Does Humor Belong In The Law?

That really is a rhetorical question. As long as there are humans overseeing the administration of justice, there will be humor in the law. Examine the scathing wit of Judge Judy and Judge Harry Stone of “Night Court.” Besides, if you were subjected day in and day out to less than invigorating legal writing, dull arguments and fact patterns, you might find yourself seeking unorthodox stimulation in your linguistic endeavors and vent those frustrations in your creative output. There are far more of these entertaining opinions than one might think and I highly recommend a visit to LawHaHa and The University of Washington School of Law site for a hearty read. Or, you can amuse yourself with the following highlights:

1. United States v. Murphy, 406 F.3d 857 (7th Cir. 2005)(Evans, J.).

This case involved the older Murphy being found guilty on an indictment of five counts of tampering with a witness who was going to testify against his son the younger Murphy. Following the jury’s findings, trial judge Murphy (I kid you not) granted a co-defendant’s motion for a judgment of acquittal on tampering counts. The older Murphy appealed denial of his motions for acquittal.

The Federal Circuit Court proceeded to relate the events on the evening of May 29, 2003. The co-defendant, who had recently turned informant, was smoking crack with three other folks at a home in a trailer park . Murphy the elder, who had previously sold drugs to the co-defendant, arrived on the scene. When things turned ugly between the two, the cuss words flew. This is what the court had to say about the older Murphy’s reference to the co-defendant as a “snitch bitch hoe:”

The trial transcript quotes Ms. Hayden as saying Murphy called her a snitch bitch “hoe.” A “hoe,” of course, is a tool used for weeding and gardening. We think the court reporter, unfamiliar with rap music (perhaps thankfully so), misunderstood Hayden’s response. We have taken the liberty of changing “hoe” to “ho,” a staple of rap music vernacular as, for example, when Ludacris raps “You doin’ ho activities with ho tendencies.”

You can never be too precise in either your spelling or your usage.

2. Kohlbrand v. Ranieri, 823 N.E.2d 76 (Ohio Ct. App. 2005) (Painter, J.)

The seller of a piece of real property brought a claim against an earlier seller after the current buyer discovered an undisclosed pipeline easement on the property. Judge Painter took issue with the the lack of clarity in the repetitive use of redundantly unclear and heretofore cloudy legalese obscuring the intended intent as per the following:

Monfort [the immediate seller] contends, “Although a ‘clear title’ is one that is not subject to any restrictions, the case at bar involved a ‘free and clear’ title, which is the same as a marketable title.” So, according to Monfort, a free and clear title is worse than a clear title. Say what? Would that Harold had not lost the Battle of Hastings. Free and clear mean the same thing. Using both is an unnecessary lawyerism. Free is English; clear is from the Old French cler. After the Norman Conquest, English courts were held in French. The Normans were originally Vikings, but after they conquered the region of Normandy, they became French; then they took over England.[ ] But most people in England, surprisingly enough, still spoke English. So lawyers started using two words for one and forgot to stop for the last 900 years. So free and clear do not mean separate things; they mean, and were always meant to mean, exactly the same thing. Just as null and void and due and payable mean the same thing. All of these couplets are redundant and irritating lawyerisms. And they invite just what has happened here-an assertion that they somehow have different meanings.The Norman Conquest was in 1066. We can safely eliminate the couplets now.

Footnote references omitted. Thanks, Judge Painter, for freely clearing up that one. 

3. Amicone v. Shoaf, 423 Pa. Super. 281, 620 A.2d 1222 (1993)

Two Dollars. I want my Two Dollars. (If you actually get that reference, I will personally send you Two Dollars). A customer of Denny’s fine eating establishment was heartily displeased with the sausages accompanying his plate of eggs. The customer returned the sausages to the kitchen and wanted a reduction of his bill for the full a la carte price of the sausage. Denny’s only deducted half of that amount. We are talking approximately $2 here, people! Less than pleased with the level of service, the customer paid what he believed to be the true value of his meal. Denny’s responded by filing criminal theft charges, which ultimately were dismissed. Not to be outdone, the customer then filed a malicious prosecution action against Denny’s. Turn about being fair play and all, the lower court non-suited the customer, who then appealed. The opinion rendered in that appeal follows, and it is worth decidedly more than $2:

Sausage and eggs!

Sausage and eggs!

$2.02 he refused to pay

So now in court it’s for us to say.

Sausage and eggs!

It wasn’t the price

The parties contend

It’s the principle, they pretend.

Sausage and eggs! $2.02 involved

A sum so easily resolved

But no give or take here

They insist on a legal atmosphere.

Oh, in Uncle Sam’s land

Any person in court may protest

But, dear Lord, the Judge says

From this test, please give me rest.

You get what you pay for, no doubt!

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

I remember this one from my early days – a Westlaw representative used it in a training class.  Per one web site’s desription, this opinion clearly is “Paine’s World,” a place where the fine Judge oversees “dudes” in admiralty claims who can “party on” and “hurl chunks.” The court dealt with an untimely request for removal to the federal court presented by a newly added defendant. Amid section titles bearing opaque “Wayne’s World” references (remember the Saturday Night Live duo of Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey) such as “A Schwing and a Miss,” the court concluded with the following paragraph:

As a result, Prime Time’s removal, almost ten months after Muir commenced suit, is untimely and is a defect deemed “way” improvident. For similar reasons, the court finds that removal of the Noble case, which had been remanded, was also untimely. In short, Prime Time’s most bogus attempt at removal is “not worthy” and the Defendants must party on in state court.

As Wayne Campbell said in the movie: “I once thought I had mono for an entire year. It turned out I was just really bored.”

5. State v. Hayes, 119 Ohio Misc. 2d 124 (2002)(Gysegem, J.)

Picture this. The arrest was made five days before Christmas. The defendant, a card carrying Santa Claus, was charged with the first degree misdemeanor of knowing possession of a fictitious identification card. Santa moved to dismiss. The Judge had this to say about the indictment:

The defendant, Warren J. Hayes, hereinafter referred to as Santa Claus,FN1 stands charged with a first-degree misdemeanor violation of prohibited acts R.C. 4507.30 in that he did on the 20th day of December 2001, display or possess an identification card knowing the same to be fictitious.

FN1. Jolly old Saint Nicholas, lean your ear this way!

You tell every single soul what I’m going to say;

Trial day is coming soon; Now you dear old man,

Concerning BMV and you-I’ll tell you best I can!

The court held that Santa’s possession and display of a state non-driver’s ID in the name of Santa Claus did not amount to possession of a fictitious identification card, given Santa’ long history with the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles as evidenced by the issuance of several vehicle registrations and ID cards. The judge couldn’t resist adding the following admonishment:

He sees you when you’re sleeping

He knows when you’re awake

He knows if you’ve been bad or good

So be good for goodness sake!


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

In a tax case involving deducted expenditures for prepayment of fertilizer, the court found fertile ground in the otherwise arid climate of the tax code, opening its decision with the following stanza from Ecclesiastes, ch.3:

“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. In this appeal from a Tax Court decision, we are asked to determine when the time for taking a fertilizer deduction should be.

As ye sow, so shall ye reap.

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

Obviously a Poe fan, this is taken from the case summary:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while

he pondered weak and weary,

Over cluttered Chapter seven files,

to Bankruptcy Judge A. Jay Cristol

While the winds of fall did whistle

came the whisper of a raven,

“Sua sponte” this case dismiss,

for tis one you’ll never miss.

The Code said, to prevent abuse,

if consumer debt relief was case’s use,

The judge alone could say “No more.”

But with presumption in his favor,

The case with error might debtor flavor.

So quoth the good Judge, “Nevermore.”

Motion denied.

The entire opinion is written as an ode to Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven.

8. Fisher v. Lowe, 333 N.W.2d 67 (Mich. Ct. App. 1983)

In a suit brought by the owner of a “beautiful golden oak” scarred in a collision with defendant’s vehicle, the following gem can be found:

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.


Over and Out!

One comment on “Does Humor Belong In The Law?

  1. Pingback: More Music, Law and Judicial Humor « Advocate’s Studio

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