Sunday, October 14, 2012

Bob Loblaw's Guam Law Blog

We've been here for over a month, allowing Nick to become acclimated, more or less, to his new job.  Since that is the reason we are here, he will fill you in about it.


As many of you know, I am working as a research attorney (or law clerk) for the Supreme Court of Guam.  Guam's Supreme Court is the only appellate court in the territory.  It hears any appeals from the Superior Court, which is where trials are held.  If you go on a bender, fly into a violent rage with a machete, and decide guilty pleas are for pussies (eyewitnesses, DNA evidence, and confession be damned), you'll wind up there first.  As of this writing, there is a major murder trial going on.

The defense attorney is supposed to be a pretty interesting guy to watch.  Personally, I'd have called Saul, although he's (1) probably not a member of the local Bar and (2) fictional.
After an obviously biased judge and jury don't buy your very convincing "it was my evil twin that no one has ever heard of before now" defense, you appeal to our court.  There is also a federal district court, which is part of the Ninth Circuit.  They deal with (obviously) federal matters, so more drug trafficking and child porn, and fewer DUIs, divorces, and assault cases.  We don't have any connection with their cases, as the Guam Supreme Court is essentially the equivalent of a state supreme court, so they are part of separate jurisdictions.

We have several oral argument sessions per year.  Basically, this is a week-or-so long period where the justices will hear a series of arguments by attorneys in the cases before the court.  In preparation for this, we have to prepare bench memos.  These involve summarizing the pertinent facts, the arguments made by the appellant, the applicable law, and making a recommendation on how the court should rule.  In between oral argument sessions, we help turn out opinions by helping to edit and cite-check the opinions over and over again, to ensure there aren't any mistakes.

We have other duties as well.  Each attorney is assigned to a committee.  I got the Rules of Civil Procedure Subcommittee.  We meet roughly every other week (with a catered lunch) to discuss various proposed reforms to Guam's Rules of Civil Procedure.  There are roughly fifteen people, including judges, justices, attorneys with our court, and local attorneys.  The ideas thus far have tended to be pretty small.  So, more "should we require people to fill out a separate form for a motion hearing and what should the form look like?", and less "should we get rid of jury trials in favor of trial by combat?"

The answer is "yes", and also I call dibs on The Mountain as my champion if I ever get into legal trouble.
But it is interesting to meet local attorneys and see what sort of day-to-day concerns they have.  And it makes sense that wanting less paperwork, or at least more sensible paperwork, is something they'd care about, since it's something they have to deal with all the time.

I work at the Guam Judicial Center, which houses the Supreme Court, Superior Courts, and various other legal entities, like Probation.

It is about a mile from the apartment, so I will sometimes walk to work.  This can range anywhere from "quite pleasant" if it isn't too humid, sunny, rainy, and there is a nice breeze, to "sweat-tastic", if any of the above are not true. 

I work with 3 other term research attorneys.  One is a local, the other two are from the mainland.  Virtually everyone they hire from the mainland has ties to California: both mainlanders went to school in California, and so did the local.  The same was true of the prior clerks.  I suppose it makes sense from a certain perspective, as to the extent people at the court have direct contact with the mainland, it is usually with the West Coast.  On the other hand, from the perspective of a mainlander, you're pretty damned far from Guam wherever you leave from (unless you live in Hawaii, but then you're not a mainlander). 

The office as a whole is pretty laid-back.  Much like "The Office", there is a large focus on parties and party-planning, although we do not have a permanent committee.  For example, this past Monday, we went "live" with a new case management system (neither the new nor old one is CM/ECF, for those of you who work or worked in the federal system and care about such things).  Obviously this meant everyone had to bring in food and we had a big breakfast party.  Also, we had a ribbon-cutting.

People bring in food to share almost every day.  One employee in particular is extremely active in making sure everyone is aware of the availability of free food.  For awhile, I thought this was his actual job, but it turns out he is a marshal (court security).

It took five minutes to turn the desk into a disorganized mess.
My office is just near one of the Justice's chambers.  We don't work for a particular justice, but for the court as a whole.  This is similar to my role in Atlanta, although there we had contact with the judges virtually never, and if you did, 90% of the time it was because you screwed up.  Here, we get to interact with them quite a bit, and not just when they realize what you just submitted as a "bench memo" was largely disorganized, incomprehensible drivel.  For instance, the justice I am situated near, Justice Torres, talked to me quite a bit the week following the Michigan-Notre Dame game.  Granted, he is a graduate of Notre Dame and took the opportunity to trash-talk.

The court as a whole is very active socially.  The Supreme Court unit participates in virtually every rec-league sport, usually by supplementing the lineup with court marshals.  And by "supplementing", I mean "filling the team" with them, leaving a slot or two for the token SC employee. 

Apparently they win a lot.  Justice Torres has a ridiculous number of trophies in his chamber, as well as a ton of soccer balls (he is a big backer of the Guam national team, more on that in another post).  As a person who is both very competitive and sucks at most competitive endeavors, I strongly endorse this strategy.

That about sums it up for work.  I'll share more from time to time if anything interesting happens.  Unfortunately, the whole confidentiality thing prevents me from talking about my actual cases, but then, that stuff usually isn't very interesting anyway.  Though there are exceptions, as this case became semi-legendary around my Atlanta office (note the styling of the John Doe defendant).

The one thing that has proven invaluable during my first month: the book "The Business Lawyer."  It is excellent for killing large spiders.

1 comment:

  1. Not "disorganized mess." "Uniquely coordinated" was what I always told people who were aghast at the chaos that was my office but then were equally surprised when I produced whatever info they were asking for in a couple seconds.

    Dibs on the Red Viper...