Ever wonder what goes on in the life of a federal judge? You need wonder no more. A sitting federal judge, Judge Frederic Block, of the Eastern District of New York has just come out with a book entitled Disrobed: An Inside Look at the Life and Work of a Federal Judge. It offers the reader a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes world of a federal judge and how he approaches his job.
Judge Block got the idea for the book when discussing then-current legal events such as the O.J. Simpson murder trial, which was tried in a California state court, and the Brooklyn murder of Yankel Rosenbaum by Lemrick Nelson, which was tried in Brooklyn federal court. Nelson had been charged with the federal crime of violating Rosenbaum’s civil rights while O.J. Simpson was not charged with a federal crime. Judge Block quickly realized that the general public does not have a good grasp about how the legal system works. As a result of the public’s ignorance, people have an unfavorable view of the court system. The problem is exacerbated by judges who only communicate with the public through their opinions.
Block contends that the public will respect the federal judiciary more if the court system were more “transparent”. Block believes that his book promotes that transparency. He claims that so far he has not suffered any negative repercussions for coming out with the book.
Judge Block maintains that he adhered to ethical standards and, consequently, did not discuss pending cases or closed cases related to pending cases. He claims that he did not denigrate anyone in the book.
Why did Judge Block come out with the book now? Because he is at a point in his career where he can do it. Judge Block is a sprightly 78 years old and he has been on senior status for over five years. He does not believe that he could have written the book before now. He recognizes that he will not advance beyond the District Court bench so he has nothing holding him back from divulging the information provided in his book.
The book delves into the Judge’s early life, including his undergraduate and law school education and his solo firm legal practice, culminating with his nomination to the federal bunch by President Clinton in 1994.
He claims that his local, small-firm practice gave him a different insight into the human condition which has informed his approach to being a judge. One of his most famous clients was none other than television celebrity Judge Judy—Judith Sheindlin, who contributed a blurb to the book. Judge Block represented her when she sued for back pay in the 1980’s. Another famous person to contribute a blurb was former President Clinton whom Judge Block never even met.
The last thing Judge Block wants people to think is that his book is a dry legal textbook—hence the quote from Judge Judy. He is aiming to reach a broader audience with his book. He admits that selling his publisher on the book was tough going at first, but eventually they were on board with the concept for the book. Judge Block is extremely satisfied with the way the book came out.
The book’s middle section deals with the Judge’s judicial approach. He concedes that his courtroom is a lot less formal than other federal judges’ courtrooms. He takes the time to engage the jurors in the procedure and uses humor to bring a touch of lightness to the proceedings. His overall aim is to lessen the rigid formality of the courtroom.
Judge Block also discusses sentencing which is the hardest task a judge confronts. Part of a judge’s consideration is balancing the harsh punishment to be meted out to unrepentant criminals and the possibility of rehabilitation.
Amongst the high profile cases Judge Block highlights in the book are the Lemrick Nelson trial, the trial of mafia head Peter Gotti (Judge Block’s then girlfriend unwittingly sat amongst the Mafia wives during the trial), and the trial of an imam linked to terrorism.
Block believes that his book is only the first step in his effort to reach out to the public, although he is concededly unsure of his next step. One thing is certain-whatever he does will be unpredictable for a federal judge!