Don’t Be That Guy!
Every once in a while I receive a pleading or a motion or some other “legal work” from another attorney and I am reminded of a scathing 2001 decision by District Court Judge Kent from the Southern District of Texas. The facts of the case are less important than what the judge has to say about the papers submitted by the attorneys. I pull the case out every once in a while to remind myself of what not to do.
The following are a few choice quotes from the case.
Before proceeding further, the Court notes that this case involves two extremely likable lawyers, who have together delivered some of the most amateurish pleadings ever to cross the hallowed causweay into Galveston, an effort which leads the Court to surmise but one plausible explanation. Both attorneys have obviously entered into a secret pact–complete with hats, handshakes and cryptic words–to draft their pleadings entirely in crayon on the back sides of gravy-stained paper place mats, in the hope that the Court would be so charmed by their child-like efforts that their utter dearth of legal authorities in their briefing would go unnoticed. Whatever actually occurred, the Court is now faced with the daunting task of deciphering their submissions. With Big Chief tablet readied, thick black pencil in hand, and a devil-may-care laugh in the face of death, life on the razor’s edge sense of exhilaration, the Court begins.
After commenting on the fact that the defendant’s opening brief cites only a single legal authority (and it’s not even the seminal case known to every first-year law student – Eerie), the court moves on to the plaintiff’s response.
Plaintiff responds to this deft, yet minimalist analytical wizardry with an equally gossamer wisp of an argument, although Plaintiff does at least cite the federal limitations provision applicable to maritime tort claims. (citation omitted) Naturally, Plaintiff also neglects to provide any analysis whatsoever of why his claim versus Defendant Phillips is a maritime action. Plaintiff “cites” to a single case from the Fourth Circuit. Plaintiff’s citation, however, points to a nonexistent Volume “1886” of the Federal Reporter Third Edition and neglects to provide a pinpoint citation for what, after being located, turned out to be a forty-page decision. … The Court cannot even begin to comprehend why this case was selected for reference. It is almost as if Plaintiff’s counsel chose the opinion by throwing long range darts at the Federal Reporting (remarkably hitting a nonexistent volume!). And though the Court often gives great heed to dicta from courts as far flung as those of Manitoba, it finds the case unpersuasive.
The court did have some good things to say about the pleadings:
Despite the continued shortcomings of Plaintiff’s supplemental submission, the Court commends Plaintiff for his vastly improved choice of crayon–Brick Red is much easier on the eyes than Goldenrod, and stands out much better amidst the mustard splotched about Plaintiff’s briefing. But at the end of the day, even if you put a calico dress on it and call it Florence, a pig is still a pig.
There is one footnote about brevity that I find particularly instructive:
Take heed and be suitably awed, oh boys and girls–the Court was able to state the issue and its resolution in one paragraph … despite dozens of pages of gibberish from the parties to the contrary!
The Court was able to make a ruling, despite having received “no useful guidance whatever from either party.” I believe the court’s final footnote bespeaks his feeling on the matter:
In either case, the Court cautions Plaintiff’s counsel not to run with a sharpened writing utensil in hand–he could put his eye out.
You can read the Court’s opinion in Bradshaw v. Unity Marine Corporation, Inc. at 147668. May you never have this case cited in response to any of your pleadings.
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