The Angry Judge and the Paperclip


paper clips

A routine day in court turned into quite a spectacle. I was in Judge Nameless’s courtroom to file a motion. I presented the motion to him, an original and two copies as required by the local court rules.  Judge Nameless looked at the motion, stared down at me from his elevated bench in the courtroom and said: What is this?  Without hesitation I replied, a motion for continuance your honor. He snorted back: I can see that. Where is the regular form? And then, he jerked the paper-clipped original from the copies with such force that the paper clip flew up into the air and landed ten feet away next to the court reporter. I had apparently committed a grievous mistake.

The judge objected to my audacity to use a paperclip to hold the copies with the original instead of that court’s special preprinted form. The special form was a product of 1980’s technological wonder which attached the original to the copies with adhesive at the top and imprinted the copies as you filled in the original. It was that lousy paperclip! Don’t get me wrong, to this day I am no fan of paperclips. What other inanimate objects have the ability to attach themselves to one another, multiply and hide like chameleons when you need one?

There I stood, a young attorney, in front of the courtroom facing this angry judge with the courtroom full of other attorneys behind me waiting their turn. In my most respectful voice I uttered: I apologize your honor; our office was out of the preprinted forms. He glared down at me and barked: Don’t apologize to me counsellor. You should apologize to all of the other attorneys in the courtroom whose time you are wasting. I was tempted to say, You are the one wasting time Your Honor. But, I could see he was dead serious. So I turned faced my colleagues, many older, and stuttered a quick, my apologies. What I saw was a room full of sympathetic, stunned faces.

Judge Nameless, sensing that his control over all things in his courtroom, if not the universe, had been restored, granted my motion and called for the next case. As I walked out of the courtroom I recall seeing many of the attorneys removing paper clips from their documents.

The vast majority of my experiences with judges have been much less eventful. They are well-trained professionals who take their jobs seriously and work hard to be fair and follow the law. But they are people like the rest of us, subject to the same emotions and personal issues we all face. So they have bad moments too. Judge Nameless didn’t hurt my reputation or feelings that day. He gave me a new war story to tell and I understand he still holds the record in the courthouse for paperclip launching distance.