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Every so often, I like to read a case. It helps pass the time, and it confounds my critics, who’ve been known to suggest I’ve written more opinions than I’ve read. This month I chose the U.S. Supreme Court’s Williams v. Taylor, Warden, 00 C.D.O.S. 2545, because I used to have a friend named Warden and thought he might be involved. No such luck. I didn’t know anybody in the case. Turns out “Warden” was just the job description of the guy prisoners name in their federal habeas corpus petitions. Very disappointing. But not nearly as disappointing as my attempt to read the case. No wonder I never read anything that comes out of any court east of Riverside. My mind boggled before I even reached the text. The last headnote stopped me. Here is what it said: “STEVENS, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, III and IV, in which O’CONNOR, KENNEDY, SOUTER, GINSBURG AND BREYER, JJ., joined, and an opinion with respect to Parts II and V, in which SOUTER, GINSBURG and BREYER, JJ., joined. O’CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Part II (except as to the footnote), in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and KENNEDY and THOMAS, JJ., joined, and in which SCALIA, J. joined, except as to the footnote, and an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which KENNEDY, J., joined. REHNQUIST, C.J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which SCALIA and THOMAS, JJ., joined.” Say what? This isn’t an opinion, it’s a Chinese menu. “Choose one from Column A, one from Column B. With four you get a plurality.” How fitting that the Supreme Court should celebrate the beginning of the baseball season by issuing an opinion in which you can’t tell the players without a scorecard. Come on, folks, get together here. Have a court retreat. Schedule a course in group decision-making. Drink some warm milk. Something. Because we out here in the trenches have a helluva time just keeping up with one opinion per case. You give us a half-dozen opinions and a flow chart, we’re gonna be diving off bridges. I mean, I hate to burst your bubble, but you aren’t the only court we gotta read. Opinions like this will not only make our kids late for soccer practice, but also set a very dangerous precedent for future courts. If Williams becomes the norm, the Reporter of Decisions is gonna have to hire Elmore Leonard to write the headnotes. I suspect they’ll look something like this: BENARD, J., delivered an opinion, Parts I, II, IV, VII, VIII and XIII of which are for the Court, and filed a dissenting opinion in Parts III, V, VI, IX, X, XI and XII. MUELLER, SNOW and KENT, JJ., joined in that opinion. MARTINEZ, J., delivered an opinion, Parts III, V, VI and IX of which are for the Court, and filed a dissenting opinion in Parts I, II, IV, VII and VIII and a concurring opinion in Parts X, XI, XII and XIII. BURKS, C. J., joined in Parts I and XIII of the Court opinion, concurred in Parts II and IV, and issued an opinion concurring and dissenting in Parts III, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI and XII. ESTALELLA, J., joined in Parts III, VI and IX of the Court’s opinion, but derided the rest as mindless trash and delivered his own opinion as to all other issues. BONDS, J., wanted to know what in hell all these Roman numerals were for. He finally joined BENARD, J.’s opinion ‘in all parts that have a V in the number’ and MARTINEZ, J.’s opinion ‘in all parts that have an X.’ As to all other parts he dissented except for the footnotes. He was also of the opinion that the vote on the color of the justices’ coffee lounge should be reopened. NATHAN, J., delivered an opinion for the Court in Parts X, XI, XII and XIII in which BURKS and MARTINEZ, JJ., joined. When told that they couldn’t join in Parts X, XI and XII because they’d already cast votes for other opinions, they became verbally abusive to the CLERK OF THE COURT, who stormed from the room in a huff. Order was restored by ESTALELLA and SNOW, JJ., and by a ruling from BURKS, C.J., that he and MARTINEZ, J., would join in any opinions they damn well pleased, and that if the other JJ.’s didn’t like it they could all spend Christmas ruling on writs of certiorari. This calmed things down until BENARD, J., pointed out that both his Part XIII and NATHAN, J.’s Part XIII were listed as ‘for the Court.’ It was suggested — loudly — that this might be confusing. ESTALELLA, J., delivered an opinion, joined in by MUELLER, J. and MARTINEZ, J., that it didn’t really matter since both were ‘mindless trash’ anyway, and anyone who wasn’t confused by them simply wasn’t paying attention. BONDS, J., then delivered an opinion as to the parentage of ESTALELLA, J., which was concurred in by NATHAN, BENARD, SNOW, JJ., and BURKS, C.J., thus becoming the only majority opinion in the case. It was at this point that KENT, J., awoke and wanted to know who in God’s name had approved that putrid shade of yellow for the JJ.’s coffee lounge. BONDS, J., was of the opinion that KENT, J.’s opinion regarding the coffee lounge was ‘Right on, Bro,’ a feeling which apparently garnered other votes, but which, owing to the aforementioned absence of the CLERK OF THE COURT, who’s been under a lot of stress recently and probably would have broken down even without this disgraceful scene, was not officially recorded. At this point it became clear that the coffee lounge vote had not been a majority but rather a plurality opinion. Actually it became clear that BURKS, C.J., had arbitrarily picked out the color on his own, delivering a FOR THE COURT memorandum opinion that ‘Those contentious old goats couldn’t agree on a snake’s boot size. I say yellow and I say to hell with ‘em.’ Upon being apprised of this decision by KENT, J., who, refreshed by his nap, was starting to shadow box around the room pointing at the other JJ.’s and making goat noises (apparently bleating, although KENT, J., has since denied this and says in his deposition that he was merely doing a new dance which the other JJ.’s did not recognize because they’re “contentious old goats.”) BONDS, J., delivered an opinion that the C.J. was getting pretty mouthy for a guy whose last majority opinion had been written with a quill pen. BURKS, C.J., then told BONDS, J. in which bodily orifice he was liable to find that quill pen if he popped off again, and delivered an opinion on the fitness of BONDS, J., for any court that did not have a net down the middle of it. He also asserted that BONDS, J.’s appointment was clear and convincing proof that the provisions of the 25th Amendment having to do with succession to the presidency upon the ‘inability of the president to perform’ should have been more strictly construed. Concurrence and dissent followed strict party lines except for ESTALELLA, J., who issued his own opinion that they were both ‘mindless trash.’ It is unclear whether ESTALELLA, J. was coldcocked by BONDS, J. or BURKS, C.J., at this point, since both hit him at approximately the same time. It is also unclear whether his injuries were exacerbated when KENT, J., still circling the room, dancing/bleating, stepped on his prone form. All that is clear is that SNOW, J., delivered an opinion that fisticuffs were unbecoming to the Court but was joined only by MUELLER, J., who opined that while she was sick of his stricter-constructionist-than-thou attitude, in this case he happened to be right. This opinion might also have garnered a majority except that by the time it was delivered, the other JJ.’s were completely embroiled in a brouhaha that required NOLAN, FRIESEN, SUTTER, GRANATO, STURM, MARLEAU and RATHJE, deputy marshals, and three canisters of MACE, tradename, to quell. The matter has been set for re-argument on the first Thursday on which no justices are being deposed. It is reprinted here solely to facilitate tracking and because we knew we’d make so much money publishing it that we’d never have to contract with these contentious old goats again. Now we don’t want headnotes like that, do we? I mean, it might result in a temporary increase in law school admission applications, but there’s still two or three dozen of us who haven’t yet started our own law schools, so we aren’t real interested in that. Besides, it’s more than we want to know, it’s annoying, and it cuts into billable hours. You can’t bill Shlabotnick Datasystems 16 hours at $325 per for reading one case. They get testy. So please, henceforth, may I respectfully suggest, “By the Court.” William W. Bedsworth is an associate justice at California’s 4th District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana.

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