Oh, the horror — a judge who yearns to be a novelist and takes it out on a poor innocent opinion. The following recitation of facts from a recent Ontario opinion exemplifies the problem:
1. “You should get out of town,” the man said.
2. And so began the journey that resulted in my path intersecting with Matthew Duncan’s path. And thence to these reasons, with a slight detour through territory that might have confused Lewis Carroll.
3. I suppose that I should clarify that there was no menace in the man’s directive to me to get out of town. He was a friend and a colleague in two careers. His suggestion had been that he and I should change positions for a fortnight, giving him exposure to the realities of the northern reaches of Toronto, while I would enjoy a similar change of environment in the more sylvan environs of Niagara Region. I might even see a few plays in the evenings, he pointed out.
4. And thus I came to meet Mr. Duncan.
Apparently, this genre-bending has become enough of a problem in Canada that Slaw's Simon Fodden, himself a sure-footed stylist, felt impelled to warn against it in this post, which includes observations like this:
[T]he common law, in its use of exemplars, i.e. stories with morals to be drawn from them, has always run close to fiction, which once was also meant to teach morally uplifting lessons. Judgments are full of facts that are not strictly relevant or even material. In an important sense not even the names of the parties are relevant. Knowing where to draw the line is important, and judges must often be tempted to stray from their field to greener fictional grass in the next meadow; but, as a playwright once said Quod licet iovi, non licet bovi, which, in this case may be roughly translated as "Hey, judge, get off the grass!"
It's important to note that judges can be accomplished fiction writers, distinctly apart from their opinion writing. Michigan has two outstanding examples — John Volcker/Robert Traver, the Michigan Supreme Court justice who authored the immortal Anatomy of a Murder. And Court of Appeals Judge Bill Whitbeck, author of To Account for Murder and the first winner of the Michigan Bar Journal annual Short Story Contest.
It's also worth noting that an opinion can be lively without straying into genre-bending territory — like this. And that a very occasional poetical diversion may not only be tolerated, but celebrated.