May It Please The Court

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May It Please The Court
by Leonard Rivkin
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Quote of the Day - I respect a man who knows how to spell a word more than one way. - Mark Twain
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Sea Sponges Take Over Appellate Brief

Hold on to your computer mouse before you hit "Replace All" on your word processor's spell check.  Here's a story that will make any spell-check conscious lawyer cringe. 

A Santa Cruz solo practitioner representing a judge, now retired from the bench, sought reversal of his somewhat forced resignation due to a flap over traffic ticket convictions.  The lawyer submitted a brief to the court of appeal and dutifully ran spell check before submitting it.  The brief contained the Latin words sua sponte, which mean "of one's own will," and commonly meant by lawyers to refer to a Court's own power to do something on its own.

After submitting the brief, he got a call from his client, the former judge, asking for an explanation of the Latin phrase "sea sponge."  (Side note here, and although I haven't taken Latin classes in awhile, "sea sponge" isn't Latin.)

Turns out that the lawyer was using Word Perfect, which doesn't have sua sponte in its dictionary.

The program does, however, think that "sua" was probably meant to refer to "sea," and since you've been paying attention so far - yep you guessed it - Word Perfect also thought "sponte" was supposed to be "sponge."

When the lawyer clicked "Replace All" each time on those two words, the word processor replaced sua sponte five times, and gave the brief such gems as:  "An appropriate instruction limiting the judge's criminal liability in such a prosecution must be given sea sponge explaining that certain acts or omissions by themselves are not sufficient to support a conviction,"  as well as "It is well settled that a trial court must instruct sea sponge on any defense, including a mistake of fact defense."

MITPC is checking to see if there's a Black's Dictionary download for the Word and Word Perfect dictionaries.  We'll keep you informed. 

March 4, 2006 Update:  faithful spellcheckers may want to try SpellEx's product for law firms, software recommended by one of MIPTC's technical consultants.  We're going to give it a try and will let you know how it turns out. 

Posted by J. Craig Williams on Thursday, March 02, 2006 at 20:17 Comments (1)


Comments by felix from Canada on Friday, March 03, 2006 at 06:23 - IP Logged
your writting is very precise and talented , why dont you write on the most important issue of how technology changes the law and our profession. I will difinatly follow your story

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