The Reno Mayor Legal Rumble

The battle to be the next Mayor of Reno has become entangled in a legal battle that seeks to get some definition around the State’s term limits laws.  One party is arguing that someone who has been on the Reno City Council prior to running for Mayor must count those years toward the twelve year limit.  So, for instance, if a Councilwoman served her full 12 years on the City Council, she would be ineligible to run for Mayor; her 12 years are already up.  The Nevada Supreme Court having received the briefing has scheduled oral argument for later this month and key facts include definitions in state statutes, the fact Reno doesn’t have ward voting, the duties and powers of the Mayor, etc.  Now I could certainly go on and on about what I think of the law, etc. (in fact I did that for a few hours with some friends about two weeks ago) but that is pretty boring and nerdy stuff.  What is less legalistic and boring (or more depending on your view) is to look as the briefs for their writing style and quality.

During your first year of law school, the professors try to get you to all write the same way in a formulaic way…state the issue, then the rule, then analyze and conclude.  Deviate from this formula? You will lose.  Using two syllables when three works? You will lose.  It is basically no fun.  What you find in the Reno Mayor legal rumble of 2014 is a variety of style that I think (substance aside) are interesting to contrast.  Ready to nerd out with me?

Here are the documents:

Original Petition

Sferrazza’s Reply

Dortch’s Reply

Petitioner’s Combined Reply

My thoughts?  I find the voice of the Petitioner’s attorney to be the easiest to read.  It strikes a good balance of substance and style that makes the documents engaging.  I find Sferrazza’s reply to be quite a bit caustic, distractingly so to the point where I can see the passion and clearly an opinion but the legal argument behind the brief gets lost.  Finally, Dortch’s reply is a bit dry (perhaps they anticipated the flame likely to be thrown by the other Respondent) and a bit formulaic but good overall.

Can the style of legal writing change a judge’s decision on the law?  I think sometimes yes and so if I’m writing a particularly aggressive brief I ask the reviewing secretary to “make sure I’m not too bitchy”.  In the end the law is the law but if the writing is such that it engages the judge and brings him or her along your with your side of the story, I certainly think writing style can have an impact especially in close calls.  Whether or not it matters in this case, the three parties have very different voices and even for the non legal nerds I think this case presents that interesting contrast.

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