by Richard W. Millar, Jr.
My taste in poetry runs from dirty limericks at one end to Robert Frost at the other. I confess a particular fondness for shallow thoughts and adventurous tales expressed in rollicking rhyme and rhythm. That probably explains why Robert Service is one of my all-time favorites. There is just something about clever internal rhyming that’s akin to tapping your feet to vibrant music.
Judicial poetry does not fall into that category. In truth, I am not sure it falls into the category of poetry at all, but I digress. There are essentially two problems with judicial poetry: (1) uniformly it’s not very good; and (2) it doesn’t work well as a vehicle to transmit serious legal concepts in most instances. None of that stops judges from writing it, however.
That said, I have never seen poetry with footnotes before.
One Daniel Goodson, III, who may or may not have been a good son, was convicted of forgery, insurance fraud and theft in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. He appealed from an Order of the Superior Court affirming the trial court and ended up in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. He conceded forgery and theft but took umbrage at insurance fraud. (A guy has to draw the line somewhere, but again I digress.) As the opinion penned by Justice J. Michael Eakin put it:
Convicted of the forgery, insurance
fraud,2 and theft,
he admits the first and last, but denies
the charge that’s left.
He claims the sentence for insurance
fraud is most certainly amiss –
he says “I may be guilty, but I’m just
not guilty of this. . . .”
Since this was a legal opinion and not the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, there was a footnote after the phrase “insurance fraud.” The footnote cited 18 Pa.C.S. § 4117(a)(2) with a lengthy description of what constituted the crime of insurance fraud. This must have presented a quandary to the author forcing him to use a footnote because he couldn’t find anything to rhyme with 18 Pa.C.S. § 4117(a)(2).
At any rate, it seems that Mr. Goodson’s car, an “aging New Yorker,” had been in a collision and State Farm, his insurer, totaled it and paid $6,289 to the finance company and just $135 to Mr. Goodson. Apparently that was less than what Mr. Goodson had in mind, and he created, let’s say, a purported check from State Farm in the same amount that had been paid to the finance company, $6,289, and used it to open an account at First National Bank.
The bank obligingly took the check and opened a new account.
“Welcome our new customer!”
a greeting that we’d bet
the bank would come to think of with
a measure of regret.
Never thinking that appellant’s check
might have a minor flaw
(like perhaps being a forgery), it
allowed him to withdraw
several thousand dollars and, days
later, a few thousand more;
he’d taken over $5,000 before the
bank would learn the score.
There was no evidence appellant
seemed the least bit nervous,
having picked a branch with such
unmatched customer service.
The Supreme Court determined that just because Mr. Goodson had forged a check from an insurance company it didn’t mean he had committed insurance fraud as
Goodson gave nothing to an insurer,
and what he gave the bank exec
was neither “statement” nor “insur
it simply was a check.
The majority opinion concluded with
What Goodson did is serious, but
doesn’t comprise this crime –
there’s simply no rhyme or reason for
it, for these reasons
(and in rhyme).
There was a dissent which forsook the temptation to continue the dialogue in verse and argued that the check was, indeed, within the crime of insurance fraud in the context of Mr. Goodman’s activities.
And so I guess you could say that as far as Mr. Goodson was concerned,
For fraud and theft, he ne’er went free
Sentenced by bad poetry.
Mr. Millar is a member of the firm of Millar, Hodges & Bemis in Newport Beach. If you email firstname.lastname@example.org, you’ll find he is quickly within reach.