Wednesday, October 20, 2021

"Itty Bitty Living Space"

But total cosmic power.

The only federal case I ever worked on was also the first court case I ever worked on.  This was before law school.

The case was a products liability case against two defense contractors (no, really):  McDonnell-Douglas, who made the ejection seat for the Fairchild-Republic A-10 warthog (then a new military jet), and Fairchild.  The pilot, in training on the A-10, had to eject; the ejection seat caused his head to roll violently backward on the seat back (no supporting head rest like you now have in your car).  The weight of his head effectively caused his spine to sever the spinal cord.*

42 years ago, and I still remember some of these details vividly.

The case was in the Western Federal District, which runs from Austin out to the Trans-Pecos (look it up; some clown in D.C. drew it based on population, not geography).  The judge was "visiting" Austin, although he was a federal judge for the Western District.  His first announcement was that he had a jury trial docketed for the following Monday in Pecos, and he was going to be there.  This case involved two defendants, as I said, and a lot ot technical data on jets, ejection seats, and flying high-speed military aircraft (the risks of, etc.).  We had expected to be in trial for two weeks, maybe three.  The judge gave us 6 days.  3 for the plaintiff's case, one each for each defendant, and a day (Saturday) for the jury arguments by all three parties.  Thursday and Friday, as I recall, ran into the night so defendants could each make their case.

I looked up the judge's name, so I could remember accurately where he was returning to for that next trial. Texas Monthly said this about him:

Bunton’s reputation within legal circles is not that of an activist judge in the mold of William Wayne Justice nor a legal scholar such as his colleague Harry Hudspeth, but that of an efficiency expert with a low tolerance for BS. Before he became a senior judge in 1992 (he was appointed to the Western District in 1979 by Jimmy Carter), his letterhead identified his court as the Rocket Docket, and he still runs one of the fastest courts in law.

No shit, Sherlock.

The rest of that paragraph was equally interesting:

Bunton permits lawyers to approach the bench or a witness but once, and he has been known to shoot offensive attorneys with a water pistol. “I hate to waste jurors’ time, my time, lawyers’ time,” he says, lamenting what he sees as the crippling of the legal system. “A lot of state court judges don’t push their dockets, for whatever reason. I don’t think they’re necessarily lazy, they just don’t want to incur the wrath of people who are going to elect them. But it can be done.”

I saw a state judge literally cowed by a former Texas AG who strutted around the courtroom in a jury trial like a peacock, approaching witnesses on the bench, standing over the jurors, and otherwise violating the decorum of the courtroom.  (All of that happens in TeeVee trials, but it's absolutely not allowed in the courtroom.  Lawyers stand behind their table to address the court, or the witness, and never address the jury except during opening or closing arguments.)  A lawyer who tried that in Federal court would find his ass handed to him in short order.  Jurors generally don't like lawyers who get rebuked by the judge, so most lawyers don't do it.

The down side of being a federal judge in Texas would be the travel.  The Western District, as I said, extends from Austin to El Paso.  That's a lot of ground to cover, and a lot of travel to incur; and most of it ain't scenic.  Outside of Austin or El Paso, you're not exactly sleeping over in Paris or London or New York City.

Still, Federal judges don't take shit from anybody.  It's compensation.

*The liability issues centered on wrongful death:  the pilot had to eject because the controls froze (allegedly a design flaw), and ejection killed him (again, a design flaw).

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