Many in the legal community were shocked by Judge Richard Posner’s sudden retirement in early September 2017 from the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. So, why did Posner leave the court? As he tells it, he stepped down from the bench because he concluded earlier this year – after 35 years as a federal judge – that the Seventh Circuit was treating pro se (that is, unrepresented) litigants unfairly.
Enter Posner’s new book, Reforming the Federal Judiciary: My Former Court Needs to Overhaul Its Staff Attorney Program and Begin Televising Its Oral Arguments, published a few weeks after he retired. (Staff attorneys are court personnel who handle all of the Seventh Circuit’s briefed pro se appeals, a portion of counseled appeals, all of the court’s motions, and all of the court’s certificates of appealability in habeas cases. They are like judicial (chambers) law clerks, but instead of working for only one judge, they write for and assist the court’s judges on a case-by-case basis.)
Posner writes that the book’s main objective is to “convinc[e] the judiciary to render greater justice” to pro se litigants. Unfortunately, the book tells the reader almost nothing about pro se litigants, the hardships they face, or the causes of their troubles. Instead, Posner spends hundreds of pages tearing apart documents written by Seventh Circuit staff attorneys, berating Seventh Circuit judges and staff attorneys alike for their purported hostility to pro se litigants, and exhaustively dissecting his e-mail exchanges with Chief Judge Diane Wood, who vetoed his proposals for “reforming” the staff attorney program.
I have written an article discussing some of the more serious problems with Posner’s book. (The article, available here, is titled Reforming Richard Posner: The Former Federal Judge Needs to Overhaul His Assessment of the Seventh Circuit’s Staff Attorney Program and Correct the Errors in His Book.)
As a former Seventh Circuit staff attorney, I bring an insider’s perspective to bear and point out serious defects in Posner’s book that may not be apparent to those who are unfamiliar with the court’s workings. Because Posner’s criticisms of the staff attorneys’ office are unfounded, I also call on him to correct the errors in his book and to apologize for his unwarranted disparagement of Seventh Circuit staff attorneys.
The following is a brief overview of the book’s flaws; a more detailed analysis is included in my article. …