Legally Speaking: Even more disorder in the court

By John G. Browning | Mar 27, 2012

As I survey the more unusual moments happening lately in the legal system, I think I'm going to have to revise some of my "best" and "worst" lists.

Check out the following real-life examples, and see if you agree with me.

Best Excuse for Skipping Jury Duty

Jacob Clark of Yarmouth, Mass., had a pretty good excuse why he shouldn't have to comply with the jury duty summons he recently received; he's only 9 years old.

When he got the summons to appear April 18, the boy asked his parents "What's jury duty?"

Jacob's father called the jury commission office to find out what happened, and learned that someone had mistakenly typed in "1982" instead of "2002" for the third-grader's birth year.

Now the error has been corrected, and Jacob won't have to miss a day of school (on the other hand, maybe he should have kept quiet a little longer).

Worst Way to Get Out of Jury Duty

Fifty-seven-year-old Susan Cole of Denver, Colo., thought she had shown up for jury selection in hair curlers, mismatched shoes, reindeer socks, outrageous makeup and a T-shirt saying "Ask me about my bestseller."

After telling the court she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and gets "very confused in the morning," Cole was dismissed. Several months later, on a radio talk show, Cole described her ploy.

Unfortunately, the judge who had presided over court that day heard the radio program, recalled the odd-looking woman, and turned Cole in. Now, the Denver woman has been charged with perjury.

Cole says she's "embarrassed" about this and with the possibility of jail time for her conduct. She now has a valid reason to feel apprehensive about going to court.

Best Exercise of Judicial Authority – WWE Style

Fifty-five-year-old Steven Michael Hauge picked the wrong courtroom in which to start a ruckus on March 19. Hauge was in the Honolulu, Hawaii, courtroom of Judge Lono Lee when he suddenly began yelling, jumped up on the judge's bench and broke a flagpole.

But Judge Lee laid down the law, WWE Smackdown style, putting Hauge in a chokehold and taking him down to the ground.

Deputy prosecutor Rafael Renteria helped the judge hold Hauge until sheriffs arrived, and Hauge has since been charged with disorderly conduct, obstruction of government operations, and criminal damage to property.

And Judge Lee may go on to be the only jurist who gets to negotiate the pay-per-view rights to his next trial.

Best Exercise of Judicial Authority – Sarcastic Court Order Style

U.S. District Judge Fred Biery of the Western District of Texas in San Antonio was not happy with how the parties to a recent case (which involved issues of religious liberties and school prayer) had conducted themselves after entering into a settlement agreement.

Back on Feb. 9, Judge Biery had approved the settlement agreement, which included a provision stating that "School District Personnel will not disparage the plaintiffs."

Unfortunately, according to the court, after the settlement was reached, the school superintendent criticized the lawsuit as a "witch hunt," and the school's marching band director posted comments on Facebook referring to "the lies and false accusations" allegedly made by the plaintiffs.

So, on March 19, Judge Biery entered what he called a "Non-Kumbaya Order." He gave the school district defendants the "opportunity" to sign a statement of apology within 10 days, and agree to abide by the settlement agreement; by the same token, he ordered the plaintiffs to accept such an apology and similarly agree to abide by the settlement agreement.

Judge Biery wrote that if his "suggestions" were acted upon, he'd find that any contempt had been purged. Judge Biery also cautioned the parties about six well-known lawyers who had lost their law licenses for (among other things) "talking too much" when "silence would . . . have been the better choice."

The examples he gave included former U.S. Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, former U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell, former Texas Attorney General Dan Morales, Scooter Libby and former federal judge Samuel Kent.

Judge Biery also gave the parties several pointed examples of previous litigants who he had punished for contempt of court, and he reminded them "Trouble does not come from words unspoken, particularly in this age of emails, tweets, cameras and recorders."

Can't we all just get along?

Worst Excuse for a Domestic Violence Call

Police in an upstate New York town reported recently that they'd responded to a domestic violence call "where a male and female were having an argument about how the pizza had been sliced."

Best Excuse for Not Being Prepared for Probate Court

In Santa Clara, Calif., it was the legal version of "the dog ate my homework." Only in this case, the dog was Jack, a Scottish terrier puppy who ate inheritance checks totaling $49,000 that his owner, Roberta Kremnitz had recently received from her late mother's estate.

Fortunately, Ms. Kremnitz was able to have the checks replaced by the bank—after a few chuckles, no doubt.

Best Real-Life Use of a Movie Wizard

For more than 20 years, a Southampton, England, pub known as "The Hobbit" has catered to its customers with a Tolkien-inspired flair.

The establishment's walls are decorated with paintings of "Lord of the Rings" characters, and its signature drinks are named after Middle Earth characters like Gandalf, Bilbo, Frodo and Legolas.

But then an evil threat loomed—not from Sauron or orcs, but from something even darker: lawyers!

The attorneys for Middle Earth Enterprises (which produced the recent "Lord of the Rings" films and which owns many of the rights to J.R.R. Tolkien's works) sent the little watering hole a letter threatening legal action if it didn't change its name and undergo "a complete rebranding."

Then Sir Ian McKellen, the actor who plays the wizard Gandalf, came to the rescue, rallying public support by blogging about how the film company's actions were "unnecessary pettiness" and how he didn't see any problem with the pub keeping its Middle Earth identity.

The outcry was enough to make film company owner Saul Zaentz back down, agreeing that a nominal license fee of $100 would be fine and that he'd even "stop in for a drink."

Too bad. I was actually looking forward to seeing Gandalf in court with a staff and a briefcase, proclaiming "You shall not pass!"

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