SFL Monday — Welcome Winter!


I love walking around downtown when the temperature drops — out come the sweaters, the turtlenecks, the boots, the scarves, and I’m just talking about my own personal wardrobe.

Seriously, it’s tough being a federal judge:

It’s not the lifestyle of a typical federal judge: Five or six vodka cocktails during lunch; gambling with borrowed money; bankruptcy under a phony name, and cash, trips or home repairs from lawyers and a bail bondsman with business before his court.

Five or six vodka cocktails before going back on the bench? That part seems fairly typical.It’s the part about increasing bond amounts on poor schnooks in order to financially benefit the bondsman that strikes me as pretty bad:

Later, New Orleans bail bondsman Louis Marcotte testified that he and Porteous had a long-standing relationship in which Marcotte routinely took Porteous to lavish meals at French Quarter restaurants and offered his employees to work on Porteous’ cars and home. In return, Porteous manipulated bond amounts for defendants to give Marcotte the highest fees possible, said Marcotte, who served 18 months in prison on related corruption charges.

Porteous also erased criminal convictions for two of Marcotte’s employees.

“I knew he was struggling … he would have five, six Absolut (vodka) and tonics” at lunch, Marcotte testified. “I asked him for things and he asked me for things.”

What else — if you’ve ever clerked for a federal judge you know the prisoner suits are a real pain.

Now comes an effort to revise the pleading standard (yes pleading standards, I know) for claims brought under the Prison Litigation Reform Act:

Congress included the physical injury requirement in the Prison Litigation Reform Act, which it passed in 1996 to deter inmates from bringing frivolous lawsuits. What the law has done instead is insulate prisons from a large number of very worthy lawsuits, and allow abusive and cruel mistreatment of inmates to go unpunished.

Legislation introduced by Representative Robert Scott, Democrat of Virginia, would undo the worst parts of that law. Most important, his legislation, the Prison Abuse Remedies Act, would remove the physical injury requirement. Prisons across the country have used this requirement to dismiss suits challenging all kinds of outrageous treatment: strip-searching of female prisoners by male guards; revealing to other inmates that a prisoner was H.I.V.-positive; forcing an inmate to stand naked for 10 hours.

Mr. Scott’s bill would allow prisoners to prevail under the same conditions as plaintiffs in other kinds of civil rights cases. It would also make important changes in the 1996 law’s “exhaustion” requirement, which forces inmates to bring their complaints to the prison’s own grievance system before they can sue. A carefully drawn exhaustion requirement could help resolve problems locally, and avoid unnecessary litigation. But the one in the current law lets prisons put up procedural hurdles that make it difficult or impossible for prisoners to navigate the bureaucracy and get their complaints heard in court.

Juvenile inmates are not a significant source of frivolous lawsuits, but they are at increased risk of abuse in prison, especially sexual abuse. The current House bill would remove all of the 1996 law’s restrictions for suits brought by inmates under the age of 18.

Ho ho ho, egg nog for all and send those cases to the Magistrate Judge, that’s what I always say.