Legal writing rarely reaches this level of precision

Taylor Shellfish Farms has filed a lawsuit against the state regarding the company’s so-called “trespass” on state tidelands in Totten Inlet. See my story in today’s Kitsap Sun.

I’d like to say something here in a nonjudgmental voice, taking neither side in the legal battle between Taylor Shellfish Farms and the Washington Department of Natural Resources:

I found a work of art in the legal complaint filed by Taylor’s team of lawyers.

Given the complex and obscure legal theories, I can’t begin to predict how this will turn out. But I want to say that the complaint drafted by the law firm Gordon Derr was written with such precision that anyone can walk through the document and not feel lost in what could have been a dense jungle of legal arguments.

Download the complaint (PDF 2.2 mb) from the Kitsap Sun’s Web site and read it for yourself. But remember that we have not yet heard the arguments from the state’s side. Maybe it’s all empty rhetoric, but I thought it was worth giving credit for the writing itself. I can’t tell you how many times I have struggled through legal documents trying to understand much simpler arguments than these.

Whether the state’s counter-arguments would be as eloquent may never be seen. Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark has expressed interest in settling this out of court. His only point, according to his chief spokesman Aaron Toso, is that he wants the settlement and lease agreement to be open for public review and discussion.

Bill Dewey, spokesman for Taylor, told me a couple of weeks ago that Bill Taylor was disappointed with a meeting he had with Goldmark on Feb. 9. The meeting followed Goldmark’s decision not to lease the property to Taylor for the time being. See the Feb. 5 story in the Kitsap Sun.

Taylor expected in the meeting to talk about issues regarding the company’s inadvertent use of state tidelands and how to work through the problems. But the discussion never got beyond a general overview of the shellfish industry.

It seems likely that Taylor left the meeting convinced that he needed to take a stand, thus the filing of the lawsuit.

Toso told me this morning that Taylor had been informed in advance that no lawyers were going to be present and that Goldmark did not want to get into what could be considered negotiations.

“We had conveyed on two different phone calls that we weren’t going to be negotiating in that meeting because we didn’t have lawyers there,” Toso told me. “The commissioner understands that the shellfish industry is an important part of Washington’s economy. It’s still the commissioner’s goal that this can be settled outside of a courtroom.”

4 thoughts on “Legal writing rarely reaches this level of precision

  1. Commissioner Goldmark’s only point is that he wants the settlement and lease open for public review and discussion. Over 400 public comments were submitted to the DNR on the proposed lease. The public favored granting the lease to Taylor Shellfish by a 2 – 1 margin. I guess that this doesn’t count as “public review and discussion” by the commissioner because he doesn’t agree with the public’s opinion.

  2. “Legal Writing Rarely Reaches This Level of Precision”

    Chris, you’re just used to reading legislation writ by state bureaucrats. Like most of their work, it’s rather amateurish.

  3. Unfortunately, you’re right about the general quality of state legislation, but I also read a fair number of legal complaints and briefs as well as rulings by our highest judges.

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