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Judges and Judiciary

Apr. 1, 2024

April Showers

California and other state legislatures are working to improve the intelligibility of legislation by limiting sentences to 25 words. Courts, too, are adopting new rules to ensure clear and concise language in opinions.

2nd Appellate District, Division 6

Arthur Gilbert

Presiding Justice, 2nd District Court of Appeal, Division 6

UC Berkeley School of Law, 1963

Arthur's previous columns are available on


Gloom hangs overhead like a June day at the beach. And it’s only April. It seems all months have adopted April’s sobriquet as the “cruelest,” or the “cruellest” if you are a T.S. Eliot fan. No need to catalog the multitude of concerns we experience daily. “But take heart,” as they say. Despite the pervasive edginess over the possible demise of what we had taken for granted in the past, I offer a few rays of sunlight I have experienced. I hope some of those rays will shine through the clouds of dread that plague you. Let’s start with the law.

1. The California Legislature and a few forward-thinking state legislatures elsewhere have hired Professor Bryan Garner, editor of Black’s Law Dictionary, to redraft past legislation and to aid in the drafting of new legislation. This, occasioned by the complaint in some quarters, that much of the legislation is unintelligible. One goal is to limit the number of words in sentences to no more than 25 – yes, count them, 25 words. No longer will we have to read a single sentence of 177 words as found in Penal Code section 1203.2a.

“If any defendant who has been released on probation is committed to a prison in this state or another state for another offense, the court which released him or her on probation shall have jurisdiction to impose sentence, if no sentence has previously been imposed for the offense for which he or she was granted probation, in the absence of the defendant, on the request of the defendant made through his or her counsel, or by himself or herself in writing, if such writing is signed in the presence of the warden of the prison in which he or she is confined or the duly authorized representative of the warden, and the warden or his or her representative attests both that the defendant has made and signed such request and that he or she states that he or she wishes the court to impose sentence in the case in which he or she was released on probation, in his or her absence and without him or her being represented by counsel.”

I have been told that the legislators and staff who drafted Penal Code Section 1203.2a are in some kind of government protection program.

2. Numerous Supreme Courts and appellate courts in various states including California are set to adopt new rules. Among them are the following: a. reasonable page limits for opinions: 25 is a good maximum. In unusual circumstances, that limit may be exceeded by a majority vote of the particular court. b. Opening paragraphs must be written in clear, concise language that informs the reader what the case is about. The opening paragraph or second paragraph shall include the holding, as a legal principle, not simply a factual conclusion. Never will a reader see an opening sentence in an opinion that reads, “Here we hold plaintiff Humphrey Clinker may collect 84 quid in damages.” c. Opinions will clearly inform readers what they may and may not do. d. Except in unusual cases, opinions will be issued with reasonable promptness.

On a personal level:

3. Siri acknowledged that she has been listening in to discussions with my colleagues on pending cases, conversations between my wife and me, and those with my cats. She (an assumption) promised never again to transmit that information to others, including Alexa. “She” also agreed to abide by this promise to the people and robots I have communicated with via my cell phone and to readers of this column.

4. The numerous charities to which I have made contributions over the years have promised not to sell my information to other charities I have never heard of. This courtesy will be extended to readers of this column. No longer will these unknown charities inundate us with requests for money in exchange for pins, badges, and stickers.

Epilogue: This column was written before its publication date on April 1. Yet I feel what these days is called “a bad vibe.” Not sure my good news resonates with you. Query: Did A.I. write this column?


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