Transnational Lawyer’s Log, Stardate 23866.2:
An interesting quandary was posed to me recently in an email.
“Aaron, my client was sued in a Klingon court, but was served without a translation into English. The plaintiff sent the summons by interplanetary mail– and it was only sent in the Klingon language, lacking even a summary of the case in English. My client is just a yeoman on the USS Intrepid– one of the guys in red shirts who have the sky-high casualty rate– and was involved in a rescue of the inhabitants of the Khitomer outpost attacked by the Romulans. He doesn’t speak a word of Klingon (the poor kid doesn’t even like Gagh*). Apparently, a couple of the rescued inhabitants were injured in the operation, so they sued him. The Klingon court issued a default judgment, and the plaintiffs now seek to enforce the judgment in his home state of Michigan. Opposing counsel says they didn’t need a translation to make it valid service unless they go through the Central Authority. Help?”
Well, let’s first establish that Klingon signed onto the Hague Service Convention in the year 2322, twenty-five years before the Khitomer massacre. They objected to Article 10, and stated a requirement that all Article 5 requests be transmitted along with a full translation into Klingon.** Michigan has been part of the Convention– via the United States’ ratification– since 1969, well before stardates or the United Federation of Planets were a thing.
Anyway, the young yeoman has some plausible arguments…
- Number one, I would attack the omission of a translation on a straight-up due process basis. Technically, opposing counsel is correct in that a translation isn’t required by the U.S. declarations to the Convention– but those declarations also make clear that our courts may choose not to enforce judgments that arise from mailed service that isn’t accompanied by an English translation.
- Number two, the Klingons don’t allow mail service on their own citizens– they object to Article 10 of the Hague Service Convention in its entirety– so service by mail isn’t valid in either direction. The poor kid from Michigan can’t serve the Worf family by mail, so nobody from Klingon can do it the other way.
- Number three (and this is the big one), remember the constitutional standard… “notice reasonably calculated, under all the circumstances, to apprise interested parties of the pendency of the action and afford them an opportunity to present their objections. ” Mullane v. Central Hanover Bank & Trust Co., 339 U.S. 306, 314 (1950). Just because a decision is four hundred years old doesn’t mean we forget about it. This thing still holds water, even in the 24th century. And if a defendant doesn’t speak Klingon, the calculation isn’t even remotely reasonable. It’s laughable.
* Gagh really is more satisfying when eaten live. It’s a bit disconcerting the first time, but still. Tasty stuff.
** If you’ve never heard Shakespeare or Dickens in the original Klingon, you’re really missing out.