- Legal Daily News Feature
It's a Good Idea to Read the Case
by Stony Olsen
The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit is one of the few places where you want to be really prepared for oral argument. Supreme courts (whether the US Supreme Courts or state supreme courts) are another such place. In other words, arguing in front of a US Court of Appeals is a big deal.
So Roger Phipps is presenting oral arguments to the Court, when the Court brings up a relevant case. In fact, it's not just a relevant case, it's a relevant US Supreme Court case. And Phipps admits that he not only didn't read the case, but adds that he doesn't care about it. The case in question is referred to as Morgan, found at National Railroad Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 118 (2002).
The exchange is priceless:
Judge: What do you do about Morgan?
Phipps: I don't, I don't, I don't know Morgan, Your Honor.
Judge: You don't know Morgan?
Judge: You haven't read it?
Phipps: I try not to read that many cases, your Honor. Ricks is the only one I read. Oh, Ledbetter, I read Ledbetter, and I read that one that they brought up last night. I don't know if that's not Ledbetter, I can't remember the name of it. Ricks is the one that I go by; it's my North Star. Either it applies or it doesn't apply. I don't think it applies.
Judge: I must say, Morgan is a case that is directly relevant to this case. And for you representing the Plaintiff to get up here — it's a Supreme Court case — and say you haven't read it. Where did they teach you that?
Phipps: They didn't teach me much, Your Honor.
Judge: At Tulane, is it?
Judge: Okay. Well, I must say, that may be an all-time first.
Phipps: That's why I wore a suit today, Your Honor.
Judge: Alright. We've got your attitude, anyway.
I'm sure Loyola isn't too happy here, since the 5th Circuit went out of their way to point this out. Needless to say, Phipps's client lost on appeal. One wonders if perhaps Morgan might have mattered to his case, after all.
Counsel, try to read the cases that are important — it really is basic lawyering!