Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter
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Saturday, January 31, 2009


I know I had occasion to appear before Charles L. Brieant Jr. at some point, but I never had occasion to hear him tell about this portrait. That's Martin T. Manton, who sat for two decades on the Second Circuit in Manhattan, and who was almost appointed to the United States Supreme Court. In 1939, he resigned in disgrace, accused of taking large sums in gifts and loans from parties in cases. He was tried and convicted and spent 19 months in prison. In a bit of judicial drollery Judge Brieant hung Manton's portrait in his chambers, "as a reminder of the fallibility of judges". The NY Times repots that The Hon. Dennis Jacobs, chief judge of the Second Circuit, has asked The Hon. Kimba M. Wood, the chief judge of the District Court, to request that Judge Manton's portrait be taken down and removed from view. "The portrait is not much in the way of art," Judge Jacobs wrote. "It is just an old picture of a person best left unremembered."

It seems to me that hiding something like this would be a mistake. It's great to see portraits of Learned Hand and all, but I think Judge Brieant was onto something-- we should remember the crooks and scoundrels too. Years ago the clerk's office in New York Supreme used to have a framed picture of Judge Crater hanging on a back wall-- that's the sort of spirit I like to see, something that lets you know that the system hasn't lost sight of its humanity.

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