George O`Toole Jr.
Private practice, Boston, Massachusetts, 1972-1982
Associate justice, Boston [Massachusetts] Municipal Court, 1982-1990
Associate justice, Massachusetts Superior Court, 1990-1995
Judge O’Toole’s personality is consistently described using words and phrases like “very pleasant,” “very polite,” “professional,” “courteous” and “congenial.” Lawyers consider him relatively reserved in manner and self-effacing to the point that one lawyer notes that instead of saying “Counsel, I don’t think you’ve answered my question” during argument, Judge O’Toole would be more likely to say “Let me ask my question in a better way.”
That self-effacing quality is the personality of a jurist lawyers describe as “not a big ego” and who “really wants to get it right.” One attorney summarizes this shared view, mentioning, “[Judge O’Toole] views lawyers not only as advocates, but also as helping get the right answer and the right ruling on something.” Another lawyer adds, “It’s more important for him to get it right than to impress someone with his brilliance.”
Litigators who have appeared in his courtroom note that Judge O’Toole is “even-tempered” and “fairly quiet” and that he is “easy to be around – kind of a hands-off guy that lets people do their jobs.” Numerous attorneys mention that he has “a dry sense of humor,” and a handful state that “you can tell him a joke, he will laugh,” although other attorneys comment that he has a “very detached, skeptical eye” and a demeanor that can be perceived as “dispassionate and analytical.”
Some lawyers also assert that Judge O’Toole is “pretty good at managing conflicts between counsel” and that he was “in private practice and understands business drivers, the things that move cases forward in civil cases.” He is considered relatively reserved as a bench personality and “very straight and narrow, but he’s fair.” Judge O’Toole is almost universally said to display a high degree of judicial equanimity and to be “smart, capable and practical” in running his courtroom and in dealing with attorneys.
Given his generally acknowledged “pretty even-keeled” judicial temperament, few mentions of pet peeves are made in association with Judge O’Toole. More than one attorney responds, “I’ve never seen him lose his temper” when asked about behavior from counsel that might elicit an unfavorable reaction from the bench.
One comment that does come up is that Judge O’Toole “does not like people misrepresenting the record or misstating cases,” as one attorney puts it. Another adds, “I’ve seen him take people to task for mis-citing the record.” The latter attorney adds a point that is common to most judges, one related to his expectation that counsel be prepared in his courtroom: “It was clear that [Judge O’Toole] was very prepared, and the attorney wasn’t.”
As is common among federal judges and, indeed, most judges, Judge O’Toole is said to expect thorough preparation prior to trial and that that preparation become evident through the course of the case: “He expects quality of advocacy, both written and oral,” comments one lawyer. Other than his expectations that counsel arrive prepared and represent their clients to their best ability, Judge O’Toole is largely thought to be a relatively “easy to get along with as long as you’ve done your homework.”
Lawyers have relatively little to say regarding Judge O’Toole’s discovery practice. Most attorneys are of the belief that Judge O’Toole “refers a lot of discovery to magistrate judges,” though one attorney indicates that he “uses a magistrate unless it’s a tough privilege issue or something that could be outcome-determinant,” adding, “Routine matters he forms up.”
For those attorneys who have had cases in which Judge O’Toole handles discovery, there is an impression that he largely “lets the parties do their own thing,” allowing counsel to agree to some aspects of discovery scheduling without being overly strident about it. That impression reflects most lawyers’ assertion that Judge O’Toole will often defer to the magistrate for simple discovery matters, step in when he has to, and be accommodating to counsel within reason regarding scheduling.
Pleadings and Motion Practice
If there is a complaint about Judge O’Toole, it is that, in one attorney’s opinion, “Judge O’Toole is slow and is thought of as slow.” Some attorneys feel that he is better than others, but the majority of attorneys have the sense that Judge O’Toole is “not timely in getting decisions out… his reputation is that he takes forever.” Lawyers who have had patent or IP cases before Judge O’Toole make occasional comments along the lines that “he’s pretty good [with respect to timeliness] except for patent cases. Patent cases take up a tremendous amount of his resources and… he is candid about it.”
Responses regarding Judge O’Toole’s efficiency pre-trial range from “average in pre-trial hearings” to “very efficient.” Most attorneys have the sense that Judge O’Toole’s reputation for efficiency pre-trial is better than his reputation in deciding motions, leading one attorney to comment that he has a “well-run pre-trial practice and I haven’t heard any complaints.”
Argument Practice and Preferences
Again, attorneys almost all feel that Judge O’Toole is very prepared and will have read the written briefs thoroughly. Furthermore, he is said to be a very good writer and to have an appreciation for well-written documents from counsel.
In terms of oral argument, one Massachusetts attorney asserts, “In hearings, [Judge O’Toole] will let the lawyers give their presentations and then he’ll say ‘Here’s what’s on my mind’ and tell counsel to make sure to address the issues he’s concerned with, sometimes even before argument.” Another states: “He’s expressed publicly that only when it’s very clear will he say ‘I think you’re wrong’,” adding, “I think he views argument as a way to answer his own questions. I don’t think he comes in with a pre-conceived notion of where he’s going and he listens to the lawyers.”
Almost all interviewees feel that Judge O’Toole is likely to grant oral argument if requested and that “he takes it into account in his decision-making.” However, nearly all indications are that Judge O’Toole is “hard to read” during argument and otherwise. One attorney characterizes him as “quite low-key on the bench, courteous to everybody and doesn’t volunteer a great deal.” Lawyers consistently point out that Judge O’Toole’s somewhat quiet, somewhat reserved demeanor leaves lawyers with little information with which to interpret his potential leanings.
No deviation from local rules is noted with respect to time or page limits. Most attorneys indicate that he doesn’t have any “goofy rules” or “standing orders” in a general sense and that adherence to local rules will be sufficient for litigators.
Trial Practice and Settlement
Attorneys describe Judge O’Toole’s courtroom primarily as “medium formal,” “moderate,” “average standard formality” or some variant thereof. One lawyer further states, “He doesn’t restrict where you are in the court, but he makes sure everything is under control,” while another adds: “I don’t think he cares about walking around [the courtroom].”
Massachusetts lawyers also note that Judge O’Toole “suggests review, but he’s not a huge arm-twister in terms of settlement.”
One point that comes up with some regularity is the sense that Judge O’Toole “is very sensitive to the juror’s time.” One lawyer comments, “If the trial’s supposed to resume at 10:00, he wants the lawyers in there before that and wants to begin at 10:00 - particularly if you have an issue, get it resolved before 10:00.” A Massachusetts attorney calls Judge O’Toole “solicitous or the jury’s time” and remarks that “some judges are notoriously late or you can expect that you’ll be delayed. Judge O’Toole might schedule three or four hearings on motions or scheduling topics, but he expects you to be there on time because he will be on time.”
When questioning witnesses or experts, Judge O’Toole’s somewhat quiet manner leads several attorneys to comment that he is “not deeply involved” in questioning: “He will ask questions if something’s on his mind, but he’ll let lawyers try their cases,” in one lawyer’s opinion. Another adds, “I don’t know that he gets heavily involved in terms of asking his own questions.”
Again, most lawyers are of the opinion that Judge O’Toole will not be adamant in requiring counsel to stay tied to the podium or table. He is largely considered relatively accommodating but not informal, reserved but not stiff and occasionally open to a bit of humor, though not overly indulgent.
Legal Strengths and Weaknesses
Commercial, IP and defense attorneys seem to feel that Judge O’Toole is very competent in complex cases and that for those cases he is “a good draw.” Referring back to basic personality, Judge O’Toole is generally perceived as having the understanding of large businesses and many of the issues underlying commercial cases to decide those cases effectively and efficiently.
There are, however, a handful of comments from plaintiff’s lawyers that they feel Judge O’Toole has become “anti-plaintiff” in recent years or that “I don’t think he’s ruled for a plaintiff in the last decade.” Those same attorneys comment, “We don’t understand what it is… he used to issue thoughtful decisions on both sides.” Perhaps predictably, defense attorneys note no such bias, leaving the facts of such claims up for debate.
Attorneys seem to feel that Judge O’Toole shows no bias toward or against out-of-state or local Massachusetts lawyers. In one lawyer’s view, “I think if he has a bias it’s whether the attorneys are prepared or not. He does expect attorneys regardless of where they’re from to behave a certain way.”
In a more general sense, some attorneys note that “He’s a thinker, he’ll put the time in when you engage him – when he’s interested he’ll give you thoughtful analysis. Sometimes if you can’t get his attention you don’t get his best work, but that’s a common problem.” However, other attorneys remark that, at the end of any case, “you’ll understand why you won or lost.” One lawyer adds “He’s a careful, thoughtful writer of opinions and he appreciates thoughtful writing from counsel.”
Taken in total, most attorneys seem to be of the opinion that Judge O’Toole’s time as an associate justice in the Boston Municipal Court and later in the Superior Court of Massachusetts serve him well in the federal district: “He’s been a judge for a long time and is a very good judge,” comments one. “He was a state court judge and I think that helps him, and he’s written about every kind of federal matter.” Despite a few outlying comments on either side of the spectrum, most lawyers feel that Judge O’Toole is quiet but fair, thorough but somewhat forgiving, and a relatively reasonable judge to try a case with.