Friday, January 18, 2008

Nguyen v. Nguyen (Cal. Ct. App. - Jan. 17, 2008)

Stylistically, this opinion reads a little bit like the first -- and sometimes second -- drafts of the briefs that I sometimes write. And that's not necessarily a good thing.

I'm not saying that Justice Sills gets this one wrong. Far from it. In fact, I think he's totally right, and that Janet Nguyen -- rather than appellant Trung Nguyen -- was properly declared the winner of the relevant Orange County supervisorial seat at issue in the litigation.

It was a freakishly close election. The original canvass of the votes declared that Trung was the winner. By seven votes. But then Janet asked for a recount of the paper ballots. And, after the recount (and various challenges to various votes), Janet was declared the winner. By, ironically enough, seven votes. At which point Trung then filed an election contest. And the trial court changed four votes in Trung's favor. But that still left Trung three votes short. Hence Janet's the winner.

So the underlying backdrop is pretty interesting. As well as timely, and should hopefully encourage people to get out and vote. Including but not limited to the California primary election on the 5th. Remember: even a single vote sometimes matters.

But I digress. What I mainly wanted to say was that Justice Sills writes this opinion in a passionate manner. Which I don't necessarily dislike. He believes strongly in what he's saying, and it shows. Mind you, unlike advocates, judges might often want to sound a little less one-sided. But, sometimes, emotions seep through. And that's not always a bad thing.

But I do have one suggestion. Yes, when you first write the thing, you use a lot of italics for emphasis. At least if you're like me you do. You want to have the reader really hear and understand what you're saying. You think -- at least subconsiously -- that if the reader really knows and feels the nature of what you're writing, including the emphasis on particular thoughts and words, then they will truly get the meaning of what you're saying and a deep level. Hence the italics. You're writing in the same manner that you speak. Or, more accurately, think.

Which is all well and good. And understandable. And, again, something that I do in spades.

Nonetheless, you should generally edit that stuff out as the drafts progress. Yes, you still feel it. Yes, the points of emphasis are still meaningful. But take 'em out anyway.

In this opinion, Justice Sills italicizes multiple different phrases for emphasis on pretty much every single page of the opinion. Take a gander, for example, at page 17, which italicizes for emphasis no less than a half-dozen different phrases. With all due respect to Justice Sills, that's probably way too much. A random italicization or two in an opinion -- or in a brief -- is okay. But not multiple emphases on every single page.

IMHO, anyway. And, on this one, my suggestion is to do as I say, rather than as I do. There's no doubt in my mind that one could find briefs I've written -- especially ones that only went through a couple of drafts -- that have way too many emphases. It's a big flaw of mine. Among many others, I might add.

But think of it this way: When even I think that someone's placing too much emphasis on particular words, that should say something.

Just a suggestion. Keep drafting those things with a lot of italics. Get it out of your system. But edit 'em out as the process continues. And I'll try -- try -- to do the same. Really.