People say that court cases can be boring, dreary, and full of old platitudes and sometimes meaningless words. In other words, litigation is conducted in a manner and language that is often archaic and far from interesting.
This past week a judge in Canada lent his voice to this adage with the following pithy comment about a litigant who had been filing endless suits on the same matter to avoid making payment on a case he had lost: “The Covid pandemic has left our court resources strained as never before. Even working at maximum efficiency, our reduced capacity in family court means that every day more and more families are left waiting for justice. I am not sure why we tolerated as much litigation nonsense as we used to. But that’s not an option anymore.”
In 2016, the Court of Appeal in the United Kingdom expressed disgust about the quality of documents filed by the parties to a case and said, “This is no way to conduct litigation involving millions of pounds. We were told that this unacceptably cavalier approach to pleadings was a common feature of this kind of litigation. It must stop.”
In 2017, a judge said declined a request for an adjournment of a case where the witness scheduled to testify had instead travelled to view the solar eclipse from a suitable location. The judge declined the request for adjournment. Without hiding displeasure he said, “When an indispensable participant, knowing that a trial is imminent, pre-pays for some personal indulgence, that participant, in effect, lays in a bet. This time, unlike Carly Simon’s former suitor, whose ‘horse, naturally won,’ this bettor’s horse has – naturally – lost. “
The judge continued that the delay would “subordinate the time and resources of the court … to one person’s aspiration to view a ‘total’ solar eclipse for no more than two minutes and forty-two seconds.”
The above instances are examples where the judges speak in serious tones to express disgust about some occurrences in court.
There are, however, instances where the serious can also turn into the absurd or outright funny. This was the case in a claim brought to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania by a person sued for breach of contract against a person who had sold to him two emu birds, which failed to procreate as promised at the time of purchase. In dismissing the claim, the judge said the case was as flightless as the birds, and the appeal equally barren.
Not to be left behind with humour in rulings was the case of Itsy Bikini in the state of Texas.
The claimant was a club that provided entertainment to its patrons in the form of skimpily dressed women performing. When the city of San Antonio amended the laws to require that such performers at least wear a sizable bikini and a top, the club owners sued for an injunction against the law.
District Court Judge Fred Biery dismissed the case but not without some naked humour. “An ordinance dealing with semi-nude dancers has once again fallen on the court’s lap. The city wants the dancers to wear larger pieces of fabric. Thus, the age-old question before the court, now with constitutional implications, is: Does size matter?”
In Kenya, just about the same time as the Covid pandemic was wreaking havoc, Justice Odunga made a ruling drawing from the imagery and vocabulary of the pandemic in words to the effect that “What one can do to avoid harming others through violence is to sanitise oneself from temptations and keeping social distance until such time that she or he has vaccinated himself against such temptations.”
He continued, “to aggrieved partners who report to harming third parties through contact tracing when relationships come to an end ought not to be tolerated in any justice system would face isolation for a long time.”
The courts can also be the forum for serious statements by the litigants. This happens more often in criminal trials.
Perhaps the most widely recognised statement by a defendant in a criminal case was by Nelson Mandela in 1963 in South Africa. “During my lifetime, I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal, which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
In 1988, Henry Okong’o Arara, who was convicted of the crime of sedition, took cue from Nelson Mandela’s statement and addressed the court in mitigation, that “the people of this nation are simply demanding their rights — right to a decent living, right to education, right to proper medical care, right to housing, in short, the right to be human beings. If that is sedition, so be it. These are the goals for which I have fought and for which I am prepared to die.”
He was sentenced to five years imprisonment.
In Kenya, my favourite is Chief Justice Chunilal Madan’s statement at the conclusion of a judgment in a case in which a litigant had sought to prohibit the Attorney General from malicious prosecution.
The Chief Justice addressed him with these sonorous words: “Stanley Munga Githunguri! You have been beseeching the court for an order from Prohibition. Take the Order. This Court gives it to you. When you leave here raise your eyes unto the hills. Utter a prayer of thankfulness that your fundamental rights are protected under the judicial system of Kenya.”
But the litigants are not always the ones on the receiving end. Some documents filed in court also have mirthful sardonic value.
In a notice filed in the United States District Court of Northern Georgia, Ms Tama Jada Clark wrote in response to an order made against her by a judge. “I am in receipt of an order dated 3/31/2015 wherein the judge has the audacity to attempt to dismiss this case based upon fallacious and irrelevant contentions that are without merit, of which he is aware.”
But the cake for the usage of words in a court case in a striking manner for this year goes to the lawyers in a case filed by Smartmatic Inc in the United States. The company sued Fox News network for defamation.
The claim is that Fox news channel had deliberately led a false story line that the elections systems technology by Smartmatic contributed to a flawed election. The document of claim also called the Complaint started as follows, “The Earth is round. Two plus two equals four.
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the 2020 election for President and Vice President of the United States. The election was not stolen, rigged, or fixed. These are facts. They are demonstrable and irrefutable.
The Defendants (that is Fox news) have always known these facts. They knew Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the 2020 US election. They knew the election was not stolen.
They knew the election was not rigged or fixed. They knew these truths just as they knew the Earth is round and two plus two equals four.”