Judges Say the Darndest Things: FindLaw's List of the Top Ten Oddball Judicial Decisions
Lawyers will often burst into laughter when reading judicial decisions, but that is rarely the author's true intent.
Sometimes, however, judges decide to shake off the seriousness that hangs about those black robes and throw out opinions meant to show that the law, in fact, can be fun.
(For them, anyway. I doubt that the losing party ever sees anything funny in opinions.)
A reminder of this arose this week with the ruling
issued by a federal magistrate judge in the lawsuit by Rudy Giuliani's
son against Duke University. Andrew Giuliani sued the university after
the Duke golf coach booted him off the team.
dismissal of the suit, the judge employed numerous golf puns, and even
went so far as to quote Bill Murray's classic character Carl Spackler
in response to one of Giuliani's arguments: "He's on his final hole.
He's about 455 yards away, he's gonna hit about a 2 iron, I think."
Besides humor and puns, judges also try to shake up the
format of their opinions with some interesting results. From poetry to
detective novels, judges will try anything to let their creative sides
out when writing their judgments.
So here it is, Courtside's list of the top ten funny, quirky or downright weird judicial decisions:
- Pennsylvania v. Dunlap
(US Supreme Court, 07-1486, 2008). Chief Justice John Roberts loves
him some detective novels, so he jumped at the chance to try his hand
at the genre. Daschel Hammet would have been proud.
v. Unity Marine (S.D. Tex., 2001). This one's funny for two reasons:
first, it's a genuinely amusing excoriation of two attorneys; second,
the author, Judge Samuel Kent was recently sentenced to three years for
obstruction of justice during an investigation into his alleged sexual
assault of two courthouse employees. I can't help but wonder what he
would have written about himself. Here's what he wrote about them:
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."
- PGA Tour, Inc. v. Martin
532 U.S. 661 (2001). Justice Antonin Scalia's glib dissent in this
case is funny for all, but especially for those who love golf.
- Mattel v. MCA Records,
296 F.3d 894 (9th Cir. 2002). This one would be funny just because
it's litigation over the song "Barbie Girl," but what really makes it
notable is the author's words to the litigants at the end: "The parties
are advised to chill."
- Chemical Specialties Mfrs. Ass'n v. Clark, 482 F.2d 325 (5th Cir. 1973). Is it a concurrence or an ad for soap products?
- Avista Management v. Wausau Underwriters Insurance (M.D. Fla, 2006). If only all discovery disputes could be resolved this way:
Court will fashion a new form of alternative dispute resolution, to
wit: at 4:00 P.M. on Friday, June 30, 2006, counsel shall convene at a
neutral site agreeable to both parties. If counsel cannot agree on a
neutral site, they shall meet on the front steps of the [Courthouse].
Each lawyer shall be entitled to be accompanied by one paralegal who
shall act as an attendant and witness. At that time and location,
counsel shall engage in one (1) game of 'rock, paper, scissors.' The
winner of this engagement shall be entitled to select the location for
the 30(b)(6) deposition to be held somewhere in Hillsborough County
during the period July 11-12, 2006."
- United States v. Syufy Enterprises, 903 F.2d 659 (9 th Cir. 1990). Judge Alex Kozinski is a well-known movie buff (especially movies where people appear in the buff) and showed it in this opinion.
- In the Matter of Robert M. Restaino, Determination of the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct,
Nov. 29, 2007. This opinion is probably funnier for the description of
a judge's actions than for the actual decision itself.
- Cetacean Community v. Bush,
386 F.3d 1169 (9th Cir. 2004). So many of these cases come from the
9th Circuit - what's up with that? Well, maybe it's because the
biggest circuit gets all the crazy cases. Whatever the cause, those
9th Circuit judges just love to juice up their rhetoric. Sometimes,
though, it comes back to haunt them.
- This famous case is funny just for the caption: Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Read it again. It'll hit you.
Disagree with our selection? Want your personal favorite as number one? Send us
your own nominations, and maybe they'll make the list.See Also:
Tradition of Legal Humor Continues with Giuliani Lawsuit Against Duke (Finding Dulcinea
Humor and Wit in Supreme Court Opinions (The Volokh Conspiracy
Strange Judicial Opinions (lawhaha.com
Humorous Legal Cases (gavel2gavel
Judicial Humor (Univ. of Washington Law Library