The Judge Who Rhymed for a Reason

In Brown v. State, Judge Randall Evans, Jr. not only wrote one of the earliest in the long line of rhyming judicial opinions, he did it for a good reason. As he explained in a footnote:

This opinion is placed in rhyme because approximately one year ago, in Savannah at a very convivial celebration, the distinguished Judge Dunbar Harrison … arose and addressed those assembled, and demanded that if [I] ever again was so presumptuous as to reverse one of his decisions, that the opinion be written in poetry.

This back story puts the opinion a cut above the usual rhyming opinion. You gotta love a judge who takes on such a challenge from a colleague after a couple of drinks (I assume that’s what “a very convivial celebration” means) and honors it.

To his further credit, Justice Evans conceded he is “not a poet, and the language used, at best, is mere doggerel” and also insisted that it’s really hard to write a rhyming judicial opinion. Here’s a taste of the opinion (several verses omitted, but I tried to keep the general thread). But the funniest part is that he wrote it at all. He even specifically mentions Judge Harrison:

 The D. A. was ready

His case was red-hot.

Defendant was present,

His witness was not.

He prayed one day’s delay

From His honor the judge.

But his plea was not granted

The Court would not budge.

So the jury was empaneled

All twelve good and true

But without his main witness

What could the twelve do?

‘What verdict, Mr. Foreman?’

The learned judge inquired.

‘Guilty, your honor.’

On Brown’s face—no smile.

‘Stand up’ said the judge,

Then quickly announced

‘Seven years at hard labor’

Thus his sentence pronounced.

‘This trial was not fair,‘

The defendant then sobbed.

‘With my main witness absent

I’ve simply been robbed.’

‘I want a new trial—

State has not fairly won.’

‘New trial denied,‘

Said Judge Dunbar Harrison.

So the case has reached us—

And now we must decide

Was the guilty verdict legal—

Or should we set it aside?

Was one day’s delay

Too much to expect?

Could the State refuse it

With all due respect?

We’ve considered this case

Through the night—

through the day.

As Judge Harrison said,

‘We must earn our poor pay.’

This case was once tried—

But should now be rehearsed

And tried one more time.

This case is reversed.

Brown v. State, 216 S.E.2d 356 (Ga. Ct. App. 1975)

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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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