A Work of Art

I confess to being somewhat of a law geek. After almost 25 years of practice, I still enjoy reading opinions and getting my head in the books. I readily confess to not doing much legal writing in my practice anymore – I have several bright young lawyers who help with that part of preparing a case for trial. But I still love to read opinions, and still get a real thrill out of an extraordinarily well-written opinion.

This is one. It is written by Judge William Bedsworth on the California Court of Appeals. The opinion involves a probation revocation hearing; the defendant lost and got sent to prison for seven years. To get a feel for the opinion, consider this, the first paragraph of the opinion: “Occasionally, we see a case that “fell through a crack.” This case fell through a chasm. And no one, not the trial attorney, not the prosecutor, not the court – and certainly not the probation officer – can escape some degree of responsibility for the existence of that chasm. When the issue is whether a defendant goes to prison for seven years or to a drug rehabilitation program, someone should be paying attention. In this case, it appears no one but the defendant really was.”

This is the last paragraph of the opinion: “Finally, we must emphasize that if this case is not an utter anomaly, it is a
frightening example of what can occur when all the participants forget how high the stakes are in a probation revocation hearing. We have no problem concluding Gayton’s counsel had the primary obligation to review and present the evidence that might have assisted his cause. But prosecutors always bear some responsibility for the evidence they offer. And when it became clear during the hearing that the facts were so hotly contested, and that the probation officer had neither brought the file nor reviewed it in the last three months, it was perhaps incumbent upon the court to consider issuing an order to produce the file on its own motion. In short, it must be remembered that everyone in this case had a stake in getting at the truth: All failed.”

Isn’t that abosolutely beautiful? Want to read it all? Go here.

Thanks to Shaun Martin for bringing the case to my attention.