Saturday, February 23, 2013

Humor in judicial opinions

A recent article discusses humor in courts’ opinions. Most of its examples strike me as contrived and un-funny. For example, one judge began his opinion about a damaged oak tree with this parody of Joyce Kilmer: "We thought that we should never see/ A suit to compensate a tree."

It probably seemed clever at the time.

The article’s author, UCLA law student Lucas K. Hori, points out the harms of judicial humor: It trivializes disputes that are significant to the litigants, it distracts readers from the legal issues, and it damages the courts’ image of neutrality. Hori argues that judges should not be prohibited from using humor. That makes sense. But they ought to consider Hori’s caveats: keep any humor brief, and never use humor to poke fun at litigants. I would add these: don’t demean the legal process, and skip the lame jokes.


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