Not-so-Ordinary Judges in Ordinary Courts: Teaching Jordan vs. Duff & Phelps
10 Pages Posted: 10 Oct 2006
Date Written: August 2006
By juxtaposing at-will employment with corporate fiduciary duties, Jordan v. Duff & Phelps creates something of a classroom brain-twister. Yet the exchange between Frank Easterbrook (writing for the majority) and Richard Posner (dissenting) also illustrates two fundamental but seldom recognized principles of real-world courts.
First, the bench is properly a place for honest jurists of moderate talent (ideally, monitored for their work). It is not a place for men and women with the independence and sophistication of Posner and Easterbrook. Such judges can muddy the law by trying to fix bad precedent, and worsen the law by setting interventionist examples for their far less talented peers. Second, by basic second-best principles, the right legal rule for a substantial fraction of contractual disputes is not a rule designed to facilitate efficient deals. It is a rule that dismisses a plaintiff's claim forthright. We live in a world with imperfect judges, costly and dishonest attorneys, and only moderately intelligent juries. As Posner implicitly recognizes in Jordan (but other judges rarely do), many cases are simply beyond the capacity of such real-world courts to handle cost-effectively.
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