Just after mentioning Mary Whisner's essay on judicial scolding in yesterday's post, I found an excellent contemporary example of a judge issuing a stern warning about inept legal research. In United States v. Beltran-Moreno, Ninth Circuit Judge Reinhart had lots to say about defense counsels' decision to appeal sentences that were extraordinarily lenient under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Judge Reinhart notes that the arguments made on appeal were "squarely foreclosed by decades-old circuit precedents" and that counsel appeared to be "ignorant of the controlling law." Luckily for the defendants' attorneys, a SCOTUS decision issued after the defendants' appeal was filed concluded that appellate courts do not have the power to raise a sentence if the government has not appealed the sentence. As the Ninth Circuit notes, it was only sheer luck that saved the defendants from having their sentences increased on appeal.
In the closing paragraph, Judge Reinhart concludes by sternly reminding counsel that "the professional norms that establish the constitutional baseline for their effective performance indisputably include the duty to research the relevant case law." The attorneys escaped sanctions, but evidence of their slapdash legal research is memorialized forever in this Ninth Circuit opinion.