I thought I’d seen just about everything in my 25 years of practicing law. Motions challenging the other side to a fistfight, personal insults hurled during depositions, judicial orders imposing a “time out” on misbehaving lawyers—you name it.
But what I’ve seen in the last few weeks has convinced me that if there is one constant in the legal universe, it’s to expect the unexpected. You simply never know what people are going to say or do when it comes to the legal system.
Consider the following examples:
Arkansas—Home of the “Law of the Playground”
Most people expect their lawyers to sound well-educated and eloquent, able to gracefully articulate that which may be hard to put into words. Except, perhaps, for lawyers in Arkansas.
For example, a pleading signed by Sharon Kiel, a deputy public defender in Little Rock, has been making the rounds on the Internet lately. In a barely literate motion seeking to ban a particular individual from testifying as a witness, Ms. Kiel rambles on like she was writing a teenage girl’s Facebook post or diary entry.
She refers to one witness as “crazy anxious,” and characterizes another’s statements as “technically correct” but “poopyhead.” She even refers to one witness’ conduct as “poopy and wrong,” and goes so far as to include a sad face emoticon in her motion.
Seriously, is it too much to ask for lawyers to write and behave like adults? Apparently, in Arkansas, it might be. In another case, a different Arkansas lawyer sent a discovery request to an opposing party seeking that individual to admit that “you lost the second [name of law firm] was hired and that we are going to whip the dog piss out of you.”
Ah, Arkansas—you must be so proud.
Sometimes, We All Just Need a Drink
A jury in West Palm Beach, Fla., was deliberating a criminal case earlier this month when they sent back a note to the judge. This is not uncommon, as jurors frequently want to re-examine certain pieces of evidence or key testimony.
But this request was a little more unusual, since it asked for not only a white board and markers (perfectly understandable) but also a “big bottle of wine!”
I guess there are cases that will drive you to drink (even if you’re a juror). There was no word on how the judge responded, but I doubt he declared a happy hour.
Judges Waxing Poetic
Speaking of judges, we all know that, every now and then, they like to have a little fun with their rulings.
In July, a federal judge in Philadelphia refused to reseal a 2006 search warrant affidavit that had been mistakenly made public on the internet. Using just about every metaphor in the book as he rejected the lawyers’ clichéd reasons for making the document private once again, Judge Gene E.K. Pratter of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania said,
“Like a feline with escapist tendencies, this dispute has inspired many metaphors. Bells have rung, dogs barked, horses bolted from barns and cats scurried out bags and up trees. Toothpaste has been irreversibly evicted from its tubular abode and the egg scrambled. A document supposed to have been seen by just a few has now been blasted into cyberspace where, we know, nothing ever dies.”
Another federal judge got to channel her inner rock star in another case that showcased her appreciation for the Rolling Stones. Judge Janice Rogers Brown of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit recently rejected the attempts by a Tea Party organization, Stop This Insanity Inc., to use an obscure campaign finance provision in order to circumvent certain disclosure requirements.
Judge Brown wrote an opinion that quoted Mick Jagger, telling the grassroots organization “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, well, you just might find, you get what you need.”
Later on, Judge Brown wrote that Stop This Insanity Inc. “will get no satisfaction.” And with that, the lawsuit was gone in a “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”
Sometimes, You Care About What a Jury Will Think; Sometimes You Don’t
You never know who’s going to wind up on a jury. In Nevada, the chief justice of Nevada’s supreme court recently was picked for jury duty and wound up serving as foreman.
In Chicago, “A-Team” and “Rocky III” tough guy Mr. T recently showed up to do his civic duty, saying “I pity the criminals today.”
And usually, people who might end up being judged by their peers care about what they might think. Springfield, Mass., defense attorney James Reardon Jr. wants to prevent prospective jurors from seeing a photo of his client during jury selection.
It seems that the client, 33-year-old Caius Veiovis—who is accused along with two others of killing and dismembering three men—has what Reardon calls “an unusual appearance”: he has horn implants, Nordic runes tattooed on his face and neck, and the numbers “666” tattooed on his forehead.
I can see his point; after all, can you imagine telling the jury “Sure, my client has the Mark of the Beast—but that doesn’t mean he’s guilty”?
Nineteen-year-old Robert Burt of Pittsfield, Maine, on the other hand, only cares about having “the best mug shot ever.”
In June, Burt was booked for a DUI and had his mug shot taken. After entering a plea, the teenager was ordered to spend two days in jail. Burt showed up to serve his sentence on Aug. 8, but he was prepared for his new mugshot: Burt wore a T-shirt emblazoned with a reproduction of his June booking photo!
The meta reference even had a caption referring to a “Burt Family Reunion” “sponsored by Bud Light and the Somerset County Sheriff” (another relative of his was already serving time).
After paying his debt to society, the teenager shared the self-referencing mug shot on his Facebook page.