As you can see from the video below, Josh and I love to discuss Star Wars. And we’re not the only ones. With the big news about JJ Abrams directing Episode Seven, everyone is talking about Star Wars right now. And judges are no exception to the the rule – they like Star Wars too. (In fact, just like JJ Abrams, judges like both Star Wars and Star Trek.)
While there are many cases that involve Star Wars issues (copyright disputes, business disputes involving claims of evil empires, employee harassment cases revolving around name calling), judges also like to work in their Star Wars references just for fun.
A Galaxy Far, Far Away…
One example of just such a reference occurred last summer in People of the State of New York v. Malcolm Harris, Docket No. 2011NY080152 (N.Y. Crim. Ct. June 30, 2012). Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino Jr. (The Legal Geeks and Above the Law are both fans of his) denied a motion by Twitter to quash a subpoena seeking discovery of defendant Malcolm Harris’s tweets and other non-content information collected by Twitter. Noting that there can be no reasonable expection of privacy in a tweet, he emphasized the point in a footnote: “In fact, on August 1, 2012 your tweets will be sent across the universe to a galaxy far, far away.” This reference is notable both because it’s so true – we are now sending information to galaxies far away (140 characters at a time) – and because it was placed in an order that got a lot more attention than the usual court opinion.
Judge Sciarrino is an admitted Star Wars fan and takes that love with him to work. The proof is in the above picture of the judge’s former court chambers. While I don’t know of any studies that have been done to see if other judges decorate their chambers with Star Wars paraphernalia, other court orders and opinions show a similar love for the Force.
The “far, far away” references compare to the use of Star Trek’s “boldy go” language often referenced by courts. For example, in an opinion addressing a business dispute, the plaintiff tried to argue that two transactions were not related. The court noted, however, that “the transaction was not in another galaxy, far, far away…” Agrippa, LLC v. Bank of America, N.A., 2011 WL 102677, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. 2011).
Spock and Yoda – Judicial Muses
While some courts have turned to Spock for guidance, it should be no surprise that courts looking for an appropriate Star Wars movie character to provide guidance turn to Yoda, the Jedi Master.
In addressing an accounting issue and net proceeds, the Seventh Circuit explained, “Size matters not, Yoda tells us. Nor does time.” U.S. v. Hodge, 558 F.3d 630, 632 (7th Cir. 2009).
In Kentucky, the dissenting opinion put it this way: “Even Yoda, the diminutive Star Wars guru, recognized that sometimes in life we have to fish or cut bait. ‘Do or do not. There is no try.'” Com. v. Marshall, 345 S.W.3d 822, 835 (Ky. 2011) (Cunningham, J., dissenting).
Footnotes for Fun
Oddly enough, while Star Wars is arguably more pervasive in popular culture than Star Trek (inspiring debates over Lucas’s changes to official canon and even an official White House petition), it doesn’t appear to inspire the same amount of creativity among the judicial branch as Star Trek. As a fan of footnotes, it’s hard to beat the Star Trek references to Klingon dictionaries and Romulan Cloaking Devices. Aside from Judge Sciarrino’s footnote discussed above, I only found two other Star Wars footnotes that were very entertaining.
First, while discussing bias and prejudice during voir dire, the Seventh Circuit noted that sometimes prospective jurors attempt to avoid jury duty by behaving oddly. In a footnote they reference Tina Fey’s jury duty in 30 Rock when her character dresses up as Princess Leia. The court went on to note that while it was funny on TV, such behavior in an actual court could result in a finding of contempt. See U.S. v. Hill, 552 F.3d 541, 548 (7th Cir. 2008). Working in both a Tina Fey and a Star Wars reference into one footnote was awesome – I just wish they could have mentioned Carrie Fisher’s actual appearance on the series.
Second, another court impressed me with the depth and breadth of their footnote references. In addressing parties who conspired to hide assets during divorce and child support proceedings, the court stated that “[t]his case is somewhat akin to deciding a dispute between Darth Vader and the Borg, or if you prefer a classical metaphor, Scylla and Charybdis.” The court then dropped footnotes to Star Wars, Star Trek (both First Contact and The Next Generation), and Homer. See Anthony v. Mazon, 2006 WL 1745769, at * (Cal.App. 4 Dist. 2006). That kind of creativity is why I love footnotes – and judges who love Star Wars and Star Trek!