Kopf: Nobody Likes A Bootlicker

A bootlicker is an obsequious or servile person, so says the Oxford Living Dictionary.  It is an “Americanism dating back to 1835-45” according to another dictionary. “Foot-licker” in the same sense dates back to around 1610. Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary (2017).

There are others words like “butt-kisser” that may be substituted if you lack my slavish devotion to taste and decorum. But you need to be careful about substituting “butt-kisser” for “bootlicker.”  As I shall next show pictorially, there are subtle differences.

Thus, for this post, I will use the term “bootlicker” because it fits better for those who have studied law and are thus trained to understand nuance.[i] Having solved, I hope to your satisfaction, the definitional issue, I now turn to substance.

Lawyers who interact with judges on social media are often bootlickers and judges can be bootlickers on social media too. Both sides of that dynamic make me want to puke. (Is that plain enough?)

Let’s start with judges as bootlickers, or at least aiders and abettors of bootlickers. I start with judges because I think they are the root cause of bootlicking.

I did some research for this post. (Don’t laugh at me!) Judges have stopped blogging. There were never many judges who blogged anyway. Instead, if judges condescend to use social media, they use Twitter or Facebook, but they don’t really write anything of substance on social media. That is a pity, and I admit that I may have played a large (I flatter myself) role in frightening other judges away.

More than a few times, my old blog Hercules and the Umpire generated widespread criticisms. So, I share such blame as there may be for judges running to safe social media platforms where the opportunity for a real exchange of views between judges, lawyers and lay people does not exist.

Having made my mea culpa, let me now focus critically on a judge who I am guessing can take it. Judge (Justice) Willett is a celebrated devotee of Twitter.[ii] See here. But Willett’s Twitter stuff is thin gruel.[iii] I readily agree he is funny, that he paints an accessible face on the Texas Supreme Court, that he is sometimes heartwarming, and that he is always a loyal homer for his God and our America. But what does Willett contribute to a substantive dialogue between the bench, the bar, and the public when he tweets?

Not much, in my estimation. Even though Judge Willett is brilliant, I surmise that he doesn’t want to defend himself on social media from substantive yet penetrating criticism of his libertarian judicial views.[iv] Given his talents, that is a shame.

Even worse, and I don’t accuse Willett (necessarily) of this, lots of judges want to be loved. So when they resort to social media, they often do so in ways to curry favor. For judges who are elected, I am slightly sympathetic. Nevertheless, the vapid and transparently cloying use of social media by some judges would make a whore blush.

There is one judge, however, who does put himself out there slightly, although he does so in a regular column for a bar association that apparently, and very unfortunately, does not allow comments. That California judge, featured in Time Magazine,[v] is William W. Bedsworth. The judge is a master of writing about serious subjects in a humorous yet instructive manner.

In one recent example, the judge wrote about an Alaska statute that required judges to take into consideration the needs of a family pet in a divorce proceeding.[vi] The judge used that opportunity to speak about the complexity of law, the proliferation of laws and the fact that judges aren’t necessarily smarter than anyone else.

Here are bits and pieces:

Animals don’t talk, and vets aren’t used to testifying in court. Figuring out who should get Lassie or Garfield or Marmaduke may turn out to be even tougher than figuring out who should get LaDainian or Beyoncé or Plaxico. And that’s tough enough.

. . .

In short, this stuff is hard enough already.

Judges are not infallible. Unlike popes, when we speak ex cathedra[vii], we are as likely to screw up as when we speak at Denny’s or the Tilted Kilt.[viii]

They didn’t issue us a bucket of wisdom along with our robes. Heck, they didn’t even issue us robes; we had to buy them. We are ordinary people trying to solve extraordinary problems.

Next, I turn to lawyers as bootlickers.

Let’s face it, for most lawyers, social media is a marketing tool. There is even a blog from a marketing company specifically devoted to helping lawyers promote themselves using social media. It contains such content as:

Although there’s no guaranteed recipe for creating viral content, when a blog post, meme or hashtag captures a certain zeitgeist, there are proven ways for marketing professionals and business developers to capitalize on it.

How absolutely uplifting!

To my great dismay, the practice of law is no longer a profession. It has largely become a horde of bootlickers who see social media as the path to both fame and wealth without the necessity of writing anything worthwhile for other lawyers, judges or the public. A huge number of lawyers who interact on social media now wade into, and then further propagate, a “vast wasteland,” like the one that Newton Minnow once famously railed against so many years ago.[ix]

Since you can’t see or interact with them in person, how does a judge or anyone else tell a bootlicker on social media? While not universally true, these bootlickers tend to be younger, they seek reflected glory, and they frequently run in self-reinforcing herds sometimes aided by judges who want to be loved by throwing bouquets of meaningless drivel at their admirers. But, if one truly wants a surefire test for a lawyer-bootlicker on social media, one must seek the opposite behavior. That is, you look for a lawyer (not an academic) who has called “bullshit” on a judge.

Let me give three examples of criminal defense lawyers who have called “bullshit” on me:

Josh Kendrick—called bullshit, in a very convincing manner, when I suggested there was empirical evidence that the older a criminal defense lawyer got the worse he or she performed. See here.

Jeff Gamso—called bullshit, with a penetrating post, when I theorized that I might allow the imposition of the death penalty for the factually innocent. See here.

Matt Brown—called bullshit, in a persuasive way, when I wrote that drug crimes were not victimless and that there was no such thing as a non-violent drug crime. See here.

And, then of course, there is our mean-ass host. He has called “bullshit” on me and other judges more than a few times. But here is something I want to emphasize. There is no legal commentator on social media today that I respect more than our mean-ass host, precisely because he calls bullshit on judges. (Damn, I think I just became a bootlicker![x])

There is great potential for using social media to advance an understanding of the law, the legal profession and the judiciary. But that potential is presently being pissed away in a full but inane stream. Bootlicking judges and lawyers are to blame.

Richard G. Kopf
Senior United States District Judge (Nebraska)

[i]Sardonic” “apparently but not really proceeding from gaiety,” 1630s, from French sardonique (16c.), from Latin sardonius (but as if from Latin *sardonicus) in Sardonius risus, loan-translation of Greek sardonios (gelos) “of bitter or scornful (laughter),” altered from Homeric sardanios (of uncertain origin) by influence of Sardonios “Sardinian,” because the Greeks believed that eating a certain plant they called sardonion (literally “plant from Sardinia,” see Sardinia) caused facial convulsions resembling those of sardonic laughter, usually followed by death. For nuances of usage, see humor (n.). Earlier in same sense sardonian (1580s), from Latin sardonius.

[ii] Last time I checked, he had 96,488 followers.

[iii] Here is his Twitter profile: “Supreme Court Justice & Tweeter Laureate of Texas. Former rodeo bull rider. Fluent in legalese. Extravagantly blessed husband & cofounder of 3 wee Willetts.”

[iv] Willett is on President’s Trump short list for the Supreme Court. See here. This despite Senator Cruz’s support of Willett and this 2015 tweet:  “Donald Trump haiku—Who would the Donald Name to #SCOTUS? The mind reels. weeps—can’t finish tweet.” See here for the tweet.

[v] Jack Dickey, Meet the Other Judges Who Speak Out, Time Magazine (Jul 18, 2016).

[vi] William W. Bedsworth, April 2017 – Fight On, Orange County Bar Association (September 24, 2017). I have omitted the footnotes, but you ought to read them because some of them are really funny. (See below.) This is only one offering from the judge’s continuing series entitled a “Criminal Waste of Space.”

[vii] See here: Latin, literally “from the (teacher’s) chair,” from ex “out of” (see ex-) + cathedra (see cathedral).

[viii] The judge observes in a footnote: “Okay, you’re right. If we’re speaking at the Tilted Kilt, we’re probably substantially more fallible than usual.”  For the unwoke, Tilted Kilt Pub and Eatery is a Celtic-themed sports bar and franchise restaurant chain that employs scantily-clad female servers in short kilts. Notice the judge did not write about the dress of female lawyers. Unlike me, he is not a dummy.

[ix] Newton N. Minow, Television and the Public Interest, delivered May 9, 1961, National Association of Broadcasters, Washington, DC. (Transcript from audio.)

[x] Nevertheless, just like Sally Fields, I know you like me.

 

 

34 thoughts on “Kopf: Nobody Likes A Bootlicker

  1. shg

    Judge Bennett
    Judge Kane
    Judge Rakoff
    Even the dreaded Judge Posner
    And, of course, Judge Kopf

    Each of these judges has given us insight into the law and the judiciary by expressing substantive ideas, and they subject themselves to criticism for it, but they add to our knowledge.

    In contrast, there’s the happysphere of judges twitting cut cat pics and receiving vapid adulation in a circle jerk of pointlessness. But they have so much fun doing it, and the echo chamber validates itself over and over. And it adds nothing to our knowledge.

    1. Richard Kopf

      Mike G.,

      Here is the best ever recipe for Irish stew:

      Get some meat, some potatoes and a lot of Guinness Stout. Drink all of the Stout. Forget about the stew.

      All the best.

  2. Jim Tyre

    my slavish devotion to taste and decorum.

    Thanks for the laugh, Judge Kope. I needed one.

    Also, would you please teach SHG HOWTO do proper linked footnotes in blog posts? His asterisks are lame and hard to spot. Thanks!

            1. Jim Tyre

              My dear Judge Kopf (spelled correctly this time),

              At least I didn’t make fun of your typo. The person who delivered the famous vast wasteland speech is Newton Minow, not Minnow. (But that said, naming the boat in Gilligan’s Island the SS Minnow in fact was a dig at his speech and him. As Admirals, you and SHG should appreciate such matters.)

            2. SHG

              I, for one, love the Newton Minow story every time you tell it. But then, Judge Kopf is a judge (that could explain the title), not an admiral like me, so he may not appreciate it as much as I do.

  3. Gregg

    Judge Kopf,

    While judges should contribute more to intellectual discussions about the law, Twitter is an awful place to do it (along with most—if not all—popular social media sites). Twitter is uniquely bad because you have to convey thoughts in 140-character chunks (or 280 or whatever it is now).* And in a related issue, the only responses you get on Twitter also come in 140-character chunks.

    Moreover, I’m not convinced that having legal discussions on any social media site is worthwhile, given that you have to deal with responses by people who (1) don’t have a clue and (2) don’t have a clue that they don’t have a clue. For every intelligent reply a person like Justice Willett might get in response to a legally substantive tweet (twit?), I bet he would get a great deal of replies that aren’t worth the bytes of data they use. (For example, I suspect most replies to substantive tweets by Justice Willett would be some variation of, “This is [great/awful] because it is [conservative/liberal].”) By having those misinformed (to put it kindly) replies floating around immediately below the original post, you’re just inviting the ignorant to lead others astray. (Not to mention the annoyance it creates for the original poster, getting spammed directly with idiotic replies.)**

    There’s nothing wrong with ignorant people reading intelligent legal discussions—in fact, I think more people should read law blogs, etc. (Relatedly, I think more judges should write posts/articles/etc. in different forums) But a site like Twitter (or Facebook, etc.) is not a place to have a good discussion between two informed people in the same way as, for example, a series of back-and-forth blog posts in which two authors debate each other.

    In other words, mourn the lack of judges blogging (or contributing to the legal discussion in other appropriate forums), but don’t be annoyed that they aren’t trying to turn social media itself into a quasi legal blog.***

    -Gregg

    * I’m not convinced that having “tweet storms” (i.e., posting multiple tweets in a row using replies so they form a continuous chain) fixes this issue—they’re much harder to read/follow than traditional blog posts or articles. And they do nothing to solve the issue of other people on Twitter posting meaningless garbage in reply.

    ** Certainly nothing should prevent people from having legal discussions on social media—I just have an issue with the idea that judges SHOULD have legal discussions on social media.

    *** One qualifier on this statement—I do think social media would be a great place to promote a blog post (or whatever) about a substantive legal topic. Social media is great for spreading information. But the point is that the legal discussion itself should not happen on social media.

      1. Gregg

        ^ Your reply is as good of an example of what I’m talking about as any.

        There are only two reasonable interpretations of your comment. Option one is that you dislike my comment because you felt it was unfocused. Unfortunately, you did not clarify why you think my comment was unfocused. One possibility is that you felt the comment itself was scattershot—i.e., that the comment did not have a central theme. That said, if that is what you meant by “focus,” you’re wrong because everything within my original comment focused around a central theme: While social media is good for somethings, it is not a good medium on which to have intelligent legal discussions.

        The other way to interpret “[f]ocus” in your reply is that you believed my comment lost focus on the message Judge Kopf conveyed in his original post. If so, you again are incorrect. Judge Kopf wrote about how he dislikes how some judges use social media because their use of it is a form of bootlicking—kissing up to the general public while not saying anything of any real meaning or substance. He makes points such as, “[I]f judges condescend to use social media, they use Twitter or Facebook, but they don’t really write anything of substance on social media.” I reasonably interpreted that to mean that Judge Kopf feels that judges should consider using their social media platforms to engage in substantive discussions. (To be clear, this would be a defensible point of view—albeit one I disagree with.) If I misinterpreted Judge Kopf’s post, (1) it’s because it was ambiguous as written and (2) a reply to my comment explaining such would carry the discussion further than giving some one-word reply and hoping that readers divine what you meant with the reply. For now, though, I continue to think that one of the points Judge Kopf made in his post was that judges should use social media to engage in more substantive discussions than they currently do.*

        Option two is that you did not like my comment for some other undisclosed reason that has nothing to do with its focus (e.g., it was too long). But rather than explaining directly why you disliked it, you went for a pithy, one-word reply that revolves around a theme you’ve got going in your posts today (“focus”) in an attempt to stop the thread before it could continue.

        * Importantly, I don’t think this was the ONLY point Judge Kopf made in his post—his second major point was about how non-judge attorneys use social media. I chose to only address one of his two main points (which, incidentally, shows greater focus than if I had attempted to discuss both major subtopics this post raised).

        Moreover, if I misinterpreted one of the points Judge Kopf made, it is entirely reasonable to assume others might have also misinterpreted it. If so, a reply to my comment would be a good place to clear up any confusion by explaining that Judge Kopf was not attempting to argue for how judges should use social media itself.

        1. SHG

          I completely understand why twitter is not a good medium for you. That said, you are not entitled to any more of another person’s time and effort in response than they deem your comment worth, no matter how certain you are that your comment was thoughtful or, at least, a fair misapprehension of an unclear point.

          1. Gregg

            Of course I’m not entitled to your time (or anybody’s time)—I never claimed to be. Likewise, I’m not entitled to a response from you or anybody; if you choose to carry this discussion forward, that’s on you.

            :::

            To put it in perspective, here’s the chain of events that led to this particular comment:

            1. I made the decision to comment on a post Judge Kopf wrote, disagreeing with one of the points I believed he made.

            2. You made the decision to publish my comment. (Nobody has a right to comment here—this is your “house” and your rules. The decision to allow my comment was entirely yours.)

            3. After publishing my comment, you decided to reply to it. (Just as nobody can make you publish a comment here, nobody can force you to reply to one either.)

            4. I read your reply and decided it incorrect, to the extent it was understandable.

            5. I responded to your reply, pointing out that it was incorrect and incomprehensible.

            6. You made the decision to publish my response.

            7. You made the decision to reply to my response. In this reply, you mischaracterized what I said by imagining that I feel entitled to a response.

            8. I drafted this response, pointing out that you’re mischaracterizing what I said while imputing bad motives to me.

            9. (Future step: You may choose to publish or ignore this comment. If you publish, then you may choose to reply to it like you did my other two comments, or you may choose to ignore it. If you choose to publish it and reply to it, expect that I will probably respond to your reply, either agreeing with it or disagreeing with it.)

        2. anon

          Just because you’ve chosen to bang out a big bunch of words that are both silly (twitter has brilliant substance and silly fluff, like any other social media) and clearly off-topic doesn’t make you entitled to get a bunch of words in reply. If brevity is the soul of wit, you are witless.

          1. Gregg

            > “doesn’t make you entitled to get a bunch of words in reply.”

            Of course not. This isn’t complex—I never claimed I was entitled to a bunch of words in reply.

            > “clearly off-topic”

            Explain how I’m off topic, or I will assume you don’t have any good reasoning. (And again, of course I’m not entitled to a reply from you on this point—if you choose to reply, that’s on you.)

            1. Gregg

              Sorry, I should have been clearer on the first point. I never claimed I was entitled to *any* sort of reply to any of my comments. Of course, this includes replies that have “a bunch of words.”

            2. anon

              In the post, Judge Kopf made no suggestion that judges should use twitter at all. His point, which he made abundantly clear, is that if they choose to use social media, they should do so for a better purpose than currying favor.

              “But what does Willett contribute to a substantive dialogue between the bench, the bar, and the public when he tweets?”

              In contrast, “Nevertheless, the vapid and transparently cloying use of social media by some judges would make a whore blush.”

              It’s in there, Gregg. This wasn’t hard to understand. As for your “I’m not entitled to a reply,” but if I don’t, you “will assume [I] don’t have any good reasoning,” that’s the sort of infantile passive-aggressive twist that reveals you as a weasel.

              As you’re obviously not a lawyer, and your reading comprehension skills are lacking, and you play childish games, you don’t deserve my time. I do this as a courtesy to you. I’m confident you won’t appreciate it.

  4. Richard Kopf

    Gregg,

    To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t focused on a deep dive into a taxonomy of social media platforms. I was trying to suggest that no matter the platform judges ought to strive, at least once in a while, to engage in substance.

    As for Twitter, and with extremely rare exceptions, I have never used it except when Hercules was alive. Then I used it to rebroadcast the title to each of my blog posts. Indeed, before I signed on to Twitter, I used Hercules to sample what others thought of Twitter. Someone I trusted (an academic no less) suggested that I should not waste my time on Twitter except to use Twitter as a way to “pimp” my blog. I took his advice.

    One thoughtful commentator has agreed with you about Twitter when commenting upon my blogging errors. See Steve Klepper, Judges Should Blog More But Learn From Judge Kopf’s Mistakes, Maryland Appellate Blog (July 10, 2015) (“Twitter is risker, given its intrinsic immediacy. But there have been success stories, including Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Dillard, and U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal (N.D. Cal.). For Twitter, if a judge dares, the goal should be simply to avoid controversy at all costs. If there is any doubt, don’t micro-blog about it on Twitter. Save it for a vetted blog post.”)

    The foregoing said, and unlike the thoughts of Brother Klepper, I do think Twitter could be used by judges in a more substantive manner. But since I don’t use it, and I am approaching my 71st birthday, I doubt I will try.

    I hope this helps to clarify things. All the best.

    RGK

    1. Gregg

      Judge Kopf,

      Thank you for your reply; this does clarify things. I’m sorry I misinterpreted the point you were making with your post.

      Thank you,
      Gregg

  5. Richard Kopf

    B. McCleod,

    Thanks for the heads up on the nomination of Justice Willett to the Fifth Circuit today. It will be fascinating to see (1) whether, and how, the judge will tweet, and (2) the reaction of Willett bootlickers on Twitter. All the best.

    RGK

  6. Adam Gillette

    All these comments but no one sought clarification on how lickspittle fits in the spectrum of bootlicker and butt-kisser? Sad!
    Also sad that I cannot link to the great Simpsons episode “Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk.”

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