Through How Appealing at 9:44 a.m. today, I see the New York Daily News is savaging federal Judge Frederick Block in what the paper hypes as an “exclusive.” While handling a civil jury trial, the judge was in the private hallway behind the courtroom and adjacent to chambers, and was talking to Judge Weinstein in the hallway. Judge W asked Judge B how things were going, and Judge B replied something like,”‘I’m OK, I’m doing a little stupid trial’” as someone else walked by the two men. Block realized after the fact that the passerby was one of his jurors.
The judge took the bench and told lawyers that he had committed a “faux pas.” After the juror was interviewed, and it was learned that he or she heard the remark but had not repeated it to the other jurors, the juror was excused and the remaining jurors allowed to deliberate. The case was apparently both little and stupid. About 15 minutes following the commencement of deliberations, the jury returned a verdict for the defendant. Among other claims, the plaintiff had asserted that his former employer had treated him badly because, so says the New York Daily News, “the ‘family meal’ prepared for employees contained sliced ham and pancetta, which he couldn’t eat because he’s Muslim, and the chef refused to accommodate his religious diet.” Oh, the horror!
Handling the physical movement of jurors, particularly given the poor design of many courthouses, is always nightmare for a judge and court staff. The first jury trial I had in Lincoln required a mistrial because a police detective shot his mouth off in front of all my jurors while they were walking in the private hallway to go lunch and the detective, who was a trial witness, was passing by them while talking with an AUSA. Stuff happens in the real world and you would think the New York Daily News could and would recognize a non-story from a real one.*
I don’t know Judge Block, and have no opinion whatever about his abilities as a trial judge.** On the other hand, the New York Daily News ought to learn what is and is not news.
*Apparently, the paper and the judge have a history. In the instant article, the paper recounts gleefully that it has previously referred to Block as “Judge Blockhead” because he “ridiculed federal prosecutors during a racketeering murder trial for seeking the death penalty against a drug kingpin.”
**For what it is worth, the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary, a subscription service that costs a lot of money, interviews lawyers throughout the country to get their candid take on each federal judge about whom the lawyers have experience. Anonymity is promised to the lawyers. The several page write-up that follows is then sold to other lawyers so they can get detailed insight into each federal judge before whom they may appear and about whom they are unfamiliar. Overall, here is what the Almanac most recently wrote about the judge: “Lawyers interviewed said Block is experienced and knowledgeable.” I also know that the judge has written a candid book entitled, Disrobed: An Inside Look at the Life and Work of a Federal Trial Judge. David Lat and Scott Greenfield give the book (and Judge Block) favorable reviews.