John G. Browning 2016-12-22 16:50:02
A Sno-ball’s Chance in Court and Other Legal Weirdness Every year, untold numbers of lawyers experience burnout. Many even leave the profession, numbed by the soul-crushing monotony of their jobs and eager to pursue other dreams, like making designer cupcakes or starting a dog-walking service (yes, these are real examples). Nationwide, 24 percent of the lawyers who passed the bar in 2000 weren’t practicing law in 2012, according to an American Bar Foundation survey. But not me. How do I stave off lawyer burnout? I do it in part by embracing and even reveling in the fact that the legal system is full of surprises. Everywhere you look, amusing and weird things are happening. A Sno-ball’s Chance in Court Take the normally staid U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, for example. Maybe it was just the dog days of summer, or a way for the appellate judges to chill out, but they recently decided to have a little fun in writing an opinion addressing the competing trademark claims of companies Southern Snow Manufacturing Co. and SnoWizard Inc. over the rightful ownership of syrup flavors sold to snowball stands throughout Louisiana and the use of the term “sno-ball.” With the glee of children making snow angels, three of the judges penned icy puns in their ruling, which stated, “What began as a flurry of cease-and-desist letters between the companies has turned into a blizzard of patent, trademark, and antitrust litigation. Each party has attempted to use the court to freeze the other out of the sno-ball market.” The ruling noted that one company had tried “to conjure up an avalanche of lawsuits against their competitors” and observed that “relations between the parties are frosty, to say the least.” Saying that “the parties could have shaved down the overwhelming costs in time, expense, and scarce judicial resources” by not pursuing a “crush the opposition” strategy, the court ultimately held that a number of the claims being appealed were precluded because “plaintiffs are only allowed one bite at the sno-ball.” There you have it—even federal appellate judges can’t resist the fun of a good old-fashioned snowball fight. A Familiar Juror Twenty-eight-year-old Halifax County, North Carolina, man Raylon Parker was serving on a grand jury when a suspiciously familiar name came up in the proceedings—his own! Parker didn’t step out of the grand jury when a charge against him of assault with a deadly weapon came up, nor did he tell anyone that he was the person in question until he was asked later to approach the bench, the North Carolina Lawyers Weekly reported. Parker apparently voted along with his fellow grand jurors, but because such proceedings are sealed, we don’t know how he voted. But he was indicted, so it looks like Parker has a return trip to the courthouse in his future. Jesus, Take the Wheel Of course, you can also have fun with legal defenses and excuses. For most of us, “God Is My Co-Pilot” is a popular bumper sticker and “Jesus, Take the Wheel” is a country song by Carrie Underwood. But for a motorist in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, it’s her legal defense to a reckless driving charge. The 28-year-old woman allegedly ran a stop sign, went through an intersection, and crashed into the front yard of a home in July. Her excuse to the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office deputies who arrested her was that she was praying and had her eyes closed, the Northwest Florida Daily News reported. Yeah, good luck with that. Divine Intervention In August, public defender Kathryn Nester needed a continuance in the federal court case in which she was representing Lyle Jeffs, a polygamist religious leader accused in a multimillion-dollar food stamp scheme, the Washington Post reported. Two weeks after being given supervised release and house arrest by Judge Ted Stewart of the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, Jeffs disappeared, leaving behind only a greasy ankle monitor. With the trial date for her fugitive client approaching, defense counsel Nester filed a motion for continuance that noted Jeffs’ absence. It stated: Whether his absence is based on absconding, as oft alleged by the Government in their filings, or whether he was taken and secreted against his will, or whether he experienced the miracle of rapture is unknown to counsel. So just when you think you’ve run out of excuses for a missing client or witness, know that you can add “swept away by the rapture” to your arsenal. You may even have a snowball’s chance in court. • THINK YOU’RE FUNNY TOO? PROVE IT! Send your humorous articles of 600 words to firstname.lastname@example.org. Send deposition and trial excerpts to email@example.com. JOHN G. BROWNING is a partner in Passman & Jones in Dallas, where he handles commercial litigation, employment, health care, and personal injury defense matters in state and federal courts. He is an award-winning legal journalist for his syndicated column, “Legally Speaking,” and is the author of the Social Media and Litigation Practice Guide and a forthcoming casebook on social media and the law. He is an adjunct professor at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law.
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