Every once in a while published legal opinions and pop culture intersect in such a cheeky, unexpected way as to cause minor ripples in the otherwise relatively calm waters of legal writing and reporting. In what some have described as the footnote of the year according to Business Insider, a Texas Supreme Court Justice gave a wink and nod to a Coen Brothers’ favorite, The Big Lebowski, in a recent opinion. The events in the underlying case might not have been as convoluted as The Big Lebowski’s plot, but it is worth noting. The appellant, Robert Kinney, was a legal recruiter for BCG Attorney Search until 2004 when he left to create his own firm. Some years later, Andrew Barnes, President of BCG, claimed that Kinney engaged in a kickback scheme while an employee of BCG. Kinney then sued Barnes, accusing him of defamation and asking for permanent injunctive relief. The trial court granted (and the appeals court affirmed) summary judgment, agreeing with Barnes that a permanent injunction would constitute impermissible prior restraint of free speech. Now in the hands of the Texas Supreme Court and Justice Debra Lehrmann, the high court ultimately agreed with the finding. As Justice Lehrmann dove into First Amendment law and jurisprudence in the opinion, she noted:
This cornerstone of First Amendment protections has been reaffirmed time and again by the Supreme Court,3 this Court,4 Texas courts of appeals,5 legal treatises,6 and even popular culture.7
Footnote 7: “THE BIG LEBOWSKI (PolyGram Filmed Entertainment & Working Title Films 1998) ("For your information, the Supreme Court has roundly rejected prior restraint.").
If there is such a thing as a “coolness factor” in the practice of law, Justice Lehrmann just upped it by deftly applying Walter Sobchak’s emphatic defense of his right to yell obscenities in a diner. Maybe it was her favorite scene, or perhaps she simply had the Coen Brothers on the brain. After all, 2014 marks the 30th anniversary of the brothers’ debut film, Blood Simple, a noir-ish crime drama filmed and set in, you guessed it, Texas.