Thursday, February 22, 2007

Judge Larry Seidlin

Judge Larry Seidlin, currently being pilloried in the press for the unorthodoxies that evolved this week in his Florida courtroom, has at least one admirer in the legal profession, that being me.

I confess that I spent several hours watching the trial proceedings this week (while working on my Palm, I assure you), as the fate of Anna Nicole Smith's body was determined.

While there really was an aspect of continuing legal education in this for me - it was a rare opportunity to see a full blown trial on television in real time - the storyline and characters were also entirely compelling.

There is no doubt that every evidentiary and procedural rule in the book was thrown out the window by this Judge. He dominated the proceedings from top to bottom, spoke out of turn, and obviously, ticked off many of the media's legal pundits, who expected something more .... "dignified," as they put it.

This is slightly ironic to say the least, given the wall-to-wall tabloid-style coverage cable news itself was offering up. Ratings anyone?

Anna Nicole: Hearing Coverage Makes MSNBC #1 In Early Prime; CNN In 3rd

Here's the answer to my question about how CNN would do by ignoring Anna Nicole.

At 3pm, FNC averaged 323,000, MSNBC averaged 164,000, and CNN averaged 120,000 in the demo.

At 4pm, FNC averaged 170,000, MSNBC averaged 277,000, and CNN averaged 135,000 in the demo.

At 5pm, FNC averaged 258,000, MSNBC averaged 388,000, and CNN averaged 176,000 in the demo.

At 6pm, FNC averaged 321,000, MSNBC averaged 525,000, and CNN averaged 215,000 in the demo.

Judge Seidlin did not create the circus that emerged. Rather, he tamed it, steered it, and kept it somewhat tightly confined to a rather narrow window of time. In his own particularly charming way, he forced the parties to limit their poisonous offerings, while giving adequate and liberal leeway to all to ensure they at least had their central contentions heard.

Judge Seidlin, clearly ideosyncratic and wholly appealable from start to finish in his management of this trial, should be judged, however, by the laudible result he achieved, rather than the colourful soundbites that are likely to become instant TV-courtroom classics.

There was a bit less hate among the parties in his courtroom by the time his decision was rendered. They apparently accepted his meandering wisdoms and moved quickly after his judgment toward a cooperative resolution of at least the immediate issues surrounding Ms. Smith's burial.

How long this relative peace will last - who knows? There will probably be a few bizarre turns ahead in this very tragic matter of the late Anna Nicole Smith.

The procedural purists do not get it - where possible, this is what family court judges often do. They use their personalities, wisdom and experience to bring about resolutions that get parties talking, resolving, and moving forward.

While few of them are as "out there," of course, as was Judge Seidlin, this Judge has my vote of confidence.

At the end of the day, he helped these parties to a resolution that should have been obvious from the start. It wasn't, of course, because they weren't ready to get there. By the end, they were.

That's not Kumbaya, as suggested by many pundits. That's elegant judicial intervention.

The full text of Judge Seidlin's decision is here.

According to this story, there may be a T.V. opportunity for Judge Siedlin to follow:

The endlessly entertaining Florida judge who is hearing the Anna Nicole case has had a TV show on the brain for months. Sources say Judge Seidlin has even made a demo tape of cases that were recorded in his courtroom.

Judge Seidlin... graduated from night law school in New York. Seidlin was a taxi driver who worked his way through school. At 28, he was the youngest judge ever to be elected in Broward County. The 56-year-old judge is married with a young daughter.

More power to him if this happens. It was clear by the time his emotional Judgment was rendered that he would not have been unhappy to end his career on the bench with this matter.

....................................................

UPDATE: February 23-07 CNN reports that Anna Nicole Smith decision to be appealed:

Thomas W. Pirtle, an attorney for Smith's mother, Virgie Arthur, said an appeal would be formally filed Friday in Florida's 4th District Court of Appeals.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - A Florida appeals court issued a stay Monday in the dispute over Anna Nicole Smith's body, ruling that her remains cannot be moved to the Bahamas until the judges hear a challenge from the starlet's estranged mother.

...The court gave other attorneys in the case until 2 p.m. Tuesday to respond to the challenge.

Earlier Monday, Judge Larry Seidlin rejected Arthur's request to reconsider last week's ruling, saying he wanted to preserve Smith's dignity by having the funeral as soon as possible. Seidlin declined to speak to reporters.

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida (CNN) -- A Florida appeals court cleared the way Wednesday for Anna Nicole Smith to be buried next to her son, Daniel, in the Bahamas.

The decision by a panel of three judges with the 4th District Court of Appeal upheld a lower court ruling that gave custody of Anna Nicole Smith's remains to the court-appointed guardian for her daughter, Dannielynn.

Last week, Broward Circuit Judge Larry Seidlin awarded custody of Smith's body to Richard Milstein, whom Seidlin had appointed as guardian ad litem for the nearly 6-month-old girl.

Smith's mother, Virgie Arthur, appealed that ruling, because Milstein wants the former Playboy playmate buried in the Bahamas and Arthur wants her daughter buried in Texas with other family members.

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto
Visit our Website: www.wiselaw.net

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