Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Thou shalt have justice more than thou desir'st

A brief addendum to my rant yesterday about Contracts: I just left that class and I must say it was the most delightful Contracts session yet. The other week we discussed a business lease case in which a landlord was trying to evict a tenant but the tenant's lawyer responded that the landlord had not properly demanded the rent. The lawyer called upon an "archaic" provision of the law stating that the landlord must go to the highest spot on the land the date the rent is due and call out for the exact was great. Everyone dismissed it as a frivolous technicality argument and I might add I was the lone voice defending the lawyer. I applaud his originality if nothing else.

At any rate, today we revisited that case on appeal. My professor noted that "most" of the class had dismissed the argument as ridiculous when we previously went over it. Yet, the appeal court reversed the decision. I love it! Was the judge really swayed, the professor asked, by the lawyer's argument? Did the landlord really need to proceed to the highest hill on the rented land, etc.? Or are we simply fighting technicality with technicality: if the landlord was going to play hardball with the tenant and enforce a technicality, he should get a taste of his own medicine.

We turned to Shakespeare. Yes, you read that right. The Merchant of Venice. Antonio could not pay back what he borrowed, so Shylock sued for his pound of flesh. Talk about your doctrine of "unconscionability." But hasn't he got a point? "If you deny me, fie upon your law!" In comes "judge" Portia, who, says well, it's true, the quality of mercy is not 'strained and all. Is she serious? She won't bend the law just a little? But! Here comes the technicality. You get a pound of flesh, but it doesn't say anything in here about blood. Take any more or less than a pound of flesh and you die.

It was brilliant. It was easily the best ten minutes I've spent in Contracts class. My professor had students volunteer to read aloud the speeches of Shylock and Portia and everything!

Oh yes, he said, the law can become very technical.

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