Dr Gregory L. Schneider is Professor of History at Emproia State University, and he’s the author of The Conservative Century: From Reaction to Revolution (Critical Issues in American History).
This is the Meads v Meads text that I referred to.
Lawyers, the story goes, were originally paid by the word when they were writing legal texts, and that is the supposed reason why they write in a long-winded jargon that is often impossible for anyone else to understand.
Lawyers say that they need to be exact, and they do, but they are certainly never afraid to call a shovel a manual digging implement suitable for the displacement of building material.
So there aren’t many legal texts that you would read for pleasure. But there is one. If, in the whole of your life, you only read one legal text for pleasure, or in the whole of your life, you only read one legal text at all, I’ve got the one for you.
It’s a real legal text, it’s the judgment of a real judge in a real court. The judge is Chief Justice J.D. Rooke, and the judgment was delivered in 2012 in the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta. And it’s not short either, the main document is about 150 pages.
But it’s worth reading. Honestly. Even if you’re not a lawyer, especially if you’re not a lawyer.
The case is called Meads versus Meads, I’ve got a link to it in the show notes, and it doesn’t sound like it should be that interesting because it is a case that arises out of a divorce, but I promise you, it is well worth reading.
The reason it’s worth reading is because Larry Meads, one of the litigants, is what’s called a Freeman on the Land. This is a weird cross between a con trick, a cult and a conspiracy theory, it’s related to Sovereign Citizen movements, and when you read the judgment you get a sense of the exasperation that the judge went through in hearing the case, and the forensic takedown that he did of the Freeman on the Land ideology.
And this is a deeply deluded ideology.
In case you don’t know, the Freeman on the Land ideology has a weird and shifting mix of beliefs that center around the assertion that the government doesn’t exist, or is just a private company, and that their laws don’t exist, or are just terms of a private contract that they can opt out of – basically that all laws are optional. They hold that there are millions of dollars held in some secret government bank accounts and that they can force the government to make everyone rich if they only explain their case to the right judge.
Freeman on the Land also believe that by using strange phrasing, they can almost magically make themselves exempt from laws, get out of paying their debts, and make other people liable to pay them millions in damages for imaginary wrongs such as saying their name out loud. They have taken up huge amounts of court time making complicated and daft demands to try to enforce what they claim are their rights, and making complaints against every court official who tries to deal with them.
Needless to say, this is all nonsense and they never win, but the most interesting thing is the language they use. Chief Justice Rooke calls Larry Meads, and a host of other Freeman on the Land believers Organized Pseudolegal Commercial Argument, or OPCA, Litigants.
He has clearly put a huge amount of research into his ruling, and he lists some of the dafter linguistic backflips that these Freemen on the Land, OPCA litigants have performed. Some of them have become obsessed with something they call Admiralty Law, and believe that various legal terms have been devised to trick them into giving up their rights, and have some connection with seafaring, talking about citizenship as in SHIP being in the dock in court being related to dock as in a harbor, or a birth certificate, spelling it BERTH, again as in a harbor.
That’s only the beginning of their attack on language, and most of their way with words, hugely complicated mumbo-jumbo in a pastiche of legalese, it’s far too mind-numbing to even begin discussing in a podcast, but Justice Rooke identifies the reason behind it.
People like Larry Meads who end up in court thinking that it will have some magical way of making him win a case, they’re the victims of con men who charge a lot of money to produce nonsense documents filled with this stuff. The mumbo-jumbo is never designed to impress the court. It is designed to impress simpletons into parting with their money.
In any case, don’t take my word for it, the link is on the website, it’s a fantastic read.