Breaking up the court opinion monotony

November 16, 2010
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I read a lot of court opinions – more than I ever thought I would read as someone who has no formal legal education. In fact, when we had to read opinions in a media law class in college, I dreaded it and hoped to never have to do it again.

Cut to today where I read them every day now. I’ll admit, the process isn’t as painful as it was in college. However, that doesn’t mean that some of these opinions aren’t so dry that I lose interest quickly or need some sugar to keep me alert. Because of this, I’m quite appreciative when opinions are written with some wit, humor, or anything out of the ordinary.

Take for instance a not-for-publication opinion today authored by Chief Judge John Baker on the Indiana Court of Appeals. How’s this for a catchy first sentence: “Appellant-defendant Blake Parkins observes that breaking up is hard to do.”

I immediately had the song “Breaking up is hard to do” by Neil Sedaka (yes, I had to Google who originally sang it) in my head. Suddenly, this opinion has potential to entertain me! Perhaps now you have that song in your head after reading that sentence.

He goes on to write: “Surviving a breakup with a modicum of dignity—in a law-abiding fashion—is possible, however. Parkins should have learned how to carry on, turned around, and walked out the door, but instead he struck his former wife with a car while one of their young daughters was unrestrained in the backseat screaming for help.”

Of course, hitting your ex-wife with a car is not entertaining or funny. But when I read “carry on, turned around, and walked out the door” I then had the song “I will survive” by Gloria Gaynor in my head.

Who knows if those songs were inspiration or if I’m just delirious from reading so many opinions that I’m just looking for something to make it more interesting, but I liked the references.

Let’s be frank: legal opinions are usually boring and cut-and-dry, and the point is to impart a legal ruling on an issue. They don’t need to be jazzy or snazzy, but as someone who has to frequently read them, I’m happy whenever there’s something a little out of the ordinary included. And “Breaking up is hard to do” is still stuck in my head, hours later.
 

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  • The Rule of Law?
    Cute, but the real question is not how entertaining the judges can be but rather this ... what do "not for publication" judgments say about our commitment to the rule of law? Is it the judiciary saying "ignore the man behind the curtain on this opinion, we simply must use a different set of rules for this party?" Yes, I am afraid that might very well be the case. In that case perhaps we should be hearing less Neil Sedaka and more Neil Young? "Tin soldiers and Nixon's coming ..." I could be biased, I am one who fell victim to such back room judging right here in Indiana. Dead not at Kent State, but before the IBLE with no deference to the Rule of Law -- or even a citation to one case.

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