Group Yoda hug – mark your calendars


The Pine Tree folks sent out this announcement: 

On Monday, November 17th from 5 – 7:30 pm, friends and colleagues of Judge Frank M. Coffin are hosting an evening reception to honor his commitment to legal services at the Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland.  The event is being designed to afford us with an opportunity to personally thank Judge Coffin for his lifelong commitment to public service and the legal needs of low-income Maine residents. It will include a new video about Judge Coffin’s career that is being created for this occasion by Catama Productions.   This reception is separate from the annual Coffin Lecture held at the University of Maine School of Law, which will be held this year on November 6th.

A more formal announcement about this event will be available after Labor Day,  but we hope that everyone can begin now to arrange their schedules in order to attend this celebration.   For more information, please contact Alison Beyea at or call the Administrative Office of Pine Tree Legal Assistance at 774-4753.

Judge Coffin is, as we all know, the Yoda of appellate law.  I’ve had the good fortune to argue in front of him a few times.  Here are just two snapshots:

1.  My first oral argument in the First Circuit was in front of him, when I was a but a wet-behind-the-ears first year associate pup.  It was an insurance case, and we were the appellants, arguing why oil was not a pollutant.  (Any guess why the partner said, "Oh, Cathy, it will be good experience for you to argue this one?)  I worked feverishly on the briefs (I still think I had a respectable argument), and prepared, prepared, prepared.  The oral argument was great fun.  The panel obviously knew where it was going with this (shortly after, there was a per curiam affirmance relying on the district court opinion), but the judges (a) went out of their way to make this a positive experience; and (b) I think saw a bit of an academic challenge in dreaming up what arguments they could to support me during the argument.  So we all had a lovely chat, and it was about as painless a way to lose as possible.

The lesson was that judges don’t have to rip your throat out if they aren’t buying your argument, and being nice will be long remembered, and have a real impact on everyone else involved in the matter.  It was always a pleasure to argue in front of Yoda because he was both smart and nice.  Judge Boudin is like that, too — both brainy and gracious.  Just because you are God’s gift to the law doesn’t mean you have to be a pill.   

2.  This episode I watched, as I waited for my argument to come up.  The issue in the case preceding mine was whether the police waited long enough after knocking before busting into an apartment.  The attorney, whom I shall not name, representing the defendant-appellant began by pontificating, "In the time it took me to arrive at this podium, the police had …."  Yoda then gently interrupted him, saying, in a kindly tone, that, well, no, he had actually timed how long it took for the lawyer to get to the podium, and it was X seconds.

The lesson?  First, don’t get cute in your argument as a general matter.  Second, if you do, you’d better be darned sure you are accurate because the Yodas of the world will always be one step a head of you.

Another important lesson from Judge Coffin (I could go on and on) was that he was always particular about you spelling out exactly what relief you wanted — what precisely did you want the court to do?  This reminder to focus on this very basic point — which is all too often lost in the proceedings — really helps in thinking out an appeal and framing it properly.  I’ve found it a good exercise in drafting a brief to start with the conclusion, stating the precise relief sought, and to go from there.

I’m sorry that Judge Coffin had finally stepped down, but very happy to say thanks at any opportunities like this one with Pine Tree.