A New Contender for Worst Legal Brief

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In considering whether something could be the "worst legal brief" ever filed, we have to recognize that there are different kinds of badness.

  • Many briefs are filed every year by people who are, evidently, insane. If it is fair to call those "bad," this is not that kind of bad.
  • Some briefs are filed by people who may be lawyers or may be representing themselves, but simply lack the technical skills necessary to write a good brief. This is also not that kind of bad.
  • Finally, there are briefs filed by people who appear to be sane and literate, and yet due to lapses in judgment produce a brief that is still bad. This is that kind of bad.
  • Although it is so far toward the bad end of the scale of bad-judgment badness that it might actually be in its own category.

Brief warning 2The brief, which someone sent me directly but was apparently first posted here, was filed last March in the Montana Supreme Court. It seems to follow court rules. There are few if any typos. It even has a consistent theme, which many legal briefs do not have. That's a good thing. Depending on the theme.

Here's the theme of this brief, summarized in this beginning epigram:

"Don't worry about it . . . Like he said, we all do dumb sh*t when we're f*cked up."

(Asterisks added.) A footnote attributes this quote to the wisest of men: Mike Tyson. And not even the real Mike Tyson, but rather Mike Tyson playing himself in The Hangover. If you haven't seen that movie, here's a short summary – the one that comes next in the brief:

In the 2009 movie The Hangover, the ultimate Las Vegas bachelor party goes bad when the groomsmen wake up in their suite at Caesar's Palace with a tiger in the bathroom, a 6-month old baby in the closet, and the groom nowhere to be found. What's more, nobody can remember the previous night's events due to the effects of the alcohol they ingested together with a drug that suppresses memory. While attempting to find the missing groom, the groomsmen discover that they stole the tiger in their bathroom from former professional heavyweight boxer, Mike Tyson, during their drunken revelry. Being no stranger to the problems that can be caused by alcohol, Tyson understands how it can affect one's judgment and forgives them for stealing his tiger.

That is the essence of this appeal.

And that is the essence of this brief. The question presented: whether the jury should have been allowed to consider evidence of appellant's intoxication when evaluating his mental state during the crime. The brief argues that the answer must be yes, because a convicted rapist who once bit somebody's ear off later played himself in a movie and the script of that movie required him to forgive four fictional characters for stealing his tiger because they were drunk at the time.

You see why I'm thinking this gets its own category of bad.

Brief warning 3The court was not pleased. Noting that the brief went on to describe the crime in a way that was "needlessly graphic and offensive," by paragraph three the court was already unanimously pissed off. "Appellate counsel's attempts to sugarcoat these shocking events," it wrote, "gives pulp fiction a bad name. His story is as delusional as it is unbelievable, and it is not surprising that the jury didn't buy it." Given the nature of the brief, the rest of the opinion is remarkably restrained. (Yes, it affirms the conviction.)

The brief is too bad to be fully described here. But consider whether you really want to read it, not only for the reasons above but also because, as the court noted, the facts are truly shocking. Because this brief, with its ridiculous theme and almost whimsical tone, was filed in a case in which the appellant had been sentenced to life in prison without parole for a vicious assault on his ex-girlfriend. This, too, is what I mean by "bad."

Again, having a theme is a good idea, and the brief does at least pursue this one consistently. It ends like this:

"Alcohol loosens your tongue, and makes you act, speak, and behave in a way that is not you." [The source for this one? Mel Gibson.] It is no secret that alcohol consumption … has caused many people to do and say things that they later sorely regret…. Mike Tyson was aware of this in the Hangover and was able to forgive. Similarly, this is something that a jury should be able to consider … in the courts of the State of Montana.



The court's opinion is here. The brief itself can only be accessed by clicking directly on the warning label above. I wish you luck.