7.11.2008

Oh Look, Tactfully Antisemitic

I present to you two wrongs:

Wrong 1: Lynne Bloch moves into a Chicago condo, mounts a mezuzah on the door, and is told to remove it by the condo association. They have rules prohibiting tenants from placing any items in the halls - no exceptions. (precise language - "mats, boots, shoes, carts or objects of any sort” Could you distinguish a mezuzah? Sure. Does the language cover everything? Yeah, it kinda does.) This is not the wrong - the association had the rule to start with. By law, Lynne received the rules before she bought. Caveat emptor.

Wrong 1 is that she sued for mental distress arising from the ordeal. Why didn't she sue for discrimination? Well, the board had already amended the rules to provide an exemption by then. Ms. Bloch, I get that you weren't happy, but you won and - to coin a phrase - "there is no need to go and make a federal case out of this!"

Wrong 2: This second point made me think twice about the sort of people Ms. Bloch was facing:
Judge Wood [the judge who wrote a dissent three times as long as the
opinion] also criticized the condo association for filing a brief that
accused the plaintiffs of trying to get a “pound of flesh” from the group. She
noted that the reference comes from Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” and
pertains to the human collateral insisted upon by a nefarious Jewish
moneylender, Shylock, who is later punished by being forced to convert to
Christianity. “This is hardly the reference someone should choose who is trying
to show that the stand-off … was not because of the Blochs’ religion, but rather
in spite of it,” she wrote.

One of the best rules of legal writing is to "drown your darlings." Don't put in a cute turn of phrase because you are in love with it. It detracts from the force of the writing. This goes in the other extreme - finding and inserting a darling that is deliberately offensive.

This is where "ethics" and "Ethics" (the formal rules) often diverge, but, if Illinois is anything like Virginia, this is primed for an ethics violation for failure to comport oneself as a professional - plain and simple.

[ HT to RSC ]

2 comments:

M-dawg said...

Alon

So you think the use of a pound of flesh reveals veiled anti-semitism or is your point that the lawyers who use phrases without thinking about the context hurt their clients case?

xerpentine said...

Both.

First, if the lawyers didn't know that the phrase referred to Shylock, they should have. Never use a phrase if you don't understand its context.

Second, I would imagine they did know the context. That would make the statement anti-semitic.

Third, I would make a point just to the left of your own - lawyers who use phrases that can be perceived as snide or inflammatory - a "dig" as it were - can do more harm than good for their clients.

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