Fame as a judge either comes from being a second Solomon or a mad King Lear on the bench. In history books, friezes and portraits that line courthouse hallways and galleries, you’re sure to find the chastened physiognomies of famous jurists, from Moses to Minos, from Blackstone to Black, and from Leave It to Beaver. Perhaps knowing that most judges won’t join these juridical titans in Valhalaw when they leave the bench, many earn fame when they vent their frustration in their opinions.
Take former federal district judge Samuel Kent, famous for exploiting his tenured position to decry two attorneys who “have obviously entered into a secret pact--complete with hats, handshakes and cryptic words--to draft their pleadings entirely in crayon on the back sides of gravy-stained paper place mats, in the hope that the Court would be so charmed by their child-like efforts that their utter dearth of legal authorities in their briefing would go unnoticed.”
Then there’s judge Philip S. Straniere, disturbed that there exists an industry custom of referring the package that contains the terms and conditions of a computer agreement as a “pizza box.” In the mind of this New York judge, “[a]s a matter of law in the State of New York, such a container is not a ‘pizza box.’ No self-respecting New York pizza would be caught soggy in such a box. The container may pass as a ‘pizza box’ in those parts of the world that think food from Domino’s, Little Caesars, Pizza Hut, and Papa John’s is pizza. In this court’s opinion such a classification cannot be recognized east of the Hudson River.”
Then there are the few that, either out of boredom or literary afflatus, enter the Reporters of History, tripping (ahem...up) the poetic fantastic. United States Magistrate Judge James Muirhead, in holding that a hardboiled egg be destroyed, ordered, “There will be no eggs at court/To prove a clog in your aort./There will be no eggs accepted./Objections all will be rejected./From this day forth/This court will ban/hard-boiled eggs of any brand.” And evidently establishing the genre of judicial poetry is Judge Randall Evans, Jr., writing in a 1975 opinion that, “We’ve considered this case/Through the night—/through the day./As Judge Harrison said,/’We must earn our poor pay.’/This case was once tried—/But should now be rehearsed/And tried one more time./This case is reversed.” Hail Muse! et judicia.