For most folks, the Feb. 29 date that pops up on the calendar once every four years is not that big a deal.
At best, it offers an extra day to binge watch Netflix without having to pay a surcharge for a day that normally doesn’t exist. Or, at worst, it means suffering through an additional 24 hours of political pontificating without getting any closer to November.
But for lawyers, the day is ripe with the opportunity to make some unusual judicial hay, said Twin Cities attorney Marshall Tanick, who is fascinated by the extremes to which some of his fellow litigators go in hopes of parlaying a calendar blip into complex legal maneuverings.
“When something out of the ordinary happens, lawyers will always find a way to use it for bizarre litigation,” he said. “Leap day exemplifies that.”
He documented some of these cases for a recent edition of Minnesota Lawyer magazine.
What Tanick calls “Minnesota’s landmark leap year case” came in 1909 (State vs. Bates), when a Duluth man convicted of selling liquor without a license argued that his sentence was invalid because it made no allowance for the extra time he’d have to spend in the county jail because of leap day.
Even though he wasn’t even jailed during a leap year, his argument made it all the way to the state Supreme Court, which applauded its ingenuity and then rejected it.
Another clever argument was made in 2003 (Neff vs. Jackson Counties), with the defendant claiming that a one-year statute of limitations had expired after 365 days and, therefore, he should be freed because he had been charged on the 366th day. That didn’t fly, either, with the court ruling that a year is a year, regardless of whether it has an extra day.
But some of the arguments do work.
In 1937 (Walker vs. Hazen), an appeals court agreed that leap day had to be factored in when considering the deadline for filing appeals. An appeal filed on March 2 was rejected as being a day late because the lawyers hadn’t accounted for Feb. 29. □