U.S. Seventh Circuit - The FindLaw 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Retired Judge Posner Benchslapped Back Over BS Benchslap

If judicial benchslaps were a literary genre, retired judge Richard Posner would be the Charles Dickens of benchslaps. From attorneys, to litigants, to other courts, if Judge Posner had an opinion, he made it known, regardless of hurt feelings or social sensitivities.

However, in an interesting twist of fate, one of Posner's most notorious benchslaps has just resulted in an appellate court reversal, by his own former Seventh Circuit. Making the matter even more contentious, particularly given his recent commitment to helping pro se litigants, the reversal concerns his handling of a pro se litigant's federal district court trial. Compounding the controversy, the reversal seems to be completely attributed to Judge Posner's inability to maintain judicial decorum.

Trial Temper Tantrum

The reversal came as a result of Judge Posner making dismissive remarks directly to the pro se defendant in front of the jury. While the appellate court acknowledged that the defendant tested the trial judge's patience, it seemed to easily conclude that Judge Posner's remarks were un-ringable and overly prejudicial for the jury.

However, the appellate ruling vacating the conviction noted that this reversal was pretty much a technicality because "there is more than enough evidence" of guilt.

In Defense of Judge Posner

While the appellate court may have truly enjoyed tying their former colleague to the train tracks, if you read about the underlying case of defendant Hakeem El-Bey and his arguments, Judge Posner's comments are less surprising.

The defendant sought to argue that under the "sovereign citizen" theory he was not required to pay taxes, though somehow was entitled to receive over half a million in tax returns. Judge Posner, who technically was never a federal district court judge (but was sitting by designation for this case), and famously has a short fuse for nonsense, quickly sought to end a nonsensical line of questioning. Unfortunately, his style of killing nonsense in the appellate courtroom was not suitable while a district court jury was sitting right there.

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