• November 24, 2015
Judgment of Solomon by Nicolas Poussin

Judgment of Solomon by Nicolas Poussin

At a hearing recently, I heard a trial lawyer praise a judge for her “Solomonic judgment.”

King Solomon is portrayed in the Hebrew Bible as a wise leader and the Bible praises him for the way he resolved a dispute between two “harlots” (1 Kings 3:16-28). They were roomies and each bore a son around the same time. One night, one of the two boys died. One harlot accused the other of swapping the other’s dead son for her living one.

Apparently, nothwithstanding the significant demands of a King’s responsibilities over a nation, there was time on the King’s calendar to deal with the ensuing custody dispute and, of course, the dispute preceded genetic testing, finger-printing, delivery-bed selfies and the like.

So Solomon proposed cutting the living child in half and giving each woman half a lad. One harlot surrendered her claim to the baby, preferring the boy to be raised by the other harlot rather than be cut in two. King Solomon concluded that she must be the mother and the story ends there. (?)

I recently wrote a post on “splitting the baby,” an extremely common way that judges seek to resolve disputes. But the point of the King Solomon story, obviously, is that some situations are “all or nothing” and splitting the difference is not reasonable. King Solomon’s “split the baby” solution was patently insane and the first harlot to say so got to walk home with the kid.

Maybe one harlot (maybe the real mother) was speechless that the King suggested such a crazy way to resolve the dispute (he was famous for being wise rather than insane) and maybe the grieving thieving impostor was just quicker to point out flaw in King Solomon’s pretend problem-solving.  We’ll never know. I just hope the women got new roommates because otherwise that would have been very awkward.

Seriously, I am disappointed that many decision-makers (that is, judges) appear to take the position that, if one party is claiming 10X and the other party is offering 0X, then the two should simply settle for 5X and get out of the courthouse. This presumption, too liberally applied, can produce irrational outcomes, however reasonable it might appear on the surface.

Granted, clever lawyers are ingenious at inserting uncertainty in the minds of decision-makers. When Lawyer for Client A argues for 10X and Lawyer for Client B counters that Client A is entitled to nothing, often both seem very convincing. Determining who is right can be hard work. But as one of our oldest decision-making stories makes clear, in some cases, justice can only be served without actual resort to half-measures. No one should ever think for one second that judges’ jobs are easy, King Solomon’s quick fix notwithstanding.



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