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. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  2. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  3. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  4. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  5. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

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