Monday, November 03, 2014

Stop using Courier (and Times New Roman)

Font choices are in the news because the Massachusetts Supreme Court is still using Courier, as are a number of judges in this District.  You must stop!  From the Boston Globe:
The court’s opinions all come down in Courier, the old-fashioned typeface designed to mimic electric typewriters. Courts are known for being tradition-bound, but today the SJC is one of only five state high courts that still issue opinions in Courier. And Massachusetts is one of only three states—along with Alabama and New Jersey—that essentially force appeals court attorneys to file their briefs in the font.
As a result, Massachusetts court proceedings have an almost uniquely retro look. The US Supreme Court publishes its opinions in neat, literary Century type. The State Department defected from Courier a decade ago in favor of Times New Roman. Even middle-school students can print their papers in high-toned Bodoni or Garamond.
“If the court asked, ‘So, would you like to stop using Courier?’ there probably would be a tsunami of, ‘Yes, please!’” said Susan Sloane, the director of Legal Research and Writing at Northeastern University School of Law.
Why does Massachusetts cling to Courier? The habit began with typewriters, of course, but its persistence in 2014 offers an illustrative window into the workings of the court, where deference to judges—and to precedent—governs things that have nothing to do with the law itself.
In the type world, Courier is what’s called a “monospaced” font, in which letters are squeezed or stretched to have equal width and spacing; for example, Courier adds a wide tail to lowercase “i” and squishes “w,” so they take up the same amount of room on the page. Most fonts used for texts today—including the one you’re reading—are “proportional,” meaning the spacing of each letter varies according to its size. These are easier to read, but didn’t work for typewriters, which were mechanically unable to vary spacing or the width of the metal type.
For decades, most appellate court briefs and opinions were produced on Courier typewriters, so they all looked the same. They also all had roughly the same number of words per page, because of the font’s uniform monospacing. So judges could conveniently and fairly set a page-count limit on their length.
With the advent of computers, lawyers began dabbling in different fonts that looked better—but also let them squeeze way more text onto the page. A 50-page brief might have the equivalent of 70 pages of Courier text in it. Many overwhelmed courts responded by passing rules requiring the use of Courier or a similar monospaced font.
In 1999, the Massachusetts SJC imposed a restriction in its Rules of Appellate Procedure, which govern the form of legal briefs. “Only a monospaced font is allowed,” that rule says, and Courier is the only one suggested. If there were any doubt as to why, SJC clerk Francis Kenneally points out, you can actually find a note in the rules explaining that it’s to prevent lawyers from sneaking extra text into the 50-page brief limit. (The rule doesn’t apply to the more egalitarian trial courts, which accept even handwritten suits, according to Michael Donovan, clerk of the Suffolk County Superior Court for Civil Business.)
The past 20 years have seen writing and typography advocates successfully pressing courts to modernize—not only in fonts, but in other typewriter holdovers such as double-spacing and in-line citations. A top advocate for better-looking court documents is Matthew Butterick, a Los Angeles attorney who’s also a Harvard-trained typeface designer. His blog “Typography for Lawyers” and 2010 book of the same name have been influential on many courts. He considers himself something of a Courier assassin.
“Have you ever seen a book, newspaper, or magazine printed in Courier? Never,” Butterick said in an e-mail. And for good reason, he said: It’s hard to read, and the written equivalent of “droning along in a monotone.”
 Butterick says stop using Times New Roman as well:
Why not? Fame has a dark side. When Times New Roman appears in a book, document, or advertisement, it connotes apathy. It says, “I submitted to the font of least resistance.” Times New Roman is not a font choice so much as the absence of a font choice, like the blackness of deep space is not a color. To look at Times New Roman is to gaze into the void.
If you have a choice about using Times New Roman, please stop. Use something else. See font recommendations for other options.

Okay, Okay, so you don't want to read about font choices on Monday morning.  Well here's a story from USA Today on a big fight in the Supreme Court about overcriminalization:

 Look up the definition of "fisherman" and John Yates' wrinkled, weather-beaten, Winston-puffing mug might appear. But these days, he's limited to restoring antique furniture and dealing in scrap metal.
Now look up the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, and you'll find the federal government's Enron-inspired crackdown on financial fraud and document shredding.
But three years ago, the act reeled in Yates for tossing 72 undersized red grouper into the Gulf of Mexico.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will examine the curious case of Yates v. United States, which asks the question: Was it the government that went overboard?
"It's obvious that a fish is not a document," says Yates, 62, over a lunch of grouper bites and Budweisers on the Gulf coast, which has been his home for the past 15 years. "You don't have to be that smart to figure that out."
Does the nation's highest court have bigger things to fret about than six-dozen 19-inch fish? Certainly.
But the justices agreed to hear Yates' appeal, even after two lower federal courts determined that his prosecution under a law targeting white-collar criminals was justified. It mirrors a similar case last year, in which the government prosecuted a jilted wife's clumsy effort at revenge under a federal chemical weapons treaty. The court reversed that one, 9-0.
The facts of the case: Yates was captaining the 47-foot "Miss Katie" in 2007 when a state conservation officer with federal enforcement power boarded, measured some 3,000 pounds of fish and found 72 grouper under the 20-inch minimum. He ordered them returned to shore.
Not throwing back in the undersized fish is a civil violation, punishable by a fine or fishing license suspension. But this fish tale got more complicated when Yates allegedly ordered a crew member to throw the offending fish overboard and replace them with longer ones. When the fish were remeasured on dry land, the government smelled a rat. So to speak.
It's a charge Yates still denies to this day; He says they were the same fish, measuring differently based on their mouths, tails and temperature. His wife, Sandy, a former paralegal, keeps a voluminous file that includes the original handwritten measurements of each fish.
Yates was convicted in 2011 of violating Sarbanes-Oxley, which carries a possible 20-year sentence for tampering with or destroying "any record, document or tangible object." He served a 30-day sentence over the Christmas holidays and still lives under a three-year supervised release program. When Sandy's sister died earlier this year, he quips, "It took an act of Congress for me to bury her in Ohio."
Bill Shepherd of Holland & Knight has written an amicus brief for NACDL supporting Yates.

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