Wikipedia for Judges?

You bet! And it’s called, oddly enough, Judgepedia. Looking very much like its relative, Wikipedia, Judgepedia is a people-powered wiki on American judges and courts. The wiki began in October, 2007 and today has 89,140 articles and 630 registered users. The home page breaks out information by federal courts, state courts, judicial selection, judicial philosphy, news and changes and Judgepedia community. There are links for recent news, Facebook, Twitter, Ballotpedia (an interactive almanac of state politics) and the Sunshine Review (a wiki on standards about government transparency).

Obviously, the more interest in a particular court or judge, the more information. A lot of information is merely in the form of external links to the right source (mostly in state or federal government web sites). It still represents a fairly large collection of judically-related links and a decent source to hit if you are looking for particular information about judges and courts.

It’s a wiki – anyone can participate, but to prevent excessive spamming, one must register an account before adding or editing entries. Judgepedia also strives to maintain a “neutral” point of view, which means that:

  • Views should be represented without bias.
  • “Assert facts, including facts about opinions, but do not assert the opinions themselves,” as it says on Wikipedia.
  • Do not give undue weight to one viewpoint.
  • Exercise fairness of tone.
  • Good research, verifiability and reliability of sources are core values

It is currently sponsored and maintained by the Lucy Burns Institute, a non-profit organization based in Madison, Wisconsin, founded in December 2006.

Hat tip to Robert Ambrogi over at LawSites (link here) for this great find!

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Paper: A Thing Of The Past? No More Bound Rulings!

Arkansas state welcome sign
Image via Wikipedia

First prep school libraries and now state courts. The Arkansas Supreme and Appellate courts have announced the end of printed, bound opinions and rulings. The official versions of the court rulings will be found exclusively on-line, reports Arkansas news sources. In exchange for the more than $250,000 in annual savings, the Arkansas courts counter the hacker concern by assuring the public that there are sufficient safeguards in place to maintain the integrity of the rulings. Okay. The printings ended with the July, 2009 rulings. Trees in Arkansas have been cheering ever since.

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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!

CASE DISMISSED.

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.

Affirmed.

Over and Out!

Massachusetts Authority

I am here in Massachusetts and, therefore, have a predisposition for an interest in Massachusetts authority and general information. Fortunately, the Massachusetts courts and agencies have not been sitting idly by while the Internet revolution explodes around them. Here are a few information gems:

  1. The Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries include information from 17 public law libraries across Massachusetts. There are subject entries on such over 100 topics, including the more popular entries of auto insurance, foreclosure, health insurance, landlord-tenant, potholes, same-sex marriage, smoking and a blog about Massachusetts law. There are Massachusetts and Federal forms provided, at no charge. There are links to podcasts of interest, including one on Massachusetts DUI news. Various statutes and regulations are included, such as Massachusetts laws, Federal laws, links for laws from other states and links for foreign and international laws. Cases can also be found via links: for cases 1972-1996, the cite includes information by citation, name, or through a Google site search. Although not complete collection, the site also includes hundreds of often-cited earlier cases. There is a blog featuring updates on Massachusetts law. You can even chat with a law librarian!
  2. The Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly includes links for free full text opinions from the Supreme Judicial Court and Appeals Court cases from 1997 to current. Summaries are available from 1993. There are other resources available on the site for non-subscribers and it is well worth perusing the pages and links.
  3. Beginning in September, 2007, the Massachusetts Appellate court site began making available briefs filed in most cases scheduled to be argued before the Supreme Judicial Court shortly before the sitting. Hyperlinks to the briefs may be found on the Case Docket pages, just above the Docket Entries.
  4. The Board of Bar Overseers and Office of the Bar Counsel also maintain a site full of helpful information. There is a list of upcoming public hearings. You can search for an attorney by name or city and see his or her status. There is a link to relevant rules including the Rules of Professional Conduct, Canon of Ethics, procedural rules of the Supreme Judicial Court, and rules of the Board of Bar Overseers.
  5. Interested in a case before the Supreme Judicial Court, but cannot make the date for oral argument? Suffolk University Law School, in conjunction with the Court, has made available webcasts of oral arguments. The archives go back to September, 2005. There are minimum system requirements, as well as the need for Windows Media Player, which are outlined on the page.
  6. Here is a handy organizational chart for the Massachusetts court system.
  7. The Massachusetts Department of Revenue very kindly provides on-line access to forms and other information at its own website. There are also news and reports provided on various public information under the auspices of the DOR, including DOR press releases. The DOR also publishes tax guides as general resources regarding Massachusetts law, policies and procedures.
  8. The Massachusetts Legislature maintains a website which lists the legislators, legislation, the laws, the committees, the journals and the calendars of the Massachusetts Senate and House of Representatives. There is a great outline of lawmaking in Massachusetts, complete with a glossary of terms.
  9. This is a great listing of all Massachusetts state agencies, arranged alphabetically.
  10. All you ever wanted to know about the Massachusetts economy can be found at MassBenchmarks, a quarterly journal of the Massachusetts economy published by the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute in cooperation with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and managed by the Institute’s Economic and Public Policy Research unit. Based on census data, the site includes information concerning the performance of and prospects for the Massachusetts economy, including periodic economic analyses of major geographic regions within the Commonwealth and an array of key industries that make up the economic base of the state. The journal also provides commentary and interpretation of economic data aimed at business and labor leaders, public policy makers and the general public.

As the reader can probably imagine, this is not an exhaustive list. For the researcher or general information junkie, however, this should provide many hours of entertainment. Enjoy!