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Petro Poop? Creativity from the bench

Trend Alert: Judges increasingly are resorting to humor, pop culture references and rhymes in their opinions.

The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that judges across the country are more frequently using these devices to spice up otherwise drab legal discussions in their opinions.

The Journal cites a federal judge from Texas, Fred Biery, who recently wrote in a decision about cars that sit idling. These vehicles leave “automobile droppings” on the road, wrote Biery, “which the court calls Petro Poop.”

They probably know more about petro poop in Texas than we do here in Virginia. But we have had judges who heard a similar muse. At least one decision has been handed down in rhyme: Back in the early 1990s, Judge J. Robert Stump issued a letter opinion as a long poem. And retired U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Hal J. Bonney Jr. of Norfolk was famous r his humorous, and occasionally off-the-wall, opinions.

More recently, U.S. District Judge Jackson Kiser used a footnote for a pop-cult reference: He discussed “The Shaggy Defense.” What’s that, you ask? In a 2000 song, R&B singer Shaggy counseled a friend to deny everything and to claim “it wasn’t me” when caught red-handed.

One observer, Prof. Andrew McClurg, says judges do this to break the monotony of their work and perhaps to get a little extra attention. McClurg keeps track of such developments at his website, www.lawhaha.com

Some lawyers and judges like the trend, others not so much. We’ll see how long a run this development has.

I’ll close with an example, proof that everyone wants in on the act.

Call this one Law Noir. A jurist recently wrote, “North Philly, May 4, 2001. Officer Sean Devlin, Narcotics Strike Force, was working the morning shift. Undercover surveillance. The neighborhood? Tough as a three-dollar steak.”

The author: U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts, in his dissent in Pennsylvania v. Dunlap (2008).

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