Strategist - The FindLaw Law Firm Business Blog

When Can You Swear in Pleadings?

You know you can't just sling vulgarities at your opponents across the pleaded aisles of the halls of justice. Nevertheless, in pleadings filed across the country, attorneys often struggle with the age old question concerning pejoratives, vulgarities and curse words: Is directly quoting bad or taboo language, without censure, okay in a pleading?

This dilemma can often lead to the attorney's most dreaded nemesis: extreme over-thinking and paralyzing over-analysis, over something that, in effect, is trivial. And if you're in that boat right now, procrastinating on your pleading, stop reading, and just keep it simple. Censure a few letters using asterisks and get back to work on the parts of your pleading that matter. After it's ready for filing, if you have time to devote to it, you can decide whether to drop some asterisks.

Directly Quoting "Bad Language"

If you've already filed and know your judge, you can run an in-depth search on their opinions specifically to see if they've used certain vulgarities either in context or casually in their writings and what the judge decided to do. Also, if you're on the defending end of a pleading that contains vulgarities, if the censorship used by the other side makes sense, you should probably just stick with it.

Before you decide to use profanity without censorship, it would likely behoove you to review your court and local rules. Particularly as most will be available in some form of text searchable online or pdf format where you can quickly check to see if the topic even comes up.

Damned If You Plead, More Damned If You Don't

Whether you censor or not, the court is going to understand the words that get used, unless you don't include them in your pleading. If you're waffling about whether to even include censored quoted vulgar language or curse words, then you need to seriously consider if your sense of decorum might hinder your client's pleading.

If the language is relevant and material to the case, it most certainly should be quoted, as it can be rather powerful. If it is a central part of the case, you may even want to more seriously consider not even censoring it.

Related Resources: