Pop Culture in the Law: I Fought the Law III

January/February 2015

By Raymond T. (Tom) Elligett, Jr.

Two prior "I Fought the Law" installments in The Bencher covered rock lyrics that found their way into legal opinions. This installment adds more songs, along with movies, quotes, and other pop-culture references.

As popular as the Star Wars movie franchise has been, it's not surprising that cases have incorporated parts of the six films released so far. In rejecting a criminal defendant's argument, the court characterized the argument as an "attempted diversion-the legal equivalent of Obi-Wan Kenobi's 'These aren't the droids you're looking for.'" [see Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (Lucasfilm, 1977)].(1)

In a commercial dispute over business secrets, e-mails referred to the plaintiff as the "dark side." The court said it did not think such Star Wars references implied the defendant believed the plaintiff was inherently evil and must be destroyed.(2) In a marital dissolution case, the court ordered the wife to return the Star Wars figures she took upon leaving the marital home to the husband. Apparently they were his-of course.(3)

In an older classic movie reference, a concurring opinion in an ineffective assistance of counsel appeal remarked that the deference once afforded such claims was "Gone with the Wind."(4) Several opinions have quoted memorable lines from Humphrey Bogart movies. In addressing a party's refusal to answer questions from his probation officer, the judge likened it to the attitude of the bandit in Treasure of the Sierra Madre: "Badges? We ain't got no badges.… I don't need to show you no stinking badges."(5)

Although denying a motion for disqualification of an attorney expert who formerly worked for the insurer, the court wondered how he was selected, likening it to Bogart's line in Casablanca:  "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine."(6) Justice Scalia, crediting a circuit court for quoting it previously, used an exchange from Casablanca when Bogart's character meets Captain Renault:

Captain Renault (Claude Rains): "What in heaven's name brought you to Casablanca?"
Rick (Humphrey Bogart): "My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters."
Captain Renault: "The waters? What waters? We're in the desert."
Rick: "I was misinformed."(7)

In addressing why service was not effective, the court said, "The summons returned by the plaintiffs brings to mind Elvis Presley's hit song 'Return to Sender'. [Elvis Presley Return to Sender (RCA Records 1962)]. There, Presley sang about his (the sender's) repeated failures in ensuring that his girlfriend (the recipient) received the letter he was sending. After hearing time and time again, 'Return to sender, Address unknown, No such number, No such zone,' Presley vows, 'This time I'm gonna take it myself, And put it right in her hand.' Plaintiffs' counsel is similarly admonished to review the applicable Maryland and federal rules of procedure governing service of process to avoid similar errors in the future." (8)

In addressing what the court ultimately concluded were methods it could not endorse to help an adult child in a foreign prison, the court said it understood the motivation, quoting the Warren Zevon lyric:  "Send lawyers, guns, and money/Dad, get me out of this."(9)

Judges have enjoyed citing Bruce Springsteen songs. Referring to one song, an opinion observed that a "no surrender" mentality may be perfectly appropriate for a Bruce Springsteen rock and roll song, but is frequently unhelpful in litigation.(10)

In finding that an ex-husband, whose former specialized business had dried up, needed to make a better effort at generating income, the court cautioned "As he basks in his past glory, perhaps he should consider the sobering message contained in the words of a popular song, that 'time slips away leaves you with nothing mister but boring stories of glory days.'"(11)

After reading "I Fought the Law II," Marc Weingarten of Philadelphia noted a Talking Heads song quoted in a remand opinion, where the judge said, "This case is the same as it ever was."(12) Roy Odom, Jr. from Shreveport contributed a domestic opinion expressing a similar sentiment when it quoted the Herman's Hermits' song, I'm Henry the VIII, I am: "Second verse, same as the first."(13)

Judge Goodman of the Southern District of Florida visits pop lyrics frequently in his opinions. A 2014 opinion began by quoting from The Scorpions that the future is "blowing with the wind of change." The conclusion quoted Bob Dylan, "you don't have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows," and noted the plaintiff might counter with the Bob Seger lyric: "I'm older, but still runnin' against the wind."(14)

In a recent discovery dispute, Judge Goodman began by quoting from the Paul Newman film, Cool Hand Luke: "what we've got here is a failure to communicate." He then moved to employ a lyric from the Irish rock band U2: "but I still haven't found what I'm looking for."(15)

Baseball all-star and philosopher Yogi Berra has been quoted often. For example:

"an oral contract isn't worth the paper it is written on"(16)
"it ain't over 'til it's over(17)
"it's like deja vu all over again (18)
"it's tough to make predictions, especially about the future"(19)
"I wish I had an answer to that because I'm really tired of answering that question."(20)

One dissenting judge lamented the inconsistencies in precedent in an area by quoting Yogi's explanation for losing a game: "we made too many wrong mistakes."(21) Another opinion titled a section, "most judges are right until they are wrong." The footnote read that to the best of our knowledge, Yogi Berra did not say this, but he probably should have."(22)

A recent Georgia opinion quoted its native son, the late southern humorist Lewis Grizzard, on the difference between naked and nekkid: naked means you don't have your clothes on. Nekkid means you don't have your clothes on and you're up to something.(23) The Wyoming Supreme Court quoted Grizzard that the New Testament can be condensed into a single paragraph: "He was born. He lived. He died. He's coming back and he's not going to be real happy."(24)

While apparently not yet quoted in an opinion, another of Grizzard's stories cries out to be cited; we use it in every appellate seminar we can. One of his newspaper columns described a friend who ran for political office. His friend said it was the worst experience he ever had: "Every time I told a lie, they caught me, and every time I told the truth, nobody would believe me."


(1) U.S. v. Stapleton, 2013 WL 3967951 (E.D. Ky. 2013)
(2) Microstrategy, Inc. v. Business Objects, S.A. 331 F. Supp. 2d 396 (E.D. Va. 2004).
(3) Martone v. Martone, 2009 WL 1662481 (Conn. Super. 2009)
(4) Ex parte McCarthy, 2013 WL 3283148 (Tex. Crim. App., 2013)
(5) U.S. v. Sash, 444 F. Supp. 2d 224 (S.D. N.Y. 2006)
(6) Commonwealth Ins. Co. v. Stone Container Corp., 2002 WL 385559 (N.D. Ill. 2002)
(7) Rapanos v. U.S., 547 U.S. 715, 126 S.Ct. 2208, 165 L.Ed.2d 159 (2006)
(8) Barnes v. Johnson, 2008 WL 8081701 (D. Md. 2008)
(9) Matter of Sage's Estate, 97 Misc.2d 790, 412 N.Y.S.2d 764 (N.Y. Sur., 1979)
(10) Adelman v. Boy Scouts of America, 276 F.R.D. 681 (S.D. Fla. 2011)
(11) Richards v. Richards, 2003 WL 21213276 (Conn. Super. 2003)
(12) Hughes v. Mylan, Inc., 2011 WL 5075133 (E.D. Pa. 2011), from the song "Once in a Lifetime"
(13) Martin v. Martin, 903 So. 2d 619 (La. App. 2005)
(14) Montoya v. PNC Bank, N.A., 2014 WL 4248208 (S.D. Fla. 2014)
(15) Procaps S.A. v. Patheon Inc., 2014 WL 800468 (S.D. Fla. 2014)
(16) Walthal v. Rusk, 172 F. 3d 481 (7th Cir. 1999)
(17) In re Loestrin 24 FE Antitrust Litigation, 2014 WL 4368924 (D. R.I. 2014) and many others
(18) Cantrell v. Owners Ins., 2014 WL 1168807 (E.D. Ky 2014) and others
(19) Chambers v. State, 831 N.W. 2d 311 (Minn. 2013)
(20) S.E.C. v. Bank of America Corp., 2010 WL 624581 (S.D. N.Y. 2010)
(21) U.S. v. Wiesen, 56 M.J. 172 (U.S. Armed Forces 2001)
(22) In re Karch, 499 B.R. 903 (10th Cir. BR App. Panel 2013)
(23) Mitchell v. Stewart, 2014 WL 2617275 (M.D. Ga. 2014)
(24) Hronek v. St. Joseph's Children's Home, 866 P. 2d 1305 (Wy. 1994).

Raymond T. (Tom) Elligett Jr., Esq. is a partner at Buell & Elligett, P.A., in Tampa, Florida. He is a Master in the Honorable Clifford J. Cheatwood AIC and serves as chair of the editorial board for The Bencher.

© 2015 Raymond T. (Tom) Elligett, Esquire. This article was published in the January/February 2015 issue of The Bencher, the flagship magazine of the American Inns of Court. This article, in full or in part, may not be copied, reprinted, distributed, or stored electronically in any form without the express written consent of the American Inns of Court.