News & Criticism

'He's Not Hung Up on the Need to Be Dignified'

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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."

More on Kozinski's sense of humor here, here, and here.

[Via Patterico's Pontifications, where you can find examples of the jokes Kozinski circulated.]

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  1. This a tempest in a teapot. ZOMG! A judge isw human. Give the man a break.

  2. A citizenry that watches American Idol and Dancing with the Stars is in no position to judge a man for having an immature sense of humor.

    Boobies.

  3. It is wrong what he did, it may be a form of harrassment. He should resign imediatelly.

  4. A citizenry that watches American Idol and Dancing with the Stars Family Guy is in no position to judge a man for having an immature sense of humor.

    Boobies.

    fixed that for you, Jeff P

    Magnesium! – don’t flare up. reduce your reaction to this information, it’s not as inflammatory as you make it seem.

  5. There were a lot of vulgar jokes, very dirty jokes. I was astonished that a judge was doing this.

    What a tool. We need more judges to be human and not think and act like they are gods on the throne with the power to send people to jail, ruin lives, etc.

  6. I will NOT chill out! This is merely the latest in a century long collapse of American morals – it has to END NOW!

  7. I will NOT chill out! This is merely the latest in a century long collapse of American morals – it has to END NOW!

    True

  8. When I last viewed the “shocking” images, I was very disappointed. They did not live up to the hype.

  9. I’m positively radioactive about this!

  10. Shit guy, trolling on my behalf? I’m honeored?

    Yeah, people who send email jokes are the scum of the earth and should be removed from public positions. If private employers choose to keep them (unless they work with children) that is their prerogative.

  11. Was it like goatse or what?

  12. I see you change your handle periodically.

    ah, science humor.

  13. I’m positively radioactive about this!

    Me too, though it is decaying.

  14. Innominate: but Family Guy is fully aware of its immaturity. Idol is considered the pinnicle of pop culture. Dancing is the zenith of celebrity-worship/hatred. Neither is worth watching even in the ironic/trainwreck sense.

    And Idol and Dancing outstrip Family Guy for ratings and ad revenue on a regular basis.

    And last night Family Guy reminded us that Laura Bush once killed a guy.

  15. I’m being spoofed…

    I will NOT chill out! This is merely the latest in a century long collapse of American morals – it has to END NOW!

    True

    doubleplustrue

  16. I’m only 50% as upset…

  17. Jeff P:

    agreed that American Idol and Dancing with the Stars are the lowest brow of lowbrow entertainment. though I like the dresses some of the ladies wear on Dancing when they show the clips on Talk Soup

    for low humor, which is the sin the judge committed, you just can’t beat Family Guy.

    either way, though. it was just an opportunity for me to bash Family Guy, which is hear is written by manatees.

  18. Ich bin sehr w?tend! Sie sollten lieber aufh?ren diese Spoofing!

  19. Family Guy is pretty simplistic humor, and is based almost entirely on referential humor. It’s still funny, and I enjoy it, but it’s not particularly sophisticated. Manatees aren’t capable of much more than running gags and Star Wars references.

  20. It has come to our attention that certain federal judges have had children. In most cases, this result is obtained by the sickening and depraved act of fornication. Therefore, we call upon all federal judges who have not adopted their children to resign immediately.

  21. I’m being spoofed…

    I will NOT chill out! This is merely the latest in a century long collapse of American morals – it has to END NOW!

    True

    doubleplustrue

    oui

  22. This humor is too highbrow for me, I’m gonna going find some Oxygen to fuck with.

  23. actually, Episiarch, manatees have been proven to have a nuanced dry wit. Their use of running gags and Star Wars references is meta-humor at it’s finest. Compare this to, say, the Jerry Lewis-like crudeness of the California sea lion. Those fuckers still think getting hit in the nards with a ball is the apex of hysteria.

  24. If I were a judge, I’d post goatse man and tubgirl all over my courtroom.

  25. That’s right, Laura Bush killed a guy!

    I watch Family Guy (twice daily reruns here), and it is occasionally funny, but it’s nowhere near the humor content of early Simpsons and South Park.

  26. Did you hear about the two gay judges? They tried each other.

  27. actually, Episiarch, manatees have been proven to have a nuanced dry wit

    That’s just what they want you to think. Sea mammals are all crude, unoriginal fart jokesters. Walruses are the worst.

    Compare this to, say, the Jerry Lewis-like crudeness of the California sea lion

    Whoah, hold on. Are you implying that The Nutty Professor isn’t brilliant?

  28. you just can’t appreciate The Nutty Professor until you’ve seen it performed by the original ensemble cast of sea lions.

  29. Excuse me, you are all missing the point.

    Boobies.

  30. I should have been a mammologist.

    boobies

  31. I disappointed to learn that Kozinski did not forward any Urkobold postings.

  32. I am disappointed to learn that Kozinski did not forward any Urkobold postings.

    Sorry if there was any confusion over my tenses in the preceding comment. My transciptionist has been sacked.

  33. Nobody understands me!

  34. sacked, or had his sack and taint withered?

  35. Spoofing people is so ignoble…

  36. the innominate one,

    I don’t know–I’m not in the enforcement side of the Urkobold family.

  37. Argon! – they’re just trying to get you to react. stay strong and stable.

  38. It’s not natural!

  39. Argon is such a cube…

  40. That post by Zirconium wasn’t me.

  41. You’ve got a lot of Gallium showing yourself around here Carbon! After all the trouble you’ve caused with my covalent bonds!

  42. To continue our running theme of trying to split libertarians into as many micro-niches as possible, I will take this opportunity to point out:

    You’re a Reason libertarian if you think this is no big deal.

    You’re a Volokh libertarian if you think this guy is a threat to the legal system and should be drowned at sea before he undermines the legal profession any further.

  43. I am not budging from my opinion.

  44. Correction to my earlier post:

    You’re a Reason libertarian if you’re a dork who thinks periodic table jokes are funny.

  45. You never invite me to your parties, is it because I’m unstable and never stick around very long?

  46. Oxygen! get out of here – if the tree huggers see two of you and me together, they’ll go NUTS!

  47. paleocosmo — the Volokh guys are personal friends of Kozinski, I think, so you need a different label for your second option.

  48. Episiarch | December 8, 2008, 12:18pm | #

    Whoah, hold on. Are you implying that The Nutty Professor isn’t brilliant?

    I think you’ve just outed yourself. You’re French, aren’t you?

  49. Forget it Carbon! We’re through! Nitrogen! is more fun at parties than YOU ever were!

  50. Kinsley “There were a lot of vulgar jokes, very dirty jokes. I was astonished that a judge was doing this”
    He says that as if it were a bad thing.
    O, and Family guy is the apogee of esistentialist humour.

  51. I think you’ve just outed yourself. You’re French, aren’t you?

    Oui? Je suis Napoleon!

    Now, seriously, have you seen The Nutty Professor, Jerry Lewis version? It’s actually damn good.

  52. Now, seriously, have you seen The Nutty Professor, Jerry Lewis version? It’s actually damn good.

    Never seen the original “Nutty”, but I’ve seen and enjoyed other Lewis films. I have more trouble enjoying his solo work than when he had Dean-o alongside.

  53. I don’t mind Kozinski’s jokes so much, but some federal judges go over the line with sick dead-baby jokes. Like *Roe v. Wade.*

  54. Q: What do you call a bunch of aborted babies in the trash?

    A: The miracle of choice!

    You’re not laughing? Guess I’ll have to work on my delivery.

  55. Titsygen. Mammium. You get the idea.

  56. periodical table jokes ARE funny!

  57. periodical table??

    Isn’t it kind off extravagent to have a table just to keep magazines on.

  58. The linked article stated:

    Arthur Hellman, a University of Pittsburgh law professor who is an expert on the 9th Circuit and judicial ethics, said in his opinion, Kozinski’s distribution of some of the more objectionable jokes may have violated an ethical canon that prohibits judges from engaging in social activities that “detract from the dignity of the judge’s office.”

    “Circulating off-color material to an audience beyond family members and close friends is probably not consistent with the dignity that we expect of a federal judge,” Hellman said. Judges are entitled to a private life, he said, “but they have to keep it private.”

    I wonder whether such a canon would survive First Amendment scrutiny (as illustrated by Judge Kozinsky’s toical humor) or a Due Process challenge for vagueness (failure to give fair warning of what “undignified” conduct is proscribed).

  59. I’m on Alex Kozinski’s gag list, and what he posts there is nobody’s business but his own, and those of us who choose to be on it.

    Kinsley can go fuck himself, the supercilious prick.

    -jcr

  60. Isn’t it kind off extravagent to have a table just to keep magazines on.

    that’s not extravangent.

    This is extravagent

  61. Oh, and while I’m at it… Hellman can go fuck himself, too.

    -jcr

  62. well said, Dale Innis!

    your logic is irrefutable!

  63. In June Classically Liberal blogged on this story and noted that the LA Times article was clearly falsified by the writer in order to make Kozinski’s actions news worthy. The article exaggerated, or distorted, the content of many of the items in questions to pander to the prurient interests of the prudes. No, that is not a contradiction. The prudes always rush to read stories about sex as they are obsessed with the subject. Classically Liberal actual ran some of the videos the LA Times referred proving that they did not have the sort of contant that the Times author pretended.

    You can find the entire discussion, along with the videos and photos discussed in the article, here.

    For instance the LA Times claimed Kozinski had disseminated a video of a half dressed man cavorting with a sexual aroused donkey. It turned out to be a video which I had seen on television. And it wasn’t quite what the Times journalist claimed. My conclusion was that this journalist intentionally twisted the facts in order to create a story where one did not exist.

  64. …it’s good to be reminded that quirky, imperfect human beings inhabit those robes.

    My thoughts exactly, if not refreshing even.

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