Our courts deal with the most serious of issues every day, making what in some cases are literally life or death decisions. So you can imagine how welcome the opportunities must be to lighten up—while still doing justice. And if you don’t believe me, just check out these examples.
A Complimentary Ruling
In October 2017, Maui Judge Rhonda Loo took a novel approach in sentencing Daren Young on a domestic matter. The 30-year-old had pleaded no contest to violating a protective order obtained by his ex-girlfriend, for his sending 144 “nasty” text messages and calls. So Judge Loo embraced a “teachable moment,” ordering Young to write 144 compliments about his ex-girlfriend—with no repeating of words (he also was sentenced to time already served, two years of probation, 200 hours of community service, and $2,400 in fines). For Young’s sake, let’s hope one of her praiseworthy traits is “a forgiving nature.”
Don’t Like Jury Duty? How About More Jury Duty?
Hillsborough , Florida Circuit Court Judge William Fuente didn’t borrow a page out of Judge Loo’s book, but he did find a novel way to punish misbehaving juror Vishnu Singh. Singh had been picked as a juror on a sexual assault/murder trial in Fuente’s court, but had to be removed after it was discovered that he had gone online to research the case—a blatant violation of the judge’s instructions. But rather than impose a fine or sentence Singh to jail, Judge Fuente decided on a novel way to teach the ex-juror about the importance of jury duty. He ordered Singh to jury duty for one week per month for the next three months; if he fails to perform, he’ll have to serve five days in jail. That’ll teach him.
This Court Demands a Shrubbery
Monty Python fans are everywhere; I’ve even written an entire article about Monty Python references in judicial opinions (see 78 Tex. B.J. 520, July 2015). So I can’t say I was surprised when I saw that California lawyer Darren Bean invoked a pivotal moment from the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” in a recent motion to suppress hearing, arguing that a shrubbery did not constitute probable cause for a traffic stop and subsequent seizure. Bean’s client had been stopped near a southern California state park (in a desert area) by a ranger because the ranger “observed a desert shrub stuck to the vehicle’s front bumper.” Pointing out that “the mere presence of [a] shrubbery does not give rise to [reasonable] suspicion of violating the law,” Bean referenced Monty Python in arguing that the ranger, “apparently assuming [the defendant] was headed to meet the Knights Who Say Ni, pulled [the car] over to investigate.” Of course, in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” the shadowy “Knights Who Say Ni” oddly demand “a shrubbery” as tribute. Bean’s Monty Python reference clearly worked since the judge agreed and the state later dismissed the case.
A GIF-Worthy Moment
U.S. District Judge R. David Proctor of Alabama, presiding over a large antitrust case involving Blue Cross and Blue Shield, recently had quite enough of what he described as “faux drama in briefing.” In a May 1, 2018 order addressing the “rancorous briefing” that compelled him to “weigh in on this current chapter of the parties’ discovery soap opera,” Judge Proctor cautioned both sides about puffery. But he didn’t stop with his written admonitions about the parties’ “strong language” or overly long briefs. Instead, Judge Proctor also chose to make his point in a 21st century way by linking to an animated GIF—in this case, the image of a skeptical-looking Tom Hanks with the caption “Really?”. In some cases, a picture really is worth a thousand words.
How About a Dance-Off, Bro?
Disgraced FBI agent Chase Bishop may want to invoke the preferred form of dispute resolution of Guardians of the Galaxy’s Star Lord. Bishop is facing assault charges for accidentally shooting someone at a Denver, Colorado bar. In a video that went viral, the FBI agent was showing off his dance moves at the Mile High Spirits bar on June 2, 2018, and his pistol fell out of his waistband holster while Bishop was launching into a back handspring. When Bishop went to pick up his firearm, it discharged, striking one club patron in the leg. The FBI agent better hope his lawyer has some slick moves of his own.
John G. Browning is a shareholder at Passman & Jones in Dallas, where he handles a wide variety of civil litigation in state and federal courts.