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More Judges Who Think They are Funny:
Via Prawfs. My own plea to the federal judiciary: Please stop with the rhymes, pop lyrics, and other cute stuff. Thanks, a reader.
CalvinTerBeek (mail):
Orin,

Yes, it's a little lame. But it's also nice to see that judges can have fun and not take themselves *too* seriously (while conducting serious business).
7.8.2008 6:24pm
MJG:
I don't mind it on principle, but many of these seem so forced. The claim is "confused" so it's like the Jimi Hendrix lyric which happens to mention the word "confusion." Great stuff.

But if there is a way to be funny or reference some pop culture source that at least relates to the argument or assertion the Judge is making, then that is fine. Stevens in his Heller dissent told the story of the blind who try to describe an elephant. Agree or disagree, it was helpful to making his point. Bob Dylan lyrics? I'm not sure.
7.8.2008 6:33pm
Adam K:
As a litigator, the last thing I want is a judge who I don't think gives a damn about the solemnity and importance of his office, and that is exactly what I am going to think that I am getting if a judge goes out of his way to contrive a quirky, rhyming opinion such as this.
7.8.2008 6:44pm
Hauk:
Adam K:

My experience has been that in most cases where judges do things like this, the lawyers (for one or both sides) have already made such a mockery of the proceeding that the judge can't do anything more to undermine the solemnity and importance of his office.
7.8.2008 6:50pm
LM (mail):
Orin,

Is your objection to the practice, or just to the practice done poorly? Because when it's (rarely) done well, it strikes me as a win-win. In any event, I hope your complaint doesn't reach beyond legal opinions. There's some classic stuff, like J. Kozinski and Eugene's piece on Yiddish, which is pretty cute.
7.8.2008 7:12pm
CalvinTerBeek (mail):
Adam,

No one wants a wanna-be stand-up comedian for a judge. However, this was in response to a 465-page complaint filed by a lawyer in federal court. If any situation called for (or was excused by) a little levity, surely this was it.
7.8.2008 7:17pm
BruceM (mail) (www):
If I were a federal judge I'd write all my opinions in iambic pentameter. But I'll never be a federal judge since I'm openly anti-children, so I guess the point is moot.
7.8.2008 7:20pm
krs:
The practice is self-indulgent and annoying. When it's done poorly, it's even more self-indulgent and annoying and has no redeeming value. If judges are afraid of writing boring opinions, perhaps they should work on their writing skills and make their opinions clearer (and thereby less tedious) instead of winking at law students and bloggers in the footnotes.

Judge Posner manages to inject wit into his opinions in a way that actually adds to the analysis. One of my favorites is his opinion in Employers Insurance of Wausau v. Titan International, Inc. (March 3, 2005), in which Judge Posner explains why the court rejects one of the plaintiff's arguments, and summarizes his analysis as "the law is not finders keepers."

In Jenkins v. BellSouth Corp., 491 F.3d 1288 (11th Cir. 2007), Judge Pryor opened the opinion with an analogy between a "revival" of a religious service (common in the South) and the petitioner's argument, which sought a "revival" of an enforceable right. That added a bit of color to the opinion and framed the legal issue without being self-indulgent.

On the other hand, Syufy and the Billy Madison-inspired bankruptcy court "order denying motion for incomprehensibility" and similar things are good for a laugh, but are ultimately self-indulgent and have no place in a judicial opinion. If a judge needs a creative outlet, s/he can write on the side.
7.8.2008 7:32pm
Geest:
I have less of a problem with judicial levity where there is no substantive right being affected. Plaintiff is just being asked to redraw his complaint, he's not getting thrown out of court or having judgment entered against him.

Similar to the UT-Arkansas football opinion a couple of weeks ago. It's okay to be cutesy when you're officiating over a meaningless discovery spat over the location of a deposition. Not so if this was a prisoner seeking habeas relief.
7.8.2008 8:04pm
R.A. Porter:
I suspect many lawyers don't like judges who lack solemnity because they themselves lack humor.

I read this opinion. It was appropriate, and appropriately summed.
7.8.2008 8:18pm
Tom Tildrum:
Wasn't it Prosser who said that the judicial humorist should be choked with his own wig? Sound advice that still holds true.
7.8.2008 8:33pm
Mike& (mail):
The use of "judicial humor" is a surprisingly (or not?) controversial topic. During law school a prof and I were going to write an article on it. There was already enough literature out there, so we didn't.

While the cites to those articles are long-forgotten, I did remember this website. Worth checking out.
7.8.2008 9:11pm
Cory J (mail):
Justice Eakin of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court used to write some of his opinions (mostly?) in rhyme. I've read a few of them but I forget how heavily he used rhymes.

He stopped after a few of the justices criticized the practice.
7.8.2008 11:50pm
pete m (mail):
Perhaps if the use of lyrics didn't keep getting blog highlighting, they might stop ...
7.9.2008 12:40am
advisory opinion:
Orin, are you disapproving of the Chief citing Dylan? Personally, I hate Dylan; but I'd rather the Chief's levity than AMK's show of faux judicial majesty.
7.9.2008 2:50am
krs:
I'd rather the Chief's levity than AMK's show of faux judicial majesty

Me too, but which request is more likely to be granted: (1) resist the urge to add the occasional cute flourish to your opinions, or (2) stop being an awful judge ?
7.9.2008 10:26am
jazzed (mail):
I have a great sense of humor. In fact, I'm the funniest person I know. That being said, judicial opinions are not the places for levity at our clients expense. Parties, even ones grossly in the wrong, have unattractive emotions tied up in litigation, and antagonizing those emotions, or, worse, showing disrespect for the people for whom we work by carving a lampoonish frieze of them into the annals of jurisprudence is arrogant and despicable.
7.9.2008 11:03am