Friday, September 25, 2015

Yogi On Law

The death of baseball icon Yogi Berra has everyone talking about their favorite "Yogi-isms."* Berra's formal education was limited; he left school as a young teenager to help support his family. But his athletic skill, depth of practical knowledge, and wit made him one of America's most beloved sports icons and a favorite source of aphorisms. 

Unsurprisingly, Yogi-isms have made their way into law as well. Justice Brown of the Supreme Court of California used a famous Yogi-ism in an interesting way in People v. Mendez, 969 P.2d 146 (Cal. 1999), a case involving California’s certificates-of-probable-cause requirement for appeals from guilty or nolo pleas. Justice Brown, frustrated with the court’s inability to articulate a workable scope for the certificate requirement, noted the court’s 15 previous attempts to articulate the standard and called the case “déjà vu all over again.” (A quote normally used by courts asked to decide multiple issues within the same litigation.)

In an entertaining case involving an oral licensing agreement between a distributor and the Butthole Surfers, Judge Evans of the Seventh Circuit opined: “One would ordinarily think that an agreement of the type we just described would be in writing, for as Yogi Berra observed, ‘A[n] oral contract isn't worth the paper it's written on.’” Walthal v. Rusk, 172 F.3d 481 (7th Cir. 1999).

And the Supreme Court of Florida cited Berra not once, but twice, in a case involving baseball’s antitrust exemption. The court called the issue “déjà vu all over again” as it had answered the question previously and cautioned readers of the opinion not to consider it a ruling on the merits of an antitrust claim against the National League, because “it ain’t over till it’s over.” Butterworth v. Nat’l League of Professional Baseball Clubs, 644 So.2d 1021 (Fla. 1994).   

Happy Friday!

*Interestingly, Berra may or may not have uttered many of the sayings attributed to him. Some he claims; others he doesn't

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