Trials & Litigation

Was 'beautiful ladies' comment in Roe v. Wade the worst courtroom humor of all time?

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Bad jokes and poor judgment can be disastrous in the courtroom.

Salon has a list of eight horrible courtroom jokes, leading with the knock-knock joke told by George Zimmerman’s lawyer, Don West, during opening statements. Here is West’s joke: “Knock-knock. Who’s there? George Zimmerman. George Zimmerman who? All right, good. You’re on the jury.”

The Salon writer, Fordham law professor Geoffrey Sant, says the joke insulted jurors who were selected because they didn’t know much about Zimmerman, who was later acquitted in the death of Trayvon Martin.

But Sant says the worst joke in legal history occurred during the first oral argument of Roe v. Wade before the U.S. Supreme Court. Defending Texas’ abortion restrictions, lawyer Jay Floyd opened with an aside about the two lawyers arguing against him, who were female. “It’s an old joke,” Floyd began, “but when a man argues against two beautiful ladies like this, they are going to have the last word.” The joke was met with more than three seconds of silence, and Floyd struggled to regain momentum throughout the argument, according to one observer.

Sant lists six other cases of bad humor, including this one:

A defense lawyer sang the Twilight Zone theme song before asking a plaintiff if his description of what it felt like to be fired was based on the opening credits of the show. The plaintiff had said being fired felt like being trapped in a white, windowless room with no exits. After the plaintiff denied a connection, the defense lawyer continued to sing. The judge in the case also got in on the fun, using a red card and then a paddle supplied by the defense lawyer to overrule the plaintiff’s objections. A California appeals court reversed a verdict in favor of the employer, saying “a courtroom is not the Improv.”

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