This has been Law Law Land’s first year, and while we already love you, we feel like we’re still getting to know you. (Maybe it’s time you introduced us to your parents, no?) So, like many people experiencing their first holiday season with that special someone, we just weren’t sure what to get you for Christmahanukwanzakah (we’re a “big tent” blog). Then, it hit us: we should just get you something that we would like! That way, even if it’s not your favorite, at least someone will get to enjoy it!
Well, one of our readers was nice enough to send us a ShoeDini after all, so no point in getting that again. The Jon Worley Aloysius Wiggle-Worm, Flip-A-Baby, DemonClean, Chop Wow, and Twist-O-Matic all remain tragically fictional. And by the time we got to Things Remembered at the mall, the engraving desk was closed, so we couldn’t give you a bowling ball with our name engraved on it (umm, so you’d always know who gave it to you?). But then we thought back to Thanksgiving, and all those lovely legal turkeys we were thankful for, and all at once it hit us: bizarre legal curiosities!
If you look closely enough, dockets around this country are filled with delightful little stocking stuffer-sized nuggets of legal comedy genius. Whenever we lawyers
trudge exhaustedlybound energetically out of bed in the morning, the thing that keeps us going is the hope that maybe, someday, we can be responsible for creating something as wonderful as one of these masterpieces (advance warning — legal mastery can sometimes involve “colorful” language). We can’t be sure, but we think this might be the most comprehensive array of legal humor ever assembled in one place:
- Motion Denied Because You’re an Idiot. What would you do if asked to decide “Defendant’s Motion to Discharge Response to Plaintiff’s Response to Defendant’s Response Opposing Objection to Discharge?” If you were Bankruptcy Judge Leif M. Clark, you would fight off the seizure that reading those words probably almost induced, put down your Norse war hammer, and pull out your old copy of Billy Madison to find just the right way to deny that motion for pure incomprehensibility.
- “You’re Not Getting Away With This $#*! That Easy.” LegalJuice.com has the back-story: “While Mr. Swinyer was in jail, [former] correctional officer Cole admitted that he assaulted Mr. Swinyer by grabbing him around the throat and shoving him against the wall in response to — what else — a ‘donut’ comment (really). Mr. Swinyer filed suit and litigated the case himself. The docket contains over 100 entries. In the end, more than 2 years after the case began, Judge Leighton held that the injury was de minimis and dismissed the case. Understandably, Mr. Swinyer did not take the news well.” Which was pretty apparent from his handwritten notice of appeal.
- Would You Have Preferred a Motion to Suck It? Unsurprisingly, if you file a “Motion to Kiss My Ass” in which you implore “all Americans at large and one corrupt Judge Smith [to] kiss my got [sic] damn ass sorry mother $*!@#$ you,” you might just get sanctioned.
- A Simple “We Will Oppose” Would Have Sufficed. Certain motions require lawyers to “meet and confer” with one another before they will be heard by a court. The idea is to avoid wasting judicial resources on hearing disputes that the parties can resolve (or have resolved) amongst themselves. Most courts require moving parties to certify that they have made such efforts and that the responding party has indicated its intention to oppose the motion. Some lawyers choose to communicate such information by colorful implication.
- The Court Also Takes Judicial Notice That Counsel Is a Mensch. Judges can be quite particular about respecting scheduled court dates, and lawyers looking for last-minute scheduling changes must usually proceed cautiously. Orthodox Jewish defense attorney Bennett Epstein’s approach when his daughter’s due date created the possibility of a court conflict with the traditional Jewish bris? “[A]n application in limine for a brief recess in the middle of the trial on the grounds known (perhaps not now, but hereafter) as a “writ of possible simcha.” Epstein’s letter brief to Southern District of New York federal judge Kimba Wood is replete with delightful Yiddishisms — and, in true lawyerly fashion, explanatory footnotes. Judge Wood — to our knowledge, not Jewish — granted the recess, but held that, “to balance the scales,” a public celebration would be held in her courtroom if a daughter was born (thereby touching off a fascinating Internet debate on gender issues in Judaism)
- Don’t Laugh, Don’t Laugh, Don’t Laugh… Our compliments to Virginia’s Judge Larry G. Elder. In a 2004, Judge Elder deftly drew careful and measured distinctions between various uses and connotations of the word “pussy” in determining that a 6-minute rant in which a defendant referred to a lawyer as a “puss” or “pussy” 20 times was not, legally, obscene. And, most impressively, he managed not to crack a single joke. Brava, sir. Bonus fun fact learned by reading this case: calling someone a “Director of Butt Licking” is, as a matter of law, not defamatory under Virginia law. So now you know.
- Good Luck Enforcing That Judgment Anyhow. It says something about our legal system — something grand, something wonderful, something terrifying, something indigestive — that when a man sues “Satan and His Staff” for “placing deliberate obstacles in his path and causing his downfall,” our courts do him the courtesy of dismissing the case on grounds of lack of personal jurisdiction and improper service (major bonus points for the Devil and Daniel Webster reference, and associated discussion of judicial estoppel).
- “The Court Has Rarely Seen a Motion With More Merit.” Ever get into an argument with a friend, colleague, or opponent over where to go to lunch and who should pay? Instead of arguing, just submit your Motion to Compel Acceptance of Lunch Invitation to Arizona Superior Court Judge Pendleton Gaines, who will be more than happy to offer guidance on the appropriate guest list, good local restaurants, and how to split the check.
- When Did Bankruptcy Judges Become the Coolest People in Law? I hope that there are annual conventions of federal bankruptcy judges, just so that Texas’s Leif M. Clark (of theBilly Madison decision above) and Florida’s A. Jay Cristol have a chance to meet. In 2006, Cristol issued a sua sponte order (i.e., on his own, not in response to a motion) notautomatically dismissing a case, simply as a thinly-veiled excuse to publish a “Green Eggs and Ham”-inspired poem expressing his distaste for the Bankruptcy Code’s automatic dismissal requirements. (Rhyming “46th day” with “oy vey?” Inspired.) This from the man who, in 1986, moved sua sponte to dismiss a bankruptcy case just so that he could deny his own motion in the cadence of “The Raven.” This 1995 judicial opinion/poem is boring by comparison just because it actually serves some procedural purpose.
- I Believe the Ancient Greeks Were the First to Incorporate Rock, Paper, Scissors Into Their Legal System. If you had been on the front steps of the Sam M. Gibbons U.S. Courthouse in Tampa, FL, at 4:00 p.m. on Friday, June 30, 2006, you would have borne witness to what, to our knowledge, remains the world’s first, last, and only court-ordered game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Because these are lawyers we’re talking about, I’m assuming they both extensively consulted the Official Rock Paper Scissors Strategy Guidepublished by the World RPS Society (not the World RPS Club — too undignified).
- At Least the Judge Called Them Likable. If you spend enough time around courtrooms, you quickly realize that the quality of legal advocacy in this country is, on average, terrifying poor. Still, you never really expect to see a judge say this: “Before proceeding further, the Court notes that this case involves two extremely likable lawyers, who have together delivered some of the most amateurish pleadings ever to cross the hallowed causeway into Galveston, an effort which leads the Court to surmise but one plausible explanation. Both attorneys have obviously entered into a secret pact — complete with hats, handshakes and cryptic words — to draft their pleadings entirely in crayon on the back sides of gravy-stained paper place mats, in the hope that the Court would be so charmed by their child-like efforts that their utter dearth of legal authorities in their briefing would go unnoticed. Whatever actually occurred, the Court is now faced with the daunting task of deciphering their submissions. With Big Chief tablet readied, thick black pencil in hand, and a devil-may-care laugh in the face of death, life on the razor’s edge sense of exhilaration, the Court begins.”
- Good Thing the Judge’s Clerk Was Spell-Checking the Court Reporter’s Work. It probably wasn’t strictly necessary for the judge in this criminal appeal to note that the defendant had called a police drug informant a “snitch bitch ho” before slapping her and putting a gun in her face. But if he hadn’t, he couldn’t have cited Ludcaris while correcting the court reporter for writing “hoe” (as in, “a tool for weeding and gardening”) in lieu of “ho” (as in, “you doin’ ho activities with ho tendencies”) (see footnote 1).
Finally not to put a damper on the festivities, but we regret to inform you that we must, with heavy hearts, withdraw our recent request that James N. Bailey, former General Counsel of theCleveland Browns and author of arguably the greatest piece of legal correspondence in history, become our nastygram sensei. Just a few hours after that request went out, we received a note from a respected colleague/woebegone Cleveland sports fan — who was actually at the 1964 NFL title game at which Cleveland won its last major professional sports championship — informing us that Mr. Bailey had apparently borrowed his approach from Senator Stephen M. Young (D-OH, 1959–71), who responded to critical letters from constituents in much the same way. (“Maybe that’s why he only served two terms,” our tipster observes.) Sure enough, Time Magazine’s December 21, 1962 issue not only confirms this new information, it offers a few other gems from Senator Young’s epistolary repertoire, such as “You are entirely misinformed and your letter is silly, but thank you for voting for me,” and “Sir: You are a liar. Sincerely, Stephen M. Young, United States Senator.” Unfortunately, Senator Young died in 1984, so we can’t ask him to be our nastygram sensei instead.
Happy holidays from Law Law Land! May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmahanukwanzakahs be free of legal disputes (except those for which you would like to hire us).