Tax Court Judge Holmes and the art of judicial writing

McClatchy Washington BureauMay 13, 2014 

Any judge, or any reporter for that matter, can learn a lesson or two about writing from Tax Court Judge Mark V. Holmes.

In his latest decision, Holmes shows once more his eye for the telling detail, his ability to grab the reader and, throughout, what might be described as latent wit, the feeling that he sees the humor in what’s going on. He knows, as well the power of the simple, direct, declarative sentence.

He kicks it off this way:

This case began when the Commissioner found the remains of a corporation on an Indian reservation in an extremely remote corner of Utah. The tribe claimed not to know how the corporation’s stock had ended up in its hands. And there was little or no money or valuable property left inside the corporate shell.”

See? He’s writing this like a story, a narrative. And he continues in this story telling vein, when he introduces one character as “ a central player in this mystery” and then brings in a “ third group of players in this mystery, the evocatively named Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians of Utah.

The decision, admittedly, quickly turns technical, but still: It’s adroit.

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