My favorite judge in America, outside of the Supreme Court, just made headlines again. And again, it's for his manner of online speech, rather than the content.
Last time, it was tips for ladies dressing for court, especially when appearing in front of "dirty old male" judges. This time, it's Kopf telling the U.S. Supreme Court to "stfu" (shut the [expletive] up). Both times, good points were masked by hyperbole and coarse language.
Again, it's begging the question: Is it time for Judge Kopf to re-retire his keyboard? And with the demands of avoiding the appearance of impropriety, respect for the office, and political correctness, should judges blog, or tweet, or even go on social media at all?
Here's the short version of Judge Kopf's post: The Supreme Court should have punted on the contraception cases because wading into such controversial matters simply increases the perception that the five Catholic Republican-appointed justices are governed by their religious/political beliefs, rather than the law.
It's a reasonable opinion, one that intelligent minds could debate. (A circuit split over an Obamacare exemption is kind of a big deal, and having religious-based exemptions in certain circuits and not others would have been a logistical nightmare, but I digress.) But it was the manner of expressing the opinion that seems to have irked people: "As the kids say, it is time for the Court to stfu."
Is This Really a Big Deal?
Perhaps I have thicker skin than most, but hearing a judge drop an abbreviated F-bomb in a blog post doesn't rile me up. He makes a good point and uses colorful language to advance that point. F-bombs may not be court-appropriate, but guess what? He's on the Internet -- where "stfu" is, in Internet speak, on par with "darn" and "heck."
But hey, to paraphrase Kopf himself: It's not about me (or him). It's about the public. And a lawyer, whom Kopf knows and respects, wrote this to the blogging judge (who, in turn, posted it on his blog):
There is little surprise in the level of attention drawn by, or the inevitable public reaction to, a federal trial judge, in a public forum, repeatedly using vulgarity including serial exercise of the f-word, apparently disclosing a fondness for looking up the skirts and down the blouses of female attorneys who appear before him, telling Congress to "go to hell", and urging the SCOTUS to "stfu". How does such attention and reaction create an appearance that assists the public's acceptance of the law, help people trust judges, foster faith in our system, and advance the cause of the delivery of justice? If a judge cannot even restrain himself or herself, in a public forum, from using harsh profanity, engaging in course [sic] sexual comment, and being disrespectful of our country's highest court -- and seems incapable of exercising sufficient discernment to know when things should be left unsaid -- how do we legitimately expect the public to trust a judge to make the critical decisions he or she is daily called upon to address?
Hang It Up?
Judge Kopf's attorney friend, unsurprisingly, takes the view that Judge Kopf should re-retire his keyboard. Personally, I enjoy his frank discourse and intelligent writings -- though sure, he could exercise a bit more restraint on the language, for the sake of appearances.
We've talked before about judges, social media, and proper online behavior. The ABA's stance is basically common sense: Don't comment on pending matters, don't befriend litigants or attorneys that regularly appear in your courtroom, etc. Maybe "be politically correct" should be added to that list as well.
Then again, where's the fun (and readership) in that?
Want to spend more time practicing, and less time advertising? Leave the marketing to the experts.