Tuesday, January 26, 2016

LGBT Discrimination - Everyone Deserves To Be Treated With Respect

The Missouri Supreme Court declined to take my client's employment discrimination case based on his sexual orientation. The Missouri Legislature is reviewing several bills providing protection against housing, public accommodation and employment discrimination for LGBT.  It's predicted to fail, for the ninth or tenth year in a row. While the United States Supreme Court declared that there is a constitutional right for same sex marriage, two people getting married can legally be evicted and fired because they are gay. Is this justice?

Some people declare that they have religious beliefs contrary to gay people. I have never heard of religious beliefs mandating harassment and ridicule. For crying out loud, no laws will require people to marry someone of the same sex against his or her will, or even to hug or kiss anyone they do not want to hug or kiss. No laws will mandate changes in religious beliefs. Churches could still refuse to perform marriages contrary to the tenets of the religion. Straight people will lose no protection and anyone who is threatened by treating people with dignity and respect have a screwed up view of what the law will do.

Discrimination laws merely protect people from being discriminated against, which simply means they cannot be treated worse because of sexual orientation or sexual identity. In other words, you can't bully gay and transgender people and you have to treat them with respect and give them the same opportunities as every one else. It's simply treating others with dignity and respect. Why is that concept such a threat?

When I was a young lawyer, I thought members of the LGBT community had little chance of fair treatment. Fairness for LGBTs was a distant future frontier in justice. Last year, I had hoped that we, as a society, had finally realized the gross injustice we inflict when  we allow and foster discrimination  against gays and lesbians and transgender people. I had hoped I could contribute to the abolition of this injustice. It looks like I was wrong. I hope I am not.

Monday, January 25, 2016

How To Deal With Failure

When clients come to me, something really bad has usually happened. Getting fired is devastating. Employers can, at times, have the power to destroy not on;u ones ability to put food on the table, but also  to love the face in the mirror.

We all have to deal with devastating blows in life  - rejection in love, work, or in society. We all lose loved ones to death. Many of us have financial problems, children acting out, disease and death of loved ones, and mental illnesses of us and loved ones We are all going to die. So what's the point?

We humans are made to be resilient. But, we are human nonetheless.

When tragedy strikes:

1.  Lean into the pain.  A friend told me that once. It means face the pain, don't run. If you run, the pain will keep chasing you.

2.  Do not wallow in self-pity, seek professional help if necessary.

 3Get help from friends and family (but avoid plastering Facebook.).  Vulnerability is often strength, not weakness. Your friends want to help. 

4. Do things for others, give of yourself without thought of taking.

5.  Meditate, exercise, or do whatever to stop thinking about yourself. 

6.  Keep rolling on. Persist.  Be spontaneous and present. Don't dwell on the past.

7. Accept responsibility for your part, learn from it, and forgive yourself. 

Every failure is a lesson. Keep moving. If you can't bounce back alone, get help. Life is full of failure. It's what you do after the failure that makes the difference.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Positive Aspects of Being A Lawyer

I believe that when one gives to another, the giver should expect nothing in return. Of course, in business, that is not true,because there are contracts. But, if we do something purely out of the goodness of our hearts, you cannot expect a reward. That is. True giving, true charity. There should be no strings attached.

Practicing law is different. It is the way I make my livelihood. I handle cases because a believe in them (hopefully) but I need to pay bills. Occasionally, I have cases where the issue is more important than money. They come in two categories:


   Recently, I represented a wonderful, long-term employee was fired from his public service job. After the jury want out to deliberate, my client came up to me and my co-counsel and staff and told us that he was satisfied. He thought the jury really heard his story. He felt vindicated. The one was irrelevant. That comment is one of the most meaningful and gratifying statements that it was almost enough. The jury then awarded actual and punitive damages and it was great. But, satisfying our client made the most difference. Our client told us both before the jury decision and after that the money didn't matter and to him, winning didn't matter. He wanted to be heard and understood. After he felt heard and understood, that was enough. The rest was gravy.


Up until the 1970s it was illegal, moreover criminal, to be married to a person of a different race in Virginia and other states. Not until the case of Loving v. Virginia did the Supreme Court abolish these laws. Women in this country did not have the vote until 1920. Same sex marriage was forbidden in most of the United States until this past June. We fought a war to end slavery. These human rights breakthroughs do not come easily. It is hard to fight those in power to obliterate the status quo. Many people died to free the slaves, but today we all recognize how horrible and inhuman slavery is. It is beyond belief to most of us that a mere 150 years ago this country allowed its citizens to own humans. The drafters of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the constitution must have felt gratified. There is nothing like feeling your work will historically be considered just and fair.

The goal of lawyers should not be simply to make money. This is a profession. Lawyers have a higher calling. We need to remember what lawyering is supposed to be.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Wouldn't It Be Great If Everyone Acted Like Salvador Perez

Salvador Perez appears to be the greatest guy ever. He comes from a humble beginning, an only child of a single mother in Venezuela. He was discovered by Royals' scouts when he was very young. He is not completely fluent in English, but he is not afraid to speak. But those aren't the real reasons he appears to be so wonderful. These are the qualities that I admire:

1.  Perez cares about others - when he swung and hit an opposing team's catcher with his bat in one game, he made sure the catcher was okay. Most ball players do not appear to care if they hurt a player on the opposing team.

2.  Perez lightens his team's burden - always ready to dump ice water or Gatorade on whichever player shined during the game. No one is immune, including Ned Yost. Post-game reporters run to flee the dousing. And he throws the water on camera, so the audience can share in his child-like glee. And we fans love to see Perez' impish grin after etching dousing. He makes us all feel connected and sharing in his fun.

3.  Perez doesn't quit - he is probably the most battered player, with wild pitches spinning towards his head or nether regions, bats shattering towards his face, slides tearing up his quads. He plays with everything he has no matter what. Even the stomach flu cannot stop Perez.

4.  Perez does not exploit himself or allow the press to exploit him -We don't know his marital status, the name of his significant other, and that is refreshing. We respect his privacy. I don't care if he has twenty kids or fifteen wives. He is entitled to live his life however he wants.

Salvador Perez is a wonderful role model. He brings this baseball city together. He is a competitor, but stays above the fray. It's just refreshing for me, with my career filled conflict and strife, watch someone who handles to competition with such grace and honor. We can all learn something from this guy.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Fighting Back - Collection Dockets of the Poor and Struggling

A few months ago, a relative came to me because he was sued for some credit card debt. The alleged debt was old. The credit card company had sold the debt to some collection company, which had sued my relative. My cases are not usually in associate circuit court, where most of the bill collectors file their claims. Was I surprised by what I discovered!

I was amazed by the sheer number of people in court, many looking poor and bedraggled, in uniforms as cleaning staff, or maintenance workers. I overheard one woman tell her seat neighbor the number of buses she had to transfer to reach the courthouse. The seats were filled by hapless defendants waiting for the judge and the collection lawyer to call their cases. The collection lawyer carried a stack of folders. When each case was called, the lawyer suggested the poor defendant meet him in the hall and work out a deal. Most of the unrepresented hapless defendants accepted the invitation. My heart went out to these people, intimidated by the process, and just trying to put food on their family's table, knowing that they were probably agreeing to having the court enter a judgment, which would result in garnishing of their wages.

When my relative's case was called, I approached the bench and explained to the judge and the lawyer that I wanted to conduct some discovery. I wanted to see the documents that the defendant alleged showed my relative had not paid his bill. I wanted to make my own calculations.

I sent out interrogatories asking questions and requested documents.  A funny thing happened. Instead of getting the background documents verifying my relative owed debt to the collection company, the collection agency DISMISSED THE CASE!  I was shocked. Had the debt been real? Was the collection company pulling a fast one, just thinking these defendants would just go along with them with no proof?  Was this a way to get easy money, garnishing wages and charging high rates of interest, without even presenting proof that money is owed?

I keep thinking about this experience in associate circuit court and the throngs of defendants thinking they are at the mercy of the collectors. I need to go to court and pass out interrogatories and requests for production of documents to these people, who are down on their luck. If they send out the discovery, who knows if the collection companies can even prove they are owed debt or how much?  What would the banks do if their "debtors" are empowered?  I can only hope.