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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