Just Because A Judge CAN Write A Sentence Doesn’t Mean The Judge SHOULD Write That Sentence

signatureThe English language facilitates astounding works of beauty with its magnificent malleability. Playing with words and structure as one rewrites a single sentence over and over can produce true art.

And then there’s this appellate opinion.

Earlier this week, the Minnesota Court of Appeals published an… interesting opinion. Or perhaps it’s more fair to say it’s a relatively straightforward opinion a some curious stylistic decision, proving that — sometimes — the Oxford comma is not your friend.

Professor Danielle Jefferis of the Nebraska College of Law flagged this sentence on Twitter:

Screenshot 2023-03-31 at 11.37.54 AM

As the professor put it: “Idk I’d rewrite this sentence but that’s just me.”

[UPDATE: Before we go any further an eagle-eyed tipster (and I mean it because it required me to sorta squint) pointed out that this is actually two sentences with the period after “D.B.” doing double-duty. So my commentary from here on is… wrong. It’s not that the sentences shouldn’t be reworked to avoid the optics, but it’s not “one sentence”] Why have two sentences when one horrifyingly awkward one will do? At least play around with it to get an em-dash or a semicolon in there. Do you know how bad things have to be for me to advocate FOR a semicolon? Outside of drafting statutes, semicolons should be herded into a rocket and blasted into the sun except I’ll allow one for this limited purpose.

Wordsmithing is hard. No one is immune to an ill-drafted sentence. But this is the first sentence in the statement of facts. Judge Klaphake, who wrote this opinion, has a long and accolade-filled career on the bench. So long that he’s actually retired already and got dragged back into this case like a talented get-away driver coming back for one last score. So cut him a little slack — giggle at the sentence, not the author.

But definitely giggle.

HeadshotJoe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.


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