With millions of cases pending in the courts across the world, there have been hundreds of millions of cases that have been ruled on by the judges over an extended period of time. Generally, the judgments follow a standard format that lists the reasoning, the charges. and the punishment as per the codes of law. But there have also been times when the judges ruled interestingly and have exercised “creative justice.” In 1935, Fiorella LaGuardia who was the mayor of the New York also had the powers of a magistrate. He told the judge to go home and presided over a matter where a woman had stolen a loaf of bread. He fined her ten dollars for it, then remitted the fine himself for her and went on to fine 50 cents to each person present in the courtroom for building a town where a woman had to steal to feed her kids. An amount of 47.50 dollars was collected that day and it was given to the woman due to LaGuardia’s unique ruling. Here are some more anecdotes of the times when the judges thought out-of-the-box.
1. In 2003, when Eminem was sued for slander, the judge threw out the case and gave a 14-page ruling by rapping it.
Deborah A. Servitto who is currently a judge at the Michigan Court of Appeals presided over a case where De Angelo Bailey sued rapper Eminem for slander. In Eminem’s song “Brain Damage,” a verse reads,
“I was harassed daily by this fat kid named D’Angelo Bailey.
An eighth-grader who acted obnoxious, cause his father boxes.
So every day he’d shove me in the lockers.”
Bailey felt that his reputation was tarnished.
Servitto dismissed the case on October 17, 2003, and her judgment became famous as she wrote parts of it in rap-like verse. One of the verses she used was,
Mr. Bailey complains that his rep is trash
So he’s seeking compensation in the form of cash
Bailey thinks he’s entitled to some monetary gain
Because Eminem used his name in vain
Eminem says Bailey used to throw him around
Beat him up in the john, shoved his face in the ground
Eminem contends that has rap is protected
By the rights guaranteed by the first amendment
Eminem maintains that the story is true
And that Bailey beat him black and blue
In the alternative he states that the story is phony
And a reasonable person would think it’s baloney
The Court must always balance the rights
Of a defendant and one placed in a false light
If the plaintiff presents no question of fact
To dismiss is the only acceptable act
In her ruling, she said that lyrics were stories and an exaggeration of a childish act and Eminem was entitled to a summary disposition. (source)
2. When a cell phone rang in a New York court in 2017, the judge jailed 46 people in the room because no one took responsibility for it. Another judge from Michigan held himself in contempt when his phone rang in court.
While hearing a proceeding about a domestic violence case in the Niagara Falls City of New York, Judge Robert Restaino got enraged after a cell phone rang in court. He ordered the doors of the courtroom to be locked and asked the officers present there to search each and every person to find out whose phone it was. When they returned empty-handed, he spoke to the 46 people turn-by-turn and asked them if they knew whose phone it was. After that, when he did not find an answer, he sentenced all of them to jail. The crowd complained, and more officers had to be called in to control them. In the afternoon, he released all of them after cooling off. A state commission on judicial conduct called his behavior to be madness and decided that he had to lose his job.
Another judge named Hugh Clarke from Michigan has a rule in his courtroom in Lansing. People must either switch their cell phones off or put them on silent before entering. If they did not do that, they will be fined $50. When he was hearing a case of credit-card fraud, the defendant’s cell phone rang. Clarke confiscated the phone, but after some time his own cell phone rang. He held himself in contempt, took out $50 from his pocket and gave it to the court officer. Similarly, in Ionia, Michigan, another judge had fined himself $25 dollars after his phone went off in the courtroom. (1,2)
3. A Palestinian judge banned divorce during the period of “Ramadan” because he felt that people made hasty decisions when “they have not eaten and not smoked.”
Palestine has a Sharia court system. Based on his experience of many years, a Palestinian judge named Mahmoud al-Habbash stated that people deprive themselves of food and cigarettes during the month of Ramadan in the daytime and then “create problems” and make “quick and ill-considered decisions.” He ruled that one of these ill-considered decisions was the decision to get divorced and banned them during Ramadan. A couple could file for divorce a month after the period of fasting was over and it would be considered. In 2015, 8,000 divorces were registered with the Palestinian Authority. (source)
4. Barbie’s maker, Mattel, once sued Aqua for the song “Barbie Girl.” The judge literally said, “The parties are advised to chill,” and dismissed the suit.
Mattel, the toy company that made Barbie, felt that the song by the Danish pop act Aqua, “Barbie Girl,” infringed their copyright and put a black mark on Barbie’s reputation. The song “Barbie Girl” which was extremely popular then, had Barbie calling herself a “blonde bimbo” who was to “party” with Ken which Mattel had a problem with and they sued MCA Records.
Judge Alex Kozinski who was presiding over the matter stated that the song was protected by the right to free speech because it was a parody and a social commentary. The judge also said, “The parties are advised to chill” while upholding the decision of a lower court to throw a defamation suit filed by MCA against Mattel over the comments they made about the record company. (source)
5. When a woman in Cleveland drove on the sidewalk to pass a school bus multiple times, a judge ordered her to stand with a sign that said, “Only an idiot would drive on the sidewalk to avoid a school bus,” for two mornings.
On several occasions, a woman named Shena Hardin would drive on the sidewalk to pass a stopped school bus. The bus driver reported her to the police and also recorded how she drove by. Pinky Carr, a Cleveland Municipal Court judge sentenced her to stand with a signboard of shame that read, “Only an idiot would drive on the sidewalk to avoid a school bus” for two mornings as a part of her punishment. She was also asked to pay a fine of $250 and her driving license was suspended for 30 days.
On the first morning, Hardin’s behavior was unapologetic. She smoked cigarettes and texted while casually standing with the signboard. When this was reported to Judge Carr, she felt that this was defeating the purpose so she ordered Hardin to hold up the signboard on the next morning so the people who were driving by could read it. Later, when Hardin made a statement to Anderson Live, she said that it had been a learning lesson for her and her daughter. Purpose served. (source)
6. When a man sued Satan and his staff for causing him misery, the judge ruled that the “devil” cannot be produced in the court and found precedent in a story where Satan was a “foreign prince” who could not be sued in American courts.
Gerald Mayo was 22-year-old and an inmate at Western Penitentiary in Pittsburgh, United States when he decided to sue Satan and his staff. In 1971, he filed a complaint before the United States District Court (Western District, Pennsylvania) alleging that Satan had caused him “misery and unwarranted threats” and “placed deliberate obstacles in his path causing his downfall.” Therefore, he said that he was deprived of his constitutional rights by Satan. Mayo also asked for his legal costs to be waived.
Gerald J. Weber, the judge who presided over the matter. said that there was no official precedent where Satan had been sued but there was an unofficial one in the book The Devil and Daniel Webster and noted that Satan was a “foreign prince” who cannot be sued in American courts, and it was difficult to determine whether he would be able to claim sovereign immunity. Judge Weber also said that Mayo had not given instructions to the United States Marshal Service on how to serve notice to Satan about the proceedings ( no one knew where Satan lived). He dismissed the suit on procedural grounds. (source)
7. Judge Cicconetti once ruled that as punishment for abandoning 35 kittens, a woman was to spend a night in the woods. In other cases, he ordered noisy neighbors to listen to classical music instead of rock and a thief to spend 24 hours as a homeless person.
Judge Michael A. Cicconetti is famous for his unique style of passing judgments. He calls it “creative justice.” After hearing a matter, he leaves the defendant a choice of punishment. Either the person has to spend time in jail or go through one of Cicconetti’s unusual punishments. He began serving “creative justice” in the mid-1990s. Once, in return for a reduced prison sentence, he told a woman in Ohio to spend a night in the woods as punishment for abandoning 35 kittens in the forest in wintertime. In another ruling, he ordered noisy, rock-playing neighbors to spend a day in silence and to listen to classical music. Once, he told a man who shot a dog to donate 40 pounds of dog food on every holiday to a shelter. When teenagers scratched “666” on a nativity figure of Jesus, he ordered them to lead a donkey through the streets with a sign that read, “Sorry for the jackass offense, but he is sooo cute!”
Among other such punishments, a woman who skipped paying cab fare was ordered to walk 30 miles in 48 hours, and a man who stole from the Salvation Army was to spend 24 hours homeless. In 2002, the judge ordered a man from Painesville to stand with a live pig with a sign that said, “This is not a police officer.” This was because the man had referred to an officer as a pig during their confrontation. Judge Cicconetti is very popular with those who believe in putting the defendant in the defendant’s victim’s position while passing a sentence. (source)
8. Samurai Ōoka Tadasuke served as a magistrate and was hearing a case where a man sued a person for “stealing fumes of his cooking.” He ruled that the defendant pay the innkeeper with the “sound of money.”
Ōoka Tadasuke was a Samurai who was in the service of the Tokugawa shogunate in Japan in the 18th century. He also worked as the chief of police and a judge. One of his most famous cases was “The Case of the Stolen Smell.” An innkeeper had sued a poor student of stealing the fumes of his cooking when the innkeeper was adding flavor to his dull food. Tadasuke resolved the case by ordering the student to pass the money from one hand to another, producing the sound of money. He ruled that the price of the “smell of food” was the “sound of money.” (source)
9. A federal judge in 2006 ordered opposing sides to settle an argument about the appropriate place for deposition by playing one game of rock-paper-scissors.
Who would have thought that the famous hand game of rock-paper-scissors will find its way in a legal dispute? Two sides had been debating for long over choosing the place for deposition which was a trivial matter. The judge Gregory Presnell from the Middle District of Florida was fed up and decided to do something that would solve the dispute and also shame the legal firms over their conduct. He passed a ruling on the motion and as a new form of alternative dispute resolution, asked the sides to meet on a neutral ground, and if they could not agree over a neutral place, to meet at the steps of the Sam M. Gibbons U.S. Court House in Florida at 4:00 p.m. on June 30, 2006. Then he asked them to play one game of rock-paper-scissors and the winner of that game would choose the place of the deposition they were arguing upon. The lawyers did play the game at an undisclosed location. (source)
10. Once Dan Brown, the author of the book The Da Vinci Code, was sued for plagiarism. In his ruling, the judge embedded his own code as private amusement. This code was dubbed “The Smithy Code.”
We know all about the codes and ciphers in the famous book by Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code. Justice Peter Smith was hearing a case against Dan Brown for plagiarism and passed a ruling on it in 2006. This judgment was unique because it had a code embedded in it which was first cracked by Dan Trench, a lawyer who writes for The Guardian. Judge Smith italicized certain letters in the judgment and wrote that to solve the code one could refer to The Da Vinci Code or The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.
The cipher the judge used was a polyalphabetic cipher known as “Variant Beaufort” which used a keyword based on the Fibonacci sequence: A-A-Y-C-E-H-M-U. The message that was embedded in the judgment read out as, “Jackie Fisher, who are you? Dreadnought.” Fisher was a British admiral who was the driving force behind a battleship named HMS Dreadnought. This code was called “The Smithy Code.” (source)