A private matter, a public court – SLABBED reponds to Judge Senter

“This is a public court…It belongs to the citizens. I believe in hearing everything in open court if I can.”

Federal District Judge L.T. Senter, Bossier v State Farm

Open court is not a place where Judge Senter presides.  Instead, it is the envelope of the litigation process – the structural architecture holding together our system of  justice for all.

Bossier property post-Katrina

Like the envelope of homes that stood against Katrina’s wind and water, not all damage to our system of justice is visible to the naked eye.

Neither was the damage to the Bossier’s home.  Continuing with the analogy, tort reform and other system changes simply hide the cracks. What is needed is change that strengthens the structural architecture of the envelope, Open court – change that Judge Senter can make:

  • Modify the Mediation Order so that the period of mediation immediately follows the filing of a Complaint and Answer.
  • Improve the quality and oversight of the mediation process and require plaintiffs to attend a pre-mediation session conducted by the court that fully explains the process.
  • Require all motions for a protective order to fully comply with the Rules requiring specificity in the documentation of “good cause” and deny any that do not with prejudice.
  • Insist settlement conferences are documented with the technology used for video depositions and privately review the tapes before sealing.
  • Limit the power a magistrate has to keep evidence out of court.

As one would expect from a construction-specialized CPA, Sop zeroed in on the foundation of SLABBED…we do not hide the fact we want these cases tried from a larger social good standpoint.

It is from that perspective these past two years that I’ve observed windows and doors to justice closed and locked in Katrina litigation.  There can be no open court when evidence is sealed, protected or otherwise restricted – locked away to the extent there could be no trial.

I took AROD’s Bottom Line on Bossier; i.e., SLABBED did not adequately prepare us, as the opportunity to reflect on what more I could have done than point out each door and window as Judge Walker locked one after the other.  Judy Guice took incredible professional risk by continuing to challenge the Magistrate’s orders to obtain the evidence needed to take the Bossier’s case to trial.

As one of the citizen-owners of the public court, I’ve learned a magistrate’s order stands unless clearly contrary to law – and I ask where is the law that prohibits Judge Walker from allowing State Farm to run out the clock and run up the tab on plaintiffs? Where is the law that permits State Farm to file their trial brief so late in the day that it does not show up on PACER until the day of the trial? Where is the law that restricts sanctions to only those requested by a plaintiff? Where is justice when there is only a law that requires Judge Senter to play the hand his Magistrate deals?

The justice for all that I seek is that required to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly…Such is not required of me alone – yet, there was no justice, kindness or humility in Judge Walker’s orders nor any excuse for his conduct of the pre-trial discovery in Bossier.

Open the doors and windows that hide the cracks in the envelope.  Give juries the evidence needed to make just decisions. Open court so that open court is a reality and not a lofty ideal.


5 thoughts on “A private matter, a public court – SLABBED reponds to Judge Senter”

  1. I am beginning to think Congress is at “fault” here once again. First for splitting wind/water back in the 1960’s for a single event IE hurricane. Second, for splitting the Court into non-vested if you will vs. vested Judges. These are structural problems, which limit how the system can function. I would love to know more about the magistrate system of Federal Judges and examine its history in depth. I would love to know about the federal clerks and how their roles might be evolving into one which runs counter to the independance of the Judges. These are core issues you are addressing and I think your blogging has been kicked up a notch. Your getting pretty damn good in my opinion. Thanks for looking at the hard issues which impact our Nations system of jutice.

  2. AROD’s comment was actually one of his best as well. I can see why the leadership in Louisiana wanted him on the sidelines. His views are accurate, biting and at the same time beyond the level of thinking which I hold on a subject. All good things in my book. I would love to see him emerge from his judicial quagmire like Phoenix out of the ashes.

  3. Thanks, Steve, I’ve read the magistrate system was designed to free the judges from routine tasks necessary for trial preparation. Judges, for example, retain the decision making authority over dispositive motions.

    What I see, however, is nothing like the system “as designed”. For example, by the time for Judge Senter to consider the dispositive motions, Judge Walker has disposed of most of the evidence.

    The real power is vested in clerks who read the briefs and then brief the magistrate and judges. As I understand it, a clerk’s “job description” is researching case law and writing draft versions of related orders and opinions.

    So, we have a paper system that makes sense but the practical application of that system is the first crack in the envelope.

    I see all of this through eyes trained in the behavioral sciences and the long story short here is exemplified in the Court’s treatment of Mrs. Politz (Politz v Nationwide). In my world, we’d call it a “case study”.

    The bottom line is these are problems that can not be solved. When faced with such situations, the only viable option IMO is to transcend problems and move to higher ground. That’s where Congress comes in and you are exactly right about the segregating flood coverage from the coverage needed to ensure there property is protected in the event of a disaster.

    After two years of researching and writing about these issues, I have yet to understand how “water” can be removed from hurricane coverage. It is no more possible than it is to remove snow from a snowstorm.

  4. As I mentioned to Nowdy this morning via email this post will go down as one of our very best. Though she isn’t the type of person to drag someone to the woodshed by their ear (that would be me), Judge Walker has a califlower ear right now. He should also be hanging his head in shame at the miscarriages of justice over which he has presided.


  5. This is disgusting.

    As usual, something doesn’t “smell” right here. You can’t have an underlying contractual jury trial and IMMMEDIATELY THEREAFTER (w/o discovery) present evidence and damages regarding the $ amount for bad faith…in Fla., they’re both 2 distinct case #’s and I know yall are not in Fla., but your state should have 2 distinct case #’s as well for these type cases….it’s only fair for the Plaintiff/Insured….FAIR…remember that word? Along w/JUSTICE?


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