The Honorable Judge Wool, affectionately known as “Ivan the Terrible,” served for many years in the Court of Nuisance and Utterance where he caused a stir by declaring that the jury system is “idiocracy multiplied by twelve” and having the defendant thrown into Central Park lake.
He retired from the bench at age 90, announcing, “The practice of Law dulls the mind and makes you a bore at parties.” He is the author of the classic treatise, “The Jurisprudence of Vituperation” and an autobiography entitled, “Better Left Unsaid.” He lives in New York City where he sits outside the courthouse at 100 Centre Street selling pencils and making wise remarks, a few of which are recorded below:
Appellate advocacy is mostly tilting at windbags.
When courts start talking about “plain language,” it means they’re about to twist the statute into a pretzel.
Victims are to be pitied, not worshipped as oracles.
The cogwheels of legal reasoning run smoothly if you saw off the teeth by ignoring the facts.
The problem isn’t that your emails are being read by Homeland Security, it’s that they’re not being read by the recipients.
The politically correct suffer from a sort of mental hemophilia: they consider the tiniest injury to be potentially fatal.
The split isn’t between “left” and “right,” but between reason and mindless ideology.
It’s no use arguing with people who think in slogans. Might as well try to reason with a bumper sticker.
Law is a religion where minor divinities in black robes sit at their altars receiving human sacrifices.
If you’re going to be a gadfly, be prepared to be swatted at now and then.
An overload of judging causes hardening of the hearteries.
Prosecution briefs employ a sure-fire formula of treacle and bile.
To appellate courts, “judicial error” is a contradiction in terms.
Speech is the raw material of the law-shop. It should never be rationed.
Appellate judges are to criminal convictions as the Exxon spokesperson is to oil spills.
Law is about logic the way “Alice in Wonderland” is.
Life is a party: awkward and boring with a few intoxicated moments that make you glad you came.
Just not getting worse is a sign of progress.
Appellate review is an oxymoron.
When a law relies on mitigation, it means the law shouldn’t exist in the first place.
The prosecution is the id of the criminal justice system.
Not everyone who goes to trial gets convicted, just as not everyone who plays Russian roulette gets shot.
Diversity of skin color is meaningless without tolerance for diversity of thought.
The function of appellate courts isn’t to think about things, but to think of reasons for not thinking about things.
Getting a conviction affirmed on appeal is “winning” in the same way a stone rolling downhill is “traveling.”
What’s wrong with “a fishing expedition”? If the fish are there, the accused is entitled to know.
It’s not abuse of discretion for a judge to be humane.
A judge telling the jury to ignore prejudicial evidence is like King Canute telling the tide not to come in, the only difference being that Canute was joking.
Goodwill to all is sheer survival, considering how outnumbered you are.
The source of judicial authority is a loaded gun.
Challenging false confessions is like putting out fires in a system where setting fires is considered good police work.
When courts write opinions in coptalk, you can be sure they’re also in copthink.
Most judges are sheep in wolves’ clothing.
Sometimes you should build bridges and sometimes you should just let Pharaoh’s pursuing army drown.
When prosecutors support “reform” they mean throwing more people in jail.
You don’t have to love your clients to get angry on their behalf.
Just because somebody makes a rule doesn’t mean you have to follow it.
Due process is the right to be heard, which means somebody has to listen.
Death is the ultimate search and seizure with no Fourth Amendment and no Civilian Complaint Review Board.
I interpret the Constitution. You have policy preferences.
“Bad faith” assumes that the person knows what’s right but chooses to do wrong. I don’t credit my enemies with that much insight.
If you can’t prove one thing, prove something else and say it’s the same.
“Finality” in law is Newspeak for inertia.
If courts are going to churn out mechanical decisions, they should at least calibrate the machine once in awhile.
In law as in life, charm and good looks are a perfectly adequate substitute for competence.
If you can’t find supporting authority for your argument, just say “clearly.”
Justice must not only be seen to be done, it must actually be done.
Just because it’s a hopeless argument doesn’t make it stupid.
Getting the highest conviction with the least amount of proof is the People’s agenda, not the Court’s.
Advocacy is polished outrage. Nobody listens to a wrathful turkey.
In the legal world, power substitutes for intellect.
If air traffic controllers were held to the same standards as courts, nobody in their right mind would ever get on a plane.
Appealing a criminal conviction is like playing tennis with a chimpanzee where the referee is the chimp’s coach.
In law as in life, it’s all about getting people to listen.
Ignorance of the law is a prime qualification in some courthouses.
The Law is a washcloth soaked in the Constitution.
Law is what distinguishes us from the rest of Nature. Family, work and war we have in common with the ants. Only human beings have suppression hearings.
“Mitigation” is a scam for propping up unjust laws like the death penalty, civil commitment and SORA. It’s always easier for the tyrant to be merciful than fair.
Taking phrases from cases out of context is the moral equivalent of taking a bite of a chocolate and putting it back in the box.
Judicial economy means not making defendants pay for your mistakes.
The exercise of power unconstrained by reason and principle requires the wearing of a robe.
Whenever I hear a court say “flexible standard” I picture a carpenter using a rubber band for a tape measure.
Criminal court is where the law is at its most persuasive, being supported by guns and handcuffs.
The need to get high is as old as Adam and Eve. Why do you think they ate that apple? And apparently, the need to punish people for getting high is as old as God.
When people start telling you what to do, they’d better have either a very good reason or a loaded gun.
The best way to keep the status quo intact is to appoint a committee and call it a task force for reform.
A jury is presumed to follow the court’s instructions, unless they’re wrong, in which case the jury is presumed to disregard them as isolated remarks.
“Clearly,” “obviously” and “as any reasonable reading of the record shows” are dead giveaways that whatever follows is totally unsupported.
Don’t rely on Nature. She doesn’t care whether you’re alive or compost.
You can’t make a false statement true by prefacing it with “plainly.”
We must bravely and cheerfully resign ourselves to the suffering of others.
Whenever somebody says they know it in their gut, remind them what the gut is full of.
Don’t just tell me there’s a rule, tell me why I should follow it and what happens if I don’t.
The problem isn’t not knowing something, it’s not knowing there’s something to be known.
Police and prosecutors are essentially guard dogs. It’s up to the courts to keep them from tearing out people’s throats.
Morality is how you want other people to act.
Always cite authority for your propositions, but if you don’t have any, substitute “clearly.”
“Risk assessment” is a way to justify punishing people for what they haven’t done.
SORA, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to live in public housing.
The strength of your argument is inversely proportional to the number of times you have to say “plainly,” “clearly” or “unquestionably.”
Never have so many been punished for so long for so little.
Better a failure than a mediocrity.