Tuesday, June 27, 2006

In Re Baby Boy H. (Cal. Ct. App. - June 26, 2006)

In order to preserve the confidentiality of the parties, in family law cases, the Court of Appeal uniformly uses initials for last names. Which makes sense. Similarly, when referring to the parties, the Court of Appeal often refers to them by their first name, sometimes with a perfunctory footnote that explains that no disrespect is intended by the practice.

Which is all well and good. But something struck my eye in this case that I hadn't ever seen before. When you refer to people in this manner, sometimes the sentence you drafted can have more than one meaning. So, for example, check out this sentence, in the middle of page four of Justice Vogel's opinion:

"Jesus appeared at the November 3 hearing and a lawyer (Eric Wexler) was appointed to represent him."

Jesus appeared at the hearing?! Wow. That's gotta be a shock to the parties, huh? I mean, I've heard about "intervention" in civil lawsuits, but this really takes "intervention" to another level. Plus, since when does Jesus need an appointed lawyer? What's next: A guardian ad litem for God?

Oh, wait. I guess the meaning of the sentence depends a lot on how you pronounce the word. Jee-Zhus. Hey-sus. Now I get it. My bad.

Which, by the way, clarifies the meaning of some of the other sentences in the opinion as well. This sentence, for example: "There followed a debate about whether published notice to the 'identity unknown' father was sufficient notice to Jesus." Sort of an immaculate conception reference in an era of due process, no? Or this one: "[T]he court faulted Jesus for not visiting Baby V. Mr. Wexler explained that Jesus had wanted to visit but the Department would not permit it." A separation of chuch and state thing, no doubt.

Randomly enough, in the midst of a discussion of Jesus and his potential standing standing problems in the case, the trial court had the following insight: "You know, Casper the Friendly Ghost, identity unknown, does not have standing. We don't know who it is. There's no real person. This may be the gentleman; it may not be the gentleman." Pretty neat to compare the existence or non-existence of Casper the Friendly Ghost to a similar problem with Jesus, huh?

I won't belabor the point. There are lots of other unintended meanings as well, but I'll leave you to them. In the future, maybe keep using his "official" name -- Jesus H. -- thoughout the opinion. Though that still leaves us with the possibility that we're talking about, as my father used to say, "Jesus H. Christ".

Forget it. I guess we're stuck.