Judging Frankenstein

The Imaginary Worlds podcast celebrated the 200th Anniversary of Mary Shelley beginning to write “Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus,” on June 16, 1816.

Arizona State University is honoring the anniversary with The Frankenstein Bicentennial Project, which was ultimately published in 1818.

This got me thinking…who was the first Judge to reference Frankenstein in an opinion?

The answer is Chief Justice William Pryor, of the Court of Appeals of Kentucky, on June 13, 1896. The case involved mayoral appointed officials who were members of executive boards who were removed from office. Todd v. Dunlap (1896) 99 Ky. 449, 452.

Chief Justice Pryor made his Frankenstein reference in the following paragraph:

If these powers were all that were attached to the office of mayor, he would be helpless to perform the duties required of him. In what way could he be vigilant and active in causing the ordinances of the city to be enforced if the boards of his appointment, creatures of his creation, were turned upon confirmation into a set of Frankenstein monsters, who could set him at defence? How could he exercise a general supervision over all the executive and ministerial officers of the city, and see that their official duties are honestly performed, if those officers are responsible alone to a tribunal over which he has no control, though appointed by him and sharing his executive powers? What sort of statements in writing concerning the discharge of their duties might he expect from members of the boards who share his powers, and, because it was supposed that they were responsible to him, have been given greater powers than those granted to him? What benefit would he derive from statements of subordinate officials, heads of inferior departments, etc., who are responsible alone to independent and perhaps hostile tribunals? With what obstructions, tangible and intangible, would the examiners appointed by him meet in investigating the affairs of a city department over which he could exercise no control, or of an officer who owed allegiance to a different chief?

Todd, at *466-467.

This makes Chief Justice Pryor one of the earliest Legal Geeks in US History. There are likely more, but let’s salute Chief Justice Pryor paving the way for Judges today who make geek references to Star Wars, Harry Potter, Batman, Spiderman, Star Trek, and many other stories from popular culture.

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