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With all due respect?

Every Issue

Cite as: December 2011 85(12) LIJ, p.80

Bear draws a fine lion

A stuffed black bear was recently ejected from a United States courthouse lobby for violating decorum.

According to the New York Law Journal, only weeks before the onset of winter the Office of Court Administration sent into hibernation a 2.1-metre stuffed bear that had made the lobby of the Sullivan County Courthouse in Monticello its lair.

“My position was it takes away from the decorum of the facility,” Judge Michael V. Coccoma, the deputy chief administrator for courts outside New York City, said in an interview.

“It’s not that I have anything against taxidermy. But given the seriousness of the business we do in our courts, I felt it was a distraction.”

Judge Coccoma said he learned about the bear from a local newspaper reporter in Sullivan County and, on further inquiry, decided the 22kg display – complete with fake beehive – had to go.

The bear now prowls the private chambers of Supreme Court Acting Justice Frank LaBuda, who said it was “beautiful” and “magnificent”.

Justice LaBuda said county workers removed the bear from its pedestal so they could wrestle it through the metre-wide doorway of his chambers. The bear was killed in October 2006 with a bow by local hunter David Purdy.

Justice LaBuda said he placed the bear in his chambers “to serve as a tribute to the area’s ecology and love for hunting”. And those words are obviously not lip service as Justice LaBuda has the head of a bear he bagged himself on display in his home.

This item will presumably have local legal circles chattering with the hypothetical: If the US stuffed black bear and the stuffed lioness housed in the chambers of County Court of Victoria Judge John Smallwood were to fight, who would win?

We here at WADR analysed the form guide and believe it is too close to call, but it is worth providing all the background for readers to make up their own minds.

Last August, The Age reported that Judge Smallwood had bought the stuffed lioness during a lunch break at legendary Melbourne curio store Wunderkammer. The story goes that once news of the lioness’s arrival spread, crowds appeared at Judge Smallwood’s door, which displayed this note: “Our chamber pet has retired from her job with security. She is very friendly and trespassers will not be eaten.”

But initially, and seriously, given the lioness’s rearing stance, exposed canines and extended paws – complete with sharp claws – cleaners were warned not to stumble in the dark into the big cat’s uninviting arms.

When Judge Smallwood saw the lioness he wanted to free “the old lady”. Unlike those US judges, however, Judge Smallwood has no interest in hunting and “wouldn’t have been interested in her if she had been a hunter’s trophy”.

He learned she had been part of the former Ashton’s Bacchus Marsh Lion Safari. She had died of old age about 30 years ago, was preserved in Preston, adjourned to Adelaide and then motored back to Melbourne.

Yorkshire’s “love” ban

As we all know, many people in the UK use the word “love” when addressing a member of the fairer sex. Most find it endearing.

So it is no surprise that during a recent sojourn to London, a WADR correspondent nearly choked on a traditional bacon, egg, sausage, ketchup and black pudding breakfast roll after reading a news item in the Daily Mail.

According to the paper, Barnsley Magistrates Court Judge John Foster became so fed up with people using the term “love” in his courtroom that he banned its use.

Now, instead of replying “yes, love” when confirming details with the court clerk or legal advisers, defendants have been ordered to answer: “Yes, Ma’am”.

Judge Foster, 64, said the term was “disrespectful” and that courts “have to maintain proper standards”, adding: “Courts are solemn places and serious. They are not places for chatty discussions”.

Interestingly, the Yorkshire Dialect Society later claimed Judge Foster was being discriminatory himself by insisting on Standard English usage in court over traditional Yorkshire dialect.

Enjoy laughing at the failings, foibles and faux pas of others? Of course you do. Then why not contribute to WADR? By email to, by fax on 9607 9451 or by mail C/- LIJ, 470 Bourke Street, Melbourne 3000.


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