Better Contempt of Court than Scratching Where You Itch

Most “funny” judicial opinions aren’t ha-ha funny. They’re merely amusing or interesting. But’s scientific focus group tests showed that the colloquy below between the chastised lawyer and the judge makes people laugh out loud. For that, it’s in the SJO Hall of Fame.

In Ahmed v. Reiss Steamship Co., a federal judge held the plaintiff’s lawyer in contempt of court for failure to appear for trial. Judge Ann Aldrich (N.D. Ohio) was disturbed that the lawyer had “told two different federal district court judges that he was appearing before the other,” sort of the legal version of the old childhood stratagem for a night out in which each kid tells his parents he’s spending the night at the other’s house.

Things turned bizarre when the lawyer finally decided to explain his absence, in a way the court found to be “lacking taste and any respect for courtroom decorum”:

MR. JAQUES: I wasn’t here because I couldn’t be here. I was not here, Judge, because I had the screaming itches in the crotch. I was so badly in need of medical care that I had been in communication with my physician a lot. Judge, I wasn’t here because I would have been scratching my testicles constantly if I had been here. Judge–

THE COURT: Mr. Jaques–

MR. JAQUES: Judge, do you understand that?

THE COURT: You don’t have to be so graphic. You could have simply let the Court know that for medical reasons you were not going to be here and you could have–

MR. JAQUES: Judge, it was not a medical reason that I would have been able to frame earlier. That’s one thing.

THE COURT: It doesn’t seem awfully difficult to me. Is there anything else?

The lawyer submitted a letter from his doctor to bolster his claim:

It has been recommendation (sic) … that because of the nature, location and symptoms of this ailment he should avoid to be in public places and mainly court appearances all of which could jeopardize his professional appearance …

While the judge did not “question the intensity of [the lawyer’s] discomfort,” she held him in contempt for not notifying the court of the problem and for representing that he couldn’t attend trial because he was appearing before another judge.

Ahmed v. Reiss S.S. Co., 580 F. Supp. 737, 742 (N.D. Ohio 1984). Thanks to Michael Slodov.

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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