|Man Without Qualities|
Friday, November 01, 2002
The morning edition of today's Los Angeles Times included a sentiment widely appearing in American media:
U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in Washington will make her ruling after the U.S. stock markets close, probably in both the federal government's lawsuit and in the parallel case brought by California, Iowa and seven other states that believe the proposed federal settlement is weak. Many legal experts predicted Thursday that Kollar-Kotelly would try to incorporate some of the states' requested remedies in the federal deal, making the year-old settlement at least a little tougher on the world's most valuable company. They cited the long time that Kollar-Kotelly has been working on the ruling and her request at the trial's end that the states rank their proposals by importance.
It turned out to be a case study in how to misread a judge's acts and statements.
In fact, the actual decision of Judge Kollar-Kotelly did exactly what such supposed "legal experts" had said she would not do: essentially confirm the federal settlement. As the New York Times described the actual decision:
But the judge who issued the ruling today, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the Federal District Court here, rejected the position of the dissident states. "The court is satisfied that the parties have reached a settlement which comports with the public interest," she wrote in the long-awaited ruling, which was handed down late this afternoon, after the close of the stock market.
What went wrong?
Well, for one thing, the supposed "legal experts" consulted by the Los Angeles Times who "cited the long time that Kollar-Kotelly has been working on the ruling and her request at the trial's end that the states rank their proposals by importance" just do not know what consitutes a significant signal on a judge's part.
Simply put: Every judge wants the parties and the public to understand that the judge has taken the time to consider complex issues, especially the ones thought most important by the parties. Further, every good judge (and nobody questions that Judge Kollar-Kotelly is one of those) in fact wants to take the time needed to consider complex issues, especially the ones thought most important by the parties. Can anyone think of a case posing more complex issues that this one?
Judge Kollar-Kotelly's request that the states rank their proposals by importance should have been read as nothing more than the judge wanting to know - and wanting the parties and public to know she knows - which issues the states thought were the most important. The amount of time she spent on this decision showed nothing more than required diligence on her part. No reasonable person should have though significantly less time was enough.
But then, "legal experts" who talk to newspapers often aren't reasonable people.
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