Don’t Duel in Court

     Have you ever wondered how much the U.S. Supreme Court is influenced by Broadway musicals?
     I hadn’t either – until Justice John Roberts issued his “2015 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary.”
     You may have read news accounts of this opus – the judicial branch’s equivalent of the State of the Union address. None of the news accounts – at least none that I saw – conveyed how truly weird this document is.
     I urge you to read it for yourself. You won’t regret it.
     If someone handed you this thing without telling you what it was, you’d swear it was the work of some college kid, or maybe a high school kid, stuck with a boring assignment who’s desperately trying to reach a word count.
     Try giving it to someone who doesn’t know what it is and see if they can guess the author. You can make it a multiple choice quiz.
     Was this opus on dueling produced by:
     A. The head of the National Rifle Association?
     B. Donald Trump?
     C. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court?
     D. An undergrad poli-sci major?
     Bet you they get it wrong.
     This 12-page term paper – I mean Report on the Federal Judiciary – begins with two pages on the history of dueling, concluding that going to court is better than fighting duels.
     I can’t argue with that. It’s a valid point.
     I’m not sure what it has to do with the federal judiciary in 2015. Maybe the chief justice wanted to tell us that no duels were fought in federal court this year.
     I’m glad to hear it.
     My immediate reaction was that Justice Roberts must have just come from a performance of the hit Broadway musical, “Hamilton.” That would explain the obsession with dueling and, yes, the mention of Alexander Hamilton.
     Just be glad he didn’t see “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”
     The justice does eventually get around to some real reviewing.
     For example, after five years of intense study, there are new amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. One exciting change is the addition of eight words.
     “Rule 1 directs that the Federal Rules ‘should be construed, administered, and employed by the court and the parties to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding.’ The underscored words make express the obligation of judges and lawyers to work cooperatively in controlling the expense and time demands of litigation.”
     Apparently, before this change, someone other than the court and parties had to do the construing and administering. I don’t know who this could have been, but it’s fascinating to learn that it wasn’t the court and parties.
     There are lots of other interesting tidbits – too many to list here. But I’ll offer some of my favorites.
     For example, “a well-timed scowl from a trial judge can go a long way in moving things along crisply.”
     Federal judges: Practice this in the mirror.
     We also learn that a rule requires that discovery must be proportional to the needs of a case – which may require a judge to step in to decide on proportions.
     Hmm.
     Do you see this speeding up the process or slowing it down?
     Judges are going to love deciding these disputes.
     Finally, page 11 returns us to the subject of dueling – and we’re once again advised against it. You don’t want to end up like fictional French cavalry officers.

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