Some say courts follow strict rules to ensure an accurate verdict. Some say courts follow strict rules to protect people's rights. Some say courts follow strict rules to prevent regular occurrences of laughable or horrible ludicrous and utter madness. But courts fail at all these goals, as you're about to find out.
1. Silent Mode
A phone went off one day in the courtroom of Robert M. Restaino. He said, "Everyone is going to jail; every single person is going to jail in this courtroom unless I get that instrument now." He made good on that threat. He saw 46 defendants that day and sent all of them to jail.
2. Jury Tampering
During a 1995 trial, juror Gillian Guess started sleeping with the defendant, gangster Peter Gill. At first, she says she thought he was one of the lawyers, which doesn't speak well for how much attention she was paying to the trial. She claimed the sex wouldn't affect her decision on the case.
3. Renewing Vows
A man sued his wedding photographer six years after the ceremony, demanding that the studio fix the bad photos by recreating the wedding and photographing it again. This would be particularly challenging as, by this time, the man and his wife had long divorced.
4. Worst Friends
A British teen arrested for killing his friend claimed that the British Secret Service had recruited him to do the deed. He actually believed this was true. Then in court, the full truth came out, to the teen's surprise. The supposed spy who'd contacted him online was actually his friend catfishing him into killing him.
5. Get Rich Or
In 1977, a man threw himself in front of a New York train. It stopped quickly enough to keep from killing him but not quickly enough to avoid hitting him altogether. So he sued -- seven years later. A court awarded him $650,000 for the train operator's negligence.
6. Dismiss It
7. All Rise
Oklahoma judge Donald Thompson was caught exposing his private parts during a trial. Correction: Oklahoma judge Donald Thompson was caught exposing his private parts during 15 different trials. And on four additional occasions, he used a penis pump while presiding over a trial.
8. Up In Smoke
A Washington trial for drug possession had as its key evidence a single joint. During a recess, staff left the joint on a counter, and when everyone returned, it was gone. A search of everyone turned up nothing. Wonder what possibly could have happened to it?
9. Justice Snark
One judge was so fed up by the lawyers' obfuscations that this is how he worded his ruling: "Both attorneys have obviously entered into a secret pact -- complete with hats, handshakes and cryptic words -- to draft their pleadings entirely in crayon on the backsides of gravy-stained paper placemats." The remainder of the ruling continued in that fashion.
When Sabrina The Teenage Witch got a Netflix adaptation, the real-life Satanic Temple sued ... for copyright infringement. The show had used their copyrighted design for a Baphomet statue. Worse, Netflix had associated the design with the show's villains, implying that Satanism is evil.
Dutchman Emile Ratelband went to court to try to have his date of birth changed from March 11, 1949 to March 11, 1969. He argued that time is fluid and said he'd benefit from the age change by attracting more matches on Tinder.
12. No Excuse
Georgia judge Kenneth E. Fowler often declared that defendants were guilty until proven innocent. He'd interrogate defendants personally in ways that weren't legal, and he gave guilty defendants the opportunity to reduce their sentence by depositing money into an account he controlled personally. Fowler's excuse: ignorance. He'd never studied law.
13. 9-0 Iron
14. Standing At Attention
During a teenage sexual abuse trial, an elderly New Zealand juror confided that he kept getting aroused by the graphic testimony. In fact, "getting aroused" turned out to be an understatement, as he revealed that he'd taken to wearing a condom to contain the consequences of his excitement. The judge declared a mistrial.
15. Beginner's Luck
Defending Dontrell Deaner against a murder charge was Joseph Rakofsky's first case. He spent an hour on his rambling opening statement till the judge shut him up. Then he asked an investigator in an email to "Please trick the old lady to say that she did not see the shooting." Later, it came out that Rakofsky was never licensed to practice law in the first place.
16. The Laws Of Gods And Men
In 1995, Judge David H. Coar, for some reason, chose to write a ruling as though he were writing a fantasy epic: "Around the witching hour our two princes crossed the threshold of the establishment into the moonless night. The princes and the palace's draughtsman exchanged vulgar calumnies as they left. Of a sudden, the princes were set upon by the three of the Dreaded Wearers of the Blue."
17. Kung Fu Causes Crime
A Portland officer arrested a man, saying he'd seen him running with hooligans, and concluded he had to be a graffiti artist. In court, it came out that the man hadn't been running with anyone, forcing the cop on the stand to come up with a different argument against the defendant: If he wasn't a criminal, why did he own kung-fu movies?
18. Mr. Zero Tolerance
Judge Mark Ciavarella got the above nickname due to his insistence on clamping down on juvenile offenders. These "offenders" included a kid who mocked his teacher on MySpace (sentence: three months) and an 11-year-old who started his mother's car (two years). He sent them to a detention facility that paid him $1 million in kickbacks.
Florida man Edward Ates was accused of shooting his son-in-law, and the prosecution offered considerable evidence. In his defense, Ates argued that he weighed 285 pounds, so if he climbed the stairs to where the victim was, he'd never have had enough energy to shoot him. The jury found him guilty.
20. Magneto Was Right
21. Taj MaHawkes
Florida judge Paul Hawkes convinced the state to pay $50 million to build him a new courthouse. It featured 15 different judge chambers, all with giant TVs, and soundproof bathrooms. Plus, the court system somehow had to pay $1.7 million a year for the place in rent.
22. Oral Arguments
Sharon Irons and Richard O. Phillips's affair never progressed beyond third base. Still, Irons later sued Phillips for child support after getting pregnant. Turned out she'd stored his semen after fellatio and used it for artificial insemination. He'd never agreed to father a child, but the court made him pay. His sperm was "a gift -- an absolute and irrevocable transfer of title to property from a donor to a donee."
23. Super Sarcasm
During one ruling, the Supreme Court figured the government hadn't given a plaintiff a reasonable chance to act. Leading to this legal ruling: "I do not doubt that had Bertman's counsel been Superman, his X-ray eyes would have told him that a notice of appeal was being filed blocks away in the courthouse. But Bertman's counsel (so far as the record shows) is not Superman."
24. The Bestiality Defense
Someone sued Guillermo del Toro, arguing that The Shape of Water ripped off a different screenplay about a woman falling in love with a dolphin. The court ruled that del Toro's story was sufficiently distinct because, in his story, the woman has sex with the creature.
25. Throw The Good Book At Them
A Colorado jury declared that the death penalty was appropriate for a 1995 murder case, as would seem to be their right. But then the court discovered that the jurors came up with this answer by opening up the Bible and consulting Leviticus. The state supreme court later overturned the verdict, as jurors may not consult outside materials.
26. Well, Do Ya?
"If I had a gun, I'd kill that judge," muttered the defendant at a 1992 trial. So Florida judge J. Leonard Fleet took out his gun and loaded it. "There's one bullet in the cylinder," he said. "Do you want to take your best shot? If you're going to take a shot, you had better score, because I don't miss."
27. Mice Water
28. Courtroom Sexts, Courthouse Sex
A Detroit judge was caught sending explicit photos to a bailiff. Which sounded improper enough until authorities looked closer and realized he'd also been having sex with a plaintiff, in his chambers, during the trial he was presiding over. "Yep, that's me. No shame in my game," said the judge.
29. Professional Courtesy
In 1971, Gerald Mayo sued Satan, claiming that the devil was responsible for the man's various misfortunes. The suit didn't progress, as the judge noted: "We question whether plaintiff may obtain personal jurisdiction over the defendant in this judicial district."
30. No Uggos
If someone responds to a harassment allegation by calling the accuser "not my type," that generally doesn't go down well with the public. But worse would be attempting a similar defense in court. As happened when the boss at a real estate company offered, "Who would touch her? She's an ugly girl anyway."
31. The Defense Rests
After Calvin Burdine was sentenced to the death penalty, he appealed on the grounds that his lawyer had repeatedly napped during the trial, as confirmed by various witnesses. A judge eventually threw out his conviction, but not before an appeals court denied the request, saying the lawyer staying awake would not have changed the trial's outcome.
32. Set 'Em Free
When Judge Carol Feinman was transferred from Brooklyn to the Bronx, she plotted to get transferred back by doing as bad a job as possible. This worked. Her strategy mainly involved setting free every clearly guilty defendant she saw. She freed one man whose DNA was found at the scene by saying that he was too smart to have done the crime without wearing gloves.
33. Bolivian Marching Band Powder
An Oklahoma town mandated drug testing for all student extracurricular activities. Ruth Bader Ginsberg mocked the argument that all clubs demand rigid safety standards: "Notwithstanding nightmarish images of out-of-control flatware, livestock run amok, and colliding tubas disturbing the peace and quiet of Tecumseh, the great majority of students the School District seeks to test in truth are engaged in activities that are not safety-sensitive to an unusual degree."
34. The Exact Plot Of Philadelphia
35. Retiring To Chambers
Los Angeles arrested two suspected gangsters, Ming Ching Jin and his wife Pifen Lo. The judge for the trial blackmailed Lo into sleeping with him in return for not sentencing them both to life. But Lo recorded their encounters and ended up getting the judge thrown in prison.
36. Insane Judge
Calling someone "insane" is usually hyperbole. But Cynthia Brim was actually found to be legally insane by a court following an incident when she shoved a deputy. She was hospitalized repeatedly and refused to take her antipsychotic meds. Didn't stop Cook County from reelecting her.
37. Cookie Monster
Two Colorado teens baked cookies and delivered them for free to everyone in the neighborhood. One neighbor saw the mysterious figures in her yard and called the police. She then sued the teens for scaring her. The court decided in her favor and made the kids pay $900.
38. Strange Bedfellows
Texas unconstitutionally demanded that the KKK turn over its roster. To defend itself, the KKK hired the ACLU, and so the lawyer representing the KKK was the chief counsel for the Texas NAACP. The NAACP dropped him as their counsel, but he won the case.
An NYPD employee tested positive for cocaine, which would be bad for an officer but was especially dangerous as this was a helicopter pilot. The man argued unsuccessfully in court that he had never taken cocaine, so he must have picked up the traces by performing oral sex on his cocaine-using girlfriend.
40. This Close
A district attorney declared that a car had tried to run her down -- a car driven by the very defendant at the trial she was prosecuting. Then it came out that the defendant had been riding a bus at the time, he'd never driven a car in his life, and surveillance showed the mystery car hadn't come within 10 feet of the attorney.
41. Creative Justice
Chicago charged a white teen with beating a Black child into a coma. But this teen happened to be the son of crime boss Frank Caruso, so soon, witnesses started disappearing or claimed they remembered nothing. The victim's own mother was coerced into testifying on the defendant's behalf, and an assassin tried to kill the judge.
43. Constitution-free Zones
Your rights work a little differently when you enter an airport, but in 1983, Los Angeles' airport went so far as to put forward a law banning "all First Amendment activities" in the vicinity. When the matter reached the Supreme Court, Sandra Day O'Connor summarized it as follows: "The issue presented in this case is whether a resolution banning all 'First Amendment activities' at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) violates the First Amendment."
44. Bit Of A Puzzle
During an arduous three-month Australian trial, the judge complimented the jurors for their diligence, as several appeared to be taking notes. Then he looked closer and realized they were ignoring the testimony and doing Sudoku puzzles since they found the trial so boring.
45. Prison Alternative
A court sentenced Mike Anderson to 13 years in 1999 for armed robbery. However, no one bothered to check on whether he actually made it to prison. So he turned his life around, got married, and started a construction company. Nobody discovered the error till he was scheduled to be released 13 years later.
46. Cost An Arm And A Leg
A Chicago train hit and dismembered a man in 2008. A large bit of him hit commuter Gayane Zokhrabov, who was waiting for the train. So Zokhrabov sued the dead man's grieving family, saying their negligence had led to her injury. The court decided in Zokhrabov's favor.
47. The Rudest Man In Washington
James McReynolds spent 27 years on the Supreme Court. He refused to sit next to Justice Brandeis during that time because he didn't want to sit next to a Jew. Nor would he hire "Jews, drinkers, blacks, women, smokers, married or engaged individuals."
48. Party On, Paine
49. Canada's Angriest Man
Failing to get a witness to open up, defense attorney Reid Rusonik said, "If you want to put a noose around your neck, go ahead." The prosecuting attorney objected, so Rusonik said to him, "If you want to step outside right now, we can do it the way you want to do it," tried to start a fight, and once quieted down by a judge, tried to start a fight again in the hallway.
50. Punning Isn't A Crime
The band Iron Maiden sued the makers of a game called Ion Maiden, claiming trademark infringement. This may seem flawed since the band didn't invent the concept of iron maidens or own the right to them in a non-music context. So the band also offered as evidence a video game they themselves had released (with a completely different name, in a different genre) years earlier.
51. Fair Arbitration
Two lawyers in a 2006 trial were unable to come to an agreement on what constituted a "neutral" location for a deposition. So the judge ordered them to settle the matter using rock-paper-scissors -- in public, on the courthouse steps. Too embarrassed to comply, the lawyers soon reached a consensus on their own.
52. Absurd, On Face
A 1993 Supreme Court case concerned whether witness identification could be trusted if witnesses merely saw the suspect's face, rather than his height. Leading the court to say, "Facial features are the primary means by which human beings recognize one another. That is why ... bank robbers wear stockings over their faces instead of floor-length capes over their shoulders; it is why the Lone Ranger wears a mask instead of a poncho."
Judge Irving Goldberg from Texas liked to present his rulings in the form of limericks:
Some farmers from Gaines had a plan.
It amounted to quite a big scam.
But the payments for cotton
Began to smell rotten.
It's a mugging of poor Uncle Sam.
54. The Fine Print
After divorcing her husband, a woman sued her divorce lawyer, saying that she had been unaware that divorce would result in the end of her marriage. She had merely wanted a judicial separation, she explained.