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One of the more remarkable beginnings to an opinion in all of American jurisprudence is found in Washington v. Alaimo, a 1996 case from a U.S. district court in Georgia. The opinion starts out, “On April 5, 1996, this court ordered Plaintiff to show cause why this court should not impose Rule 11 sanctions upon him for filing a motion for improper purposes. The motion which Plaintiff filed was entitled, ‘Motion to Kiss My Ass’ . . . in which he moved ‘all Americans at large and one corrupt Judge Smith [to] kiss my got [ sic] damn ass sorry mother fucker you.’ “ This opinion, denying Mr. Washington’s motion, is the best illustration I know of the fact that incarcerated persons generally have way too much time on their hands. Seems like no matter how many opportunities we give them to learn a useful trade such as license plate manufacture or gravel production, they want to be lawyers. KISSING LESSONS, STEP ONE I have not yet had to rule on a written “Motion to Kiss My Ass” (although a few oral ones have been made). But I have reviewed a lot of pro per filings from inmates comparable to some of Mr. Washington’s earlier motions, enumerated by the federal district court in that case as including “Motion to Behoove an Inquisition,” “Motion for Judex Delegatus,” “Motion for Cesset pro Cessus,” “Motion for Nunc pro Tunc,” and my personal favorite, “Motion to Renounce Citizenship.” Apparently the theory of the last one was, “If you’re going to take shotgunning a sheriff’s deputy so seriously, then I’m just gonna move to some other country; please notify the warden of my decision.” Don’t misunderstand me. I joke about these motions, but I give them my full attention. I make a comfortable living doing nothing more strenuous than thinking about things people ask me to think about. There is no heavy lifting, no shift work. I’m not required to drive all night through the snow, and I don’t come home smelling of fish. When I’m done thinking about these things, I give my “opinion” about them and start thinking about something else. Anyone churlish enough to complain about such a job, anyone who — asked so little of — would fail to give every case, regardless of whether it’s handled by a successful attorney or a prison inmate, full consideration, is an ungrateful lout. So I give them all my best shot. As do most of my colleagues. But you just know when you start with ‘em that they’re gonna be fixated on some crazy idea picked up last week from some guy who’s never previously been able to persuade anybody to do it. And you’re gonna have to explain to the prisoners why that is. And they won’t like it. What’s more, there’s some kind of primeval energy that infuses inmate pro per cases. They’re like rabid wolverines — capable of inflicting damage way out of proportion to their size and completely indiscriminate about their victims. Years ago, when I was a trial court judge, I came in to work one Monday and found my desk covered with what turned out to be irate letters from citizens complaining about one of my rulings in one of these pro per inmate cases. MAYBE THE BRIEF HAD CENTERFOLDS The ruling that so offended them was my decision that the Orange County sheriff had violated the rights of a serial murderer (at the time, he was only an alleged serial murderer) by confiscating Playboy magazines from his cell. I was not at all surprised this decision had offended enough people to qualify me for my own ZIP code. But what concerned me was that I had no memory of making such a call. What’s more, I had been vacationing in Canada when the ruling was made and felt fairly certain that I would have remembered interrupting my vacation to fly a couple of thousand miles and discuss centerfolds with a pro per who’d lost his porn privileges. I was more than a little nonplussed by the fact that several of the angry letters had included a front page newspaper story describing “Judge Bedsworth’s ruling.” Turned out a visiting federal judge from Los Angeles had borrowed my vacant courtroom to hear a litany of complaints by the inmate and had made the ruling in question. A local reporter looked up at the sign over the door, saw my name, and assumed the guy on the bench was me. He wrote a story about “my” ruling, and I came home to field the flak. All of this comes to mind now because apparently one of these little inmate hand grenades went off in the Los Angeles Superior Court recently. The headline that caught my eye was, “Jury Hands Alleged Pimp $3 Million Bonus in Credit-Card Sex Dispute.” This was the granddaddy of inmate lawsuits. One Arthur Vanmoor, a Dutch national charged with pimping and pandering, and then turned over to the Immigration and Naturalization Service when it was determined that maybe his green card was not entirely kosher, sued a California bank and credit card processing company. From jail. His complaint alleged they had arbitrarily stopped processing credit card charges for his escort service and had pocketed the $150,000 he had posted with them to cover bogus credit card transactions. You can imagine the bank’s response to this lawsuit. Imagine you were the bank’s lawyer. Here’s the way the case shapes up. Your client is a bank; the plaintiff wears a big floppy hat with a feather in it. He is in jail in Florida. The jury’s gonna know that because your defense is gonna be that these charges were for pimping and pandering, and you’re probably gonna call some of the Florida cops (or better yet, the escorts) as witnesses. His testimony is going to be given by way of a seven-hour deposition, at which he wears sunglasses and a black sport coat “with sparkly things in it.” During that deposition, he repeatedly takes the Fifth Amendment — sometimes by holding up five fingers and looking away from the camera. Does this look to you like a trial you might lose? HOW TO OUTLAWYER A PIMP Suffice it to say the bank did not offer to settle. Obviously, had they talked to me or Judge Moore (he of the ass-kissing motion) beforehand, we could have told them that these cases have an almost preternatural capacity for mischief. I think I would have suggested that unless they were sure they could get into position to drive a wooden stake directly through the heart of this case, they should try to resolve it as soon as possible. These cases have an inner energy that reaches a point of critical mass after which it cannot be diffused by an attorney, an exorcist, or an army of winged monkeys. The fact that Mr. Vanmoor had found a California attorney to go into court for him while he was busy changing large rocks to small ones in no way altered the basic, radioactive nature of the lawsuit, which was inmate pro per to its core. The bank’s lawyers walked into court without garlic cloves around their necks or rabbits’ feet in their pockets, and they were ripped limb from limb by a jury that awarded the incarcerated plaintiff $150,000 for the conversion of his emergency fund and an additional three million dollars because . . . mmm . . . uh . . . well, umm . . . because they liked his sparkly black sport coat and the way he was always waving at them during the depo? I don’t know. Lagniappe? Let me emphasize that I know next to nothing about the merits of this lawsuit. For all I know, Vanmoor is actually running a day care center in Florida and the Florida police and INS have screwed up big time. And the bank may be laundering terrorist funds and betting depositors’ money on claiming races. The jury may have gotten this one exactly right. DUCK THE MAGNUM MOJO But it may also have been, in the words of the venerable legal maxim, “ Incarceratus in propria persona habeat magnum mojo.” The best English translation of this maxim was provided by the great legal philosopher Tennessee Ernie Ford, who rephrased it as, “ If you see me comin’, better step aside.” I’m sure glad this file is on its way to another court of appeal. It’ll save me the trouble of “steppin’ aside.” William W. Bedsworth is an associate justice at the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana, Calif. His new book of columns, A Criminal Waste of Time , appears this holiday season. He can be reached at william. [email protected]. This column first appeared in The Recorder , the American Lawyer Media newspaper in San Francisco.

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