In ‘Oh, Really?’ the Biederman Blog’s editors — voracious consumers of all matters pop culture — cast a curious, skeptical, fun and smart end-of-the-week eye on popular productions, sharing their keen observations about legal matters these raise.
The pursuit of lively legal prose leads lawyers to seek entertaining references, with some of these surprising citations devoted to pop culture and especially the movies. But what crops up in those legal briefs can be amusing — or an utter fiasco. Let’s look at some instances where lawyers and judges either have made their formal documents delightfully breezy — or left nothing less than memorable stink bombs.
The blogosphere has buzzed plenty about a recent cinema citation, which Kevin Underhill from Lowering the Barpresents as the “New Contender for Worst Legal Brief.” In this instance, a lawyer apparently based his appellate argument on the premise of the movie “The Hangover.” It’s something you must see for yourself. The argument from the first paragraph of the brief begins with:
“In the 2009 movie The Hangover, the ultimate Las Vegas bachelor party goes bad when the groom’s men wake up in their suite at Caesar’s Palace with a tiger in the bathroom, a 6-month old baby in the close, and the groom nowhere to be found. What’s more, nobody can remember the previous night’s events, due to the effects of the alcohol they ingested together with a drug that suppresses memory. While attempting to find the missing groom, the groom’s men discover that they stole the tiger in their bathroom from former professional heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson during their drunken revelry. Being no stranger to the problems that can be caused by alcohol, Tyson understands how it can affect one’s judgment and forgives them for stealing his tiger. That is the essence of this appeal.”
Unfortunately, the judge did not see it the same way. Underhill notes the court stated that, “[a]ppellate counsel’s attempts to sugar coat these shocking events…gives pulp fiction a bad name. His story is as delusional as it is unbelievable, and it is not surprising that the jury didn’t buy it.”
Of course counsel can be more felicitous in the application of movie knowledge, as Orin Kerr finds at the Volokh Conspiracy, where he notes a brief but telling reference to Forrest Gump. Kerr writes that, in Uthman v. Obama, U.S. appellate Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote in his opinion that there was enough evidence to show that Uthman was a member of Al Qaeda. There is no other explanation for Uthman coincidentally appearing in places where Al Qaeda activity was taking place, “a kind of Forrest Gump in the war against al Qaeda.”
Litigator John Browning, in a Texas legal journal, makes the argument that inserting pop culture or movie references makes potentially tedious and dry legal documents more readable and fun. Browning notes that Judge David Watt in Ontario, Canada, writes his opinions like a hard-boiled detective would describe a scene in a noir fiction. He cites the judge’s prose in a brief on a murder case: “Handguns and drug deals are frequent companions, but not good friends. Rip-offs happen. Shootings do, too. Caveat emptor. Caveat venditor. People get hurt. People get killed. Sometimes, the buyers. Othertimes, the seller. That happened here.”
Not everyone is happy with these references. Browning notes that critics of this style of opinion writing bemoan that judges write to entertain not just to present and analyze cold, hard facts. His message to critics: “The law doesn’t have to be boring.”
Meantime, for those fascinated by off-beat or funny judicial opinions, with and without movie or pop culture references, cyber space has plenty of time-killing sites to check out, including: LawHaHa.com and Ryan Perlin’s article on Judicial Opinions That Entertain at Generation JD.