Unusual, Strange & Funny Judicial Decisions and Opinions logoPercy Reed was none too impressed when district attorney Martin Littleton of Mineloa County, New York took exception to Reed's dog racing business, which was the feature attraction at the annual Mineola Fair Grounds. In fact, Reed, the plaintiff, was sure Littleton was simply been outsmarted. When Littleton said "no you can't", Reed replied "yes I can" and they first took it to a police magistrate who sided with Reed. Littleton threatened to arrest reed anyway so reed asked the Supreme Court, Nassau County to bless his dog racing scheme. Justice Bonynge (we're pronouncing it "Boing!", as far as we are concerned) drew the hearing and came to the following "conclusions":

First. The Mineola Fair, a hallowed institution in Nassau county, subsists largely upon the income derived from the use of its grounds for dog racing, and without this aid will speedily become a thing of the past.

Second. Such racing has been unanimously approved by the board of supervisors of the county, by various other public officials,and by innumerable influential organizations and citizens. The opposition is comparatively inconsequential.

Third. The plaintiff operates under an ingeniously devised scheme, deliberately contrived to avoid the pitfalls of the Penal Law. In a word he sells purchase options upon each dog in a race, and, if these are not exercised, buys back such as he may elect at prices determined by him. Strange as it may seem, a considerable number of these options are actually exercised and result in authentic changes of ownership of dogs. The district attorney urges that these purchase options are a mere subterfuge, and that the man who buys one of them for $2 merely intends, in truth and in fact, to lay a bet of that amount. Very possibly this is true, but a wrongful intent on one side is not enough to satisfy the requirements of the law. Here the uncontradicted evidence shows that the plaintiff is actuated by the bona fide intent to give each and every patron a valid option to buy a particular dog. If such patrons choose to flaunt his good intentions and buy options to line their pockets with unholy gains, they cannot thereby make a criminal out of him. Were the rule otherwise, every cotton and commodity broker or dealer in the land would be in jail before night-fall.

Does any one suppose that the delicatessen dealer who buys an option on 500 bales of cotton ever intends to take delivery of it, or that the salesgirl who acquires a future in 1,000 bushels of wheat will ultimately bake bread or make pancakes with the resultant flour? Let the vendor of an option establish that he is pure in heart and the law takes no account of the base motives of those who may deal with him.

In the course of his opinion dismissing the writ of habeas corpus to which allusion has already been made, Mr. Justice Steinbrink observed, after strongly hinting the guilt of the present plaintiff, that it may be that the trier of the fact is more naive and will find otherwise since what is here stated is not controlling. This observation was based upon the information alone. Since then the evidence has been adduced, and it falls far short of establishing any criminal intent upon the part of the plaintiff.

Furthermore, has not my good brother overlooked the fact that a certain amount of naïveté is an essential adjunct to the judicial office?

Does not the Supreme Court grind out thousands of divorces annually upon the stereotyped sin of the same big blonde attired in the same black silk pyjamas?

Is not access to the chamber of love quite uniformly obtained by announcing that it is a maid bringing towels or a messenger boy with an urgent telegram?

Do we not daily pretend to hush up the fact that an offending defendant is insured when every juror with an ounce of wit recognizes the defendant's lawyer and his entourage as old friends?

More than half a century ago P. T. Barnum recorded the fact that the American people delight in being humbugged, and such is still the national mood. Nowhere is this trait more clearly shown than in the field of gambling. A church fair or bazaar would scarcely be complete without a bevy of winsome damsels selling chances on bed quilts, radios, electric irons, and a host of other things.

If the proceeds are to be devoted to the ladies' sewing circle or the domine's vacation, no sin is perceived and the local prosecutor, whoever or wherever he may be, stays his hand.

But if a couple of dusky youths are apprehended rolling bones to a state of moderate warmth, blind justice perceives the infamy of the performance and the law takes its course.

Sweepstakes and lotteries are unspeakably vile, and yet through them we have contributed so many millions to the Irish hospitals that it is rumored patriotic Irishmen cheerfully volunteer to have their tonsils and appendixes removed just to keep the hospital beds occupied and the nurses employed.

For a generation or more betting at horse races was unlawful. After this prolonged burst of morality the Legislature suddenly discovered the need of improving the breed of horses.... In a backhanded way this legislation restored race track betting by removing the criminal penalties.

But let no one suspect that our best citizens repair to Belmont Park and other nearby tracks for the purpose of betting or gambling.

Perish the thought, for their minds rest on higher things. Improving the breed of horses is their aim, and their conversation, aside from formal greetings, deals solely with sires and dams, foals and fillies, blood lines, consanguinity, and inherited characteristics.

These things a judge must believe, even at the risk of being chided as naive, because they are contemporary America.

Judgment for plaintiff, without costs.