David Bruce: Law Anecdotes

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas is the Supreme Court ruling that struck down segregation by establishing that “separate” is inherently unequal. If not for this ruling, segregation would most likely still be legal in the U.S. Although the ruling was unanimous in striking down segregation, it possibly could have gone the other way. United States Supreme Court Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson was a conservative Kentuckian whom civil rights lawyer Thurgood Marshall blamed for holding up action on the case. Mr. Marshall worried about Chief Justice Vinson, feeling that he would uphold segregation and convince the other justices to vote against integrating public schools. However — fortunately for civil rights — Chief Justice Vinson told his wife that he had a stomachache, then a short time afterward he died of a heart attack. This allowed Earl Warren to become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and he turned out to be an effective advocate for civil rights. The Supreme Court upheld the right of seven-year-old Linda Brown, an African American, to go to a White school a few blocks from her house instead of being forced to travel by bus to a school for “Negroes.”

In 1692, the Salem Witch Trials resulted in the hanging of 19 people, mostly women. In addition, a man named Giles Corey was “pressed to death.” Mr. Corey had refused to testify at his trial, because he knew that if he testified and was found guilty of being a witch, all his property would legally be seized by the British government. Since no accused person had been found innocent in the trials, he felt that he would definitely be found guilty. However, if he did not testify in court, he could not be found guilty according to the laws of the time, although persons who refused to testify suffered “a punishment hard and severe.” Mr. Corey was 80 years old, but his jailors decided to torture him to make him confess. They made him lie down on his back, then they put a board over him and loaded heavy flat stones on the board. Mr. Corey was a man of courage, and he still declined to testify. Eventually, so much weight was placed on him that his rib cage caved in.

John Marshall and the other Supreme Court justices enjoyed a drink now and again — and again and again. However, prompted by reports that people were concerned about their drinking, they decided not to drink during their weekly consultation — unless it was raining. The next time they met, Chief Justice Marshall asked Justice Joseph Story to look out a window to see if it was raining. Justice Story checked, then reported, “Mr. Chief Justice, I have very carefully examined this case, and I have to give it as my opinion that there is not the slightest sign of rain.” Since Chief Justice Marshall wanted a drink, he replied, “Justice Story, I think that is the shallowest and most illogical opinion I have ever heard you deliver. You forget that our jurisdiction is as broad as the Republic, and by the laws of nature it must be raining some place in our jurisdiction. Waiter, bring on the rum!”

President Richard Nixon wanted very much to replace liberal Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall with a conservative Justice. However, since Justices are appointed to the Supreme Court for life, the only way he could do this was for Justice Marshall to resign because of ill health or to die. In 1970, a life-threatening case of pneumonia forced Justice Marshall to be hospitalized. President Nixon wanted to see Justice Marshall’s medical records, so Justice Marshall signed a release of his records — but only after he wrote on them, “Not Yet!”

An insurance salesman persistently pursued comedian W.C. Fields, and Mr. Fields was completely unable to shake him, as the salesman followed him everywhere — even into a barber shop. Finally, Mr. Fields said, “Just to get rid of you, I’ll talk to my lawyer about it in the morning.” Excited, the insurance salesman asked, “And will you do the right thing if he likes my offer?” Mr. Fields replied, “I certainly will — I’ll get another lawyer.”

Playwright Ferenc Molnar customarily slept late in the morning. One day, he was forced to rise early so he could serve as a witness at a court case. Standing outside his door, he was astonished at the hustle and bustle of people going about their business. “Great heavens!” he said. “Are all these people witnesses in this fool case?”

George Frideric Handel’s father wanted him to be a lawyer, not a composer, so he was against his son’s learning to play musical instruments. Fortunately, Handel’s mother was sympathetic to his love of music, and she smuggled a clavichord into the attic for him to practice on while his father was asleep.

Robert Smith, who was a lawyer and the brother of Sydney Smith, once argued with a physician, who said, “I don’t say that all lawyers are thieves, but you’ll have to admit that your profession does not make angels of men.” Mr. Smith replied, “You doctors certainly have the best of us there.”

A law professor taught his class the tricks of the trade: “When you’re fighting a case, if you have the facts on your side, hammer them into the jury. If you have the law on your side, hammer it into the judge. But if you have neither the facts nor the law on your side, hammer the table.”

So many sightings of the ape-like creature called Bigfoot have been made around Skamamia, Washington, that the citizens passed a law making it illegal to kill a Bigfoot. Apparently, people in the state of Washington are law abiding because no one has ever been convicted of killing a Bigfoot.

In 1930, Paul Hindemith’s opera Neues vom Tage was produced in Breslau. After the performance, the gas company sued Mr. Hindemith because his heroine sang the praises of electricity over gas: “Constant hot water, no horrid smell, no danger of explosion.”

At La Scala, early in his career, conductor Arturo Toscanini was so offended by a musician that he threw his baton at him and injured his eye. The musician sued, and the Maestro was forced to pay damages.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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Voltaire’s CANDIDE: Chapter 7. How the Old Woman Took Care Of Candide, and How He Found the Object of His Love

“There,” said she, “eat, drink, and sleep, and may Our Lady of Atocha, and the great St. Anthony of Padua, and the illustrious St. James of Compostella, take you under their protection. I shall be back tomorrow.”

Candide, struck with amazement at what he had seen, at what he had suffered, and still more with the charity of the old woman, would have shown his acknowledgment by kissing her hand.

“It is not my hand you ought to kiss,” said the old woman. “I shall be back tomorrow. Anoint your back, eat, and take your rest.”

Candide, notwithstanding so many disasters, ate and slept. The next morning, the old woman brought him his breakfast; examined his back, and rubbed it herself with another ointment. She returned at the proper time, and brought him his dinner; and at night, she visited him again with his supper. The next day she observed the same ceremonies.

“Who are you?” said Candide to her. “Who has inspired you with so much goodness? What return can I make you for this charitable assistance?”

The good old beldame kept a profound silence. In the evening she returned, but without his supper.

“Come along with me,” said she, “but do not speak a word.”

She took him by the arm, and walked with him about a quarter of a mile into the country, till they came to a lonely house surrounded with moats and gardens. The old conductress knocked at a little door, which was immediately opened, and she showed him up a pair of back stairs, into a small, but richly furnished apartment. There she made him sit down on a brocaded sofa, shut the door upon him, and left him. Candide thought himself in a trance; he looked upon his whole life, hitherto, as a frightful dream, and the present moment as a very agreeable one.

The old woman soon returned, supporting, with great difficulty, a young lady, who appeared scarce able to stand. She was of a majestic mien and stature, her dress was rich, and glittering with diamonds, and her face was covered with a veil.

“Take off that veil,” said the old woman to Candide.

The young man approached, and, with a trembling hand, took off her veil. What a happy moment! What surprise! He thought he beheld Miss Cunegund; he did behold her—it was she herself. His strength failed him, he could not utter a word, he fell at her feet. Cunegund fainted upon the sofa. The old woman bedewed them with spirits; they recovered—they began to speak. At first they could express themselves only in broken accents; their questions and answers were alternately interrupted with sighs, tears, and exclamations. The old woman desired them to make less noise, and after this prudent admonition left them together.

“Good heavens!” cried Candide, “is it you? Is it Miss Cunegund I behold, and alive? Do I find you again in Portugal? then you have not been ravished? they did not rip open your body, as the philosopher Pangloss informed me?”

“Indeed but they did,” replied Miss Cunegund; “but these two accidents do not always prove mortal.”

“But were your father and mother killed?”

“Alas!” answered she, “it is but too true!” and she wept.

“And your brother?”

“And my brother also.”

“And how came you into Portugal? And how did you know of my being here? And by what strange adventure did you contrive to have me brought into this house? And how—”

“I will tell you all,” replied the lady, “but first you must acquaint me with all that has befallen you since the innocent kiss you gave me, and the rude kicking you received in consequence of it.”

Candide, with the greatest submission, prepared to obey the commands of his fair mistress; and though he was still filled with amazement, though his voice was low and tremulous, though his back pained him, yet he gave her a most ingenuous account of everything that had befallen him, since the moment of their separation. Cunegund, with her eyes uplifted to heaven, shed tears when he related the death of the good Anabaptist, James, and of Pangloss; after which she thus related her adventures to Candide, who lost not one syllable she uttered, and seemed to devour her with his eyes all the time she was speaking.


Source: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Candide


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A satin-sashed serenade
a foxtrot of forgiveness:
“you can do anything,
you can’t do everything.”
cue the world’s
most delicate fanfare

If I had as many arms as
I wished I did,
I’d be more extremity
than me.
My identity is not in
how much I continue to reach
but in my ability to pull back
when I’ve lost track.

Following each fork in the road
just to be sure I didn’t
miss anything
I ended up missing a lot:
invitations to a wine bottle, shared
cat-sitting a cat I don’t like
impromptu sushi nights
RSVP, respond later

I’ve discovered that the best part of sushi
is in the freshness of fish
not in the number of pieces
I can fit on my plate.

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