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Silver Tongues Tucked In as Lawyers Redo Golden Rules

Times Staff Writer

You may have suspected it, but now you know.

The modern version of the legal maxim that “for every wrong there is a remedy” has been changed. The new maxim reads:

For every wrong, there is a lawyer willing to take it on contingency. The change is the work of Edmond M. Connor, a Costa Mesa lawyer whose tongue is planted firmly in his cheek. For the third year in a row, Connor introduced a resolution aimed at bringing a smile to the faces of colleagues attending the California State Bar convention.

To his surprise, however, this year the conference of delegates actually passed his resolution.

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“It was the last resolution of the first day, a day of incredibly boring resolutions, and just before we adjourned they took it up,” Connor said of last month’s meetings. “I think everybody was in mood to have a little bit of a laugh.”

Connor’s resolution modernizes the “maxims of jurisprudence,” the basic 39 principles of law that guide the profession.

For example, the first maxim, in traditional mind-numbing legalese, historically has stated that the “maxims of jurisprudence hereinafter set forth are intended not to qualify any of the foregoing provisions of this Code, but to aid in their just application.”

Connor’s updated version cuts to the heart of the matter.

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The maxims of jurisprudence . . . provide lawyers with something to say in closing argument and at cocktail parties.

Although a few of the revisions poke fun directly at lawyers, most are just plain fun.

The old maxim titled “Consent, Effect” states: “He who consents to an act is not wronged by it.” Connor made that one a lesson for the scandal-plagued, one-time Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart, who was staked out by reporters one regrettable weekend.

Retitled “Monkey business,” the new maxim reads:

He who consents to an act should beware of the Miami Herald. There’s more.

The maxim “Suffering From Act of Another” states that “no one should suffer by the act of another.” Connor retitled that one the “Pia Zadora/Arnold Schwarzenegger Rule,” which states:

No one should suffer by the acting of another.

Connor’s “black-robe resolutions” (so called after one of the first ever proposed, which would have forced attorneys to wear wigs and robes in court) are becoming a bit of a tradition at the convention. Last year Connor proposed a resolution that would have prohibited tall people from blocking the view of short people in movie theaters. The year before, he lobbied for a resolution that would have authorized court reporters to order lawyers to stand in the corner and pay fines.

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“I went down to ignominious defeat the last two years,” he said. This year, instead of trying to address the merits of his latest resolution, “I took a tip from the presidential candidates and addressed them solely on emotional issues.” It worked, especially when he threatened to never write another one if he suffered defeat.

The 39 traditional maxims are actually part of state law, but the modern versions don’t automatically go down in the books. Connor said that after a resolution is passed, the State Bar categorizes it to determine whether the State Bar will lobby for it to become law (a rank of 1 or 2), whether the local bar association must shoulder the responsibility (a rank of 3), or whether “it should just go back to the drawing board” (a rank of 4).

“I feel my resolution deserves a category 1. It will probably get a category 9 out of 4,” Connor said.

Connor said he can’t take full credit for the rewritten maxims. The resolution was actually the work of all the lawyers at the Costa Mesa office of Morrison & Foerster, who were fortified by “a few drinks,” he said. Their plan was to rewrite all 39 maxims.

But one needed no changing. The 116-year-old maxim reads: “That which ought to have been done is to be regarded as done, in favor of him to whom, and against him from whom performance is due.”

Connor’s gang merely retitled the maxim appropriately:

Say what?


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