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Sotomayor gets some friendly pronunciation help

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer
  • Newest high court justice gives oral summary of cruise ship case
  • She turned to fellow justice for pronunciation of Italian company
  • Sotomayor was also honored over the weekend in New York

Washington (CNN) -- Having trouble pronouncing an Italian word? If you sit on the Supreme Court, consult an expert.

On Monday, Justice Sonia Sotomayor was announcing the court's opinion in Krupski v. Costa Crociere SpA (09-337), a lesser-known appeal dealing with the scope of the right to file an amended lawsuit to correct a mistake in a party's identity.

The newest justice was having trouble pronouncing the name of the cruise ship company at the center of the case.

Costa Cruises is a British and American-owned firm based in Genoa, Italy, where it is registered as Costa Crociere SpA. The appeal involved passenger Wanda Krupksi, who tripped over a cable and fractured her leg in 2007 aboard the Costa Magica.

At issue was whether Krupski should have sued Costa Cruises or Costa Crociere SpA in federal court.

The justice writing the majority ruling typically announces the decision from the bench in a public session, with a brief oral summary that supplements the official written opinion. That's where the fun began.

Sotomayor needed help and knew exactly where to turn.

"Costa Cruises responded that she should have sued a related company called Costa ... I'm going to ask my colleague Justice Scalia to say it right," Sotomayor said.

"Kroo-chee-ER-ay," said Scalia, who is of Sicilian descent and has written a book on how lawyers can shine verbally when presenting their appeals before judges.

"Kroo-chee-ER-ay," the first Hispanic justice slowly but correctly repeated. "I want to put the Spanish accent on it."

Sotomayor has privately told friends that she was pleasantly surprised when joining the court at how friendly and collegial her benchmates have been, welcoming her to their exclusive club.

Scalia is among the most verbally adept justices, peppering his bench remarks with humor and well-reasoned legal conclusions. His father was a professor of Romance languages in Queens, New York.

Sotomayor, meanwhile, was honored over the weekend in the Bronx, where she grew up. She visited her grade school and then attended a ceremony at the Bronxdale Houses public housing project. It has now been renamed the Justice Sonia Sotomayor Houses and Community Center. She was visibly moved when talking about growing up there and meeting the late Robert F. Kennedy, who had come there in 1958 to tour the projects.

The justice, who turns 56 this month, also gave the commencement address at Hostos Community College, where her mother graduated with a nursing degree in 1974. It has primarily served the Spanish-speaking community in New York.

By the way, in the Crociere case, the high court ruled unanimously for Krupski.

"Costa Crociere should have known that Krupski's failure to name it as a defendant in her original complaint was due to a mistake concerning the proper party's identity," Sotomayor said, with admirable pronunciation.