Judicial Civility Spelled “S.C.H.M.U.C.K.”

Of all the judicial opinions that have been reviewed at lawhaha.com, People v. Arno takes the cake for the most over-the-top, unjudicial attack on a  colleague in a written opinion. For that reason, it qualifies for the Strange Judicial Opinions Hall of Fame.

Arno was a Fourth Amendment obscenity case in which the Second District California Court of Appeals suppressed evidence obtained by the police from peering in the windows of defendant’s office suite with ten-power binoculars.

One judge—we’ll leave names out to protect all the guilty judges involved—filed a strong dissent. Actually, it was more than strong. It was strident and no doubt irritating to the judge’s colleagues on the appellate panel.

But the attack launched by the majority judges against their dissenting brethren in footnote 2 is almost breathtaking in its inappropriateness.  You don’t bother to read the whole footnote. Just read the first letters of the seven numbered sentences. As Country Joe McDonald shouted at Woodstock: “What’s that spell? What’s that spell?”

2. We feel compelled by the nature of the attack in the dissenting opinion to spell out a response:

1. Some answer is required to the dissent’s charge.

2. Certainly we do not endorse “victimless crime.”

3. How that question is involved escapes us.

4. Moreover, the constitutional issue is significant.

5. Ultimately it must be addressed in light of precedent.

6. Certainly the course of precedent is clear.

7. Know that, our result is compelled.

How did the dissenter reply to this profane insult? Well, not surprisingly, with even more bizarre stridency. In his own footnote, he said:

I have heretofore eschewed responding to footnote 2 of the majority opinion in kind since it would be beneath the dignity of this office. Although I still will not respond in kind, … some comment is compelled.

 I decry the lack of propriety, collegiality and judicial temperament displayed in footnote 2. I abhor the loss of public respect for the legal profession and the judiciary footnote 2 engendered by reason of [a L.A. Times story about the footnote]. …

I construe the [footnote reference] as a personal affront to every California citizen and their duly elected representatives … who have deemed it a wise public policy to enact our criminal obscenity laws …. It is no wonder that California had the odious distinction of being the porno capital of the world.

Come on, judges. Play nice or we’ll take your robes away.

People v. Arno, 153 Cal. Rptr. 624, 628 n.2 (majority), 644 n.14 (dissent) (Cal. Ct. App. 1979).

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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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