Don't. Go. There.
Saying a bankruptcy judge was "a few french fries short of a Happy Meal" may cost an out-of-state lawyer the ability to practice in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Florida.
The comment already has cost Chicago-based McDermott Will & Emery partner William P. Smith his client -- Miami Beach's Mount Sinai Medical Center & Miami Heart Institute.
When I first heard the story, it seemed absurd. The idea that a federal judge should go completely ballistic over such a commonly uttered idiom seemed a bit childish. I simply can't imagine that a seasoned attorney, such as counselor Smith, actually meant to infer that Judge Isicoff was dumb. It was merely a slip of the tongue. Hadn't the judge herself ever said something she immediately wished she hadn't? Why didn't she just hold up her hand and say "Excuse me?" and allow the poor bastard to apologize profusely and beg the Court's forgiveness? Why publicly humiliate the guy and his firm? Why cause such a fuss over such a minor gaffe? It just didn't make sense.
Now it does. Judge Isicoff was evidently sick and tired of big city lawyers coming down to Miami (which is just a sleeply little town on the coast of Cuba) and dissin' her district like a banana republic.
"People come to the Miami and Fort Lauderdale courts, and they think that it's a second-class court system when they come from New York or Chicago or places like that," said Charles M. Tatelbaum, national chairman of the bankruptcy litigation and secured transaction practice at Adorno & Yoss in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "I am pleased because it would have been a lot easier for her to simply ignore it and do nothing, and this is the kind of person she is because she is going to say, 'I am not going to stand for that.'"
Tatelbaum said the bankruptcy bar backed Isicoff's appointment to the bench and described her as a "no-nonsense person" and a "super lawyer" with a "very good sense of humor."
Prominent bankruptcy attorney Paul S. Singerman, co-chief executive officer of Berger Singerman in Miami, said Isicoff is an "even-tempered, polite and patient" judge.
"Sometimes I observe lawyers that come from larger cities than Miami and who perceive that their home city is a more sophisticated commercial center do bring with them, sometimes unintentionally, an air of superiority or arrogance," Singerman said.
Put aside for the moment that whatever the above-quoted attorneys actually think of Judge Isicoff, they wouldn't be caught dead saying anything other than that she's the best danged judge on the planet and has a funny bone that just won't quit. They'd be a few fries short of a happy meal to say otherwise, donchathink?
No, the real story here is about turf. It's my courtroom, in my district, in my state, and no fancy-pants Yankee lawyer's going to come down here and disrespect it. That warning has now been served - in spades.
Let me tell you, Judge Isicoff isn't alone in her stance. I witnessed a very senior trial attorney from a large New York firm get his head handed to him by a 4th Circuit Federal District Court judge (who, of course, is the greatest judge on the planet and has a terrific sense of humor!). The poor fellow thought that His Honor would be interested in knowing how the courts in the 2nd Circuit handled certain matters. In a voice that froze the hearts of all in attendance, the kindly jurist informed the attorney that he didn't give a "darn" about how they did it up north, that isn't the way they did it in Virginia. He then invited the fellow to sit down, which he did, and from whom not a word was heard again during the course of the trial.
Which reminds me of a story...
Back in 1992, two attorneys were were engaged in a vehement argument over a motion in the courtroom of Providence, R.I., Superior Court Judge Patricia Hurst. Finally she had enough and threatened to shoot both of the attorneys...with a water pistol.
"I told them I have a good way of dealing with prolonged motions," Judge Hurst later said.
Not everyone agreed, however, and Judge Hurst received a one month suspension for brandishing her water weapon in court.
Said the Judge after she had surrendered the weapon to her attorney, "I'm probably guilty of having a bad sense of humor."
Don't. Go. There.