Lawyer Flunks History in Closing Argument

strange judicial opinions history lesson

Don't know much about history.

In a convoluted libel case, the defendant, a lawyer, argued on appeal that the plaintiff’s counsel delivered a prejudicial, inflammatory closing argument.

But the bigger problem was that his historically based closing argument—which invoked Jesus Christ, Julius Caesar, the Philistines and Mennonites—was off on the facts. Here’s an excerpt:

You may remember when Christ was preaching the gospel, in the Holy Roman Empire that Julius Caesar was Emperor of Rome. As Christ was making his way toward Rome, the Mennonites and the Philistines stopped him in the road and they sought to entrap him. They asked Christ: ‘Shall we continue to pay tribute unto Caesar?’ And you will remember, in the Book of St. Matthew it is written that Christ said: ‘Render ye unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.

Inspiring perhaps, but the lawyer made a few teensy-weensy historical errors. His timeline, for example, was a off a little. Okay, a lot. Six to eight centuries. The court pointed out the faux pas:

The Holy Roman Empire did not come into existence until about 800 years after Christ. Julius Caesar, who was never Emperor of Rome, was dead before Christ was born. Christ was never on His way to Rome and the Philistines had disappeared from Palestine before the birth of Christ. The Mennonites are a devout Protestant sect that arose in the Sixteenth Century A.D.

Some good news for the lawyer though. The judge was impressed he could cram so much misinformation into one short excerpt.  As the judge said it, the argument excerpt “is noteworthy only because of the ease with which the speaker crowded into one short paragraph such an abundance of misinformation.”

Give him credit for that. If the lawyering thing doesn’t work out, he could go to work for a cable news network.

Hall v. Brookshire, 285 S.W.2d 60, 66–67 (Mo. Ct. App. 1955). Thanks to Judge James Barlow.

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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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