by Peter Fallow
Eugene Volokh reports on the the Los Angeles trial judge who "delivered a presentation to the jury highlighting major figures in the civil rights movement, and told the jury their duty was to stand in the shoes of Dr. Martin Luther King and bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice." That jury returned a verdict over $13 million against the defendant, UCLA. It was reversed on appeal, in part -- though only in part (this is Los Angeles, after all) -- because of the the judge's civil-rights presentation.
The judge is the Hon. Michael Linfield. Here is his bio. There is a website called The Robing Room where local practitioners may provide feedback (anonymously) about their experiences with judges. Any reviews on The Robing Room should be read with a great deal of skepticism, as what very often motivates a lawyer or litigant to submit a review is a sore court loss, the cause of which may or may not lie with any failings on the part of the judge. But what is interesting in Judge Linfield's Robing Room reviews are the repeated instances of different attorneys mentioning the judge's "civil rights presentations.
Here is one review:
... Linfield begins preaching to your jury as soon as they are impaneled. He will show a civil rights slide show to them in court. I'm being serious here. He shows them a slide show and tells them the "arc of truth bends toward justice" or some such BS. He shows slides of him with MLK Jr and implies that litigants whose rights were violated will have their day in court with him....
Here is another review:
His legal history presentations before his calendar are not appropriate and frankly, juvenile and condescending ....
When you enter his court room, he actually shows the audience a video and summary of what has occurred today in the history of law....
In light of his morning history lessons....
These selected comments are between 2016 and 2019. So it appears Judge Linfield has been delivering this presentation since at least 2016.
There is a mention in the appellate decision of a "video" (though not a "slide show") being included in Judge Linfield's presentation to the jury. Unfortunately, it was "not part of the record on appeal." Perhaps the rest of the public should have the benefit of this pedagogical tool that Judge Linfield found necessary to "bend the arc" toward justice?
To repeat, the Court of Appeal reversed only in part because of Judge Linfield's presentation. UCLA had moved for a mistrial immediately after Judge Linfield's presentation, which Judge Linfield denied. The Court of Appeal could have held Judge Linfield should have granted the mistrial. It did not. Thus, the decision does not necessarily mean Judge Linfield will put an end to his years'-long practice of presenting his history lesson to juries.
Judge Linfield's bio indicates he published a book in 1990. It is available on Amazon. Here is the back flap. Note the author of the lead review:
It would be unfair to hold Judge Linfield responsible for Howard Zinn, that infamous political activist who made a living as a historian. But under the circumstances, the intersection is... interesting. Were he still alive, would Zinn hesitate to lend his endorsement to Judge Linfield again for A Jury's History of the United States?