The accused

Last month, the Texas Appellate Law Blog had a great post on the (believe it or not) benefit legal blogs offer to the legal landscape at large. I would add one other entirely unexpected yet undeniably valuable benefit to that list as well, as evidenced by the media fracas over Chief Judge Alex Kozinski‘s recent travails.

I have purposefully stayed away from writing about this story because it struck me from the beginning as likely a bogus “scandal.” I was wrong to do so, but not because the story had any merit, but because it turns out the blogosphere actually served to get the truth out.

In brief, the L.A. Times published a story at the urging of a disgruntled litigant who—as is frustratingly all too common—insisted on lambasting the four trial judges and at least six appellate justices (including Chief Kozinski) who held against him of bias and judicial misconduct. Riiiight. The L.A. Times story revealed that Chief Kozinski had various files stored on his family’s server that the paper framed as pornographic and even as examples of beastiality but that were really just so much ribald and off-color humor.

As Professor Volokh explains:

And some of the files contain what is basically—if what I saw at Patterico‘s site is representative—visual sexual humor. There are some spoofs, for instance of the MasterCard commercials, some puns, some absurdities. Kozinski, or someone in his family, apparently got them sent to him, and decided to save them alongside a bunch of other stuff he found interesting or amusing.

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Jeez, folks, Kozinski has a quirky sense of humor, and keeps some joke pictures and videos on his computer rather than throwing them away. I’m sure they aren’t the kinds of things some people would enjoy seeing. But he wasn’t trying to show them to those people! He was just minding his own business, keeping some files on his own private server. And now it’s a national news story.

Chief Kozinsky’s wife put it even better:

The reporter describes the handful of comic-sexual items as follows: “the sexually explicit material on the site was extensive.” He then includes graphic descriptions that make the material sound like hard-core porn when, in fact, it is more accurately described as raunchy humor.

* * *

The fact is, Alex is not into porn—he is into funny—and sometimes funny has a sexual character.

So, the only real controversy at issue as a result of all the hubbub was that Chief Kozinski was presiding over an obscenity trial when the story broke. However, any traction that valid potential conflict rightly had was quickly defused when, within just a few days of the story’s printing, Chief Kozinski recused himself, declared a mistrial, and called for an investigation into the controversy surrounding his stored web files.

Which, after much exposition, brings me back to my original point. If one were to have only read the L.A. Times story, you would have thought the Chief of a federal circuit was keeping porn on his work computer and making it available to the public. It was not until the legal blogosphere started investigating further that it came to light that the evidence upon which the story was based had been shopped around to several media outlets for months by a disgruntled litigant, that the files in question were not really pornographic at all, and that the “website”—really a server subdirectory—upon which they were stored was not meant to be publically accessible.

So, after entirely too much prologue, my point is that the legal blogosphere can even—in rare instances—be useful in combatting slovenly reporting by major news outlets that only serve to tar and tarnish the reputation of non-political actors as are most appellate courts and jurists. Chief Kozinski himself has now recognized that the legal blogosphere may serve at least one useful purpose—providing fuller context and facts after a media hit-piece has been released—after having once famously derided the utility of legal blogs:

I hate ‘em. Hateful things. . . . I just think it’s so self-indulgent, you know. Oh, I’m so proud of what I’m saying, I think the world instantly wants to know what I’m thinking today. People wake up thinking, hmm, what does this person, whoever the blogger in question is—I wonder what great thoughts have come into his mind this morning that I can feel myself edified by. I can’t really have breakfast, really enjoy my day until I hear the great thoughts of Howard Bashman—I don’t think so. I go for months without ever knowing what Howard has to say. So I don’t know. I find it sort of self-indulgent. And I find it so grandiloquent.

By the way, Chief Kozinksi is absolutely correct on this point: all of us legal bloggers are—to some extent or another—at least partially self-absorbed and hubristic. Why else spend valuable billable time opining on topics about which no one asked our opinion?

On a much smaller scale, I have felt forced to use this blog in much the same fashion as Patterico and Above the Law have used theirs on this matter to combat the all too numerous instances of the Texas media blindly parrotting the tripe constantly spewed forth by Texas Watch. I have no idea if my hopefully somewhat-cogent rantings have had much of an impact, but it is my pleasure to stick up for our vastly-underpaid and supremely-talented judiciary when it is ethically restrained from responding on its own to such baseless bilge favored by Texas Watch and now the L.A. Times.

Thx to Above the Law and Patterico’s Pontifications

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