December 8, 2008

The L.A. Times goes after 9th Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski again.

Click the "Kozinski" tag if you don't remember the previous controversy. Now, the same reporter, Scott Glover, has a story about an email list run by Kozinski -- joined by accepting his invitation -- that sent out various humor items:
On the gag list, Kozinski periodically distributed jokes to a group of friends and associates, including his law clerks, colleagues on the federal bench, prominent attorneys and journalists. The jokes he sent ranged from silly to politically oriented to raunchy....

Do Kozinski's actions indicate a lack of judgment or are they merely the harmless expression of a free-spirited man who happens to be a highly regarded judge?
Patterico is not amused: Who cares what humor someone sends around to a willing group of friends? "To some, jokes like this are funny. To others, they’re annoying and tasteless... [I]t’s just not something that merits coverage in a newspaper," he says.

But wait. If the email went around to a lot of judges and it is truly offensive, I care! What if most or all of the recipients were men and much of the humor was demeaning to women? That would matter. What if it was full of racial and religious stereotypes? That would matter. You know people by what they think is funny. If there is insight to be had into the minds of judges, I want it! These people are trusted with immense power, and the federal judges have life tenure. Don't coddle them.

Now, let's go back to Glover's article and see whether he's found the kind of humor that I say matters:
The Times was given 13 jokes by three sources that were circulated on the gag list between 2003 and 2008.

One joke sent last spring poked fun at the Taliban, stating, "You may be a Taliban if ..." any of the following 12 statements are true. Among the statements: "You own a $3,000 machine gun and $5,000 rocket launcher, but you can't afford shoes" and "You wipe your butt with your bare left hand, but consider bacon 'unclean.' "...

The most graphic joke was set up as a three-page letter ostensibly written by a man to his estranged wife. The man sarcastically tells his wife that he still loves and misses her while at the same time detailing his recent sexual escapades with a young student, a single mother and his wife's younger sister. The single mom, the man says, acts like "a real woman . . . [who is] not hung up about God and her career and whether the kids can hear us."
Does this rise to the level that I've said matters? No.

But does that mean that the L.A. Times was wrong to publish this article? I'd say no to that too. I don't think it's important to publish this article. If federal judges were circulating racist jokes, it would be wrong to suppress it to protect these elite and insulated individuals. But that doesn't mean that it's wrong to share this insight into judicial minds. There was no prying into their private lives, no stalking or trickery.

Patterico places great emphasis on the fact that list membership was voluntary. There are 2 reasons why this doesn't make it all okay. The first I've already stated. The minds of judges affect the public, so it's good to have evidence of what those minds are really like. Just as I want news reports of things politicians accidentally say into a live microphone when they think they are speaking privately, I want to know what judges find funny when they talk -- or email -- amongst themselves.

The second reason appears in Glover's article:
Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School and former federal prosecutor in Los Angeles, was skeptical that those who found jokes on the list offensive would necessarily complain, given Kozinski's commanding stature in the legal community.

"If you're ambitious, he's the last person you want to offend," she said.
It's just too hard to say no and, having said yes, to say take me off your list.

***

And, by the way, didn't sending jokes around to all your friends become completely uncool more than a decade ago? Why didn't Kozinski realize he was spamming everybody?

30 comments:

Beth said...

Why didn't Kozinski realize he was spamming everybody?

It's an addiction. He probably started with fax machines.

MadisonMan said...

Fax machines? How about chain letters.

Original George said...

Professor--

It would be one thing if the judge were mocking the Taliban (or Nazis or the Japanese during World War II), but the joke mocks Muslims because they believe pork is 'unclean.'

If he were a judge in Alabama mocking Jewish people for their aversion to pork, would that be okay? Or if he mocked black people because they are the predominant consumers of chitterlings?

Am I missing something?

Palladian said...

It's not like there's anything else going on in the country or the world worth writing about, so sure! Let's write another article about Judge Kozinski's fondness for jest! That's front page material right there!

Palladian said...

See, the L.A. Times would have written about Obama's sense of humor but after extensive research, they discovered he didn't have one.

Bissage said...

All Judge Kozinski wants is tight pussy, loose shoes, and a warm place to shit.

Phoenix_Blogger said...

Just an observation, doesn't Kozinski have some first amendment rights? Clearly some of the jokes were not funny, but this analysis strikes me as a witch hunt of sorts and he is guilty until proven innocent. This has to cast a chilling effect on any rights of free speech, but perhaps he has none as a public figure. Was that the intent of the framers? This reminds me of the forced sexual harrassment training every one I worked with had to sit through. The goal is to protect the company (or community), but the assumption is you are all irresponsible, sexist and/or racist until verified by others who know better.

Ann Althouse said...

Original George, I noticed that too and was going to write that, but looking at the complete list chez Patterico, I decided it really did avoid generic anti-Muslim humor.

Ann Althouse said...

Also, Kozinski is Jewish, and the anti-pork issue applies to Jews as well.

ricpic said...

What a delicate flower you have to be to find someone else's sense of humor to be a cause for alarm.

PatCA said...

I'm sure the LAT is preparing an expose on the Obama speechwriter groping the Hillary cutout.

Waiting...

Paddy O. said...

Kozinski is Jewish

Did he become Jewish just for the jokes?

dave™© said...

Does this rise to the level that I've said matters?

Guess what, lady? Nobody gives a flying fuck what you think "matters".

Now scurry on down to the corner market for your box of wine...

Palladian said...

Jesus, Dave#$®, can't you find any new material? You've been doing this same act for what? Two years? I mean, maybe you're doing it now as a retro sort of thing, a blast from the past, but it just hasn't been long enough to bring it back like that. Retool. Hire a couple of writers. Get back to us in a few years.

The Drill SGT said...

wouldn't the chief speech writer of the President have more power than 1 judge among many?

Palladian said...

"wouldn't the chief speech writer of the President have more power than 1 judge among many?"

After quick glance at these doofuses, God I hope they don't.

Meade said...

"And, by the way, didn't sending jokes around to all your friends become completely uncool more than a decade ago?"

Uncool but in no way unpredictable. Does anyone even know a cool judge? I don't. I've known one cool priest, five cool doctors, too many cool teachers to count, and even three cool lawyers. As far as I know, none of the three cool lawyers has ever aspired to becoming a judge. In fact, the coolest of the three ended up quitting law, became the at-home parent, and started a very cool small native plants nursery business. (No, not that kind of native plant.)

William said...

At present there is insufficient mockery of the Taliban and their lunatic beliefs. The great comedy minds of our generation are fixated on Sarah Palin and the opponents to gay marriage. It is a hard thing to say but I think this circuit judge has a keener sense of the absurd than the SNL writers. Perhaps some of them could do a clerkship editing his humor magazine.

chuck b. said...

"You know people by what they think is funny."

You might think you do, but I think that's ridiculous and nothing in your further argument sways my mind. In fact, I think this blog post is performance art.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

"What if most or all of the recipients were men and much of the humor was demeaning to women? That would matter. What if it was full of racial and religious stereotypes? That would matter. You know people by what they think is funny. If there is insight to be had into the minds of judges, I want it!"

Thoughtcrimes are doubleplusungood!

Freeman Hunt said...

People might be afraid to unsubscribe from his list--horrors! They might have to ignore, filter out, or delete something!

Joe said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but Kozinski wasn't spamming everybody, he was posting to a gag list that you must pro actively subscribe to. (This reminds me of people who subscribe to cable and then complain about its contents.)

theobromophile said...

The first I've already stated. The minds of judges affect the public, so it's good to have evidence of what those minds are really like.

Is there any new insight into Judge Kozinski's mind (presumably, relevant to how he will decide a case, which cases he'll vote on for en banc review, how he'll select his clerks, and how he'll write his opinions) that you would NOT have gotten from his two decades on the bench? I mean, if the guy were a newbie, or had just been nominated and were going through confirmation hearings, this might be understandable. By this time, though, we've all figured out what he is like as a judge, writer, and public speaker. There's no surprises, and little reason to splash his personal business on the front page of the LAT.

I wonder why there is more front-page attention given to Judge Kozinski than almost any other judge. Koz certainly isn't the only judge whose mind affects the public, but he's the only one subject to this scrutiny.

BJM said...

Glover reminds me of the guy who cages an invite to an elite party, eats all the shrimp, pisses in the shrubbery and passes out on the lawn; then negatively critiques the host.

It's hardly news to anyone who has been paying a modicum of attention that Kozinski has an unusual sense of humor, on and off the bench.

dick said...

What I find interesting about this is that Prof Althouse thinks we need to know what the judge thinks is funny so we can know how his mind works. The same professor Althouse has told us that the way she interacts with her students is nothing like the way she presents herself on the blog. Seems much of a same to me with the judge. What he might think was funny with himself and his friends could have nothing to do with the way he judges on the bench. Also what you might think of as racist is not necessarily racist. Think back to the campaign and remember all the things that were labeled racist or anti-feminist and then also think back to how many of them passed the smell test on being racist or anti-feminist. What is anti-feminist to you might be totally not anti-feminist to a lot of others. Look at the way Palin was portrayed in the NYT to how she was perceived by many of your commenters. To the NYT she was totally off-the-wall anti-feminist while to most of your commenters she was perceived as showing that women can be wives and mothers and successful professional people if they work hard and can do the job.

hdhouse said...

A sense of humor is a must, both for the citizens and the bench. If you don't see the humor in Thomas and Scalia then all is lost.

blake said...

But does that mean that the L.A. Times was wrong to publish this article? I'd say no to that too. I don't think it's important to publish this article.

There are degrees of wrongness, and this certainly qualifies as wrong on several levels.

The particular wrongness comes from the fact that they've singled this judge out. Newspapers' influence comes primarily from their coverage. 500 people out protesting prop 8? News. 50,000 in support? Not news. (Hypothetical example.)

They talk about "framing" and "the narrative", but these are just code words for corruption. (I don't care what side they're on. Left wing today, sure, right wing yesterday, corruption is corruption.)

In order for this article not to be wrong, it would have to have a value fairly assessed as relatively important compared to all the other things they might have printed.

And then, it would have to be an honest evaluation of the situation.

It's none of those things. Presumably the writer only made the usual tonnage of factual errors and didn't actually lie, but as we've seen recently, lying is hardly off the table.

So, it's less wrong than a wholly fabricated piece and more wrong than one that was honest, fair and informative.

But it's wrong in the way that guarantees newspaper failures.

Duscany said...

I think Kozinski (disclaimer: he was at my house for dinner about 15 years ago) just doesn't worry overly much about what other people think of him. He's smart. He's funny. He loves the First Amendment. He doesn't believe in cant. Jeeze, what more do you guys want in a judge?

veni vidi vici said...

"it's good to have evidence of what those minds are really like."

Judging by those jokes, the great majority of which I've seen come through the inbox from several friends and acquaintances over the years on several occasions, seems in this case the judge's mind is pretty much like most other ordinary people's.

On its face and minus the handwringing, if anyone bothers to think for themselves rather than having their bankrupt media masters do it all for them, the exposure of these jokes would likely backfire and improve Kozinski's standing among the community.

Bernie said...

What effect does this have on the rest of us? The steady intrusion on the private lives of "public figures" encourages people who believe in a right to privacy to avoid public office. These people who we want to make and uphold laws that protect our privacy have none. People that don't care about their own privacy are the ones deciding the fate of ours.