March 20, 2009

Tales from a Tennessee Courtroom

Jake Warner: Auntie, let's have some fun today. Take me back to those days in Tennessee country courtrooms when malapropisms spouted more than Old Faithful.

Auntie Nolo: Well, once, a few months after Silent Cal took over from Warren "Back to Normalcy" Harding, I sat in on a criminal prosecution in which the defendant was accused of biting off a man's ear in a barroom brawl. The defendant's attorney, trying to raise at least a scintilla of doubt in the jury's mind, asked the prosecutor's star witness: "Did you acutally see the defendant bite off Mr. Blackwell's ear?" After thinking for a long minute, the witness finally said, "No."

Jake Warner: I don't get it -- what's so funny about that?

Auntie Nolo: Nothing. But that's when, instead of resting his case, the over-confident defense attorney asked one more question: "Well," he said in a long, drawn-out mocking way, "if you never saw the defendant bite off Mr. Blackwell's ear, what did you see?"

"I saw him spit it out," the witness replied.

Jake Warner: Tasty. But now you've whetted my appetite for more.

Auntie Nolo: Well, there was the time the lawyer was cross-examining a young woman dressed from head to toe in a leather jacket.

Jake Warner: You mean a biker chick?

Auntie Nolo: It would seem so, since in cross examination a lawyer asked her, "Is it true that on May 27th at 9:00 PM you had sex with the defendant on the seat of his Harley Davidson 'Fat Boy'?"

Jake Warner: And what did she say to that?

Auntie Nolo: "What was the time again?"
February 18, 2009

They Really Said It!

Jake Warner: Auntie, as good as lawyer jokes can be, nothing is ever quite as funny as very stupid -- but very real -- courtroom comments.

Auntie Nolo: And the lower the court, the better the humor. Although I've known every Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from Jay to Roberts -- except Roger Taney, who I couldn't abide -- very few even knew how to smile.

Jake Warner: Wasn't Taney the man who wrote the Dred Scott opinion saying southern slave owners could hound slaves through the north, despite the fact that Congress had restricted the spread of slavery to the western territories in the Missouri Compromise of 1820?

Auntie Nolo: That's him -- appointed by Jackson and lasted 'til Lincoln, did as much as anyone to make the Civil War inevitable. There was nothing funny about that man.

Jake Warner: But getting back to yucks, how about some favorites...

Auntie Nolo: Well, there was the time the lawyer cross-examined a witness asking "Are you sexually active?" to which the woman responded, "No, I just lie there." I also enjoyed the time a slightly dim lawyer asked a considerably brighter witness, "Were you present when your picture was taken?"

Jake Warner: And what did he reply?

Auntie Nolo: "Are you sh$#%ing me?"

Jake Warner: Nice.

Auntie Nolo: And here's one that can't be printed in family newspapers but nevertheless happened in open court:

Lawyer: Did you hear the witness say that if she couldn't get reasonable visitation she'd take custody of the f%#*ing kid?

Defendant (sitting at the counsel table): I never said that, I never speak like that -- you're just a big, fat, f%#*ing liar!

Jake Warner: Enough said, surely.

Auntie Nolo: C'mon, we have space for one more:

Lawyer: What was the first thing your husband said to you when he woke up?
Witness: Where am I, Cathy?
Lawyer: And why did that make you mad?
Witness: My name is Susan.
February 2, 2009

Hard Times Humor

Jake Warner: Auntie, what's up? You haven't checked in for a few months.

Auntie Nolo: The world's been melting down so fast I've had trouble conjuring a smile.

Jake Warner: C'mon, this isn't the first financial panic you've lived through. How about a little debt and bankruptcy humor? I'll get us going with my favorite:

Capitalism without bankruptcy is like Christianity without hell.
--Frank Borman

Auntie Nolo: Okay, here's a remark Waldo Emerson told me one day after the financial panic in 1837, right after Van Buren took over from Old Hickory:

It is said that the world is in a state of bankruptcy -- that the world owes the world more than the world can pay.

Jake Warner: Well, that's a winner in the "the more things change, the more they stay the same" category, but it's not exactly a belly-buster.

Auntie Nolo: Maybe you'll like this one from the comic Joey Adams better:

Bankruptcy is a legal proceeding in which you put your money in you pants pocket and give your coat to your creditors.

Or how about:

If you think nobody cares if you're alive, try missing a couple of car payments.
--Earl Wilson

Jake Warner: But how about Oscar Wilde? He was a funny guy who was broke.

Auntie Nolo: That's because most funny guys would make a better living running a lemonade stand in front of a foreclosure sale than telling jokes, but yes, I do remember a remark that pretty well sums up Oscar's attitude toward being in debt:

A man who pays his bills on time is soon forgotten.

Jake Warner: That was fun -- and Auntie? Don't stay away so long next time.

Auntie Nolo: I'll be back as soon as I drop down to Texas and check in with Kinky Friedman. After all, anybody who could say, "When the horse dies, get off!" must know a lot about depressions!
September 22, 2008

Even Kings & Emperors Get the Blues

Jake Warner: Why do you think that throughout history, kings, dictators, emperors, and various other potentates who claimed to have absolute power have nevertheless been frustrated by the law and sometimes lawyers?

Auntie Nolo: Absolute power is never quite as absolute as the rulers of this world would like. Always in the not-so-deep background are the customs, norms, and yes, even the laws of the society. Violate too many of these and you'll find your head in a bucket no matter how powerful you believe yourself to be. Louis XVI of France and Charles the First of England are just two of many who found out the hard way.

Jake Warner: True enough, but that doesn't stop the powerful from trying to control the law, and in the process often saying some fascinating, hilarious, and occasionally even profound things. Let's have your favorites.

Auntie Nolo: Ask and you shall receive:

What your eyes have seen do not hastily bring into court: For what will you do in the end, when your neighbor puts you to shame?

Argue your case with your neighbor himself, and do not disclose another's secret; lest he who hears you bring shame upon you, and your ill repute have no end.
King Solomon, Ruler of Israel

...Lawsuits would tend to increase to a frightening extent if people were not afraid of the tribunals and if they felt confident of always finding ready and perfect justice... I desire, therefore, that those who have recourse to the tribunals should be treated without pity and in such a manner that they shall be disgusted with law and tremble to appear before a magistrate.
K'ang Hsi, Chinese Emperor

Lawyers are those who use the law as shoemakers use leather: rubbing it, pressing it, and stretching it with their teeth, all to the end of making it fit their purposes.
Louis XII, French King

If you like laws and sausage, you should never watch either being made.
Otto Von Bismarck, German Chancellor

There are no more reactionary people in the world than judges.
Nikolas Lenin, Russian Dictator
September 18, 2008

Auntie Nolo's Favorite Legal Rhymes

Jake Warner: There is a surprising amount of verse -- some of it quite funny -- written about the law, lawyers and lawsuits. I guess one of the oldies is about the 14th-century lawyer who was made a saint because he was so honest:
St. Yves is from Brittany
A lawyer but not a thief
Such a thing is beyond belief.
Auntie Nolo: Not quite -- plenty of rhymes teasing lawyers go back as far as ancient Greece and Rome. For example, the Athenian playwright Aristophanes described the new class of lawyer-rhetorician in his play "The Clouds" like this:
Bold, hasty and wise, a concocter of lies,
A rattler to speak, a dodger, a sneak,
A regular claw of the tables of law,
A shuffler complete, well worn in deceit,
A supple, unprincipled, troublesome cheat,
A hangdog accurst, a bore with the worst,
In the tricks of the jury-court thoroughly versed.
Then the Chorus gets to the point: 
Yes, and men shall come and wait
In their thousands at your gate,
Desiring consultations and advice
On an action or a pleading,
From the men of light and leading
And you'll pocket many talents in a trice.
Jake Warner: So I guess little has changed. Go on the Internet and you'll find plenty of funny legal limericks.

Auntie Nolo: Yes, and one of the funniest of this generation of limerick writers is a lawyer named David Altschull, who wrote Legal Limericks, a little book published by Survival Series Publishing Co. in 1993. Here is one of my favorites, which comments on the case of People v. Langdon 192 Cal. App. 3d 148 (1987). The Langdon case involved a man charged with having sex with under-aged girls (statutory rape) who introduced evidence of his vasectomy, apparently to show that since he couldn't get them pregnant, he wasn't guilty of perpetrating the harm the law was designed to prevent:
Of all rape defenses we've stocked up
Here's the best: "I couldn't get her knocked up"
Though defendant was sperm-less
We can't let him squirm less
He did the act that got him locked up.
Jake Warner: Nice. Do you have a few more?

Auntie Nolo: At least a thousand, but I'll control myself. Here's Madeline Kane's take:

Pity the Poor Lawyer (from Mad Kane's Humor Blog)
"Your billable hours are low," 
Said the partner, "they simply must grow.
It behooves you to hike them,
Or better, please spike them --
To lunch breaks and sleep, just say no."
To which a fellow named Paul responded:
The associate listened in shock
As she learned that her life was in hock
To a clock-punching firm
While her boss, who's a worm
Made her wonder if law's just a crock.
Jake Warner: Legal limericks are obviously becoming an indoor sport for bored -- but never boring -- lawyers.

Auntie Nolo: Well, the Internet provides a great way to disseminate legal doggerel, but it's always been here as these two ditties show:

My wonder is really boundless
That among the queer cases we try,
A land case should often be groundless,
A water case will always be dry.
John Saxe, 19th-Century Poet

He saw a lawyer killing a viper
On a dunghill hard by his own stable,
And the Devil smiled, for it put him in mind,
Of Cain and his brother Abel.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 18th-Century Poet
September 15, 2008

Auntie Nolo's Zany Laws, Part 1

Jake Warner: Loads of goofy laws have been passed over the years. I'm sure you have a collection of the looniest.

Auntie Nolo: The list is endless. My favorites are the ones meant to be serious, but which nevertheless tickle my funny bone.

Jake Warner: You mean the 1950s French law prohibiting flying saucers from landing in vineyards isn't your favorite?

Auntie Nolo: Actually, I kind of prefer the statute that makes it illegal to declare war on Wisconsin.

Jake Warner: Not bad. How about a few more-- past or present, it doesn't matter.

Auntie Nolo: In Alaska it's legal to shoot a bear as long as you have a license, but illegal to wake one up to take its picture. Here are a few more that'll bring a chuckle:

A Connecticut law made it illegal to sell pickles that break or squish when dropped from a height of one foot.
A 1963 Minnesota law reads like this:
"Adultery occurs when a married woman has sexual intercourse with a man other than her husband, whether the man is married or not. There is no prohibition against sex between a married man and an unmarried woman."
In Berkeley, California it was illegal to whistle for an escaped bird before 7:00 AM.
In Detroit, Michigan it's illegal to loiter in the city morgue.
An ordinance in the city of Belvedere, California required, "No dog shall be in public without its master on a leash."
September 13, 2008

Auntie Nolo's Funniest Cases

Jake Warner: Auntie, I'm sure you've heard loads of big cases over the years -- the Scopes trial, the Lindbergh kidnapping, O.J.'s murder trial -- why I bet you've heard all the great lawyers!

Auntie Nolo: Well, I do watch my share of high-profile cases, but it's the little ones I really love. By and large, the fancier the lawyers, the more they bore me. It's an ego thing mostly. In fact, I'm just introducing a new product, a CD called "Auntie Nolo's Insomnia Cure," which contains an assortment of U.S. Supreme Court arguments.

Jake Warner: No doubt you'll put Ambien out of business. But how about telling us about a few unheard-of cases that kept you laughing. And hey, maybe you can publish them as "Auntie Nolo's Stay Awake Program." After all, it's hard to laugh and sleep at the same time.

Auntie Nolo: Well, there was the time I was sitting in Traffic Court when this little old man hugging a very big dictionary fought his parking ticket by claiming he was simply following directions when he parked under a "Fine for Parking" sign.

Jake Warner: C'mon, did that really happen? It's kind of like being ticketed for speeding through a school zone and claiming that the sign "Slow Children At Play" was only meant to announce a school for the mentally challenged. Or that "Drive Thru Window" is an invitation to bring your Chevy right on in!

Auntie Nolo: Plain English should be a bulletproof defense. I mean, really, if a sign says "No Littering -- $500 Fine," shouldn't tossing a candy wrapper out of the window be free?

Jake Warner: Okay, if we're just going to be silly, how about a few of my favorites:

Lane Closed to Ease Congestion

Caution, Water on the Road During Rain

Parking for Drive-Thru Window Only
September 11, 2008

Auntie Nolo's Favorite Lawyer Jokes, Part 1

Jake Warner: Auntie, I notice you don't tell a lot of lawyer jokes. Is there a reason?

Auntie Nolo: A good lawyer joke is like a pin -- it's short, delicate, and has a sharp point. But sadly, too many lawyer jokes are more like a brick -- square, blunt, and boring.

Jake Warner: I agree, humor should prick, not bash. But surely some jokes must qualify?

Auntie Nolo: Sure, and here are my favorites:

The difference between lawyer jokes and attorney jokes is $100 per hour.
A client paid his lawyer's $500 fee with $100 bills. Later, the lawyer realizes that two bills had stuck together, meaning he had received $600. "This is a true ethical dilemma," the lawyer thought. "Should I tell my partner?"
When a 46-year old lawyer reached the Pearly Gates he protested to Saint Peter, "But I'm far too young to die!"

"Well, according to the hours you've billed, you're 92," Saint Peter explained.
When a lawyer named Strange was planning his tombstone, he asked the stone-cutter to inscribe, "Here lies John Strange, an honest lawyer." 

The man replied, "Can't do it -- there's a law against burying two people in the same grave. But anyway, all you need is 'Here lies an honest lawyer'." 

"But then no one will know who is buried in the grave!" 

"No worries," said the stone-cutter, "people will read it and say, 'that's strange.'"
Question: Cinderella, Santa Claus, an honest lawyer and an old drunk were walking down the street, when simultaneously all four spotted a hundred dollar bill lying in the gutter. Who gets it?

Answer: The old drunk, of course, since the others are all mythical creatures.
Claiming an emergency, a lawyer woke the Governor in the middle of the night. "Judge Smith just died and I want to replace him," he said.

"Fine," said the Governor, "I'll call the mortuary and see if it can be arranged."
September 10, 2008

Auntie Nolo's Favorite Courtroom Stories

Jake Warner: Auntie Nolo, I know you've sat through countless court cases over many centuries.

Auntie Nolo: From the Roman Forum to medieval England's Court of the Star Chamber to my favorite Kentucky country courthouse to mention a few. There's no place like a courtroom to gather funny stories -- except maybe the hallway outside. For example, one time in Texas I watched a lawyer get a client accused of stealing a cow a verdict of not guilty. Then later in the corridor, I overheard the lawyer say to the client, "Now tell me the truth Fred, you did steal that cow didn't you?"

To which the client answered, "Now Attorney Douglas, I was pretty sure I did steal that cow until I heard your beautiful speech to the jury. But you were so convincing that now I'm pretty sure I didn't!"

Jake Warner: Good start. How about a couple of more favorites?

Auntie Nolo: Well, once in my favorite Kentucky courtroom, a young woman, whose mom and several other family members had recently died in a bloody car accident, challenged her mother's will, which left most of her money to an obscure religion. On cross-examination the lawyer for the church asked, "Was it you or your sister who was also killed in the accident?"

And, another time, in the same court, the same lawyer asked a coal miner, "How long have you been Armenian?"

Think about that one, it grows on you.

And then there was the time in Virginia when a witness kept answering questions before a long-winded attorney finished asking them. "Why do you keep doing that?" the frustrated lawyer finally asked.

"I already knew what you were going to ask," replied the witness.

"OK then," the lawyer said, "Answer my next question!"

And once, in a divorce case before no-fault laws were adopted and you had to prove the other spouse was in the wrong, I heard this exchange:

Plaintiff: "Your Honor, my husband came home at all hours, drank way too much, cussed me constantly, never came to my bed and said nasty things about my family!"

Judge: "Do you have any more evidence?"

Plaintiff: "No, your Honor. But surely that's enough to establish mental cruelty?"

Judge: "Sorry, but it sounds like your average marriage to me."
September 9, 2008

Oh So True: Auntie Nolo's Favorite Legal Folk Wisdom, Part 1

Jake Warner: There are hundreds of legal proverbs -- many acerbic, barbed, and hilarious.

Auntie Nolo: You forgot "true". When the common folk of this world repeat a comment about law and lawyers so often that it achieves the status of folk wisdom, you can be sure it will be as true as it is funny.

Jake Warner: Prove it.

Auntie Nolo: Okay, but we'll need to call this blog, "Oh So True, Part 1", because I've got scads, and sooner or later I'll want to get them all out.

May you have a lawsuit in which you know you are right.
Mexican Curse

The Devil makes his Christmas Pie of lawyers' tongues.
English Proverb

A peasant between two lawyers is like a fish between two cats.
Spanish Proverb

Fond of lawsuits, little wealth
Fond of physicians, little health
Hebrew Proverb

Doctors purge the body, 
Ministers the conscience,
Lawyers the purse.
German Proverb
September 6, 2008

Auntie Nolo's Favorite Legal Remarks by American Presidents

Jake Warner: Auntie, in the last few centuries I believe you've known every American president.

Auntie Nolo: All but the first Harrison. Old "Tippecanoe," as he was called, caught pneumonia at his inauguration and died before I could stop by for tea and lawyer jokes.

Jake Warner: Not only did lots of Presidents comment on lawyers and the law, but many were lawyers themselves.

Auntie Nolo: Yup -- both Adamses, Tom Jefferson, J.M., Honest Abe, both Roosevelts, Silent Cal, Tricky Dick, and Hopeful Bill to mention a few. But not all of them were funny -- Coolidge and Nixon didn't have half a wit between them and Hopeful Bill was mostly funny when he didn't want to be.

Jake Warner: Exactly, but let's get to it. Give us your funniest bits of humorous presidential lawyer wisdom.

Auntie Nolo: Well, I have four that combine wit and wisdom, and one from Richard Nixon that does neither but is the funniest of all in a sad kind of way.

"It is the trade of lawyers to question everything, yield nothing, and to talk by the hour."
Thomas Jefferson

"[The accused] reminds me of the fellow who murdered his parents and then pleaded for mercy on the grounds that he was an orphan."
Abraham Lincoln

"A man who never graduated from school might steal a freight car. But a man who attends college and graduates as a lawyer might steal the whole railroad."
Theodore Roosevelt

"I used to be a lawyer, but now I'm a reformed character."
Woodrow Wilson

"When the President does it, that means it is not illegal."
Richard Nixon

September 4, 2008

Auntie Nolo's Favorite Legal Remarks

Jake Warner: Auntie Nolo, in your long, long life you've known just about everyone who ever said a funny thing about laws, courts and lawyers.

Auntie Nolo: Yup, I was cackling long before the Roman orator Cicero said "When your defense has no basis, abuse the plaintiff."

Jake Warner: So how about telling us your very favorite aphorisms?

Auntie Nolo: That's like asking me for a list of lawyers who exaggerate -- I could go on forever! But here are a few favorite thigh-slappers authored by my particular friends.

"Litigation is a machine which you go into as a pig and come out as a sausage."
Ambrose Bierce

"After my first trial, I asked my daddy how I did. 'You have to guard against speaking more clearly than you think,' he replied."
Howard Baker, Jr.

"If you took all the laws and laid them end-to-end, there would be no end."
Mark Twain

"Lawyer: the only person in whom ignorance of the law is not punished."
Elbert Hubbard

"They call it the Halls of Justice because the only place you get justice is in the halls."
Lenny Bruce

"The law is like a killy-loo bird, a creature that insisted on flying backward because it didn't care where it was going but was mightily interested in where it had been."
Fred Rudell
September 1, 2008

About This Blog

Welcome to Auntie Amanda Nolo's Legal Humor Blog -- lawyer jokes, witty quotes, loony laws, and hilarious courtroom anecdotes -- all collected by Auntie Nolo in her over 2,500 years of laughing at the law.

But who is this Auntie Amanda Nolo and how did she get in the legal humor business? The best guess is that Auntie Nolo was born in ancient Greece in the time of Aeschylus ("Wrong must not win by technicalities"). Since then, from Sophocles to Cicero and Abe Lincoln to Will Rogers, Auntie has always turned up when lawyers and their critics take a walk on the hilarious, bizarre, and just plain silly side of the legal street.

Jake Warner, Nolo's co-founder, met Auntie Nolo in 1971 when she turned up at his old brown-shingled Berkeley, California house soon after Nolo was founded. Ever since, the two of them have traded humorous remarks about the law, lawyers, courtroom escapades and America's love/hate relationship with the legal system. You may wonder what Auntie Nolo said when Warner finally got up his courage to ask her how she has managed to stay alive for 2,500 years:

"The law & lawyers are such endlessly funny subjects I've just kept laughing and laughing -- laughing so hard I guess I just haven't had time to die. But thinking about mortality, let me ask you a question: What's the difference between a tick and a lawyer? The tick drops off when you're dead!"