July 2015 - Another Opportunity You Missed

by Justice William W. Bedsworth

The Irish—like the rich—are different. By choice. By avocation. They cultivate differentness as assiduously as horticulturists raise cymbidiums.

Others notice. “For the great Gaels of Ireland are the men that God made mad. All their wars are merry and all their songs are sad.” That’s G. K. Chesterton. I’ve always enjoyed Chesterton. Clever man with a great store of wit. But asking someone named “Chesterton” about the Irish always seemed like playing with a rigged deck.

I mean, how objective an answer about the Irish are you going to get from someone with a name like Gilbert Keith Chesterton? Churchill once said, “We have always found the Irish a bit odd. They refuse to be English.” Asking a Brit about the Irish is like asking a seal about polar bears.

But the Irish offer no defense. They embrace their status as the British xenolith.1 Brendan Behan, the great Irish playwright, once noted that where other people had a nationality, the Irish have a psychosis. You spend a few minutes on wikithingssaidabouttheirish, you find all kinds of similarly self-deprecative Irish humor.

So I daresay there have been very few tears shed in Ireland about the embarrassment of having accidentally legalized drugs for a day.

That’s right. March 10, 2015. The Wednesday before St. Patrick’s Day. Think of it as getting St. Paddy’s Day revelry off to a running start.

A running ... stumbling ... falling down start.

Seems an Irish appellate court threw out a 2012 drug possession conviction on the basis the legislation extending the drug prohibition in question had not dotted all the procedural i’s. And, of course, stare decisis being what it is in all Anglo-American legal systems, that ruling instantly transmogrified the statute from legal bedrock to beagle bed socks.

What gets into appellate judges? We put them into those positions because we trust their judgment and think they’ll listen to reason, and instead they insist on reading the doggone laws.

That wasn’t supposed to be part of the job description. No governor ever announced the appointment of an appellate judge by saying, “I am confident Judge Gazorninplat will be a great judge; everybody tells me she is a very careful reader.”

No, no. Wisdom and common sense. That’s what we’re looking for. The wisdom to listen to us and the common sense to see that we’re right. That’s what we want in our appellate judges.

But noooooooooo. Instead of just listening to us and doing what is obviously right, they insist on reading the stupid statutes and finding procedures that are supposed to be followed. They start throwing around phrases like “due process” and “plain language” and next thing you know, meth is legal in Ireland.

At least it was.

Not now.

The window has closed.


Apparently the Irish appellate courts are not the citadels of confidentiality I can attest their American cousins are. Somehow—inexplicably—word leaked out that the court was about to legalize a bad and boring version of The Purge in Ireland.2 So the Irish Parliament, given a heads-up, was able to limit the damage by passing new legislation. The decision was rendered on Tuesday, new legislation passed on Wednesday, new drug prohibitions became effective on Thursday.

As near as I can determine, no methApocalypse ensued. The Day-Or-So-Without-Drug-Laws3 was pretty much indistinguishable from all the other Wednesdays in March. No rampaging killers, no crazed chicken-stranglers, no gangs of zombie-like youths.4 Ireland remained Ireland.

I mention all this just to point out that I have been on the court of appeal for eighteen years. I have ruled against just about all of you at one time or another—sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly. The old adage is that, with every ruling, an appellate court makes one temporary friend and one permanent enemy.

And I have no illusions about the high regard in which you hold me. In every case there is a winner and a loser. The winner gives the judge a C+; the judge got it right, but only because the lawyer gave him/her an exemplary brief that no one could screw up. The loser, on the other hand, gives the judge an F; wrong is wrong.

So we average a D on everything we do. And if there’s more than one lawyer on a side or we say something unkind, that D can slide down to a D- faster than you can say “slippery slope.”

So I am not your favorite guy. I know that. You can doubtless rattle off the names of three cases I’ve gotten wrong faster than I can figure out whether I want steak fries or curly fries.

But, say what you will about me, I have never ... ever ... in twenty-eight years as a jurist ... eighteen of them in a tribunal that is the court of last resort for 98.5% of its cases ... I have never ... even for one day ... legalized methamphetamine.

You’re welcome.


  1. I found this word looking for a synonym for “differentness.” Turns out there is no “xeno-” word that works. But a xenolith is a “rock fragment different in kind from the rock in which it is embedded.” That seemed so perfectly to describe the Ireland/England thing that I had to use it despite its pretentiousness.
  2. If you dodged this 2014 cinematic bullet, consider yourself lucky. The premise was that a post-Apocalyptic American government legalized all crimes for one night a year and my gender exceeded even its usual astounding bestial capabilities. For eighty-five horrifying, what-was-Ethan-Hawke-thinking minutes. It cost $3 million to make and returned $89 million, thus proving Mencken was right when he said no one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American people. Does the word “hand-basket” come to mind?
  3. This is why they don’t let me write the titles for my columns. Phrase-coining is not my long suit.
  4. Or at least no more than usual. As I get older it gets harder to determine what the norm is on zombie-like youths.

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.