Trials & Litigation

West Lawyer Is Unimpressed with Judge’s Jokes in Hearing on $5.2M Pocket Part Verdict

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A lawyer for West Publishing didn’t see the humor when a federal judge hearing a motion to set aside a nearly $5.2 million defamation verdict tried to lighten the proceedings.

New York lawyer James Rittinger is asking the judge to overturn or reduce the award to two law professors who said they were defamed when West identified them as the authors of a pocket part that was written by a first-year lawyer. The Legal Intelligencer covered the arguments.

The senior federal judge, John Fullam, “is known for an especially dry wit and a deadpan delivery,” the Intelligencer says.

When Rittinger said the professors didn’t have “a single case” to back up one of their arguments, Fullam asked, “What about married cases?” When Rittinger objected to the size of a punitive award, Fullam asked, “You think it should be increased?”

Rittinger explained that he got the joke when the judge tried to explain the first question, according to the Intelligencer account. The lawyer gave a straightforward answer to the second question, saying, no, the award should not be increased. Later, he told the judge what he thought of his humor.

“Judge, you know, I guess it’s funny, but it’s not funny to me. It was a shock, and it should not have happened. So it is not a joking matter to the West Corporation,” Rittinger said.

The plaintiffs in the suit are University of Pennsylvania law professor David Rudovsky and Widener law professor Leonard Sosnov.

Prior coverage: “2 Law Profs Win $5.2M Verdict in Defamation Case Over Pocket Part Authorship” “Now at Trial, Law Profs Win Initial Round in Pocket Parts Suit: If Defamation Is Proved, It’s Per Se” “Law Profs Sue West, Say ‘Sham’ Pocket Part Identified Them as Authors”

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