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Well, he’s done it again. Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge J. Michael Eakin has filed an entire opinion in verse. His first foray into poetry for a legal opinion — Busch v. Busch — dealt with a divorce. But in his latest endeavor — Zangrando v. Sipula — he’s penned a poem portraying a poodle in pain. Eakin’s opinion consists of 59 rather loosely metered rhyming couplets. Eakin said he considered his poetry more on the level of Dr. Seuss than rivaling, say, Emily Dickinson. He said that after he heard arguments in the case, it kind of jumped out at him as one that would lend itself to a poetic legal analysis. “Frankly, the response to [the first opinion] was, I think, almost universally positive,” Eakin said in a telephone interview. “So when the muse struck again, it just seemed that the first being something the people enjoyed, when I had the chance to do it again, I thought, ‘Why not?’” Eakin said the other two judges on the panel — Judges Joseph A. Del Sole and Debra B. Todd — were “amenable” to the idea and joined in the unanimous majority opinion. Eakin also said the opinion was not intended to be “flippant” and that regardless of the format, the legal analysis was the correct result. Julia Zangrando sued Jan Sipula for veterinary bills after one of Zangrando’s two poodles was injured by Sipula’s car. Zangrando had been walking her dogs Angel and Autumn. Angel was hit by Sipula’s vehicle. “The poodles waited for the car, and watched as it drew near, / thinking there was naught at all to cause them any fear./ For often cars would pass them by, but this was no wayfarer — / the car beg[a]n to veer toward them and caution turned to terror. / The car was coming way too close, something inside told her; the next thing Mrs. Zangrando knew, a poodle flew over her shoulder.” Fortunately, the dog survived after “a doctor of the veterinary kept the dog alive.” The bill for Angel’s treatment, however, “was anything but small,” and Zangrando asked Sipula to “pay it all.” Zangrando filed a civil action in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas seeking $1,150. After a non-jury trial, a judge found in her favor. Sipula appealed to the Superior Court. Sipula argued that Zangrando and her owner were in the street, a violation of the Motor Vehicle Code, but the testimony and lower court found that the woman and her dogs were on the berm of the road. On the basis of the underlying evidence, the court found no contributory negligence. “But he [Sipula] didn’t testify he saw the dog dash to the street, / yet he’d have this court assume such caused the dog and car to meet. / Even if the poodle strained to reach the leashes’ end, / appellant veered toward Angel, testimony we may not amend,” Eakin opined. Sipula also argued on appeal that the lower court erred by not applying the assured clear distance rule and that he was the victim of a sudden emergency. The court dismissed both. “Unexpected perils do from time to time arise / whose suddenness may obviate the fault in our law’s eyes. / But while appellant touts this rule, no matter how it’s styled / he needs to have us find the dog was like the darting child, / and there simply is no evidence that Angel did such darting / before the car ran into her, trajectory imparting.” Eakin said the poodles had most certainly come to a halt and that the impact with Sipula’s car was not their fault. “Be it interstate or neighborhood, drivers get no free shot / at things they may encounter, whether in the street or not. / So while counsel raises issues that are worthy and well taken / in the end we find the effort to apply them here’s mistaken. / We must conclude the issues raised do not warrant a new trial / and all that we may offer now is this respectful rhymed denial.” Pittsburgh attorney Edward J. Kress represented Zangrando and said he was surprised when he read the poetic opinion. He said he thought the opinion mirrored the fact that the case should not have even made it to the Superior Court level. Pittsburgh attorney William Askin, who represented Sipula, could not be reached for comment.

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