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January 30, 2007 6:45 PM   Subscribe

Court Decision, re: Fisher v. Lowe, Feb. 1999. Car ends up in man's yard. Man sues driver. Judge administers poetic justice. [via]
posted by Smart Dalek (40 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
That is really very amusing. I imagine the person on the losing side might have a hard time seeing the humor in it, but, really, it is brilliant.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:48 PM on January 30, 2007


That kind of thing is more common than you might think. I've seen quite a few appeals court decisions posted which are in verse or otherwise are somewhat tongue-in-cheek. I think in a lot of cases it's an indirect way for the appeals court to say, "Why in hell did you bother us with this, anyway?"
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:52 PM on January 30, 2007


What was that MeFi post a while back where the judge is *ahem* "less than formal" about his decisions?
posted by basicchannel at 6:57 PM on January 30, 2007


Oh, here it is.
posted by basicchannel at 6:58 PM on January 30, 2007


Another Gillis opinion:

J.H. Gillis, Judge.
The appellant has attempted to distinguish the factual situation in this case from that in Renfroe v. Higgins Rack Coating and Manufacturing Co., Inc. (1969), 17 Mich. App. 259, 169 N.W.2d 326. He didn't. We couldn't.
Affirmed. Costs to appellee.

More strange judicial opinions.
posted by chudder at 7:04 PM on January 30, 2007


These things are always funny until you realize that the judge is having fun at the (often great) expense of private parties who felt very strongly about their particular dispute and didn't come to the court for jokes or amateur poety hour.
posted by Mid at 7:07 PM on January 30, 2007


This one, though, is funny.
posted by Mid at 7:17 PM on January 30, 2007


I agree with Mid. In the abstract, this is amusing, but it tarnishes what should be a very formal setting. These opinions are all the result of narcissistic judges who forget they are merely instruments of justice. The public's confidence in the judicial system rests on it being impartial and when you have judges flaunting their uniqueness it gives the impression that the judicial system is about one individual's whim.

All this intentionally ignores the many, many problems with the justice system as it actually works and the brilliance of individual jurists. It is addressed to the ideal, which is what judges should be striving for.
posted by Falconetti at 7:21 PM on January 30, 2007


These things are always funny until you realize that the judge is having fun at the (often great) expense of private parties who felt very strongly about their particular dispute and didn't come to the court for jokes or amateur poety hour.

As though how strongly they felt makes any difference? A lot of stupid, wasteful cases come before judges, and mockery is often well-deserved.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:22 PM on January 30, 2007


See Jeffrey Rosen's (a former teacher of mine) article in the current Atlantic on Judge Roberts for a more detailed critique along lines similar to mine. I didn't agree with Roberts' views on the desire to have unanimity as much as possible, but I did agree with his intimated frustrations at justices who think they are more important than the Court as an institution (i.e. Scalia and Stevens).
posted by Falconetti at 7:24 PM on January 30, 2007


A lot of stupid, wasteful cases come before judges, and mockery is often well-deserved.

That may be true in the abstract (i.e., there's lots of wasteful cases), but these particular "funny" opinions are often issued in run-of-the-mill cases where the parties weren't doing anything particularly stupid or wasteful. Take the linked opinion for example -- a guy crashed his car into a property owner's tree, the owner sued for damages. Wasteful? Stupid? Not really. And it isn't like they brought the case to the U.S. Supreme Court or something -- they were in the Circuit Court of Oakland County, Michigan. In other words, a low-level court for a low-level case.
posted by Mid at 7:36 PM on January 30, 2007


So wait, what the fuck happened? What was the verdict? Can anyone translate?
posted by Eideteker at 7:38 PM on January 30, 2007


I want good jurists making good rulings. Their preferred method of delivery couldn't mean less to me.

But, all things being equal, I'll take the poetic/amusing any day of the week.
posted by Ynoxas at 7:39 PM on January 30, 2007


Eldeteker, the lower court ruled in favor of the defendants (Lowe and Moffett, who crashed the car into the tree), and the Circuit Court upheld (affirmed) the judgement.
posted by teferi at 7:42 PM on January 30, 2007


Take the linked opinion for example -- a guy crashed his car into a property owner's tree, the owner sued for damages. Wasteful? Stupid? Not really.

Well, yes it was. Michigan has a no-fault insurance law so the case had no chance from the start; moreover the defendants' insurer was not properly served, and hence not really a party to the lawsuit anyway. Sounds pretty wasteful and stupid to me.
posted by Urban Hermit at 7:43 PM on January 30, 2007


Forgive me for missing the point of the link, but it's "no fault" when you damage someone's tree by driving a car into it? WTF, Michigan?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:46 PM on January 30, 2007


XQUZYPHYR, that's how "no fault" insurance laws work. In the event of an auto accident, regardless of the damage or the number of parties involved (e.g. if you crash into someone else's car), legally, the whole thing is not your fault.

Your insurance company is still free to soak you with a premium hike after it pays the other party's insurance company's claims, though.

It's not just Michigan, either; no-fault laws are fairly common.
posted by teferi at 7:49 PM on January 30, 2007


I'm guessing there was at least a colorable claim that the no-fault insurance law did not apply. From the opinion, it seems like you can avoid the no-fault law if you can establish a tort. Maybe this is what they were going for. Otherwise, I agree that you could call the case frivolous. But this sorta proves my point -- we have no idea what the arguments were because they didn't fit nicely into the app. court's poem.
posted by Mid at 7:50 PM on January 30, 2007


Also, to be honest I don't really find "creative" rulings like this amusing any more than I enjoy hearing about some whackjob judge and his/her "creative" ruling like shackling people together or forcing them to dress like a clown or stupid shit like that. If, god forbid, I ever have to deal with being in court for whatever reason, I'd like to think my judge cared about the legal system, not that he was apparently bored with it.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:50 PM on January 30, 2007


Well, even if they were trying to establish a tort, Mid, they screwed up procedurally by not serving notice properly.

I do agree that casting the opinion in the form of poetry (and leaving out arguments, reasoning, etc) is perhaps not the best thing the judge could have cone.
posted by teferi at 7:59 PM on January 30, 2007


(disclaimer: armchair lawyer only, albeit possibly with aspirations)
posted by teferi at 8:01 PM on January 30, 2007


XQ, to elaborate: under tort liability, to recover damages you would have to prove not only that you were injured (either medically or in this case financially), but that the other party was "at fault", i.e. bore specific responsibility for the accident. In other words, every single automobile accident is potentially a "federal case". No fault insurance laws are simpler and saner. You just say, "Look, I suffered an injury", and your insurance company works it out with the other insurance company.

Basically, that happened here, and the guy still wasn't satisfied. But as the procedures were all followed, in a legal sense, the plaintiffs had already been made whole and there was no case. Additionally, they pressed a frivolous charge against the insurance company they themselves failed to properly serve. That's what the second verse is about: "Plaintiff failed to well comply with rules of court that did apply."

Sure, they were pissed off, but the point is that they were seeking compensation beyond what the insurance companies had already settled on. Defendants were immune from tort liability means that they could not be sued for more than what their insurance company had already paid out, it does not mean they were blameless or suffered no consequence such as increased insurance rates.
posted by dhartung at 8:08 PM on January 30, 2007


It does seem rather unfair that judges can do this but lawyers cannot. If lawyers tried anything like this they'd be in contempt of court, which is illegal. But "contempt by the court" is perfectly legal.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:16 PM on January 30, 2007


Mid's suggestion prompted me to look up the case: Michigan's no-fault law only allows for tort liability in the event of death or serious injury (and a few other rare circumstances). There was clearly no valid cause of action here.

It also turns out that Fisher, an attorney representing himself, subsequently sued the Detroit Free Press for defamation after it published the appelate court's poetic ruling. Fisher lost on summary judgment, lost the appeal, and was assessed costs.

Fisher apparently objected not simply to the poem, but to remarks made by Judge Gillis to a Free Press reporter:
The car's insurer offered to pay the tree surgeon's bill -- $ 550 -- but Fisher sought $ 15,000 for the equivalent of "loss of companionship of the sick tree," Gillis said.
posted by Urban Hermit at 8:29 PM on January 30, 2007


Leo: Hey, the Chief Justice wrote another opinion in verse, you wanna hear it?
Bartlet: No.
Leo: (reading) I say this denial is not fit for trial.
posted by zamboni at 8:30 PM on January 30, 2007


Okay, that all makes sense now, thanks dhartung et al.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:32 PM on January 30, 2007


These things are always funny until you realize that the judge is having fun at the (often great) expense of private parties who felt very strongly about their particular dispute and didn't come to the court for jokes or amateur poety hour.
posted by Mid at 10:07 PM EST on January 30


Examples of this abound in MetaTalk.
posted by juiceCake at 8:34 PM on January 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Urban Hermit: perhaps you're right that this one deserved some mockery, but there are some opinions out there (I believe probably from Easterbrook in the 7th Cir., for one) that make jokes in cases involving actual injured people.
posted by Mid at 8:46 PM on January 30, 2007


I'm puzzled that no-fault insurance laws apply to no-vehicular damage.

Poetic Judge: No, thanks. It may be cute and funny. I don't want courts to be cute and funny. Wrong time, wrong place, and, most especially, wrong job.

I'll be sure never to higher this Fisher character, should I ever need legal representation in Michigan. Fortunately, I'm not likely to find myself in Oakland county.
posted by Goofyy at 10:43 PM on January 30, 2007


I have a dream job. Others think of being rich and just being, or turning their wealth into some sort of celebrity status.

None of that works for me. No. I want one job. I want to be the guy that determines what court cases are frivolous. I want to be the guy that says "Hey, you know what? You tried robbing that convenience store, and when you slipped and fell on the Slushy machine that you shot out in a fit of anger, that shit was your own fault. And now, not only are you not going to get any money, you are going to prison. Yeah. Sucks to be you, fucker."

Some people dream of wealth. Some dream of the power to rule the world. All I want is to be the guy that gets to shoot down people who believe that they are entitled to something that they don't deserve.
posted by quin at 11:57 PM on January 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


The best kind of judicial humour is very dry and delivered in momentary asides in the middle of serious judgements. Things like the poem-opinion are just the judge going 'look at me, aren't I cool, I'm making dumb jokes and there's nothing you can do about it because I'm the one wearing a silly wig and robe with the full power of the state behind me and you're just a common litigant who couldn't afford a decent barrister'.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 12:04 AM on January 31, 2007


So, in states with no-fault auto insurance laws, how are drivers held responsible for damage they cause to people's property? What about people who don't drive and therefore have no auto insurance?
posted by wierdo at 12:36 AM on January 31, 2007


Wow, so you can claim damages to your cheesy useless electronics in court, but not your cared-for, beautiful, centuries-old tree? We've sure got our priorities straight.

Don't take this as a slight against useless electronics; hell, I absolutely love them myself. I just wish that something could be given to this man (by at least the insurer of the vehicle) for the loss of his nearly irreplaceable natural fixture.
posted by tehloki at 12:52 AM on January 31, 2007


I'm just stunned by the idea of 'no-fault' laws. Is that why you USians drive everywhere?
posted by mr. strange at 1:08 AM on January 31, 2007


I doubt that the poetic judge was wearing a silly wig. They don't do that in Michigan.

so you can claim damages to your cheesy useless electronics in court, but not your cared-for, beautiful, centuries-old tree?

Not true. You file a claim against the driver's insurance company. They pay you. Read the thread, dhartung and others explain it.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:07 AM on January 31, 2007


Since it is undisputed that plaintiff did not serve process upon State Farm in accordance with the court rules, the court did not obtain personal jurisdiction over the insurer.

The judge is actually being nice. At least he didn't string up the attorney in front of the courthouse.
posted by Pacheco at 5:37 AM on January 31, 2007


At the very least: if the opinion is in verse you can be reasonably certain that the judge personally wrote it.
posted by little miss manners at 8:21 AM on January 31, 2007


So this dude had his check for 550$ but he wanted more so he wasted thousands having a court consider his stupid case?
a brush-off sounds fair.
posted by Megafly at 10:56 AM on January 31, 2007


Falconetti -- Roberts did not really intimate any frustration with Stevens or Scalia. Rosen kind of made that up.
posted by Slap Factory at 11:36 AM on January 31, 2007


mr. strange: Andrew Tobias makes the case for no-fault insurance.
The problem: Consumers pay too much for auto insurance and, if they’re badly hurt, get far too little. In California, for example, consumers pay something like $7 billion for the "people" portion of auto insurance (auto theft and damage are additional). But if they’re badly hurt — $100,000 or more in medical expenses and lost wages — they recoup on average just 9% of their actual losses from that $7 billion pool. Imagine your $200,000 house burning down and recouping just 9% — $18,000 — from your insurance company, after paying high premiums all those years.

So where does all the money go? In California, more than half goes to lawyers (both yours, fighting for your claim, and the insurance company’s lawyer, fighting against it) and to fraud. Why so much fraud? Because the current system actually encourages people — even normally honest people — to strike back at the insurance companies and recoup some of those years and years of exorbitant premiums by saying their necks hurt when they don’t, or exaggerating their injuries.
posted by russilwvong at 4:00 PM on January 31, 2007


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