September 2015 - Bad Choices

by Justice William W. Bedsworth

Someone once said, “Life is a long series of multiple choice questions.” At least I assume someone once said it. It’s in my head, and I don’t remember making it up.

I could have Googled it to find out, but my understanding is that if you get caught Googling during a test, they take your phone away and send you to the vice principal’s office. This would be embarrassing for a man my age. You Google it.

Meanwhile, here’s today’s question:

A Zamboni is:

  1. a pasta dish made with zucchini and olives
  2. a freshwater snail native to Indonesia that has no predators in North American waters
  3. the motorized contraption they use to resurface the ice at hockey games
  4. an Italian patriot who tried to convince Garibaldi he’d look better in a white shirt
  5. the author of the homely little metaphor disgorged by my mind in the first sentence.

The answer, of course, is “c.”

I say “of course” because my answer to most questions involves ice hockey. If you’ve been practicing law in Orange County and have not used a hockey analogy in my court, you probably ought to talk to your errors and omissions carrier.

Ice hockey is the second most important thing in life. Baseball is the most important thing in life and ice hockey gets us from October to April—the long bleak winter of discontent when there is no baseball.1

And the Zamboni, being crucial to ice hockey, is crucial to life.2

Like all great hockey innovations, the Zamboni was developed in southern California. Paramount, actually—not that far from us. It was invented by Frank Zamboni, who lived out his final years in the late eighties, right here in Orange County. I’m pretty sure Edison High School was named after him.

He first called his invention the Frank, but people got it confused with hot dogs—which were no good at all for resurfacing ice—so he changed its name. Now his name is a registered trademark so, like “Google,” I have to capitalize it or I get sent to the vice principal’s office.

Today, every ice rink has a Zamboni. You’ve seen it; you just didn’t know it had such a cool name. And you were confused because people kept referring to it as the Frank.3

It’s the barge that looks like the product of a toaster having sex with a dune buggy. They steer it out onto the ice between periods and it circles the ice while the team mascot dances the Macarena on its huge aquiline hood.

It’s not the prettiest thing on the ice,4 but it’s wicked good at its task. It makes chewed-up ice surfaces smooth, level, and suitable for leaping into triple axels or onto an opponent’s back. Next time you thrill to an Olympic skating event or a Stanley Cup final, give thanks to Frank Zamboni.

But the apex of every scientific advancement is the point at which we figure out how to abuse it. And we seem to have reached that point. In North Dakota.

North Dakota has a long and proud hockey tradition. The University of North Dakota’s “Fighting Sioux” were a perennial collegiate ice hockey powerhouse. They won seven NCAA championships. Seven.

Only Michigan has more. And you could put the entire population of North Dakota into the quad at the University of Michigan and have room left over for a book fair.

But in 2005, the NCAA sent North Dakota to the vice principal’s office for having a bad nickname. The No-Longer-The-Fighting-Sioux lost in the finals that year and have not been able to get back to the championship game since.5

But the state has nonetheless managed to add a significant landmark to the hockey history landscape. They are—as far as I and the Associated Press can determine—the first state to determine that operating a Zamboni while under the influence of alcohol is a crime.

The defendant, whose name I will omit because everyone says he’s a good guy and he seems genuinely contrite, was genuinely blitzed. When he steered the Zamboni onto the ice for the local high school game, his blood alcohol level was somewhere north of .314.6

For those of you not conversant with DUI law, a reading of .08 will get you convicted in most states. So .314 is almost four times the legal limit.

At .314, you are not only inebriated, you are saturated. If someone held a match to your breath, not only would it catch fire, it would burn for three days.

In this condition, our hero piloted his Zamboni onto the ice and into the side boards. This was not a good choice. I’m not sure how many choices were available to him on this test, but “Sit down until you can walk without hearing yourself slosh,” must have been one of them.

Skippering Frank Zamboni’s oversized computer mouse into a wall in front of a couple of hundred witnesses with nothing to look at but your rather spectacular indiscretion could not have shown up in the top five choices.

Our boy admitted he was in no condition to drive,7 but his attorney argued that, while North Dakota had applied its DUI statute to snowmobiles, tractors, and boats, he wanted “someone with authority to state that this is a violation of the law.”

Someone did. A North Dakota judge so held. DZUI.

The defendant has eschewed an appeal. “He just wants to get on with his life,” says his attorney. I think that’s a good call. There are lots more multiple choice questions to answer.

And life can be pretty forgiving. There are so many questions to answer that you can screw up a lot of them and still get a pretty good grade.


  1. Or almost no baseball. Before billionaire owners and players unions, the season ended when the leaves began to fall. Now it ends when the snow begins to fall.
  2. If you’ve read my opinions, you’re used to this level of cerebration. What do you think the Catholic Church would pay to avoid the embarrassment of my divulging that I received a top grade in logic at a Jesuit college?
  3. He should have made the name change earlier.
  4. Although there are NHL games in which it ranks in the top ten.
  5. In case you’re wondering, they presently have no nickname. They are the University of North Dakota ... hockey team.
  6. .314 is what he tested at a few hours later.
  7. Drive? He was in no condition to lie down.

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.