American humorist Will Rogers once quipped, “The minute you read something that you can’t understand, you can almost be sure it was drawn up by a lawyer.” There are, of course, many other similarly amusing criticisms of legal writing. According to former Yale Law School professor Fred Rodell, for example, “There are two things wrong with almost all legal writing. One is its style. The other is its content.”
To the extent such assessments ever ring true, they are especially unfortunate when given life in the form of a poorly-written published court opinion addressing important legal issues. The Fourth District Court of Appeal’s October 31, 2017 opinion in The Kennedy Commission v. City of Huntington Beach, __ Cal.App.5th __ (2017) serves as a prime recent example. The saving grace is that the Court reached the right legal conclusion.