NEW YORK, August 3 (Reuters) - A Kentucky judge who added a touch of humor to a recent trial order is receiving an unexpected bit of media attention.
In late July, Kenton Circuit Court judge Martin Sheehan received news of a settlement in a bitter legal malpractice suit he had been overseeing. Sheehan summed up his feelings about the development in an order canceling the trial.
"Such news of an amicable settlement (has) made this Court happier than a tick on a fat dog because it is otherwise busier than a one legged cat in a sand box and, quite frankly would have rather jumped naked off a twelve foot step ladder into a five gallon bucket of porcupines than have presided over a two week trial of the herein dispute, a trial which, no doubt would have made the jury more confused than a hungry baby in a topless bar and made the parties and their attorneys madder than mosquitoes in a mannequin factory," Sheehan wrote.
(In a footnote, he added that the court used the term "amicable" loosely.)
While the quirky order, posted first on the Legal Antics blog, doesn't quite rise to the level of say, the Supreme Court's Dukes v. Wal-Mart decision, it quickly made the rounds in legal publications and recently caught the eye of CBS News and the Wall Street Journal.
Sheehan said he was taken aback by the volume of calls regarding Kissel v. Schwartz & Maines & Ruby Co et al. In the week since Sheehan distributed the ruling to the attorneys, his office had been contacted by news outlets in Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago and New York, he said.
"It's a sad comment on the legal profession," Sheehan said. "A judge puts a little humor in the judicial opinion, and it goes viral."
Sheehan said he often uses wit, sarcasm and pop culture references to make a point. He has quoted everyone from William Shakespeare and Thomas More to Bill Clinton, Tom Waits and Pink Floyd, according to the Civil Litigation Blog.
Typically, the lighter citations go over well with the attorneys, he says. But there are cases where levity is appropriate and cases where it's not.
When lawyers in a recent death penalty case filed what Sheehan considered frivolous motions, he responded with a flippant order. The attorneys protested and Sheehan recused himself from the case. "The comments were so sarcastic," he said, "it appeared I was biased against the defendant even though I wasn't."
Lawyers involved in the legal malpractice suit declined to comment on the judge's order, given that the case was still pending. The plaintiff, Barbara Kissel, is suing the firm Schwartz Manes Ruby & Slovin and two other lawyers over legal services they provided.
At the end of his order cancelling the trial, Sheehan instructed the court clerk to "engage the services of a structural engineer to ascertain if the return of this file to the Clerk's office will exceed the maximum structural load of the floors of said office."
Away from the bench, Sheehan exercises his literary muscles on a novel that he's been working on for 15 years. The legal fiction probes at the ambiguities between right and wrong.
(Reporting by Terry Baynes)