Case law as entertainment

Okay, so this isn’t exactly genealogy, but it is law, and it’s far too rich for The Legal Genealogist to let it pass without passing it on.

It’s the whole idea of case law — written opinions or documents by judges — as entertainment.

I mean, seriously, some of what you can find in published opinions or written documents filed in court cases is simply hilarious.

Just recently, a federal judge in the Southern District of Texas had had it with the lawyers in a case which has been on the court’s docket for nearly eight years. The case — Align Technology v. ClearCorrect — was filed on 28 February 2011, and is assigned to United States District Judge Vanessa D. Gilmore who, by now, has Had It (in capital letters) with this case. And a week ago she filed an order on a motion in the case1 which you can see — in only slightly shortened form and with highlighter added — below:

Judge Gilmore isn’t the first judge from that particular federal court to face lawyers with a sense of both exasperation and humor.

In 2001, in a published case, another Judge from that court wrote:

… 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.2

Now I don’t want to single out the Southern District of Texas for having taken — well, let’s just call it a lighter approach. In the District of New Jersey, in 1996, another judge considered an application to punish a lawyer — sanction him in the language of the law — for not following the rules, and decided to write it this way in a published opinion:

The Court, however, must now be objective
Because sanctions imposed are always elective;
As a judicial measure they’re not taken lightly —
Imposed only sparingly, fairly and rightly.3

And some years before that, another New Jersey judge, in a state court case, began his description of the facts of the case before his panel of appeals court judges (which, by the way, included the future U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan), in these words:

The transcript of the testimony in this case portrays an unfortunate episode in the life of Reilly.4

Yes, the case actually did involve a plaintiff named Reilly. Judge Wilfred Jayne, then serving on the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, continued:

While the narrative of the interrelated events may be summarized, yet in the interest of precision it is expedient to quote verbatim et literatim rather liberally from the testimony.

On the evening of Memorial Day in the year 1949 the plaintiff John Reilly resolved to visit a nearby tavern known as the “180 Club” on Wilkinson Avenue in the City of Jersey City. Among its accommodations it contained a semicircular bar which we are informed is not by reason of its spherical form productive of any special hazards in its appropriate use. Wooden stools were advantageously stationed around its contour for the comfort of the patrons.

While the safe use of a stool probably depends particularly upon the capacity of the occupant to respond with alacrity to the deviations of equilibrium, yet our attention has not been invited to any authority holding that stools in a barroom are per se dangerous instrumentalities.

Upon entering at about 10:30 P.M. Reilly recognized among those present his acquaintances Messrs. Moriarity, McGee, and McKitrick in front of the bar with McDermott officiating behind it. Reilly forthwith mounted a vacant stool at the bar, “wrapped his feet around the rungs,” and began to achieve the object of his visit. Presently Gillespie, O’Neill, and Gilligan dropped in.

The contingency which immediately attracted attention was that Moriarity was “needling” McGee with unprecedented continuity and persistence. Moriarity’s inaugural comments ungraciously pertained to McGee’s necktie, then to the latter’s “sharp pants,” then followed a dissertation concerning McGee’s parsimony in which Moriarity proclaimed that “McGee was too cheap to buy a drink and he never did buy a drink and he wouldn’t buy a drink for his own brother.”

Gilligan supplied the following description of the march of affairs: “It would go on and on. Then it would seem Moriarity would get friendly with McGee; you would think everything was settled and, bingo, he would get sore at him again, and start, ‘Ah, you never were any good.’ McGee told me, ‘I can only take so much.'”

And so Moriarity’s “needling,” McGee’s exasperation, and the chosen beverages all continued to flow until about 1:30 A.M. when Moriarity uttered the remark that McGee had married a “Polack.” Physical combat between the two immediately ensued, each made “one swipe” at the other, went into a clinch and while thus struggling, they collided with Reilly, capsizing both him and the stool with which he had been theretofore peacefully and placidly intertwined.

Those who observed the affray experienced some embarrassment at the trial by reason of the following sequence. Reilly sustained a fractured leg, and an ambulance was summoned, which emergency gave rise to the apprehension that the police might initiate an investigation. McDermott, the bartender, profoundly interested in avoiding any impairment of the reputation of the tavern, induced the others to explain, if officially interrogated, that no strife had occurred, but that Reilly had fallen off the stool. When subsequently summoned to testify at the trial of the present action, they were confronted with their fables. It suffices to state that we are not requested to evaluate the weight and credibility of the evidence.5

Now c’mon.

Seriously.

These are funny.

So if you’ve held back from researching your folks in court records because you think it’s all going to be dry as dust and just plain boring, well, yeah, maybe, some of the time.

But — as these cases prove — not always.

And you’ll never know what you might find until you look…


SOURCES

  1. Order, Align Technology v. ClearCorrect, Civ. No. 4:11-CV-695, United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, 12 Dec 2018; retrieved from Pacer.gov, 18 Dec 2018).
  2. Bradshaw v. Unity Marine Corp., 147 F. Supp. 2d 668, 670 (S.D. Tex. 2001).
  3. Joe Hand Promotions v. Sports Page Cafe, 940 F. Supp. 102, 104 (D.N.J. 1996).
  4. Reilly v. 180 Club, Inc., 14 N.J. Super. 420, 421 (App. Div. 1951).
  5. Ibid., 14 N.J. Super. at 421-423.
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