Tuesday, May 8, 2012

"The Robing Room"

"Worse than worthless?" That's what the Minnesota Litigator thinks about the website that allows lawyers to post anonymous ratings of and comments about judges.

What do you think, Mr. Gillette?


  1. I don't know if the site is worthless or not. Some of the comments on the site echo comments I have heard from other attorneys. The judges I reviewed don't seem to have too many critical comments and it seems like Minnesota judges are ranked pretty highly compared to some in other states.

    I guess what I really think is that a posting about a lawyer in Minnesota attacking a website that is critical of judges said lawyer appears in front of strikes me as "dog bites man" territory. A Minnesota lawyer defending anonymous attacks on judges would be more interesting since it would be very imprudent.

  2. Well, I can defend the site a little bit.

    There are aspects of the site that I think are worthless. E.g., the overall rating is worthless, for the reasons ML suggests and others. Mainly, there's a selection bias and a small number problem. Lawyers who are generally satisfied with a judge just won't be motivated to go to a website and rate them. This is a problem with pretty much all internet rating sites.

    And many of the comments are worthless too. Some are just spiteful, or simply vituperative.

    But ... if you look past the venom or hagiography, the site does contain some useful information. It can be useful to know how a judge operates his or her courtroom. Does the judge ask a lot of questions during oral argument? Or does the judge just stare at you? This can be helpful to know going in. It can also be helpful to know certain personality tics. Some judges interact grumpily with lawyers. This is good to know, because it means that you don't have to take it personally when the judge interacts grumpily with you (and don't have to worry that the grumpiness reflects poorly on your prospects of victory).

    As with any information you find on the internet, it should be taken with a grain of salt. But, as you mention, the comments on the site have frequently tracked with my own impressions of various judges, so it has come to have some credibility in my eyes.

    I will also point out that there is (or used to be, at least) a book called "The Almanac of the Federal Judiciary" that includes anonymous comments from lawyers concerning federal judges. The Almanac may be more trustworthy, since the comments are presumably solicited from well-respected attorneys rather than contributed by angry nobodies. But this is ultimately a difference of degree, not kind, and I'm not going to turn my nose up at any information about the people deciding my cases.

  3. I certainly agree that more information is better than less. Two quibbles: I have no reason to believe that the angry posters on the website are "nobodies." They are, of course, anonymous but somebodies can also post anonymously.

    This leads to my second quibble, just because a post or comment is anonymous does not mean the comment lacks merit. After all, to this day no one knows the identity of the Federal Farmer but that does not stop courts from citing to the Federal Farmer as persuasive authority. See e.g., Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296, 30(2004)

  4. In college we rate professors in web posting so we can avoid the bad teachers. In court, you cannot avoid a judge, so it is good to hear what he/she is like.

    I also think that if a judge gets a large number of the same type of complaints (e.g. being arrogant, pre-judging a case, siding with one side - check out Judge Ronald Rubin of Maryland), then this is no coincidence. There IS some wrong about that judge.

  5. They delete negative comments from the site.


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