Thursday, February 11, 2010

Snow Jobs and the Law


Conducting legal research isn't always the most exciting activity. Appellate judges aren't usually renowned for their lively writing style. Often they are constrained by the required use of technical legal terms. For instance, if an appeal revolves around the doctrine of equitable estoppel (sometimes known as estoppel in pais, if that makes it any clearer) or interpreting a novation agreement, there's simply no way to avoid using some rather arcane language.

But, the speech of trial judges tends to be more colorful--especially in criminal courts, where the defendant are not always the best-mannered, and the judges are more prone to lose their temper.

What happens, then, when an appellate judge is confronted with some decidedly non-legal language coming from a trial judge? It is often quite amusing to read the appellate judge explain terms whose meaning is evident to all, but which still need to be explained in the legal context.

Here's a good example I found recently, from a case involving a man who was arrested for battery. He told the trial judge that he couldn't make the $150 bail, but he still wanted to be released on personal recognizance so that he could hire his own attorney. Apparently, the trial judge didn't believe the man's story that he couldn't afford $150 bail, but could afford a private defense attorney. Here's how the appellate judge explained the trial judge's language:

In denial of defendant's motion for reduction of bail, the trial judge categorized defendant's request as a "snow job". . . Although the term "snow job" is not generally recognized in legal circles, it accurately expressed the trial court's belief that the defendant's argument was without merit. (People v. Hayes, 37 Ill.App.3d 772, 776 (1st Dist. 1976))
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