By Charisma L. Miller, Esq. Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Law school students are often required to read the autobiography of a retired judge. Students pine through the text hoping to get an insight on the judge’s rulings or a particular area of jurisprudence. These autobiographies are not typically written for the average reader, but for the legal scholar or the law school student.
Judge Frederic Block, federal judge for the Eastern District of New York, took a different tack. In his autobiography, “Disrobed: An Inside Look at the Life and Work of a Federal Trial Judge,” Judge Block demystifies the robe and allows everyday readers to enter into his off-the-bench life and as well as his judicial chambers.
Judge Block was born in Brooklyn and moved to Manhattan while he was still a child. Recounting his few years in Brooklyn, Judge Block recalls memories of “Saturday afternoons at the Avalon on Kings Highway hear Ocean Parkway,” listening to the radio on “the porch of [his] house on East Fourth Street,” and being an average student at P.S. 215 on East Third St.
Judge Block acknowledged that he was “not destined to be in the top of his class.” This is not to say that Block did not work hard in his studies later on, however. His detailed account of his years at Cornell Law School under Dean Gray Thoron, show a young student not intimidated by the hard work and intense competition that law school fosters.
Being an average student, Judge Block did not reach the Federal Courthouse in a traditional manner. He did not have a coveted spot on Law Review and he was not a partner at a large law firm. Instead, after law school, Judge Block started a law practice in Long Island and remained there until 1994 when he was nominated to the bench by then-President Bill Clinton.
Having worked directly with clients in a small town, Judge Block brought that “human approach” with him. As a judge he runs his courtroom rather informally and believes that “humanizing the courtroom … increases respect for the legal system.”
Block humanizes not only his courtroom at 225 Cadman Plaza East but also the judicial system and many legal topics addressed in his autobiography. While the first section of Block’s book discusses his personal life and his early cases as a solo practitioner, Block uses the remaining sections to discuss high-profile cases and controversial legal issues.
In a non-hurried manner, Block deciphers the complexities of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. He explains his role in the infamous Kitty Genovese case, his connection to the Crown Heights riots, and his work on the trial of mob boss Peter Gotti.
Judge Block insists that his autobiography was written for the average reader curious about the judicial system and the role that judges play. He told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle that he decided to write his autobiography after non-lawyer friends asked him why “Lemrick Nelson, convicted of killing Yankel Rosenbaum during the Crown Heights riots, was tried in federal court and O.J. Simpson had not been.”
The answer to that question is that Nelson was charged with violating Rosenbaum’s civil rights, which is a federal crime. A first-year law school student may be able to answer that question with ease, but the question made Block realize how little the general public knew about the court system.
Considering the ease at which “Disrobed” reads, Block’s goal of providing transparency to the federal judiciary should not be difficult for readers to attain.
Judge Block will continue his promotion of judicial transparency with a book talk at Brooklyn Law School on Thursday, October 11, 2012, and will appear as a guest on the Stephen Colbert Show on October 2, 2012.
Disrobed: An Inside Look at the Life and Work of a Federal Trial Judge (Thompson Reuters West Law, $29.95).