Fun with opinions

July 10, 2008
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Typically court opinions are straight to the point about the merits of the case, the application of laws, and why the judge or judges decided to rule the way they did. That’s why it comes as a refreshing surprise when judges decide to state their reasoning in a unique, interesting, or funny way. It makes reading an opinion or court order a little bit more enjoyable.

Take a recent case out of Washington. U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton ordered the attorney for the plaintiffs involved in a racketeering suit against GMAC Mortgage to shorten his epic 465-page suit. In the order, Judge Leighton ended with a limerick to make his point:

Plaintiff has a great deal to say,

 But it seems he skipped Rule 8(a).

 His Complaint is too long,

 Which renders it wrong,

 Please re-write and re-file today.

Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 8(a), by the way, says a pleading that states a claim for relief must contain “a short and plain statement …” of the grounds for the court’s jurisdiction and of the claim showing the pleader is entitled to relief.

Chief Judge William B. Chandler III of the Delaware Court of Chancery has been known to interject pop-culture references into his opinions, making them interesting and entertaining. You have to admire a judge who in a July 1 opinion, relates the world of mergers and acquisitions to that of the video game “World of Warcraft.”

And IL reporter Michael Hoskins wrote an article last year about pop culture’s place in the law. In it, Indiana Supreme Court Justice Theodore Boehm said, “Legal writing doesn’t need to be high-brow; it’s actually better that it’s not.” Judges just have to be careful not to take the references too far, he cautioned.

I don’t know about you, but if more judges used pop-culture references and analogies comparing a video game to mergers and acquisitions, it would make me more excited to read opinions.

As someone who’s studied the law, do you appreciate it when a judge breaks away from the norm and throws in a sarcastic or humorous comment – as I’ve noticed in 7th Circuit Court of Appeals opinions – or pop-culture reference?
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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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