Legally Speaking: Like Noah's ark, everything in twos

By John G. Browning | Jul 9, 2013

My little old Irish grandmother used to say that bad things came in “threes.”

My little old Irish grandmother used to say that bad things came in “threes.”

Experience a death or serious illness in the family lately?  Lose your job?  Well, she would say, that’s not the end of it — according to her immutable theory of the universe, you were about to get one more cosmic kick to the groin because “bad news comes in threes.”

But in surveying the latest legal news, I’m inclined to think that things come in twos—paired off, just like Noah’s ark.  Every time I’ve seen an odd legally-themed news item lately, there always seems to be a counterpart close by.  Let me show you what I mean.

Channeling Pop Culture in the Courts—Vol. I

I’m a movie buff, so I enjoy it when a judge reveals his or her appreciation for the silver screen, especially in the course of a judicial opinion or order.  I think it reminds us that the judge is human too, and laughs at what we laugh at or cries at what makes us cry.

In a recent Florida appellate court case, Handi-Van v. Broward County, the largely dry opinion involves a lawsuit by two government contractors who lost money in a transit program for Broward County.

In discussing the finer points of government contracts, the court referred to another case, which was about a contractor providing rodent-control services (specifically gopher removal) at housing projects.  The Florida appellate judge couldn’t help but interject a reference to gopher removal from one of his favorite movies, “Caddyshack,”

"[I]t should be noted that there are instances where gopher removal may be costly, particularly when animal-shaped C4 explosives are required.  See Caddyshack (Orion Pictures 1980) (chronicling groundkeeper Carl Spackler’s extensive attempts to exterminate a gopher, resulting in the destruction of the Bushwood Country Club)."

Channeling Pop Culture in the Courts—Vol. II

Not to be outdone, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan slipped in an 80s pop music reference in one of her recent opinions.  In American Trucking Association v. City of Los Angeles, Justice Kagan talked about Port of Los Angeles requirements for transporting cargo:

"The two directly at issue here compel the company to (1) affix a placard on each truck with a phone number for reporting environmental or safety concerns (You’ve seen the type: “How am I driving?  213-867-5309”) and (2) submit a plan listing off-street parking locations for each truck when not in service.”

867-5309?  Did Justice Kagan really just rattle off the digits from that Tommy Tutone 80s smash hit “Jenny – 867-5309?”  You bet she did.

What Not to Wear to Court, Vol. I

In June, New Jersey man Heath Campbell went to court in an attempt to obtain visitation rights with his 2-year-old son, Hons.  His choice of attire, however, was odd to say the least—a Nazi uniform.

Was Campbell trying to make a statement about the legal process?  Not exactly.

Campbell is a white supremacist/neo-Nazi who lost custody of his three older children (the state says this was due to violence in the home, while Campbell maintains it was because he gave the kids Nazi-inspired names, like his son, Adolf Hitler Campbell).

When asked if he thought his wardrobe choice would hurt his case, Campbell said “If they’re good judges and they’re good people, they’ll look within, not what’s on the outside.”

Yeah—good luck with that.

What Not to Wear to Court, Vol. II

I’m not sure what’s going on in Illinois judicial circles.  In March, Circuit Judge Joe Christ died of cocaine intoxication.  His friend and fellow criminal court judge Michael Cook faces federal weapons and drug charges, including a charge of possession of heroin.

As if that isn’t bad enough, when he was arraigned in federal court to plead not guilty, Cook wore cutoff shorts and a T-shirt that read “Bad is my middle name.”

Apparently there’s truth in advertising after all.

A Tough Audience, Vo. I

Scott Simon probably should have dialed more carefully before following his alleged murder victim home after an argument at a restaurant.  Thirty-three-year-old Nicholas Walker was fatally shot minutes after Simon was allegedly discussing on the phone his plan to murder Walker.

But Simon didn’t dial the number he thought; instead, he accidentally dialed 911, and his entire conversation was recorded (and eventually traced to him).

A spokesperson for the Broward County Sheriff’s Department said “This is a first for me.  Criminals say crazy things all the time, but I’ve never seen anyone call a recorded line.”

A Tough Audience, Vo. II

Frank Lindh, the general counsel for the California Public Utilities Commission, probably expected a warmer reception than he got recently at the National Conference of Regulatory Attorneys in San Francisco.  After all, his own agency was hosting it and his own staff of attorneys was in the crowd.

But that didn’t prevent Lindh from being heckled by his own people during the speech about “hypothetical” staff attorneys who lacked judgment and loyalty.

This followed shortly after the reported reassignment of a four lawyer team from the CPUC who had called for more than $2 billion in fines to be imposed on Pacific Gas and Electric Co. over its culpability in a 2010 San Bruno natural gas explosion and fire that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.

The attorneys had also refused to sign a brief they believed to be unethical over concerns about recommendations the brief made regarding penalties that should be assessed against the gas company.

As Rodney Dangerfield would say, tough crowd!

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