When we think of a courtroom, we think of a serious place where serious matters are decided. When we picture a judge, it is as a stern figure in black dispensing serious justice. The are numerous cases of frivolous lawsuits and wacky litigants, but judges have often been proven to have quite a sense of humor as well. Here is a list of 5 of the funniest real-life court decisions of recent years:
Case 1- Bradshaw v. Unity Marine Corp., 147 F.Supp.2d 668, 670 (S.D. Texas 2001)
One of the worst things an attorney can do is to come to court unprepared. This was the situation in Bradshaw v. Unity Marine Corp. The case involved a man named Jonathan Bradshaw who was suing a former employer for injuries sustained on the job. The presiding judge, unimpressed with the performance and lack of a cohesive argument by either of the attorneys in the case, made his sentiments known in a scathing and hilarious commentary when handing down his decision in favor of the defendant. Some of the highlights include:
- The theory that the lawyers had “entered into a secret pact complete with hats, handshakes and cryptic words” in the hope of distracting the court away from their lack of legal argument with “their child-like efforts.”
- The accusation that they had written their legal briefs in crayon on the back of paper place mats, and the suggestion that they switch from goldenrod-colored crayons to brick red so their words would stand out from the mustard stains on said place mats.
- The suggestion that the plaintiff’s attorney either switch to using a ‘shiny, no 2 pencil’ or sharpen his crayons, but not run with them, as he might put his eye out.
Case 2- Avista Management v. Wausau Underwriters Insurance, U.S. Dist. Court Mid. Dist. Fla. (June 6, 2006)
Sometimes the judge just gets fed up with stall tactics and legal wrangling. This was the case when an investment firm sued their insurance company over failure to pay a claim in a timely manner. The lawyers for both sides could not agree on anything with regard to the case, including a place for taking depositions. Judge Gregory A. Presnell ruled that they either come up with a neutral place to take the depositions by a certain date and time, or meet on the steps of the courthouse, one witness for each side in tow, and decide on the location with a game of ‘rock, paper, scissors.’ The winner would then pick the location. The lawyers met the deadline. Then, fearing being held in contempt of court, filed a joint motion petitioning the Judge to void his previous decision. The judge vacated the motion on the game, and the case proceeded with a better spirit of cooperation.
Case 3- Mattel v. MCA Records, 296 F.3d 894 (9th Cir. 2002)
This was a case that gained notoriety after being played out mostly in the press. The toy company decided to sue the record company for copyright infringement over the song “Barbie Girl.” MCA Records filed a defamation counter-suit, claiming that terms such as “theft” and “piracy” made them look bad. The judge eventually ruled in favor of MCA, agreeing that the song was social satire, and no reflection on the toy company or its biggest-selling product. In dismissing the defamation suit, the judge stated: “No one hearing this accusation understands intellectual property owners to be saying that infringers are nautical cutthroats with eyepatches and peg legs who board galleons to plunder cargo.” His final ruling ended with the words: “The parties are advised to chill.”
Case 4- Joe Hand Promotions v. Sports Page Cafe, 940 F. Supp. 102 (D.N.J. 1996)
The are many cases of judges using poetry, literature, or just breaking into song when handing down a decision. Here is a classic example, from the case of a boxing promoter who was suing a tavern for showing a match to their customers without paying him for the rights. The judge rendered his entire decision, including footnotes, in verse, ending with: “Defendants allegedly exhibited the match In their respective taverns for their patrons to catch. Plaintiff’s complaint is based on that section Installed in the Code for easy inspection Which forbids such transmissions, recorded or live: 47 U.S.C. Section 605.”
Case 5- Chambers v. God, District Court of Douglas County, Nebraska (Sept. 14, 2007)
This case had wacky written all over it from the start. Long-time Senator from Nebraska, Ernie Chambers, filed a motion seeking an injunction against the Almightyfor making threats, scaring people, and causing death, destruction and terror to the citizens of Earth. The judge in the case dismissed the suit on technical grounds:
- Lack of jurisdiction
- The inability to serve the defendant, God, with court papers to appear and answer the charges
In his dispute of the decision, Senator Chambers stated that since God was everywhere, the Nebraska court did have jurisdiction, and that since God is also all-knowing, he was aware of the lawsuit, so service was not necessary. Courtroom humor has the effect of breaking up the monotony that can sometimes exist in matters of law. Although there is the occasional and sometimes unintentionally funny moment, most court cases are rather dry and routine. It is no wonder a judge may turn to sarcasm and humor in an attempt to lighten up a sometimes austere atmosphere, or lend a little personality to the proceedings.
Author: Susan T. Author Bio: Susan T. is retired professor who now writes to help people save on car insurance with discounts from well-known auto insurance companies. When not writing online, she can be found volunteering at her neighborhood animal clinic.