Not since John Ashcroft was beaten by a dead man, Mel Carnahan, in the Missouri Senate race has a more curious victor emerged in a competition. (Our own blog took the top News/Analysis Spot) Judge Richard Kopf of the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska was declared with winner of the “Courts” category in the ABA Journal competition of the top 100 legal blogs. The problem is that only a couple days before, after national criticism regarding his blog, Judge Kopf discontinued “Hercules and The Umpire.”
Despite being a senior status judge who could easily have slipped into retirement, Kopf decided to create a blog addressing court issues. He is not the only one. Judge Richard Posner of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has long run a blog with Nobel Prize-winning University of Chicago economist Gary Becker called the Becker-Posner Blog. However, Kopf came in for criticism from lawyers and judges for some of the comments on his blog that were viewed as injudicious. They were pretty mild by comparison to the sometimes rabid discourse of some blogs. The comment that got the most attention occurred during the partial government shutdown in October, when Kopf wrote “It’s time to tell Congress to go to hell. It’s the right thing to do.”
Kopf published a farewell message on January 1st to his followers and said that the discontinuation was his own decision and not a response to the criticism:
I am not quitting because of ethics concerns. Such problems are real, but vastly overblown. A thoughtful judge has about the same chance of violating the Code of Conduct when writing a book, giving a speech, authoring a law review article or writing a blog post.
Conspiracy buffs need not fret and anti-judge nuts need not cheer. No one has given me the slightest trouble about expressing myself here. I am quitting voluntarily and without a nudge from anyone.
Although I am truly worn out, I am OK. I am not quitting because of health reasons.
This is a powerful medium for, among other things, making federal trial judging transparent and for trying to wrap one’s arms around the conundrum of judicial role.. I hope some other federal trial judge takes up that hard but enormously satisfying labor.
He also stated (to the delight no doubt of his readers) that he would continue to comment on other blogs.
He is an example of a more senior person who learned about computers and blogging later in life. He was born in 1946 in Toledo, Ohio and eventually was put on the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska by George H.W. Bush in 1992. He was previously a U.S. magistrate for the District of Nebraska. He is a graduate of Kearney State College (now University of Nebraska at Kearney), B.A., 1969 and the University of Nebraska College of Law, J.D., 1972. He previously served as a judicial clerk on the Eighth Circuit and was in private practice for two years. He was also counsel to the State of Nebraska in the impeachment of Attorney General Paul Douglas in 1984.
In fine style, Judge Kopf ran a farewell picture of a dog with a kiss on his posterior with the note: “The photo below is how I picture myself today. That is, I am one lucky, old dog.”
Well, Judge, thanks for the fine site and the insights contained in over 400 posts. More importantly, if you by any chance read this blog, allow me to extend an invitation to Judge Kopf to join our little rabble. We would truly love to have you bring some of your insights to our own community.