Sunday, April 17, 2005

Waiting for the Plumber, or Somebody Like Him

I am strongly in favor of the publication of greater numbers of judicial opinions. For instance, I see no reason that the Court of Special Appeals cannot publish all of its opinions on the web in the same way that the Fourth Circuit does, with opinions that the court feels should not constitute binding precedent being denominated as "unpublished.

I am also in favor of specialized courts to deal with serious business disputes. I believe that such specialized courts will lead to swifter and more certain resolution of business disputes, in the long run reducing the economic friction caused by disputes. A recent opinion by the Circuit Court for Baltimore City disappoints on both fronts.

The Circuit Court for Baltimore City publishes, on the web, a number of its decisions. The website is here. That's good. It allows businesses and their counsel insight into how nisi prius courts deal with business disputes and, theoretically at least, encourages settlements by reducing uncertainty. However, the opinion, in the case of Carnegie International Corp. v. Grant Thornton, LLP, is a disaster as a roadmap. It also reveals structural weaknesses in what, in Maryland, are termed Business and Technology Cases, that is, cases specially singled out for special treatment because of the complex business issues they present.

Carnegie is a 63 page opinion. (I read it while waiting for the sewer clearance people from Baltimore County to arrive to clear a sewer blockage at my home. It was a long wait. It is a long opinion.) One has to go at least 7 pages into the opinion to find what may be a concise statement as to the essential claims made by the plaintiff. Even then, it is not clear to me that this description applies to all of the claims, but that appears to be the case. The gist of Carnegie's claims seems to be that Grant Thornton caused Carnegie damage by taking actions or failing to act with the result that the trading of Carnegie stock on the American Stock Exchange was halted. The opinion, which probably reaches the correct legal result, fails as a cogent discussion of the case and the legal issues because it doesn't start with the type of opening that all good essays start with ("Once upon a time . . . .") and doesn't tell a story. As I tell my students, anyone who can tell a good dirty joke, and by this I mean a real joke, not merely a one-liner, can probably write a good brief, memorandum, or contract. Remember, a good joke starts with a factual premise, clearly stated ("A priest, a minister, and a rabbi walk into a bar . . . .") and moves logically forward from there.

What is even more disturbing is that the case reveals that the business and technology track may be certain, but it is hardly swift. The case was filed in May of 2000. The bench trial in the case began on November 5, 2001. It continued through April 4, 2003, and subsequent testimony was presented by depositions. Both parties submitted proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law on June 13, 2003. The opinion was not delivered until April 13, 2005, almost five years after the case was filed and almost two years after the Court had all of the evidence before it. By comparison, the Baltimore County sewer service acted with great dispatch.

Finally, the opinion fails to mention, even in a footnote, the bizarre activities of some of the players in the case, involving cults, alleged aliens, sexual slavery, and attempted contract murders. (If you want the salacious details, see here.) If you have to read a 62 page opinion, it ought to at least be well-written and have something to hold the reader's attention.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Waiting for the sewer people. Confirms that you are full of ot.