CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Ohio 1st District Court of Appeals Judge Mark Painter is building a national reputation as an advocate of clear, concise and easily decipherable legal language. The Cincinnati Republican has discovered a 326-word legislative leviathan lurking in the Ohio Revised Code. It is a brain-numbing sentence about adoption records:
"If the agency determined that the petitioner is an adopted person, if the department of health is informed the agency either that the file of releases does not contain a release or releases filed by one or both of the petitioner's biological parents that authorize the release of identifying information to him and does not contain a release or releases filed by any biological sibling that authorizes the release of specified information to him or that the file of releases contains at least one such release but a withdrawal of release has been filed that negates each such release, if the agency did not inform the court that it had determined that one or both of the petitioner's biological parents as indicated on the petitioner's original birth were deceased, and if the court did not determine that one of or both of the petitioner's biological parents as indicated on that record were deceased, the judge shall order that the petition remain pending until withdrawn by the petitioner and order the department of health to note its pendency in the file of releases according to the surname of the petitioner as set for in his original birth record; shall inform the petitioner that he is an adopted person and, if known, of the county in which the adoption proceedings occurred; shall inform the petitioner that information regarding his name by birth and the identify of his biological parents and biological siblings may not be released at that time because the file of releases at that time does not contain an effective release that authorizes the release of any such information to him; and shall inform the petitioner that, upon the subsequent filing of a release by or the death of either of his biological parents, or the subsequent filing of a release by any of his biological siblings, the petition will be acted upon within thirty days of the filing in accordance with division (E) of this section."
Painter calls the sentence unfathomable. In the August issue of the Cincinnati Bar Association Report, he said he spent an hour rewriting it twice and managed to get the Ohio General Assembly's handiwork trimmed to 155 words. He said it still could be improved. Painter scolded lawmakers for producing such turgid prose, and said they ought to invest more time in clarity.
"As we know, even sophisticated readers have trouble with any sentence of more than 35 words. This one is unfathomable. It has a readability score of 0. And it's about adoption -- something 'normal' people should be able to understand."
The judge is a legal scholar, with 350 nationally published decisions, 115 legal articles and 6 books, including The Legal Writer: 40 Rules for the Art of Legal Writing. Maybe folks in the Ohio General Assembly should buy a few copies.