Best and/or Worst of 2006, Part One

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The polls are closed and results are in for the first annual Best (actually, in most cases, Worst) of the Year in Law for 2006.

Lawsuit of the Year:

Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine v. McDonald’s, Burger King, et al., (C.D. Cal. 2006).

PCRM v. McDonald’s scored what to me was a surprising win, beating the tale of two ninjas, Alamo v. Howard, by almost 8 points. Voters may have been convinced not only by the boldness of the PCRM’s mission – to tell consumers that it’s dangerous to eat cooked meat – but also by its boldness in describing itself as a “Physicians’ Committee” when (according to critics) 95 percent of members aren’t physicians. The PCRM’s website shows it is focused on animal rights, not human health; its other endeavors include calling on Elizabeth Hurley to stop participating in the “Got Milk?” campaign and publicizing a study called “Rodents’ Behavioral Needs Thwarted in Laboratories.” Its claim that cooking meat creates carcinogens appears to be true, but there does not seem to be much data on the level of risk, and the alternative would seem to be eating raw meat or none at all, so it’s not surprising that many voters chose to super-size their disdain for the lawsuit.

The other extremely worthy nominees finished in this order:

  • Alamo v. Howard (Collin County (Tex.), Oct. 2, 2006) (verdict awarding $0 damages to the plaintiff ninja for injuries sustained while he and defendant ninja were training in “marshall arts” at defendant ninja’s grandma’s house in eastern Texas).
  • Meckler v. Old Orchard Shopping Center (Cook County (Ill.) Cir. Ct., filed Aug. 11, 2006) (claiming mall was responsible for injuries sustained in fall allegedly caused by squirrel that mall had allegedly “encouraged” to be in its courtyard).
  • Heckard v. Jordan (Washington County (Or.) Superior Ct., dismissed Aug. 18, 2006) (lawsuit seeking $832 million based on claim that “Michael Jordan high profile lifestyle . . . has infected an injury” on plaintiff because he is continually mistaken for the basketball player).
  • Gokey v. Lodi (Lodi County (Cal.) Superior Ct., Mar. 16, 2006) (suing city of Lodi for damages caused by city dump truck; truck driven by city employee Curtis Gokey).

Legal Argument of the Year:

While the lawsuit nominees were all cases that pretty much should never have existed to begin with, at least one of the nominees for Best Legal Argument, and the winner, was quality work that showed real creativity and attention to detail:

Motion for Continuance Because of Deer Season Interfering With Jury Selection and Denying a Fair Cross Section of the Community, No. CR 06-494-4 (Lonoke County (Ark.) Cir. Ct. filed Sept. 12, 2006).

Voters loved John Wesley Hall, Jr.’s motion to continue trial on the grounds that a large percentage of potential jurors would not show up for jury duty because deer-hunting season was about to begin. Supported by data including state Game and Fish Commission records and the 2000 census, Hall’s motion convinced Judge Cole that a continuance was the only way to preserve the defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights, and the motion was granted. Judge Cole’s comment that he himself had not missed the start of deer season since 1967 was of course a wholly unrelated jocularity.

Frankly, the other arguments were pretty bad.  They finished in this order:

Ruling of the Year:

Finally, all the nominees for Best Legal Ruling were quality work that greatly enriched the legal community and indeed our national culture in general, and I’m not just saying that because they were written by judges. The winner was:

Order Denying Motion for Incomprehensibility,” Factac, Inc. v. King, Adv. No. 05-5171-C (Bankr. W.D. Tex. Feb. 21, 2006) (Hon. Leif M. Clark, J.).

The Academy was impressed by Judge Clark’s ability to keep a sense of humor when faced with something called “Defendant’s Motion to Discharge Response to Plaintiff’s Response to Defendant’s Response Opposing Objection to Discharge,” by the ruling’s brief but clear analysis, and especially by the citation to a scene in “Billy Madison” in which a competition judge describes an answer Billy gives as so bad that “Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it.”

The other nominees, all also excellent, finished as follows:

Thanks to everyone who voted.  Next (but probably tomorrow), my own non-democratically-chosen top ten stories of 2006.