International Judicial Monitor
Published by the International judicial Academy of the International Law Institute, Washington, D.C.
with circulation assistance from the American Society of International Law

Summer 2017 Issue

In Review:
Books About International Law and About Courts and Judges


Federal Judges Revealed

By: William Domnarski
Oxford University Press. 2009

Federal Judges Revealed

Reviewed by: James G. Apple, Editor-in-Chief, International Judicial Monitor

The lives of judges, including their private or personal lives as well as their legal ones, are not the frequent subjects of authors. While commentaries about judges and their judicial duties appear from time to time, private judicial lives are hidden behind a legal curtain. One of the reasons may be the nature of the job – there is not much excitement in describing days of reading cases and writing opinions, interrupted only occasionally by attending oral arguments in those countries that include that activity in their appeal process. Another reason may be that judges, because  of the restrictions put on them by judicial codes of conduct, rarely seek out or are amenable to articles about their private lives.

There is one book that has filled this void, written not by a judge but by a legal practitioner, one who has litigated in the federal courts and has become acquainted with more than a few federal judges. Federal Judges Revealed, definitely a book that looks behind the legal curtain, exposes the federal judiciary to many insights about their lives not just as judges but as persons. The author, William Domnarski, is a practicing lawyer in Riverside, California, whose name appeared in this column in an earlier issue as the author Of Judge Richard Posner of the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit [see Spring 2017 issue of the International Judicial Monitor which can found in the IJM archives, which can be accessed by clicking the "Archive" button at the top left of the Home Page]. Mr. Domnarski has crafted systematic account of the lives of federal judges that covers their activities for the times before they became judges to their times on the bench and how well they get along with their colleagues.

As the author explains in the Introduction:

[W]hile statistical  facts tell us much, we do not learn anything about the two most important questions relating to the federal judiciary: who the judges are and what they do. Perhaps inexplicably, the sources we would orginarily expect to turn to have not produced anything resembling a critical mass of information to allow us to begin making judgments about the performance  of the federal judiciary, either on an individual basis or on the judiciary as a branch of government.

This systematic account can be seen by a quick perusal of the titles of the chapters of the book:

Life Before Admission to the Bar
When They Were Lawyers
Judicial Appointments Recounted
Once Appointed, Transitions to the Job
The Nature of the Job
In Chambers, In Court and Getting Along      with Others
Judicial Opinions
Judges on Lawyers and Other Judges

Mr. Domnarski’s technique of opening up the federal judiciary to public scrutiny is through the device of conducting oral history interviews – going into the community of judges and asking detailed questions to them about many different aspects of their job on the topics which later became the chapters of his book. The result is a fascinating account of the method of judicial selection in the federal courts, how they were selected for appointment to the federal bench; the appointment process, and what happened after their appointments. Although the book is limited to the


responses from members of the federal judiciary, trial and appellant (but not the Supreme Court) in the telling of their stories, it becomes apparent to anyone who has a basic knowledge of how courts function that the lives of these judges probably do not differ significantly in many aspects to those in the state judiciaries of the United States or judges from other countries. For that reason this is a book that can be beneficial to judges everywhere.

There are parts of the book that would be of more interest to judge/lawyer readers than others. The author has a lengthy section on “Life Before Admission to the Bar” which contains accounts by a large number of lawyers about  their college and law school days. These accounts are probably of marginal interest to readers except to focus on the fact that sitting judges have attended a variety of colleges and universities. One part of this chapter seems to be devoted to judges who went to Harvard Law School, which seems to place too much emphasis on that school and to suggest that it offers an advantage over other law schools for those planning a judicial career. Elite law school backgrounds tend to assist those seeking a federal appellate judgeship as opposed to a district (trial) court appointment.

The chapter on “Judicial Appointments Recounted” (Chapter Three) would be of special appeal and assistance to those lawyers or state court judges who are undergoing consideration for a federal judge appointment. It recounts the process "and the pitfalls that occur during that process".

Other chapters however, focus on matters that would be very useful to new judges and those that have been sitting for a more extended period. The three chapters titled successively  “Once Appointed, Transition to the Job,” (Chapter Four) “Nature of the Job,” (Chapter Five) and “In Chambers, in Court, and Getting Along with Others,” (Chapter Six) offer insights and comments that cannot be but helpful in determining what actions work and what don’t work to be a successful judge.

A sample of a commentary by one judge in the chapter on actions in chambers and in courts is instructive about the kinds of viewpoints that appear in these chapters. This observation is taken from  an oral history by a U.S. district judge from Idaho, on the subjects of “the way judges manage their work in chambers, while another is to look at how judges manage what they do in court, which includes how they handle the lawyers practicing before them.” The judge in his oral history made the following observation:

You learn to use your law clerks, you use your secretary, everyone’s around that can be helpful on this, you learn to put them to the highest and best use. Then on top of that you learn to use your attorneys in asking for the briefs and for all the help you can get out of the attorneys, and they’re more than willing as advocates to do everything they can to serve their side of the case.

The three chapters referred to above are filled with similar observations from the judges who were interviewed about how they viewed their jobs, the actions they took and, the activities they engage in. These narratives will provide helpful advice to lawyers who want to become judges, and those who are already embarking on a judicial career.

William Domnarski has provided the bench and bar with a valuable volume which can enrich their knowledge about how the U.S. legal system works and contributes to rule of law principles which support that system.

ASIl & International Judicial AcademyInternational Judicial Monitor
© 2017 – The International Judicial Academy
with assistance from the American Society of International Law.

Editor: James G. Apple.
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