The judge found my client liable for billions. Should I push my luck with typography?
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In 2010, a British Petroleum oil rig called the Deepwater Horizon exploded off the coast of Louisiana, eventually spilling 3.2 million barrels of oil. In 2014, federal district judge Carl Barbier found BP grossly negligent for the incident.
During the penalty phase, Judge Barbier rebuked BP for filing a brief that
Several attorneys asked me: was Judge Barbier’s interpretation of line spacing correct? And if not, perhaps I should let him know about his mistake?
There were at least 3.2 million reasons why that wasn’t going to happen. But here’s one more.
My counsel about line spacing is based on its conventional meaning. But as I say in how to interpret court rules, judges get the last word about how briefs should be formatted. If your judge wants double-spacing to mean 23 lines per page, then that’s your new rule.
I’ve heard of instances where judges were simply unaware of certain formatting rules or conventions, and attorneys successfully educated them. Well done. But there is a time and a place. And if your client is poised to incur billions of dollars in liability—or even just millions—it’s probably neither. Make your stand on the summit of Mt. Typography some other day.