Courts & Crime

Judge Boasberg and the art of judicial writing

The reliably readable U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg shows again how simplicity and clarity of expression can ease an audience into a judicial opinion.

A Suits & Sentences favorite, Boasberg starts his new opinion this way:

“This is the kind of case that no prospective homeowner wants to read about.”

The conversational tone invites the reader in, while further enticing with both a touch of mystery and of horror. The mystery comes in with wanting to know, okay, exactly what kind of case are we talking about? It’s a tease, and it works.

The horror thrill, or perhaps it’s schadenfreude, comes with the observation about the case being the kind that no one wants to read about. This, of course, invites the exact opposite reaction. Come on, the reader inevitably asks, tell us! Oh no, the phrasing suggests, you don’t want to read about the details. Oh yes, the reader says, tell us everything! The worse, the better!

The opinion continues, still with the conversational approach:

“Its tortured narrative of quitclaim deeds, foreclosure-rescue schemes, and forged instruments just goes to prove the old adage: you should look – and when it comes to real estate, look closely – before you leap.”

This sets up a larger moral to the story, broadening the appeal. It also clues the reader in that the narrative to come will be complicated; that is to say, “tortured.” With this bit of handholding, highly useful to the lay reader, the judge is ready to embark on the technical details. Nicely done.