Wednesday, February 6, 2008

There Once was a Ruling that some Judged Snappy…

Decision reversing $2.35 million award to builder takes cue from limerick penned by union officials

By Stephen Franklin
Chicago Tribune

A limerick penned by union officials that led to a jury award of $2.35 million in damages to a Lake County home builder apparently wasn't poetic justice—at least not according to Judge John J. Bowman.

So the 78-year-old jurist, writing for a three-judge court of the state Appellate Court's Second District, reversed the jury's award with his own poetic words:

"There once was a union that called plaintiffs' work crappy;

"This made plaintiffs quite unhappy;

"At trial, the jury filled plaintiffs' purse;

"But, alas, on appeal, we must reverse."

The 21-page ruling, handed down late last week, explained why the court had reversed a Lake County jury's monetary award in September 2006 to John Maki and his company, J. Maki Construction Co.

The jury had found the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters guilty of defaming Maki and his firm with handbills alleging the construction of substandard homes. The fliers rhymed Maki's name with "crappy," and Maki sued the union, claiming it had impugned his professional integrity and ability.

The handbills were part of a campaign the carpenters waged against the non-union construction company. At one point, roaming picketers followed Maki wherever he went, the court noted.

Three union officials also were ordered by the jury to make payments ranging from $22,500 to $45,000. These too were set aside.

Travis Ketterman, the carpenters' attorney, hailed the appellate court's ruling.

"Too bad the Maki people didn't have a sense of humor. That would have saved them a lot of time and money," he said.

Frederick Schwartz, Maki's attorney, disagreed. "The appellate court got it wrong and we will take it to the Supreme Court," he said.

As for the judge's rhyming, University of Illinois Law School professor Matthew W. Finkin said that such literary styling in a court opinion "is rare these days."

"There are judges who inject a degree of humor," he explained. "But to be good at that, you have to be really good."

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