Informal Law and Custom

While I had intended to discuss heartbalm actions further, that will have to wait for a future blog entry as I wanted to discuss the concept of ‘informal law’ in more detail. I have long found the concept of informal law fascinating.

Informal law or ‘custom’ may involve practices or traditions that are symbotic or complementary to existing laws, or are designed to circumvent the law, or are quasi-legal and essentially supplant the law. Examples of symbiotic informal law or customs were once common in everyday life. By way of contemporary examples, they may include such things as the general practice of alternating cars as they merge from two lanes into one when neither lane has a yield sign–this is not a legal requirement but has become a custom that not only reflects good manners but also helps the flow of traffic when one lane is blocked. In some places, it is considered custom that someone who shovels out a parking spot following a snow storm is entitled to mark it as theirs, which is a practice rarely reflected in the law (interestingly enough, in Boston, municipal ordinances allow one to claim a parking spot one has dug out for 24 hours after a snowstorm; while neighboring Cambridge had an ordinance that makes it unlawful to do so).

The tension between what people wish to do and what the law allows them to do has often been the impetus for the growth of informal law or custom. The field of family law, for instance, is replete with examples. Couples wishing, for whatever reasons, to circumvent or skip the requirements for a legal marriage have long created informal marriages (often referred to as “common law” marriages) without seeking a marriage license or participating in a marriage ceremony. An informal or common law marriage usually involves a couple who have agreed to be married, live together as husband and wife, and hold themselves out to the public as such. (This is the legal standard as set out in the Texas Family Code §2.401, for example).

The dissolution of marriage is another striking example. Particularly when divorce law was highly restrictive, self-help divorces were a means of curcumventing the law. In the simplest form, a spouse could simply abandon the other; husbands ejected wives from their homes, wives left their husbands. Should a wife have abandoned her husband in this manner, he might well place newspaper advertisements announcing that she had left his ‘bed and board’ and that he would not be held responsible for debts incurred in his name by her.

A fascinating historical example related to self-divorces was the practice of ‘wife auctions’. While at first blush this appears to be an archtypical example of historical chauvanism, the reality was often more nuanced. A wife auction, as the name suggests, involved a husband putting his wife up for public sale. As barbarous as this sounds, in many instances the wife was a willing participant–perhaps even the instigator–the successful buyer was known beforehand to all (including the wife, who in some instances was already cohabitating with him) and the auction result a foregone conclusion; sometimes the wife herself provided the buyer with the money to finance the winning bid! English wife auctions were to die out by the mid 19th century due to reforms to the divorce laws.

Examples of informal law continue to exist all around us, although they are not always obvious. For example, in 2005 new rules regarding personal bankruptcy went into effect, with the avowed purpose of making it more difficult for individuals to file for personal bankruptcy under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 and thus providing greater protection to creditors. One result of this has been a probable increase in ‘informal’ or ‘unofficial’ bankruptcies. An informal bankruptcy involves an individual who doesn’t file for official bankruptcy protection but attempts to have the same protection by making themself judgment proof. This might include not paying debts, not keeping assets in one’s name, moving, changing one’s name, and any number of other subterfuges in order to avoid paying one’s creditors– in other words, being what in common parlance is known as a ‘deadbeat’.

Informal law can also include a quasi-legal custom that exists in parallel, or symbiosis, to the law itself. Particularly in the context of criminal justice, informal law has often surfaced with groups have felt the law could not, or would not, act. They included ritualized forms of protest, performance, violence or demonstration used to enforce community standards related to marriage and other issues (such as whitecapping and shivarees/charivaris), vigilantism, lynching (a particularly common, and revolting, practice in the southern U.S. aimed at blacks), and rioting. The charivari or shivaree (perhaps consisting of loud processionals, banging pots and drums, blowing on trumpets and the like) could be mischievous–designed to harass a newly married couple on their wedding day in exchange for food or drink–or reflect a very real sentiment of community disapprobation over wife-beating, an inappropriate marriage, or the like.

Many rituals that accompanied the practice of criminal justice could be said to be customary or informal law insofar as they were not legally codified but became entrenched components in the administration of the law. The practice of judges’ donning a black cap when handing down a sentence of death, for example, is a marvelous example of such a custom. In the ninetenth century, labor law was often a mixture of legislation, local laws, common law concepts, and customary and judge-made discretionary law. For example, it was frequently a custom that deserting servants were required to make up lost time to their employers, even when not explicitly provided for in the law.

So, here is a question for you: what other examples of informal law or custom come to mind?

Famous U.S. Trials Course Materials (Ex College, Tufts University)

The Salem Witch Trials. O.J. Simpson. Lizzie Borden. The “Mississippi Burning” case. The Scopes “Monkey” trial. The George Zimmerman Trial.

These trials, separated in time and place, cover the span of three centuries of American history. What makes trials such as these so resonant? Why do some garner attention so universally, while others – perhaps even more interesting or sordid – do not? While there were great differences between the defendants in these particular cases, the outcomes of the trials, and the periods in which they took place, they share the commonality of being defined as “great American trials” or “trials of the century” – trials that have a unique place in our history. This course, offered through the Ex College at Tufts University, will discuss these cases and others like them, with the intention of resolving what made them so iconic and so influential in American history and popular culture.

Famous Trials in US History 2017 syllabus

The following are short videos and documents which make up the required and recommended course materials, some of which reside here and others which can be accessed on Douglas O. Linder’s “Famous Trials” website. Links to those latter materials may be found here and will open as a new window:


Trial the First:  Salem Witch Trials (1692):

A. Required Materials:

An Account of the Events in Salem (link)

Salem Witch Trials cast of characters (Word document)

Salem Witch Trials summary timeline (Word document)

Biographies (link)

Examinations and Evidence (link)

Procedure in witchcraft cases (link)

The Man of Iron (link)

Petitions of accused witches (link)

B. Recommended Materials:

Petitions for Compensation (link)

Letter of Gov. Phips (link)

Excerpt from An Impartial Account of the Most Memorable Matters of Fact… (PDF)

Excerpt of An Account of the Differences in Salem Village (Complaints Against Rev. Parris) (PDF)

Witchcraft in Salem Village — Trial of Elizabeth Howe (PDF) (A transcription of the documents related to E. Howe, executed in July 1692, including affidavits filed against her)

Arthur Miller talks about ‘The Crucible’:



Trial the Second: the Lincoln Conspirators (1865)

A. Required Materials:

The Trial of the Lincoln Conspirators (link)

Lincoln Conspirators Trial Cast of Characters (Word document)

Chronology (link)

Ten Conspirators (link)

Attorney General opinion on Military Commissions (link)

Excerpts from the Trial of the Lincoln Conspirators (Word document)

B. Recommended Materials:

John Surrat’s 1870 speech (link)

Excerpt of Editorial on the Lincoln Conspirators Trial (Word document)

The Man Who Shot the Man Who Shot Lincoln (PDF)

Lincoln Must Die! (PDF) (account of an earlier assassination plot)

A Kangaroo in Obama’s Court (PDF) (article on military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay)

Afterlife — Lincoln’s Legacy (PDF) (views of Lincoln following his death)

Lincoln Assassination, Part I:

Lincoln Assassination, Part II:

The Lincoln Conspirators Trial: Their Confinement and Execution, by the U.S. National Archives:




Trial the Third: Trial of Lizzie Borden (1893)

A. Required Materials:

The Trial of Lizzie Borden (link)

Trial Chronology (link)

Excerpts from the Lizzie Borden Inquest (Word document)

Indictment (link)

Key Figures (link)

Transcript excerpts (link) (please read testimony of Robert Morse, Bridget Sullivan, Dr. Bowen, Adelaide Churchill; Alice Russell; Dr. Dolan; Hannah Reagan; and Emma Borden)

Evidence of Lizzie Borden’s guilt (link)

B. Recommended Materials:

Newspaper accounts (link)

Floor Plan of Lizzie Borden House (PDF)

Prosecution Closing Statement (PDF)

Defense Closing Statement (PDF)

Judge Dewey’s Charge to the Jury (PDF)

Excerpt from “American Justice” episode on Lizzie Borden (2006):


Trial the Fourth: Leopold and Loeb Trial (1924)

A. Required Materials:

Leopold and Loeb: An Account (link)

Biographies (link)

The Glasses (link)

Nathan Leopold’s confession (link)

Psychiatric testimony (link)

Clarence Darrow enters a guilty plea (link)

Decision and Sentence (link)

In Leopold’s words (link)

B. Recommended Materials:

Excerpts of the Summations (link)

Defense in Marathon Bombing Has Echoes of Clarence Darrow (PDF) (trial strategy that mirrors Darrow’s anti-death penalty plea)

Leopold and Loeb Documentary:



Trial the Fifth: Scopes “Monkey” Trial (1925)

A. Required Materials:

The Scopes “Monkey” Trial (link)

Biographies (link)

Anti-Evolution Statute (link)

Trial Excerpts (link)

John Scopes reflects (link)

Excerpts of H L Mencken’s reporting on Scopes trial (Word document)

B. Recommended Materials:

Evolution Controversy (link)

Impressions of the Scopes Trial  (link)

H.L. Mencken, The Scopes Trial (PDF)

God v. Darwin: The Scopes Trial:

Excerpt from “Inherit the Wind” with Spencer Tracy:

Trial the Sixth: Rosenberg Trial (1951)

A. Required Materials:

Trial of the Rosenbergs (link)

Chronology (link)

Diagram of a Spy Ring (link)

Biographies of the participants (link)

Excerpts from the Rosenberg Trial Transcripts (Word Document)

Judge’s sentencing remarks (link)

B. Recommended Materials:

Final letter to the sons (link)

The final plea (link)

Iowa-Born, Soviet-Trained (PDF) (Article about George Koval, the real atomic bomb spy)


Trial the Seventh: U.S. v. Cecil Price “Mississippi Burning” Trial (1967)

A. Required Materials:

The Mississippi Burning Trial (link)

Chronology (link)

Biographies (link)

Excerpts from the Mississippi Burning Trial transcript (Word document)

John Doar’s Closing Statement (Word document)

H.C. Watkin’s closing statement (Word document)

KKK Documents (link)

The Jury’s Decision (link)

Supreme Court decision (link)

Historical context–excerpt from “Civil Rights Heroes: The Murder of Emmett Till”:

B. Recommended Materials:

In Quotes (link)

Horace Doyle Barnette confession (Word document)

Doar’s Story (link)

Websites: if you want to see the modern face of the KKK –and I prefer to not link to their websites here despite the fact that I am including them solely for academic purposes– two representative examples are found at and


Trial the Eighth: McMartin Preschool Trial (1987-1990)

A. Required Materials:

McMartin Preschool Trial (link)

Chronology (link)

Letter to McMartin parents (Word document)

Police Interview with Accuser  (link)

Victim Interviews (link)

McMartin Trial Transcript Excerpts (Word document)

Modern Day Salem Witchhunt? (link)

More Than Suggestion  (PDF) (interview practices)

The Longest Trial–NY Times (PDF) (contemporary account of the end of the McMartin trials)

The Real Victims of Satanic Ritual Abuse (PDF) (case of Frances and Dan Keller, cleared after 21 years)

B. Recommended Materials:

The Kelly Michaels Trial (link)

Peggy Buckey interview (link)

Reversal of Michael’s conviction (link)

Stickel’s tunnel excavation and report (PDF) (good example of how people concocted evidence)


Trial the Ninth: LAPD Trial/Rodney King (1992)

A. Required Materials:

Trial of the LAPD (link)

Chronology (link)

Holliday Videotape (link)

Use of Force Chart (link)

Excerpts of LAPD Police Transmissions (Word document)

Police Reports (link)

King’s Arrest Record (link)

Excerpts of the LAPD Trial Transcript (Word document)

Key Figures (link)

B. Recommended Materials:

Supreme Court decision (link)

Images (link)

In Their Own Words/Quotes (link)


Trial the Tenth: O.J. Simpson Trial (1995)

A. Required Materials:

O.J. Simpson Trial (link)

Chronology (link)

Biographies (link)

O.J. Simpson’s Statement (link)

911 Call and Suicide Letter (link)

The Jury (link)

Incriminating Evidence (link)

If I Did It (link)

O.J. Simpson car chase; interview with Detective Tom Lange:

B. Recommended Materials:

Criminal Trial Excerpts (link)

Opinion Polls (link)

What O J Simpson Taught Me About Being Black (PDF)

Verdict in O.J. Simpson civil case—O.J.’s statement:

Judge’s sentencing remarks for armed robbery conviction:


Trial the Eleventh: Oklahoma City Bombing Trial (1997)

A. Required Materials:

Timothy McVeigh (link)

Chronology (link)

McVeigh in Waco (link)

Arrest and Searches (link)

Three Prosecuted Conspirators (link)

Excerpts of the McVeigh Preliminary Hearing (Word document)

Sentencing and Appeals (link)

Last Words (link)


B. Recommended Materials:

John Doe #2 (link)

Selected Excerpts from the Trial Transcript of Timothy McVeigh (Word document)

Into The Mind of Terror (PDF) (excerpt from biography on McVeigh)

The ‘Patriot’ Movement Explodes (Spring 2012) (PDF) (rise in militia and related groups since election of President Obama)

Inside America’s Toughest Federal Prison (PDF) (description of life in Supermax)


Trial the Twelfth: President Clinton Impeachment Trial (1999)

A. Required Materials:

Impeachment of President Clinton  (link)

Chronology (link)

Constitution and Impeachment (link)

From Monica to Handsome (link)

Clinton’s Depositions (link)

Sex and the Starr Report (link)

Lewinsky’s Hellish Day (link)

Was He Guilty? (link)

The Senate Votes (link)

President Clinton’s response to Lewinsky allegations during a speech on education proposals– at the 6:18 mark (January 1996):

Excerpt of President Clinton’s testimony before the Independent Counsel (1998):

President Clinton admits to affair on live television (1999):

B. Recommended Materials:

Map of West Wing (link)

The Blue Dress (link)

For some historical context– impeachment proceedings against President Nixon (July 1974):

More historical context– President Nixon’s resignation (August 1974):

Larry King interviews Monica Lewinsky, Part I (February 2002)

Larry King interviews Monica Lewinsky, Part II (February 2002)


Trial the Thirteenth: George Zimmerman Trial (2013)

A. Required Materials:

The George Zimmerman Trial: An Account (link)

Chronology (link)

Florida Statute on Justifiable Use of Force (link)

Critical Phone Calls (link)

Selected Police and Court Documents (link)

Testimony and Video Clips from Trial (link)

Verdict (link)

blacklivesmatter website (link)

B. Recommended Materials:

Comments of Jurors (link)

Obama’s Statement on Verdict (link)



But who is the Lord (or Lady) of the Rings?

Well, this is a slight interruption in my examination of heartbalm actions, but one question that is raised when an engagement is broken off is: who gets to keep the ring?

Historically, engagement rings were a formal sign of the betrothal, a sign of the formal exchange of an offer to marry and its acceptance. It’s also a wonderful example of ‘hidden law’, where an integral, private part of human interaction also has a legal substratem. Indeed, historically even the word “engagement” had a contractual element, as it also means a promise or agreement, usually in the context of a limited-time term of employment–indeed, I am reminded that written contracts between masters and servants in 19th century Montreal were often referred to as “engagements” in both French and English. Engagements are therefore a vivid reminder of the tension that exists between the law on the one hand, and these intimate relationships on the other. Ifi I give someone a ring, it is a gift, is it not? Is it somehow different if I present it to my lover as a sign that I have proposed marriage, and they have accepted? After all, when a relationship fails, we customarily keep whatever gifts we received from our ex-partner– or at least, we feel entitled to do so.

And therein lies the rub: the law might say one thing, and the ‘informal law’ or custom might say another. If the fiancée dies before the wedding, we would quite rightly think the grieving spouse-to-be should get it back. This, of course, means that we are treating it as something different than a usual gift, as otherwise it would just pass to the heirs of the deceased, which might very well not be the same as a the spouse-to-be. By way of another example, if the partner offering the ring cheats on the other before the wedding, shouldn’t the aggrieved partner get to keep it, assuming she or he wants to? Most of us would probably say yes. This again seems to suggest that something other than traditional legal concepts apply.

But let’s say my fiancée breaks off the engagement, for whatever reason: should she have to return the ring to me? This last scenario is perhaps the clearest example of the tension between law and custom. Custom typically suggests that the answer has to do with who has broken off the engagement. If it is the woman, typically it is expected that she would at least offer to return it. If it is the man, typically he would be expected to not make a claim on it. In many cases, the ring’s bearer might very well have no interest in holding onto something that would be a painful reminder of a relationship-turned-sour (but whether they would want to sell it is another question). The Emily Post Institute says that etiquette dictates that the bride-t0-be should always return the ring regardless of circumstances. Personally, I would side with the Emily Post Institute, but believe that many people would follow an ‘at fault’ rule– the person who is not at fault should get to keep the ring. Again, these questions seem to suggest that in general we want to treat the nature of this gift as somewhat different than a typical one.

In a court of law, however, etiquette does not reign (especially true if you consider the behavior of many of the lawyers you see there!). It may not surprise anyone if I say that “the law” is hardly unanimous on this issue–after all, the law isn’t a hegomonic thing that is everywhere the same. In 1999 Pennsylvania ruled in Lindh v. Surman that the ring was a gift that was predicated on the act of marriage taking place. If the marriage does not happen, the recipient has to return the ring. Inherent in this ruling was the idea that if couples in that fair state could have no-fault divorces, there should also be a no fault regimen in place for broken engagements, and that an engagement ring is a “conditional gift” (e.g., a gift conditioned on an act taking place, namely a wedding between the parties). Seems simple enough, but does it raise an equity issue? Some courts have ruled that the aggrieved party should be the one deciding what to do with the ring. Other courts, in contrast, have ruled that the ring is an absolute gift just like any other, rather than a conditional gift, and need not be returned. A more common rule appears to be that the purchaser will be deemed to retain ownership of the ring should the wedding be called off, a rule that the current NY case of Adler v. Friedman will probably reflect.

Just another good example of how law has a difficult time grappling with affairs of the heart! So, what do you think: who should be the Lord or Lady of the Rings?

Breaching A Promise to Marry: Still Grounds for a Lawsuit?!?

Every so often another lawsuit happens that reminds me that the ‘heartbalm’ lawsuits still exist, in some form. The ‘alientation of affection’ lawsuit is a wonderful example of that, particularly as it surfaces quite often in places such as North Carolina, but there are others. In my opinion, one of the most fascinating in recent memory was essentially a ‘breach of promise to marry’ lawsuit.

Breach of promise to marry actions were premised on the concept that a marriage proposal, if accepted, was a legally-cognizable contract. Given the historical importance that marriage had to women both socially as well as economically, these lawsuits reflected the very real damage to a woman’s reputation if the marriage offer was rescinded or the engagement broken off. A woman thus jilted would often have been seen as ‘damaged goods’ by other men, and her future marriage prospects therefore diminished. The heyday of these suits was the 19th century, and these suits provided a fascinating study in contrasts: Victorians espoused highly-sentimentalized and romantic notions of love, and there was a very real tension between these idealized conceptions of romance and the idea that one could ascribe economic damages to a breach of promise to marry, and hence basically ‘commodify’ love. These lawsuits were both common as well as scandalous (and for a marvelous satire on this institution, I recommend you read Charles Dicken’s novel “The Pickwick Papers”), and the titillating details that came out in these trials were gossip fodder for the 19th century version of supermarket tabloids. One interesting legal twist is that historically the common law (until the late 19th century) precluded the parties in a lawsuit from testifying, based on the premise that they were interested parties and hence their testimony was likely to be self-serving. In breach of promise to marry suits, however, this caused the absurd situation that the two people who were central to the relationship (e.g., the jilted bride-to-be and her ex-betrothed) were precisely the two people from whom the court never heard. Love letters were read outloud in court, and witnesses testified to stolen kisses, passionate glances, strolls arem-in-arm and whatever other details about the relationship they had gleaned, but the ex-lovers themselves could only sit and listen.

So, why is this anything more than just an archaic fragment of our legal past?

Well, some of you may remember that in 2008 the case of RoseMary Shell was in the news. Shell sued her ex-financé for breaking off their engagement, and was awarded $150,000 in damages by a jury in Georgia. Shell had resigned from a well-paying job in Florida to be with her then-beau, Wayne Gibbs. Shell claimed that she had suffered very real financial losses as a result, as she was unable to secure an equally-well-paying job in Georgia, besides the emotional distress she susffered (Gibbs had, charmingly enough, broken off the engagement by leaving her a note in the bathroom). Gibbs, for his part, testified that he had paid off $30,000 of her debts, only to discover that she had even more debt than she had disclosed. Did the jury award her damages based on emotional distress, or her loss of earning power? It’s not clear, but the latter certainly provided a more tangible yardstick for the jurors to use, and perhaps that’s what swayed them. It leaves open the question of whether Shell would have sued had Gibbs broken off the engagement more sensitively, and whether the facts of this case are such that this case’s outcome was highly unusual. The historic premise underlying these lawsuits was, after all, that a woman’s economic and social status was harmed by the breach. While the social aspect may no longer ring true, there may have been just enough of an economic loss in this case to make it fit the 19th century paradigm– if Shell did in fact give up her career to be with her ex-fianceé, then it could be said there were quantifiable damages. Of course, a jury might also have felt that her emotional distress counted for something as well.

Was this a good decision? Personally, I feel a ‘no fault’ regime makes the most sense. The term “breach of promise” suggests this was a contractual agreement– but do people still think of engagements (despite the nomenclature) as some sort of binding agreement? Does it make conceptual sense to move towards a no-fault divorce regime but treat engagements differently? Do decisions such as this, coupled with at-fault divorce, lead indirectly but inexorably to the growing prevalence of ‘divorce by murder’ cases? How does one quantify emotional distress anyway, and is that an appropriate concept to be applying in deeply-personal relationships? However one looks at it, it is another example of the tension between “family” and “law”.

Incidentally, referring to the outcome of her lawsuit, Shell said at the time, “This has been the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do and I think justice has been served,” Shell said.

For some video footage of the story, please see:


Doctorate Thesis: ‘Justice in the Premises’

In the early nineteenth-century, before the system of private prosecutions gave way to the public prosecution system we now know –and before the rise of many civic welfare institutions and social movements dedicated to combating child abuse, spousal battery, protecting the mentally ill, animal welfare and the like–how did Montreal courts grapple with the issue of family violence? Given the sanctity of the family and the public / private sphere dichotomy, we might expect that they chose not to deal with some of these issues at all. This thesis uses the voluminous primary sources of the judicial archives to look systematically as to how courts dealt with cases involving infanticide, child abuse, family violence and spousal murder. In so doing, a clearer picture of the causes of these forms of social pathology and its similarities across jurisdictions and time periods emerges, as well as an indication that courts were willing to interpose themselves into the family sphere to protect children and vulnerable spouses against physical aggression.

Justice in the Premises: Family Violence and the Law in Montreal, 1825 – 1850
(McGill University, Institute of Comparative Law, Doctor of Civil Law thesis, 2003).

Master’s Thesis: ‘The Law of Servants and the Servants of Law’

Using the judicial archives, this thesis seeks to recreate the complex and overlapping legal regime that governed master-servant relations during this formative time in Montreal’s economic life. While traditional artisan-based labor relations were breaking down, these relationships became increasingly contractual in nature. In a system that was weighed in favor of preserving employer’s rights vis-à-vis their employees, courts nonetheless enforced servants’ rights against their masters as well. This study explores the nature of the offenses related to the breakdown of labor relationship as they were enforced within the city limits, and the differences in legal approach towards these issues outside of the city. This thesis was published in two parts by the McGill Law Journal in 2001.

The Law of Servants and the Servants of Law: Judicial Regulation of Labour Relations in Montreal 1830 – 1845
(McGill University, Institute of Comparative Law, Master of Laws thesis, 1997).

Between A Rock And A Hot Place

Before their gradual disappearance in the middle ages, ordeals were used as a form of adjudication of guilt and innocence in criminal proceedings. Based on the supposition that divine knowledge and intervention would steer the results in such a way as to punish the guilty and protect the innocence, ordeals fell into disrepute after the Catholic Church banned clerical participation in 1215 A.D.  This article discusses various forms of ordeals, such as the ordeal of hot iron, and analyzes whether, and to what extent, these ordeals could have served as “rational” forms of adjudication during the period.

Between A Rock And A Hot Place: The Role Of Subjectivity In The Medieval Ordeal By Hot Iron
25 Anglo-American Law Review 87 (1996)

‘The Terrible Haystack Murder’

The 1833 murder trial of Rev. Ephraim Avery was one of the great 19th century American criminal trials. Resulting in a nearly-unprecedented amount of media interest, it became one of the first trials of its kind to achieve national, and even international, coverage. Did the good Reverend seduce, impregnate and then murder the attractive, unmarried young woman who worked in a local factory, staging her death to look as a suicide? A jury acquitted him, but there is enough evidence to suggest that Rev. Avery was culpable. The narrative of the trial allows us a window into many defining issues common to the period, such as gender, religion, sexuality, and social mores.

‘The Terrible Haystack Murder’: Prudery, Piety and Paradox in Antebellum America
40 American Journal of Legal History 1 (1998)

‘Too Well Used by His Master’

Traces the increasingly-contractual nature of master-servant relations during this formative period in Montreal labor history, by analyzing the sometimes-competing but always-overlapping sources such as notarial contracts and indentures, oral agreements, provincial statutes, municipal ordinances, common law principles and judicial discretion that governed these relationships. By analyzing these sources and the cases brought before courts during this period, a clearer picture of the extent to which servants were able to protect their rights during this period, vis-à-vis their employers, emerges.

Too Well Used by His Master’: Judicial Enforcement of Servants’ Rights in Montreal, 1830-1845
46 McGill Law Journal 491 (2001)

The Law of Servants and the Servants of Law

This articles uses extensive primary source materials from the judicial archives and newspaper accounts to analyze the legal and quasi-legal aspects of Montreal labor law during the early nineteenth century. While the letter of the law favored masters, courts were relatively even-handed in adjudicating master-servant disputes. Similarities and difference in adjudicative approaches by courts within and without the city limits are also analyzed.

The Law of Servants and the Servant of Law: Enforcing Masters’ Rights in Montreal, 1830-1845
46 McGill Law Journal 779 (2001)

‘A Noble Roster’

Written in 1998 to commemorate the formal sesquicentennial of McGill University’s Faculty of Law, this was designed to be an ‘armchair’ history book. Divided into thematic chapters, the book includes many primary sources, photos, poems, songs and graphics that help illuminate the Faculty’s legacy.

Someone at was kind enough to state thusly: “For a highly-informative as well as enjoyable history of the Faculty of Law, consult “‘A Noble Roster’: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Law at McGill” (McGill University, 1999), by Ian C. Pilarczyk. This work is divided thematically rather than chronologically, making it an unusual example of this genre.”  I hope you will agree!

‘A Noble Roster’: 150 Years of Law at McGill
(Montreal: Martineau-Gelfand, 1999)

Chapter I: “The Listful Lure of Legal Lore”
Chapter II: Profiles from McGill’s Past
Chapter III: “What A Lonely Business It Was To Be The Only Woman”
Chapter IV: Social Snapshots of McGill Through The Ages
Chapter V: The Peripatetic Faculty: The Many Homes of McGill Law
Chapter VI: «Mes souvenirs sont les meilleurs!» (Memories of McGill)
Chapter VII: The Social Contributions of McGill Law