THE BELLI FILES: Reflections on the Wayward Law by Melvin M. Belli

THE BELLI FILES: Reflections on the Wayward Law

Email this review


In Ohio, a man once filed for divorce on grounds of extreme cruelty, alleging that his wife had served him a meal of boiled inner tubes. In New Jersey in 1947, a probate court disallowed a woman's will because the testatrix exhibited ""feminism to a neurotic extreme,"" and thus lacked mental capacity. In an early Texas case, a jury of poor spellers returned a verdict of ""guity"" (sic); the court let the defendant go. Similar ""curious cases"" (mostly not involving Belli) abound in this collection, which reads as though Belli had transcribed a file drawer of clippings labeled ""miscellaneous."" ""These pages are meant to entertain,"" says the King of Torts, ""but I suspect they will also inform."" A largely mistaken suspicion. The information here is presented haphazardly at best, though Belli does manage to cover topics as diverse as aspects of medieval law (trial by battle; the concept of sanctuary; ""benefit of clergy""), the development of the right of privacy, search-and-seizure issues, and (of course) palimony. But mostly he focuses on the odd: a 16th-century French lawyer who specialized in defending animals (he represented a group of rats in his most famous trial); the man who round a human toe in his chewing tobacco (""If toes are found in chewing tobacco,"" said the court with the certainty that comes of knowing you're on solid ground, ""it seems to us that someone has been very careless""); the sorry spectacle of police peering under public restroom partitions to photograph ""crimes against nature""; and the defendant who moved for a new trial on the ground that the lawyer who represented him had been on leave from the madhouse (motion denied). Lightweight, and generally amusing--about on a par in the legal-flotsam genre with Neil Chayet's Looking at the Law (1981).

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Prentice-Hall