DEVIL IN THE (LEGAL) DETAILS

Harold Justman has always been a fan of Ambrose Bierce’s “The Devil’s Dictionary,” a satirical 1911 book that lampooned the English language.

But the San Mateo solo practitioner felt there was room � indeed, a need � for a legal version. So the “The Devil’s Law Dictionary” was born.

It’s not on paper, though. Instead, it’s an Internet posting of Justman’s humorously twisted definitions of 66 common legal terms. The real estate lawyer began compiling them about a year ago and with the help of Berkeley’s Nolo Press debuted www.devilslawdictionary.com about three weeks ago, and it will grow over time. “It was just a fun little literary project of mine,” the 57-year-old said last week. “I hope people find it diverting and amusing.”

Among Justman’s definitions:

  • “Bar: An organized group of attorneys. It is believed that attorneys in ancient times met at bars; hence the name bar.”
  • “Direct Examination: To pose questions to a witness until the witness tells the story which you rehearsed with him or her before trial.”
  • “Hearsay: A statement by a witness which you don’t want the judge or jury to hear said.”
  • “Verdict: The common ignorance of a jury expressed in written form regarding whether or not a plaintiff or defendant should win or lose and, if so, by how much as expressed in dollars.”


Justman said his favorite is the definition of testimony: “Statements made under oath which are admissible in a court of law as a substitute for the truth.”

The reason for that, he says, is that he’s often amazed “at how two people can attend the same meeting and come out with two totally different descriptions of what happened. The truth is never the same to two people.”

Since the site is new, Justman said, he hasn’t gotten any feedback yet. He only hopes that it makes someone smile.

“When you get back from the courthouse after a hard day and you’re in a cynical mood,” he said, “hopefully, you can go on here and sort of laugh it off.”

Mike McKee

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