Monday, March 06, 2006

Erring Spell-Check Causes 'Sea Sponge' Invasion

Below is a true funny story with a sequel. See below for the sequel -- a sequel which I think is original to this blog

"Spell-checking on his computer is never going to be the same for Santa Cruz solo practitioner Arthur Dudley. In an opening brief to San Francisco's 1st District Court of Appeal, a search-and-replace command by Dudley inexplicably inserted the words "sea sponge" instead of the legal term "sua sponte," which is Latin for "on its own motion." "Spell check did not have sua sponte in it," said Dudley, who, not noticing the error, shipped the brief to court.

That left the justices reading -- and probably laughing at -- such classic statements as: "An appropriate instruction limiting the judge's criminal liability in such a prosecution must be given sea sponge explaining that certain acts or omissions by themselves are not sufficient to support a conviction." And: "It is well settled that a trial court must instruct sea sponge on any defense, including a mistake of fact defense." The sneaky "sea sponge" popped up at least five times.

Dudley said he didn't notice the mistake in People v. Danser, A107853, until his client -- William Danser, a former Santa Clara County Superior Court judge seeking reversal of his conviction for fixing traffic tickets -- called for an explanation.

Dudley corrected the error in his reply brief, telling the court that a "glitch" caused the weird wording and instructing that "where the phrase 'sea sponge' is found, this court should insert the phrase 'sua sponte.'" The faux pas has made Dudley the butt of some mild ribbing around Santa Cruz. Local attorneys, he said, have started calling his unique defense the "sea sponge duty to instruct.""

The sequel:

The article above that reports the howler itself contains a howler. Where my heading above used the correct term "erring", the heading in the original article used "errant". This a not uncommon mistake but it is rather appalling in people who deal in Latin every day -- as lawyers still do. "Errant" is ultimately (via French) derived from the Latin infinitive "ire", which means to travel or to wander. So an errant knight is not a knight who makes a lot of mistakes but a knight who travels about rather than staying at home. The author of the article should be made errant.

Interestingly, neither Orrin Kerr and his commenters on the Volokhs nor Instapundit (both legal academics) picked up the erring "errant", though they did note the story. A legal education obviously ain't what it used to be. I learnt that stuff in High School myself -- 46 years ago.


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