Law and Disorder
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Law and Disorder

Absurdly Funny Moments from the Courts

August 2014

Law and Disorder: Absurdly Funny Moments from the Courts
by Charles M. Sevilla
W. W. Norton & Company, 192 pages, $14.95, paperback

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Since 1978, San Diego lawyer Charles Sevilla has been writing a humor column, collecting humorous excerpts from court transcripts, for Forum, the magazine of California Attorneys for Criminal Justice. "I'm always on the lookout for them, and often find them in my own appeals," says Sevilla. "As in life in general, humor is the lubricant that helps carry us over the rough patches." Law and Disorder is his third book compiling amusing interactions in the courtroom. In his introduction Sevilla notes, "[T]he reader will find the humor sophomoric, scatological, very profane, and overtly sexual in content. ... But it's not my fault. This is the argot of the twenty-first-century American criminal courts."

The excerpt below samples a few of the milder entries as they appear in the book. The names listed with each item are the people-mostly lawyers-who sent them to Sevilla, and often weren't involved in the case itself.

Why I Was Late with My Motion (contributed by Hon. Kenneth Chotiner, Los Angeles)

"Although defense counsel admits fault in not filing the written notice of motion, he points out that the fault is not all his own. It was because he was delayed, missed his client in Riverside, and was arrested and charged as a felon in Chino, resulting in stress and the failure to file the motion papers herein demanded by the People."


Ready for Action (Timothy Rien, Livermore)

The Court: Counsel, are you going to be ready on the defendant's case if the People are ready?

Counsel: That name doesn't ring a bell, but I'm ready. What's the charge?

The Court: Capital murder.


The Record Is Long Play (Harry L. Jacobs, Merced)

Defense Counsel: Could we go off the record?

The Court: Yes. [Off the record]

The Court: Back on the record.

Counsel: I intend to ask for-

Defendant: Excuse me, like a movie I seen once; back on the record, off the record. It's driving me crazy. I don't know, you just go off the record, go back on the record.

District Attorney: It wasn't the movie Rush to Judgment, I can tell you that.


A Question of Relevance (Stephen Sadowsky, Los Angeles)

Counsel: Are you telling the truth?

Prosecutor: Objection; irrelevant.


Full Service Objection (Madeline McDowell, Lompoc)

Counsel: Though, just in case I forget about it, it's a matter to my way of thinking, that has federal due process implications and the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the corollary right to a jury trial I think contained within the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Code of Hammurabi.

The Court: You left out the Magna Carta, Counsel.

Defense Counsel: And the Magna Carta.


Pay Back Time (Frank J. O'Connor, Shasta)

Witness: We haven't talked to anybody. I don't want to do this.

The Court: I know that. I have been told that.

Witness: So why are my rights being violated by having to?

The Court: Your rights aren't being violated.

Witness: I am being forced to testify against my son's father, and I don't want to.

The Court: I understand that. You will be back here on Tuesday, October 1, at nine o'clock in the morning, and you're not to talk to anybody out there about this case or make any scenes out in the lobby. That's all.

Witness: I'll pay you back [said on the way out].

The Court: What did she say?

Reporter: She said, "I will pay you back."

Bailiff: I think she was referring to the DA, not you, Your Honor.

DA: I think she was referring to me.

Clerk: That's what I thought.

Counsel: Apparently the District Attorney loaned her some money.


Truth or Die (John Schuck, Palo Alto)

Q: You raised your hand and swore to tell the truth. Do you understand what that means?

A: Yes.

Q: What does it mean?

A: That means that I am under an oath to tell the truth and I swore to tell the truth under oath.

Q: What happens if you don't tell the truth?

A: If you don't tell the truth, I believe you pretty much go to hell, that's what.


The Oath (Michael D. Chaney, Los Angeles)

Clerk: Do you solemnly swear that the testimony you are about to give in the cause now pending before this Court shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?

Witness: Yes, I swear. I'll say anything but the truth, nothing but the truth.

Obstruction of Justice (Russell Robinson, San Diego)

The Court: This evidence is coming in anyway. What's the difference?

Counsel: Because the difference is the Evidence Code. I know it gets in our way.


Who's On First? (Joel Isaacson, Los Angeles)

Q: So, you don't know anybody who went to any kind of induction ceremony, do you?

A: I don't understand what you're talking about.

Q: You know what induction ceremony is, right?

A: Yes.

Q: They didn't have one for you, did they?

A: No.

Q: You don't know of anyone that had one of those, do you?

A: No. Yeah.

Q: Tim C. had one, didn't he?

A: No.

Q: You talk to him about that?

A: Me?

Q: Yes.

A: Myself?

Q: Yes.

A: I'm not nuts.

Q: No, I said you talked to Tim C.

The Court: This is Tim C., the person you are speaking to.

Counsel: Sorry.

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