Many of Washington’s top jurists—including three Supreme Court justices—gathered last night to watch the divorce proceedings of Count Claudio and Lady Hero of Messina. The parties in the case, both characters from William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, were represented by two of the District’s most prominent attorneys: Washington’s highest-profile divorce lawyer, Sandy Ain, argued for Lady Hero, while revered criminal defender Reid Weingarten represented Claudio.
Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg presided. Sitting beside her on the bench were fellow justices Samuel Alito and Elena Kagan, as well as judges Merrick Garland, Douglas Ginsburg, Brett Kavanaugh, and David Tatel, all from the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.
Those familiar with Much Ado About Nothing may not be surprised that this pair of young lovers didn’t work out. There were, indeed, some warning signs that their union was doomed. For instance, before their wedding day, Claudio was tricked into believing that his betrothed had been unfaithful, and in retaliation he publicly humiliated Hero and left her at the altar. In a successful effort to win back Claudio’s love and sympathy, Hero then feigned her own death. Not exactly a healthy relationship.
After three months of marriage, Hero filed for divorce in the Superior Court of Messina. The trial court awarded her the divorce and permanent alimony. She did not, however, win back her dowry. The panel of judges assembled last night to hear Claudio's appeal of the lower court's decision to award Hero alimony and the divorce. Hero, in turn, cross-appealed the Superior Court's decision to deny returning her dowry.
The proceedings did not take place in a courtroom; rather they were held at the Shakespeare Theatre Company's Sidney Harman Hall before a packed house of 680 audience members.
The case, "Ado, I do, Adieu: Claudio v. Hero" was the Shakespeare Theatre Company's annual mock trial. As is the tradition, the event gave the judges and lawyers a chance to showcase their dramatic talents, as well as their aptitude for clever one-liners.
Weingarten, making the case to save Claudio and Hero's marriage, opened with a string of pop music references. "I come to you as a champion of love," he told the panel. Quoting "Justice Lennon of Liverpool," he continued: "All you need is love." Arguing against the requirement that his client pay Hero alimony, Weingarten emphasized that Hero's father is the wealthiest man in Messina, "clearly a 1-percenter."
The judges pushed back on that point, questioning Weingarten about what Hero--a spoiled girl with no apparent skill set--could do to earn a living. "They filled all the roles on the Real Housewives of Messina," Justice Alito said. Justice Kagan, meanwhile, suggested a possible career for Hero: "Kim Kardashian!" (In between reading all those legal filings, members of the nation's highest court apparently find time to catch up on their celeb gossip like the rest of us.)
Ain began his argument for Hero with a bit of showmanship. "Excuse me, Your Honors," he said, stepping down from the podium to hand Weingarten a copy of the CliffsNotes of Much Ado About Nothing. The audience roared with laughter, but they weren't on Ain's side for long. During an exchange about why Hero needed to pay footmen to accompany her, Ain said the servants were there to escort her to Loehmann's--a discount department store--and thus, were actually saving her money. Observing that the male judges appeared confused, Ain said he was sure Justices Kagan and Ginsburg could explain to them what Loehmann's is. The audience booed at the sexist quip. Ain quickly back-peddled, conceding that he shouldn't have strayed from the legal questions at hand.
After a brief deliberation, the judges returned to the stage with their decisions. Though they upheld Hero and Claudio's divorce, they determined that Claudio should not have to pay alimony. Hero didn't leave empty-handed, however, since they awarded her the dowry. And with that, the case came to a close. Justice Ginsburg declared: "Now it's time for Champagne."