July 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

The US 11th Circuit decision in Butler v. Sheriff of Palm Beach County and Collins, decided July 6, 2012, opens with these memorable lines:

In one of his ballads, Jim Croce warned that there are four things that you just don’t do: “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape/ You don’t spit into the wind/You don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger/ And you don’t mess around with Jim.” He could have added a fifth warning to that list: “And you don’t let a pistol-packing mother catch you naked in her daughter’s closet.”

You can read the entire opinion, penned by Judge Carnes, which addresses whether or not Mr. Butler had a federal cause of action (answer = not).

In fiction writing, an opening like that is called a “hook.” It’s a paragraph or two that tease the reader with a tantalizing glimpse of what is to come, creating immediate interest, grabbing attention, and compelling the reader to read on. I think it goes without saying that most (nearly all) appellate decisions lack anything close to a hook.

I encourage our appellate judges to read the Butler opinion, at least the opening lines and the ensuing fact statement. Perhaps a couple of our more creative and intrepid appellate judges will take inspiration from Judge Carnes and add a creative twist to their work. It couldn’t hurt.

[Thanks to “Suzy Q” for the reference to the Butler opinion]

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