Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Self-Righteous Indignation - A Reliable Indicator of Illegal Behavior?

In June 2001, Judge Kent, of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, in Galveston, Texas, wrote a scathing decision mocking the brief-writing skills of the attorneys on both sides of a case called Bradshaw v. Unity Marine Corp. For those inclined to do legal research, you can find the case at 147 F. Supp. 2d 668 (S.D. Tex. 2001). Or you can Google it.

In any event, the decision is hilarious, by lawyer standards. Here are some excerpts:

[After lamenting the lack of facts and citation to legal authority in the papers filed with the court - ]

"Before proceeding further, the Court notes that this case involves two extremely likable lawyers, who have together delivered some of the most amateurish pleadings ever to cross the hallowed causeway into Galveston, an effort which leads the Court to surmise but one plausible explanation. Both attorneys have obviously entered into a secret pact-complete with hats, handshakes and cryptic words-to draft their pleadings entirely in crayon on the back sides of gravy-stained paper place mats, in the hope that the Court would be so charmed by their child-like efforts that their utter dearth of legal authorities in their briefing would go unnoticed. Whatever actually occurred, the Court is now faced with the daunting task of deciphering their submissions. With Big Chief tablet readied, thick black pencil in hand, and a devil-may-care laugh in the face of death, life on the razor's edge sense of exhilaration, the Court begins." 147 F. Supp. 2d at 670.

After describing the basic legal rules about summary judgment motions, the Court continues:

"Defendant begins the descent into Alice's Wonderland by submitting a Motion that relies upon only one legal authority. . . . A more bumbling approach is difficult to conceive - but wait folks, There's More! Plaintiff responds to this deft, yet minimalist analytical wizardry with an equally gossamer wisp of an argument[.] . . . Plaintiff's citation . . . points to a nonexistent Volume '1886' of the Federal Reporter Third Edition[.]" 147 F. Supp. 2d at 670-71.

Apparently the Court found the case anyway, and after describing the holding of that case, the Court says:

"(What the ...)?! [Legalmist's note: ... never seen that in a court's decision before!] The Court cannot even begin to comprehend why this case was selected for reference. It is almost as if Plaintiff's counsel chose the opinion by throwing long range darts at the Federal Reporter (remarkably enough hitting a nonexistent volume!)." 147 F. Supp. 2d at 671.

After describing more of the equally bumbling and useless pleadings submitted to the court, the Judge provides a quick summary of the applicable law and a ruling, with a footnote as follows:

"Take heed and be suitably awed, oh boys and girls - the Court was able to state the issue and its resolution in one paragraph . . . despite dozens of pages of gibberish from the parties to the contrary!" 147 F. Supp. 2d at 672 n.3.

At the end of the published opinion, the Judge further chastized the plaintiff's attorney:

"At this juncture, Plaintiff retains, albeit seemingly to his befuddlement and/or consternation, a maritime law cause of action against . . . [the other defenant, Unity Marine]. However, it is well known around these parts that Unity Marine's lawyer is equally likable and has been writing crisply in ink since the second grade. Some old-timers even spin yarns of an ability to type. The Court cannot speak to the veracity of such loose talk, but out of caution, the Court suggests that Plaintiff's lovable counsel had best upgrade to a nice shiny No. 2 pencil or at least sharpen what's left of the stubs of his crayons for what remains of this heart-stopping, spine-tingling action. [A footnote to this paragraph states: In either case, the Court cautions Plaintiff's counsel not to run with a sharpened writing utensil in hand-he could put his eye out.]" 147 F. Supp. 2d at 672 and n.4.

* * *

After I finished laughing (I did find it funny), I thought about it some more and all I can say is, "ouch."

This is in a published decision, out there for all other attorneys and their clients to read, see these attorneys' names, and refuse to hire them ever again. Ouch.

And while the writing and analysis was likely horrible (I've seen some pretty poor lawyering over the course of the 16 years I've been practicing), I feel a measure of sympathy for the attorneys. The decision is so entertaining (to lawyers and law professors) that it is used in countless legal writing classes all across the country to try to pound into young law students' heads the importance of the materials and information taught in the required legal writing class.

Those Texas attorneys will probably never "live down" their poor performance on that one case. Even if they have now learned to properly analyze and write about legal issues, folks are still laughing about their supposed incompetence, 8 years after the fact.

* * *

And in an ironic twist, Judge Kent (the author of the scathing opinion) was later charged with sexual harassment of his female court employees. After vehemently denying the charges and insisting he was innocent and that he couldn't wait for trial where his horde of witnesses would prove his innocence, he later pleaded guilty to "obstruction of justice" and in his plea he admitted to the sexual harassment.

He was sentenced in May 2009 and is currently serving 33 months in federal prison.

So potentially, while his secretary was typing, proofing, formatting, and sending the opinion publicly and permanently berating the attorneys for the oh-so-horrible offense of submitting crappy briefs, he was standing behind her, rubbing her back and pressing against her and trying to put his hands down her shirt....

(Or maybe not, I'm just guessing. But he was charged with pulling up the shirt of one of his employees and putting his hand underneath in a long struggle to feel her breasts while she tried to escape his clutches).

He may have been outraged by the unprofessional quality of the legal writing submitted to his court. But at least those lawyers managed to submit enough information for the case to be correctly resolved, and no one was substantially damaged at the end of the day.

I am outraged by the judge's unprofessional, illegal, offensive, and hurtful behavior. At the end of the day, his victims most certainly were damaged.

* * *

Have you ever noticed that the louder someone trumpets about the supposed shortcomings of others, the more likely it is that the person will be brought up on some ironically related charges later?

Without naming names, several recent examples come to mind: the attorney general, in charge of prosecuting crimes, caught having sex with prostitutes; the male evangelistic minister preaching against the evils of homosexuality caught having a sexual encounter with a gay man; the "family values" mayors and members of congress caught having extramarital affairs; the list goes on.

Does it make you immediately suspicious of anyone who self-righteously jumps up and down on their soapbox about some supposed crime against humanity?

And I don't mean just anyone who complains about perceived injustice. Lots of people do that. Lots of people should do that; it's the only way those injustices will ever be addressed.

But the ones who are later caught in criminal and/or immoral and/or interesting sexual acts seem to have a certain self-righteous air about them. A certain attitude of moral superiority that leads them to do things like writing scathingly sarcastic published decisions about hapless attorneys, subjecting them to a lifetime of ridicule, instead of just requiring the attorneys to refund their clients' money (or some other similar approach).

I wonder if someone would fund a study to determine whether smug self-righteousness is, in fact, a reliable indicator of an inclination to commit crimes?


SkylersDad said...

The name Rush Limbaugh jumps to mind here...

Silliyak said...

The case of the judge reeks of substance abuse, the others remind me of the axiom, "power corrupts,absolute power corrupts absolutely"

Bella said...

Enjoyed the post. Wow you had me going with the laughter on the aforementioned, but its true, sooner or later these morale preachin high horsers, better known as 'you can touch me syndrome' people end up on the other side of the fence and it serves 'em right!

Raine said...

Do decisions look like that normally? I always imagined strictly professional - and no exclamation points!

It is kinda eerie that just today I decided that I was, indeed, self-rightous. And they you suggest that it is linked to criminal activity? Now I have to be on the lookout for my criminal tendencies! :D

Silliyak said...

I have a theory that righteous indignation is addictive, and that is what these right wing media people are appealing to.

Green said...

OMG, I remember reading that thing when it first came out - it got passed around my law firm (by hand, because email wasn't popular yet).

Gaston Studio said...

OMG, I'm so glad judge kent is being properly punished; I deliberatly lower cased his name as he doesn't deserve caps.

Agree with SkylersDad's comment!!

BPOTW said...

One might follow the tenet that, if you are guilty of one sin, you are guilty of them all. You never know. That's why it's smarter not to get caught!