April Fools! Three great law-themed pranks from the past

April 1, 2010

The wisest of men can fool himself.Jewish saying

If the mark of a good prank is the number of intelligent people it can fool, then these three semi-famous April Fools jokes involving lawyers and lawmakers clearly made the grade.

Senate Bill Bans Web Surfing While Intoxicated

Back in 1994, an op-ed piece in the April issue of PC Computing magazine ridiculed an imagined Senate bill that would prohibit “drunk driving” on the “Information Highway.”

No Alcohol Sign

The moniker – Information Highway – itself seems to be responsible for SB #040194,” the magazine reported. “Introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy, it’s designed to prohibit anyone from using a public computer network (Information Highway) while the computer user is intoxicated. I know how silly this sounds, but Congress apparently thinks that being drunk on a highway is bad no matter what kind of highway it is. The bill is expected to pass this month.”

The article’s author, John Dvorak, later said that the spoof caught  the attention of the Washington Post – and a few U.S. senators (including Ted Kennedy, one of the purported sponsors of the bill), who received a flurry of angry phone calls in response to the article.

Sadly, the original article can’t be found on the Internet, but you can read the text here, attached to a letter about the article from a Kennedy staff member. (Scroll down to see the article text.)

Alabama Legislature Changes the Value of Pi

In another April Fools hoax involving lawmakers run amok, a bogus AP news article reported that the Alabama legislature passed a bill that redefined pi from its previously assumed value – “3.14159, plus as many more digits as you have time to calculate” – rounding it down to an even 3.

Pi symbolAccording to the story, the bill’s sponsor had “called into question the usefulness of any number that cannot be calculated exactly, and suggested that never knowing the exact answer could harm students’ self-esteem.”

The fake news report was published in the April 1998 edition of an obscure newsletter by New Mexicans for Science and Reason (you can read it here), but it soon was circulating all over the world, thanks to a relatively new phenomenon: mass email forwarding.

Colorado Supremes Issue Dress Code for Attorneys

The Denver Bar Association showed its humorous side with an April 2001 newsletter article about an unusual Colorado Supreme Court decision that compelled the state’s attorneys to wear uniforms in court.

Colorado State SealAnd not just any old uniforms. “Based on the recommendations of fashion consultants and parochial school principals, the Court will now require all lawyers, female and male, to wear a blue blazer with the Colorado State Seal on the pocket,” the article said. “Men will wear tan slacks in summer and gray flannel in winter. Women barristers must wear plaid skirts year round. Women are also expected to wear white bobby sox, and men are prohibited from donning any shoes with tassels.”

The Court reportedly acted out of concern over casual attire in the state’s courtrooms. “Confusion grew as each law firm established a different dress code, with names such as ‘business casual,’ ‘corporate casual,’ ‘up casual,’ ‘dot.com casual’ and ‘downscale but still lawyerly casual,’” the article explained.

Apparently, the spoof was believable enough for several fashion-conscious attorneys to call the bar association for clarification. (The original article lives on at the Denver Bar Association website – and it’s still a fun read.)

The Jewish saying at the top of this post can be found in Uncle Anthony’s Unabridged Analogies: Quotes & Proverbs for Lawyers and Lecturers, which is available at a 10% discount to Westlaw Insider readers. (And that’s no joke!)