March/April 2005 issue

Judge Smith Gives Talk at SWALL: "A Day in the Life of a Circuit Judge"

by Crata Castleberry, Branch Librarian, Little Rock, and Diann Duty, Judicial Assistant to Circuit Judge Lavenski Smith

Judge Lavenski Smith gave a very well-received opening luncheon address to the Southwest Association of Law Libraries. Although many people think the life of a judge involves sitting in court all day long, Judge Smith said an appellate judge spends a majority of his time reading cases and writing opinions. The public misunderstanding of what a judge, especially an appellate judge, does is well illustrated by a question asked by a friend of his young son. When told he was a judge, the young boy asked “what channel are you on?”

Judge Smith said that each judge is assigned about thirty cases each month to be decided from oral argument. However, many more cases are actually submitted to the 8 Circuit. Only th about 1% of the cases submitted are actually argued before the court. In addition to the approximately thirty cases per month that are argued orally before a three-judge panel, each judge has an additional number of cases that are reviewed for recommendations and/or decisions regarding motions, orders, etc. There are about 40-100 of these each month. He asked the audience to guess the number of cases heard en banc (by all the active judges and any senior judges who may have sat on the 3-judge panels). He said there are only about 4 to 5 cases heard en banc each year, far less than what was guessed.

Judge Smith compared an appeal to a post mortem. He said a case is in a sense dead after the District Court verdict, and, the Court of Appeals is to decide whether the case died of natural causes, by accident, or was the victim of a homicide.

Judge Smith assured the group of the importance of the law libraries to students of the law, as well as practicing attorneys and judges. He said many late nights are spent in the law libraries of this country, and that in spite of the easy access of the internet, the work of the librarians remains as a much needed research tool for law students and clerks. “A good law library is invaluable.” Judge Smith heard questions from several members of the group and provided insightful answers for each. Judge Smith was eloquent and informative; and, very much enjoyed by all who attended.

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