Saturday, November 26, 2011

Humour in Court: Part 3


A 2010 US case needed a determination as to whether something had occurred in international waters.  This in turn required a decision as to whether Saint Vincents Rock was a rock or an island. 

The judgment includes:

“. . . we can discern no reason why something could not be both a rock and an island at the same time. See Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, I am a Rock, on Sounds of Silence (Columbia 1966) (“A winter’s day, in a deep and dark December. . . .  I have my books and my poetry to protect me. I am shielded in my armor. Hiding in my room, safe within my womb, I touch no one and no one touches me. I am a rock, I am an island. And a rock feels no pain. And an island never cries.”). Of course, neither Simon nor Garfunkel has been identified as a nautical expert.”

Citation: 336 F 3d 1269 (11th Cir, 2003)

Address by former Chief Justice of New South Wales, J Spigelman (pictured above), at a conference celebrating 80 years of the Australian Law Journal, 2007:

The Australian Law Journal over its 80 years has often sparkled with wit. Indeed the very first item under the very first Current Topics in the very first volume manifested the particular twinkle of which Sir Bernard Sugerman was capable. In the very first sentence, Sir Bernard referred to W S Gilbert as possibly being attracted to an event that had recently occurred in the Supreme Court of Victoria.

A liquidator of a company had written to himself, to inform himself that he had resigned his office. However that letter had, unfathomably, not reached its destination. The liquidator had to seek judicial advice, to use Sir Bernard’s description, about “whether he had sufficiently informed himself of his own resignation or not”.
Sir Bernard set out another incident about the tribulations of service. A firm of Melbourne solicitors wished to make a claim against a company for professional costs. They realised that the registered office of the company was situated at their very own offices.

Sugerman explained the consequences of this startling revelation:

“Whereupon the clerk in charge of the matter, after applying himself with a screwdriver to the affixing of the company’s nameplate to the exterior of the office, went for a walk around the block and returned to serve the summons upon the company by leaving it at the office of his own firm which had issued it.”

Another from the US:

In 1975 in Georgia one Brown was accused of a drug offence.  Unfortunately one of his key defence witnesses was not available for the trial.  Judge Harrison refused an application for an adjournment and Mr Brown was duly convicted.  On appeal the decision of Judge Harrison was reversed by the Georgia Court of Appeal and a new trial was ordered.

One member of the Court of Appeal, Judge Evans, gave his decision in rhyme.  In a footnote to his judgment he explained that one year earlier in a “very convivial celebration” Judge Harrison addressed the gathering and, according to Judge Evans' footnote, demanded that if Evans was ever again so presumptuous as to reverse one of his decisions, the opinion should be set out in poetry.

Judge Evans admitted in his footnote that he was not a poet and that his writing was, at best, mere doggerel.

Some of the stanzas:

The D. A. was ready
His case was red-hot.
Defendant was present,
His witness was not.

He prayed one day's delay
From His honor the judge.
But his plea was not granted
The Court would not budge.

So the jury was empaneled
All twelve good and true
But without his main witness
What could the twelve do?

So the case has reached us—
And now we must decide
Was the guilty verdict legal—
Or should we set it aside.

Was one day's delay
Too much to expect?
Could the State refuse it
With all due respect?

We've considered this case
Through the night—
through the day.
As Judge Harrison said,
‘We must earn our poor pay.’

This case was once tried—
But should now be rehearsed
And tried one more time.
This case is reversed!

— Brown v. State, 216 S.E.2d 356

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