Pennsylvania’s Rhyming Justice Pens Insurance Fraud Opinion

December 27, 2011

This judge’s rulings, for better or worse, are poetic justice because they’re in verse.

A state Supreme Court justice known for opinions written in rhyme has done it again, producing six pages of verse last Thursday in the case of whether the maker of a forged check also had committed insurance fraud.

Justice J. Michael Eakin, writing for a 4-2 majority, concluded in six-line stanzas that a man’s attempt to deposit a forged check appearing to be from State Farm didn’t constitute insurance fraud.

“Sentenced on the other crimes, he surely won’t go free, but we find he can’t be guilty of this final felony,” Eakin wrote. “Convictions for the forgery and theft are approbated — the sentence for insurance fraud, however, is vacated. The case must be remanded for resentencing, we find, so the trial judge may impose the result he originally had in mind.”

A dissenting three-page opinion by Justice Thomas G. Saylor didn’t rhyme.

Eakin was first elected to the high court in 2001 after earning a reputation as the “rhyming judge” by issuing some opinions entirely in verse while sitting on an intermediate state appellate court in the late 1990s. Two former state Supreme Court justices, Stephen A. Zappala and the late Ralph J. Cappy, had expressed concern in the past that the practice could reflect poorly on the court.

The 63-year-old Eakin was re-elected in November to an additional 10-year term, although under the state constitution, justices must retire on the last day of the calendar year in which they turn 70, which for Eakin will be in 2018.

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