Saturday, September 19, 2020

The Incredible RBG

 If Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg was just another female lawyer, I would still have an affinity for her, but she was so much more. RBG WAS A BRILLIANT PIONEER WHO PROMOTED GENDER EQUALITY BEFORE HER TIME.   She was amazing person, an amazing jurist, and had a brilliant legal mind. 

I identify with her in some ways. She went to law school after she had married. So did I. However, she went to Harvard coming from Cornell while I came     from UMKC Law after studying for my undergraduate degree at UMKC.  RBG WAS NUMBER ONE IN HER CLASS, WHILE I CLEARLY WAS SOMEWHERE IN MY CLASS, but certainly not in the top ten. 

She and I were married with a child when entering law school. She graduated and had a four-year old daughter, while I had a four year old son when I graduated. We both ended up fighting for civil rights, but me on a much smaller scale than Justice Ginsburg.  We both had second children while new to the practice of law.  THAT IS WHERE THE COMPARISON ENDS.

That’s where our paths differed.  The brilliant Justice, after 6 arguments for women’s rights before the Supreme Court representing litigants, earned a district court judgeship in New York, followed in 1993 by an appointment to the grandest of all Courts,  the U.S. Supreme Court, where she excelled for 17 years.  RBG is a legend. She worked at court while she went through illness and ultimately was dying and suffering from cancer.  She worked the day after her beloved husband died. She wrote dissents to save for posterity, in case a future court would adopt her opinion as someday as a majority opinion.  SHE WAS FREAKING AMAZING AND AN INCREDIBLE ROLE MODEL. WE WILL MISS HER SO. 

Friday, March 20, 2020

The Beauty of the Sandhill Cranes

I’m watching Sandhill Cranes land and roost in the Platte River outside of Kearney, Nebraska. As I write this I am in my family room, I have open the website on my iPad and it’s sunset over the Platte, with cooing birds gliding onto the shallow waters. There are hundreds of thousands of birds on screen. The beauty of this annual migration is overwhelming. As the sun sets over the river, the Cranes huddle together as if their ultimate position on the water is pre-ordained. The birds are large, with long grey legs and red atop their beaks. They stand 3 or 4 feet high. They call to each other and seem excited to be together.

This is an annual migration. The birds winter in the south, Mexico and other lands in the south of North America. In 2016, while sitting outside a polling place in November in central coastal Florida, I saw four of the cranes walking in a parking lot. At the time, I had no idea what these weird-looking tall birds were. It wasn’t until I first witnessed the migration 2019 in Nebraska that I realized I had spied them before in Florida. The cranes are currently traveling north, to northern Canada and Siberia where they summer to breed.  They mate for life. Their annual travel is the great North American migration on this side of the world. In Africa, the wildebeest travel the expanse of Southern Africa for that continent’s great migration. In North America, it’s the Sandhill Cranes.

It’s getting dark now on the Platte and the birds almost reach from the north bank to the south of the great wide and shallow river. Cooped up at home, with the human globe obsessed by COVID19, I wish I could be viewing these birds from the banks of the Platte as planned, instead of over a website. The birds and the natural world surrounding them is almost overwhelming.  And every year these great birds fly across the continent in this ritual while humans fret about a pandemic and the dearth of effective leadership overseeing humankind. Oh, what life these cranes lead.  It’s almost dark in Nebraska now. The cranes will soon be silent, as they rest on the river before awakening at dawn to comb the corn fields for fallen kernels. They fatten up here in Nebraska, before they resume their northern trek to breed.  Oh, what an inspiring spectacle watching these magnificent birds.  Maybe next year, post coronavirus, I will see them again, in live form and not on an iPad screen. One can only hope. Crane Trust

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Coronavirus and The Financially Vulnerable - A Call to Action

With this COVID19 pandemic, there are consequences outside of physical danger. Already, restaurants have closed, some permanently, theaters are dark, hair salons are shuttered.  I read an estimate that unemployment could reach 20%.  I am worried. Most people need their jobs to survive financially and they need to be healthy to survive physically.  We have a dilemma that is unsolvable, when we socially isolate we may forestall the pandemic, but cause financial harm to others.   We need to help those people put out of work as a result of this pandemic.

There are organizations geared to help.  I have started a fundraiser for those servers and bartenders out of work, There is Harvesters,  USBG National Charity Foundation, and others.  For those who would rather contribute sweat equity, Harvesters has time slots for people to contribute work in their warehouses assembling food packages.

We need to pull together during this crisis.  This is unlike anything in the lifetimes of most people who were born post-depression.  We need those who are able to contribute.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

From a Little Dog

When we first saw Mimi (then called Salt), she was quivering. I imagine she was scared, being abandoned by a second family because of her uncontrollable seizures. The veterinarian’s report stated she had experienced 18 seizures in just a few days. Reportedly, the children of the family surrendering the little girl Boston Terrier were weeping as they relinquished control. She looked so vulnerable at 17 pounds and shaking uncontrollably. We knew nothing of how to care for an epileptic dog, but we could not turn away and brought her to our home. She was three years old.

She refrained from seizing for at least a week, and then they came. She rocked and screamed and frothed, losing control of her body. Watching her convulse and hoop and holler is terrifying.  Eventually, the involuntary movement-tsunami stops and she starts pacing, sometimes while still blinded by the seizure.  Occasionally, if we are not careful, she has falls down the carpeted stairs in the family room. Sometimes, the wandering lasts for hours.  After the worst of the seizures, it can take a couple of days until she regains her sweet, affectionate personality. We have become accustomed to her pattern. She will go from 3 to 8 weeks with no seizures, and then will have from two to eight spells over one to three days. Mimi takes 20 pills per day.

Why do we let her go on like this?  Because the majority of the time, she is playful, loving and loyal. Mimi, at around 10 years old still throws her toys in the air and playfully catches them. She loves nestling in a lap to have her back and neck stroked. Every day when I come home from work, she jumps in my lap and smothers me with kisses, finishing by collapsing lovingly into my lap. She follows us from room to room. She is loving and playful as can be when not in the monthly grips of a seizure.

Many times a veterinarian has suggested that her condition will deteriorated and has offered the option of euthanasia, but each time she bounces back. Last week, post-seizure, her back legs grew weak after a particularly strong bout. The vet wanted to conduct a CT scan to determine the neurological cause. We declined. There is no cure for Mimi’s ailment beyond the handfuls of pills she downs daily. Sure enough, within a day the strength in her legs returned.  She is playing, and kissing and loving again.

For one or two days a month, Mimi is unwell.  The doctors say she does not feel the seizures and she is not in pain.  For the rest of the month, she leads a damn good dog’s life. For now, the good more than outweighs the bad. The peaks more than compensate for the valleys. Such a sweet, caring soul should not be extinguished because of an imperfection. We are all imperfect.

We Really Can Find Honorable People Today

I felt deflated on November 8, 2016. I has expected more out of people in the election. I was naive. People hadn’t changed, Really, it was just that power shifted and anger changed. Then, in 2017, the Missouri Legislature screwed Missouri workers by making it harder for workers who have been victim to unlawful discrimination to get justice.  I became further disillusioned. Yet, the brave and honorable victims continued to fight on.

When I worry that I will discover the worst about people, I oftentimes learn the best about people. Juries have surprised me by their care, concern and compassion for litigants when I fear that apathy will prevail.  In one of my last race discrimination trials, I steeled myself for a defense verdict.  The jury voted unanimously for my deserving, brave client in just 2 hours. For awhile, my faith in justice and the fairness of others was restored.  That renewed faith in humanity buoyed me for months.

Then things come out of the mouth of the blowhard in the White House, and I forget that most people want to do right, be fair and be kind. I cannot predict our political future, but I still believe in the kindness of our brothers and sisters on this earth.

Two weeks ago, I lost my iPad at a hotel ATM in Washington, D.C..   I did not know where I had left it and I was sure it was stolen. I use my iPad all day, every day, for work and leisure.  I was surprised how dependent I am on this machinery, but I am. I told the hotel manager, filled out a report, and went to bed convinced I needed to buy a replacement. I was angry when I went to bed.

The next morning, we promptly headed to the airport sans iPad. Once seated outside the gate, I received a call from the hotel and I took it. I learned someone had turned the iPad into the lost and found. It was found at the ATM. since I was already at the airport to return home, the manager sent a shuttle driver to come bring me the iPad (which I am using as I write this blog) to the airport. They went above and beyond to help me.


So, maybe some people in power irk me. Maybe they do not care about the injured, the poor, or others different from them.  But the kind people usually prevail. We just need to be sure to support the caring ones, and not the others.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Looking At the Bright Side of Life

I haven’t written in this blog for awhile - there is such a news overload that it’s hard for me to settle on any one subject. A lot of the news is bad - mass shootings, murders, separating children from parents, fires raging, hurricanes. Elections.

Too much negativity.  Let’s concentrate on the good news:

1.  Missourians overwhelmingly passed Amendment I, the Clean Missouri Constitutional Amendment - an amendment aimed at reducing, and, dare I say, eliminating, political corruption. No outlandish lobbyist gifts, limits on Legislators jumping over to cushy lobbying gigs, fairer re-districting. A decade from now, we will see if things are better in Jeff City.

2.  We get a new Missouri Attorney General (“always look at the bright side of life,”).

3.  We have a less-crazy governor.

4.  Missourians overwhelmingly approved gradually increasing the minimum wage.

5.  No new gas tax - good for the pocketbook, bad for the tires.

6.  As far as I can tell, no Nazis were elected to Missouri office. No KKK, either.

We must celebrate all the victories we can get - always look at the bright side of life. Doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo doo doo doo.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Everyday Courage

People perform daily acts of courage that are unrecognized.  These people do not seek the limelight. My clients who are first responders save others frequently. Firefighters in general risk their lives as part of their jobs on a frequent basis.  I am awed by what they routinely do as a matter of course.  They run in burning buildings when others flee. Courage is so ingrained in them, they do not realize how exceptional they are.

I just want to honor those souls who put their own safety aside in furthering the common good.  I consider Anita Hill and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford as courageous, since they have both been targets of threats and can no longer lead happy, anonymous lives.  They came forward, regardless of the dire consequences.  They are models for young women striking out against sexual abuse.

Members of our military, members of police departments, members of resistance groups such as Rev. William Barber, II, and many others, take risks for others without thought of fame or wealth. We fail to recognize the courageous among us.  Yet, they seek no notoriety or acclaim.  Their courage is so ingrained in who they are and they seek no special acclaim.

Here is to those unsung heroes among us. Thank you. We need people like you.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Courageous Jurors

It’s really hard to be a whistleblower, or to complain about discrimination.  Most of us just hope that we can live our lives and people will be fair.  It’s hard to rock the boat. I’ve written a lot about the courageous clients I represent.  Going forth with a lawsuit is hard and it takes a lot of fortitude to persist through a lawsuit.  I have represented many people who have much more courage than I.  They withstand insults and lies and interrogations that would make normal people break.

But, I really want to talk about courage of a different group of people, who, when they treat their responsibilities seriously, which they most often do, display great courage and fortitude.  Those people are the jurors.  Many people dread receiving that little card through the mail summoning them for their civic duty.  Yet, most people take their task very seriously once selected to stand in judgment of their fellow citizens.

There is something about being chosen for jury duty that transforms the reluctant bystander into a vehicle for justice. Serving on a jury oftentimes brings out the best in someone.  A typical juror listens attentively to the evidence with an open mind.  They form opinions from the evidence, yet are open-minded enough to give the other jurors their due.  A responsible juror speaks up and confronts others with their convictions, and doesn’t worry about missing television programs or PTA meetings.  The juror understands the importance of our justice system and their vital role in the preservation of our democracy.   Jurors don’t ask to serve.  In fact, most people wouldn’t volunteer for a week or so interruption from their normal activities.  Yet, once summoned to serve, it is uncanny how Americans rise to the occasion, and most often get it right.

When our forefathers instilled in our Bill of Rights the right to a jury of one’s peers in both criminal and civil cases, they understood the best about human nature.   They understood the basis of courage,  decency and fairness in our citizens.  They also understood that, in order to serve justice, people need to be judged by a jury of their peers, not just by judges from privileged backgrounds.  Our nation has the best justice system on earth, in large part due to the courage of its citizens.  Long live the jury system.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Mindfulness and Crocheting - In These Turbulent Times

Lawyers are stressed, just as so many other people are in other walks of life. I have practiced yoga, and it was great. I learned to meditate, and it was great. I’ve exercised to reduce stress, and it was great.

But lately I have not been practicing yoga much, or exercising much, nor do I meditate daily. I inadvertently stumbled upon another method to achieve mindfulness, without realizing it. When I was a teenager I learned to crochet. I was so bad. I did not have the patience to crochet anything but a scarf, and that was awful. So, for some reason, 45 years later, I picked up a crochet hook again. When I crochet, I am in the moment. I don’t think about the future or the past. I just concentrate on what I’m doing. Crocheting is meditative.

I guess I am the sort of person who needs to achieve a meditative state. Especially while children are being ripped from their asylum-seeking parents.  That makes me crazy. Especially in these crazy times I have to calm down.  I resumed crocheting in October.  Since then, I have created seven afghans, and I am working on my eighth. I have crocheted at least ten scarves and two hats. I can’t sit down in the evening without a project in my hands. I read and listen to the sad news, and I just crochet more. I can’t stop. I suppose crocheting is an innocuous addiction, as long as it does not interfere with my obligations in life. So far so good.

So, if you find a pile of yarn, I’ll be there. If you are cold in the winter, and want something to warm your legs, I’ll be there. If you neck is freezing and you need a scarf, I’ll be there. I must be the freakin’ Tom Joad of this dust bowl of political inhumanity. I just need some yarn and a hook to forget about the many problems in this world. (And I email Roy Blunt, but that is less satisfying.)

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Observations After Practicing Law for 35 Years

What have I learned after 35 years as a civil rights lawyer?  You would think I would have wisdom to impart to young lawyers, but the more I consider the span of my career, the less wise I have become. Here goes:

1.  Social change takes too long. It’s one step forward, two steps back. We still don’t have discrimination laws in this state and the federal government protecting against LGBTQ discrimination. Race discrimination, sexual harassment, age discrimination all persist.

2.  Going to trial does not get easier.  Representing courageous clients in worthwhile causes is still as challenging as ever, even though my trial skills have improved over 35 years. The importance of my clients and their cases in my hands is still as daunting as ever.

3.  It’s important not to take perceived slights, such as losing objections, etc., personally.  It’s important to remember my cases are about my clients, not about me. While I admit I have an ego, I can’t let it get the better of me.  I owe my clients to put them first.  Wins are about them and are their triumphs. Perhaps losses are more my fault than wins are to my credit.  The clients are what are important.

4.  A trial is a zero sum game, while settling cases can be a win-win scenario.  Settling cases requires a different skill set than is necessary for trial. A good lawyer can master both skill sets, but going from one to the other is challenging.

5.  Being a trial lawyer with 35 years experience is as challenging, and rewarding, as being a novice attorney.

6.  As Dr. King said, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” (See number 1, above.)