We found it very hard to believe that it was actually true, that so many judges were breaking the law. I mean, these are judges. They're lawyers. Judges interpret the law. They enforce the law. They don't break the law. But judges very rarely receive any kind of scrutiny, federal judges in particular. And they're used to being sort of the king and queens of their own domain. ---- James V. Grimaldi, The Federal Law That 138 Judges Have Broken, Wall Street Journal, October 1, 2021
Welcome back to How to Legal where we learn how to use the good side of the Internet to combat the dark side in this online era of fake news, misinformation, disinformation, and/or defamation.
To simplify, hereinafter, "fake news," refers to "fake news, misinformation, disinformation and defamation."
In this installment we’re going to look at:
- what’s the court docket;
- explaining the docket;
- proper judicial procedures by following a defamation lawsuit;
- a federal district court judge following the Judicial Code of Conduct, and his oath;
- another place to find the elements of defamation law; and
- how to locate dockets and read court filings.
In this case, we’ll look at Dershowitz v. Cable News Network, Inc.’s (CNN).
Thanks for being a part of the solution to combating this online information crisis.
Let’s do this.
What’s a court docket?
A brief list of all proceedings, filings, and possibly deadlines in a case. A judge’s docket is the official docket kept for a case by the court.”Cornell Law School’s LII
Dictionary.law.com defines docket this way:
1) n. the cases on a court calendar. 2) n. brief notes, usually written by the court clerk, stating what action was taken that day in court. 3) v. to write down the name of a case to be put on calendar or make notes on action in court.
Following court cases—the docket is another way to familiarize yourself with the legal process. In my opinion, it’s the quickest way for a lay person to become familiar with the judicial process because you will be seeing the rules, judicial canons, and the application of the law, in action, via the court filings aka legal briefs.
Explaining the Docket
Every court case (legal proceeding, and/or action) is given a case identifier–the docket. The docket typically appears on the top of every page of every court filing in that case. In some courts it is on the bottom. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know why.
Here, we’re going to look at Dershowitz v. Cable News Network, Inc. (0:20-cv-61872) docket, a defamation case.
This case is being heard in the Southern District of Florida.
The parties are attorney Alan Dershowitz (plaintiff) who filed a defamation lawsuit against CNN (defendant).
Below is an explanation of the numbers and letters from the Dershowitz v. Cable News Network, Inc.’s (CNN) docket.
The initial “AHS” (follow the green line (Federal District Court Judge – AHS) are the judge’s initials who was assigned this case. 0:20 – the red line is a partial date when the case was filed [September 15, 2020].
It can also be the date when a case was transferred from one jurisdiction to another jurisdiction.
… briefly, in layman terms that means the case was transferred from one court to another court typically for jurisdictional purposes to rule on the merits of the case. A court must have jurisdiction over a case to be able to preside over it, but that’s a How to Legal for another day.
The blue line takes you to the case number.
FLSD – Florida Southern District Court
Now that you know how to break down the docket you can see which judge is presiding over a case.
As a refresher, the Southern District of Florida’s court’s website is here. Then go to the tab “Judges.”
Match the initials you saw on the docket number (sometimes also called ECF- Electronic Case filing) with the presiding judge.
Then, if you want to know How the Judge Legals you would go and read the judge(s) personal rules. Sometimes the judge’s personal rules are referred to as practice guidelines or something similar. Click here for the judge’s tab.
All litigants must read and follow the judge’s personal rules. Whether you want to read them here at How to Legal is up to you.
It should be reasonable to assume a judge follows their own rules. It should be–unless you are dealing with one of those oath breaking, law breaking judges we learned about from Reuters and the Wall Street Journal investigations. If that’s the case then I guess all bets are off.
Defamation Case Docket
Remember, when you follow a case you need to remove any bias or preconceived notions that you may have about the case and/or the parties. The parties may also be referred to as the litigants. Plaintiff(s) versus the defendant(s)).
So you need to think like a judge is supposed to think. Be impartial. Lady Justice is supposed to be blind. As such, whether you like or dislike Alan Dershowitz or CNN for whatever reason is irrelevant. Be neutral.
Following proper judicial process in a defamation case
In this case, attorney Alan Dershowitz sued CNN over statements made about him during a CNN broadcast. To view Dershowitz v. Cable News Network, Inc.’s court docket and filings you can go to courtlistner.com.
For simplicity sake, we’re going to follow the docket focusing on the main legal filings, and skip over the administrative filings, like attorneys filing notices of appearances, time extension requests, and the like.
The court filings aka legal briefs, and the complaint (the first pleading), are linked if you wish to read them. You should read them because then you will see ultimately what the judge’s opinion was based upon, and whether or not the judge faithfully and impartially discharged his duties.
A procedural history of Dershowitz v. CNN follows.
Step 1: Alan Dershowitz’s complaint was filed September 15, 2020.
Step 2: CNN’s Motion to Dismiss was filed November 6, 2020.
Step 3: Dershowitz’s Opposition to CNN’s Motion to Dismiss was filed on December 21, 2020, [Docket No. 21]; and
Step 4: CNN’s Reply was filed on January 11, 2021.
Hon. Raag Singhal is following the Judicial Code of Conduct for U.S. judges
In brief, at this stage in litigation, the day the “reply” was filed, it’s about the court determining whether or not the case will move forward or should be dismissed based on the parties legal briefs (“motion to dismiss,” “opposition to motion to dismiss,” “reply”) and the complaint.
To learn more details about this stage of the judicial process from lawyers, you might want to read: Initial stages of federal litigation overview.
This informative overview was written by attorneys Marcellus McRae and Roxanna Iran, of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, a well respected law firm, with attorneys Holly B. Biondo and Elizabeth Richardson-Royer with Practical law litigation.
Step 5: About four months after CNN’s reply was filed, on May 24, 2021, the Federal District Court Judge, the Hon. Raag Singhal issued his ruling and promptly moved this case forward.
Already at the gate we can see that the Hon. Raag Singhal is a judge who is adhering to the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges. See Canon 3A(5)
Canon 3A(5). In disposing of matters promptly, efficiently, and fairly, a judge must demonstrate due regard for the rights of the parties to be heard and to have issues resolved without unnecessary cost or delay. A judge should monitor and supervise cases to reduce or eliminate dilatory practices, avoidable delays, and unnecessary costs.
Prompt disposition of the court’s business requires a judge to devote adequate time to judicial duties, to be punctual in attending court and expeditious in determining matters under submission, and to take reasonable measures to ensure that court personnel, litigants, and their lawyers cooperate with the judge to that end.Code of Conduct for United States Judges
As the docket demonstrates Hon. Singhal did not violate Canon 3A(5). A judge who violates their oath, any canon, or rule, essentially does the opposite of what their oath, the canon and/or rule states.
Thus, a judge who violates Canon 3A(5) is a judge who did not dispose of matters promptly, efficiently, or fairly. The judge did not demonstrate due regard for the rights of the parties to be heard and to have issues resolved without unnecessary cost or delay, and so on.
See also: Judicial oath, 28 U.S. Code § 453,
See: Federal Judge Files Recusal Notices in 138 Cases After WSJ Queries: Rodney Gilstrap initially argued he didn’t violate financial-conflicts law,” WSJ, November 2, 2021.
Court filings are another place to find the elements of defamation law
Okay, moving forward.
When you follow defamation cases (all cases) you will see a pattern in the Judge’s orders. Judge’s summarize the facts of the case (based on the pleadings) and identify the elements of defamation (or whatever count is at issue in that case) in that jurisdiction.
The elements typically are a part of the “Legal Standard” or a similar description.
Here, in this case, Hon. Raag Singhal identified defamation law in Florida while citing case law on page 5:
In Florida, a defamation claim has “five elements: (1) publication; (2) falsity; (3) actor must act with knowledge or reckless disregard as to the falsity on a matter concerning a public official, or at least negligently on a matter concerning a private person; (4) actual damages; and (5) statement must be defamatory.” Jews For Jesus, Inc. v Rapp, 997 So. 2d 1098, 1106 (Fla. 2008).Dershowitz v. Cable News Network, Inc. Order, Document 28, page 5
Below is an example of the Court addressing CNN‘s non-actionable opinion argument. The “opinion” argument is a common defense in defamation lawsuits, but as you can see below, just because a lawyer claims everything is “opinion” it’s not necessarily true or non-actionable. As the Court found, in part:
The Court concludes that the commentators’ statements set forth in the Complaint were not pure opinion but instead mixed expressions of opinion that could reasonably be construed as defamatory. See Barnes v. Horan, 841 So. 2d 472, 477 (Fla. 3rd DCA 2002)(The court must determine whether an expression of opinion can also contain a defamatory meaning due to assertion of undisclosed facts).
A mixed expression of opinion is not constitutionally protected. Madsen v Buie, 454 So. 2d 727, 729 (Fla 1st DCA 1984)….Dershowitz v. Cable News Network, Inc. Order, Document 28, page 15
Based on the judge’s ruling and defamation law (see elements 1. publication; 2. falsity; and so on), when something in a statement is provably true or false, it’s no longer pure opinion. It’s either true or it’s false even if it’s couched in opinion. According to defamation law, the court must read the statements in the context that the statements were made. As such, here in this case, the statements were capable of defamatory meaning.
The judge also identified all the statements that were capable of defamatory meaning when he moved the case to the next stage of litigation. This is obviously necessary and happens during proper proceedings. Nobody can expect a jury in a defamation case to guess which statements they are deciding upon during a trial and award damages, right?
In addition, after reading the complaint and the parties respective filings (aka legal briefs: Motion to Dismiss; Opposition and Reply), you can see that the judge’s order was evenhanded.
Hon. Singhal did not misrepresent any pleadings or legal briefs. He did not ignore or omit pleadings, or one party’s legal brief. He laid out the arguments from both sides supported by case law, and faithfully applied defamation law.
All these things show you that he’s not a judge who is in the tank with one party in a defamation lawsuit where there’s big money on the line. In this case, Plaintiff Alan Dershowitz is seeking $300 million in damages.
No. All this demonstrates that this judge is faithfully and impartially discharging his duties 28 U.S.C. § 453, whether you liked the outcome or not. Hon. Singhal upheld and protected the Constitution of the United States, 5 U.S.C. § 3331.
28 U.S. Code § 453 – Oaths of justices and judges
Each justice or judge of the United States shall take the following oath or affirmation before performing the duties of his office: “I, ___ ___, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as ___ under the Constitution and laws of the United States. So help me God.”28 U.S. Code § 453 – Oaths of justices and judges LII
The scales of justice are balanced.
So Dershowitz v. CNN, and the provable true, false, statements promptly moved forward to the next stage of litigation, about four months after Alan Dershowitz filed his complaint. As such, this case is an example of a judge conducting proper proceedings.
Are you getting a better idea now that by learning some of the rules, and by reading the pleadings and legal briefs, you will not be duped by fake news about judges who live by their oaths and faithfully apply the laws in their rulings? I hope so given threats against judges have skyrocket 400%. We’ve got to reverse this.
Threats against judges, or anyone else for that matter, must not be tolerated in a civilized society or it won’t be civilized for much longer.
Before we move on to learn how to locate dockets, let’s take a break for a musical interlude. Stretch and move around.
This time for me, it’s Tracy Chapman’s “Why?” What about you?
Locating Dockets and Court Filings
Let’s say you want to follow a case in this highly charged politicized era of fake news and you don’t want to be duped about an ethical judge, a properly conducted proceeding, disseminate fake news, get freaked out, and do something stupid, like storm the U.S. Capital, and end up in prison or something.
In State courts you can locate the docket at the state court’s main website.
For example, following is where you can locate all the state courts in California. Below is a partial screenshot of the California Judicial Branch homepage. The red arrows are mine which I added for clarity sake so you know where to look.
You would do the same thing in other states and jurisdictions.
If the case is being heard in Federal Court you can locate the docket through pacer.com (PACER — Public Access to Court Electronic Records).
You would go to the “search for a case” tab. The other three tabs are used by the litigants to e-file their legal briefs. E-file is electronic filing.
Pacer.com is a paid service and provides instructions with how to use it here.
In addition, journalists who cover court cases sometimes upload court documents too, and you can read some of them there. See for e.g., Eriq Gardner at Hollywood Reporter, lawandcrime.com, Deadline Hollywood, Dominic Pattern, Robert Barnes and Ann E. Marimow at Washington Post, Josh Gerstein at Politico, Khorri Atkinson at Axios and so on.
Let’s wrap this up.
As always, I hope you found this installment helpful and empowering. I also hope How to Legal gives you an appreciation and respect for the ethical judges, lawyers, all the officers of the court, who live by their oaths, and stand firm against corruption.
Thank you for being a part of a solution to combating the fake news online crisis so we can focus on fixing real problems.
On that note, let’s shift to another musical interlude and take a break before moving on to the next How to Legal.
This time for me, it’s Eurythmics, Annie Lennox, Dave Steward’s “Would I Lie to You?” See Eurythmics.com for more of their music. What’s your music pic?
None of the information on this website may be construed as legal advice. This information is for educational purposes and to serve as a public service to help combat fake news against ethical judges and people.
If you have learned something and you would like to show support for my efforts to make the Internet a safer and more honest place you may send donations here. Thanks.
If you are stuck in a media echo-chamber and need help breaking out, or know someone who is, check out The Break Free from Media Echo-Chambers 30 Day Challenge. It’s time to heal and make fact-based decisions.
There are problems on both sides of the political aisle and real problems that need to be fixed. Acting on fake news just creates more problems that need to be fixed.
Lastly, if you see any typos or mistakes, kindly send me an email so I can fix it. Thanks.
* This installment was updated to include WSJ‘s quote.