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Judge Collyer and the art of judicial writing

  • McClatchy Washington Bureau
  • Published Friday, March 21, 2014, at 4:41 p.m.

A little wry implied self-deprecation enlivens a new opinion by U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer.

Though the defendant is Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius, the case brought by Adirondack Health Centers et. al. has nothing to do with the much-litigated Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Instead, this case initiated in 2011 is a real tangle of numbers and formulae. So check out how Judge Collyer begins her 29-page decision:

Seemingly intended to test the mathematical acumen of counsel and court, this case arises out of the legislative and regulatory thicket that is Medicare reimbursement,” Collyer begins.

This is nice, serving several purposes. One hears the human voice, of a judge willing to subtly concede that math isn’t everyone’s strong point. This, in turn, offers some encouragement that the opinion will take the reader by the hand. The point is further made a few paragraphs on, when Judge Collyer makes note of “ the parties’ arguments concerning numerators, denominators, and


In truth, much of the rest of the decision is pretty rough going, an inevitable consequence of the highly technical dispute. But for her willingness to start with a light touch, kudos to Judge Collyer.

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