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J. R. Poisson v. Etienne d'Avril

J. R. Poisson v. Etienne d’Avril is a purported opinion of the Arkansas Supreme Court that was published as an April Fool’s Day joke by Associate Justice George Rose Smith on April 1, 1968. In the opinion, he declares that a fictional Arkansas statute (the “Omnibus Repealer”) abrogates all statutory law in Arkansas but does not affect the common law.

George Rose Smith was known for his wry sense of humor. He was a grandson of Uriah Rose, the founder of the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock (Pulaski County), and served as a partner in the firm until his election to the Arkansas Supreme Court in 1948. He holds the record as the longest-serving justice in the history of the Arkansas Supreme Court, retiring in 1986. He enjoyed word play, producing eighteen popular crossword puzzles published by the Arkansas News.

J. R. Poisson v. Etienne d’Avril was a fictitious opinion authored by Justice Smith as an April Fool’s Day joke. Another fictitious opinion, Catt v. State, was actually published in the regional reports of the West Publishing Co. as though it were an actual opinion of the Arkansas Supreme Court in 1985. An unsuspecting Delaware judge actually cited Catt as an authority in a published opinion, State v. Willis (1995). The citation can still be found in the Lexis version of this opinion, although West Publishing Company excised it from the Atlantic Reporter and the Westlaw version.

One year before Justice Smith published J. R. Poisson, he published a law review article, “A Primer of Opinion Writing” (Arkansas Law Review, 1967) that included a short section strongly discouraging judicial humor. Smith later overruled himself in “A Critique of Judicial Humor” (Arkansas Law Review, 1990).

Justice Smith took the name of the case from the French term “Poisson d’Avril,” which literally means “April Fish.” April Fool’s Day is thought by some to have originated in France, and those who were fooled were known as the April fish. Some people believe the origin of April Fool’s Day can be traced to the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1564. Until then, the Julian calendar observed the beginning of the New Year in April. People who insisted on following the old calendar were mocked as April “fish,” or fools. J. R. Poisson v. Etienne d’Avril has achieved widespread fame as a classic example of judicial humor and has been widely reprinted.

For additional information:
George, Joyce J. Judicial Opinion Writing Handbook. 5th ed. Buffalo, NY: William S. Hein & Company, 2007.

Jones, Rodney R., and Gerald F. Uelmen. Supreme Folly. New York: W. W. Norton, 1990.

Gerald F. Uelmen
Santa Clara University School of Law

Last Updated 3/27/2015

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