SO VAIN: Solar Eclipse Pre-Trial Motion Gets Federal Judge Going

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A federal judge in Tampa, Florida appeared to have a good time penning his order denying a prosecutor’s bid to have a trial date moved to accommodate a federal agent who months ago scheduled a trip to travel to an area of the country graced by the “totality” of Monday’s rare solar eclipse.

U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Douglas Merryday was apparently in no mood to grant a holiday. 

The judicial wordsmith managed to draw parallels between Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” and the ancient Greek historian Herodotus and work in poet William Wordsworth and Star Trek, all the while crushing the prosecutor’s request with a barrage of legalese.

“On this occasion, an Assistant United States Attorney boldly moves (where no AUSA has moved before) to postpone a trial because an agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, has pre-paid the cost of visiting the zone of ‘totality’ of a solar eclipse that will occur on August 21 (about the eclipse, the motion oddly uses the phrase ‘scheduled to occur,’ as if someone arbitrarily set the eclipse, as an impresario sets a performer, to appear at a chosen time and place, subject always to some unstated exigency),” wrote Merryday in his order. “Cruel fate has dictated that the August 21 eclipse will occur during the trial of an action in which the agent is a principal participant on behalf of the United States.”

In the eclipse’s favor, the judge noted that Herodotus wrote of an ancient eclipse that led two warring sides to quit fighting each other; and he appeared to quote approvingly a 19th century poem by Wordsworth referring to the sun’s “darkening of his radiant face.”

But then he brought in modern-day reality.

Merryday pointed out that “in any particular month, about four-hundred actions pend before each active district judge in the Middle District of Florida; each action typically involves several lawyers, at least two parties, and an array of witnesses” while “a trial prompts the clerk to summon scores of potential jurors.”

“The present motion proposes to subordinate the time and resources of the court, of the opposing counsel, of the witnesses, and of the jurors to one person’s aspiration to view a ‘total’ solar eclipse for no more than two minutes and forty-two seconds,” Merryday added. “To state the issue distinctly is to resolve the issue decisively.”

Merryday then impressively circles back to his reference to Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” a song he suggests was written about a fling Simon had with actor Warren Beatty, but which others have suggested is instead a reference to music magnate David Geffen. 

The lyrics that caught Merryday’s fancy, which he quotes, feature Simon singing about a lover who “went to Saratoga” and whose horse “naturally won,” just before making a journey via Learjet up to Nova Scotia “to see the total eclipse of the sun.”

The song hit American airwaves in November of 1972, while Nova Scotia experienced a total eclipse in July of that same year. Merryday, however, comes full circle in his order when he compares the winning gamble purportedly made in Saratoga with the losing gamble that’s about to play out in his courtroom.

“When an indispensable participant, knowing that a trial is imminent, pre-pays for some personal indulgence, that participant, in effect, lays in a bet,” wrote Merryday. “This time, unlike Carly Simon’s former suitor, whose ‘horse, naturally, won,’ this bettor’s horse has — naturally — lost.

“The motion (Doc. 31) is DENIED.” 

Judge Merryday, nobody does it better.

Read the judge’s decision:

Eclipse Order by Evan on Scribd