Kendall Gray on blockhead quotations
PEEL your argument.

Watch your language.

In a recent decision, the U.S. Fourth Circuit reminds us to avoid disrespectful language in our briefs:

Finally, we feel compelled to note that advocates, including government lawyers, do themselves a disservice when their briefs contain disrespectful or uncivil language directed against the district court, the reviewing court, opposing counsel, parties, or witnesses.... Unfortunately, the government’s brief is replete with such language: it disdains the district court’s “abrupt handling” of Appellant’s first case ...; sarcastically refers to Appellant’s previous counsel’s “new-found appreciation for defendant’s mental abilities,” ...; criticizes the district court’s “oblique language” on an issue unrelated to this appeal ...; states that the district court opinion in Jones “revealed a crabby and complaining reaction to Project Exile,” ...; insinuates that the district court’s concerns “require[ ] a belief in the absurd that is similar in kind to embracing paranormal conspiracy theories,” ...; and accuses Appellant of being a “charlatan” and “exploit[ing] his identity as an African-American,” .... The government is reminded that such disrespectful and uncivil language will not be tolerated by this court.

U.S. v. Venable, No. 11-4216 n. 4 (4th Cir. Jan. 18, 2012). The lesson: If you think you have rapier wit, keep it sheathed when writing your brief.

(Hat tip to Martin Stern.)



If a court will not tolerate the truth, the court should not be tolerated.

I have dealt with such courts. Courts that would not accept evidence because it did not fit their personal beliefs/agenda. I see no harm in calling them out for their bias. Let the truth be told.


You're not doing yourself or your client any favors if the language that you use angers the court. It should still be possible to make your point without using disrespectful and uncivil language.

If you think that the lower court's handling of the case was "abrupt," then describe the timetable - make the abruptness clear. (Show, don't tell....) If you think that the appellant is a "charlatan" and that his theory of the case is no better than some crackpot conspiracy theory, then point out why and let the reviewing court come to that conclusion. But name-calling and obnoxious hyperbole will not do you any good.

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