April is Poetry Month!

National Poetry Month was started in 1996 by the American Academy of Poets, to be celebrated in April. For more information, check out the American Academy of Poets, home of the “Poem of the Day.” Poetry often makes its way into legal opinions.

Here is an example:

No evidence had I taken
Sua sponte appeared forsaken.
Now my motion caused me terror
A dismissal would be error.
Upon consideration of § 707(b), in anguish, loud I cried
The court’s sua sponte motion to dismiss under § 707(b) is denied.

In re Robin E. Love, 61 B.R. 558, 559 (S.D. Florida, 1968), written by Judge Jay Cristol. This is an excerpt from a 48-line homage to The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe.

April is Poetry Month!

We thought that we would never see
A suit to compensate a tree.
A suit whose claim in tort is prest
Upon a mangled tree’s behest;
A tree whose battered trunk was prest
Against a Chevy’s crumpled crest;
A tree that faces each new day
With bark and limb in disarray;
A tree that may forever bear
A lasting need for tender care.
Flora lovers though we three,
We must uphold the court’s decree.
Affirmed.

Fisher v Lowe, 122 Mich.Ct. App. 418, 419, 333 N.W.2d 67 (1983), written by J. H. Gillis for a three judge panel. The trial court had granted summary judgment for the defendant.

If the poem sounds familiar, it is based on Joyce Kilmer’s Trees.

April is Poetry Month!

The D. A. was ready His case was red-hot. 

Defendant was present His witness was not.

He prayed one day’s delay From His honor the judge. 

But his plea was not granted The Court would not budge.

So the jury was empanelled All twelve good and true

But without his main witness What could the twelve do?

Brown v State, 134 Ga.Ct.App. 771, 771-772, 216 S.E.2d 356 (1975) by Judge Evans. In the footnotes to the case, the judge explains that the decision was written in rhyme because a Senior Judge of the Superior Courts had demanded (at a party) that if the writer ever reversed another one of his decisions, the opinion be written in poetry. Judge Evans goes on to say “it was no easy task to write the opinion in rhyme”.

For legal poetry in the Seattle University Law Library, try:

For a law review article written as a poem, see Gary Dubin, The Ballad of Leroy Powell, 16 UCLA L. Rev. 139 (1968).

April is Poetry Month!

Ven-Fuel was convicted of fraudulent acts,
By the Trial Court’s finding of adequate facts.
We think it likely that fraud took place,
But Materiality was not shown in this case.
So while the Government will no doubt be annoyed,
We declare the conviction null and void.

U.S. v. Ven-Fuel, Inc., 602 F.2d 747, 748 (C.A.Fla., 1979). Written by Judge John R. Brown.
Ven-Fuel had been convicted of importing fuel oil under an import license obtained by fraudulent statements, but the appellate court found the statements not material. The entire poem is 14 lines, and an elegant summary of the case.

April Poetry: State v. Gunwall

As April is poetry month, one would be remiss in failing to mention some excellent poems regarding a seminal state case.

In State v. Gunwall, the Washington State Supreme Court created a list of six factors which it uses to determine when the state constitution provides greater protections than the federal constitution. These factors include:

  1. Language of the state constitution
  2. Differences between parallel federal and state constitutional provisions
  3. History of the state constitution and common law
  4. Pre-existing state law
  5. Structural differences between the federal and state constitutions
  6. Whether the subject matter is of particular state interest or local concern.

Though no longer mandatory (after Woodinville v. Northshore United Church of Christ) it is a good idea to brief the factors whenever arguing that freedoms should be expanded under the state constitution!

As part of her class on state constitutions at Gonzaga, Justice Deborah Stephens has had her students write poetry based on Gunwall each semester. Here is a link to student Gunwall poems from the Washington State Bar website. Styles range from Haiku to beat poetry. Now the trick will be to write an entire appellate brief in poetry form!