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August Book of the Month: Litigation in Practice

Litigation in PracticeLitigation in Practice
by Curtis E. A. Karnow
Reviewed by Michael Stoler, Reference Assistant


The Honorable Curtis E.A. Karnow has been a judge on the San Francisco Superior Court since 2005, after 28 years as an assistant U.S. attorney, a clerk, and a lawyer in private practice. He has authored the Rutter Group Guide Civil Procedure Before Trial, for which all California litigators owe him a debt of gratitude, and has spoken here at the San Francisco Law Library. Litigation in Practice, published in 2017, is a compilation of articles he had previously published in law journals, with some additional material. He starts with the premise that “while judges remember what it is to practice law, most lawyers have little idea of what it is to be a judge.” So he wants to “bridge that gap,” and give guidance to attorneys from his judicial perspective.

The book is a mix of the practical and the theoretical. Having asserted in his introduction that “law is what happens in the courtroom,” he devotes his first chapter to rules for conduct before the bench. Be polite. Be prepared. Don’t waste the judge’s time or otherwise show disrespect. He discusses how to submit and argue motions, select and treat jurors, and present evidence.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The next chapter, on the use of statistics and probability, is fascinating and requires careful reading. Karnow cites examples of claims made in courts about the chances of some event occurring, and then dissects them to show why they don’t hold up mathematically. The next few chapters discuss legal epistemology, based on philosophy and logic: the one on settlement conferences refers to game theory, and one on legal analysis uses theories of categories to argue that really, any case has something in common with every other. The last chapter discusses legal education, how in this country it went from teaching practical skills to emphasizing academic, theoretical ones.

Karnow is a keen observer of the legal system. Attorneys will benefit from reading through this book. And litigators in general might find it will change their thinking about their profession and its processes, and hence, how they practice them.

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June Book of the Month: Benched

BenchedBenched: Abortion, Terrorists, Drones, Crooks, Supreme Court, Kennedy, Nixon, Demi Moore & Other Tales from the Life of a Federal Judge
by Jon O. Newman
Reviewed by Aaron Parsons, Reference Librarian


In Benched, Justice Jon O. Newman writes candidly about his remarkable career as an attorney, federal trial court judge, and Justice on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

With a glowing forward by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor, Justice Newman gives an inside account of how judges think and what they do.

Early in his legal career, Newman clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren. He was a high-level staffer in President Kennedy’s administration for what is now the Department of Health and Human Services, where his many assignments included studying health effects related to fallout from Russian nuclear tests. He describes challenges faced as a Senate staffer, and the difficulty of working with different sides in Congress to agree on even non-substantive changes in legislation.

Appointed as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut, he humbly describes learning on the job while trying civil and criminal cases on issues such as heroin smuggling, enforcing draft evasion statutes during the Vietnam War, civil rights prosecutions, and being whacked with an umbrella by a woman after a takings case.

Justice Newman provides insight into the behind-the-scenes workings of the legal and political system, describing what it’s like to go through the Senate nomination process three times, how judges distribute caseloads, and their negotiation and decision-making processes—such as the preference of some judges to debate with their colleagues through memoranda and not through verbal exchanges. He relates an argument with the late Justice Scalia over statutory interpretation.

His judicial decisions included military drone strikes, a free speech case over school books (among them was Slaughterhouse Five, which prompted a complimentary letter from author Kurt Vonnegut), a law requiring royalties from the book Wiseguy and its movie adaptation, Goodfellas, be distributed to victims, and a case that required interpretation of the Articles of Confederation.

Justice Newman discusses his reactions to the handful of times that the U.S. Supreme Court reversed his Second Circuit opinions, and another when that Court reversed and essentially sided with his dissent. He offers ideas on how to improve the American justice system, including burdens of proof, supervised depositions, and increased use of independent counsel.

Read Justice Newman’s autobiography, and biographies of more judges and attorneys, at the Law Library.