Thursday, November 10, 2005

Poetic justice?

Beginning legal writers first wrestle with the basic conventions of legal writing and the formal requirements of a particular document.  Then they come to understand that, within the conventions and formalities, there are many stylistic choices to make.  For example, they must achieve a tone that is appropriate for the seriousness of their purpose and for their audience.

In time, more experienced legal writers often develop highly individual legal writing styles.  Some famous jurists are known in particular for their writing styles.  A few judges have even broken out of the confines of legal prose to create, yes, legal poetry.

The case of Fisher v. Lowe, 122 Mich. App. 418, 333 N.W.2d 67 (1983), concerned damage to a property owner's tree, which was hit by a moving car.  The facts of this case appear to have a brought a childhood poem to mind for Judge J.H. Gillis.  The entire brief opinion is written in rhyming verse.  Even the headnotes and synposis, which are usually added by the legal publisher, are written in rhyming verse.  The opinion begins:

"We thought that we would never see
A suit to compensate a tree.
A suit whose claim in tort is prest
Upon a mangled tree's behest; ...."

More recently, in Zangrado v. Sipula, 2000 Pa. Super. 196, 756 A.2d 73, Judge Eakin wrote a longer opinion, entirely in rhyming verse.  This case concerned the veterinary bill for a dog hit by a car.  The dog's name was Angel, and as Judge Eakin poetically described events:

"To appellee this was nothing short of an unmitigated disaster;
the wingless Angel'd taken flight and ascended quickly past her."

While such opinions might add some levity to a judge's work day, it's hard not to wonder what the actual parties to the case think of this approach.  Judge Eakin seems to have been at least aware that the parties might feel they were being made fun of, as the opinion closes with:

"We must conclude the issues raised do not warrant a new trial
and all that we may offer now is this respectful rhymed denial."
(emphasis added)

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