Monday, October 30, 2006

Judicial Ethics in New Orleans, and the Art of the Expert Comment

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

Last week, the dean's office referred a legal profession question from a Times-Picayune reporter over to me (Professor Childress is visiting at GW this semester).  A federal judge in New Orleans has taken a leave of absence and is under criminal investigation in other matters.  The Times-Picayune, doing an FOIA search, discovered that the judge had reported on his annual disclosure form taking hunting trips, valued at $1,000, from a company that also happened to be a defendant in a maritime injury case.  The question was whether he did something wrong - and the gist of my comment was that he may not have thought he did anything wrong, or he wouldn't have reported it, and it might not have affected any decision he made, but this was precisely the reason for the rules regarding the appearance of impropriety.

Weisberg_bob_003_2 I have been publicly teasing my law school classmate and Stanford professor Bob Weisberg (left) for years now about the number of times he gets quoted in the newspaper on all sorts of issues.  I don't begrudge it; he is a really smart guy, but one of my other blog-like duties is that I have been the class correspondent for my law school class for going on twenty-eight years now (there is a plaque in Dean Larry Kramer's private bathroom to prove it).  Every six months the alumni relations department sends me a book of press clippings on classmates, the great bulk of which are Bob's quotes in newspapers ranging from the Wall Street Journal and New York Times to the San Francisco Chronicle and the Los Angeles Times.  No longer will I tease.  I have been dealing with reporters on and off for most of my career, but generally with the idea of not providing quotable information (never say "no comment" - just be so boring that there is nothing to write about).  But from the expert perspective, there is a different sort of art to it:  we are by nature contemplative and careful; that is not what the reporter wants, by and large.  The reason you are on the phone, from her perspective, is to provide a sound bite that helps the story.  Success is doing so without looking like an idiot in print.  Congratulations, Bob, and I apologize for years of abuse!

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I believe that there is controlling US Supreme Court authority for the specific exclusion, of hunting trips with parties, from the judicial ethics rules. Don't be too hard on the man, Prof. Lipshaw. He is just following the law from on high.

Posted by: Anon | Oct 30, 2006 6:54:20 AM

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