Thursday, July 14, 2011

If You're Going to Make a Federal Case Out of Your Daughter's Cheerleading Issues, Hire a Lawyer who Excelled at Legal Writing Class

Samantha Sanches appealed a Summary Judgment in her Civil Rights lawsuit against the local school district relating to her daughter's dispute over the cheerleading squad.  The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals was appalled at her appeal and more so with her attorneys' grammatical efforts.  You don't want to be on the receiving in of an opinion like this one.  Ouch!

The court's opinion begins:  "Reduced to its essentials, this is nothing more than a dispute, fueled by a disgruntled cheerleader mom, over whether her daughter should have made the squad."  And concludes with this footnote critique of the grammatical deviations of Sanches' counsel:  "These sentences are so poorly written that it is difficult to decipher what the attorneys mean, but any plausible reading is troubling, and the quoted passage is an unjustified and most unprofessional and disrespectful attack on the judicial process in general and the magistrate judge assignment here in particular.   This may be a suggestion that Magistrate Judge Stickney is incompetent.  It might be an assertion that all federal magistrate judges are incompetent. It could be an allegation that only Article III judges are competent. Or it may only mean that Magistrate Judge Stickney’s decisions in this case are incompetent, a proposition that is absurd in light of the correctness of his impressive rulings.  Under any of these possible readings, the attorneys’ attack on Magistrate Judge Stickney’s decisionmaking is reprehensible. [ . . . ]The summary judgment on all of Sanches’s claims is AFFIRMED."

[footnote, quotation marks ommitted]  Usually we do not comment on technical and grammatical errors, because anyone can make such an occasional mistake, but here the miscues are so egregious and obvious that an average fourth grader would have avoided most of them. For example, the word “principals” should have been “principles.” The word “vacatur” is misspelled. The subject and verb are not in agreement in one of the sentences, which has a singular subject (“incompetence”) and a plural verb (“are”). Magistrate Judge Stickney is referred to as “it” instead of “he” and is called a “magistrate” instead of a “magistrate judge.” And finally, the sentence containing the word “incompetence” makes no sense as a matter of standard English prose, so it is not reasonably possible to understand the thought, if any, that is being conveyed. It is ironic that the term “incompetence” is used here, because the only thing that is incompetent is the passage itself.
Hoo boy.  By the way, I picked this up via Howard Bashman at the amazing HowAppealing blawg.


  1. The judge's writing could use a copy edit itself. Punctuation, word choice, spelling, and syntax are parts of grammar only in a loose, colloquial, non-specialist sense of the term. Judge's who spend time taking gratuitous pot shots like this are usually passed over hacks, mad at the world, and unable to do anything about it.

    BTW - this is a very old story. Almost every blog of significance covered it some time ago.

  2. Perhaps *you* need a lesson in grammar, anonymous, as the plural of judge is "judges" not "judge's". good grief.

  3. anon (first one) if it was such an old story, maybe you can account for why the court's opinion is dated 7/13 and Bad's post is 7/14. you're just a liar and a provocative fool.

  4. I don't know why someone in his position has grammatical problems. I know that there are jobs that you don't need a perfect grammar but in this one. You need it.