Under the headline "Federal Judge E-Mailed Jokes to 'Gag List,'" the Los Angeles Times reports that Alex Kozinski, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, for years sent friends and associates jokes that "ranged from silly to politically oriented to raunchy." The more sexually explicit messages bore the warning "T&P," for "tasteless and puerile." The recipients, who were added at their own request or the suggestion of list members, were all consenting adults, able to stop the messages at any time. They included journalists such as National Journal columnist Stuart Taylor and Time columnist Michael Kinsley. Taylor offers a positive spin:
He's not hung up on the need to be dignified. He enjoys life the way he did before he was a judge, and that may not comport with some peoples' image of what judges should be like….The image of the judiciary should not be such a fragile thing.
Kinsley sounds more prudish:
There were a lot of vulgar jokes, very dirty jokes. I was astonished that a judge was doing this.
Yet evidently neither Taylor nor Kinsley thought the judge's jokes were newsworthy. The L.A. Times, by contrast, sees the gag list as part of a troubling pattern that includes the raunchy visual humor on Kozinski's home computer:
Kozinski's taste in humor already has proved problematic for him. Last summer, the judge requested a judicial misconduct investigation into his own actions after The Times published an article about sexually explicit material that he kept on a publicly accessible website. Kozinski maintained that he believed the website was private.
According to Kozinski, the files on the computer, the server for his home network, were never meant to be public but were accessed by a lawyer with a grudge, who shopped the more risqué images around to various news organizations, including the Times. After those pictures received media coverage, Kozinski stopped emailing jokes. But what does it all mean? The Times leaves it to the reader to decide:
The gag list provides additional material for a debate that has continued since then: Do Kozinski's actions indicate a lack of judgment or are they merely the harmless expression of a free-spirited man who happens to be a highly regarded judge?
I'm inclined toward the latter view, and not just because I like Kozinski's libertarian leanings. As Taylor suggests, Kozinski's fondness for dirty jokes, like his video game reviews in The Wall Street Journal, makes him seem playful and fun (if not always funny), a refreshing change from the stuffed shirts most judges aspire to be. Although I'm not sure the email joke list was worth a newspaper story, it's good to be reminded that quirky, imperfect human beings inhabit those robes.
Next in the L.A. Times series: "Federal Judge Farted in Courthouse Elevator, Blamed Others."
[Via Patterico's Pontifications, where you can find examples of the jokes Kozinski circulated.]