Brie: It's What's For Breakfast

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CV for a Cemetery

My mom wanted me on the board of an historical cemetery. I thought it would be awesome – it’s a great old place with lots of ghost stories and locally famous – and infamous – people buried there. Including a truckload of my ancestors.

“I need your resume,” she told me.

“Mom, I hardly think that my work history has anything to do with why I might be qualified to serve on that board.”

“So dress it up. Emphasize your genealogy research and your history research. Talk about your volunteer work.”

In other words, she wanted me to re-craft my resume entirely.  Therefore, I did exactly what I always do when given an irritating assignment: I procrastinated.

A week later: “I really need your resume.”

Two weeks later: “If you don’t get me that resume I can’t nominate you.”

Three weeks later:  “I need it today.”

Crap. And I was having so much fun putting it off.

“Just write something. I’ll rewrite it to suit our nomination style.”

Had she said this in the first place, I could have whipped off a few relevant paragraphs and been done with this a month ago. But she said she wanted a freaking resume. So after lunch, I sat down and wrote:

Anne has a keen interest in genealogy and history, and has done research on both in this particular cemetery, once regrettably denting the side of her car as she took a turn too sharply around a certain walled plot in the northeast corner of the place.  Her interest in these disciplines began in high school, when in 1976 she won the esteemed and coveted Annual Ninth Grade History Award at All Saints Episcopal School in Vicksburg, Mississippi, mostly to prove to a certain boy that she was smarter than he was. It must have worked, because that intimidated lad has refused to this day (over 30 years later!) to come to class reunions.

Her interest was fed her freshman year at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, when given the task of charting the genealogy of Zeus’s progeny she instead charted the genealogy of the entire Greek pantheon. While mostly accurate, her work earned her a C for failing to follow directions. Her professor was not interested in reading that much. Anne didn’t really care, since being right was all that mattered. When she graduated from Colgate in 1984, her major was English, not Greek.

With no immediate better use to put an English major, Anne returned to her Arkansas roots the following year to go to law school.  Anne clerked for Justice David Newbern at the Arkansas Supreme Court, then worked for a state agency or two until her secretary, one Gennifer Flowers, decided to hit the front page of the papers and not return to work. Anne opened her own law practice in 1993 and has remained in private practice ever since. Today, after 16 years in the trenches of litigation, Anne is a managing member of the law firm Almand, Orsi & Campbell, PLLC, which handles civil litigation.  Both she and her cousin and law partner, Donald K. Campbell, III, have generations of ancestors buried at this cemetery, stories about whom they occasionally pull out, dust off, and tell to their children and other passers-by, whether or not such innocents are especially interested.

Anne has maintained a moderately noticeable profile among local bar and statewide bar associations. She joined a whole slew of them in 1988 immediately after getting her J.D. from UALR Law School and passing the bar.  In 1993 she was made Parliamentarian of the Arkansas Association of Woman Lawyers, then served as  Vice President in 1994-1995, and as President in 1995-1996. She remains a member of the group today.  She has been a member of the Pulaski County Bar Association since 1988, and served as co-chair of the Hospitality Committee in 1995-1996. Likewise she retains her membership in the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association, for which she chaired the Domestic Relations Division in 1997-1998. She was a member of the American Bar Association from 1988-1996, when membership became prohibitively expensive. Most of her bar activities have been through the Arkansas Bar Association, for which she has served on numerous committees, including the Real Estate Committee, Probate Law Committee, Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare Committee, Women and Minorities in the Law Committee, Mock Trial Committee, Online Legal Research Committee, Civil Litigation Committee, and Access to Justice Committee.

Very conscious of the fact that not everyone has access to the legal system in a meaningful way, Anne donates her time and expertise through two of Arkansas’ legal services organizations. The Center for Arkansas Legal Services helps clients in the central Arkansas area, and Anne is one of the attorneys who accepts legal representation of clients in need who meet low income guidelines. Anne volunteers in rural areas of the state for Arkansas Volunteer Lawyers for the Elderly, another legal aid program that ensures that senior citizens with limited assets and income can access the legal system.

She has served on the boards of other historical societies, including Scott Connections in Scott, Arkansas (Director, 2007-2008), and the National Society of Colonial Dames of America in Arkansas (Director, 2006-09; and Board of Managers 2009-present). This spring Anne was selected to be the state’s Regent of Gunston Hall, the Northern Virginia home of founding father George Mason, a position she will hold for the next four years.

Anne is active in several of her family’s businesses. She is on the board of directors of ARNO, Inc. and Pioneer Farms, and has served as Chairman of the Board of Three Rivers Title Services, Inc. since 1999.

For pleasure, Anne loves to grow herbs, read, and write short stories. She maintains two blogs: one is purely for pleasure and the other is purely for work. She is also working on three novels, none of which she ever expects to finish unless the Fountain of Youth is found and she drinks copiously from its non-Stygian depths.

“Very amusing, my dear. I will extract the pertinent information to send out to the rest of the Board, omitting the humor, sad though that makes me.”

She will extract the pertinent information? That means most of what I wrote will end up in the trash.

And I worked so hard to get it to her!

June 29, 2010 Posted by | Arkansas, Creative Writing, History, Lawyer, Personal | 1 Comment

How Facebook Can Win or Lose Your Lawsuit For You

Let’s face it: social networking is fun. We stay in touch with friends flung geographically far and wide, and we reconnect with friends from summer camp, college, and even kindergarten. We make witty comments in our status bar, witty comments about our friends’ statuses, and even wittier comments on those wonderful photos posted everywhere. We comment on political statements, join groups and become fans of things, and write posts about things we feel are important. We even write posts about things that aren’t so important, but that we think are hilarious at the time. We post family photos, high school reunion photos, and photos from parties.

Oops. Rewind.

Photos from parties? She doesn’t remember behaving the embarrassing way that picture depicts her, so maybe she should be reminded!

Reunions? He kissed his old girlfriend and now his wife wants an divorce!

“Witty” comments? Those can be taken any number of ways. And what if we – dare we even think it – get into smackdown-style ripostes with people who get on our wrong sides?

When we are in the midst of litigation where our characters may be an issue, social networking sites are Not Our Friends. Unless, of course, the Other Party’s character is the big issue and they have neither read this article nor taken its advice. Then we love social networking web sites. That’s because lawyers have subpoena power and are not afraid to use it in the quest for elusive evidence that will help win their clients’ cases.

Within the last few years, as more and more people from teenagers to grandmothers register with MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Bebo, and any number of other social networking sites, personal information has become easily obtainable on the web. The personal information that these sites protect includes things like credit card numbers, telephone numbers and email addresses. They do not protect the information users carelessly put out in public for anyone to see.

The things that lawyers either love or hate these sites for are the things people do not bother to hide. These are things like how much a person drinks, who they kiss, who they are sleeping with, what social activities they enjoy, what clubs they belong to, what their political leanings are, where they hang out, where they were on a certain night.

Why would a lawyer care about these things?

I’ll tell you why.

Scenario 1:

Bob has come to Lawyer seeking custody of his two children, ages 4 and 7, who live with their mother, Candy. Bob tells Lawyer all kinds of horror stories that his kids have told him about their mother, none of which can be proven in court because (1) judges hate it when young children testify, and (2) it’s hearsay unless they do.  Bob tells Lawyer that Candy has a Facebook page.

Lawyer checks out Candy’s Facebook page, either through Bob’s account or through a third person who is a contact of Candy’s. It turns out that Candy is either a fan or a member of the following groups, among others: NORML, Facebook Sluts, Drugz Rule, and assorted others in the same vein.  On the wall of the group Heroin, Candy posted this comment: “ i think it should b legalized, its ur choice to do it…not anyone elses. It takes away depression nd i dont c wat the big deal of it.” On the wall of the Sex Workers of Pulaski County group, she posted, “i have sex with anyone that pays!” Candy has been tagged in a number of photos with her breasts bared, and apparently extremely intoxicated. She has posted at least three photos of her children riding in cars without seatbelts or car seats. One man posted to her wall, “Last night was gr8 babe but next time dose the kids with something to make them sleep.”  Her reply was, “sry benedryl usually works nex time i use codine.”

Bob makes screen shots of the pertinent posts for his lawyer and continues to deliver posts similarly devastating to Candy’s case on a regular basis. Lawyer files motions asking that Candy be immediately tested for both drugs and sexually transmitted diseases, both of which are positive. At the final hearing, all of these posts are presented as evidence. Candy has no choice but to admit they were made by her.

Guess who wins custody?

Scenario 2:

Joella is injured in an automobile accident. She has filed suit against the person who drove the other car, and who was at fault in the accident. Months and months pass, during which Joella still claims not to be able to walk more than about twenty yards at a go, and claims that she still cannot sit or stand for any significant period of time. Finally, at her deposition, a year after the accident and with her still claiming not to be any better, the other driver’s lawyer pulls out a photo that was posted to Joella’s Twitter account via TwitterPix. It is of Joella  in her snow-bunny outfit sitting on a ski lift. There are about twenty more pictures, all posted to that account over the week of Spring Break just three months after the accident. The accompanying Tweets make it clear that Joella not only had a great vacation on the slopes, but danced the nights away that week in Vail.

Her settlement is substantially lower than she had hoped.  In fact, it does not even cover her medical bills since she continued going to therapy claiming to be in terrible pain long after that ski trip.

Scenario 3:

Because they like crowds and many participants at their events, a group of drag racing enthusiasts posted their plans to hold illegal street races to a web site. They did not realize that police had discovered the web site a couple of weeks before, and to their dismay, on January 15-16, 2010, four of the racers were arrested. The police had staked out the location of the race. Yes, this really happened.

Scenario 4:

Remember the riots after the NBA championship game in Los Angeles last summer? Police used YouTube and Flickr to identify people involved in riots following the June 14, 2009 NBA Championship.

Scenario 5:

You don’t have to be the one who posts anything.  Like the looters and rioters in Los Angeles after the Lakers Championship in June 2009, people with cellphones took photos and videos of a fight in Suffolk, Virginia, that led to the arrest of the participants. The videos were uploaded to YouTube.

We’re starting to see this a lot in the employment law arena – e.g., employees calling in “sick” and then boasting on Facebook about the things they did while out – like drug use, vacations, etc. Surprise! – they get fired for it.

And what about the 17 year old Buffalo, NY girl who killed her boyfriend in a drunk driving accident, then a month later went on a beach vacation. Upon her return to New York, she posted a picture captioned “Drunk in Florida” to her Facebook page. How could she be surprised when the judge essentially threw the book at her at her sentencing?

I don’t think that, in general, this generation does things that are any more reckless or stupid than what many of us did in our youth (although this particular case is obviously egregious), but why would anyone what to publicize their stupidity to the world?

As for why people share these things with complete and total strangers (or just anyone, without restriction, who wants to see them), they either don’t know how to adjust the privacy settings on their accounts, or they’re naive enough to think that those whom they’ve granted “friend” status on a social networking site don’t include people who are just waiting for the chance to rat them out. It seems as if some are absolutely inviting the police to catch them at their illegal activities.

As LAPD’s chief detective Lt. Paul Vernon said as the riot arrests last June mounted, “It’s nearly impossible to stay anonymous in this age of cell phones, video, and social websites; and that’s a good thing, if it holds people more accountable for their behavior.”

The moral of the story is to behave always as though your worst enemy is watching. Chances are, he is.

April 13, 2010 Posted by | Lawyer | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Medical Malpractice and Tort “Reform”

I’m riding my white horse today.

As a lawyer, I know that people get harmed through no fault of their own by other’s people’s negligence and failure to pay attention to what is important. Whether it’s a car accident, a doctor who ignores symptoms, or a vicious dog who attacks a child, the person who is hurt should not have to pay the price for the injury. The court system cannot give back the things these people have lost: time away from work which leads to the loss of their careers, the pretty face that existed before the dog mauled the four year old girl, the mother who was killed by a drunk driver, living without constant pain caused by the injuries in the accident, the cheerful contributions to her family that the coma patient used to make before the doctor ignored the pulmonary thrombosis that led to her vegetative state.

When lawyers screw up a case, clients want to sue them and recover their losses. And they should. They should also be able to sue doctors, negligent drivers, and other people whose failure to pay attention has hurt them.

Unfortunately, “tort reform” usually means “medical malpractice lawsuit reform.” People think that lawyers are mean to doctors, who are just doing their best to heal people who probably can’t be healed in the first place.

That is not the case.

Look at the statistics in a recent Huffington Post article. Only 2-3% of ALL medical malpractice results in a lawsuit. That’s not 2-3% of medical care cases; that’s 2-3% of actual malpractice situations. Is such a number of lawsuits really excessive?

Caps on punitive damages is the issue Obama is expected to embrace, though. Punitive damages don’t reimburse someone for money they are out. Compensatory damages cover that. Punitive damages are intended as punishment – hence, the name “punitive.”

Why would someone require punishment for a screw-up? Think about how we decide how and whether to punish our children for negligence. Let’s say that Susie and Jenny are at a birthday party for one of their classmates and it’s cake and ice cream time. Susie gets excited explaining something and throws her arms wide, knocking over Jenny’s glass of punch, spilling it on her and ruining her party dress. Of course, Susie has to apologize to Jenny, and she has to get Jenny another glass of punch. She has to help clean up the mess, and if Jenny’s party dress is expensive Susie’s mom might offer to pay for it to be cleaned. These actions are compensatory in nature. They compensate Jenny for the loss of her glass of punch, her clean and dry dress, and her hurt feelings.

If Susie knocks the punch over because she was dancing on the table, though, Susie will be punished. Punitive action will be taken to ensure she doesn’t dance on the table and spill someone’s punch again.

Maybe we put Susie in time-out. Maybe Susie gets a spanking. Maybe Susie is grounded from her Barbies, or she is not allowed to go to any parties for the next month.

The point is not that Susie is being punished for doing something intentionally. She did not. She did spill the punch while being grossly negligent, though. She should have known that if she danced on the table where Jenny’s punch sat, the punch would spill.

Punitive damages in these cases are intended to stop gross negligence. They are not appropriate where there is no gross negligence – where the punch spills accidentally due to something unforeseen or where the negligence was minor. Punitive damages are for those egregious cases where the doctor ignored clear warning signs of his patient’s impending doom and did nothing.

Punitive damages are not awarded lightly by any jury. If a jury awards an amount in the millions, it is because the defendant in those medical malpractice actions has the resources to pay such an amount, even if it hurts. Punishment is not intended to kill, and punitive damages that bankrupt a company or a doctor aren’t appropriate. Punitive damages are supposed to hurt, though – just like being grounded from birthday parties hurts. And just like Susie, the idea is that punitive damages will hurt for a little while, but the defendant will get over it – hopefully to go forth more carefully in the future.

February 26, 2010 Posted by | Death, Health, Lawyer, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

If I Had Known Then What I Know Now

Do you ever wish you had known at 23 what you know now?

At 23 I was passionate, opinionated, brave, and uncertain. I was passionate in my relationships, opinionated about what was right, brave to do what terrified me, and uncertain that I could do it. At 47, of course, I’m still passionate and opinionated. I bravely embrace change, just like I always have, even though a part of me is terrified by it. But instead of being uncertain about my abilities, I am only uncertain as to how to help my own child bridge this awkward abyss between childhood and adulthood. Being even more passionately opinionated in my dotage keeps the rest of the uncertainty at bay.

Knowing what I know now, I would make my 23 year old self choose differently about some pretty substantial things. I would require my 23 year old self to make it on my own where the weather was tolerable. I definitely would not allow my 23 year old self to return to Arkansas. The summers are just too damn brutal.

Sure, I should have gone to graduate school. But I should have gone for history or literature, not law school. I should have followed my own dream, not someone else’s. It wasn’t my idea to go to law school. My dad planted that seed, and although I don’t regret having a career that I can pick up or put down at any time, I do wish it was more transportable. (How do I hate the summers in Arkansas? Let me count the ways…)

There is lots of advice I would give my younger self.

* Follow your dreams. You want to study paleoarcheology, be a writer, go on a dinosaur dig, or live in Greenwich Village? Do it. Don’t mistake the dreams other people have for you as your own dream. Be sure of whose dream you’re following.

* Travel. Everywhere. Maintain your rucksack in good condition and stash money away for no purpose other than to pay for plane tickets, cheap meals in exotic places, and museum fees. It’s okay to sleep in a train station or on the steps of a cathedral in Europe when you’re 23.

* It’s not love. At least not yet. Lust, pheromones, and heat, yes. But it is not love and you can live without that person because someone else will be along shortly to scratch the itch. For the love of Pete, don’t get married, start having babies, and acquire a mortgage yet. You’ve got too much to see and do before you’re chained down to all of that. Love doesn’t develop until the bright flush of physical desire dissipates and you’re used to each other’s most annoying habits and bodily functions, and you’ve decided not to commit either murder or seppuku over them.

* Run toward things, not away from them. I was terrified of looking for something different, but I hated – absolutely hated – my sales job just after college. It was worse than waiting tables, and I was truly horrible at that. But going back to school a year graduating from college was a cop out. I made the decision to go back to school – and back home – because I hated my job. I made the wrong decision for the wrong reasons. I was running away, not running toward something. There have been so many times I have wished I could take a mulligan on that one.

* If you can’t pay cash for it, you don’t need it. If you can’t move to a new place by loading everything you own in your car, you have too much crap. Get rid of it and don’t buy more. It’ll save on the interest you pay for those credit cards, and it will simplify your life. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it. If you can’t pay cash for it, you don’t need it. Unless it’s prescribed medication.

* There is no reason to be bored, ever. With so much in the world to see, do, and make, boredom should not be a concept within your realm of familiarity. If you’re bored, it’s because you won’t open your eyes to the world around you. Go to a park. Visit a museum. Watch a river flow. Go to a bookstore or library.

* It’s okay to fail. Fear of failure prevents us from doing so many things, and more often than not it is a hollow fear. Robert Sculler asked, “What would you do if you knew you would not fail?” We should never assume failure. If we assume failure, we try nothing and therefore achieve nothing.

* Screwing up is okay, too. Stupid mistakes are also a way to learn. Granted, they aren’t the best way, or the least painful way, but they are effective. And the next time, we slow down and think things through more carefully.

What advice would you make your younger self heed?

December 11, 2009 Posted by | Arkansas, Lawyer, Personal, Travel | , , , | 1 Comment

Saumur Ecole de Cavalerie, Courses de Tetes

My office, and my my messy desk, with the offending painting.

I have this print hanging on the wall of my office. My assistant, the lovely and incomparable Jane, thinks it is morbid and shocking.  I think it metaphorically demonstrates what a good trial lawyer does.

The name of the painting is “Saumur Ecole de Cavalerie, Course de Tetes (Carrousel).” It is by Albert Adams. Although my French is as rusty as my ancient Etruscan (that means it’s somewhat better than my Sumerian, at least idiomatically), I can roughly translate this to mean that the French cavalry school at Saumur has a ring it calls “The Course of Heads.”  Apparently the cavalry students brandish sabers and attempt to collect as many heads as possible as they go through the course.

Here’s a close-up:

You can see the reflection of the mess on my desk in the glass.  Attractive, non?

Given the French predilection and national past time of separating heads from bodies (see: guillotine) it may be necessary, occasionally, for a French cavalryman to pick up the mess.  Someone has to, after all.  All those loose heads lolling and rolling about the countryside and through the city streets would be a menace and cause the bourgeoisie to trip and fall, thus giving rise to lawsuits of the variety I’d like to bring on behalf of my bruised and battered bourgeois client.  (Hands fallen future plaintiff a business card.  “Call me,”  I say.  “Merci.”)

But back to the incomparable and indispensable Jane, who says that this particular picture is, in a word, “gross.”

Since I have only one print of the painting, I am 143 short of a gross. She must mean something else by her statement.

I think it’s entirely appropriate for my law office.

I have always loved this print, which hung in my grandparents’ house, and which I rescued from my aunt who had it stored in a damp storage building about 20 years ago. Aside from the fact that I find it fascinating, though, there is the metaphor.

A better quality image than my cell phone is capable of, which I obtained off the net.
You can see a close-up of it on that web page:


March 24, 2009 Posted by | History, Lawyer, War | Leave a comment

Gridlock: The American Way

Often as not, politicians and pundits decry gridlock as something negative.  Nothing could be further from the truth, as an OpEd piece in the Wall Street Journal points out today.

In my opinion, political parties are designed to create “gridlock.”  This is actually a good thing, and the framers of the U.S. Constitution hoped that checks and balances among the three branches of government would prevent silly laws.

Far too much legislation gets passed even when there is gridlock.  Just to gather additional votes, lawmakers append pork to bills completely unrelated to the primary subject of the bill.  The long-winded, convoluted language of most bills (yes, a lawyer is saying this!) obfuscates the intent of the drafters.

With a majority of the president’s party in both the Senate and the House, a dangerous atmosphere builds into a tempest that takes far too long to stuff back into its metaphorical teapot.

The point of having a balance of power between the executive and legislative branches is so that over-reaching legislation doesn’t get passed and signed into law.  With one party effectively running these two branches, we should expect abuses of power.  It matters not which party is in power.  Both parties – as well as any hypothetical third party in such a position – would be unable to resist the temptation to press their agendas unchecked by other points of view.

The problem with our current tax-subsidized two-party system is that a single party can indeed obtain a majority relatively easily.  Legislation can get passed, and then a supermajority isn’t as much of a hurdle when there is a veto. Politicians will tell us that this is a good thing, because “things get done.”

But is majority rule really a fair way to go about things?  Fifty one percent to pass a bill means that 49% are effectively disenfranchised. A simple majority does not constitute a mandate, no matter what certain politicians may tell us.  A simple majority means simply that there are a few more for something than against it.

And “getting things done” isn’t always the best thing, either.  Think about how fast the USAPatriot Act was passed in the hysteria following 9/11.  Think about how fast the economic bailout was passed despite the fact that its details remain poorly understood by “Joe the Plumber” as well as “Joe Six-Pack,” and – dare I suggest? – by the rank and file in Congress as well.  Bad laws get passed for good reasons.  Generally, getting rid of bad laws is much harder than passing a good one to begin with.

October 17, 2008 Posted by | Lawyer, News, Politics | | 1 Comment


I have chronic daily headaches.

My migraines were diagnosed when I was 9 years old.  I don’t remember the first one I had.  I have always had what we called “sick headaches.”   My head would pound to the point where I couldn’t speak or think, and my stomach would lurch.  Then I’d lose everything I’d eaten in the last 24 hours. It might last a few hours, or it might last 3 days. However long it lasted, the hours and days were simply written out of my life.

My migraines came at irregular intervals.  I would get three, four, or perhaps five a year. They were manageable with pain medications, which would help me to sleep despite the pain.  Without the meds I would lie curled up and moan.  Tears, unbidden, would leak from my eyes, which were screwed tightly shut to ward off light.  I was prescribed codeine.

When I was in boarding school no drugs were allowed in our rooms.  Even aspirin had to be deposited with the school nurse, who was there only from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. The nurse didn’t believe my headaches were real.  She thought I was a druggie teenager seeking narcotics when I asked for my medication, so I kept a bottle of pills in my room and another in my purse.  Had they been discovered, I would have been suspended or maybe even expelled.  They were the only way I could even partly function when the headaches were their worst, and sometimes even then I couldn’t. I hoarded and guarded those pills.  There was no way they were going to be used recreationally.  Those pills were more precious than diamonds.

The world often seems brighter, louder, more active, and more intense just before a migraine hits.  Sometimes before the pain begins colors suddenly take on an energetic quality, smells become more pungent,  and sounds seem louder. Activity around me makes my heart beat faster.  I don’t perceive it as a threat, just as too much energy that makes me uncomfortable or edgy.  I get irritable. This is my “aura.” I don’t hallucinate. I don’t see anything that isn’t really there, unless the increasing intensity of my senses counts.

Sometimes a migraine hits with no warning at all. I may be calmly walking to my car and be slammed with a 2×4 to the brain. I fumble in my purse for the triptans – drugs that are designed to abort a migraine – knowing that it may be an hour or more before the pills begin to work. Another slam, and I wonder if I can drive my car home.  I have to.  That’s the only way I can get there.  Digging back into my purse I come up with the Vicodin ES my doctor prescribed for pain that isn’t alleviated with the non-narcotic triptans. It still takes an hour before I can drive, and I am thankful I don’t have to drive far.  It’s not just for my sake, either.

I call these headaches “Mike Tysons.”  With the first sudden blow I am reeling; with the second I am almost unable to move, talk, walk, or look at anything.  I curl into a fetal position in a small, dark, cool place and wait out the pain. I am oblivious to my surroundings except for the sounds and lights that assault my senses.

A car accident a decade ago made them worse.  The headaches I got perhaps five times a year suddenly became several times a month, then several times a week, and now are almost daily.

My triggers include physical stress to my cervical spine (sleeping wrong on my pillow), soy, corn, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, the weather, seasonal allergies, irregular sleep, stress, irregular meals, alcohol, and aerobic exercise. Being in a crowd where I can’t hear well causes a headache, too – I’m talking about football games, crowded parties, and noisy restaurants.

Emotional surges can induce a migraine.  When I was told my father died, one hit me immediately.  Great joy can induce one, too.  Winning a tough case makes me feel wonderful, and is always followed in just a couple of hours by a splittng headache.  The shouts of boys playing inside on a rainy day, the birth of my favorite oldest niece and both of her siblings, a favorite song cranked to top volume, the satisfaction of a difficult job done well, the pleasure of a story completed after wrestling with the plot and characters for so long – all of these things make me feel wonderful, and all leave me with a hatchet striking my frontal lobe repeatedly.

In college, I would always get a migraine after the exam or after the term paper was turned in.  I call it my neurological let-down.  Once the period of stressful high productivity was over, my body and brain knew they could rest.  Before I embarked on another project,  a migraine would force that rest on me.  The same thing happens still.  I finish a brief, I’m through with a settlement conference, I leave a hearing and my head throbs.  The stress is over; the migraine is just beginning.

I lose the ability to speak coherently.  My brain fumbles for the right words.  My fingers fumble with the Imitrex packaging.  What sociopath at Glaxo-Welcome designed that packaging, anyway?  It’s hard enough for someone without a migraine to open it, but someone with a migraine, who suddenly has the strength of a kitten and the coordination of a newborn has an extremely difficult time getting to the stupid pill!

Migraineurs know exactly what the ice pick in the eye feels like.  We have experienced a head that literally feels about to explode, and we pull our hair in an effort to force the explosion to completion or we squeeze to hold it in.  Other time we feel the vise tightening around our skulls, squeezing until we think the bones must shatter… but there’s nothing there.

Migraineurs have experienced soft pillows that are too hard. Walking up or down stairs is excruciating. Any movement causes a swell in the degree of pain, a giant THROB that suppresses all reason.  Each footstep across a room creates those throbs, as does turning over in bed and sitting up to accept the glass of water and pill from someone kind enough to bring it to me. Turning one’s head during a migraine can be agony. Every migraineur understands exactly why decapitation would be a relief.

I’ve tried biofeedback, meditation, acupuncture, chiropractors, cupping, Chinese herbs, oregano, and magnesium supplements. I’ve tried several drugs that work for others, including Neurontin, Topamax (the gastro side effects of this drug were horrific), Verapamil, and Atenolol (Beta Blockers).

I’ve stopped working full time to reduce my stress levels, and moved my law office home so that I can take a nap when I need to. My bedroom is painted a dark mossy green and I have blackout curtains. I am careful to take cases that will not cause undue stress. I got out of a stressful marriage. I don’t drive more than an hour at a time because even on cloudy days the glare gets to me.  Forget driving in the rain, too – windshield wipers are like strobe lights to me.  They induce a headache in a very short time.  Even the long shadows falling on the road through the trees in the late afternoon are enough of a strobe effect to set me off, and it only takes a few minutes.

In an effort to avoid soy and corn additives to food , I am now make almost everything I eat from scratch – I can’t eat any of the prepared meals from the frozen foods section of the grocery store, and practically no canned or packaged foods other than fruit or vegetables.  My bread machine gets a great workout.  I read food labels religiously.

My migraines are manageable with my current regimen of drugs, which includes an anti-seizure medication.  Triptans like Imitrex, Maxalt, Zomig, and Relpax usually break off the headache.  I use Vicodin ES for extra help in reducing the pain. I use Phenergan suppositories to quell the nausea. I take a mild muscle relaxer before bed to help keep my neck supple. I use ice packs, heating pads, and naps.  I listen to cool jazz even though I really want to hear Foo Fighters.  I never go anywhere without my medications. The pain killer, the triptans, the anti-nausea… I am a traveling pharmucopia.

I have also discovered a fantastic massage technique.  It’s expensive, and my insurance doesn’t cover it, but once a month I go to a masseur who does myofascial release.  I follow that appointment with a deep muscle massage.  I have found that the massages not only help relieve muscle tension, but they help relieve stress.

Learning to live with chronic daily headache doesn’t mean giving up the fight against it. I go to my neurologist every three months, and I am always up for trying new procedures, drugs, supplements, and techniques to alleviate the pain and prevent the headaches from happening.

I am realistic about what I can do, though.  Because I can’t be relied upon to be at functions (crowds stress me, and a headache is guaranteed), I do the behind-the-scenes stuff at my son’s school and for two historical societies I belong to. I wish I could do more, but I have learned the hard way that I usually have to say “no.”

Even the things I want to do will be torpedoed by a migraine. A coffee date with girlfriends, a dinner out, plans for the theater – all of these get derailed by migraines occasionally. My friends don’t understand. It’s just a headache, after all.

I’ve had people tell me, “Oh, you have a magnesium deficiency.” Nope, sorry.  I tried magnesium and saw no appreciable difference in the frequency or severity of the attacks.

“Oh, you need to relax more,” I’m told.  I have eliminated all possible stress from my life. It’s not just stress.

If I could tell you the number of times someone has told me about Topamax, or fever few, or acupuncture, or some other remedy! And even friends who suffer common migraine with aura don’t seem to get it. Mine occur almost every day, not once a month with my period (that stopped at 32 when the plumbing got yanked for cervical cancer). Hearing that this treatment or that treatment will “definitely” work amounts to a platitude. I want to say to them, “Don’t condescend to me.  You have no idea what I’ve tried and what I’ve gone through.”

I live life one day at a time.  The rare day without a migraine – today! – is a treat.  I accept it with cautious pleasure. Tomorrow the drugs may work, and I’ll be able to function.  The next day I may be in bed, wishing the Red Queen’s executioner would hurry up.

February 10, 2008 Posted by | Health, Lawyer, Personal | , , , , , | 6 Comments

Happy Birthday, Daddy

Today is my Dad’s birthday. He would have been 71. He died five years ago and I miss him more than ever.

My Dad was my champion. His confidence in me never flagged, even when I was an angry, incorrigible teenager bent on self-destruction. He always told me, without any qualifying adjectives, phrases, or conditions whatsoever, that I could be and do anything I wanted in life. I’m 45 years old and I still believe him.

Daddy wasn’t perfect. He drank too much. You know the kind of drunk I’m talking about. He was perfectly functional during the day – had a pretty high-profile position in the little community where he lived, in fact – but evenings were a different story. He was a melancholy drunk, the kind who wanted to sing “Danny Boy” and worry about the re-institution of the draft.

No kidding: when I was a teenager the draft was one of his favorite drunken topics. He was on the county draft board during Vietnam and the experience scarred him, I think. He objected strongly to the war and did all he could to keep kids from our area from going. He had a cousin who was on the ground in Vietnam, a brother who spent his tour with the Navy just off the coast of Vietnam, and a brother in law who was about to be shipped out when his luck changed and he was sent home instead. Wars that were nothing but someone’s political agenda pissed Dad off. You can imagine what he’d think about Iraq Redux.

Dad made Christmas magical. His birthday, coming on the Twelfth Day of Christmas, meant that the whole season was special. We had a tradition when I was young, that he and my sister continued after her divorce: Christmas Eve meant a trip to the closest Wal-Mart, 40 miles away in the town of Searcy. Dad wasn’t looking for significant gifts on that trip. If he saw something perfect for someone, he’d pick it up, of course, but the purpose of the trip was really to grab silly gifts, stocking stuffers, and prepare for Pre-Christmas, a tradition our family held dear.

My family inherited Pre-Christmas from Dad’s family. The legend goes that on Christmas Eve the kids were allowed to open one gift, and the adults, being who they were, didn’t want to get left out. They started exchanging gag gifts on Christmas Eve, accompanied by really bad poetry. There was a $10 limit on any Pre-Christmas gift when I was growing up. This encouraged creativity in gift giving. A rubber chicken was always the booby prize, and one lucky person a year got it. It was a badge of honor to receive the chicken, which was always dressed up a little differently and presented with new panache.

I cooked my first Thanksgiving turkey at the age of 22 and had to call my mother to find out, halfway through cooking, that the giblets were in a package in the turkey’s neck. That Pre-Christmas I got the chicken with feathers stuck in its butt, intended to resemble the turkey. The chicken’s head had been cut off and, um, things were inserted in it. I don’t remember the poem (who can remember those horrible poems?) but I assure you it was appropriately insulting. A new chicken was purchased the next year to replace the poor decapitated capon.

It is still a badge of honor to receive the chicken. Jack and his cousins would be devastated every year when they’d open their pre-Christmas gift and it wouldn’t be the chicken. We had to contrive chicken gifts for them three years in a row just to get it out of the way. It’s hard to come up with a rubber chicken idea and poem for a ten year old!

But this isn’t a blog about Pre-Christmas. Dad made Christmas special in several other ways, but I should have written about that at Christmas. At least I have blog fodder for next Christmas. No, this is a blog about my Daddy, whose birthday is today.

I was Daddy’s Girl. Dad had two daughters, but I was It. Every girl, even my sister, should be a Daddy’s Girl. Sis got double billing with me as an adult, but as children we were very definitely divided. She was Mama’s and I was Daddy’s. We sort of shared our little brother, who came along half a decade later and was the only boy.

As Daddy’s Girl I had the seat of honor. I considered it the seat of honor, anyway. I think I more or less took the seat, but I had it nonetheless. I sat on the floor at his feet when we had company. I sat to his right at the dinner table. On weekends I snuggled with him on the couch and watched John Wayne and Henry Fonda and James Stewart. If he went somewhere I was the child who accompanied him.

When I was about eleven years old I rebelled completely against going to church, which I thought was stupid and pointless. I just didn’t buy the whole “god” concept, which was no more believable than Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny in my mind. The story of Jesus and the ultimate sacrifice he made seemed ridiculous, and I said so rather vehemently. Martyrdom was foolish, no matter whether it was Jesus or Galileo. The choice between burning at the stake and telling a bunch of threatening men that I lied would have been easy for me. I’d be Galileo’s twin.

But at the tender age of eleven, too young even for confirmation in the church, it was Dad who told me that before I declared myself an atheist (I had no idea there was a name for it) I needed to consider whether there was a “Mover of the First Part.” There may not be a benevolent intelligence watching us now, but at some point, something, or someone, set the thing in motion. This was my first real theology lesson. It intrigued me a lot more than any Bible story ever could.

Because of this conversation with my Dad I was agnostic for years. I had to come to intellectual grips with the concept of infinity before I could put agnosticism away completely. Thanks to my dad, I actually studied theology, philosophy and religion instead of just saying, “This whole ‘Jesus and God’ thing is nonsense, and I want no part of it.” I still study religions. Maybe I’m still agnostic in some ways. Nah….

I have my Dad’s sense of humor. All three of his children do. The three of us have all remarked on multiple occasions how glad we are that we have Dad’s quickness to laugh, that we inherited the song that was in his heart. We are all basically happy people. We are happy on the outside and we are happy inside. My brother and I both struggle with depression, a genetic problem that comes from Mom’s side of the family. Believe it or not, though, even when we are depressed and at our worst, we are still optimists with a sense of fun. We are quick-witted. We see the irony in situations that make us sad.

Like Dad, all three of his children often laugh inappropriately. At the funeral of a family friend not too long ago, my brother and I walked in together a little late. Mom and Sis sat on the other side of the church. Jay and I opened the hymnal and the book that had the funeral service in it. We read the paper program. Then I noticed what I thought was a theme to the funeral.

“Jay!” I whispered, nudging him. “Do you notice that all these hymns have something to do with being submissive to God?”

He looked. Sure enough, each hymn had something about bondage or submission. He nodded. “Do you think the deceased and his wife were into BDSM?” I asked.

He moved a step away from me and turned red, trying to keep the laughter in. The widow was and is a woman of a very strong, dominant nature, and we were on the receiving end of her dominance many times growing up. The notion of her dominating her kind, soft-spoken, wheelchair-bound husband wasn’t far-fetched at all, but the idea that she’d do it in leather and with a flogger was making us snort.

Then came the concordant reading. More submission stuff. More bondage. Both of us were trying hard to keep a straight face, and we were not doing a good job. The homily was just as bad. Accepting death as God’s will, submitting whether we want to or not…

Yes, we laugh inappropriately. We should not have read anything naughty into the chosen hymns and texts of the funeral service. We were very bad. We will now submit to be punished, but only by the widow dressed in leather. (giggle) Dad would have found that to be hilariously, and inappropriately, funny as well. Too bad he missed it.

I was Daddy’s Girl. I didn’t care one thing about disappointing my mother or doing what she wanted me to do. If I thought I had disappointed Daddy, though, it was worse than being spanked, grounded, or otherwise punished. I never wanted to let my Daddy down. When Dad got angry at me, I knew I had truly screwed up. I knew I had to fix it.

When I was in my early 20’s and living 1500 miles away from him, I had a decision to make. It was a major decision, and I wanted him to tell me I was doing the right thing. I laid out the paths I could possibly take and I asked his advice. He said, “Why are you asking me? You’re just going to do what you want to anyway.” He said it gently. I realized that he was pointing out a flaw in my nature. I wanted him to reassure me that a decision I had already made was the right one. I didn’t really want his input.

Years later, when my husband said essentially the same thing to me, I understood that even though I had tried to be more conscientious about heeding the advice I was given, I wasn’t asking for it in the right way. I still have this flaw. Thanks to my dad, I am aware of it and it gives me a really guilty feeling whenever I realize that I’ve done it again. Gee, thanks, Dad.

Dad died very suddenly, either because of an aneurysm in his aorta or more probably from a deep vein thrombosis – a blood clot. He had been having problems with numbness in his left foot for several years and no doctor had been able to determine what was wrong. It’s likely that he had a clot in that numb area that finally made it to his heart and stopped it for good. His death devastated all of us.

Jack was ten years old when Dad died. We were talking about Dad one day not long after the memorial service, and Jack put his finger on what really made my Dad special. “You know what was great about Papa? He listened.”

That was really and truly what was great about my Dad. He did listen, and he listened well. He didn’t interrupt with advice. He didn’t change the subject because he was uncomfortable. He listened, he asked relevant questions, and he led us to the answer. He wasn’t afraid of feelings. If we needed to vent, he understood that and he let us vent. He only tried to solve problems when we asked him to. He helped us see solutions and he did it with humor, diplomacy, and quiet support.

My Dad was a great man because he listened.

I hope that when I die someone can say something that good about me.

I went to college where I did, then went to law school because of my dad. I accomplished what I have because of my dad’s support and encouragement. I look at life the way I do because I am my father’s daughter. I am who I am because I was Daddy’s Girl.

I love you, Daddy. Thank you for making me me. And Happy Birthday, you old fart.

January 6, 2008 Posted by | Conversations With Children, Death, Health, Lawyer, Personal, Philosophy, Religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We’re Going to China!

Jack and Maggie

I’m going to be an Auntie Anne again. Or maybe a godmother. I’m getting another baby from China, and I’m sending her home with my best friend.

As some of you know, almost two years ago I traveled to China with Jane and Rich and got Maggie, their first daughter. Maggie’s full name is Margaret Lili Anne… yes, she was named after me. Why?

It’s complicated.

Jane came to work for me in October 1994. I was just back on my feet after my first bout with cancer. Thanks to Gloria, her predecessor, my solo law practice was able to hobble along for the six months I was at home. Almost as soon as I returned to work full time, Gloria told me she was moving back to Virginia. I was devastated. I was losing a phenomenal legal secretary and the woman who had kept my hopes for my business alive. I was our primary breadwinner at the time, and without Gloria I can’t imagine how bad things would have been for us financially. Jack was three years old.

Gloria assured me she would find me a good replacement for her. I despaired. She smiled at me in the cooly confident way she had and told me not to worry. Worry? I had to rebuild my practice and train a new assistant at the same time, making sure the bills were paid, while still recovering from cancer. What, me worry?

We interviewed several people. Gloria handled most of the questions. For some reason, I remember Jane’s interview but not any of the others. Maybe it’s because Jane was such a superlative candidate for the position.

Jane had worked for a part-time municipal judge who had an active law practice in her home town, which was about 45 minutes from Little Rock in the Ouachita Mountains. “The commute will be long,” I remember saying.

“I’m moving to Little Rock whether you offer me this job or not,” Jane replied with determination.

I explained they type of practice I had. It was a general practice, and I handled a little bit of everything. The complex things I referred to lawyers who did those cases more frequently, or I associated the lawyer on the case and let him do most of the work. There were lots of divorces and post-divorce matters, settling estates and probating wills, writing wills, advising small businesses, creating corporations, the occasional car wreck, real estate transactions, evictions for landlords we represented, leases, paternity cases, boundary disputes, juvenile delinquency, custody cases, and child welfare cases. She’d be exposed to almost everything but securities work and adult-sized criminals.

“Not a problem,” she said. “That’s what my boss and I do now.” She had worked for this lawyer for six years.

During my conversation with Jane, Gloria excused herself then reappeared with a cup of coffee. She set it carefully on my desk, then turned to Jane.

“I want to hire someone who will take good care of Anne,” she said to Jane. “That means bringing her coffee, calming clients who are upset, screening her calls, and making sure her parking tickets are paid.” That last bit was not a joke. Someday I’ll tell about the parking tickets. It’s a subject for a completely different blog.

Jane smiled. “Right now, I pay my boss’s bills for him, arrange for babysitters, screen his calls, and handle the calls from the defendants in municipal court who think they can talk directly to the judge. I’m used to taking care of my boss, and I think he will tell you I do a good job. Call him and ask him.”

I will do that, I thought to myself, an I’ll check these other references, too.

Gloria and I were both impressed with her. “That’s my replacement,” Gloria said as Jane left the building.

I called her references. First was Jeannie, a lawyer in her hometown I knew from some volunteer work she had done in Little Rock’s juvenile court while she was in law school.

“Jane can’t spell her own name,” Jeannie told me, “but she goes the extra mile. She knows what to do and when to do it. She is the person I go to when I have questions about cases.”

“You don’t ask her boss?” Jeannie and Scott, Jane’s boss, were sharing office space.

Jeannie snorted. “Why would I? Jane does all his work.”

Next I called the insurance agent whose office was next door to Scott’s.

“Jane is the best lawyer in Morrilton,” he declared.

I laughed.

“Really,” he insisted. “She writes all the wills for my clients. I send them over there and Jane fixes them right up. I’m really going to miss her.”

I called Scott. Jane had said I could, and the current employer is no better person to give an assessment.

“She told me she had interviewed with a lawyer in Little Rock,” Scott said ruefully. “I guess this means I’m going to lose her for sure.”

“You don’t want her to leave?”

“Lord, no! She’s the person who runs my practice! I’m not going to find anyone to replace her anytime soon.”

“How’s her work?”

“She’s fantastic. She can’t spell, but that’s what spell check is for. She writes my letters, takes care of my clients, and makes sure I know where to be and when to be there. She does it all.

“I can’t keep her here as long as the big city lures her. I think there’s a man,” he confided.

Offering Jane the job was definitely not a mistake. Over the last 13 years we’ve had our ups and downs, but not with each other. She’s become my best friend, my confidant, my cherished girlfriend. She’s my right hand and my left brain. She’s the reason I have time to write the occasional blog.

I’ve sent her to paralegal school and announced on Friday afternoons that we needed to go see a chick flick. Our husbands wouldn’t take us to them, so if we wanted to see tear-jerkers we were on our own. Every once in awhile we’d take the morning and go for pedicures. It’s not all about work. The work gets done, though.

Jane and I celebrated our tenth anniversary together with a trip to New York without husbands or children. We saw shows, went shopping, and played tourist. Our families vacation together in the summers. We go to the beach as soon as school gets out for a week. She is like my sister. In fact, people often ask us if we’re sisters. We’re both short, plump, and have dark hair. We laugh. We are sisters in spirit, we tell them. We are good judges of each other’s moods. We can finish each other’s sentences. We laugh at each other. We are not at all alike, but we complement each other beautifully.

After years of fertility treatment, Jane and her husband Rich, who she met a year or two after coming to work for me, were finally able to have a son. After that, though, the fertility treatment was frustratingly ineffective. She became pregnant twice and miscarried. Her doctor told her he’d keep doing the in vitro, but he doubted it would work. Jane and Rich had spent years and tens of thousands of dollars on fertility therapies. It was time to look into adoption. I was relieved. All those hormones made her into a raging monster. I was glad to put up with it, though. She put up with me, after all.

Jane was terrified of adopting a child through a local agency or through the state. Practicing family law, we were all too aware of how badly wrong things can go, especially when the birth parents start fighting each other and drag the adoptive family into it. Several high profile adoptions going wrong cemented Jane’s resolve to adopt internationally.

Jane came to work one morning and solemnly asked me if we could talk. Their health insurance didn’t cover the fertility treatments and they had borrowed money to keep trying to have a baby. Although they were steadily paying the debt off, and had already paid a significant amount, there was still a lot left to pay. If they were going to adopt, they needed to borrow money.

Jane outlined a repayment plan to me, and I agreed. I would have agreed whether she had a plan to repay it or not. This baby was important to her, and I had the power to make it possible. I told her that day that I didn’t expect repayment. This was something I could afford to do and something she needed. There was no way I could, or would, refuse her. She insisted on signing a promissory note. I never got around to drafting one. Jane is important to me.

China seemed to offer the best program. China’s been exporting girls for decades because of the law that allows each family only one child, and the Chinese preference for sons. They began the long process of applying for approval from China.

From the time they made the decision and started gathering paperwork, it was a year before they were told that Maggie was waiting for them in Guangdong Province, the place we used to know as Canton.

“We’re going to China!” Jane exclaimed joyfully.

“Not without me, you aren’t,” I told her.

That’s right. I tagged along when they adopted her baby girl. In fact, one of my very first blog entries, before I started writing regularly, was made from China.

Jane and Rich’s family still wasn’t complete, though. About six months after we returned from Guangzhou, Jane told me that she believed there was another Chinese girl who would be calling her “mommy.” This little girl’s name would be Kennedi. Kennedy is a family name on Jane’s side.

They started the paper chase again. All the documents that had been gathered for the Maggie’s adoption were out of date and had to be replaced. Jane got busy and replaced them and sent them to China. The debt from the fertility treatment is almost paid off, and Jane and Rich have paid all Kannedi’s adoption fees to date with money they have managed to save.

Jane called me today, in tears. We only work two days a week now. She spends lots of time at home with Maggie, who is now two and a half and acting every bit of it. She is able to pick her son, Cade, up from kindergarten every day.

“We got the referral,” she said. I barely understood her she was crying so hard.

“Tell me about her!” I demanded.

“She has a cleft palate.” We expected this. This time Jane and Rich had requested what the Chinese refer to as a “waiting child” – one with a birth defect or some other special need that prevents them from being the most desired for adoption.

Jane and Rich specifically asked for a child with this particular birth defect. We can have it fixed here in Little Rock at Children’s Hospital. One of our clients works for a local doctor who specializes in this surgery, and makes regular trips to China to donate her time and skills doing the surgeries there.

“We haven’t got the last of the fees saved yet,” Jane told me. They hadn’t expected the referral this soon.

“You know that’s not a problem,” I told her.

Once again she outlined a repayment plan. Once again, I will forget to draft the promissory note.

I’ve spent the afternoon staring at the pictures of a very pretty baby. Yes, she has a funny smile, but that smile will be as perfect as it ought to be shortly after we get her home. She’s bald. She’s 9 months old. She lives in an orphanage near the border of Tibet. If only she was actually in Tibet!

Jane and I are going to get Kennedi without Rich, this time.

We’re going to China!

October 3, 2007 Posted by | Children, Health, Lawyer, Travel | , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Patriot Act Is Dealt a Blow

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” – U.S. Const. Amend. IV.

On March 11, 2004, 191 people were killed and more than 1600 were injured when bombs placed by terrorists exploded on a Madrid, Spain, commuter train. Latent fingerprints were lifted from a suspicious plastic bag, and Interpol sent digital photos of them to the FBI in Quantico, Virginia.

No matches were found in the FBI’s database until higher resolution digital photos were sent the next day. This time, 20 potential matches were returned with respect to one of the latent prints. The FBI was able to pull names, addresses, sex, race, birth dates, and Social Security numbers for the 20 potential matches, and performed background checks on each of them.

Brandon Mayfield, a 38 year old practicing lawyer living near Portland, Oregon with his wife and three children, was ranked number 4 on the list of potential matches for the latent print. Mayfield had not been outside the US since 1994 (he didn’t even have a current passport), and had never been arrested for a crime.

A supervisor in the department that matches fingerprints decided that Mayfield’s prints matched the latent print. For verification, as the FBI sometimes does, independent confirmation was sought. The person who confirmed the match was a former FBI employee who had been reprimanded several times for falsely or erroneously matching fingerprints. He knew that the FBI had already made the match, and he was aware that Mayfield was a practicing Muslim. Because there were less than 12 points at which the latent print and Mayfield’s prints matched, a third analyst also reconfirmed the match. The second reconfirmation was also tainted by the fact that the third examiners knew that the first two had made the match and by the knowledge that Mayfield was Muslim.

The FBI began surveillance of Mayfield and his family. They followed then to the mosque they attended, to the children’s school, to Mayfield’s law office, and to family activities. Attorney General John Ashcroft personally applied to the Foreign Intelligence Security Court (FISC) for an order to permit placing bugs in the private rooms of the Mayfields’ home. While waiting for the FISC order, the FBI went ahead and placed the taps on phones both in the home and in Brandon Mayfield’s law office. They began gathering information about the Mayfields from other people. They also did “sneak and peek” entries into the home and law office, entering, but not removing anything. The Mayfields detected the entry and believed they had been burglarized.

Three weeks later the FBI sent Mayfield’s prints to Spain. In the meantime, several Moroccan immigrants to Spain had been arrested in connection with the bombing. There was no connection between the Moroccans and Mayfield. The Spanish authorities examined the fingerprints and found too many dissimilarities, so notified the FBI that there was no match. The Spanish authorities had the original latent prints, not digital photos of them, for comparison purposes. A formal report from Spain to the FBI followed. Not to be deterred, the FBI sent agents to Spain, but the Spanish authorities were firm. There was no match of Mayfield’s prints to the latent print.

The FBI was still determined to connect Brandon Mayfield to the Madrid bombing. In support of its request for a warrant to arrest Mayfield as a material witness to the bombing, an FBI agent swore in an affidavit that the FBI had determined Mayfield’s prints and the latent print were a 100% match. No mention was made of the Spanish conclusion that the prints were not a match. The affidavit also emphasized Mayfield’s religion and ties to the Muslim community.

Once he was arrested, Mayfield vehemently protested his innocence, but an independent fingerprint examiner selected by Mayfield and his lawyers also determined that the prints were a match.

Thanks to broad search warrants for the Mayfield home and law office, computer files, papers, and even the Mayfield children’s homework was seized by the FBI. Mayfield was held incommunicado in a detention facility, and he and his family were told that he was to be charged with crimes punishable by death. They were told that there was a 100% match between his fingerprints and those found in Madrid. The FBI and the Department of Justice leaked information about the arrest to the press, and there were international headlines proclaiming Brandon Mayfield to be involved in the Madrid bombing.

Two weeks after his arrest, Spain notified the FBI that it had matched the latent print in question with an Algerian. Spain specifically notified the news media that the print did not match Mayfield’s. Mayfield was released from detention the next day, but was ordered to remain on home detention for the next several days.

At least eight federal agencies, the CIA, the National Security Council, the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, the FBI, the Department of the Treasury, and the NSA, now have “photocopies or photographs of documents from confidential client files in Mayfield’s law office, summaries and excerpts from the computer hard drives from the Mayfield law office and plaintiffs’ personal computers at home, analysis of plaintiffs’ personal bank records and bank records from Mayfield’s law office, analysis of client lists, websites visited, family financial activity, summaries of confidential conversations between husband and wife, parents and children, and other private activities of a family’s life within their home.” – Mayfield v. United States (CIV. 04-1427-AA, p. 23), ___ F.Supp. ___ (26 Sept., 2007).

It’s not surprising given this chain of events that Brandon Mayfield, his wife, and their three children sued the federal government.

The USA PATRIOT Act allowed the federal government to conduct secret surveillance of Brandon Mayfield and his family based entirely on the misidentification of that latent fingerprint, even after Spain had determined there was no match. The unconstitutionality of the Foreign Intelligence Security Act (FISA) as amended by the USAPATRIOT Act was the subject of a decision by one of Oregon’s federal judges this week.

The USAPATRIOT Act modified the FISA, 50 USC §§ 1801 et seq., to allow the federal government to conduct secret surveillance of U.S. citizens without having to meet the requirements of the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution against unreasonable search and seizure, and against warrantless searches and seizures.

Until 2001, when the federal government sought a warrant under FISA, a high ranking member of the intelligence community, such as the Director of the FBI, was required to certify that the primary purpose of the surveillance was to obtain foreign intelligence information. With passage of the USAPATRIOT Act, that standard is changed. The government now needs only to claim that foreign intelligence gathering is merely a significant purpose of the surveillance. 50 U.S.C. §§ 1804(a)(7)(B) and 1823(a)(7)(B). Because of the USAPATRIOT Act, FISA surveillance orders can be obtained even if the government’s primary purpose is to gather evidence of local, domestic criminal activity.

What does this mean? Passage of the USAPATRIOT Act meant that for the first time since 1791, when the Bill of Rights was adopted, the government could conduct searches and seizures without showing that a crime was either contemplated or had already been committed. It means that the federal government can avoid the probable cause requirement of the Fourth Amendment by merely alleging that part of the reason for the search and seizure is related to foreign intelligence gathering.

The government doesn’t have to suspect its target of any criminal activity at all, so long as gathering foreign intelligence is claimed as part of the reason for the search. The government only has to make a nexus of some sort between foreign terrorism or international espionage and the targeted person or place, and the approval for surveillance is granted under FISA. There doesn’t have to be any specific activity that the government is concerned about, unlike in the Fourth Amendment searches and seizures, where the affidavits and resulting warrants have to be specific as to the information to be sought and seized.

FISA allows surveillance to continue for four months at a time, whereas similar activity in the context of a normal criminal investigation is only allowed to continue for 30 days.

Furthermore, the government can retain the information obtained in the search without notifying the target of the search. Under the Fourth Amendment, the target of the search not only knows there has been a search but has been officially served with a warrant for it, and can challenge the validity of the warrant and the underlying affidavits in court. No such judicial challenge is available under FISA. Unless there is a criminal prosecution under FISA, the target may never know that the government has been watching him, tapping his phones, following him to work, or copying documents or records he thought were private.

The Oregon Federal District Court was mindful of the conflict between preserving the constitutional rights of Americans and the need for national safety and security. It was also mindful that the United States Supreme Court had already determined that the Executive Branch’s arguments to be specious “that ‘internal security matters are too subtle and complex for judicial evaluation’ and that ‘prior judicial approval will fracture the secrecy essential to official intelligence gathering.’” United States v. United States District Court, 407 U.S. 297, 320 (1972).

In 2002, the seven federal judges who are allowed to issue warrants for FISA surveillance – the only seven people in the country who have that power – issued a unanimous opinion finding that the procedures for obtaining approval for surveillance under FISA after passage of the USAPATRIOT Act were improper because they appeared to be geared toward law enforcement purposes rather than toward foreign intelligence gathering.

The U.S. government appealed. The FISCR, the court that reviews any appeals from the FISA court, reversed the unanimous decision of those seven judges. The government was the only party allowed to argue the case even though a number of entities had filed briefs as amicus curiae (friends of the court), urging the appellate court to uphold the ruling of the FISC judges. Only the government is allowed to ask the United States Supreme Court to review appeals from the FISCR.

This week, in striking down the relevant portions of FISA as amended by the USAPATRIOT Act, the Oregon District Court said:

It is notable that our Founding Fathers anticipated this very conflict as evidenced by the discussion in the Federalist Papers. Their concern regarding unrestrained government resulted in the separation of powers, checks and balances, and ultimately, the Bill of Rights.
. . .
[T]he constitutionally required interplay between Executive action, Judicial decision, and Congressional enactment, has been eliminated by the FISA amendments. Prior to the amendments, the three branches of government operated with thoughtful and deliberate checks and balances – a principle upon which our Nation was founded. These constitutional checks and balances effectively curtail overzealous executive, legislative, or judicial activity regardless of the catalyst for overzealousness. The Constitution contains bedrock principles that the framers believed essential. Those principles should not be easily altered by the expediencies of the moment.

Despite this, the FISCR holds that the Constitution need not control the conduct of criminal surveillance in the United States. In place of the Fourth Amendment, the people are expected to defer to the Executive Branch and its representation that it will authorize such surveillance only when appropriate. The defendant here is asking this court to, in essence, amend the Bill of Rights, by giving it an interpretation that would deprive it of any real meaning. This court declines to do so.

Thank you, Judge Ann Aiken.

Read the entire decision here: Mayfield v. United States

September 28, 2007 Posted by | Foreign Relations, Lawyer, News, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Modest Proposal for CBS’s “Kid Nation”

Here’s a modest proposal: as soon as our little tykes are weaned, let’s put them in the desert with a bunch of bigger kids and see if anyone, say, drinks bleach on accident. Or dies. Won’t that be amusing? Maybe the kids will gang up into warring factions in a struggle for dominance and kill each other! Won’t that be neat? And if we put it on prime time TV we can all watch!

I really, really wanted to pitch this idea to CBS. I thought it would make an excellent reality TV show. I’m such a fan of TV that I can live happily without one, but I have an entrepreneurial streak a mile wide and after I saw my son reading Lord of the Flies a couple of weeks ago I thought to myself, “Hey! What an idea!”

I got all dressed up in my best lawyer outfit, high heels and makeup and perfectly coiffed hair and all, and grabbed the morning paper as I headed out the door, ready to make a few calls and set up a time to meet with the network executives. I just knew they’d clamor for me to hurry on over with my idea.

My contacts aren’t the bifocal type so I had to wait until I got to the office and found my reading glasses before I could peruse the morning tabloids, though. Once I perched them on the tip of my nose, there it was, to my bleak dismay. Over a half-eaten croissant and a cup of cooling Starbuck’s (a candy bar in a cup is still a candy bar), I saw that my brilliant idea had not only been stolen by some Hollywood thought-thief, but that CBS had already filmed my idea! Kid Nation was already in the can and had attracted its first threatened lawsuit!

There is still hope for me. Suit has not yet been filed. Bereft of my opportunity for reality show fame, I’m sure I can muster the necessary outrage for filing suit on behalf of these kids. I have represented kids for almost 20 years, after all – what’s one more suit on their behalf? And this one will give me great pleasure, because not only will it be against the tormentors of my clients, it will be against the people who publicly and obviously disregarded their best interests.

Did you get that line? “Publicly and obviously disregarded their best interests” – wow, I’m in lawyer mode! Hmmm… what other equally spurious arguments can I come up with to bring this case to dubious justice? Oh! I know! I’ll demand that the press help me investigate how CBS could manage to get the parents of 40 kids between the ages of 8 and 15 to agree to send them to a ghost town for nearly six weeks during the school year with no adult supervision and no classes! I’ll file documents requesting information on how much the children (or their families) were paid for the kids’ participation in this show ($5,000.00 is the figure CBS claims), and then I’ll demand to see documents showing how New Mexico’s and the federal government’s child labor laws were complied with, what with no adults to take care of these kids.

Man, I’m on a roll now! I can hear CBS crying foul in my mind’s ear. I’m just another money-grubbing lawyer trying to get a huge settlement out of the deep pockets of the TV network.

Those eight year olds knew what they were getting into, the corporate lawyers will insist. It will be very hard to refute, because we all know what brilliant negotiators fourth-graders are. “Because I said so” just won’t work with all of them, you know.

When I point out that only one of the kids was 15, and that a dozen of them were aged 10 and under, I’m sure the network will flick away my objections with a disinterested wave of its manicured hand. Younger children probably won’t be as mean as the ones in that famous book by Sir William Golding. In fact, I’m sure that recent news reports that kids aged seven to nine maliciously killed a six year old were grossly exaggerated. After all, those kids were in Canada, were not on a reality TV show, and had not been promised prizes like iPods for their participation.

CBS is likely to claim that there were tons of adults around all the time, and that like on any reality TV show they were quick to get the bleach-drinking kids medical attention. That won’t daunt me in the least, though, because I’ll claim that had those kids been properly supervised they wouldn’t have been drinking bleach in the first place. And when they argue that the 11 year old whose face was burned by cooking grease was doing the same thing 11 year olds do at home every day, I’ll taunt them with “Yeah, well, those 11 year olds are cooking with grease under adult supervision!”

It won’t endear me to the network, but maybe I can win another non-meritorious lawsuit and win a pile of money doing it. I need to maintain the pseudo-integrity of my profession, after all.

And maybe as an extra added bonus I can get some parents to wake up and realize that unsupervised preteens can get seriously hurt, and even (gasp) die if their parents don’t protect them.

August 19, 2007 Posted by | Children, Humor, Lawyer, News | 3 Comments

Hate Mail, Anyone?


Recently I was asked to write about internet harassment and threats from my professional perspective. The friend who asked this of me is on the receiving end of some nasty communications from someone who evidently doesn’t realize that criminal conduct can very easily take place at a computer keyboard, and is punishable as a crime by imprisonment and a fine.

The federal government regulates interstate and international communication pursuant to the Commerce Clause. That clause is found Article I, Section 8(3) of the U.S. Constitution. Not surprisingly, Congress has enacted a specific statute addressing harassing communications. All states have their own laws regarding harassing communications which are enforced within the state. When the people involved in the communication are in different states or different countries, or when at least one of them is in the District of Columbia, the federal law applies.

The current federal law, 47 U.S.C. Sec. 223, addressing harassing communications was first passed June 19, 1934. Yes, even that soon into the advent of private interstate telecommunication there were harassment problems. Some things just appear to be human nature.

I hope that I can cut through the legalese and give you an ordinary person’s “translation” of what the law says. The law mostly addresses telephone calls, but because of the nature of the world wide web, which is accessed through telecommunication, the law applies to users of the internet as well.

I’m not addressing commercial communications, which is what “SPAM” mostly is. This blog is intended to address only personal communications.

These are the actions that can get a person fined and a prison sentence of up to two years, whether the accused person does it or if he simply allows someone else to use his telephone or telecommunications device to do it:

1) Knowingly make, create, or solicit and then transmit obscene communications or child pornography under the following circumstances:

a) with the intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass another person; or

b) to a person under the age of 18;

2) Anonymous telephone calls or the anonymous use of a telecommunications device, including a computer, whether or not conversation or communication actually happens, with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person at the called number or who receives the communications;

3) Repeatedly making a telephone call or using a telecommunications device, whether or not conversation or communication actually happens, with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person at the called number or who receives the communications; or

4) Causing the telephone of another person to ring repeatedly or continuously, with intent to harass any person at the called number.

There are a couple of important things to note.

First, there doesn’t actually have to be communication. That is, the person receiving the communication doesn’t have to open the email and read it for it to constitute harassment under this law. If the sender is stuffing the recipient’s inbox with unwanted emails or sending lots of unwanted text messages to the person’s cell phone, harassment is obvious. If you go to your inbox and see 47 messages from one person in a the space of a couple of days, you know that harassment anticipated by this federal statute is taking place. People just don’t do that innocently.

Second, there has to be some evil intent on the part of the person sending the communication, except in the case of porn being transmitted to a person under the age of 18. In other words, if someone is just smitten with you, and emails you fawning poetry and love notes several times a day, they aren’t in violation of this law unless they really mean to bug the crap out of you. (Yes, in this situation “bug the crap out of you” can be a legal standard.)

So that’s the law in a nutshell, explained in ordinary language. I’m sure there are questions that you might have with specific scenarios. I’ll do my best to respond to them if you put them in your comments.

Disclaimer: I cannot give advice as to state law other than that of the State of Arkansas. This blog and the comments to it are not a substitute for a consultation with a legal professional in your jurisdiction about the specific facts affecting you. No attorney-client relationship is established by this blog and the comments to it.

May 29, 2007 Posted by | Arkansas, Lawyer | 8 Comments

One of My Old Cases


A few people have asked me to tell “war stories” from my law practice. Obviously I can’t violate any client confidentialities, but I can talk about my cases.

I have worked in the juvenile justice system for over 18 years now. I’ve worked as a lawyer for abused and neglected children, I’ve represented the parents who wanted to get custody of those children back from the state’s foster care system, I’ve represented the young juvenile delinquents who have charges ranging from rape to truancy, I’ve represented parents who were at their wit’s end and needed to institutionalize their children so that the children’s behavior could be addressed in a therapeutic setting. I’ve worked with the worst of the worst when it comes to child rearing.

I’ll tell you about the one that was the beginning of the end for me. I was already pretty burned out on child abuse cases by the time this client came along, but this case was the tipping point for me not wanting to take any other clients like this one on. It’s not a current case. It’s one I had several years ago. It is over, at least as far as I’m concerned. I got disgusted with my client and I asked the judge to let me out of the case. Fortunately, the judge saw things my way.

My client’s name was Diane. She was a single mother of three. Her son Joey was 13 when he raped his 9 year old sister, Karen. It was believed that he molested his 4 year old sister, Jenna, but Jenna couldn’t describe what had happened well enough for authorities to determine what if anything had actually happened to her. The medical evidence was inconclusive.

No criminal charges were filed for several reasons. First was Joey’s age. At 13 he was on the young side of even juvenile culpability for criminal conduct. His emotional and mental immaturity made him even younger. When the facts surrounding his own sexual abuse came to light, the decision not to charge him was easy. Joey needed treatment for his own victimization as much as he needed treatment for perpetrating against his sisters.

Joey was taken out of the home and put in a special psychiatric facility for boys who are sexual offenders. Joey completed the program. He worked through his own issues of abuse and became able to articulate the situation which led him to act out with Karen and Jenna. All that remained was for him to have series of reconciliation sessions with his sisters, and start home visits to prepare the family for his transition back into the home. It was at this point, fourteen months after Joey went into residential treatment, that things fell apart.

Joey’s therapist asked for contact information for the girls’ therapist so that joint sessions could be held. Diane had no name to give him. More than a year had passed since the abuse, but Diane had never put her sexually abused daughters in counseling. In the interest of trying to help Joey go home, the residential treatment facility offered to work with the girls in a limited number of sessions.

At the first session, Karen refused to enter the room if Joey was there. When Joey was brought into the room where Karen was, she became hysterical. The therapist separated the children and interviewed Karen separately. The therapist learned from Karen that neither of the girls was going to school. Karen, who was now 11, was skipping classes to have sex with boys for money. Jenna, who was now 6, refused to go to school at all and had to be physically carried into the building kicking and screaming. When she would be put down she would run from the building, still screaming. Diane was exhausted from dealing with her daughters’ behaviors. She had given up requiring them to go to school. Some days the girls stayed home alone. Other days they would go to work with their mother at the fried chicken place in the mall. There was no place for the children to sit while their mother worked. Karen might read a book or draw, but 6-year-old Jenna was more outgoing. She would skip off “to look around” and on more than one occasion was returned to her mother by mall security because she was begging money from shoppers.

Before the second session, Joey’s treatment team concluded that there was no way he could go back home. There were just too many unresolved issues relating to the sexual misconduct and Diane seemed unable to handle basic parenting and discipline. No friends were willing to take Joey into their home, and there were no relatives. The only option was for Joey to go into foster care.

The facility reported the situation to the state child protective services agency. A case was opened in juvenile court. Because Diane faced losing custody of one of her children to the state, Arkansas law said she was entitled to the services of a lawyer. Just like in criminal cases, if she couldn’t afford a lawyer one would be appointed for her. The judge called and asked me to take the case.

I’m used to tough child sexual abuse cases. I can’t count the number of them I’ve had. Every single one was heartbreaking. In every single one there are children whose lives have become hell. In most of them at least one parent has to make a choice between victim and perpetrator. Often the mother is abused even more than the children are. But as similar as this case was to all the others, it was also radically different.

The socioeconomic status of the typical family I’m appointed to represent usually means that the mother had her first child before reaching the age of 18, was raised in poverty by a single parent, has no friends or family in a supportive network to help her, is chronically unemployed and may be surviving on social security or welfare payments, knows very little about basic personal hygiene or housecleaning, and probably drifts from man to abusive man to make ends meet, having a child or two with each.

Diane had a college degree. Her first child was born when she was in her mid-20’s. Her parents, who were deceased, had been comfortably middle class. Her father had been a Methodist minister. She had one brother who was much older and from whom she was estranged. He was an accountant in another state. Diane was a manager at a fast food restaurant. She and the children were always clean and neat. She did not have a boyfriend. She had been divorced for about three years. Her ex-husband was the father of all three children. The social services workers had no complaints about the condition of her home.

How had such a woman come to this? Abuse knows no social or economic constraints, but people with Diane’s socioeconomic history generally take advantage of resources and social networks. Diane had not.

More of the story was revealed in Joey and Karen’s testimony and in the therapy sessions that followed. The children’s father had been arrested for molesting a niece and nephew about the time Diane had became pregnant with Jenna. She had never worked, so Diane had no idea how to support herself and two children, especially with a third on the way. When her husband pled guilty and went to jail, another man came to her rescue. He moved into her home. Diane had apparently installed him as a substitute for her absent husband. Diane was bedridden in the final stage of her pregnancy with Jenna. Her boyfriend found sexual gratification with her children, occasionally in the same bed where Diane was. Diane said she didn’t remember that actually happening, but if the children said it happened then it was probably true. I was astounded. If someone had molested my kid in the same bed I was in, I think I’d damn sure remember it. Coincidentally, the boyfriend vaporized when Joey’s sexual misconduct came to the attention of the authorities.

After I came on board, the case went from bad to worse.

Both girls were admitted into acute care residential treatment facilities – read: psychiatric hospitals – and both were eventually returned there for long term care lasting several months. Diane never understood that the children needed to be told no. If one of her children wanted to do something, the answer was always yes. She had no respect from them and no control over them. She also had no empathy with them or even a basic understanding of why they behaved the way they did.

The kicker came when Diane found herself another man. A man from Mexico was hired at the fast food restaurant. Although he did not speak English and Diane did not speak Spanish, they evidently found a way to communicate in the international language of love. Once again, Diane allowed a man to move into her home.

The judge ordered Diane to move the man out. No men were to be around the girls at all when they were home, and this included Diane’s boyfriend. Diane protested with the same outraged mantra all women use in such situations: “You’re telling me I can’t have a life of my own?” Certainly she could. But not if she wanted her children to be at home with her.

Diane complained bitterly about the fact that her boyfriend couldn’t be around her daughters. At this point the girls were coming home only for weekend passes from their residential treatment, but the hospital believed the girls had reached maximum therapeutic benefit (in other words, Medicaid was refusing to pay for a longer stay) and they needed to be released.

“You have to choose,” I told her. “Which is more important, your children or some man whom you can’t even talk with?” While she struggled with that decision, she told me that the weekend before Jenna had thrown a fit because she wanted to keep riding her bicycle after dark one night. She said she just couldn’t do anything about that sort of misbehavior, and she expected Jenna would do the same thing the next time.

I was incredulous. “Who’s the adult?” I asked. The words were out of my mouth before I even thought about them.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, take the bike away from her. Ground her from it if she doesn’t mind when you tell her to come inside.”

“But she’ll get mad at me!”

“So? You’ll be setting a limit on her behavior. You’ll be giving her consequences. Diane, this is elementary parenting. Surely you can do this.”

“But when she gets upset she gets so angry.”

“Send her to her room and make her stay there until she calms down, then.”

“What if she won’t stay there?”

“Turn her around and walk her back, sit her on the bed, walk out, and close the door. Take control. This is what the therapists and the judge have been telling you to do. It’s what parents have to do.”

“Maybe I can get Pedro to do that.”

“No, Diane, not only is he unable to communicate with the children effectively, you can’t have him there. And even once he is allowed there you have to do the parenting, not him. You have to start parenting your kids yourself.”

“Are saying I’m not a good parent?” She was seriously shocked. I heard it in her voice.

“Yes,” I answered. That’s exactly what I’m saying. It’s also what child protective services, the court, and the therapists have been telling you.”

“I don’t believe you just said that to me,” she said, stunned. Sadly, she wasn’t kidding.

The next day she called to let me know that Pedro was staying so the girls would need to go live in a foster home. She had made her choice.

I was burned out on clients like Diane. I’d had all I could take. I just didn’t care anymore about trying to put their families back together. I had other parents who cared just as little for their children’s welfare, but rarely had one displayed that indifference more bluntly. I stopped taking abuse cases.

I wound up my last child abuse case about the time I started blogging here on Yahoo 360. I don’t want to take any more. I’ve turned down judges who have called asking me to take cases. I have no heart for it any more.

I don’t know why Diane and her kids were on my mind today. Sometimes, though, I think of some of the things that happened in those child abuse cases and I am still amazed that such things actually happened. It amazes me how a parent can bring a life into the world and then be so completely uninterested in its development.

April 19, 2007 Posted by | Children, Lawyer | Leave a comment

Human Subspecies Identified: The Drive-By Critic


What prompts people to be ruder to one another online than they would ever be in person?

I pondered this question this week when, having suffered without a computer for most of the week, I noticed a bizarre pair of quick comments buried on my page. The first comment branded someone a “liar.” Since I haven’t had that particular experience with the person in question, that comment was easy enough to ignore, especially since it was left by someone I had never before encountered whose profile has now been deleted.

The second comment by that same person was a bit odd, even as far as odd comments go. It said: “Why dont you tell everyone how you said everyone on your list are loosers,unemployed bums and you are just having fun with them to see that they have no life and believe your bullshit stories,lies and how they are just a number. (Dont whisper ever a word to anyone Tom please I am just having fun with them but I dont care if they live or die as long as they keep me entertained).”

Since most of what I write isn’t personal and has nothing to do with real people, this was a strange statement to be directed at me. Obviously the person has no idea who I am or what my blog is all about. Even more obviously, it has never read my page. (I’ll settle on the pronoun “it” for this commenter, since assigning a “he” or “she” would humanize it beyond what it deserves.) I doubt that if it bothered to read my blog it would even understand it.

First of all, it should be aware that if there is drama on my page, it will be an outrageous fictional drama of my own making. Witness the recent Giant Cock/Baby Chick Paternity Scandal. Secondly, it should be aware that anyone on my friends list, or for that matter anyone on the friends list of one of my friends, who is suffering through a personal crisis will have my sympathy and support, never, ever my derision or insults.

Obviously the commenter was lost and thought it had found the page of someone who would get stirred up by its weird allegations. What’s so strange is that I cannot imagine anyone I don’t know coming up to me out of the blue and calling someone a liar. Nor can I imagine anyone spreading gratuitous untruths just for kicks in real life. Why does this happen here?

So I am led back to my original question, prompted by this commenter’s bizarre antisocial behavior: What prompts people to be ruder to one another online than they would ever be in person?

I read a column in the April issue of Discover, one of very few publications I’ll actually pay money for. The columnist, Jaron Lanier, suggested that online nastiness is the product of easy, “drive-by” anonymity. When the commenter can create a quick and disposable ID, more hostile comments are left. Where more information must be given, and the ID creation-process is a little more cumbersome, fewer hostile comments seem to be the rule.

For instance, on sites like Slashdot, where a new ID can be created for each comment without providing much information to the host site, people get indescribably nasty with one another. The same holds true for some of the edit wars hosted by Wikipedia. On the other hand, players on World of Warcraft rarely encounter such boorish behavior. One reason for the politeness of the WOW site might be that the penalties for such conduct result in the person being banned from the game.

Lanier proposed several different considerations as to why online behavior can be either good or bad. Demographics of the users and the times of day that the users in question tend to visit the site to leave their comments were two considerations he named. I would add something else to his list: topic. If the blog or article contains a personal topic, then personal comments are made and sometimes those comments are personally insulting.

You can see it right here on Yahoo 360, probably among people on your own friends lists. People who have the “diary” blogs, the ones who talk about their personal lives and their trials and tribulations, often seem to be the ones whose blogs attract insults and “drama” from perfect strangers. There are people who allow the public, or even friends of their own friends, to view their blogs even when highly personal matters are addressed. Mental illness, chronic physical illness, dealing with family members who have substance abuse issues, and the crises that necessarily go along with such things are fodder for judgmental people. And so many judgmental people love to cast those stones at the ones they see making decisions they wouldn’t make given their arm-chair quarterbacking of someone else’s life.

How can we truly claim that someone who is living with a dealing with a mentally ill family member, and coping the best they can, is making bad decisions? Even if we read their blog every day we don’t have the whole story. We don’t have the nuances of interpersonal interactions, or even a vivid description of what the caretaker is dealing with on a day-to-day basis. What about the person who is writing about her fibromyalgia? Who among us can really say to her, “Quit complaining. It can’t be that bad,” when we really don’t know what it feel like to be her? And what about the mother who is dealing with the drug-addicted son who is stealing from her, beating her, and otherwise abusing her? Can we really tell her she is stupid not to call the police when we don’t know how long the police will hold that abusive adult child or whether he has access to a gun and will use it against her?

I am aware of blogs whose authors write about extramarital affairs they have, or who write about overtly sexual matters. They provide gossip to others about themselves and even about other people. Their soap opera of life is right here for anyone to read and comment upon. Some of them claim to eschew “drama,” but they seem invite that drama in the same breath. Do we blame anyone for jumping on that melodramatic bandwagon? I don’t think too much of the people who either pass judgment on these writers or who attack them.

“Sexy” writers of a different sort post fun little contests and laugh about sexy things. They intend nothing but smiles and jokes, but what they say occasionally offends other people. I’m aware of a couple of women who have sexy pictures posted (not of themselves, but of models) and who intentionally keep things light in their blogs with those fun little quizzes and contests. They have been attacked by hyper-religious or judgmental people who threaten them personally and viciously. Do they deserve this kind of treatment? No.

Then there are the bloggers who are not who they seem to be. Whether one person has multiple IDs and different pages where they post different blogs, or whether they have just the one page but pretend to be someone they aren’t, they are masquerading. When they are unmasked, some among us feel righteous and triumphant. Others feel betrayed. Occasionally the “victims” of this duplicity feel a need to strike back. I have seen multiple blogs suddenly disappear because their owner(s) felt persecuted.

The bottom line is that no one deserves rudeness. No one, even if they seem to invite criticism, should be judged by anyone else. The evil pettiness in our human natures that tempts us to throw stones at someone else’s glass tower is our undoing. No one, ever, deserves our enmity. If we don’t like what someone says in his or her blog, the best way to handle it is not to clash with it head on, but to pointedly ignore it. It’s none of our business, anyway.

There are exceptions to the “ignore it if you disagree” rule. Debating issues is one of them. I like it when people disagree with me and explain why. The key word here is “debate” – labeling someone as “stupid” or lumping in them with an ill-defined “you all” isn’t debate. It’s insult. There should be no place for it here. Articulating an opposing point of view is not offensive. Assuming someone is “liberal” or “Republican” or “fundamentalist” because of their views is. Name-calling is not debate. If a commenter says they disagree with me because they “feel sorry for my shortsightedness” then they can go their merry way to hell, and please never darken the door of my page again. They have given me no reason to listen to them at all.

Yahoo 360 is a place where we should all feel free to create and recreate ourselves as we see fit. We can be anything we want to be. We might decide to be a pirate, a lion-tamer, a virgin, a debutante, a musician, a model, a Wench of Aramink. We can be anything we want to be. Where else is such a flight of fancy possible? Where else can we live out a dream and not hurt anyone?

By the way, in case anyone’s not sure, I probably don’t really qualify to be a wench. I’m too old. Who ever heard of a wench with gray hair at her temples? And my name isn’t Aramink. Aramink is a place. Gasp. Don’t hate me because I’m such a bald-faced liar. Embrace me, and admit that occasionally you decide not to post unflattering pics of yourself in your blog, too. I promise not to be critical as long as you’re polite. And I promise lively debate where it’s appropriate.

April 7, 2007 Posted by | Lawyer, Philosophy, Writing | 1 Comment

Panty Raid!


They just won’t leave Wench’s Virgin Training School alone, will they? If it’s not the likes of every Mohammed, Achmed, Hakim, and Hadji, then it’s the Dirk Diglers and other Giant Cocks of the world.

That’s right. Dirk Digler. I said it.

Dirk was hanging out at the Virgin Training School last Tuesday night with Judge Hanna M. High, who was showing him what she had learned in her revirginification classes, when suddenly Guy, High Priest of Meatloaf, wheeled up in his Whale accompanied by a crew of revelers in RVs, a motorcycle with a sidecar, and various other vehicles.

Now, we all know that Guy is the Spiritual Advisor to the Virgin Training School. Naturally the Virgins welcome him with open … ahem… arms when he comes. So when the guys tumbled out of all of those vehicles intent on a raid, why, we Virgins hardly knew what to do.

It was not just any raid, my friends. It was a panty raid the likes of which have not been seen since most of us were in college, if even then.

I have it on good authority that Ted scored no less than a dozen thongs in different styles and colors. Doug, being somewhat less discriminating, absconded with everything from bikinis to one very large pair of white cotton granny panties. Guy himself had two hands full of silky underthings when he burst into the room where the Judge was demonstrating her moves to FBI Agent Dirk Digler, a former Navy SEAL who had been recruited to help with special training.

When he saw Dirk and the judge working on certain techniques from the Pop-Up Kama Sutra, well, Guy went a little crazy. He grunted and screamed wordlessly and headed for Dirk, who in self defense placed a feather pillow between himself and the monster that Guy had become. Guy attacked and feathers flew everywhere.

Agent Digler was so disconcerted he felt he had to do something. Fearing bad press, he pretended to arrest Judge High. It was the only thing that calmed Guy down. Guy finally quit yelling wordlessly, and Steve and Ralph led him away after speaking to him in strong words of one syllable or less. Apparently, Guy was in no shape to listen to reason although he took commands from the fellows quite well.

Somehow the whole debacle was reported in the news as being a scandal. The article claimed that Judge High was arrested in a bribery scandal and that there was a great deal of money in the room with her.

Folks, the money that was found in the room was part of the props for the lap dance the judge had been demonstrating for Dirk. When she tried to explain that to the High Priest of Meatloaf he would have none of it. He threw money of his own at the judge and yelled wordlessly, “Nnnnnuhhhh! Uuuunnnnnhhhh!”

Poor Judge High has been forced to resign from office. Because I represent Sherry’s daughter Katie in the Giant Cock Baby Chick controversy, the Giant Cock’s lawyer, Ze Baron, demanded that Judge High be removed from the case and the proceedings be put on hold. It’s not as though the Virgins and the Baby Chicks are related interests, even. Humpf.

Thankfully, though, a new judge has finally been appointed. Judge Bugeyes Billy, known affectionately among many of us as OhBilly, has graciously agreed to preside over the case. He has assured Ze Baron that he will remove himself at the last impropriety, so the case is in good judicial hands indeed.

Judge Bugeyes Billy has ordered all of the parties to Dr. Emma’s page on Wednesday, March 14, for DNA testing. Dr. Emma told Ze Baron it would take several days for the results to be known, so we will sit with bated breath awaiting the outcome of the paternity testing. Those poor, fatherless baby chicks are being tended by their foster grandfather, Len, while Sherry and Katie are in New York on urgent business.

We fervently hope that this tawdry paternity matter can be adequately addressed in the very near future. Those chicks are becoming expensive for my client to maintain. Sadly, there is talk that some of the chicks will have to be sent elsewhere to live because they are becoming too large for their pen.

It’s those Giant Cock genes.

March 13, 2007 Posted by | Creative Writing, Fiction, Humor, Lawyer, Virgin Training School, Writing | Leave a comment