March 2018 – And You Thought I Was Long-winded

by Justice William W. Bedsworth

“In my youth,” said his father, “I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw
Has lasted the rest of my life.”

This little snippet of doggerel is from Lewis Carroll, the guy who wrote Alice in Wonderland. I’m not much of a Lewis Carroll guy. Leo Carrillo had more influence on my life than Lewis Carroll, and that wasn’t much.1

But the Carroll excerpt would serve well as the motto of Australian judge Garry Nielson.

Judge Nielson sits in the Wagga Wagga Courthouse, which—as my friend Kevin Underhill2 points out, “is not far from the Gobbagombalin Bridge over the Murrumbidgee River.” It must be hard enough just to spell in his jurisdiction, let alone resolve difficult points of law.

And Judge Nielson was recently confronted with what he considered a difficult point of law. He tried a six-day case in which the key issue was whether the plaintiff was involved in an automobile accident when he was thrown from his horse.

While that question might seem to resolve itself, it was complicated in this case by the fact the horse threw his rider when frightened by a passing car. This left the injured rider with the choice of suing the horse, suing himself for failing to control the horse, suing God for inventing horses, or suing the driver of the automobile. He chose the driver of the automobile.

The driver of the automobile was insured for damages from automobile accidents in which he was at fault. But his insurance company did not see this as an automobile accident so much as a horse accident. And they had not signed on to insure against horse accidents.

So for six days, drivers, lawyers, adjusters, and a horse owner appeared before Judge Nielson and argued whether this was an automobile accident under the applicable Australian statutes.

I will spare you my own analysis of the point; as you may have noticed, I have enough trouble deciphering California law without trying to figure out statutes from places that might require me to say “Gobbagombalin” or “Murrumbidgee.”

But at the end of the six day trial, Judge Nielson issued his ruling.

For four days.

That’s right. He insisted on reading his ruling from the bench.

It took four days.

Spoiler alert: I have no idea why it took four days. If you’re hoping for resolution of that mystery—or the Trinity, transubstantiation, the location of Jimmy Hoffa’s body, or what happened to the Edmund Fitzgerald—you’ll have to look elsewhere.

I can’t even figure out why he wanted to read it from the bench at all. It was 138 pages long, for crying out loud.

138 pages! Keep that in mind the next time you find yourself nodding off over something I’ve written.3

138 pages to say the car was going too fast and so the horse got scared and so the horse threw the rider and so the car driver is liable. 138 pages that were reversed on appeal.4

But 138 pages, while earning Judge Nielson a place beside Melville, Michener, and Tolstoy, seems the legal equivalent of a venial sin. The cardinal sin was reading it from the bench.

Why in the world would you make people sit there for four days while you read your ruling?

I’ve been pretty upset with counsel on occasion. And—I’m embarrassed to admit—I’ve probably shown it. But I’ve never come up with a punishment as draconian as having to listen to me read for four days.

I wouldn’t even know how to do that. Seventeen hours!?

If you spend 17 hours reading 138 pages, you’re proceeding at a pace that would embarrass a glacier. A sloth riding a stove moves faster than that.

138 pages in 17 hours is a little over 7 minutes a page.

I just read a page of one of my opinions.5 I read it slowly. Out loud. With dramatic pauses and occasional sidelong glances at an imaginary captive audience of somnolent attorneys. I paused twice for water and pretended to lose my place once. I sneezed and blew my nose. I threw in a few coughs. It took 90 seconds.

In an attempt to be fair to Judge Nielson, I did it again. This time I also checked my phone for messages, went to the ESPN app to find out what time the hockey game started, and drank more water. That got me up to 2 minutes.

So assuming Judge Nielson had the worst cold in the history of medical science, was badly dehydrated, lost his place repeatedly, and was exceedingly concerned about what time the puck dropped in Calgary, he could have stretched it out to 2 minutes a page.

And if he was drinking water on every page, we should probably add some time for bathroom breaks. Now we’re up to 3 minutes. And if Australian law requires the judge to start each paragraph with “G’day, Mate,” maybe we can get to 3 1/2.

But I can’t get to 7 minutes a page without the aid of hurricanes, bandits, narcolepsy, or the unanticipated appearance of velociraptors in the courtroom—any of which I would have expected to have been included in the news coverage of the case.

He read this thing for 17 hours. And one reporter said the winner wasn’t revealed until the third day.

Can you imagine what this was like for the attorneys?

Phone call 1:
Client: So how did it go? Did we win or lose?
Attorney: I don’t know; he’s not finished yet; we’re going back tomorrow.
Client: What? I have to pay you to sit around all day and do nothing again?
Attorney: I’m afraid so. I have to be there.

Phone call 2:
Client: So how did it go? Did we win or lose?
Attorney: I don’t know. He’s still reading.
Client: What?
Attorney: Honest. He’s still reading.
Client: Well how are we doing?
Attorney: Too soon to tell. He says he’s halfway through.

Phone call 3:
Client: So how did it go? Did we win or lose?
Attorney: I think we’re losing, but he’s not done yet.
Client: Not done? It’s been three days!!
Attorney: I know. But the good news is he’s been sneezing and going to the bathroom so much that I’ve gotten my taxes done during the breaks. And I’m not going to charge you for anything but the actual reading time plus costs. My guess is that will top out at 18 hours, so you’ll only have to pay about $12,000 for my listening time.
Well . . . plus the associate and the paralegal. No more than $25,000, I’m sure.
Well . . . I’m not exactly sure. I thought Downton Abbey was over several times and I turned out to be wrong about that.
But I really think he’s winding down. Yesterday he spent 20 minutes trying to explain the significant existential differences between My Mother the Car and Mister Ed, which are apparently some kind of American television series of the last century.
It does appear to all of us that he’s running out of material. We think he’ll have to pick a winner soon.
And I really hope it’s you because the horse guy is really kind of an ass.6 He’s been here every day, insisting that his lawyer stay awake for the whole bloody show. Poor man’s taken to calling it the Cheyenne Rodeo Accident and Death March.
Talk to you tomorrow. Cheerio and Ciao!7

17 hours. I’m sure by the time they reached the end of it, the attorneys were reduced to sounding a lot like Lewis Carroll themselves. He wrote:

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.8



  1. Leo Carrillo was a Renaissance man remembered primarily for his television role as the sidekick to The Cisco Kid. But we don’t name state parks after sidekicks, and if you’ve ever been to Leo Carrillo State Beach, you should look him up on the intertubes. There was a lot more to him than he displayed as Pancho.
  2. LoweringtheBar.com.
  3. WAKE UP!
  4. Again, in fairness, not all of the 138 pages were reversed. Only the holding and judgment. So the vast majority of these 138 pages were apparently unobjectionable.
  5. The lengths I will go to for the sake of your entertainment!
  6. Judge Nielson gave the horse guy $340,000. As I say, it was reversed.
  7. When you make up the conversations, you get to give people any kind of personality you want. Don’t you wish you could do that with your clients?
  8. Opening stanza of “Jabberwocky.”


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. And look for his new book, Lawyers, Gubs, and Monkeys, through Amazon and Vandeplas Publishing.