Judges Say the Darndest Things: FindLaw's List of the Top Ten Oddball Judicial Decisions - CourtSide
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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.

In recommending 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." Nice.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Bradshaw 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:
    "Before 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."
  3. 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. 
  4. 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." 
  5. Chemical Specialties Mfrs. Ass'n v. Clark, 482 F.2d 325 (5th Cir. 1973).  Is it a concurrence or an ad for soap products?
  6. Avista Management v. Wausau Underwriters Insurance (M.D. Fla, 2006).  If only all discovery disputes could be resolved this way:
    "[T]he 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."
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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)