Bench Drama: Lawyers Seek News of $35 Million Managed by Judge Manny Real


U.S. District Judge Manny Real, whose appointment to the federal bench dates back to 1966, when Lyndon Johnson put him there, is the focus of a Carol J.
Williams piece in today's L.A. Times. The 85-year-old Real is the cranky yet often cryptic jurist in Room 8 of the Roybal Federal Building who's survived censure, impeachment threats and the nearly clockwork reversal of his decisions by cooler heads at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. That's Real depicted, by the way, in The People vs. Larry Flynt scene in which a judge orders the Hustler publisher, played by Woody Harrelson, gagged for spewing obscenities at the bench during Flynt's flag-desecration trial.

Over the years the object of Flynt's epithets has been especially criticized for regally issuing decrees from on high without explaining his rulings.

"Something happens to Real when he puts on that robe," Santa Monica defense lawyer Victor Sherman once told an interviewer. "I don't know what it is, but he's a tyrant. A bully. He thinks he's lord king of the courtroom."

Such pharaonic bearing may have earned Real a reputation for being

"colorful," but his  silence on one matter has once more thrown the

glare of publicity on him -- because it involves other people's money.

Lots of other people's money. Specifically, a $35.3 million trusteeship

fund, supervised by Real, that manages money seized from the late

Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos. A recent Real report states the

fund's size as $34.7 million -- and now lawyers from here to Manila are

demanding to know what happened to the nearly $5 million difference.

Judge Real isn't accused of impropriety by lawyers representing a

number of competing parties in the Philippines, but the attorneys are

concerned by the judge's vague accounting of the funds' status and are

particularly alarmed by Real's description of nearly $5 million being

funneled to what he tersely referred to as "other disbursements."

Williams reports that a petition filed by attorneys for Merrill Lynch

and the Philippine National Bank is now asking the Ninth Circuit to

force Real to give a detailed breakdown of what's happening to the

millions entrusted to his safekeeping. How much is invested? Where is

it invested and what kind of interest are the investments bearing?

Should

this Filipino typhoon blow Real off his bench, perhaps he'll have a

late-life career as one of those cantankerous judges on afternoon

television. Call it a new form of Real-ity TV.


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