Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Literary reviews of CAAF's Weston opinion

I remain delighted by the writing in Judge Stucky's opinion for the court in United States v. Weston, __ M.J. ___, No. 08-0594/MC (C.A.A.F. June 11, 2009). The opinion begins:

There was something odd about the electric razor in the bathroom. Staff Sergeant (SSgt) ME, a female Marine court reporter, noticed it sitting on the wall locker shelf in the bathroom she shared with Appellant, the senior court reporter, whom she knew to be experienced with computers and surveillance equipment. SSgt ME typically changed clothes in the bathroom and for the past year had felt that she was being watched, a feeling that she attributed to paranoia. But this time the circumstances were simply too odd and her suspicions too strong. SSgt ME took the razor with her when she left work that day. Her attempt to open the razor’s casing ended at Sears with a "Torque" T7 screwdriver. Inside the razor she found a camera.
Judge Stucky's prose has now drawn notice from beyond military justice wonkdom.

Law.Com Legal Blog Watch has posted a piece here called "Cloak-and-Dagger Justice" about the Weston opinion, accompanied by a photo of Humphrey Bogart. The post links to this Suits & Sentences post called "Judicial noir" that also comments on Weston (and offers amusing rewrites of Marbury v. Madison, Lochner v. New York, and Bush v. Gore).

h/t Phil Cave's Court-Martial Trial Practice blog


Anonymous said...

At some point most of us realize law is a deathly boring career and strive to find ways to amuse ourselves, with mixed results. Welcome Scott Stucky to the club.

In my personal view, which is influenced by my complete lack of personality and sense of humor, I don't think criminal law -- which involves hurt victims and ruined lives on all sides -- is very funny or calls for quirky humor in opinion-writing.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure everyone remembers the opening line from Justice O'Connor's opinion in Davis v. United States (1994): "Pool brought trouble--not to River City, but to the Charleston Naval Base."

Not quite as clever as Stucky's Weston quote, but an attempt at humor.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:43,
The victim in this case just got perved, much like Cossio in the brig. But he's moved past his victimization issues.

I doubt any lives were ruined here. Chill out.

John O'Connor said...

I think there's a pretty clear distinction between Justice O'Connor's opening in Davis v. United States and Judge Stucky's opening in Weston.

Judge Stucky's prose made the presentation more interesting, but did not turn the crime into a joke and actually recited the facts ibnvolved in the charged offense.

As much as we all love The Music Man, Justice O'Connor's opening in Davis was a flip wise crack.

You can debate whether wise cracks are okay in judicial opinions, and the answer might be different based on the type of case, but jazzing up prose as in Weston is far easier to defend than an off-hand wise crack in a case about murder.

Anonymous said...

It's just a pity that he couldn't have worked in a reference to Charles Dickens' The Bleak House. Any mention of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce is always a sign of erudition.

Anonymous said...

I didn't think the Weston opinion was all that dramatic. I think C.J. Roberts is the one establishing a reputation for colorful opinions.

His Denando dissent was overly colorful, but his best was the recent Dean v. United States. The decision involved a defendant who was a bank robber and had accidentally and unintentionally discharged his gun during the heist without hurting anyone.

Chief Justice Roberts wrote: “This, is the case of the bumbling bank robber…. Accidents happen…Sometimes they happen to individuals committing crimes with loaded guns…Those criminals wishing to avoid the penalty for an inadvertent discharge…can lock or unload the firearm, handle it with care during the underlying violent or drug trafficking crime, leave the gun at home, or — best yet — avoid committing the felony in the first place.”

(I got this from the N.Y. Times which had a great article on the decision that puts it into a more humorous light).