Writing an opening

Often times I struggle with writing my opening sentence.  Appellate opinions often start out and finish in a predictable and boring manner.

I received this advice from my church’s weekly email:

“An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story,” says novelist Stephen King. “It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.”

This is why the Books of Genesis and John are two of my favorites. How does God invite us into His story? “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1); and “In the beginning, was the Word, and the Word was with God. He was in the beginning with God.” (John 1:1-2)

To a reader standing on the first sentences of these Books, the story already sounds confident, assured, and rock-hard. “In the beginning,” suggests to me a stability in the narrative. Intuitively I interpret His story as purposed for something good, as headed somewhere safe. And then I read the rest of these Books, and find that there are ups and down, successes and failures in life; but God’s providential, divine plan continues to unfold throughout the centuries.

This is very good advice.  A legal case, especially in the appellant’s brief, is a new beginning a fresh start.  Tell a story.  Make the reader want to read.  If its a boring story, tell it in a concise manner.


Writing Seminar

On Friday, I had the privilege of sitting in on a Judicial Law Clerk Writing Seminar.  The seminar was sponsored by the Bench and Bar Liaison Committee of the Mississippi Bar, of which I am a member.  I played a small role in organizing the seminar.  The speakers were excellent; they included Judges Dan Jordan, Leslie Southwick, Keith Ball, Ed Patten, Mike Taylor, Andy Howorth, and Jerry Mason.  Roy Campbell offered the lawyer’s perspective.  I thought this was an allstar cast.

The statement that got my attention was from Circuit Judge Mike Taylor: “Why is it that the appellate court will accept the ultimate decision of twelve random strangers, without criticism, and yet require a “learned” and trained judge to write a detailed opinion that explains his or her decision?  Then, the appellate judges will reverse and remand the “learned” judge’s opinion because of one short phrase in a forty page opinion.”

Then, all the judges looked at me.  Oh well.

Supreme Court to decide whether judges can solicit campaign contributions

Canon 5C(2) of the Mississippi Code of Judicial Conduct provides that “[a] candidate shall not personally solicit or accept campaign contributions or personally solicit publicly stated support.”

The Supreme Court will consider a challenge to this rule in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, 13-1499.

Lanell Williams-Yulee decided to run for a county judge position in Florida. She then sent a fundraising letter that asked for contributions and support. She signed the letter. The Florida Bar charged her with violating an ethics rule that prohibits judicial candidates from personally soliciting for campaign contributions. She challenged the constitutionality of the rule based on her right to free-speech.

The Florida Supreme Court rejected her challenge and decided that she should receive a public reprimand and pay $1,860 in costs. She appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

The Florida Bar argues that the rule is a necessary to safeguard against quid pro quo corruption and the appearance of such corruption. The concern is that a judicial candidate may reward contributing lawyers and supporters whose cases appear in that judge’s courtroom. Also, the Bar is concerned that the public may consider the support as unfair and think that the court system stacked against noncontributors.

This case should decide the constitutionality of one important component of how Mississippi elects judges.  Will this cause Mississippi to reconsider the election vs. appointment of judges?  I doubt it.