’s story of redemption starts with my mistaken gut. But, that is not why I am writing this post.

In the article, Mr. Liptak, a wonderfully able reporter, wrote the following, “Judge Kopf, who sentenced Mr. Hopwood, also declined to talk, on the interesting theory that ‘such interviews could be seen as backhanded endorsements of the media companies’ requesting them.” (My emphasis.) I think Mr. Liptak was being kind.

When I turned down Mr. Liptak’s e-mail request for an interview, my return e-mail stated the following:


I have turned down all interview requests related to my blog which are generated by media sources that are run for profit. I have the perhaps goofy view that such interviews could be seen as backhanded endorsements of the media companies by a judge. So, with respect, I respectfully decline your kind invitation. If it makes you feel any better, I turned down the Huff Post too. (That was sardonic!)

All the best.


In his article, Mr. Liptak could have made me out to be an even bigger idiot had he decided to get (justifiably) snarky about my inarticulate reasons for telling him to pound sand.  So, I want to say: “Thanks Adam.” (I am about to pee my pants over the opportunity to call a New York Times writer by his first name!) But that’s not why I am writing this post.

So, why I am writing this post? I am writing this post because I want to make clear why I don’t and won’t do interviews with the profit-making media about this blog. My reasons are these:

* If I give one interview to a member of the commercial media, I would feel obligated to give other interviews on the same subject to other members of the for-profit media. I don’t want to take the time required to be even-handed.

* I am a control freak. I can control what I write in this blog. I can’t control what is written by someone else about what I said orally during an interview.

* Because blogging is not wide-spread among federal judges, I am aware that I am pushing ethical boundaries. It might not seem that way, but I spend a lot of time considering the ethical pitfalls to avoid when I write a post. I simply don’t want to worry about trying to figure out those same ethical boundaries when giving interviews about this blog.

* Finally, and maybe this is the best reason, my beloved Grandmother used to call me “a shy boy” and, while no longer a boy, her characterization otherwise remains accurate. The great thing about writing a blog (or a law review article or a book for that matter) is that you can hide behind the words you write without otherwise revealing yourself in an unguarded moment. That is very important to me.

Now, some of you may remember that I participated in a radio interview with two Irish lawyers. (Incidentally, it was that interview that caused me to think through the whole business of interviews.) As I earlier wrote, I believe the Irish interview was a horse of a different color.  That is because the program was on the Irish equivalent of our public radio network, it was program dedicated exclusively to legal affairs, and it was conducted solely by two Irish trial lawyers.

As I reread this post, I try to put myself in the mind of the reader. Having done that, I suspect that many readers will find this post suitable for the “who gives a shit” bin. If so, I am sorry. But, to stay with a theme developed in other posts, my “gut” tells me that I should clearly explain myself. While my “gut” sucks in some situations, I don’t think this is one of them.


7 responses

  1. Dear Judge,

    A couple of thoughts. First of all I am a new reader of your blog and am fascinated at the fact that a federal judge is sharing in such a way. I think it’s fantastic. In the interest of full disclosure, I am a former journalist who has written (a single story) for the New York Times. I fully understand and agree with you wishing to control your quotes. Since that is impossible with media such as the Times, I also agree it is better to simply not talk. I also must say that I think that the way the Times used your quote (on the interesting theory) is slightly out of context by using more of your explanation. Having been on deadline and having limited room in a newspaper, I do understand Adam’s rationale for doing so, but I don’t agree.

    One other thing Judge: I love how you maintain civility and dignity in the blog posts I have read. In that regard I think language about urination and defecation, even though you are attempting to use humor, don’t work in this instance for me.

    I have found that THE! most difficult aspect of quality writing is knowing when to edit thy self. Always use discipline, and if you have the slightest doubt about whether something is appropriate, I recommend you go with your gut and leave it out.

    Hope this helps,



  2. Dear Bill,

    Your comments are very kind and even more helpful. I particularly appreciate your terrific suggestion about avoiding vulgarity. I entirely agree with you that it is hard to edit yourself. I especially appreciate your suggestion to “always use discipline” and reject phrasing when I doubt whether something is appropriate. Terrific reminder even though I feel slightly juvenile in having to admit my failing in this regard.

    On a related subject, I have been happily surprised by the many kind, decent and really smart people (like you) who have offered me their helpful thoughts. After two decades of sentencing people to very long prison sentences and hearing stories of incredible selfishness and depravity, cynicism had become a great concern of mine. The many kind and constructive comments I have received as a result of this blog are serving as an antidote to that insidious problem.

    All the best.


  3. …my “gut” tells me that I should clearly explain myself.

    To an extent, I disagree. While the explanation is appreciated, I don’t think it’s necessary. You don’t do interviews because you don’t want to. It’s enough of an explanation. Yes, some might find that arrogant; that’s their problem, not yours.

    You don’t want to do interviews with one profit-making news organization (there’s a contradiction in terms) because then you’d have to give interviews to all of them. No, you don’t. You sit for one, you don’t sit for another. Your call, not theirs. Standardization for the sake of standardization is overrated.

    And what about not for profit entities that want an interview? In the context of interviewing a sitting judge, I don’t think there’s a distinction: all interviews look alike, and you don’t get to control what gets published and what’s left on the edit floor from any of them.

    There’s a principle in writing effective fiction (not universal) that says don’t do a lot of expository writing; let the dialog and flow of events do the explaining. I think that applies here, too. You don’t need to explain yourself; the outcome of an interview can be discerned by an astute interviewer (and the non-astute ones don’t need to apply) by his reading your posts and the ensuing discussions (in all of which you’re an active participant). After that, he knows what he would have learned from an interview, obviating the need to spend his time or waste yours on that interview.

    Eric Hines

  4. I think you know about my brief stunt on the O’Reilly factor. I have made inner-peace with it, but it took quite a long time. I was young. I had never watched the O’Reilly factor. And other than the few people who sent me letters telling me they were ashamed I grew up in their state, as an unknown young kid, my person has been largely unaffected by my poor performance. What kept me up at night for months, though, was the injustice that I did to an important and complicated idea. My role in the way it was introduced to people. If the thought you share matters, its integrity matters as well. That is where control is critical. You don’t need to give interviews to share your thoughts. (“If you build it, they will come.”) There’s no shame or arrogance in avoiding my mistake. Sleeplessness is unhealthy.

  5. Eric, for what’s worth, I want to be reasonably transparent, hence the reason for the post. But, I get your point. Thanks.

    All the best.


  6. Jill,

    I did not know of your run in on the O’Reilly Factor. But, I have now looked it up. Laura Ingraham did not give you a chance to articulate your position. Rather than being bothered by it, you should be proud of yourself for taking a stand.

    Anyway, thanks for your kind remarks. As you know, I greatly value your friendship and counsel.

    All the best.


    PS to other readers: Jill is a Nebraska girl and a graduate of the Duke Law School. She worked with me as intern one summer and did fantastic work. She is now clerking for one of our finest state appellate judges, the Honorable Francie C. Riedmann. In the next week or so, I will have the privilege of marrying Jill.

  7. Pingback: All Things Considered, Shon Hopwood and me « Hercules and the umpire.

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