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Judge Rosemary Collyer and the art of judicial writing

  • McClatchy Washington Bureau
  • Published Friday, May 9, 2014, at 9:22 a.m.

Is it ever right to start a judicial opinion with a question?

Sure it is!

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer shows how to draw in readers with this effective kick-off to a 30-page decision:

What happens when the District of Columbia abruptly stops payments for hundreds of home health care aides to Medicaid beneficiaries? When the D.C. Department of Health Care Finance ceased payments, without prior warning, to fifty-two percent of the providers who care for seventy-nine percent of the city’s needy beneficiaries, chaos ensued. And, thus, this litigation.”

This works well, for a couple of reasons.

The question in the first sentence immediately grabs the reader, who thinks something like: “yes, that’s right, what does happen?” The adjective “abruptly” foreshadows the dire circumstances to come. The “without prior warning” hints at judicial disapproval. The “chaos ensued” quickly and vividly sums up events in the real world, and the use of “And” propels the final sentence.


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