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Humor is a Funny Thing…

By Jim Verellen

The stress and strain of litigation can be considerable, but the load is lightened from time to time.  Here are some examples that crossed my desk in the 20 years I served as a Commissioner with the Washington State Court of Appeals.

Even an experienced prosecutor can lose focus during closing argument:

“And if you think that the defendant is an accomplice — and as an accomplice, well, you have to be careful with the examination of his football — of his — excuse me – his testimony.”

During a summary judgment argument, the court questioned a statutorydefinition and counsel tried to agree:

Atty: “I think that is the flaw. Ithink you have hit your head on it right there.”

Court: “I hit my head on a lot of things.”

Voir dire inquiry whether a potential juror has been a victim of a crime can be revealing:

A: “I thought — it wasn’t me but itwas my ex-husband but we were married at the time. It was a truck, it was his truck, but we were married so I guess it was mine, too.”

Q: “So your truck was stolen?”

A: “Yeah. I was glad.”

Q: “You were glad?”

A: “He spent a lot more time with the truck than me.”

Sometimes we forget that legal lexicon can be a mysterious foreign language to the parties.  A personal restraint petitioner sought relief noting that his felony charges had been reduced to “Mr. Meaner charges.” Identifying a constructive possession issue on appeal, the pro se appellant denied that he had “Dominican control” of the weapon.  A party closed his petition with a request for “a hearing by the court en blanc.” Another challenged the accuracy of the victim’s allegation that he was going to “do her bottling harm.”

In a colloquy with the court, a car oriented defendant recounted his attorney’s earlier argument:

Defendant: …”[that] the gun and the drugs weren’t directly — I forgot thename of it, weren’t directly connected, Mercedes or something.”

Prosecutor: “Nexus.”

Defense counsel: “Nexus.”

A defendant’s allocution at sentencing can be quite candid:

“If I had an education that allowed me to make a moderate income, I would have no interest in crime. Crime is no career. It’s a crappy career. It doesn’t pay well. You spend a lot of time in jail.”

Some litigants also have a knack for strong imagery in their pleadings such as the request that the appellate court “lance an internal investigation” or a certification made “under pain, penalty and perjury.” In an attempt to reassure the court, one party offered “a good faith jester.”  One frustrated party graphically argued he had been “placed between a hard rock and a eight ball here.” Equallycompelling was a “Request No Oral Argument Due to Motion Sickness.”

The court accepted a notice of appeal on the back of a post card of a Hawaiian sunset: “Comes now from sunny shores of (Big Island) Hilo, Hawaii in the above captioned matter with notice of appeal of the Judges Decision to Remand….” (Not a recommended form.)

Sometimes the court reporter must have misheard. When the police officer was asked what his duties were on the day in question it seems doubtful he replied “Unicorn patrol.”  It is also unlikely that the trial court addressed the question whether the court’s ruling remained in effect pending appeal by reciting “my ruling on that issue was held in a bed.”

When putting the finishing touches onyour brief do not depend on spellcheck:

“Mother cites to know authority to support her argument.”

“A parent’s constitutional right to the care and custody of their child is ‘scared.”

And what seems to be dazzling rhetoric when drafted (perhaps late the night before the filing deadline) often pales in the light of a new day:

“If one wishes to compute the number of hotcakes needed to shingle a dog house, it doesn’t make any difference if ping-pong balls are round or not.  An argument that the balls are round, and hotcakes are generally round, can’t convince anyone that only eighteen would be the correct answer.”

Time may be short when preparing a reply to an emergency motion, but easy on the illustrative arguments:

“The defense would ask this Court to consider the ‘cook who dropped the egg’ scenario. If a cook is in the process of boiling 12 eggs and his assistant helps by handing the eggs to him to put into a pot of boiling water, but one of the eggs drops and hits the floor. It’s not a matter of whose fault it was that the egg was damaged, but it is a fact that the broken egg cannot be boiled.”

And there are no bonus points for the length of a sentence ‘whilst’ corresponding with the court:

“The purpose of this letter is to request that an extension of time to supplement appellant’s brief be extended until a ruling on that request is granted to enable appellant to move to supplement the clerk’s papers with the subsequent proceedings whereby respondent has attempted to enforce the original order appealed from as a matter of right whilst the appeal is still pending.”

Finally, who can argue with the litigant’s plea: “Let not the blindfold of justice become the loin cloth of corruption!”

Keep your sense of humor.

(Previously published in the The Bar News: The Monthly Publication of the Tacoma-Pierce County Bar Association – April Fools Edition)

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