Judge Michael J. Fox, King County Superior Court

Rating: Average

After Judge Garrow's ruling that non-commercial groups cannot be sued for using a machine to dial numbers and play a pre-recorded message, I appealed the case to Superior Court, where it was assigned case# 03-2-28323-1 SEA to be heard by Judge Michael J. Fox. (Yes, "Michael J. Fox".)

On about June 26th 2003, I got a letter in the mail detailing the case schedule, saying that both parties had until July 11th to write a brief arguing their side. So I was up all night on July 1st working on my brief, and had it ready in the morning. But then that day, July 2nd, I checked my mail and found a notice from the court that Judge Fox had dismissed the case. I called Judge Fox's office and his clerk told me that he dismissed the case early so he could go on vacation.

This is all on the public record, in the Superior Court file for case number 03-2-28323-1 SEA (except possibly the part about the judge going on vacation).

The remainder of my conversation with the clerk went roughly like:

Me: But was there some mistake? It says I have until July 11th to file a brief.
Clerk: So you want to appeal Judge Fox's ruling, is that what you mean?
Me: No what I'm asking about is, how is it that he dismissed the case on July 1st, after the court told us both parties could file a brief up until July 11th, and the actual case wasn't scheduled to be heard until July 25th?
Clerk: So you're talking about filing an appeal?
Me: No, I'm not asking about filing an appeal. I'm asking since the letter said we had until July 11th to submit a brief, but the judge dismissed the case on July 1st and went on vacation, was there some kind of mistake or is this just normal?
Clerk: If you come down to the courthouse, you can pick up the instructions for filing an appeal.

I called a lawyer friend of mine asking if it would be grounds to file a complaint if a judge dismissed a case to go on vacation before the deadline for filing a brief, but he said that Judge Fox was a good guy and talked me out of it, and suggested that I file a "motion for reconsideration" instead. This doesn't work very often, since it's basically asking the same judge to change their mind, but I called Judge Fox's office and got a hearing scheduled for a motion for reconsideration.

That hearing took place on July 21, 2003 before Judge Fox. In the interest of maintaining a professional attitude and not getting sent to jail, I did not ask him if he enjoyed his vacation.

Even though I lost again, after the hearing I was glad my lawyer talked me out of filing a complaint against Judge Fox, since I thought he listened to me pretty carefully and at least discussed what his conclusion was. There is no audio recording of the hearing since the Superior Court doesn't record them. (There was a stenographer typing everything we said into a typewriter, but to get a transcript of the hearing, I'd have to pay the stenographer's fee, which is quite expensive. I think it's really bizarre that in Superior Court they use stenographers instead of just making audio recordings, which is what they do in District Court even though District Court is lower in the court hierarchy.) But my recollection of one of the exchanges, for example, was something like this:

Judge Fox: I'm denying the claim... because I believe the law says that the requirement to include a return phone number, doesn't apply to non-profits.
Me: Well... If it doesn't apply to non-profits, then who does it apply to?
Judge Fox: ... Commercial companies.
Me: But... part (a) says that commercial companies are prohibited from making these calls entirely. So as far as the separate rule requiring people who make pre-recorded calls to include a return phone number, it wouldn't make sense to have that apply to commercial companies because they can't make these calls at all.
Judge Fox: It applies to calls made by commercial companies to existing customers... since those are exempted in part (b) from being banned entirely, but they still have to include a return phone number.
Me: But part (b), which exempts calls made to existing customers from being banned entirely, is the same section that exempts calls by nonprofits from being banned entirely. So the situation is parallel -- both for calls made by non-profits, and for calls made by companies to existing customers, they're not prohibited, but they have to include a return number.

(If you want to know what we're talking about, the Judge Garrow page has details on what the federal regulations say about unsolicited phone calls.) So for the actual hearing, he'd probably get about a B-plus for at least discussing the reasoning behind his decision, and probably would have qualified as one of the two or three best judges I've dealt with. (Losing some points though, for making the ruling  first and then spending the rest of the hearing discussing his reasoning, instead of hearing arguments first and then making a decision at the end.) Too bad about the vacation thing.