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Thursday, October 20, 2005 

Judges and Opinion Writing

It's amazing to see how different judicial opinions are in form and substance. It's easy to look at old opinions and point out the differences with new ones, but that's not really what I'm talking about here. Those can be chalked up to changes in language usage over time usually. Modern opinions take so many forms. I often wonder why judges decide to include certain facts, omit others, or structure their fact patterns in certain ways. Many times I read something and think "Why did the judge include that?"

For instance, Doe v Medatlantic Health Care Group, Inc. 814 A.2d 939 (D.C. 2003). This case is about a woman who worked in an office and a hospital. She found out that one of her office coworkers had HIV. She should not have been able to access this information, but she got it anyway. She then told everyone at the office, and her coworker was ridiculed. Let's take a look at what Judge Ruiz put in the opinion...
On April 25, 1996, still before he returned to work, Doe went to the State Department to collect his paycheck, and he encountered co-workers Derek Nelson and Gordon Bannister outside the building. Both were laughing as Doe approached, and Nelson said to him, "Hey motherfucker, I hear you're dying of AIDS."

Interesting. Did Judge Ruiz feel the need to include this quote as an example of Doe's treatment as a result of the confidential information being released? Or does Judge Ruiz just like quotes? There are quite a few in the opinion.

Either way, it's an eye catcher. Hell, it made me reread the case twice. I guess the lesson to be learned is this: judges, if you want law students to enjoy your opinions, fill them with foul language. Or maybe it's just me and I'm the only immature person who thinks this is interesting.

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