The MSM is gobsmacked by TS Ellis, the judge in the Manafort case. The political reporters among them are convinced that he’s one-of-a-kind and that federal judges are Olympian figures who don’t say things like this:
“I am a Caesar in my own Rome,” he said at one point, discussing why he refused to allow defendants to plead no contest instead of guilty. “It’s a pretty small Rome,” he added.
What Judges like Ellis do is bring the Socratic Method to the courtroom. He just happens to be a bit stricter and considerably funnier than most judges. He’s not sui generis. The courts are loaded with tinpot dictators who run the show with an iron fist.
The Ellis coverage reminds me of a close encounter I had with one of my sterner law professors. I’ll call him Professor Hardass. He was tyrannical in class. He expected students to be perfectly prepared and beyond punctual. If you were unprepared and couldn’t bluff your way through it, he asked you to leave in a theatrical manner. If you were late, the door was locked and woe betide to anyone who knocked. The one time I saw someone attempt this, they were rewarded with a withering glare and wagging finger.
Having said that, Professor Hardass was a great teacher. He made the material come alive. His classes were never dull. I had him for Criminal Law as a 1L, he focused on two crimes: burglary and RICO. To this day, I’m fairly knowledgeable about both subjects. The latter comes in handy in the age of Trump since the administration* is an ongoing RICO violation.
As a 2L, I threw caution to the wind and took another class from Professor Hardass. This time, we were assigned a paper. I turned it in to his secretary who placed it on his surprisingly cluttered desk. Guys like Professor Hardass are usually clean desk types. It turned out to be a clue as to who he really was.
When grades were posted, I received an incomplete. I knocked on Professor Hardass’ door and entered the lion’s den. He was seated at his desk with a stack of papers in front of him. He looked at me balefully over the top of his horn-rimmed reading glasses as I’d seen him do dozens of time in class. I told him I *had* turned in the paper on time.
To my great surprise, the facade vanished. He smiled at me and said: “Let me check. As you can see I keep an untidy office.
He found my paper amidst the clutter and began apologizing profusely for his mistake. I must have looked shocked because he looked at me with a smile and said: “That’s right, we’ve never met outside of class before. I play a character in class. I’m the jerkiest judge one could ever encounter: rigid, dictatorial, and hostile. I want my students prepared for the real world.”
He offered me a cup of coffee, read my paper on the spot, and gave me an A. Professor Hardass turned out to be a helluva nice guy.
I’m not sure whether or not Judge Ellis is a nice guy away from court but I know he’s not sui generis. There are dozens of Judge Ellis’ out there and some of them are just trying to move their dockets along and keep the lawyers in front of them on their toes. They don’t call his circuit the rocket docket for nothing.