Wait. That’s not right. It’s Judge Jacob Hart of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Can’t be too careful about those typos. Just ask the plaintiff’s lawyer in Devore v. City of Philadelphia.
Judge Hart reduced his attorney’s fee award by $60,000 based on the poor quality of his written work, which, according to the judge, was “careless to the point of disrespectful.” The defendants described it even less charitably, as “vague, ambiguous, unintelligible, verbose and repetitive.” And those were the things they liked about it. Kidding.
The court noted that throughout the litigation, counsel identified the court as: “THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTER [sic] DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA,” adding that “[c]onsidering the religious persuasion of the presiding officer, the ‘Passover District’ would have been more appropriate.”
The priceless part (and what elevated the case into the Strange Judicial Opinions Hall of Fame) was the lawyer’s written response to the assertion that his fees should be reduced because of typos:
As for there being typos, yes there have been typos, but these errors have not detracted from the arguments or results, and the rule in this case was a victory for Mr. Devore. Further, had the Defendants not tired [sic] to paper Plaintiff’s counsel to death, some type [sic] would not have occurred. Furthermore, there have been omissions by Defendants, thus they should not case [sic] stones.
Judge Hart said that the above errors would have been “brilliant” if intentional, but that, based on the lawyer’s filings, “we know otherwise.”
Concluding that the lawyer’s filings wasted a lot of the court’s and the defendants’ time, the court halved the lawyer’s requested hourly rate from $300 per hour to $150. Non-lawyers might consider it amusing that a lawyer whose work is so poor that the court publicly disses him could still earn $150 an hour, but to be fair to the lawyer, he obtained a good result in the case for his clients. Also, the judge commended him for his in-court work.
May this case be a lesson to all law students out there who discount the value of their legal writing courses, not to mention their eighth-grade English courses. Cheers for Judge Hurt.
— Devore v. City of Philadelphia, No. 00-3598, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3635, at *7–8 (E.D. Pa., Feb. 20, 2004). Thanks to Cynthia Cohan and Professor Howard Wasserman.