Court proceedings are very rarely seen as opportunities for levity, but a handful of judges have taken advantage of their linguistic perspicacity to turn their chambers into a comedy club while issuing rulings. The following judgments include hilarious references to popular culture, double entendres, and wickedly funny insights regarding issues that plaintiffs and defendants may take a bit too seriously.
10Texas Judge Channels The Big Lebowski
Kinney v. Barnes, 2014
The Coen Brothers’ cult classic The Big Lebowski is rife with quotable lines that inevitably find their way into everyday conversation. Walter Sobchak, the Vietnam veteran and Jewish convert played by the Falstaffian John Goodman, delivers many of these memorable one-liners with extraordinary vigor. Whether he is politely reminding Donny to choose his words more carefully (“Shut the f—k up, Donny”), musing politically (“say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, at least it’s an ethos”), or speculating with regard to a Korean War veteran’s ambulatory capabilities (“I’ve seen a lot of spinals, Dude. And this guy f—ing walks”), Walter is quoted frequently and fervently by Lebowski devotees.
While it may not be surprising to run into someone at a bar who, in between sips of a White Russian, invokes a line or two from the film noir parody, it is surprising to hear a Texas Supreme Court justice make reference to the larger-than-life character in a ruling. Debra Lehrmann did just that in 2014, noting, “The First Amendment of the US Constitution is . . . suspicious of prior restraints,” going on to say that this protection has “been reaffirmed time and again by the Supreme Court, this Court, Texas courts of appeals, legal treatises, and even popular culture.”
The reference to popular culture includes a footnote that cites Walter’s admonition in response to a waitress, who had asked him to lower his voice while in a restaurant: “For your information, the Supreme Court has roundly rejected prior restraint!”
9‘The Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Bikini Top v. The (More) Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Pastie’
35 Bar And Grille v. San Antonio, 2013
This case concerned a city ordinance requiring that exotic dancers wear a bikini top, not pasties. The club owners affected by the ordinance requested a temporary injunction preventing the city from enforcing this, allowing its dancers to continue wearing the more revealing pasties. In the ruling, which is loaded with hilarious double entendres, the judge closes by saying, “Should the parties choose to string this case out to trial on the merits, the Court encourages reasonable discovery intercourse as they navigate the peaks and valleys of litigation, perhaps to reach a happy ending.”
Other comical quotes include:
“While the Court has not received amicus curiae briefs, the Court has been blessed with volunteers known in south Texas as ‘curious amigos’ to be inspectors general to perform on-sight visits at the locations in question.”
“Plaintiffs, and by extension their customers, seek an erection of a constitutional wall separating themselves from the regulatory power of city government.”
“An ordinance dealing with semi-nude dancers has once again fallen on the Court’s lap.”
“The Court infers Plaintiffs fear enforcement of the ordinance would strip them of their profits, adversely impacting their bottom line.”
8The Pissing Poodle
Aetna Insurance v. Sachs, 1960
In a case in which a defendant tried to recover damages from an insurance company when their poodle peed on the rug—which may or may not have “really tied the room together”—a judge ruled that the insurance company could not be held liable for the damages.
In the ruling, the judge recounted some of the events of the case, noting the following: “Plaintiff did send an adjuster to the premises to survey the effects of where Andre, the French poodle, had popped in, piddled, and popped out. In fact, he testified that Andre gave a ‘command performance’ while he was there.”
In issuing his ruling, he concluded: “I would say that defendant, because of such gross negligence and indiscretion in permitting Andre to roam the house at will, hoisting his leg at random, probably yipping and yiping in his canine utopia, should not be allowed to recover. Certainly, a dog can be controlled by his master, and while a master cannot expect perfection from a dog, even a poodle, he should be ever aware to keep him from expensive parts of the house where he might do damage with either end.”
7Galveston: ‘Free Of Rustlers, Hooligans, Or Vicious Varmints Of Unsavory Kind’
Smith v. Colonial Penn , 1996
Photo credit: TheAustinMan/Wikimedia
This particular case is of note due to the hilarious admonitions in response to a motion to transfer the case from Galveston to Houston. Attorneys for Colonial Penn filed the motion, citing “unnecessary driving time and expenses,” to which Judge Samuel Kent responded with a great deal of sarcasm. He first noted that the difference in distance would be less than 65 kilometers (40 mi), before saying, “The Court certainly does not wish to encumber any litigant with such an onerous burden.”
The judge, perhaps sensitive regarding Texas’s reputation among those residing in the northeastern part of the country (Colonial Penn is based in Philadelphia), went so far as to say the following:
“Defendant should be assured that it is not embarking on a three-week-long trip via covered wagons when it travels to Galveston. Rather, Defendant will be pleased to discover that the highway is paved and lighted all the way to Galveston, and thanks to the efforts of this Court’s predecessor, Judge Roy Bean, the trip should be free of rustlers, hooligans, or vicious varmints of unsavory kind.”
6Judge Paine, Or Judge Wayne?
Noble v. Bradford Marine, Inc., 1992
It is not uncommon to find references to popular culture included in a judicial order, but Judge James C. Paine took it to a whole other level in 1992 when he made numerous references to Wayne’s World, which had just been released earlier that year. The order begins by making a not-so-thinly veiled reference to the film: “After an extreme close-up review of the record and excellent authorities, the court enters the following order.”
More references immediately followed: “On October 11, 1988, while berthed at the facilities of Bradford Marine, Inc., a fire spewed from the M/V Prime Time, a boat owned by Prime Time Charters, Inc. The blaze hurled chunks of flaming debris to other vessels, destroying those owned by Lyn C. Noble and Robert C. Muir.”
Apparently, Judge Paine was so enthralled by the Mike Myers and Dana Carvey classic that he mined the film’s script for each of his headings, which read: “Like a Winged Monkey Flying Out of the Ashes,” ”NOT!,” and “A Schwing and a Miss.” If that were not enough, Judge Paine closed with this gem: “In short, Prime Time’s most bogus attempt at removal is ‘not worthy‘ and the Defendants must ‘party on’ in state court.”
Kissel v. Schwartz & Maines & Ruby Co., 2011
Judge Martin Sheehan, a Kenton Circuit Court judge in the state of Kentucky, was so happy to hear that a dispute scheduled for trial had been settled outside of court that he issued a hilarious cancelation order that included several grin-inducing phrases.
Judge Sheehan noted that the news made him “happier than a tick on a fat dog because [the Court] is otherwise busier than a one-legged cat in a sandbox and, quite frankly, would have rather jumped naked off a twelve-foot stepladder into a five-gallon bucket of porcupines than have presided over a trial of the herein dispute, a trial which, no doubt, would have made the jury more confused than a hungry baby in a topless bar and made the parties and their attorneys madder than mosquitoes in a mannequin factory.”
In a single sentence, Judge Sheehan was able to pack five ridiculous colloquialisms. Whatever the dispute may have been, this order surely must have brought smiles to the faces of all of the parties involved for a variety of reasons.
4‘Preposterous Doggerel Verse’
Mackenworth v. American Trading Transportation Co., 1973
This is an instance in which the judge was not the only one who decided to get creative through the judicial process. The lawyers for the plaintiff and defendant each utilized verse, but Judge Edward Becker ultimately trumped them both:
“The motion now before us
has stirred up a terrible fuss.
And what is considerably worse,
it has spawned some preposterous doggerel verse.
The plaintiff, a man of the sea,
after paying his lawyer a fee,
filed a complaint of several pages
to recover statutory wages.
The pleaded facts remind us of a tale that is endless.
A seaman whom for centuries the law has called “friendless”
is discharged from the ship before voyage’s end
and sues for lost wages, his finances to mend.
The defendant shipping company’s office is based in New York City,
and to get right down to the nitty gritty,
it has been brought to this Court by long arm service,
which has made it extremely nervous.”
The poetic judge goes on for nearly 1,000 words, closing with this:
“In view of the foregoing Opinion, at this time
We enter the following Order, also in rhyme.
Finding that service of process is bona fide,
The motion to dismiss is hereby denied.
So that this case can now get about its ways,
Defendant shall file an answer within 21 days.”
3Family Law Requires Dr. Freud
Bruni v. Bruni, 2010
Family court matters are often nuanced and also quite frustrating for all parties involved, and the judge in this case made his frustration clear in dealing with a married couple that had separated. After the separation, Catherine Bruni apparently kept her husband from seeing their daughter, which ultimately worked against her in this particular ruling.
Frustrated by the inability of the law to provide either the plaintiff or the defendant the assistance they required, Judge Joseph Quinn began his ruling by opining that Dr. Freud would have been better suited to handle such a matter: “Paging Dr. Freud. Paging Dr. Freud. This is yet another case that reveals the ineffectiveness of Family Court in a bitter custody/access dispute, where the parties require therapeutic intervention rather than legal attention. Here, a husband and wife have been marinating in a mutual hatred so intense as to surely amount to a personality disorder requiring treatment.”
In his ruling, he weighed in on the Bruni’s spousal support arrangement, saying, “I come now to the issue of spousal support, historically the roulette of family law (blindfolds, darts, and Ouija boards being optional).”
Ultimately, he ruled that Catherine Bruni’s spousal support be in the amount of a single dollar per month, noting, “Dollars cannot replace the father-daughter relationship that Catherine has destroyed. However, in the circumstances of this case, justice has only a Hobson’s choice. Catherine’s alienation . . . must be condemned, and an effective method of expressing that condemnation is by way of a reduction in spousal support.”
2A Scathing Assessment Of Gurnek Singh’s Astonishing Lack Of Character
Pirbhai v. Singh, et al, 2010
Photo credit: Rick Madonik/Toronto Star
Another entry from the honorable Judge Quinn includes an interesting character study of the defendant, Gurnek Singh, the owner of Sarwan Auto Sales and Brampton Auto Collision Center. In the process of awarding the plaintiff a sum of over $83,000 relating to the sale and repair of a 1998 Lexus, Judge Quinn declared that Singh is “unblinkingly dishonest,” “shows no aptitude for the truth,” and “is incorrigible.”
If this analysis of Singh’s character seems harsh, Judge Quinn continues unrestrained, saying, “Singh should not be allowed to conduct any commercial business in the province of Ontario that brings him into contact with members of the public.”
Perhaps the best part of his ruling comes from a footnote in which Judge Quinn remarks, “Indeed, by the end of the trial, if Singh were to have testified that the world was round, I immediately would have sought membership in the Flat Earth Society.”
1Judge Uses Ludacris To Clarify A Misspelling
US v. Murphy, 2005
Judge Terence Evans of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, presiding over a case in which Darron Murphy Sr. had been convicted of multiple felonies, felt it necessary to clarify a statement made by one of the witnesses.
The witness had been appointed by law enforcement to purchase crack cocaine from Murphy’s son, Darron Jr., leading to his incarceration. His father found out the identity of the witness, leading him to refer to her as, according to the court reporter’s transcription, a “snitch bitch hoe.” In one of the footnotes, Judge Evans wrote:
“The trial transcript quotes Ms. Hayden as saying Murphy called her a snitch bitch ‘hoe.’ A ‘hoe,’ of course, is a tool used for weeding and gardening. We think the court reporter, unfamiliar with rap music (perhaps thankfully so), misunderstood Hayden’s response. We have taken the liberty of changing ‘hoe’ to ‘ho,’ a staple of rap music vernacular as, for example, when Ludacris raps ‘You doin’ ho activities with ho tendencies.’ ”