Being an author, editor, and writer in another field before law, I retain my love of langauge and construction, as well as typography and page design. Since I do a lot of research and drafting of pleadings at my job, I am required to read and analyze a lot of the work product of other attorneys. At the trial level, it is often not well-written, and sometimes atrocious. I realize that these are not documents to be published, so the level of standard does not to be that high, but I still believe there is great value in good, clear writing, and clean typography and page layout (within the rules of court guidelines, of course—most of which are broader than most attorneys and paralegals seem to believe).
Having said that, I realize I am mostly a lone voice (but see Matthew Butterick’s Typography for Lawyers website). So I take delight when judges take attorneys to task for their lack or attention to writing. A recent decision by a US Federal Appeals Court (5th Circuit) is just such a decision. The case involves a Texas cheerleader who sued because she did not make the varisty squad and because another cheerleader called her a “ho.” (Yes, I know, analyzing the case might be more interesting than the grammar. You can read the whole opinion here, if you are curious.)
After rejecting the Plaintiff’s claim of a violation of TItle IX and a Section 1983 violation of the equal protection clause, Judge Smith wrote that a sentance in the plaintiff’s opening brief not only was unclear, but seemed to be an unuustified and unprofessinal attack on the magistrate judge: ““Because a magistrate is not an Article III judge, his incompetence in applying general principals [sic] of law are [sic] extraordinary.” The judge later wrote:
Usually we do not comment on technical and grammatical errors, because anyone can make such an occasional mistake, but here the miscues are so egregious and obvious that an average fourth grader would have avoided most of them. For example, the word ‘principals’ should have been “principles.’ The word ‘vacatur’ is misspelled. The subject and verb are not in agreement in one of the sentences, which has a singular subject (‘incompetence’) and a plural verb (‘are’).
Grammar, word confusion, and spelling. Good stuff. Thank you, Judge Smith.