I knew going in to the Dallas courtroom that Judge Barbara M.G. Lynn is a smart woman.
I knew this because she was smart enough to flee the city I formerly called home – Binghamton, N.Y. Lynn was born in Binghamton in 1952, apparently spending little time there before moving on.
Binghamton struggled through recent decades as major employers such as IBM faltered. The then-Barbara Golden had no time for faltering. After earning her undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia, she moved to Texas for a law degree from Southern Methodist University.
Along the way, she met Mike Lynn and they never left Texas. The stories of Lynn’s pioneering leadership and steady determination are numerous, and captured nicely in this Dallas Morning News profile from 2014.
My favorite involves Lynn trying repeatedly to become the first woman admitted into the Jefferson Literary and Debate Society, the oldest continuous debating society in the U.S.
The group’s Southern conservative male leaders repeatedly denied her admission until one weekend when the Lynns manipulated the voting rules and the future judge was admitted by a single vote.
In her 17 years on the federal bench, Lynn put together an impressive record. Earlier this year, she became the first female chief judge of the Northern District of Texas.
They say everything is bigger in Texas and perhaps that’s why Lynn settled there. Because her personality filled the cavernous courtroom and dominated the hearing I attended Nov. 17.
The case was and is a big one – U.S. Chamber of Commerce vs. Department of Labor and Secretary Thomas Perez. There are many other defendants as well, all seeking to bury the DOL fiduciary rule.
When I knew I was going to be near Dallas for a conference, I decided to attend the hearing in person.
Two things stood out during the nearly four-hour hearing. For starters, Lynn is a confident jurist, confident enough to say she doesn’t understand something. She said this a few times during the hearing, and asked attorneys to explain things.
Calling it a "complicated case," Lynn conceded that she was "having a hard time" deciphering a key issue: whether the DOL rule constitutes a private right of action.
Opponents claim only Congress can establish a private right of action, or the right for people to sue, as individuals or as a class, under an existing law. The DOL denies that the rule “creates” a new private right of action.
Twice, Lynn attempted to get plaintiffs' attorneys to concede that the department isn't "literally" creating a private cause of action, but theoretically doing so by making it hard for advisors to do business otherwise.
I don’t think she was entirely successful at simplifying the issue, but I admired her attempt.
I also admired Lynn’s ready reliance on humor. I’ve sat through several conference sessions on the DOL rule, and one other hearing. They are often packed sessions that can run long with tense, even angry, participants.
Lynn’s readiness to crack a smile and a joke kept her courtroom loose. At one point, she referenced Judge Randolph D. Moss’s 92-page decision in a similar lawsuit before the District of Columbia District Court.
"My goal is to write something shorter," she quipped.
Later, as the hearing crept closer to lunch, she repeatedly grilled the attorneys on how much time they would need to wrap up final points. She announced the order of speakers and had each person commit to a time limit.
“You better talk while you walk, counselor,” she said as David W. Ogden of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr made his way to the podium.
Lynn made four hours fly by due to her personality and control of the proceedings.
And that is saying something.
InsuranceNewsNet Senior Editor John Hilton has covered business and other beats in more than 20 years of daily journalism. John may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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