From The Pandemic Ethics Lessons Files: Unicorns And Elves Do Not Constitute An Emergency

Courts , like hospitals, are having a difficult time handling all of the matters under their jurisdiction  during the health crisis. Staffs are home-bound; judges, who are generally in a high risk demographic, are available only for true emergencies. A lawyer who claims that his or her client’s concerns qualify is asking a lot, and a spurious claim is going to regarded as irresponsible.

Art Ask Agency creates life-like images of fantasy creatures like elves and unicorns. Its lawyers asked the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois for an emergency hearing in their trademark infringement case, though the  Chicago-based federal court’s executive committee had issued an order just two days before holding “all civil litigation in abeyance.”  A court employee had also tested positive for the Wuhan virus that week, leading to the closing of its clerk’s office to the public.

Judge Steven C. Seeger denied Art Agency’s request, and was deeply offended at their insensitivity. He chided the lawyers for insisting that the matter was an emergency when the courts were shorthanded and the world has more to worry about than elves and unicorns. He wrote in part,

Plaintiff recognizes that the community is in the midst of a “coronavirus pandemic.” . . . But Plaintiff argues that it will suffer an “irreparable injury” if this Court does not hold a hearing this week and immediately put a stop to the infringing unicorns and the knock-off elves. . . .

. . . .

Thirty minutes ago, this Court learned that Plaintiff filed yet another emergency motion.  They teed it up in front of the designated emergency judge, and thus consumed the attention of the Chief Judge. . . . The filing calls to mind the sage words of Elihu Root: “About half of the practice of a decent lawyer is telling would-be clients that they are damned fools and should stop.” See Hill v. Norfolk and Western Railway Co., 814 F.2d 1192, 1202 (7th Cir. 1987) (quoting 1 Jessup, Elihu Root 133 (1938)). 

The world is facing a real emergency. Plaintiff is not. The motion to reconsider the scheduling order is denied.

The full order here.

4 thoughts on “From The Pandemic Ethics Lessons Files: Unicorns And Elves Do Not Constitute An Emergency

  1. I am sympathetic to a very limited extent. “Fairies” are perhaps the worst possible test case, but I would be concerned about copyright infringement increasing with limited ability to seek redress in court. Intellectual property could be irreparably damaged during this strange time, one form of economic harm that might be more invisible than most.

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