Monday, June 17, 2013

Show, Don't Tell

A good legal writer doesn’t tell the audience why the client should prevail—the writer shows the audience why.  This is a very hard concept to teach, but Justice Pfeifer of the Supreme Court of Ohio nails it in his dissent in State v. Willan, No, 2012-0216, 2013 WL 2631542 (Ohio June 11, 2013).

Justice Pfeifer and the majority disagree about whether an Ohio statute is so ambiguous it cannot be enforced.  To highlight the ambiguity of what he refers to as “24 lines of unrelenting abstruseness consisting, remarkably, of the sum total of 307 words and a mere one period,” Justice Pfeifer drafts his own 307-word, single sentence dissent. Id. at *4.  He compares the single period in the statute to a “lone sentinel facing odds similar to that of the Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae,” and determines the statutory ambiguity is a “circumstance up with which we should not put.” Id.  I cannot do this dissent justice by describing it here—you simply must read it for yourself.

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