Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Etan Patz is a name that sends a pang to the heart-- he was the little boy that was abducted in 1979 and came to personify the missing children movement. Apparently his parents brought a civil suit against the man who is believed to have kidnapped and killed him, who is presently incarcerated in a Pennsylvania prison on an unrelated child molestation charge. In the course of the lawsuit, his deposition was ordered, and he defaulted. New York law provides that in such instances the Court may enter judgment against the defaulting party (I think this is a remedy that exists in most jurisdictions). The story ran in today's papers, and, as it happens, I read about it as I was riding the train to appear before the judge who granted the judgment. I have been before this judge on many occasions, although I have not tried a case before her. Although she has been abrasive, I can't say that she has been injudicious, and, in fact, her rulings have been fair to both sides. She has certainly been abrasive, however, and I wondered how the publicity would affect her.

I needn't have wondered. My adversary, who has borne the brunt of her temper on the lion's share of the occasions when we have appeared before her, was quick to mention the disposition of the Patz matter. "Way to go," was how he put it, and fine-- I'd have worked it in, so I guess it's to his credit that he got there first. We got nowhere on our case, but the judge was in a pretty expansive mood, and didn't yell at anybody. I suppose there is a sense in which judges, who are, after all, political animals, may sometimes feel as though they labor in undeserved obscurity. This judge felt good about this, even though the order was a pretty routine matter. It's funny how vanity works-- as far as she was concerned, the newspaper coverage was about her.

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