Most Candid Land Title Opinion in History

Law professors teach students that the law is full of gray with very few black or white answers. The most accurate answer to most legal questions is “It depends.”

But that’s not always the case. Senior Judge James Barlow, San Antonio, TX, sent the below land title opinion, reportedly written in 1928 by a title examiner in Prewitt, Texas named Kress Campel for a client named Alex Deanton. (Unfortunately, we have not been able to authenticate this entry. If you have any info on that point one way or another, please send it along).

The examiner’s opinion was sought concerning a title abstract covering “the South 238 plus acres of the Edmundson Survey.”

If only all legal advice were so sure-footed:

Don’t buy the G** D***** land.

It has been my sorrow and burden to look over several horrible examples of a title-examiner’s nightmare, but this alleged title takes the cutglass flyswatter. It is my private belief that you couldn’t cure the defects if you sued everybody from the Spanish Government (who started this mess) on down to the present possessor of the land, who is in there by virtue of a peculiar instrument optimistically designated by the abstractor as a “General Warranty Deed.” …

 [The lawyer then points out that the title defects probably cannot be cured by either limitations or laches.]

We might rely on limitation here except that I am reliably informed that nobody has succeeded in living on this land for a longer period than two years, before dying of malnutrition. Laches might help out, but anybody who undertakes to buy land under a title acquired by laches is (to paraphrase Mark Twain) setting out like the man who set out to carry the cat home by the tail–he is going to acquire experience that will be of great value to him and never grow dim or doubtful.

This land has been sold for taxes eight times in the last 40 years. Nobody has ever redeemed one of these tax sales–glad to be rid of it, no doubt. The last purchaser sued the tax collector a month after he bought it for cancellation of the sale for fraud and misrepresentation. He doubtless had grounds, but the incident will give you a rough idea of what kind of muzzle-loading smooth-bores have been fritzing with the title.

The next and most serious defect is a “quit-claim deed containing a general warranty” executed by Ellis Gretzberg (who just appears suddenly out of no where) in the chain of title to one Peter (Prolific) Perkinston. Unfortunately, Perkinston died, leaving two wives and 17 children, the legitimacy of two of them being severely contested. Fortunately, a shooting match between the two sets of claimants assisted the title slightly by reducing the original number to six and substituting eleven sets of descendants.

[He then takes up the deed held by the prospective vendor to his client.]

It is executed by a fair majority of one set of the offspring of Peter (Prolific) Perkinston, and is acknowledged in a manner sufficient to pass a County Clerk with his fee prepaid. Outside of the fact that it doesn’t exactly describe the property under search, the habendum clause is to the grantors, the covenant of general warranty doesn’t warrant a thing and it is acknowledged before it is dated, I suppose it is all right.

I would advise you to keep the abstracts, if you can. They are a speaking testimonial to the result of notaries public drawing instruments, county clerks who would put a menu on record if a fee was tendered, and jacklegged jugheads posing as lawyers.

You can buy the land if you so desire. There are 573 people who can give you as good a title as your prospective vendor has, not counting the heirs of the illegitimate son of Prather Linkon who died in the penitentiary in 1889 while serving a term for sodomy.

If this is authentic, it’s an all-time classic of funny legal writing. If it’s not, it’s not as great, but still amusing.

— Thanks to Judge James Barlow, Senior District Judge, San Antonio, Texas.

Inside a Real Juror’s Mind

funny jury storiesThis peek inside a real juror’s mind is hilarious. Below is a transcription of a handwritten letter from a juror to the judge during a civil trial (verified by seeing a scan of the handwritten letter). I deleted the juror’s name, left in typos, and inserted paragraph-spacing for reading convenience.

Your Honor

I am tired of spending day after day wasting my time listening to this bullcrap. This is cruel and unusual punishment. The plantif is an idiot. He has no case. Why are we here? I think my cat could better answer these questions . . . and he wouldn’t keep asking to see a document.

I’ve been patient. I’ve sat in these chairs for 7 days now. If I believed for a second this was going to end on Thursday I might not go crazy. This is going to last for another 4 weeks. I cannot take this. I hate these lawyers and prayed one would die so the case would end.

I shouldn’t be on this jury. I want to die. I want to die!! Well not die for real but that is how I feel sitting here. I am the judge, you’ve said that over and over, well I am not fair and balanced. I hate the plantif. His ignorance is driving me crazy. I know I’m writing this in vain but I have to do something . . . for my sanity. These jury chairs should come with a straight jacket.

An entire day today and we are still on the same witness. The defense hasn’t even started yet and we have 3 days left 3 days my ass. Not that the defense needs a turn considering the plantif and his lawyer (who looks like the Penquin) have no case!!!! Thanks for letting me get this off my chest. Please keep the disordelies nearby. I may need them.

Juror #5

— Thanks to Tom Slater

Joe Walsh Tells Joe Walsh to Cease and Desist

rock star joe walsh warns congressman joe walsh

Don't mistake Congressman Joe Walsh for Rock Star Joe Walsh, although life's been good to both of them so far.

A Los Angeles lawyer representing rocker Joe Walsh (James Gang, Eagles) sent a snide cease and desist letter to an Illinois Congressman of the same name for allegedly using the melody from Walsh’s classic song “Walk Away” to promote his campaign, retitled and with new lyrics. Here are some excerpts:

Dear Mr. Walsh:

We represent Joe Walsh—not you, but the musician who plays guitar with the Eagles. Joe wrote a song called “Walk Away.” A lot of people know this song. That’s why when they heard your campaign song, “Lead The Way,” they noticed it was the same song as “Walk Away,” but with peculiar lyrics.

As a candidate for Congress, you probably have a passing familiarity with many of the laws of this great country of ours. It’s possible, though, that laws governing intellectual property are a little too arcane and insufficiently populist for you to really have spent much time on. …

First, there’s the United States Copyright Act. It says a lot of things, but one of the things it says is that you can’t use someone else’s song for your political campaign promotions unless you get permission from the owner ….

Second, … you’re not allowed to take someone’s song and change the lyrics. … Now, I know why you used Joe’s music—it’s undoubtedly because it’s a lot better than any music you or your staff could have written. But that’s the point. Since Joe writes better songs than you do, the Copyright Act rewards him by letting him decide who gets to use the songs he writes.

You might also want to check out the trademark laws. They’re there to protect the public from being confused as to the source of goods or services or as to whether someone endorses particular goods or services. Given that your name is Joe Walsh, I’d think you’d want to be extra careful about using Joe’s music in case the public might think that Joe is endorsing your campaign or, God forbid, is you. …

I’m sure that when you take this letter to a lawyer with a passing knowledge of copyright and trademark law, he’ll give you some good lawyer words to put in a letter back to us – things like “First Amendment,” “fair use,” “parody” and “so’s your old man.” Having dealt with situations like this in past, we know that the first refuge of political scoundrels is the First Amendment. …

As a former Presidential candidate, Joe Walsh knows how tough it is to get elected. But he always played by the rules. And so should you. Therefore, we must insist that you discontinue using in your campaign any material that infringes the copyright in “Walk Away” (or any of Joe’s other songs).

We trust that you will promptly comply with this request so that we don’t have to go all Jackson Browne on you [referring to Jackson Browne suing John McCain for using his song “Running on Empty” during the 2008 campaign without permission]. …

Congressman Walsh responded in a letter asserting the song was performed as a parody, not for campaign promotion, and is protected under the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law.

— Letter from Peter T. Paterno to U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (Ill.), 1/26/2010. Thanks to Professors Janet Richards and Jodi Wilson.

Dam Those Beavers

beaver disputeCheck out this “cease and desist” letter sent by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality regarding the unauthorized construction of two dams on some property, and the amusing reply (some paragraph breaks for reading ease).

CERTIFIED

December 17, 1997

Dear Mr. DeVries:

SUBJECT: DEQ File No. 97-59-0023-1 T11N, R10W, Sec. 20, Montcalm County

It has come to the attention of the Department of Environmental Quality that there has been recent unauthorized activity on the above referenced parcel of property. You have been certified as the legal landowner and/or contractor who did the following unauthorized activity:

Construction and maintenance of two wood debris dams across the outlet stream of Spring Pond. A permit must be issued prior to the start of this type of activity. A review of the Department’s files show that no permits have been issued.

Therefore, the Department has determined that this activity is in violation of Part 301, Inland Lakes and Streams, of the Natural Resource and Environmental Protection Act, … being sections 324.30101 to 324.30113 of the Michigan Compiled Laws annotated. The Department has been informed that one or both of the dams partially failed during a recent rain event, causing debris dams and flooding at downstream locations.

We find that dams of this nature are inherently hazardous and cannot be permitted. The Department therefore orders you to cease and desist all unauthorized activities at this location, and to restore the stream to a free-flow condition by removing all wood and brush forming the dams from the strewn channel. All restoration work shall be completed no later than January 31, 1998. Please notify this office when the restoration has been completed so that a follow-up site inspection may be scheduled by our staff. Failure to comply with this request, or any further unauthorized activity on the site, may result in this case being referred for elevated enforcement action. We anticipate and would appreciate your full cooperation in this matter.

Please feel free to contact me at this office if you have any questions.

Sincerely,

David L. Price

District Representative Land and Water Management Division

REPLY:

Dear Mr. Price:

Re: DEQ File No. 97-59-0023; T11N, R10W, Sec 20; Montcalm County

Your certified letter dated 12/17/97 has been handed to me to respond to. …

First of all, Mr. Ryan DeVries is not the legal landowner and/or contractor at 2088 Dagget, Pierson, Michigan–I am the legal owner and a couple of beavers are in the (State unauthorized) process of constructing and maintaining two wood “debris” dams across the outlet stream of my Spring Pond. While I did not pay for, nor authorize, their dam project, I think they would be highly offended you call their skillful use of natural building materials “debris.”

I would like to challenge you to attempt to emulate their dam project any dam time and/or any dam place you choose. I believe I can safely state there is no dam way you could ever match their dam skills, their dam resourcefulness, their dam ingenuity, their dam persistence, their dam determination and/or their dam work ethic.

As to your dam request the beavers first must fill out a dam permit prior to the start of this type of dam activity, my first dam question to you is: are you trying to discriminate against my Spring Pond Beavers or do you require all dam beavers throughout this State to conform to said dam request? If you are not discriminating against these particular beavers, please send me completed copies of all those other applicable beaver dam permits. Perhaps we will see if there really is a dam violation of Part 301, Inland Lakes and Streams, of the Natural Resource and Environmental Protection Act, … being sections 324.30101 to 324.30113 of the Michigan Compiled Laws annotated.

My first concern is–aren’t the dam beavers entitled to dam legal representation? The Spring Pond Beavers are financially destitute and are unable to pay for said dam representation – so the State will have to provide them with a dam lawyer. The Department’s dam concern that either one or both of the dams failed during a recent rain event causing dam flooding is proof we should leave the dam Spring Pond Beavers alone rather than harassing them and calling them dam names. If you want the dam stream “restored” to a dam free-flow condition – contact the dam beavers – but if you are going to arrest them (they obviously did not pay any dam attention to your dam letter-being unable to read English) – be sure you read them their dam Miranda rights first. As for me, I am not going to cause more dam flooding or dam debris jams by interfering with these dam builders.

In my humble opinion, the Spring Pond Beavers have a right to build their dam unauthorized dams as long as the sky is blue, the grass is green, and water flows downstream. They have more dam right than I to live and enjoy Spring Pond. So, as far as I and the beavers are concerned, this dam case can be referred for more dam elevated enforcement action now. Why wait until 1/31/98?

The Spring Pond Beavers may be under the dam ice then, and there will be no dam way for you or your dam staff to contact/harass them then. In conclusion, I would like to bring to your attention a real environmental quality (health) problem: bears are actually defecating in our woods. I definitely believe you should be persecuting the defecating bears and leave the dam beavers alone. If you are going to investigate the beaver dam, watch your step! (The bears are not careful where they dump!) Being unable to comply with your dam request, and being unable to contact you on your dam answering machine, I am sending this response to your dam office.

Sincerely,

Stephen L. Tvedten

— Thanks to Lihwei Lin. Lihwei’s sleuthing verified that the letters are authentic.


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.
Learn more...

Funny Law School Stories
For all its terror and tedium, law school can be a hilarious place. Everyone has a funny law school story. What’s your story?

Strange Judicial Opinions
Large collection of oddball and off-the-wall judicial opinions and orders.

Product Warning Labels
A variety of warning labels, some good, some silly and some just really odd. If you come encounter a funny or interesting product warning label, please send it along.

Tortland
Tortman! Andrew J McClurg
Tortland collects interesting tort cases, warning labels, and photos of potential torts. Raise risk awareness. Play "Spot the Tort."

Weird Patents
Think it’s really hard to get a patent? Think again.

Legal Oddities
From the simply curious to the downright bizarre, a collection of amusing law-related artifacts.

Spot the Tort
Have fun and make the world a safer place. Send in pictures of dangerous conditions you stumble upon (figuratively only, we hope) out there in Tortland.

Legal Education
Collecting any and all amusing tidbits related to legal education.

Harmless Error
McClurg's twisted legal humor column ran for more than four years in the American Bar Association Journal.