Mountain Law: The devil’s legal career – a retrospective
Ryan Summerlin October 16, 2012
With Halloween upcoming, it seems appropriate to review the career of a prominent lawyer whose cases sometimes involved the occult. I am, of course, talking about the devil.
Little is known about where the devil received his formal education, but there seems little doubt that he was an excellent law student. This can be seen by the fact that he managed to land, as his first legal job, the highly prestigious position of God’s prosecutor. There he was responsible for such high-profile cases as the trial of Job. Of course, the devil did lose that case rather badly, which was not surprising given his inexperience and the fact that the defendant was completely innocent.
As so often happens, the devil eventually had a falling out with his employer and the parties became embroiled in a complicated legal dispute. Unfortunately, the court reporter, a man named John Milton, did not do a good job of describing the exact nature of the case. We do know that the end result was some kind of eviction. After losing the legal battle, the devil left his former position with God and set up a private practice in a separate jurisdiction known as hell. There he distinguished himself in the fields of contract negotiation and banking. He notched up a decisive early victory in a case against Don Juan Giovanni (who was not a particularly sympathetic defendant).
The devil did sometimes have difficulty enforcing his contracts in court. For example, one case involved a gentleman named Dr. Faust. There was no question that Dr. Faust and the devil had entered into a contract, and that its terms were clear, but, at least in a court report by Goethe, the judgment against Dr. Faust was reversed on appeal to higher authority. In a later case, the devil had a similar contract with a poor New Hampshire farmer who somehow managed to retain the services of Daniel Webster, the premiere lawyer of his day. Mr. Webster made short work of the case. Critics questioned whether the devil really got a fair trial.
The devil did have a fairly recent success in the (real) federal court case of United States ex rel. Mayo v. Satan and His Staff. In that case, plaintiff Gerald Mayo, representing himself, requested that the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania grant him leave to file a civil rights action against the fevil and his minions. Specifically, Mr. Mayo alleged that he had been deprived of his constitutional rights by virtue of the fact that “Satan [had] on numerous occasions caused plaintiff misery and unwarranted threats, against the will of plaintiff, that Satan [had] placed deliberate obstacles in his path and [had] caused plaintiff’s downfall.” After careful consideration, the court denied Mr. Mayo’s request and questioned whether it would have jurisdiction to hear the case. The court also expressed concern that the case could turn into a class-action. (It was later suggested that Mr. Mayo had been unable to find counsel to represent him because asking a lawyer to sue the devil would constitute an obvious conflict of interest.)
Legal scholars have criticized the Mayo decision because it seems to say that the devil cannot be sued because he does not really exist. This argument, of course, ignores the fact that many lawsuits involve parties that do not really exist, such as corporations. The better question, for a plaintiff, is whether a judgment against the devil would be collectable. Is there any way to garnish the wages of sin? If so, the devil could find himself a target for further litigation.
Noah Klug is principal of The Klug Law Firm, LLC, located in Summit County, Colorado. His practice focuses on business, real estate, and litigation. He may be reached at (970) 468-4953 or Noah@TheKlugLawFirm.com.