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Judicial Humor

Sources on the lighter side of the law, including court opinions.

U.S. Federal Cases

Anderson Greenwood & Co. v. NLRB, 604 F.2d 322 (5th Cir. 1979).

The two precedents pertinent to case were Wire v. NLRB and Tire v. NLRB – thus inspiring Judge Goldberg to verse.

Schenk v. Commissioner, 686 F.2d 315 (5th Cir. 1982).

In the opening sentence of this case about fertilizer and tax deductions, Judge Goldberg quotes Ecclesiastes:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;” a time to purchase fertilizer, and a time to take a deduction for that which is purchased.

United States v. Batson, 782 F.2d 1307 (5th Cir. 1986)

In the opening sentence of this case about the cotton set-aside program, Judge Goldberg recites:

Some farmers from Gaines had a plan.
It amounted to quite a big scam.
But the payments for cotton
began to smell rotten.
T'was a mugging of poor Uncle Sam.
The ASCS and its crew
uncovered this fraudulent stew.
After quite a few hearings,
the end is now nearing--
It awaits our judicial review.

Noble v. Bradford Marine, Inc., 789 F. Supp. 395 (S.D. Fla. 1992)

Written with lines from the movie “Wayne’s World” and holding that defendant’s “most bogus” attempt at removal is “not worthy” and “way improvident,” and arguing that the defendant must “party on” in state court. Sections of the opinion are labeled "Hurling Chunks" and "A Schwing and a Miss."

In re Love, 61 B.R. 558 (Bankr. S.D. Fla. 1986)

A parody of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven,” beginning:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary
Over many quaint and curious files of chapter seven lore
While I nodded nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door,
“Tis some debtor” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door-
Only this and nothing more.”

Ah distinctly I recall, it was in the early fall
And the file still was small
The Code provided I could use it
If someone tried to substantially abuse it
No party asked that it be heard.
“Sua sponte” whispered a small black bird.

The West headnote is also in verse.

Reuther v. Southern Cross Club, Inc., 785 F. Supp. 1339 (S.D. Ind. 1992).

Opinion in verse as a variation on the Gilligan’s Island song.

United States v. One 1976 Ford F-150 Pickup, 599 F. Supp. 818 (E.D. Mo. 1984).

District Judge Wangelin wrote the opinion in verse:

The defendant herein is a truck,
The vehicle is a pick-up,
Alleged by a fed
To be found in a bed
Of marijuana, caught in the muck.

Joe Hand Promotions v. Sports Page Cafe, 940 F. Supp. 102 (D.N.J. 1996).

The promoter of boxing match brought suit against restaurant and bar owners for allegedly displaying the fight for patrons without paying promoter for broadcast rights. Judge rendered his decision (and footnotes) in verse. Here is a sample:

The genesis happened on an April night
When plaintiff promoted a boxing fight
And transmitted it live for the usual fee
For paying subscribers to watch on T.V.

The bout was between Messrs. Holmes and McCall
Whose pugilistic talents are well-known to all.
The match evoked international attention
But the outcome herein shall go without mention.

Defendants allegedly exhibited the match
In their respective taverns for their patrons to catch.
Plaintiff's complaint is based on that section
Installed in the Code for easy inspection
Which forbids such transmissions, recorded or live:
47 U.S.C. Section 605.

 

 

Selmon v. Hasbro Bradley, Inc., 669 F. Supp. 1267 (S.D.N.Y. 1987)

Case about “whats” and “wuzzles,” thus inspiring an opinion with clever puns and observations (e.g.: "The questions before us are really quite simple: 'Just what's a 'What,' what's the similarity between a 'What' and a 'Wuzzle,' and 'Wuzzle' we do about it?"). Also contains amusing drawings.

Mackensworth v. American Trading Transportation Co., 367 F. Supp. 373 (E.D. Pa. 1973)

District Judge Becker wrote his opinion in verse:

The motion now before us has stirred up a terrible fuss.
And what is considerably worse, it has spawned some preposterous doggerel verse.
The plaintiff, a man of the sea,
after paying his lawyer a fee,
filed a complaint of several pages to recover statutory wages.

Footnotes and headnotes are also in verse.

United States v. Rosado, No. CIV.A.90-00457, 1991 WL 59608 (E.D. Pa. April 12, 1991)

Judge wrote opinion in verse (responding to an attorney's memo in verse).

Counsel having had his say,
Anders, California
Would seem to say: “New trial, no way.”
Forthright counsel I commend
For bringing this appeal to end.
He has served his client well:
A worthless issue would not sell.
Dropping his quixotic quest
Serves his client's interests best.
To press a cause of rank frivolity
Would not fill this court with jollity.
Though counsel was a courtroom terror,
He could not seed the case with error;
So nothing now could be much grander
Than witnessing his posttrial candor.
Lawyers tend to look facetious,
Pressing issues merely specious.
Frank candor sure beats false bravado,
Defending Claudio Rosado.
This is how I see the moral:
Instead of never-ending quarrel,
A broken record, crying “foul”,
It's sometimes best to throw the towel.
Thus, before the bar of court
This defendant must report.
He shall have to do his time,
For punishment must fit the crime.
And that will have to end this rhyme.

Shafer v. Commander, Army and Air Force Exchange Service, 667 F. Supp. 414 (N.D. Tex. 1985)

Employment discrimination case brought against the Army and Air Force Exchange Service. Footnotes 1 and 46 are parodies of “Let it Snow” and Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven.”

The acronym for the A rmy and A ir F orce E xchange S ervice- AAFES-rhymes, albeit very poorly and Ogden-Nashedly, with the words “ gave us ” (or, more correctly, “ga f e us”). Therefore, it is somewhat understandable that a party distraught with the delay of this hard working, but overburdened Court, might well-at least during the Holiday Season, when spirits are high-send an attractive female to these chambers, carrying numerous balloons of festive colors, with this message in verse (sung, of course, to the tune of “ Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow ”:

“Oh the case is Shafer v. AAFES
We recall the trial you gave us
Do you remember, yes or no?
Let us know
Let us know
Let us know
“Oh the age of this case is gallful
Your procrastination awful
Our impatience we must show
Let us know
Let us know
Let us know
“Would you finally give the word
Now we're down on our knees, pretty please?
And we heard from a little bird
You'll even add on attorney's fees
“Oh we've spoken as long as we dare to
One final question have we for you
Are we shafted, yes or no?
Let us know
Let us know
Let us know”
However, this “motion” was not accompanied by a certificate of service, a brief, an order or a certificate of conference, as required by Local Rules 2.1(e) and 5.1(a)-(c). Accordingly, it will not be considered for purposes of this opinion. See, however, footnote 46. Please!

Jenkins v. Commissioner, 47 T.C.M. (CCH) 238 (1983)

Footnote 14 contains an ode to Conway Twitty, petitioner in this case:

Twitty Burger went belly up
But Conway remained true
He repaid his investors, one and all
It was the moral thing to do.
His fans would not have liked it
It could have hurt his fame
Had any investors sued him
Like Merle Haggard or Sonny James.
When it was time to file taxes
Conway thought what he would do
Was deduct those payments as a business expense
Under section one-sixty-two.
In order to allow these deductions
Goes the argument of the Commissioner
The payments must be ordinary and necessary
To a business of the petitioner.
Had Conway not repaid the investors
His career would have been under cloud,
Under the unique facts of this case
Held: The deductions are allowed.

State Cases

Helton v. State, 311 So. 2d 381 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1975). Opinion recites the prosecuting attorney’s closing argument – a parody on ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas:

The proffered evidence showed that the jailer at the Detention Center gave vodka to the inmates on the night of the escape. The effect of the inebriating beverage on the appellant and his fellow inmates was colorfully portrayed by defense counsel in closing argument to the jury as follows:

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the jail
Not an inmate was stirring, they couldn't make bail.
The stockings were hung by the cell door with care
In hopes that St. Nicholas would soon be there:
The inmates were huddled alone in their beds
While visions of freedom danced in their heads
And guards in their uniforms and John in his rack
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,
When up on the roof there arose such a clatter,
John sprang from his bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window he flew like a flash,
Tore open the cell door and threw up the sash.
When what to his wondering eyes should appear
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick
He knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his courses they came,
And he whistled and shouted, and called them by name:
Now, Macquire, now Bass, now Fillingame, Newman,
On, Ingram, on Suggs, on Crosby, and Helton.
To the top of the porch, to the top of the wall
Now dash away, dash away, dash away all.'

Brown v. State, 216 S.E.2d 356 (Ga. Ct. App. 1975). Opinion written in verse – as Judge Evans states in his opinion:

This opinion is placed in rhyme because approximately one year ago, in Savannah at a very convivial celebration, the distinguished Judge Dunbar Harrison, Senior Judge of Chatham Superior Courts, arose and addressed those assembled, and demanded that if Judge Randall Evans, Jr. ever again was so presumptuous as to reverse one of his decisions, that the opinion be written in poetry. I readily admit I am unable to comply, because I am not a poet, and the language used, at best, is mere doggerel. I have done my best but my limited ability just did not permit the writing of a great poem. It was no easy task to write the opinion in rhyme.

Opinion includes references to other decisions in verse. Headnotes also in verse.

Wheat v. Fraker, 130 S.E.2d 251 (Ga. Ct. App. 1963). Opinion written in verse inspired by the holding of the case – that a juror could not be disqualified even though his wife was cousins with both the plaintiff’s and defendant’s wives.

‘Foul, foul play,’ the defendant cried.
‘That I by kinsman be not trammeled
Let the issue again be tried
Before another jury impanelled.
Remember how from John at Runnymede
The Charta was forced and wrested
That no matter what the issue or the deed
By my peers it must be tried and tested.
With juror mine adversary durst
Try the cause, whose wife is second cousin to my wife
And to plaintiff's wife a first.
A new trial, sire, I demand to settle strife.'
‘No foul play do I find or see,'
The judge replied. ‘Foreman's wife to thine
And to plaintiff's wife may kinsman be,
But to Doug and thee no kinship do I find.
Thus, it doth not appear
For any cause or reason told
That the juror was not thy peer
The case to try and verdict mold.
Moreover, when kinships we sought to learn
It doth not appear that as best befits
One who would a kinsman spurn
Thou revealed that cousin did on the panel sit.
Thy day in court thou hast had,'
The judge asserted, ‘and law commands
That, no error made, whether good or bad,
The issue tried and settled stands.'

Fisher v. Lowe, 333 N.W.2d 67 (Mich. Ct. App. 1983). Decision rendered as a result of a car accident between a Chevy and a tree. Judge Gillis wrote the opinion as a parody of Joyce Kilmer’s poem, “Trees.”

We thought that we would never see
A suit to compensate a tree.
A suit whose claim in tort is prest
Upon a mangled tree's behest;
A tree whose battered trunk was prest
Against a Chevy's crumpled crest;
A tree that faces each new day
With bark and limb in disarray;
A tree that may forever bear
A lasting need for tender care.
Flora lovers though we three,
We must uphold the court's decree.

Headnotes are also in verse.

Gallatin County v. D & R Music & Vending, Inc., 676 P.2d 779 (Mont. 1984) (Sheehy, J., dissenting). Case about electronic poker machines. Sheehy wrote his dissent in verse.

Irvin v. Smith, 654 N.E.2d 189 (C.P. Ohio 1993). Case about a jilted fiancée who brought an action for emotional distress after the defendant reneged on the betrothal. Opinion concludes:

And so closes this sad story,
At least in the books of the Court,
As the Court finds that Plaintiff has not alleged
That which is an actionable tort.
The within cause is hereby ordered dismissed
With the Plaintiff bearing the cost,
And with this advice in the parting,
Love never won can't be lost.

Headnotes also in verse.

Porreco v. Porreco, 811 A.2d 566 (Pa. 2002) (Eakin, J., dissenting). Case involving prenuptial agreement and a cubic zirconium engagement ring. Judge Eakin wrote his dissent in verse, causing his brethren to write concurring opinions questioning the prudence of writing an opinion in rhyme.

A groom must expect matrimonial pandemonium
when his spouse finds he's given her a cubic zirconium
instead of a diamond in her engagement band,
the one he said was worth twenty-one grand.
Our deceiver would claim that when his bride relied
on his claim of value, she was not justified
for she should have appraised it; and surely she could have,
but the question is whether a bride-to-be would have.
The realities of the parties control the equation,
and here they're not comparable in sophistication;
the reasonableness of her reliance we just cannot gauge
with a yardstick of equal experience and age.
This must be remembered when applying the test
by which the “reasonable fiance” is assessed.
She was 19, he was nearly 30 years older;
was it unreasonable for her to believe what he told her?

Busch v. Busch, 732 A.2d 1274 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1999). Judge Eakin wrote this opinion in verse about a premarital contract gone awry. See Porreco v. Porreco (above) and Liddle v. Scholze, 768 A.2d 1183 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2001) (a case concerning emus), for other opinions written by Judge Eakin in verse.

Wolff v. New Hampshire Dep't of Corrections, 06-cv-321-PB (D.N.H. 2007). When the plaintiff filed a hard-boiled egg as part of his request for a preliminary injunction, Magistrate Judge James R. Muirhead, replied Seussilly:

No fan I am
Of the egg at hand.
Just like no ham
On the kosher plan.
This egg will rot
I kid you not.
And stink it can
This egg at hand.
There will be no eggs at court
To prove a clog in your aort.
There will be no eggs accepted.
Objections all will be rejected.
From this day forth
This court will ban
Hard-boiled eggs of any brand.
And if you should not understand
The meaning of the ban at hand
Then you should contact either Dan,
the Deputy Clerk, or my clerk Jan.
I do not like eggs in the file.
I do not like them in any style.
I will not take them fried or boiled.
I will not take them poached or broiled.
I will not take them soft or scrambled
Despite an argument well-rambled.
No fan I am
Of the egg at hand.
Destroy that egg!
Today! Today!
Today I say! Without delay!