US District Court Judge James R. Muirhead has a reputation as a serious-minded judge. He has presided over cases involving a Subaru car distributor, an airline pilots association, and parking violations.
Sending down a ruling in rhyming verse à la Dr. Seuss is something of a departure.
But something about one of his latest cases inspired the Concord, N.H., judge to channel the poem "Green Eggs and Ham."
It all started with inmate Charles Jay Wolff, who for months has been embroiled in a lawsuit alleging that the kitchen staff at the state prison for men in Concord keeps putting boiled eggs in his bagged meals, despite his protests that he does not eat eggs.
Wolff grew angry enough with the court process that he sent a hard-boiled egg in the mail with a request for a preliminary injunction that would force the prison to serve him different meals.
Muirhead fired back on Tuesday with a six-stanza poem.
"I do not like eggs in the file," Muirhead wrote. "I do not like them in any style. I will not take them fried or boiled. I will not take them poached or broiled. I will not take them soft or scrambled / Despite an argument well-rambled."
The verse grew heated, exclamation marks were injected, and the egg was ordered destroyed.
"No fan I am / Of the egg at hand. Destroy that egg! Today! Today! Today I say! Without delay!"
Muirhead, who was appointed as a federal judge in 1995, after nearly 30 years at the law firm McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton, could not be reached for comment yesterday but a colleague attested to his keen wit.
"He's a very serious guy; he's a very intelligent guy. But he certainly has a sense of humor, as is evident," said Leslie Nixon, who has practiced cases with Muirhead. "It was certainly very clever."
The ruling is one of a smattering of recent examples of wry humor making its way into normally dry court rulings. In other cases, a Texas judge quoted the Adam Sandler movie "Billy Madison" and a British judge played off the novel "The Da Vinci Code" in a London case.
A Montana District Court judge in February managed to use the names of 42 Beatles songs in an order for a convicted burglar, who had slyly referenced the band on a court form.
While sentencing the man to three years' probation, a fine, and community service, the judge wrote, "As a result of your Hard Day's Night, you are looking at a Ticket To Ride that Long and Winding Road to Deer Lodge," the judge wrote. "Hopefully you can say both now and When I'm 64 that I Should Have Known Better."
Muirhead's ruling comes after several weeks of motions from Wolff, who, according to news reports, is serving 10 to 20 years in prison for sexually assaulting a 7-year-old girl.
Wolff, who is representing himself in court and has filed his complaints in barely readable handwriting, says that eggs have repeatedly been included in his meals and that he has not been provided a full day of nutritious meals since April 25.
He has asked that eggs no longer be included in his meals, and has requested doughnuts and Danishes instead.
He also has alleged that other inmates are getting twice as much food as him, and he has asked to be served in his jail cell so that he won't have to interact with the kitchen staff.
In court documents, Wolff said he is an Orthodox Jew and a diabetic, suffering from a heart condition, and noted he was treated for dysentery while serving in Vietnam. He is suing the state for $10 million and a proper diet.
Three weeks ago, the state attorney general's office weighed in, saying that staff nutritionists monitored him for one week to determine whether he had dietary problems with the meals he was given.
"He was provided with the normal kosher diet, including the shelf-stabilized packages that he claims cause him digestive problems," the motion said.
"A review of those documents demonstrates conclusively that the kosher foods being provided to Mr. Wolff are not causing him any gastric distress," the motion read. "There is no evidence that Mr. Wolff's complaints about the kosher diet are more than the expression of an individual taste preference."
In his recent motion received by the court Friday, Wolff was more reticent, saying he agreed with the judge's condemnation of the egg and apologizing for his actions.
"It is clear that the United States District Court has the same feelings of 'Green Eggs and Ham' as I do," Wolff wrote on Wednesday. He also called the judge's poem "marvelous stylography [sic] work of thought." "Please note, my action was not meant to upset and I am apologetic for any and all discomfit [sic] to the United State District Court and it's [sic] staff."
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.