New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers

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Judicial opinions map events into narrative. Errors in mapping are inevitable but are exacerbated when the adversary system breaks down. This paper explores these problems of narrative distortion through an analysis of corporate charitable giving cases: Dodge v. Ford Motor Co., A.P. Smith Co. v. Barlow, and Shlensky v. Wrigley. Each of these cases contains evidence of significant distortion in the mapping process. In Dodge, the distortion was due to the fact that neither party wanted to acknowledge what was really going on. In A.P. Smith, the evidence suggests that the litigation was collusive and that all parties, including the judge, were in on the scam. In Wrigley, the opinion may have had more to do with Chicago politics than with the accurate presentation of the facts. I conclude with tentative thoughts about the implications of narrative distortion in American law.

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