Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Troll Busters - Coming Soon To A City Near You

I know its New Year's Eve and it would be nice to reflect on the year and lessons learned, the variants acts of others, the tragedies of the past twelve months. But, I don't want to talk about that. I want to talk about TROLLS. Trolls live everywhere now a days, not just under bridges where they belong. Modern day trolls are those cowardly, snidely, weasel-like creatures who, under the protection of anonymity post such vile racist and sexist dribble that it makes your skin crawl. These creature are not normal people of average intelligence.  They are cowardly mean creatures who derive a perverse pleasure from anonymously harassing others. What sort of person is so vile as to harass others online seemingly without consequence?  Did their mothers routinely kick them as babies, where they chosen last for dodge ball, or are they merely the product of a noxious genetic mutation than makes them unloving and concomitantly unloveable?  Who knows?

My friend Tony of TKC is a staunch believer in the First Amendment and refuses to edit or delete Troll comments on his blog. I believe in the First Amendment, too. I am following Tony's lead and weathering the Troll storm, while realizing how pathetic and sad these people must be. However, not everyone reacts so passively to trolls. In Sweden there is a television program called Troll Hunters where a team of Internet investigators search and uncover trolls and ambush them in television interviews. When caught, some trolls resort to crying and bawling or trying to run away from the cameras. It seems that many trolls lack courage when faced with exposure. 

What would happen in this country if Troll Hunters  caught on?  Sure, we have the Bill of Rights, but free speech has its limits. In fact, in Missouri it is a crime to harass or threaten others online. I just read the statute, MO. Rev. Stat. Sections 565.090  and following. Mo. Criminal Harassment Statute Hmmmm.  Do you think these racist, sexist, despicable trolls would fare well in jail?  It's something to think about.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Discrimination and Justice - From A Certain Point of View

My law partner and another lawyer we work with got a large verdict in an age discrimination case last week. I think the jury got it right. My partner told me that she felt the Cosmos, or something God-like if not God, was in their favor. I reminded her of the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote, "the moral arc of time is long, but it bends toward justice."  The quote resonated with her. I considered a case I tried where I disagreed with what the jury decided. I felt no Cosmic aid, no ultimate Justice.  Everything about Justice, or life, really depends on one's point of view.

I try, unsuccessfully most times, to consider all points of view in my cases, and, hopefully, in life. Everything in which I believe depends on a certain point of view. Police officers shooting unarmed Black men disturbs me. I am White and a woman, and no one has ever pulled a gun on me or anyone in my family and I hope no one ever does.  Yesterday, two New York police officers were randomly gunned down by a deranged man upset by the Ferguson and Staten Island killings. This was another horrible and senseless killing. I have people with whom I am "friends" on Facebook who, like me, are outraged by what happened in Ferguson and New York. Today someone wanted me to participate in a group called "Police Lives Matter."  I agree that police lives do matter. Yet, I found the request ironic, since this person had an unarmed, white, loved one who was shot and killed by a police officer. I suspect the person advocating the group identifies with white police officers more than the unarmed African-Americans who were shot, even though the person's loved one was killed in a similar fashion.  The only difference I can see in the advocates allegiance with the new group is the police officer victims were not Black, so this person whose White loved one was also gunned down by a police officer doesn't relate to the Black victim in Ferguson. Race appears to be the only difference. It's apparent that our feelings are dependent on our points of view, this time about race.

When I was a kid, Vietnam was the biggest issue. I, as a child, believed, like the sayings on posters, that there would be no war if no soldiers showed up. That was a very simplistic and naive notion. Yet, the notion remains with me that people would be more merciful, and less insular, if we all could just understand the points of view of others. Empathy and compassion are the key to most of society's problems. It's hard, when filled with anger, to step back and try to understand what motivates others with whom we disagree. But, if we do not try to understand what it's like to be a Black youth, a White police officer, or anyone who is frightened or scared or angry or defeated, we cannot progress. Without empathy and compassion, there can be no resolution. Our prisons are over-crowded.  Our streets are often dangerous. Our criminal justice system is dysfunctional. We need to change. I hope Dr. King was right, that the arc of time bends toward Justice.  We all need to expand our points of view. Otherwise, this society will continue to fail.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Are You An "Unconscious" Racist?

When I was a kid, adults I encountered use the "n" word not infrequently. Those people are either quite elderly or dead. It is no longer politically correct to be a flagrant racist. White people rarely identify themselves as racist. Being racist has gone undercover. How can you judge today if you're racist, when you swear you are "colorblind?"

Here are some ways to determine, however begrudgingly, that you might be racist:

1.  You think or have said that white men are the real racial victims today.

2.  You think America has no racism because we have a Black president.

3.  You believe the world is "colorblind."

4.  You think that if Black men would just be respectful to police officers, they wouldn't get stopped, or beaten, or killed.

5.  When you see two or more African-American youths on the street, you want to get away from them.

6.  You wonder why "they" have more crime, or fewer fathers in the household, or beat "their" women more than whites.

7.  You don't like interracial relationships, and never consider why.   You explain that it's much harder on the kids.

8.  You don't like "Black" names like Jamal, Andre or Mo'Ne and can't understand why anyone would choose a name like this for a child.

9.  You think Affirmative Action is unfair.

10.  You get tired of hearing about slavery, since it was abolished in 1865 and what's the big deal.

Many recent studies indicate while being openly racist is frowned upon, we still harbor racial stereotypes and feelings. America is not colorblind.  We need to deal with racial feelings in this country. Ferguson is a wake up call.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


It's trite to write a blog describing how thankful I am for things in this world, but too bad. Thanksgiving is a nice holiday, but it's really dark this time of the year, so expressing my thanks makes me feel better.  First, let me get this off my chest - I do not like winter. I do not like the dark.  I do not like the cold. That being said, these are some of the things for which I am thankful:

1. I am thankful for this time on earth, in which I can see nature, hear music, taste food, feel warm embraces.

2.  I am thankful for empathy, logic and  modest intelligence and the ability to read, write and reason.

3.  I am thankful to be surrounded by the people I love, my husband, daughter, son, son-in-law, brothers, sister, nieces, nephews, mom, in-laws, and extended family. I am also thankful for the memories of those I love who are gone, my dad, grandmother, stepdad.i am thankful my small cadre of friends.

4.  I am thankful to live in a society where my family and I are not oppressed and have opportunities to be free.  I am thankful for the ability to engage in debates, both popular and unpopular. I am thankful I got an education.

5.  I am thankful for all the people I have met whom I have represented and who have taught me so much. I am enriched by them.

6.  I am thankful for my health and the fact I an walk and move and take care of myself.

7.  I am thankful I am a mother.

8.  I am thankful I and my law partner started a business 20 years ago which is going strong and I am thankful for the hard-working and dedicated employees who have built the firm into what it is.

9.  I am thankful that not all people in power are complete idiots.

10.  I am thankful for my dog, and the great dogs we have had before her.

11,  I am thankful for novels and other books and for great writers.

12.  I am thankful for cameras, photos, art, paint, colors and textures.

13.  I an thankful for movies and plays and inspirational speeches.

14.  I am thankful for great leaders and revolutionaries , like Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Eleanor Roosevelt.

15.  I am thankful that my grandmother moved my family to this country and we survived.

16.  I am thankful for the ability to rebel and dissent and disagree.

17.  I am thankful for emotions, particularly, love, joy, and compassion.

18.  I am thankful for risks and the ability to take chances.

19.  I am thankful for having a kind, supportive, and goofy husband.

20.  I am thankful for the Internet and the availability of incredible knowledge at the tip of my fingers.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson - Where Is Nelson Mandela When You Need Him?

The violence in Ferguson, Missouri is not just about the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teen by a white police officer.  The rioting in Ferguson stems from years of frustration about the way African-Americans are treated by whites, especially those with guns and badges who kill.  There was Trayvon Martin.  There were others.  Michael Brown was just the most recent one that has captured the world's attention.

Ferguson, Missouri is a town with a population that is 60% African-American, yet the government and police force is predominantly white.  There are towns and cities like this all around the country. When you couple the fact that the power in this country is with white people and that the population is shifting as non-whites make up more and more of the population, the potential for violence escalates.

I am a 61 year-old gray-haired white woman.  I do not get pulled over by the police often.  The last time I did was a couple of months ago while a passenger in my brother's car.  The officer said my brother was speeding and had failed to signal for a turn.  He asked for my brother's driver's license, which my brother willingly surrendered.  The officer questioned my brother about his Connecticut driver's license, "Do you know you only have 30 days to change your license to Missouri?" "Why did you not get a Missouri license?"  Then the state patrolman turned to me and said, "Can I see your driver's license."  I knew the officer had no reason to ask for my license.  I knew that could tell him no, but I handed it over. I saw no good coming from my refusal.  My drivers license is clear, no tickets, etc. (it helps I am a white woman).  He took it back to his cruiser.  We waited.  The officer walked back up. "I am just going to give you a warning," he said to my brother as he handed the licenses back to us.  No ticket.

I know of African-Americans who are routinely pulled over, for no good reason except  "Driving While Black."  White people are afraid of young Black men.  People you wouldn't expect to be racist have told me as much.

People are also afraid of losing power, losing self-esteem, losing control.  That's what happened during Reconstruction in the South.  The lynchings were a way of putting Blacks who might try to wrest power back "in their place." Intimidation has always been a way for people in power to hold on to that power.  People do not willingly relinquish power.  The racial and ethnic composition of this country is shifting and many white people are scared.  White men have been in charge of this country since it's inception as the United States of America and they do not want to lose control.

In the 1960's we went through a period of race riots.  I remember them.  In fact, in Kansas City, I remember the riots after Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed.  He was the last African-American leader who lead both Blacks and Whites regarding issues of race.  President Obama is our president, but not a racial leader dealing primarily with racial issues.

I also remember when apartheid was abolished in South Africa.  I assumed there would be massive violence because Black oppression had been so virulent and I assumed South Africans would follow America's lead.  But that did not happen.  Nelson Mandela happened.

Nelson Mandela was a man with no equal.  He preached forgiveness even after spending decades in a jail cell.  Mandela oversaw a relatively peaceful racial transition.  He was amazing.  I wish we had a Nelson Mandela here today.  Or, I wish we had his white counterpart.  What I saw in the St. Louis County prosecutor was a total lack of empathy or sensitivity to the straw that broke the camel's back.

I don't know what happened when Michael Brown was killed.  However, I do know that a subset of Americans in this country have traditionally been mistreated, maligned and oppressed.  The volcano erupted, and the prosecutor blames social media.  Sad.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Bill Cosby?

I don't know Bill Cosby.  I have no inside information about what he has or has not done.  It is conceivable that Mr. Cosby is merely the victim of scores of women of various ages, occupations and histories who all just conspired to make up stories about Cosby now for some unknown reason.  Bill Cosby might just be a victim of one of the most extensive celebrity-related conspiracy in history. Right.

If you accept that Bill Cosby engaged in some sort of nefarious behavior, which I do, why would he do this?  Is Cosby just an over-sexed, self-centered jerk, or is his behavior something more?  How does one of the most beloved men in America go from angel to devil?  I have some theories.  Mind you, my theories are not based in fact and certainly not based in science.  I have handled sexual harassment cases for some time and I have seen firsthand the actions of others that remind me of the allegations lodged by the women accusing Cosby.  So, for what it's worth, here is what I think.

Bill Cosby has problems, deep-seated problems from an early age.  If the allegations are true, Cosby has an issue with self-esteem and power.  Sex and power oftentimes go hand in hand.  In ancient times and now, when an invading army defeats the locals, what do they do?  RAPE and pillage. Sexual harassers are damaged men in positions of power who abuse that power.

Look at Cosby's history.  We have heard Bill Cosby lecture Black men ad nauseum about pulling their pants up, etc.  I think Cosby, by taking on the role of African-American super-father was tempting fate.  He talks about education, which is a good thing, but he had issues in school and went on to get his Ed.D. degree only after failing his sophomore year in high school, dropping out of school, taking correspondence courses to get his GED, enrolling in college, dropping out and finishing his education later.  While it is admirable that he went back to school, he has had human failings and was not always a golden child.  So, why does he think he can preach to others?

If you look at the sexual allegations, it seems that the first came out publicly after his time on The Cosby Show as the prototypical "American Dad." In the early  2000's and late 1990's, America was not ready to accept a tarnished Cosby, so the allegations fell on deaf public ears, while Cosby paid off the women he abused.  During the Cosby Show, Bill Cosby had fame, power and money.  He got cocky.  As time elapsed, his fame diminished and more allegations came forward.

I think that people like Cosby sometimes have a death wish.  Perhaps he wanted to tempt fate.  After all of these years as a Teflon-celebrity, with no allegation however disgusting, sticking, Cosby desired to regain some of his lost power.  It was not until Bill Cosby planned a television comeback and reignited his touring career that his world collapsed.  Perhaps his preaching about how Blacks should act, coupled with his diminished name, was sufficient for these persistent allegations of sexual abuse by many women to finally take hold. Maybe now, after pushing the envelope his whole life, Cosby had finally gone too far.  Maybe now Cosby's Teflon turned to Velcro.  Perhaps Bill Cosby was seeking the condemnation and punishment that he always knew he deserved and was destined to find.

If the allegations are true, Bill Cosby is a criminal.  Yet, as America's sweetheart dad, he was able to skate.  What if Bill Cosby is just an older Lindsey Lohan seeking public condemnation for his self-hatred?  In any event, it appears that Bill Cosby tempted fate one time too many.

Hopefully there is a lesson here, about power and sex and fame.  Hopefully the Bill Cosby story will spur some other girl or boy to come forward and refuse to be sexually abused.  Hopefully, Bill Cosby's legacy will be one of Americans, male and female alike, understanding the nefarious nature of abusing one's power by controlling others.

The Cosby store is one of abusing power more than one of sexual promiscuity.  Bill Cosby may have just thought he was more powerful than he is.  Or maybe he was just seeking the punishment he always thought he deserved.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Cowboy Lawyers - the American Civil Legal System

I was fortunate enough to participate in a trial demonstration, a mock trial with a mock jury, in Berlin, Germany this September.  It was a fascinating experience, having never been to Germany and not knowing much about the German, or European, legal systems, I was very curious.  I knew that there was no right to a jury trial in Germany, a system in which I fervent believe.  Yet, I was surprised by the competent and fair way Europeans, specifically Germans, dispense civil justice.

In Germany, law students undergo go a couple of years of apprenticeship, an internship if you will, before being allowed to practice law. I wish we had a similar system here.  When I went to law school, brand new lawyers were ill-prepared to practice law.  The Paper Chase was a popular television show before I started law school and the actor, whose name escapes me, (who touted Meryl Lynch - "They make money the old-fashioned way, they earn it.") told the viewers and Harvard law students on the show, that he would teach them to "think like a lawyer."  At the time I watched that program, I thought thinking like a lawyer must be a great thing to do.  I suppose what the Paper Chase professor meant, was to think logically.  However, in real life, new lawyers might approach legal issues more logically, yet without a clue of how to file a lawsuit and draft a will.  I understand that American law schools do teach more practical application of the law than in the olden days, but it sure would have been, and I suspect still would be, nice formally apprentice with an experienced attorney before being thrown to the wolves.  I, as many other young lawyers did, found mentors and informally apprenticed.  For those who were not so lucky, I do not know how they learned and adjusted.

In Germany, the law student has one of two paths to follow, as a lawyer or as a judge.  The judicial path is for the better students.  Judges have an enormous amount of power in Germany, and are fiercely independent from the government.  Since the German lawyers turned judges know the law and are deemed to be intelligent, they, in essence, investigate the case and are deemed sufficiently sophisticated to have the common good at heart.  A German lawyer confided in me that if a German was hurt on the job, and lost his or her leg, the recovery would be around $100,000 and the German lawyer and I agreed how woefully inadequate that award would be.  Germany does not have an adversarial system such as we do.  Most times, if a German litigant cannot afford a lawyer, the lawyer petitions the government for payment.  While I was taken aback at the unbridled power of German judges, it occurred to me that their system works because of all the societal benefits we do not share. In Germany, there is no at-will employment.  Every employee has a contract and rights towards his or her employment.  If a German is injured, the health care is provided by the government, as are social programs.  Germany is so much more of a socialist country.  One young German lawyer told me that if I was politically left-leaning in America, I would probably be considered a conservative in German culture.

We went through our mock trial demonstration, and, at the end of the day, a jury made up of young German lawyers deliberated on camera and awarded a fair verdict to the critically injured plaintiff in this fake products liability case we litigated.  People are not so different in other parts of the world. The mock jurors deliberated and came to agreement in ways that American jurors do in this country.

What is really different between the German civil justice system and the American civil justice system is embodied by the lawyers.  We have much lower taxes percentage-wise than Germans.  We do not have the government pay lawyers who represent those without the means to pay for legal representation unless it is a criminal cases.  In civil cases, we have what I like to call a COWBOY LAWYER SYSTEM.  Corporations can afford to hire law firms to represent them.  I have heard many a lawyer tell me that he or she (mainly he, though) doesn't want to talk about settling a case until the firm had had an opportunity to "bilk" (my word, not theirs) the file.  Many, if not most, defense lawyers do not say things like this.  However, it is a fact that under normal billing methods, the longer a firm works on a case, the more the firm earns.

As you know if you have been reading this blog, I am a plaintiffs' lawyer.  However, plaintiffs' lawyers, myself included, do not fare better.  Plaintiffs' lawyer are paid contingent fees, a percentage of the recovery in a case.  The system was set up because most people cannot afford to pay for lawyers and if the people are seeking redress for damage, those with no money can still seek justice. As a practical matter, this system is somewhat, although, in my opinion, not fatally flawed.  When I take on a case, I know that if we lose, I will not get paid.  I also know that, if we win, I may win big. Ah, there is the rub.  People do not become plaintiffs' lawyers simply to help the poor.  If that were the case, we would become government or Legal Aid lawyers.  We plaintiffs' lawyers may have big hearts and truly care for justice, but we work on contingent fee cases because we are cowboys.  By cowboys, I mean, we take risks.  We gamble.  Sometimes I liken what I do to being a professional gambler.  Never knowing if the next big case is beyond the horizon, we gamble with our money, our time, and our affection.  We take no physical risks, but boy, do we take financial risks.  And, just like gamblers, we relish the peaks and withstand the valleys.  When we get a verdict from a jury many times more than what was offered by the defendant, we preen.  We are Peacock Cowboy Lawyers. I include myself wholeheartedly in this description.  Being a plaintiffs' lawyer is addictive.

In Germany, I contemplated working in a legal system with significantly less risk to the participants and lawyers and significantly more security.  I don't think I would like it.  Where is the adrenaline-rush?  You ride your horse on the prairie, hoping to find a slight upgrade. In America, we gallop on our steeds off the sides of cliffs, praying for a soft landing. I do not know if the German system makes more sense, and I doubt after practicing law for 31 years in America, practicing law in Germany would be satisfying for me.  Perhaps I should consider starting a 12-step program called Plaintiffs' Lawyers Anonymous.  Even though we lawyers hate to admit it, perhaps our Cowboy Peacock preening is part of the reason that many Americans cannot stand lawyers.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Discussing The Big Five Cultural Taboos: Race, Sexual Orientation, Sexual Abuse, Religion, Mental Illness

In picking a jury, and at other more common times in my life, I have felt it necessary to talk about taboos.  Taboos - those things that we do not like to discuss.  Why?  Because these subjects are hard to talk about and are divisive.  When you discuss taboos, you may have an opinion someone else disagrees with and then there will not be apparent harmony on the earth.  It is so much easier to talk about things that do not matter.  No one gets hurt, no one gets offended, and the conversations are easily forgotten.  We all have, feelings, opinions and beliefs borne from a lifetime of experiences and prejudices.  I suspect that since we are reticent to discuss taboo subjects with others whose opinions may differ, many issues that could be resolved are not.  Here is a list of what I see as common taboos that those of us with manners and good taste are wont to avoid, lest we expose ourselves for who we are and show what drives us:

1.   RACE - We (meaning people like me, Caucasians) like to pretend that race issues do not drive what happens in this world.  We like to pretend that racism does not exist.  For crying out loud, isn't our President half-Black?  How can anyone accuse us of being racist.  I do have to discuss race in cases of race discrimination or when I represent a non-Caucasian client and I know that self-identifying as a racist is no longer preferred, as it was by many during my childhood so many years ago.  In recent years, I have had to explore this issue with questions like, "What do you think about inter-racial relationships?"  One time that questions resonated with some brave souls who felt safe enough to honestly state their opinion, one with which I disagree.  I listened, accepted what the people said, because we all need to feel safe with our beliefs.  Those people were struck from the jury, because I represented an African-American woman who had been called by the "n" word at work.  But, at least we had some semblance of a discussion. Pretending that the issue does not exist merely perpetuates racism.

2.   SEXUAL ORIENTATION - This may be an even harder discussion than with race.  When I was a child, it was popular to stay nasty, horrible things about members of the LGBT community.  Of course, none of the people I knew thought they knew a gay person, and LGBT was not a phrase back then.  Back then, we subjected  perhaps 10% of the population to horrible ridicule,  causing many to be too afraid to dare publicly state who they were and who they loved.  That was so sad.  I suspect many people led and still lead tormented lives because of the cruelty of the masses.  I am so happy to see society change, but we have a long way to go.  Why is okay to torment a group of people who simply want to live and love in peace?

3.  SEXUAL ABUSE - When I started handling sexual harassment cases in the early 1990's, I noticed a troubling fact, most of my sexual harassment clients had been childhood victims of sexual abuse.  After I started talking to new clients, after I thought we had developed some mutual trust, I began asking each new client if she had been sexually abused and, almost without exception, the answer was 'yes.'  I began to wonder, can these harassers sniff out the women already victimized by others?  Something like 1/4 of the women in the United States, and many more in other countries, are sexually abused at some time in their lives.  In Nigeria, Boko Haram, the militant group which kidnaps schoolgirls to "marry" them off are simply selling young girls into slavery.  I have had many clients whose lives seemed to be undermined by their vulnerability, especially if they were beautiful by modern standards and had less-advantaged childhoods.  Beauty can be a curse to vulnerable women. Odd, huh?  The thing that Americans value most in women, beauty, can be bad.  If we could have open discussions about heinous things such as sexual abuse, would things be better?  I do not know.

4.  RELIGION.  Bill Maher recently went on a rant against the Mormon church, calling it a cult. What a sanctimonious thing to say.  All religions have beliefs that can only be accepted if one has the faith to accept the beliefs.  While I am not going to expose my views here about religion, since I, too, fear dissent, belief is all about faith.  What troubles me is the significant history of repression, violence and genocide in the name of religion.  Many might not agree with some people who commit crimes in the name of religion, but it is folly to condemn the religion because of the actions of a few people.  The purpose of all organized religions is to make people and society better.  Unfortunately, in fact, the commission of crimes purportedly in the name of religion causes great societal damage. Politics, in a perverse way, is a by-product of religion.  People sometimes adhere to political beliefs as zealots.  Religion and politics both involve socialization, community and power.

5.  MENTAL ILLNESS  - We are so sanctimonious when it comes to mental illness.  I say "we," meaning me, and many others I know.  You know those anti-depressants you take because you have been stressed.  Those are to relieve the symptoms of depression, a mental illness.  Some of the most creative and productive members of society, of humanity, suffered from mental illness.  In the book "Olive Kitteridge" by Elizabeth Strout, Olive declares that she is depressed because she is intelligent and complicated and that simple people are less likely to be depressed.  While I know of no statistics to support that statement, I know a lot of complicated, brilliant, creative, productive people with mental illnesses.  Abraham Lincoln, Edgar Alan Poe,  and Vincent Van Gogh were all purportedly mentally ill.  So get over it and accept that we all have challenges.  Embrace each other.

If we are ever to have a modicum of peace and civility on this planet, we must accept each other.  As the fictional Atticus Finch said to his fictional daughter Scout in "To Kill A Mockingbird" by Harper Lee,“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.”   Oh, that we could make this statement become fact.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Cancer of Cigarettes

A whole generation of Americans is dying or suffering with cigarette-caused ailments, and the world pretty much ignores their plight.  My parents smoked as teenagers.  It was the thing to do.  Cigarettes were touted in commercials in the 1950's as not only safe, but healthy.  Tobacco companies made billions and billions of dollars by addicting kids, who smoked throughout their lives until they sickened and died from debilitating and painful illnesses.

My father and my mother were both addicted to cigarettes, with my dad dying at age 59.  My mother quit smoking in her early 40's, but now in her 80's she struggles with debilitating COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), continually tethered to a tank of oxygen and struggling to walk more than just a few feet.

There have been some successful lawsuits against tobacco companies, but they are just a drop in the bucket of the vast stores of money these immoral corporations accumulate.  Americans don't smoke as much today as they did 50 years ago, so tobacco companies have addicted unsuspecting smokers in third world countries.  Rather than go under as I had hoped because of the downturn in profits, these giant corporations with their vast stores of money simply diversified and purchased food companies, buying Nabisco and other companies with piles of money from their ill-gotten gains.

There is no good result from nicotine addiction.  There are no health or societal benefits to smoking, outside of farmers who can sell a "cash crop" to alleviate their financial struggles.  Yet, we have rewarded these companies and the people who own them.  Alcohol, which can be destructive, can also have some health benefits.  In centuries past, water was unsafe.  Fermenting fruit juice saved lives.  Not so with tobacco.  Yet we do way too little to regulate this vile industry.

Every day I watch my mother struggle for a breath.  She thought when she quit smoking in the 1970's that she could reverse the consequences of the noxious habit.  I thought she could, too.  But, even though she quit 40 years ago, it was too late.  

Think of the billions of dollars the cigarette industry has caused in medical bills which they do not pay.  Think of the cancers and heart diseases and lung diseases that their products have caused, for which they do not pay.  Think of the suffering of the addicted tobacco users and their families, for which they do not pay.  The companies get richer, while their victims sicken and die.

When a 12 or 13 year old begins smoking, he or she is not competent to commit to a life of cigarette-related suffering.  We have to do more to make these evil companies pay for what they have done. So far, these businesses and their shareholders have profited from a product which causes death and horrible illness.  They get rich, while the unsuspecting, immature smokers end up dying from their childish misadventure.

I grew up in a house filled with smoke and full ashtrays.  Everyone I knew of my parents' generation smoked.  Most have horribly suffered as a consequence.  And the companies just get richer.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Whistleblowers - Real Heroes

Lately, the media has covered instances of airbags killing passengers.  The airbags were made by a Japanese company, Takata, that tested the airbags in 2004, and found them to be defective. Corporate leaders in Takata ordered that the test results were to be destroyed.  Chicago Tribune story  Work to fix the defective airbags was cancelled.  It is unknown how many people have died as a result of these defective airbags.  If there had been even one whistle-blower, lives might have been saved.

I watched "Citizen Four," a documentary about Edward Snowden and his NSA whistle-blowing, today with my brother.  I do not know any more facts outside of what was presented in the documentary, but it is shocking to me that our government surveils the cell phone records, internet postings, emails of all Americans.  Angela Merkel was understandably upset to discover, through Snowden's disclosures, that our government was (hopefully, in the past tense) listening to her cell phone calls.  Merkel has always been one of our closest allies.  Snowden is a whistle-blower.  His film caused me to reflect on the characteristics of whistle-blowers, some of our unsung heroes in this country.

These are my conclusions.  A whistle-blower is:

1.  Someone with the courage to come forward even though the likelihood of retribution is high;
2.  Someone who is not swayed by fitting in or being popular among co-workers;
4.  Someone who puts the good of society above his or her personal interests.

There are not many whistle-blowers because being a whistle-blower can ruin one's life.  In Snowden's case, he is charged with criminal violations.  If he comes back to this country, he will be prosecuted. Most whistle-blowers, at the very least, forfeit their livelihoods.  Some whistle-blowers become unemployable.  Whistle-blowing affects not only the whistle-blower, but also his or her family.

Ironically, if corporations or governments took whistle-blowers' complaints seriously, the corporations or government would be better off.  Takata would be much less likely to fail if it had heeded experts advice, and lives would have been saved.  Whistle-blowers are generally not looking out for their own self-interest, but looking at society's interest and even the interest of their employers.  Yet, they are vilified, and, at best, fired, and, at worst, criminally or physically attacked.

Whistle-blowers are atypical.  They put others' needs first.  They don't put their jobs, fitting in with co-workers or just getting along over their public responsibilities.  In a sense, the founding fathers of this country, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, were whistle-blowers.  It would have been easier to just get along with the Brits and pay those tea taxes.  Karen Silkwood would have lived a little longer, although she was doomed by her radiation exposure.  Enron might still be in existence if the whistle-blowers had been heeded.

Whistle-blowers are not recognized in this country as heroes, but they are.  Whistle-blowers risk their own well-being for the common good.  i just hope there are many courageous whistleblowers in the future.  Without them, we are all screwed.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Marriage Equality in Western Missouri - Wow!!!!!

In the last few years, I read of other states and their quest to give the right to vote to people of the same gender, with admiration and a little envy.  I love Kansas City and almost everything about it. Sure, we can have extreme weather, sometimes the coldest of the cold in winters and the hottest of the hot in summer.  But, the thing that has always bothered me about the Heart of America (which, if Ohio is the midwest, I think we are more appropriately called the Heart of America), is the lack of "heart" for the LGBT community.  About ten years ago, Missouri passed a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage.  Sigh.....  When a judge in St. Louis declared that the amendment was unconstitutional, just a couple of days ago, I was encouraged.  But, St. Louis is a long way from here - 250 miles.  However, yesterday, when federal judge Ortrie Smith declared the amendment to be unconstitutional, you could have knocked me over with a feather, and I was overjoyed!

For years, I practiced primarily in federal court and I learned to respect Judge Smith, who had been a small town lawyer from Nevada, MO, a nice town but perhaps not the hotbed of progressive thought. Judge Smith has always been fair, thoughtful and honorable.  I was so delighted that it was he who was the first federal judge in Missouri to recognize marriage equality.

And then to my surprise, upon emerging from a meeting, I discovered that gays were already getting marriage licenses and being married in Jackson County by retired Judge Vernon Scoville.  Judge Scoville oversaw the marriage of my daughter and son-in-law.  How nice and fitting that he would be the first judge to officiate at marriages of same sex couples!

I am awed by how quickly support for equality for the LGBT community has spread through the country, after such a long time of bigotry and discrimination.  This turnaround, particularly in the Heart of America, is so heartening.  I have always thought that people in the future would dumbfounded by the bigotry this country has shown toward gays and how years in the future, people would be embarrassed by the conduct of their predecessors.  Even President Obama just recently saw the light.

Perhaps, when I go on my rants about injustice and inequality, I can get some solace about this country's about-face on this important issue.  I only hope that the attitude of acceptance continues. Right now I am have a case in the Court of Appeals hoping the Court will recognize discrimination based on sexual orientation as sex discrimination, since our state discrimination statute does not specifically prohibit sexual orientation discrimination.  Wow!  What is this world coming to?  Maybe something good!  I hate to sound so jaded, but what Judges Smith and Scoville did yesterday helps to restore my faith in humanity and reduce my cynicism in a significant way.  Whoa.

Everything's up to date (almost, anyway) in Kansas City!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Best Government Money Can Buy

This week I read a New York Times article about a D.C. lobbying firm that apparently exerts a great deal of control on states Attorneys General. New York Times Article  I also have a habit of reading ethics reports of various Missouri political candidates. MIssouri Ethics Commission.  Look on the page where it lists contributions over $5,000. Rex Sinquefield contributes millions of dollars, literally, to candidates.  Recently he contributed $750,000 to the campaign of Catherine Hanaway. But, don't get me wrong, these types of contributions are for candidates on both sides of the aisle. Politics these days is big money. Candidates need not go to the gambling boats, or work hard.  Just find a political sugar daddy, the Koch brothers, Rex Sinquefield or any number of the newly crowned humans,  these 'people" corporations of unlimited means. These disclosures make me sad.  Since the Citizens United case, there is no limit on political contributions.  Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.  The people, who now include corporations, with the most money can theoretically control our government.  You know how corporations are legally and officially people now.   In fact, it probably is conceivable that a person can marry a corporation. You may wonder how a marriage to a corporation is consummated, but it should be obvious to all, that corporations now screw people every day.

I do not know if elections of public officials was ever fair.  We have had political bosses, such as Boss Tweed and Tom Pendergast in our past.  You would think in today's day and age we might have come up with something better.  But, what incentive do people have to do away with obscene campaign contributions when it is those in power who want to maintain the status quo?  Peruse the ethics commission records and it may surprise you what attorneys general do with the political contributions they gather, spending it on McDonald's meals, Starbucks coffee, everyday expenses that the rest of us use our paychecks to cover.  Money is power in the political realm and at times those people who seek political office in reality seek money and power.

Our system is one of legalized bribery.  How can we condemn corrupt regimes who benefit the rich and powerful in order to receive riches and power when that is exactly what our political system rewards.  I do not know of a better way to find political candidates than the self-selection process we now have, but I can envision a better way of controlling the bribery.  We should have political contribution limits. We should have limits on campaign durations.  We should have better limits on what political contributions can fund.  We should pay more public funds to all campaigns and limit spending.

In a couple of days the political advertisements will end.  Then we get on to the task of seeing the real fruit of the contributions.   We will see the bills proposed or opposed based on the contributions received. We have a sordid system of conducting our government.  The people who would be the best and most altruistic do not have the stomach for politics and its requirement of constant campaigning and begging for campaign contributions.  In fact, in light of the legalized bribery system we have, is it any wonder that politicians' motives are generally suspect.  It disturbs me when I think about our system.  Sure, we do not have wide-scale tyranny and we are fond of saying that we have a flawed system, but it is the best system in the world.  Is that true?  And if it is true, is that any reason to stop making it better.  As long as unbridled political contributions are sought and allowed, our countries political system, and the country itself, is in danger.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Six Guidelines (Humbly Suggested) For Leading a Satisfying LIfe

I am no expert on what it takes for a person to lead a satisfying life, but I have some idea of what it does not take.  Life satisfaction does not come from isolated goals, such as wealth, fame or beauty. Sure, when someone does not have enough money to pay the bills, money helps.  The same goes for fame and beauty, but these pursuits alone are generally lacking in furthering a goal of life fulfillment.
It seems to me, that the best way to achieve happiness, or fulfillment, has little to do with superficial achievements.  At the end of the day, or at the end of one's life, I think the question should be, do I have regrets?  Since we all make mistakes, and I can tell you I have made a boatload of mistakes in my life, hopefully these mistakes do not end up as being regrets, that we learn lessons from our mistakes.  I am not an expert in psychology and I do not profess to be better than others, but after much consideration, I think the guidelines below are a good start to a life well lived.

These are what I think are the building blocks of a satisfying life:

1.  Take calculated risks -  This is really hard.  It is hard getting out of one's comfort zone.  To some people, that may be riding that roller coaster (literally, not the figurative roller coaster of existence that many of us have.)  I do not like the feel of falling, I mean really falling, down many feet at rapidly increasing speeds.  If you do, go for it.  If you want to sky dive, do it.  Those things are not my cup of tea.  I prefer calculated risks such as going to trial for a person and cause in which I believe.  I respect those who stand up against bullying or protest against a law or practice about which they feels is unjust.  Speaking up is a risk.  You have to be willing to suffer the consequences of a bad result.  Robbing a bank is a risk, but I do not consider it a wise risk, nor an objectively calculated risk.  The downside is prison or death by shooting.  Robbing a bank has negative moral implications.  I can honestly say, for most people, robbing a bank does not lead to self-fulfillment.  Each of us needs to honestly assess what we are afraid of doing, and if it is something that makes you feel more confident or better about yourself, do it.  Of course, if you are a sociopath or serial killer, please ignore this advice.

2.  Deal with personal demons - no one comes through childhood, or adulthood, unscathed.  We all have demons.  Some of us have terrifying demons, being victims of sexual or child abuse, living with people who deride us, being bullied in childhood.  Ignoring demons is bad.  People who are oppressed oftentimes grow up to be oppressors.  It is not easy seeking counseling, being honest about our faults, admitting our imperfections.  A really wise man I know says, "If you can't talk about it, it's out of control."  I believe that statement to be profound.

3.  Forgiving others  - Many people believe that forgiving others who have hurt them somehow lets the other person off the hook.  That is the wrong way to look at transgressions.  When we hold grudges and refuse to forgive others, we hurt ourselves.  Forgiveness is for us, no really for the people who hurt us.  There is a saying that I believe, "Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die from it."  Being filled with rage, hatred and anger, damages us, not the target of the scorn.  To end of up feeling satisfied from life, it is necessary to forgive.  Anger tears up the psyche of the angry.  Forgiveness can be hard, but it is oh so satisfying.

4.  Love ourselves - It has taken me a long time to accept who I am .  I have gray hair, excess weight, a smart-alecky mouth and I gossip at times.  I love myself anyway.  The only way to feel truly accepted in life is through self-acceptance.  The only way to gain true self acceptance, for me, is by following rules 1-3 above.  Once you love yourself, or, in other words, develop a thick skin, it is hard to be vulnerable to attacks from others.  If you are not seeking validation from that boss, that co-worker, that boss, that lover, you can concentrate on others.  Only when you love yourself, can you forget about yourself and do the things that are satisfying, such as working at a job you love, being a good parent, being a good neighbor, being a good spouse.  When we love ourselves, we can forget to think about perceived problems.  Only then do we feel contentment, in being a person focused on people and issues outside ourselves and free of self-doubt and self-criticism.

5.  Do what you love - You may love your job.  You probably love your children and your mate, if you have one.  You may love doing volunteer work.  Do something outside of yourself that brings you fulfillment.  Volunteer to help someone in need.  Give your children encouragement.  Help your partner or your parents.  Bake cookies and give it to someone.  If you can afford it, send flowers to someone who does not expect it.

6.  Give without expecting anything in return - When you give to someone without expecting anything in return, it is truly satisfying.  The act of giving to someone else is reward enough, even if not appreciated by others.  We don't have children so that there is someone to take care of us when we get old, or at least, that is not a good reason to have children.  Donate anonymously.  Think of others.  The act of giving is reward enough.  True love is about giving, not getting.

Well, off the top of my head, these are the six things that I can think of that leads to a satisfying life. None of us knows what the future holds.  We have to work on the now.  I am sure others have more, better thought out, ideas on how to lead a satisfying life.  But the six guidelines above are certainly a good start.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Why I Love THIS Kansas City Royals Team and Why It Scares Me

I do not know who is going to win the World Series, but I sure hope it's the Royals.  This Royals team is different, and not just because they are winning.  I am no baseball expert, but I have followed the Royals since the team's inception in 1969, when I was 16 years old.  Those early years seemed like they were easy years.  Sure, they won a lot and we expected them to win a lot.  When I was younger, the Kansas City team was the Athletics, which left for Oakland.  My mother used to take my brother, sister and I to old Municipal Stadium to watch the A's, which had a pretty lousy record.  I loved going to the games, nevertheless.  I remember stepping through the dark gate and into the bright lights of the colorful and beautifully kept field.  The brilliant greens of the field, along the the kelly green and gold uniforms were so visually spectacular.  Of course, the famous George Toma was the groundskeeper and he was the person associated with the A's that gave Kansas City the most pride.

Fast forward to the early Royals.  Everyone in this city loved Ewing Kauffman and his devotion to Kansas City and to baseball.  I loved and love the blue of the Royals.  The early Kauffman Stadium, before it was named the K, had ugly orangish, reddish seats which were replaced with the more spectacular blues of the present incarnation of the stadium.  My husband and I, then teenagers and dating, went to games all of the time.  The seats in the bleachers in left field were a cheap date and my husband loved baseball, and I loved it, too.  I remember the time I tried to convince my then boyfriend to leave because of the boring pitchers' duel we were watching from way out in left field. He insisted we stay and I reluctantly watched what turned out to be Nolan Ryan's first no-hitter. Back then, though, we expected to have great teams, with George Brett and Frank White and Amos Otis and Freddie Patek.  Then, Mr. K died and the Royals went to hell.  I used to laugh, because for the last 28 years, we have had "rebuilding" years.

This is why I like the Royals now even better than then.  The players are young, exuberant and fun. Lorenzo Cain grabs flies that look impossible to catch, as if he is a super-human.  The team members seem to enjoy each other and love to play the game.  They love playing baseball, they play harder than humanly possible.  They love the fans.  They are young and exuberant, instead of jaded and arrogant.  They are not the super millionaires of most other teams.  They are not involved in doping scandals.  These Royals play the game as the fans hope players will play, with enthusiasm and youthful exuberance.  That is why the country loves the Royals as much as the fact we have had such a bad team for so long.

And that is also why I am oh so slightly jealous, of that youthful exuberance.  The contest is still new and fresh for these players.  They are not jaded or overwhelmed by greed or ego.  They are young and innocent, and I am not.  I wonder if this wonderful fielding and diving to catch fly balls will be part of their existence in ten years.  I wonder what salary negotiations will be like for these players in the future.  I wonder if personal gain and fame will overcome their love of team, fans, and the game.  I wonder if they will become jaded in the quest to win their games as I have been disenchanted and jaded in my world.  I have "practiced" law for 31 years, longer than most Royals players have been on this earth.  I want their exuberance.  I want their enthusiasm. I still can see remnants of my youth. But the "game" of law is not so much fun as it used to be.  Of course, law is not supposed to be a game.  It is supposed to be a quest for justice.  I just wish I could get some of my innocence back. Oh to be Lorenzo Cain.  May he never feel jaded.  Right now, I want to have a little of the Lorenzo Cain mojo.  At least I colored my nails blue and I will use the blue chalk in my white hair during the series.  Maybe the Royals can be an inspiration to us all. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Employers Could Save Billions By Preserving Employees' Civil RIghts

The way our American companies treat their employees, especially in employee civil rights, oftentimes is one of the more foolhardy and ill-conceived ways to run a business.

Take this fairly typical scenario:  a supervisor starts making sexually inappropriate remarks to a female subordinate.  She finally tells her boss to stop.  He doesn't.  She goes to her boss's boss and complains.  The first boss hears about the complaint and starts treating the woman with disrespect, criticizes here performance, writes her up, and makes her job hell and she quits.

The woman goes to a lawyer and files a charge of discrimination with the EEOC.  What does the employer do?  Here are some examples:

1.  Call a high price law firm to make the woman's life hell - checking into her sexual history, stating she is flirtatious or dates others, try to find dirt on her.  Then the law firm defends the case in a "scorched earth" fashion, sparing no expense, billing thousands of hours and ultimately offering nothing or an insulting amount to the woman.

2.  Hold sexual harassment "training" either in person or over the Internet that is universally ridiculed by the employees.  After all, how "politically correct" do they want us to be?  Women who complain are reviled and harassment is kicked up a notch.

These types of reactions can cost the company millions.  The company pays for their high-priced lawyers who prolong the case and bill generally, assigning ten or more staff to work on the case.  The company lives in la la land and believes that their side is the moral side, the one for capitalism.  After all, once you "grow" a business, are you not the king of your castle.  Are not your workers, or at least the ones with whom you cannot relate like women, older workers and workers of different races, in essence the serfs that serve the kingdom.  You are king.  No one call tell you how to run your business.

And then there is the verdict of lost wages, emotional distress damages and the pesky damages you did not consider, punitive damages, which can be in the millions.  When that happens, it's no reflection of how you treat your workers.  It's not reflection of your management's demeaning conduct to the women workers.  Of course, it's just our crazy jury system with juries comprised of stupid people which hate you because you are wealthy.

Sometimes company owners convince themselves that they are the victims.  They are not.  I have a different way that could ;save these business owners oh so much money.  This is what I would suggest:

1.  Do not assume your manager is right.  You can relate to him, but that does not make him right.

2.  Put yourself in the shoes of the employee.  Really get into those shoes.  How would ;you feel if you were her.

3.  If the guy harassed and retaliated against her - own up to it upfront.  I don't care what the lawyers or insurance companies say.  Taking responsibility saves you money and it is the right thing to do. Truthfully tell her - I am sorry.  We will make this right.  (This is probably all it takes to protect yourself from punitive damages.)

4.  Go to the harasser.  If the conduct is bad enough, fire him.  If not, reprimand.  Give all employees, management and non-management alike, extensive training and impress how the training is not to be ridiculed.  Make the employees step into the shoes of the employee who is discriminated against.  Talk about race and how we are all affected by our experiences with race.  Make the training a safe place to talk and complain.  Have professional trainers who understand the human dynamics involved in discrimination.  Repeat training often and show the employees how dedicated you are to eliminating discrimination.  Have professional objective conflict resolution professionals at your disposal to stop problems before they grow.  Dedicate your company to treating everyone, and I mean everyone, with respect.  The bullies get fired.

I could write a book about this, and I hope to do so.  However, the above is a good start.  We could have productive, engaged employees who do not sue their employers.  Morale would be high.  More later.

Monday, September 15, 2014

When Not to Sue Your Boss

Going through a lawsuit, any lawsuit, is a very stressful experience.  The opposing counsel will take your deposition, which can be very stressful.  It is hard to be forced to answer questions under oath even if you sometimes feel the questions are embarrassing or invade your privacy.  The opposing counsel will try to shoot holes in your credibility and perhaps your character.  And, if it is a discrimination case, oftentimes co-workers are afraid to get involved because they need their jobs, too.

Here are some things to consider before you decide to sue for discrimination:

1.  Are you still working at the place of employment?  THINK CAREFULLY ABOUT THIS!!!

    It is very stressful suing a current employer.  If the conduct is bad, most people would be better off quitting, especially if the employee can get another job.  If you don't want to leave, consider that:

        a.  Is the conduct really bad or do I just want them to change and I am frustrated?  Will a visit to HR or the president of the company make a difference?

       b.   Does the company know about what is going on?  If it is sexual harassment, have you clearly complained to someone in charge?

If you can get a situation changed for the better without resorting to litigation, you should try to do that first.  Litigation is a last resort.

2.   Do you think if you sue your employer you will hit the jack pot?  BAD REASON!!!

    Looking got a pot of gold is never the right reason to bring a discrimination case.  People don't like greedy people.  I don't like greedy people.  Few people get rich from suing their employer.  To win an employment case, the jury should see that civil rights and fairness are important to you.  And stopping racism or sexism or ageism must be more important than money.  People who are the most devoted to discrimination cases have a desire to make the workplace better not only for themselves, but also others. Money is not the primary motivator.

4.    Can you prove that discrimination based on your being in a protected class is part of the reason you were damaged.    EVIDENCE IS ESSENTIAL!

   Discrimination, such as racist terms, sexist actions, have to be clear.  That does not mean that the "n" has to be in every case.  There are "code words" that substitute for traditional discriminatory terms.  Some of these are - for racism- lazy, late to work, doesn't catch on,; for ageism - too slow, can't deal with technology, needing newer ideas looked through fresher eyes; and, with sexism - can't make decisions, not authoritative enough, or too nice.

5.   Can you withstand the attacks and stress because you believe that your case could make it better for the company's employees and maybe even for the country as a whole.  THIS IS THE BEST REASON OF ALL!!!

Even though plaintiffs have lawyers usually working on a contingent fee basis, lawsuits are still very stressful, embarrassing and there is no guarantee for success.  Some people are more risk averse than others.  All of these issues should be explained to you when you consult with a lawyer. All lawyers do not work in all areas.  I would recommend employment discrimination lawyers for employment discrimination cases.   Out of the employment lawyers, you should look for lawyers with trial experience in the area of your case.  Surprisingly, many lawyers have had few or no trials.  If you hire a seasoned trial lawyer, not only will you be hiring a professional with experience in evaluating cases, and who is more likely to be respected by defense counsel.

If you have discovered blatant and pervasive discrimination and bigotry, that is when I like to think the fine citizens of Missouri want change. Sometimes we have to do things that are difficult.  It's a matter of character.  When you have the chance to make the lives of other workers less discriminatory, you should do it.   It's the right thing to do.

Monday, September 1, 2014

"It Was My Fault"

A few years ago I was leaving Wichita after a deposition, in my just-purchased new car, talking on the phone to my partner.  While driving down the unfamiliar road, on my cell phone, I notice the sign to the interstate.  I was passing my exit to the right and I was in the middle lane.  As I look to my right, there is a tractor-trailer passing me.  I wait until the tractor, then the trailer, pass ahead of me and swerve my car to the right to cut over to the exit.  Crash!  The truck had two trailers and I rammed into the second one.  Fortunately, I was not hurt, but my right fender and door were bashed in.  I pull over, followed by the truck driver.  As he gets down from the bed of the truck, I instinctively said five words that I have been proud of, "It was all my fault!"  I am a lawyer and I used to defend insurance companies and I know that insurance companies tell their insured not to apologize, not to say much, and certainly not to saw those five words, "It was all my fault."  Yet, when I made my declaration, I felt relieved.  No pretense, no bullshit.  I did it and I was stepping up.  The truck driver smiled at me, asked me if I was hurt, and then helped me with the police officer, who did not give me a ticket, even though I told him, also, that it was my fault.  I got the car fixed, the truck had no damage, and everyone wanted to help. That wreck was a revelation.  When I apologized for my mistake, when I made it clear that it was all my fault, I and everyone else was relieved.  They wanted to help me because I was honest and I said the truth although we all knew that an insurance company would not want me to do so.  The driver and the cop went out of their ways to help me.

I have often thought about the, "It was my fault" way to bring a claim or to defend a claim. If you are a reader of this blog, you know that I represent people who bring claims of employment discrimination. Just like most of us in life, most clients, and most defendants, do not want to admit any fault in the dilemma that occurred at work.  Sometimes, my clients, won't made that they had made a mistake at work, or were tardy, or disobeyed a directive.  My clients want to feel like they did nothing wrong, who doesn't?  But, I know of no one in life who is perfect.

Likewise, the employer, or heaven-forbid a harasser, denies any racist, sexist, ageist conduct. They are never to blame.  Either they did not make the racist comment, or it was a joke, or the plaintiff said things much worse.  No one ever means it and the termination had nothing to do with my client's complaints.

I'm just thinking out loud now, but what would happen if everyone accepted responsibility for the part of the mess they created.  My client might say, "I was late for work.  It was hard for me to get my kids moving and I will make them get up earlier."  The boss might say, "I know that joke was racist and I am embarrassed.  I thought I wasn't a racist, but I need more work.  Let's get training for me and others on this.  I am so sorry."  There can be a whole variety of scenarios, but I hope you catch my drift.  I like people who own up to what they do.  I feel good about myself when I admit mistakes, because making excuses is a lot easier.  

Maybe if we all own up to our imperfections, our mistakes, our biases and bigotry, we could work our problems out at work and reduce lawsuits about unlawful discrimination.  To take matters a step further, what if we spent an afternoon reversing roles with the opposing party, putting ourselves in their positions, understand how they may think, what may really be going on, not merely emphasizing, but figuratively living in their shoes.  If we could lose our fear and insecurity and lose our inhibitions, and go imagine what  is going on with the other side, what things would happen?

I think there is a reason I did not get a ticket, even though the wreck was my fault.  I owned up to what I did.  I have had only a few cases but some where the company essentially says, "Yup, we were wrong.  We are fixing the harassment.  No one should have to go through what she did."  Those are the cases where I have had great satisfaction, although my clients ended up with much less money.  Admitting wrongdoing with contrition eliminates the desire for juries to punish employers.  In fact, if everyone would admit his or her part in whatever happened, I suspect we could get cases settled and people back to work.  We might even begin to put a dent in unlawful discrimination, once everyone saw the other one as a human being like themselves.

We watched the "Railway Man" a movie about a British soldier in Burma who was tortured and water-boarded horribly during World War II.  He was plagued by PTSD and lived a haunted life until he confronted one of the soldiers who had survived the war.  The British soldier planned to kill the Japanese solder, but instead forgave his tormentor.  The Japanese soldier was haunted  by what he and the other had done to the captured and devoted his like to making amends.  He admitted his sins to the British soldier and the British soldier forgave him.
There is such a profound and basic lesson in this story.  Most of us want to forgive others.  We want to be herd and understood.  We want to be treated fairly, but justice is different from revenge.  Revenge brings mo comfort.

I wonder what what happen if we had, instead of mediation, am honest and frank discussion of what really happened from everyone's perspective and we looked into our souls, and decided  what part we played.  Then we admit that part and ask for forgiveness.  What would happen with that lime of thinking in litigation?  I wonder.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Cost of Not Just Forgiving But Also Forgetting

I believe in forgiving.  I believe that those of us who refuse to forgive others who hurt us only wind up hurting themselves.  Maintaining rage, anger and vengeful feelings hurts the person with the rage. When we hold on to anger, we sacrifice peace and contentment.  Forgiving helps the injured.  Forgiving is the only way for a damaged person to heal.  But what about forgetting?  Must we forget to heal?  I think there is danger in forgetting.  Perhaps it is personally advantageous for the forgiver to forget, but there is a greater danger in history repeating itself.

Ferguson, Missouri has been in the news all over the world.  People who claimed racism is dead in this country are perhaps reconsidering.  Racism has come out of the shadows and re-emerged in the lightness.  We can see racism.  We are having debates about racism, and it makes many of us feel uncomfortable.  Those of us who want to forget about the existence of racism are forced to confront its ugly countenance.  All of the Harvard, Princeton and Yale graduates, those college kids who have no knowledge of campus protests, sit-ins and race riots, are learning anew about those baser feelings that divide us. The lawyers, doctors, and investment bankers, comfortable in their big offices with lots of money and prestige may have to face humanity's baser characteristics.  We all want to forget, but if we forget, racism inevitably raises its ugly head.

I am slowly reading a novel about John Brown, and sometimes I feel like him.  I feel that he was a crazy man on a moral mission who went awry.  John Brown killed others in a futile attempt to eradicate slavery.  He was impotent in his killing rampages and died a violent death.  There is a fine balance between crazy fanaticism and moral righteousness, as we can see in terrorism attacks around the world. But, if we get too complacent, bigotry has no reason to hide.  How crazy do you have to be to fight for what you believe in and not take a cushy job and tell yourself that all is right in the world.  We all hate "political correctness," right? How important is it to feel comfortable while others still suffer?

I was born quite awhile after Hitler's suicide.  I have never met a Nazi.  Although my mother and grandmother fled Nazi Germany, I only know stories from relatives.  I have had a good life, with a good job and a wonderful safe family in a safe country.  I forget how fortunate I am.

But, Hitler is probably the reason I am a civil rights lawyer.  Next week, I am going to Germany for the first time.  There are probably far fewer Nazis in Germany today than there are in the state of Missouri. Yet, I cannot forget what happened to my forebears.  I wonder how I will feel at the numerous receptions with German lawyers that are slated during the seminar in which I am participating.  I am a little scared of my own feelings and hope this will be a healing experience for me.

I guess all this I have written above is really beating around the bush.  I belong to an organization of discrimination lawyers.  Like most lawyer organizations, this organization is populated mostly by white men.  They are by and large very good people.  But I suspect most of the lawyers in the organization have no personal experience with blatant bigotry.  Why aren't there more women trying civil rights cases?  Why are there very few people of color in the organization?  There are a few old hippies, which is probably the category the others put me in, but why don't we have more people in our ranks who know discrimination first hand? Women and minorities are being actively recruited to defend civil rights cases and it's a whole lot easier to live on a healthy salary with benefits than it is to fight discrimination on a contingent fee basis.  Will the Ferguson civil case, which will probably follow, be defended by a lawyer of color? I don't know.

The thing that probably scares me the most about the Holocaust and other instances of racial or religious genocide is the realization that it can, and will, happen again.  That's not what scares me, though.  It's that people like me, or even actually, me, can go along with the crowd and participate in bigotry because it is so much harder to fight the status quo than be a part of it.  The whole of the population of Germany in the 1930's and 1940's were not anti-Semitic or genocidal, but the Holocaust happened.  Massacres in Syria, and other countries occur today.  It's so much easier to forget, or just to trust that others will do the right thing.  Why get involved?  Isn't is easier just to look the other way, to become part of the "silent majority?'  Most people want to be the "cool kids," want to be in the "in" crowd.  When will comfort give way to justice?  I am scared because I can see myself becoming complacent.   Complacency and amnesia are the enemy.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

In The Wake of Robin Williams' Death, Let's Talk About Depression

I suffer from major depression.  I was finally diagnosed in 1991 and have been on anti-depressants ever since.  The medication changed, and saved, my life.  My first bout of depression was long before 1991. In 1978, I suffered from postpartum depression for at least three weeks.  I probably was depressed before that.  In 1991, I felt as if I was in a tunnel with no exit.  I had trouble coping with every day living.  I was a wife and mother of two small children.  How could I be depressed.

If I had not gone on anti-depressants in 1991, I do not know where I would be now.  I have a psychiatrist who I see every 6 - 9 months for a few months to make sure my meds are working.  I no longer suffer from major depression anymore.  I have not suffered a major depression since 1991, but I wonder where I would be without modern medicine.  Thank goodness for medical science!

I write this because yesterday Robin Williams killed himself and it has affected me tremendously, as it has many others.  We treat mental illness in this country as a dark little secret.  I do not know why I am prone to depression.  I believe my grandmother suffered from depression that ultimately, indirectly, killed her.  I do not know if I inherited depression, but I do not care.  I suffer from a mental illness that is in remission because of modern medicine.  I want to shout about my depression from the rooftops. Maybe, if someone else suffers from crippling depression, if someone else realizes that having a mental illness does not mean that he or she is a bad person, that person can get help.

Too many people are ashamed of their depression and fault themselves.  My depression is a medical condition which I treat with medical care.  I want others to get the help that I got years ago and continue to get to this day.  Depression is an illness.  Depression is not a personal failing.  When life seems pointless and hopeless, there can be hope.  I know I am lucky that the meds work.  If you are thinking about ending your life, or you exist with constant self-loathing, I hope you will seek help.  Suicide may be a solution for the one in pain, but it hurts so many survivors.  Please do not give up.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

How To Not Burn Out As A Lawyer

Steve Martin used to have a sketch which he entitled, "How to make a million dollars and not pay taxes."  He said, "First, get a million dollars. Then, don't pay taxes.  If anyone asks you why you didn't pay taxes, you tell them two easy words, "I FORGOT!!!!!'

Well, here is the Steve Martin answer to How To Not Burn Out As A Lawyer.  First, get your law license, and then don't burn out.  Ha!  A lot easier said than done.  Here are the reasons that lawyers flee the practice of law:

1.  Too much pressure with too boring work and too many partners looking over your shoulder.

2.   Too much work that seems tedious or a type of law that is distasteful to the lawyer.

3.  A fear of the courtroom.

4.   A hatred of legal writing and research.

5.  Being on your own with no one to mentor you and trouble paying the bills.

The flip sides of the reasons for burn-out can also be the reasons that people know they are destined for the law.  Some lawyers like the organization and camaraderie of a big firm and welcome the challenge of moving up the ladder and becoming more of a boss.  Plus the pay is usually pretty good.

For those solo practitioners or those is small firm, the stress from bosses lessens, but the stress of ultimately responsibility for being the total legal counsel for the client combined with the need to find clients and figure out how to get paid.

then, there are the boundary issues.  If you are cold and calculating, caring little for either your client or for the legal principle at issue, how could you not get burned out.  The irony is that I suspect many caring lawyers, especially in criminal case, ,but got burned out watching those for whom the lawyer cares go to prison, sometimes for long periods of time and sometimes when he or she is innocent.

All of these possibilities  is enough to break your heart.  We talk about female attorneys balancing home life and professional life, but we don't talk much about boundaries and burn-out.  We need more training to deal with our grief and sadness and even feelings of abandonment some lawyers feel.  I know I have lost quite a few clients.  One young single mother died in a one-car collision shortly after her case was settled.  One day, on the way to work, she skidded off the road, hit a tree and died.  It still tears me up.  One man I deposed killed himself two weeks after the deposition.   I do not blame myself for those deaths, but they still hurt, a lot.  After I lost one trial, I grieved, just as if it were a dearth, for at least six months.  

There is only so much pain I can take at anyone time from any one case.  The pain can come from the other side.  I know that it is not just plaintiffs suffer from the way we treat each other.

Right now, I am tried.  I do not want to get burned out and I do not want to retire. There are times that this job is the most exciting I can imagine.  There are other times when I feel like I am no good to anyone.  It's time for a vacation.  I have the best partners in the world and I want to come back.  We all need some rest from time to time and I can feel that now is the time for me.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

I Am Prejudiced

I was going to title this piece, "I Am A Bigot," but I looked up "bigot" and I do not believe I am a bigot. I do not hate people who I do not know simply for who they are.

Yet, I am prejudiced. I grew up in a time and place where I formed ideas about people I don't know.  When I see strangers, I have knee-jerk reactions.  When someone looks like a "homeless person," I assume he or she is poor, living on the street, and perhaps suffering from a mental condition.  When I hear of rich people who have inherited wealth, I assume they have feelings of entitlement.  When I hear that someone does not have a high school education, I assume that he or she is less intelligent.  When someone tries to convert me to a different religion, I assume he or she is narrow-minded.  I have even more repulsive prejudices than I am willing to admit in print because I feel bad about my biases.

As bad as I feel about my prejudices, I have not been able to eliminate them.  I am embarrassed, but I cannot control my knee-jerk reactions.  The best I can do is recognize my biases, admit to them, and understand that I cannot let the prejudices, my bigotry, control me.  My grandmother was a refugee from Nazi Germany. When she saw a non-Jewish German, she would whisper, "I bet he has a Nazi in the family."  That prejudice has stuck with me.  I know that Germans and Germany cannot be considered with a broad brush, that anti-Semitism is repugnant in Germany today, but I cannot stop my knee jerk reaction.  I can fight against my pre-conceived notions, but I am incapable of eliminating the original feelings.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

What's It Like To Be Sued For Discrimination?

We are all human beings.  Well not really.  Technically, while corporations may be legally considered "people"with the benefit of first amendment rights, those of us not on the Supreme Court know that corporations are fictitious concoctions invented by people to avoid real people having personal liability.

But, corporations are formed by real people.  And when a corporation is sued by a current or former employee for discrimination, real people are affected by the lawsuit.  It is hard to be accused of discrimination.  It is hard to be accused of discrimination even when the allegations are true.  Most people do not want to believe that they sexually harass employees.  Most people nowadays claim they are not racist, even if they  tell racist jokes or believe that there are "some good ones" and some who "are not so good."  Even where a manager grabs an employee's rear, he thinks it's either just a joke, or she liked it.

But, we all know that many, if not most, of those accused of discrimination do not believe that he or she has discriminated against anyone.  Sometimes they have not.  Not all plaintiffs are truthful. Not all plaintiffs have the same sensibilities as the rest of us.  I remember the time a woman sought my representation, claiming that she had been sexually harassed because her boss told her she looked nice, and "they are not allowed to do that, are they?"  Discrimination may be subjective.  Growing up in the 1960's I remember what names African-Americans were called by some white people, who probably truly believe that they were not racist.

So what is a defendant to do?  I do not mean to make light of the dilemma of the defendant in a discrimination lawsuit.  Actually, my old law firm was sued for sexual harassment when I was a partner so I have been a defendant in a lawsuit.  It is hard to be a defendant.

Employment discrimination laws had little bite until 1991 when Congress first allowed plaintiffs to have jury trials and provide for the recovery of emotional distress damages and punitive damages.  Things were different in American workplaces before the 1990's.  This spate of discrimination cases in our country is relatively new, even though the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964.  In the 1960's, some white people did not mind admitting they were racist, but now it is not popular to be racist, a good by-product of the Civil Rights Movement, even if there are more racists who deny being racist than before.

I guess my point, that I am stating inarticulately, is that it is hard to be sued.  Most people who are sued become angry, become defensive, and are truly hurt by being accused of discrimination.  CEO's, managers, HR professionals, and other human beings oftentimes do not like being accused of wrongdoing regardless of what might have happened.  When a company is accused of discrimination, managers can have a variety of reactions.  Some high level managers want to make their companies better and address problems, if there have been any.  Some employers are personally offended and will fight no matter what the facts show.  People are different and companies have different responses, just as people do.

I guess my point is that we are all humans.  We all have different experiences in life.  We all have learned different life lessons.  Some of us cannot tolerate being criticized, whether plaintiff or defendant.  Some of us want to learn from our experiences and become better people.  Some of us have self images that are fragile and cannot tolerate criticism, whether plaintiff or defendant.  We are all people.  Hopefully, thanks to the Civil Rights Movement and the rights and responsibilities that we have in this country, we can all learn and grow and become a better society.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

RANT - Worlds Gone Wild!

What is the problem with human beings?  A passenger plane is shot done over Ukraine, Israelis and Palestinians are working on a "fewer-human-beings-who make-up-a state" solution, and life is fleeting. The world  makes me sad, and I am not getting any younger.  I went to a funeral today and I realize humanity is so screwed up.  My son suggests to me that corruption may be a way that government becomes more efficient, I see first-hand how poorly local governments are run, and . . . then we die.

I am not a bastion of optimism tonight.  Life is an existential crisis.  We kill people, probably because we have no other natural predators besides ourselves.  We inflict pain, torture and atrocities against each other, we treat each other with disrespect, humiliation and/or violence, and then we die.

I just read the first two paragraphs to a family member who responded, "Do you need a hug?" YES!!!! I, and I suspect, the most of the world, needs to hug each other.  I know I sound like a crazy hippy, but I am so disgusted with humanity.  And, quite frankly, I am not really helping.  I do not know how to solve these issues.  I am as petty as the next human.  I haven't killed anyone nor have I committed a violent act against anyone since adolescent, when I bit the shit out of my sister in our last scratching, biting physical fight, except the swat I gave my daughter one morning when she refused to go to school while I was in the middle of trial.  She and I have since made up.

I try my best as a lawyer to help with my version of justice.  But, I am not feeding hungry children, administering to the sick, or negotiating peace settlements between warring factions besides plaintiffs and defendants in discrimination cases. At least I am not protesting needy, scared children seeking refuge in this country, but I haven't done anything to help them, either.

What can one person do?  I don't know.  I delude myself that working to alleviate racism, sexism and ageism makes a difference.  Sure, the cases I work on effect the people involved, but the world is so screwed up, what can really make a difference.

Genocide, atrocities, and rape and killing still happen.  These events will probably always happen.  It's overwhelming.  I still believe that most people want to do the fair, right and just things.  I believe in the goodness of people, but why is there so much destruction now?  What are we doing wrong?

Maybe the "arc of history is long, and it curves towards justice," but I want to see justice now!  I won't be alive in a hundred years.  It is so deflating to see so many people in so much pain caused by so many other people.  What are we doing wrong?  Why do we do these things to each other?  Are we really civilized?  How can we treat others the way we do?  Why is this world so dysfunctional?

I guess I just need to learn to deal with this somehow.  Tomorrow, I go back to work and work on my cases, hopefully helping my clients.  Maybe we all just need to sleep on it.  Right now, I feel like we are caught in a nightmare.  All I can say is, "World grow up!  This shit needs to stop!"

Monday, July 14, 2014

Mimi - The Rescue Dog With A Seizure Disorder

When we took Mimi to the emergency hospital, her seizure would not stop. I hold her like a baby. She would tighten, start to quiver, and then begin to convulse. This pattern repeated several times, so a grabbed her and whispered encouragement into her ear as I caressed her back and neck. I gently spoke in her ear, "Mimi, I love you.  We will take care of you.  This will stop.  You are my best girl."

It may be my imagination, but she seems to relax a little through the seizures when I speak softly and hold her this way. Mike took her into the hospital, where they aided in putting her unconscious for awhile, hopefully breaking the pattern of seizures. Just a few hours later, Mimi was back home.

She walked up to the chair in which I sat in the family room. It is a gigantic beige recliner. I moved my pink purse out of the way, and in a flash she jumped on top of me. She placed her head by mine, as I was reclined and leaning cross-way on the chair. Once little Mimi had her face by mine, she straddled her front paws across my shoulder and lay her belly flat on mine.

I circled my arms around the little dog, careful not to squeeze too tight. Again, I whispered in her ear, "I love you, I love you."  Once I called her Lisa, my daughter's name, which happens frequently.

The vets have told us that when Mimi has her seizures, it does not matter if we hold her because she doesn't have any idea of the outside world. I disagree. When Mimi seizes and I cradle her, she and I are connected. Mimi both feels love and is loving in return.  She feels like the embodiment of all my lost relatives, my connection with my past and my future. Just as when my children were infants, I received so much joy in holding and nurturing them. I have the same nurturing instincts for Mimi.

Mimi is my rescue Boston Terrier, in our lives for just one year so far. Yet, I cannot describe the love I feel for that little girl. Even with her seizures, and concomitant expense, she is perfect. My love for Mimi is a perfect love, and I am not even a perfectionist.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

What Will Happen To Me If I Report . . . Illegal Actions By Management

None of us wants to work for an employer where there is ongoing illegal misconduct.  The boss may be stealing computers from the company, the CEO may be "cooking the books," a supervisor nurse may be stealing drugs from the pharmacy, or a manufacturer may be cutting corners in making drugs.  When a company, through its managers, engages in illegal activity, it is serious.  Thankfully, most employees do not work at a place where illegal conduct is ongoing and unreported.

What happens when you are one of the unlucky employees, where misconduct occurs.  For example, what if you work at a business where products are mislabled as "Made in America" when they are really manufactured in China?  What do you do?

Well, oftentimes, it is very hard to report wrongdoing of a management employee to the authorities or even to other members of management.  The risk is real - job loss.  Of course, many people and many companies do not condone dishonesty or deceit by employees, and, after an investigation, the unlawful behavior is stopped, the employee committing the behavior is dealt with, and the reporting employee can be a hero, the person with the resolve and honor who stops the wrongdoing.  That is how it is supposed to work.

Unfortunately, companies do not always do the right thing.  Remember Enron, where the whistleblowers were pariahs and dismissed or discredited.  A true whistleblower is a rare and brave person, who risks not only losing his or her job, but potentially worse, bad rumors, no recommendations, blackballing, etc.

There are many different laws that apply to whistleblowers, even what is known as the "common law." for in most states when a company violates public policy by engaging in unlawful conduct and firing a whistleblower, even states that protect employers with "employment at will" laws, recognize the societal benefits of brave souls coming forward to do the right thing.  The purpose of this entry is not to provide legal advice.  There are many different laws and many different statutes of limitations.

Rather, this entry is part of my "what will happen to me if . . ." series.  Many whistleblowers, unfortunately are terminated from employment.  Although most people want to do the right thing, not all do.  Greed, power, hubris, all affect ordinary people.  While a whistleblower may be considered by an employer as merely a "snitch," a whistleblower is so much more.  A snitch rats out others to get a better deal in a criminal case.   Whistleblowers come forward even though their actions are against their own self-interest because it is the right thing to do.

Whistleblowers are courageous, but can be and are willing to endure unpopularity.  Whistleblowers suffer loss of income, reputation and security.  But whistleblowers are some of the bravest, most heroic members of society.  I have represented many whistleblowers, some cases have gone to trial.  I can tell you that my whistleblowing clients are some of the people who make me the proudest because what they do is the hardest.

In our society, it is hard to buck the status quo.  It is hard to separate from the crowd.  It is particularly hard to recognize wrongdoing and report it for the betterment of society.  When companies resist following the law, or their boards of directors are too lazy or unconcerned to take action, whistleblowers have the hardest roads to hoe.  But there are brace, concerned people out there who value justice, and they are the ones we are proud to represent.  There is no more honorable employee than one who is willing to risk all for the betterment or society.