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Circuit Judge Janice Brown and the art of judicial writing

  • McClatchy Washington Bureau
  • Published Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, at 12:50 p.m.

With some deft word choices, apt analogies and adroit phrasings, Judge Janice Rogers Brown of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit showcases the art of judicial writing in a new opinion.

Judge Brown starts strong, leading the reader in the front door of what turns out to be a 14-page decision.

"This case has so many chapters it makes War and Peace look like a short story," Brown writes. "And the saga continues."

The "and the saga continues" is a nice, small touch. It sounds casual, conversational. It leads naturally into the procedure that follows, and the often-frowned upon use of 'and' to start a sentence adds a bit of momentum.

Shortly thereafter, in laying out the fact pattern, Judge Brown states, simply:

"Things fell apart."

That's nice; direct and succinct.

Then, the judge observes that "the Navy pounces on" a certain litigation shift. Nice wording, that 'pounces' business. It suggests both speed and, in the judge's view, a certain unseemliness, something premature.

Other effective touches color the opinion throughout, from the observation that "the tortuous history of this decades-long dispute could fill library shelves" to a sighing dismissal of the "wearied and stale" of the litigation. Nicely done.

 

 

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