Dunwody lecturer talks of 32 years on the federal bench

Published: March 31st, 2014

Category: News

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Judge Emmett Ripley Cox, of the U.S. 11th Circuit, delivered “Thirty-Two Years on the Federal Bench: Some Things I Have Learned” for the 33rd Dunwody Distinguished Lecture in Law March 21. (Photo by Kelly Logan)

By Andrew Steadman (2L)

UF Law students, faculty and guests learned a little history as Judge Emmett Ripley Cox, of the U.S. 11th Circuit, delivered “Thirty-Two Years on the Federal Bench: Some Things I Have Learned” for the 33rd Dunwody Distinguished Lecture in Law on March 21.

Cox, born in 1935, attended the University of Alabama School of Law and graduated in 1959. He worked in private practice in Alabama from 1958 to 1981.

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan nominated Cox to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama. In 1988, Reagan nominated Cox to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

The stately Cox held the rapt attention of the law students in attendance as he discussed the pitfalls that await lawyers in the federal courts.

“During my time on the Court of Appeals, I have had 12 law clerks from this law school,” Cox said, adding that number was only exceeded by the number of law clerks from his own alma mater (14).

Cox’s lecture addressed some problems he has encountered in his career, particularly the changes he has noticed over the years. Cox said the proliferation of federal law has negatively impacted the effectiveness of the federal courts by imposing a burden on them.

“Today, we often hear complaints about high costs, inefficiency, abusive discovery and complexity of litigation in the federal courts,” Cox said. “It has not always been this way.”

Cox said the expansion of both criminal and civil law, in part caused by the explosive increase in statutory offenses created by Congress, has swamped the federal courts with litigation.

“In 2008, a Heritage Foundation study concluded that there were 4,450 federal crimes,” Cox said. “Over 40% of the federal criminal offenses enacted since the Civil War have been enacted since 1970.”

Cox also addressed the mistakes modern lawyers often make when preparing for federal litigation. In particular, he said, lawyers often submit complaints that are far too long and complex.

“These complaints fail to give notice because the relevant information is difficult to discern,” Cox said. “Essentially, they create a legal version of ‘Where’s Waldo.’”

The Florida Law Review Dunwody Distinguished Lecture in Law series was established by the U.S. Sugar Corporation and the law firms of Dunwody, White, & Landon, P.A. and Mershon, Sawyer, Johnston, Dunwody & Cole in honor of Elliot and Atwood Dunwody. The honorees were brothers who dedicated their lives to the legal profession and who set a standard of excellence for The Florida Bar. As graduates of the University of Florida College of Law, they labored long, continuously and quietly to better the social and economic conditions in Florida.