A Message from WestlawNext
‘Disrobed’: An Inside Look at the Life and Work of a Federal Trial Judge
Posted Nov 1, 2012 2:36 PM CST
By Frederic Block
Many people ask why I decided to write this book after having been on the federal bench for more than 17 years. My reason is simple: I have come to realize that the public has a fundamental lack of understanding of what federal trial courts actually do, how they function, and how someone becomes a judge of such a court.
Judges have unique insights to share with the general public about the law and the practical workings of the courts. Yet many judges abstain from communicating with the public except through their opinions. I wanted to try to reach the general public as well as the legal community, promoting transparency while also ensuring that I adhered to ethical standards.
In addition to making the book informative and provocative, I wanted it to be user-friendly and entertaining. With this in mind, I set out to write Disrobed. I believe I accomplished all of this, although it has not been easy.
In particular I had to be mindful of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, which was enacted by the Judicial Conference, a policy-making organization of the federal judiciary headed by the Chief Justice of the United States. The Code gives judges broad latitude to write and speak about their work; it states that a “judge may engage in extrajudicial activities...and may speak, write, lecture, and teach on both law-related and non-legal subjects.” An opinion to the Code affirms that judges may write books about the process of hearing and deciding cases but advises that they should not write about pending cases and should be cautious about writing on cases that have reached final judgment to prevent opening a verdict or judgment to some form of collateral attack. Overall, I believe that I have written a revealing and engaging book that is at the same time well-within the prescribed ethical guidelines.
The first section of Disrobed traces my journey to the federal bench, from childhood through college, law school, private practice, and a clerkship with the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York. Readers will also learn more about my nonprofessional pursuits, which include authoring the lyrics and music for Professionally Speaking, an off-Broadway musical.
From there I take the reader through my transition process to become a federal judge, covering topics ranging from my appointment by former President Clinton, “Baby Judges’ School,” my judicial colleagues, and what it is like to appear in the courtroom. I also discuss my thought process involving what I consider to be the most difficult aspect of my job: sentencing individuals to prison.
The last section of Disrobed discusses a variety of topics I have dealt with during my tenure on the federal bench, including the death penalty, racketeering, guns, drugs, terrorism, and discrimination. Readers will be privy to the details of a number of interesting and highly public cases I have presided over, including the:
• Racketeering trial of former Gambino boss Peter Gotti
• Civil case stemming from the Crown Heights race riots
• Sentencing of Imam Ahmad Wais Afzali, an individual who was involved in the plan to bomb the New York City subways
If you are interested in reading more about these cases, view them on WestlawNext.
I hope readers enjoy this book and find that it is indeed informative, provocative, and entertaining.
Author Frederic Block is a senior district judge for the United States District Court, Eastern District of New York. In addition to Disrobed, he has authored a number of articles on a variety of legal topics, including Tales of an “Active” Senior Judge, ABA Litigation Journall, Spring 2011; Reflections on Guns and Jury Nullification – And Judicial Nullification, The Champion, July 2009; Senior Status: An “Active” Senior Judge Corrects Some Common Misunderstandings, 92 Cornell L. Rev. 533 (2007); and Civil Liberties during National Emergencies: The Interactions between the Three Branches of Government in Coping with Past and Current Threats to the Nation’s Security, 29 N.Y.U. Rev. L. & Soc. Change 459 (2005).
Judge Block also authored a chapter entitled “The Judiciary in National Emergencies,” which was published in the book Perspectives on 9/11 (Yassin El-Ayouty ed., 2004). He is also a contributing author for the New York State Bar Association’s textbook Federal Civil Practice.
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