Friday, October 26, 2012

The Case of Comic Strip v. Court Rules

Law students often curse the dreaded LARW word count, but the truth is that courts can impose very similar restrictions on practicing attorneys. Consider the recent example of California entertainment lawyer (and author of Kohn on Music Licensing) Bob Kohn, who in August sought to submit a 55-page amicus curiae brief in the Department of Justice's e-book price-fixing lawsuit. U.S. District Court Judge Denise Cote allowed his brief – on the condition that he limited it to no more than five pages (see a copy of the order at PaidContent). To the delight of legal bloggers around the globe, last month Kohn filed his revised amicus brief in comic-strip form, condensing his argument into five pages of explanatory illustrations (see PDF at Thomson Reuters Insight).

Kohn's comic-strip brief was undeniably fun, but did it conform to court rules? Local rule 11.1(b) of the S.D.N.Y. does specify that "The typeface, margins, and spacing of all documents presented for filing must meet the following requirements: (1) all text must be 12-point type or larger, except for text in footnotes which may be 10-point type; (2) all documents must have at least one-inch margins on all sides; (3) all text must be double-spaced, except for headings, text in footnotes, or block quotations, which may be single-spaced." (It's worth noting that Kohn's brief did include three prefatory and concluding pages which adhered to all of these requirements.)

Courts do have the authority to reject filings which fail to conform to court rules (or sometimes even to common sense). In 2009, a New York state judge dismissed a personal injury motion which, in addition to being unsigned, suffered from “poor stapling of the papers […] so negligent as to inflict and did inflict repeatedly, physical injury to the court personnel handling them” (N.Y. Law Journal story, available with Duke NetID). Fortunately, this dismissal was without prejudice, meaning that the plaintiff could re-file after more careful proofreading and stapling…and fortunately for comic fans everywhere, the court accepted Kohn's illustrated amicus brief.

It's always a good idea to be familiar with the various court rules in your jurisdiction. In the federal court system, this is a combination of rules of general application (such as the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Federal Rules of Evidence) as well as local rules for a particular jurisdiction. State courts will have their own unique rules. For help with navigating the rules of a particular court, check out the library’s recently-updated Court Rules research guide or Ask a Librarian.