U.S. Judge Real : The Court of No Nonsense--a Verdict
This isn’t Burger King. We don’t do it your way here. --Judge Manuel L. Real’s favorite saying.
The courtroom confrontation took place more than 30 years ago, but the most controversial federal judge in Los Angeles remembers it today as an early lesson in judicial style.
Chief U.S. District Judge Manuel L. Real, then a young prosecutor, had decided that his only chance of winning a conviction before an unsympathetic judge was to demand a jury trial.
But U.S. District Judge Pierson M. Hall, one of the toughest of the old-time judges, didn’t want to waste any more time with the case.
Real recalls with admiration how Hall gave him a stern look, then ordered the trial to begin at 11 o’clock that night.
Can’t Make Deadline
“There’s no way we can be ready by tonight,” Real protested.
“Dismissed for want of prosecution,” Hall snapped.
Real, who has built his own reputation for toughness in 19 years as a federal judge, says his courtroom style was shaped by Hall and other tough judges who once ruled the U.S. Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles.
“Pierson Hall was a role model for me,” he said in a recent interview. “He was a judge with a native sense of justice and an ability to see through things, and he was tough, too. He didn’t care if people criticized him.”
Real now is one of the toughest of the 26 federal trial judges in Los Angeles. He is also the fastest in deciding his cases, and partly because of his speed and toughness, he is reversed more often than any of his colleagues by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Called Judicial Tyrant
His critics denounce him as a judicial tyrant who is too quick to shout at lawyers who offend him. They say his emphasis on speed--he consistently has the lowest case backlog of the local federal judges because of his quickness on the bench--creates the impression that Real has too little concern with the “appearance of justice” in his courtroom.
“I think he’s a terrible judge,” said Victor Sherman, an attorney who gave Real “the finger” in court 14 years ago and who has clashed with him on several occasions.
“He has no judicial temperament,” Sherman said. “The appearance of justice is just as important as justice itself. In Real’s court, lawyers and defendants leave with a feeling that the whole system is capricious.”
Real’s admirers respond that he is the most efficient federal judge in Los Angeles, with no tolerance for the delaying tactics of some attorneys. They say his toughness masks a genuine concern for justice and people.
“In my opinion, Judge Real is the best judge on the bench,” said Assistant U.S. Atty. Mark H. Bonner. “A lot of judges put up with hours of nonsense. He wants to cut through all the hot air and he doesn’t tolerate baloney.”
Outside the courtroom, Real is patient and gracious. In contrast to his sharpness on the bench, he frequently shows a reflective side as he talks about himself and his views.
Real, who rarely comments in any way about his sentencings, is aware that other tough judges sometimes soften the effect of their actions by explaining their reasoning to courtroom spectators. Real said that is not his style.
“I don’t view my job as somehow having to satisfy the feelings of somebody I’m sentencing,” he said. “I didn’t take this job as a popularity contest.
“I don’t know how you measure who’s a good judge and who’s a bad judge,” Real added. “I don’t know that justice is soft or justice is tough. I don’t know that that’s the measure of justice.
“A good judge is one who treats everyone equally. The measure of justice is probably doing the right thing.”
Manuel Real was born 62 years ago in San Pedro and lives there still. His parents were immigrants from Spain, and his father was a neighborhood grocer.
At San Pedro High School, Real had thoughts of becoming an actor, and he played the lead in the senior play. But his ambitions changed with the outbreak of World War II. Real worked for a year in a San Pedro shipyard, spent two years at USC, then became a Navy supply officer with the Seabees on Okinawa.
Real--who has dropped the Spanish pronunciation of his name and pronounces it to rhyme with “steel” because “that’s how most people say it"--graduated with a business degree from USC after the war. An older brother, John, who later became president of Starkist Tuna, was already a lawyer, and Real decided to be a lawyer, too.
After graduating from Loyola Law School in 1951, Real became an assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles. After four years as a prosecutor, he spent the next decade in private practice with his brother in San Pedro.
Suggested by Friend
Bruce Hochman, now a Beverly Hills tax lawyer, had been a federal prosecutor with Real, and remains a close friend. When the U.S. attorney’s job opened in 1964, Hochman, a Democratic fund-raiser, suggested Real for the post.
“I love the man. I think he’s one of a kind,” Hochman said. “He’s a God-fearing practicing Roman Catholic who numbers among his closest friends a quite devoted Jew. That speaks well for his concept of the dignity of man.
“If his style is a little gruff, it’s evenhanded,” Hochman continued. “The only favorite he has is the well-prepared lawyer.”
After two years as U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, Real was named a U.S. district judge by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966. He became chief judge by virtue of seniority in 1982, serving both as administrator and spokesman for the other judges of the U.S. Central District of California.
As chief judge, Real is praised by his fellow judges for aggressively looking after their interests, particularly in a continuing hunt for extra court space. They tend to take the middle ground in describing his judicial qualities.
‘Certainly Is Quick’
“I suspect Manny may be less of a tough sentencer than I am,” said Judge Laughlin E. Waters, a close friend. “There’s no question he can be sharp and he certainly is quick, perhaps on occasion too quick.”
While recent controversies surrounding Real have focused on his tough sentences and feuds with some attorneys, Real says his most significant decision during the last 19 years was a mandatory busing order to desegregate the Pasadena school system in 1970.
Real’s pro-busing position later worked against him when he made an unsuccessful bid at the urging of County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn to be Los Angeles County district attorney in 1975. The job was open because of the death of Joseph P. Busch, but the Board of Supervisors rejected him in closed executive hearings.
“It’s probably the best thing that ever happened to me. God takes care of things,” Real said of the political defeat that kept him in his $76,000-a-year job on the federal bench.
“I had a recent experience that reminded me of that decision. I think every judge would enjoy it. Two young ladies who had just passed the Bar exams came up to me after a seminar and said they wanted to thank me. They were the product of the Pasadena schools.
“Incidentally, they were white, too,” Real added. “Most of the opposition came from whites.”
Joseph A. Ball, one of the lawyers in the Pasadena desegregation case, is among those who today praise Real as a judge, calling him “the finest civil rights judge on the bench.”
But for every lawyer who professes admiration for Real, there is another who denounces him. In recent years, the criticism has escalated.
A year ago, Real fined attorney Stephen Yagman $250,000 for what he viewed as unprofessional conduct in his handling of a civil suit. Yagman, who is still appealing the heavy fine, responded by charging that Real suffers from “mental disorders.”
Rebuked by Bar Assn.
Yagman was promptly rebuked by the Los Angeles County Bar Assn. for uttering statements “inappropriate for a practicing lawyer,” but he has continued to denounce Real publicly.
“He is a tyrant who is a disgrace to democracy--he is a modern-day Torquemada,” Yagman recently declared, comparing Real to the head of the Spanish Inquisition. “He suffers from boredom and indulges himself in infantile and harsh behavior to create situations to alleviate his boredom.”
Other criticisms of Real are voiced both privately and publicly by many defense lawyers.
“Off the bench he is the most personable man you could ever meet,” said one attorney who requested anonymity. “But once he takes the bench something happens to him. He creates an aura of fear in his courtroom.”
Howard Weitzman, who successfully defended John Z. DeLorean on cocaine charges last summer, is one of the more prominent attorneys to publicly dispute the view that Real is only harsh with lawyers who are unprepared.
‘Abrupt, Rude Manner’
“I believe I am relatively well-prepared all the time,” Weitzman said. “He has yelled at me from the bench in front of juries. He has cut off my examination of witnesses in an abrupt and rude manner. I think that he is volatile and sometimes rude and discourteous to lawyers.
“In the cases I’ve tried before him, I don’t believe my clients have gotten a fair trial,” Weitzman added.
Real’s closest friends say the judge has been privately hurt and angered by some of the strongest criticism of him, but has been “trapped into silence” because of his position.
Nonetheless, Real defends himself on the charges that he shouts too much at lawyers and gives the impression that justice does not matter in his courtroom.
“If being a patsy is the appearance of justice, then it’s not as important as justice,” he said. “If being easy is the appearance of justice, then it’s not as important as justice.
“No lawyer who is prepared ever has any trouble in my courtroom,” he continued. “I shout because it’s my nature to shout. It doesn’t represent anything. I shout at my children, too.”
The 30-year-old cocaine dealer who was taken before Real on a recent morning had been sentenced to 25 years in prison by the judge five months earlier.
But the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had reversed Real three times on bail issues, allowing Mark Steven McFarlane to remain free on $250,000 bond pending an appeal of his case.
Now McFarlane, originally prosecuted as a member of the largest cocaine ring ever broken up on the West Coast, had been arrested on new drug charges, and his attorney was protesting a renewed government request to revoke bail.
Defense lawyer Roger Diamond had clashed previously with Real, and his appeal of McFarlane’s original arrest had denounced the judge as hostile and biased against attorneys.
Within minutes, the judge and the attorney were skirmishing again. As Diamond began to argue the bail question, Real sharply warned him he was repeating himself. But Diamond persisted, saying that he had to lay the groundwork for another possible appeal.
“Mr. Diamond, you seem to have the Burger King syndrome,” Real said, resorting to his favorite admonition to lawyers. “We don’t do it your way here. We do it however it’s supposed to be done.”
Afterward, Diamond criticized Real’s conduct.
“When you appear before Judge Real, he takes an adversary position and that’s improper,” the lawyer said. “What do you do with a district judge who thinks your argument is so bad that he won’t let you make it?
“He has already been reversed three times in this case. We’re certainly hopeful we can get him reversed again,” Diamond added. “Whenever Judge Real is involved, the 9th Circuit tunes up a bit and gives you consideration.”
While Real’s reversal rate is the highest among active local federal judges, he initially shrugs it off.
‘Doesn’t Bother Me’
“I disagree with them, but it doesn’t bother me,” he said. “My job is not to worry about whether the Court of Appeals is going to reverse me.”
A few days before the exchange with Diamond, however, Real had suffered a reversal that clearly upset him. A three-judge 9th Circuit panel had overturned a contempt sentence he had imposed on Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt for repeated outbursts of profanity, saying that Real had failed to properly consider Flynt’s mental competency at the time.
“I think that Roger Diamond’s conduct was the direct result of the Flynt opinion,” Real said, admitting that the Flynt reversal had upset him more than most. “The Flynt opinion says you can do anything you want in any court in the land.”
But the Flynt decision was only one of many reversals for Real in recent years. During the last five years, Real was reversed completely or partly in 85 out of 348 cases that had been appealed to the 9th Circuit, a reversal rate of 24%. His reversal rate during the preceding 12-month period was even higher, 37%, compared to 15% for all other Los Angeles federal judges.
Major Case Reversals
An analysis of the 9th Circuit’s published opinions on appeals of Real’s decisions since 1980 showed that he was reversed even more often in major cases--almost 66% of the time. Often he was reversed for short-cutting judicial procedures, either by issuing quick summary judgments in civil cases or refusing to conduct evidentiary hearings in criminal matters.
“Justice is not deliberate. It’s analytical,” Real said, defending his courtroom speed. “I don’t know that analysis takes double-chewing. Many of our cases could be tried and the result would be the same whether the decision took 90 days or three years.”
Real is reversed most often in criminal cases by 9th Circuit panels dominated by liberal judges appointed by President Jimmy Carter. In civil cases, where Real often shows a liberal streak himself, he is frequently overturned by conservative judges appointed by Republicans.
While Real was reversed 85 times by the 9th Circuit during the last five years, only 20 of those reversals were final. In defending his record, Real noted that reversals often result in only minor changes in his original decisions and sometimes only delay the final disposition of a case, producing no change at all.
“These days there are a lot more of these cases that are affirmed in part and reversed in part,” Real said. “Most cases just come back to the trial judge and they either settle or plead.”
Senior U.S. District Judge Lawrence T. Lydick, a tough judge with a much lower reversal rate, said that Real’s reversals “don’t mean much” because the 9th Circuit, one of the most liberal intermediate appellate courts in the nation, itself is reversed more often by the U.S. Supreme Court than any other circuit court.
“I sense that a lot of their (9th Circuit) decisions are done by law clerks,” Lydick added. “Manny may not write enough for them. I write a lot. Also, it takes a courageous judge to grant a summary motion, because you know you’re going to get it back.”
Most Judges Unhappy
Real, noting that the 9th Circuit was reversed 27 out of 28 times last year by the U.S. Supreme Court, said three of those Supreme Court rulings had confirmed his original decisions. Most federal trial judges, he added, are unhappy with the 9th Circuit’s present philosophies.
“There’s a feeling too many of the judges of the 9th Circuit are imposing their personal philosophies instead of rational perceptions of precedent, and they’re doing it deliberately because they know that 98% of the time the Supreme Court won’t look at the issue,” Real charged.
“The reversal rate doesn’t really measure anything,” he added. “If that’s the measure of a judge, then Holmes and Justices Black and Douglas would have been lousy judges simply because they usually weren’t on the winning side of a question.”
Several judges of the 9th Circuit declined to comment publicly on Real’s reversal rate, but one said privately that it was because of his tendency to make “snap” judgments.
“I admire his ability to run a courtroom, but he’s too quick,” the appellate judge said. “He’s like all judges. He has strengths and weaknesses.”
In a back room at Little Joe’s Restaurant in Chinatown, Real was discussing the failures of the criminal justice system on a Tuesday night with 30 members of the California Probation-Parole Correctional Assn.
“Let me let you think about something,” he said, in typically blunt fashion. “It (the justice system) isn’t working.”
Together, Real said, a judge and a probation officer are doing well if they spend a total of eight hours deciding the fate of people for the rest of the people’s lives. For most prisoners, he said, the system is too cold and impersonal.
“They walk into this great monolith of a courthouse, generally in chains,” he continued. “Any courtroom is awesome, ours are even more awesome. And all they know about the judge who sentences them is his reputation, probably that he is a barbarian.”
Ten years earlier, Real continued, he had begun a program to personalize the system for the people he places on probation. Usually, as part of their probation, they are ordered to perform anywhere from 1,000 to 2,500 hours of community service work. Every four months, Real meets them individually in his chambers to see how they are doing.
“I think the program is working well,” Real said. “But it isn’t all success. I have some failures. I give lots of community hours because you are dealing basically with criminals who are selfish. When they start complaining, I tell them I’m not doing this to be easy on you. They can always trade for prison time.”
Real meets one Monday each month with his probationers. On a recent afternoon, there were 23 to see him. Many were meeting the terms of their probation and generally doing well, but others were ready with excuses for why they had not found any community work or failed to meet their other obligations.
“OK, Carl, we’ve got some kind of misunderstanding,” Real said to one probationer who had failed to find community service work. “I’m trying to treat you like a human being who has made an agreement with me. I know you’ve had problems, but I don’t think you’ve been doing your best.”
The judge’s next visitor was a woman who had just completed five years of probation for possession of stolen mail. She had done 800 hours of community work, was moving into a new house and planning to get married.
“Good work,” Real said. “It was hard. But you’ve accomplished something you never accomplished before. We’ve come a long way.”
Yuri F. Long, a federal probation officer who has worked with Real since 1968, said she thinks that the judge’s meetings with probationers are effective because nobody confuses Real’s concern for softness.
“They’re afraid of him. They have a healthy respect for him, let’s put it that way,” she said. “The reason I think it’s good is the people are more intimidated about seeing the judge. It makes my job easier.”
Two years ago, with significant help from Real, a program for youthful federal probationers called Foundation for People was started in South-Central Los Angeles. Stephen L. Wishny, executive director and a former probation official, said the idea evolved in part from Real’s innovations with probationers over the years.
‘Watched Them Change’
“I was like every other probation officer when I started looking at those long community service hours he imposes,” Wishny said. “But you know what happens? The world opens up for these people. I have watched them change.
“Judge Real is a very compassionate person, but you can only see it from his actions and not his demeanor,” Wishny added. “But most of the federal judges have their own special ways. They’re a tough bunch, most of them. They are the last bastion of individuality.
“Don’t we want that in the federal bench?” he asked. “Look at Sirica during Watergate. Look at the handful of very few men who desegregated the entire South. Certainly the weak-hearted doesn’t belong there.”
On a sunny weekend afternoon in San Pedro, Chief U.S. District Judge Manuel L. Real stepped out into his garden to see how his petunias and his tomato plants were doing.
His daughter Melanie, one of four children, had been married the week before and Real’s wife, Stella, had just said goodby to the last of the house guests who had attended the wedding.
In the aftermath of the wedding, the judge had come down with the flu. Stella Real was looking after him during this moment of uncharacteristic vulnerability.
“I’ve gardened most of my life,” Real said, surveying his vegetables and flower patch with pride. “My mother was a plant freak. It takes your mind off what you do. It just sort of relaxes you.”
As Real talked, both at home and in his chambers, he remained a curious mix of toughness and compassion. His heroes--Lincoln and Churchill, Gandhi and Truman--were a blend of those same qualities.
Don Quixote was a special fictional hero for the judge, he noted softly. He was always “tilting at windmills” and “fighting the world,” and Real said he had always done the same thing as a judge.
One of Real’s “windmills” is the drug problem.
“It is a tragedy of our society,” Real said. “The President could solve it. Nothing comes and nothing goes to Colombia. A total embargo until they clean up.”
But short of that, nothing seems to work, Real added. Not the 45-year sentence he had imposed on one 24-year-old drug dealer the previous year, not the other tough sentences he frequently hands down in drug cases.
‘Don’t Know the Answer’
“I don’t think anytime in our history that we’ve seen anything like it, where the law means nothing to young people and people mean nothing to them,” Real said. “I don’t know what the answer is. By and large, prison is not the answer. If we have anything to turn to, the only thing that comes to mind is religion, but I don’t know if that’s the answer.”
Real was showing the thoughtful side of himself once more, but the mood had lasted long enough. As he summed up his feelings, he was again the no-nonsense judge people seemed to either love or hate.
“The best thing about being a judge is the nature of the service you think you’re rendering,” he said. “The worst thing, probably, is the inability to come down off the bench and punch somebody in the nose.” Times Research Librarian Susanna Shuster contributed to this story.
JUDGING THE FEDERAL JUDGES IN LOS ANGELES These statistics show how often the decisions of active and senior federal judges in the U.S. District of Central California are reversed on appeal and how quickly the judges handle cases. The reversal figures, for the 12 months that ended April 10, 1985, include cases that were returned to the judges for any reason. The efficiency statistics, from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, measure the speed of local federal judges for the 12 months that ended June 30, 1984.
Number Reversed/ Reversal Judge of Appeals Remanded Rates -Manuel L. Real 46 17 37% =Matthew Byrne Jr. 46 4 9% =Richard Gadbois Jr. 32 6 19% =Terry J. Hatter Jr. 26 5 19% =Harry L. Hupp 3 0 0% =James M. Ideman 3 0 0% =David V. Kenyon 26 3 12% =Consuelo Marshall 25 4 16% =Mariana R. Pfaelzer 28 1 4% =Edward Rafeedie 14 0 0% =Pamela Ann Rymer 8 0 0% =Alicemarie Stotler 2 0 0% =Robert M. Takasugi 26 4 15% =Wallace Tashima 22 4 18% =Laughlin E. Waters 48 13 27% *Jesse W. Curtis 3 1 33% *William P. Gray 15 4 27% *A. Andrew Hauk 15 7 47% *Irving Hill 6 1 17% *Robert J. Kelleher 9 0 0% *Lawrence T. Lydick 27 2 7% *Albert Stephens Jr. 0 0 0% *Francis C. Whelan 16 0 0% *David W. Williams 21 3 14%
Number Amt. Time No. Cases Number Average of Civil Needed for Pending of Hours Judge Cases* Resolution for 3 Years Trials Per Trial -Manuel L. Real 282 3 months 2 42 6.7 =Matthew Byrne Jr. 480 6 months 28 47 9.7 =Richard Gadbois Jr. 484 4 months 3 33 11.8 =Terry J. Hatter Jr. 412 6 months 36 44 16.2 =Harry L. Hupp 129 4 months 5 5 37.9 =James M. Idema NA NA NA NA NA =David V. Kenyon 466 5 months 10 41 14.1 =Consuelo Marshall 450 4 months 28 34 18.4 =Mariana R. Pfaelzer 457 6 months 37 50 9.1 =Edward Rafeedie 491 5 months 2 40 11.9 =Pamela Ann Rymer 444 6 months NA 34 14.7 =Alicemarie Stotler NA NA NA NA NA =Robert M. Takasugi 459 4 months 17 28 20.5 =Wallace Tashima 464 5 months 12 35 12.1 =Laughlin E. Waters 476 5 months 12 36 9.6 *Jesse W. Curtis 12 20 months 4 11 16.9 *William P. Gray 141 17 months 49 14 14.2 *A. Andrew Hauk 226 9 months 2 25 13.4 *Irving Hill 278 5 months NA 9 15.7 *Robert J. Kelleher 219 8 months 9 20 9.5 *Lawrence T. Lydick 397 5 months 3 18 7.2 *Albert Stephens Jr. 9 58 months 16 0 0.0 *Francis C. Whelan 150 12 months 4 29 9.8 *David W. Williams 218 4 months 8 25 19.8
- Chief Judge = U.S. District Judge * Senior Judge NA--Not Applicable
*Civil cases represent about 85% of the caseload facing judges in the Los Angeles federal court. Criminal cases account for the remainder.
In all, there are 17 active judges and nine senior judges on the U.S. District Court for Central California. Not included above were Judges William D. Keller and William J. Rea, new Reagan appointees. There was only minimal statistical information on some other recently-appointedjudges and on some senior judges who have sharply curtailed workloads.