Benchslaps, English Grammar and Usage, Federal Judges, Practice Pointers

Benchslap of the Day: A Public Shaming Is Great Motivation to Brush Up Your Legal Writing

Federal judges don’t always tell lawyers that their writing is crap, but when they do, they’ll do it in a publicly filed court order. Because while judges have got many a tool in their benchslapping arsenal, a public shaming is perhaps the most useful of them all.

Today’s instance of public shaming comes to us courtesy of Judge Steven Merryday (M.D. Fla.), the same fellow who denied a motion to suspend trial in a death penalty case from an attorney who wanted to participate in an Ernest Hemingway look-alike contest.

Let’s jump right in and see what happened, because this judge had a field day with redlining….

For a bit of background, this epic benchslap occurred in August, but it only started making its rounds on the internet this week. Mitchell Feldman, the plaintiffs’ lawyer in this case, asked for leave to file a motion exceeding the 25-page limit. Two hours later, without receiving leave to do, Feldman filed a 29-page motion.

This pissed off Judge Merryday, so like any jurist interested in promoting the God of Legal Writing’s teachings, he denied the motion to exceed the page limit, and decided to school Feldman on how to be less verbose:

A review of the proposed, twenty-nine-page motion’s commencement confirms that a modicum of informed editorial revision easily reduces the motion to twenty-five pages without a reduction in substance.

After reading that sentence from Judge Merryday and the page that followed, Feldman probably realized he wasn’t going to have a merry day. On the next page, the judge edited Feldman’s motion for him, like so:

Judge Merryday then proceeded to change that hot mess into this work of art:


Protip: next time, get rid of the redundancy, verbosity, and legalism, and you’ll have a legal document that even Bryan Garner would be proud of. Plus, you’ll avoid all the embarrassment, and that’s always a good thing.

Order: Belli v. Hedden Enterprises [U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida]
A federal judge demonstrates the value of editing [Legal Writing Prof Blog]
Have Judges Finally Had Enough of Verbosity? [Legal-Writing Editor]
A Judge Loses Patience with a Verbose Litigator [Lawyerist]

Earlier: A Farewell to Dismiss: Judge Tolls the Bell on Hemingway Doppelganger

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