March 2015 - In Dog We Trust

by Justice William W. Bedsworth

Reading is dying out.

Remember my rant last month about how nobody ever reads anything anymore? All the people who signed up for free Internet access and agreed to give up their first born in exchange? Remember that?1

Well, at this time, Your Honor, the Author would move to introduce Exhibit 1 in support of that proposition.2

Here’s what it said in my morning paper: Is “In Dog We Trust” your motto? If so, a sheriff’s office in Florida has a rug for you.

I was fascinated. I’ve been on the bench twenty-eight years. By this time, there are plenty of sheriffs and chiefs of police I’ve ruled against who would happily offer me space—but space with a rug? That seemed above and beyond the call of ordinary incarcerative services.

And what’s the dog thing? Is this a department with some kind of special reliance on its canine officers?

Nope. Turns out this is a department that does not read.

Seems the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in Florida spent $500 for a big rug. They put it in the lobby of their lovely building. And I can see why. It’s a beauty. The article in the Santa Ana Daily Chronicle of our Handbasket’s Progress Toward Hell3 had a picture. Big green circular rug with a replica of the sheriff’s gold badge in the middle. Very cool.

Says “Sheriff.” Says “Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.” Says “In Dog We Trust.”

Five hundred dollars. Big woven rug. Custom made. “In Dog We Trust.”

That’s the third-best part of the story. You wanna hear the second-best? (Before you answer this question, you might want to consider that the alternatives are going back to work or reading the rest of the magazine, which is made up almost entirely of articles of substance.)

Okay, here’s the second-best part of the story. They had this rug in the lobby of the sheriff’s office. Right out in front of God and everybody. Nobody noticed.4

Pinellas County is no backwater. A million people live there. Many of them visit the sheriff’s office. In doing so, they walked across the rug. No one noticed.

Forget the fact the rug weavers didn’t notice. Forget the fact the sheriff and his staff didn’t notice. For months, none of the people who entered the office noticed that the big green rug with the fancy symbol of the sheriff’s department, suggested that maybe they would be better off taking their problems to Rin Tin Tin.

For months, Fido the Rug greeted visitors to the sheriff’s office and no one thought to question it.

Now I will admit to a particular bias about things like this. I am afflicted with the curse of the natural-born proofreader. My eye boggles when I hit something like “In Dog We Trust.” Drives my colleagues on the court crazy. Hell, drives me crazy.

Let me share a little-known and greatly under-appreciated fact with you: Nobody loves a proofreader. The proofreader is the person who tells you your magnum opus is flawed. The proofreader is the person who says you forgot to put the tarragon into the stroganoff you slaved over all day. The proofreader is the person who points out that lovely little grace note isn’t actually in the score.

The proofreader is the person who is always requiring do-overs. And for the tiniest little reasons. The proofreader is the person who tells you it should be “a UNESCO event” instead of “an UNESCO event.” He remembers Mom’s stroganoff and actually looks at the score you’re playing. He’s a huge pain in the ... completion of whatever it is you’re so proud of.

Being a good proofreader does not make you beloved. There are no statues erected to proofreaders. There is no Pulitzer for copy editors, no Nobel for Editing Literature. Proofreaders aim lower; we aim for no emergency room visits.

You hear “He can’t hit, but his glove is amazing,” all the time. You hear, “Her voice is a little shaky, but her phrasing is magnificent.” You never hear, “He’s not much of a legal mind, but boy can he proofread.”

Well ... at least not unless you’re hanging around my court. And even then, the tone would probably be a little different. Less admiration and more exasperation.

My colleagues are pretty good about it. They recognize that I’m no happier about it than they are. I mean, there’s a certain sense of superiority that comes from pointing out usage errors and failures to make subject and predicate agree ... when you’re in eighth grade. But by my age, you’ve long since realized the cool kids are not the ones who can quote the California Style Manual.

Proofreading is not a choice; it’s an affliction. They should have colored wristbands for people like me.

But knowing I can’t help myself doesn’t make it less of a nuisance for the other justi. Theoretically, every change to an opinion has to be approved by all three signers. So if I point out what I think is an error in Justice Fybel’s opinion,5 not only does he have to approve it, he has to send it back to Justice Aronson. And if Justice Aronson has traveled to Ann Arbor with Justice Ikola to sit in the sleet and watch Michigan play Minnesota, the opinion has to sit for several days, messing up our stats.

But at least no one at the Fourth District Court of Appeal, Division 3 has had to send back a misspelled rug since I’ve been here.

Which brings me to the best part of the Pinellas County Dog Worship Rug story.6 They’re gonna auction off the rug.

Now I don’t know much about County Sheriff Custom Rug Auctions.7 I don’t know whether the fact the rug is erroneous reduces its value—like cleaning the vase you bring to the Antiques Roadshow, thereby removing its patina (Lord forbid)—or whether it enhances it—like the Inverted Jenny stamp, which has a face value of twenty-four cents but, last time I looked, sold for six or seven figures, depending.8

So I don’t know whether the Pinellas County Sheriff’s rug is more liable to end up in the gated Palm Beach estate of a reserve second baseman or a trailer park in Tavares County.

But I know this. Every member of my family is going to receive a copy of the Associated Press article about the rug auction. It will have a picture of the rug and the date of the auction. The note attached to it will be signed, “Your beloved father,” “Your loving husband,” “Your always-helpful cousin,” or whatever valediction I think might put them in a generous mood.

It will say only, “Christmas is coming.”


  1. You don’t have to answer out loud. I fully understand your reluctance to admit you read my stuff—much less remember it. Just treat it as a rhetorical question.
  2. Why is it they always introduce “Exhibit A” in the movies? Defense exhibits get letters. Plaintiff—and I’m getting pretty plaintive about this—gets numbers.
  3. It has another name, but I’ve been thinking of it in these terms for so long I no longer remember what it actually calls itself.
  4. Well, maybe God noticed. But God didn’t straighten out the rug maker; why should She intervene to help the sheriff?
  5. A rare occurrence. (People who make a proofreading nuisance of themselves have to suck up a lot.)
  6. When you get a chance to string out five words that have never—in the history of the English language—been previously juxtaposed, it’s hard to resist.
  7. See footnote 6.
  8. I don’t know depending on what. Something affects their value: they’ve sold for $126,000 to a million in the last seven years. But asking me to explain that discrepancy is like asking me to explain how four Supreme Court justices could have dissented in Caperton v. Massey Coal.

William W. Bedsworth is an Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal. He writes this column to get it out of his system. He can be contacted at william.bedsworth@jud.ca.gov.