Almost on this date in 1901 (tomorrow actually), Teddy Roosevelt for the first time uttered in public the immortal phrase, “Speak softly and carry a big stick”. It is hard to find people who do not admire that statement. It is harder to find people who actually practice it. These days we are accustomed to wimpy parents and blowhard politicians who talk tough but do nothing. As a result, you get teenagers gobbling up the cheese-of-the-month delivery and Russia gobbling up Crimea. We also encounter some soft-hearted and -headed judges who speak loudly and wield no stick – at least when it comes to clamping down on bogus lawsuits. Corporate defendants hauled/haled/but-definitely-not-hailed into court are held to ludicrously high standards, while plaintiffs dwell in a world of do-overs and feckless flexibility.
A couple of weeks ago we discussed CD Cal Judge Wilson, who is as demanding as he is smart. One could say (and we have said) the same about Judges Posner, Boggs, Kozinski, and Rakoff. One could also say that about D NJ Judge Irenas who sits in the Camden federal courthouse, which we can see out our window if we crane our heads just so. If you read the Robing Room evaluations of Judge Irenas (which you must necessarily take with a grain of salt, since they are peppered with the comments of sore losers) a picture emerges of intelligence and rigor.
We can be an oath-helper on that fact. After our first year of law school, we summered at McCarter & English in Newark, NJ. Irenas was a partner there, and was universally acknowledged to be the smartest lawyer in the building. In our second or third week as a summer associate, we received an assignment from Irenas. The other summer associates cackled with glee. That is because in addition to having a reputation for being smart, Irenas had a reputation for not suffering fools gladly. And all of the summer associates were fools. An Irenas assignment was an opportunity, but a frightening one.
The assignment involved the inevitable research memo. After we turned it in to him and were grilled to a nice medium-well, we got on a conference call. At one point, the party on the phone voiced some trepidation and reservations, whereupon Irenas thundered a withering critique of said reservations. Loud dysphemisms filled the air. He must have seen us shaking with terror, because he smiled and gestured to show us that his finger, which was resting on the microphone (back then speakerphones were separate from the actual telephone, and were connected by a wire) was also pushing down on something we did not know existed – a mute button. He then released the button and rendered a much more temperate, but still piercing, dissection of the reservations. What he said was about a hundred times more insightful and felicitously expressed than our pathetic research memo. Lesson learned.