When we were in elementary school our teachers taught us how to construct a sentence. The very first punctuation we learned was that of a period. I have to admit in those early, early years I did not think it was that big of a deal. I mean really, how could something so tiny make a big difference? Now, as I review cases as a judge I see that my teachers were right — a period is huge. Let me give you an example.
Often I review proposed forms of judgment that have dollar amounts on them. On one of the proposals it said $2500. Well, is that $2,500 or $25.00? I am sure each of us has an assumption as to what it is, but do you want the judge on your case assuming anything? If you were owed $2,500 would you want the judge awarding $25? It is much easier to just write the full and proper number on the proposed form of judgment.
Some time ago I was given a petition for a protection order. It was 68 lines long without a single period or comma. Much of what I read could be taken two different ways. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to read the first few pages of a book without any punctuation? Petitions need to be clear, so the plaintiff was asked to rewrite what had been written. This caused a delay in the issuance of the protection order, as well as extra staff time and extra time by the plaintiff. All over something as small as a period. I have given this a lot of thought and cannot come up with a valid reason to intentionally leave out the punctuation. Punctuation or the lack of punctuation can cause the reader, or in this case the judge, to completely misinterpret what you are trying to say.
Having said that, do not think the judge is going to grade your petition. That is not what he or she is there for. I will let you in on a secret: I am terrible at commas. I mean really bad. So, do not feel uncomfortable about grammar. Come into court with your head held high and ask for help because you are there for something very important.
Lesson from the Bench: Punctuation is important day to day, but when it comes to court documents it is very important that what you write can be understood by all. Also, numbers should not be left up to interpretation. If you are asking for $1,800, then write that full number.