Late Night Court: The Lyrical Comedy of Justice J. Michael Eakin

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If Law & Order has taught us anything, it’s that comedy has no place in law and order (Although as Community, John Mulaney, and countless others have shown us, Law & Order has a very comfortable place within comedy). There are countless quirky character actors playing judges in film and television, not to mention Judges Judy and Joe Brown providing sassy verdicts. But it’s rare to see humor come from actual, non-reality-TV-star judges.

That is, except for Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin, who once opened a dissenting opinion (Noel v. Travis, 2002) by invoking the theme song from Mr. Ed:

A horse is a horse, of course, of course,And no one can talk to a horse of courseThat is, of course, unless the horse is the famous Mr. Ed.Go right to the source and ask the horseHe’ll give you the answer that you’ll endorse.He’s always on a steady course.Talk to Mr. Ed.

A horse is a horse, of course, of course,but the Vehicle Code does not divorceits application from, perforce, 
a steed, as my colleagues said.“It’s not vague” I’ll say until I’m hoarse,and whether a car, a truck or horsethis law applies with equal force,and I’d reverse instead.Because I cannot agree this statute is vague or ambiguous, I respectfully dissent.

Eakin is no stranger to writing with such flippancy. His early days on the Superior Court saw the judge injecting levity even into trials not involving drunken equestrians. For the pre-nup case Busch v. Busch, Eakin plays out a sour rom com in the vein of Intolerable Cruelty, or if you prefer a blander fare, Laws of Attraction:

Conrad Busch filed a timely appeal,Trying to avoid a premarital dealWhich says appellee need not pay him support,He brings his case, properly, before this Court.They wanted to marry, their lives to enhance,Not for the dollars — it was for romance.When they said “I do,” had their wedding day kiss,It was not about money — only marital bliss.
The emu’s a bird quite large and stately,whose market potential was valued so greatlythat a decade ago, it was thought to bethe boom crop of the 21st century.Our appellant decided she ought to investin two breeding emus, but their conjugal nestproduced no chicks, so she tried to regainher purchase money, but alas in vain.

Justice Eakin’s rhyme schemes have worked out well for him. In 2011, he won his Supreme Court retention election with 73.6% of the vote (according to Judgepedia, which is totally a real thing). Unfortunately, his legal lyricism appears to have dulled with age.

Eakin’s poetry has proven to work best in short form, with his verses acting as bookends to his opinions. But last year Eakin produced an entire opinion in verse. This would be Pennsylvania v. Goodson, wherein the accused forged a check from State Farm. It opens with a lumbering sextain:

In January, 2001, appellant’s car was in a collision.His insurer totaled the aging New Yorker, then made a just divisionof the value of the insurance claim, sending $6,289 to the lender;the balance of $135, to appellant they made tender.And thus the matter terminated, or so one might have thought,but that was not to be, when Goodson’s later schemes were caught.
What Goodson did is serious, but doesn’t comprise this crime—There’s simply no rhyme nor reason for it, for these reasons (and in rhyme).

Justin Geldzahler excitedly awaits David E. Kelley’s return to the law profession.