26 November 2008

The Front Row

Former partner Amy moved out of No. 3 today. I was in Court all morning, and was spared that part of it and I confess, I busied myself this afternoon so that I didn’t have to watch her furniture and books and so forth taken out a piece at a time. Her stuff has gone to the Courthouse into a temporary office, to be moved again into the Family Court quarters on 1 January. Well, I end all posts and nearly every email “Pippa Passes,” and this is a part of that.

Sometime in the past month, she had gotten the latest picture of the Marion County Bar Association members, which was taken not too many months ago. It was sometime after the primary election, so we knew that this moving day was coming. She had ordered two prints so we’d each have one. This is the latest in a series of bar photos that are meaningful to me.

I was “hooded” on 12 May 1978. That’s a ceremony at the law school where the doctoral doodad is put on you by the faculty. It’s fancy and totally impractical, and unless you become a college faculty member, you put it away, never wear it again and (like me) eventually lose it. Well, let’s see, I graduated law school the next day, Sunday the 13th; drove to Charleston on Monday the 14th; and appeared at the West Virginia Supreme Court on Tuesday the 15th to be admitted, take the oath and sign the register. The next day, 16 May 1978, I opened my solo practice, sharing some rooms on the 7th floor of the rather down-market Security Bank Building with my law school buddy Glenn Schumacher, down the hall from my brother Dennis Curry and Charlie Anderson. The following Monday the 21st, the Marion County Bar Association gathered on the Courthouse steps for a photograph. I’d like to say that this was a tradition, but as far as I know, it had only been done once before, since there’s only one prior bar photo that I’ve ever seen, and a couple of prints of it still hang in the Courthouse and in old law offices.

In those offices, and a couple of places in the Courthouse, there is this undated picture taken sometime in the 1960's. We knew that much because there were a couple of 1959 graduates in the picture, Scott Tharp and Alfred Lemley, as well as guys I knew had died before 1971, when I first started frequenting the Courthouse.

The Courthouse is some sort of stone Beaux-arts building, with a porch on the second floor with real thick, real tall Ionic columns holding up the cornices. (I can make the argument that the capitals are too fancy for pure Ionic, but they are still scroll-shaped.) Stone staircases extend down the front of the buidling from each side of the porch, and are framed by magnificent carved stone bannisters. On second thought, let me try to import a picture here. The staircases I’m taking about are on the left, behind the police cruiser.

The Bar Association in the 60's photo is gathered on the north staircase arranged in order of seniority starting with the front row. It’s strange to see Scott and Alfred way in the back, although it’s not at all surprising to see Judge Meredith in the front. Even in the 60's, he had already been Circuit Judge for 20 years. Scott Tharp is now universally acknowledged as the “dean of the Marion County Bar,” and Alfred Lemley has retired to North Carolina. I worked for Alfred and John Amos in law school. Later, whenever I had a case against Alfred, I always kidded him that he had better watch out because he taught me everything I know, and he kidded back that he wasn’t worrying because he hadn’t taught me everything that HE knows. Every man (no women) in the 60's photo is in a black suit, white shirt, narrow black tie, crew cut and is clean shaven. Russell Furbee is there. I forget when he graduated, but he was a well known trial lawyer. There is Earl Goodwin, and this picture is probably the only time I ever saw him without an unlit cigar in his mouth. A real tall guy is Gary Rymer, and Louis Schoolnic is there. Louis was very special to me. When I first started, he was careful to call me “Counselor,” and later, “Kid,” both of which were supportive and respectful. He taught me a lot, and I saw him try his last jury case. Frank Sansalone is there and his then-partner, Ross Maruka. Those guys were also important in my life, top lawyers who taught and mentored automatically. Frank (“Sax”) helped me out a lot the first couple of years by sending lots of research and writing projects my way.

Well, it’s now May of 1978, and the second known picture of the Bar is being taken. Again, we are arrayed by seniority, youngest in the back. There are Schumacher and I on the back row. I’m the tall kid, age 25, with a big head of LONG BUSHY BLACK hair and a bushy BLACK moustache in a black three piece suit. I’m certainly not athletically built, but much more so than in later years. Right below me is my future partner, Susan McLaughlin, the then-only (and first) woman in the Bar, graduated 1977. (More than half of the new lawyers here have been women starting in the mid 90's.) A couple of rows down is a young Pete Higinbotham (graduated 1973, Tulane) and his brother John (73?, Duquesne). Pete is the one who taught me to use an artist’s pad to lay out a complicated brief or argument so you can see it all at once, and I don’t know how many younger lawyers I’ve passed that on to. The old guys are down front, of course, and also the judges. Of course, with Judge J. Harper Meredith, that’s the same thing. He graduated around 1920, and became Circuit Judge in 1945 when Judge Frank Haymond went to the Supreme Court. Also in front is Judge Fred Fox, then not yet 40. (I think he turns 70 this year, and is still on the bench. Judge Fox is the senior circuit judge in West Virginia now.) George Amos is down there, a small and compact man with white hair and a strong stance. He was an OSS agent in China in World War II, and it was very rare that he mentioned anything at all about that. (George is Partner JC’s father.) Fred Steele is there. Fred was a property lawyer genius who died of old age and overwork at a very young calendar age. A comparatively young (55?) and vigorous John Amos is there. I worked for John, and he was a fanatic outdoorsman. He was a naval aviator in WWII, and flew amphibious aircraft off of ships that weren’t aircraft carriers. He described landing a pontoon craft in the open ocean, hoping that it didn’t crash, and then waiting to get picked up by the ship. (John is in seriously declining health now.) His partner, Hayes Webb is there. Hayes gave me a job at their firm after my first year of law school because I already knew how to do complete land title searches in the Courthouse record room, and that opened a lot of doors for me. Russell Furbee, who was in the 60's picture, was the senior partner at that firm, and I used to “staff” cases with him over coffee real early in the mornings during law school when I worked there. He’s not in the 1978 picture, though, because he died the week before it was taken. His was the first bar memorial service that I ever attended. Carter D. Jones is on the front row in the 1978. He was a leading lawyer in the 1930's, and people remember that he drove a Cord, which was an ultimate luxury car, the first front-wheel-drive in America. That was equivalent then to driving, say, a Maserati today. Carter is in a purple striped shirt and bright tie, which was rather daring for 1978, but I’m certain that no one would have said a word to him. Alfred Putnam (“Putt-putt”) is there. He was in the Security Bank, and I always marveled that his cigarette ash didn’t set the bushel of paper on top of his desk on fire. Harry Cronin is near the front. (WVU, 1949). He practiced as “Cronin & Cronin,” having come to work with his father, who died after Harry had been a lawyer about 6 months. Harry used the firm name until he died. Harry was a meticulous dresser, and always wore light and bright colors. He was a trim and distinguished guy, and could pull it off. Harry was perpetually happy, and when he died, his bar memorial service was nearly an Irish wake. George May is near the front. George was a big, tall one-armed man with a booming voice who practiced a lot before the FTC and ICC. Woodrow Potesta (WVU, 1948, and he taught me at Fairmont State) is there. He had a huge tax practice. He went from having LITERALLY 10 cents after he paid for his books and tuition for the first semester of law school to making millions and endowing a faculty chair at the law school. Woody also taught me a lot. I remember him giving me his opinion about lawyers who bought accounts receivable and then chased down the money. I remember that his description of those lawyers was quite obscene. I look at the 1978 picture today, and I see about 60 lawyers, and I have stories about just about every one of them.

I remember a bit of the banter as we gathered for the 1978 – guys down front offering to fetch glasses of milk for those of us on the back row, that sort of thing. It was all great fun, and it was dizzying actually to be a Marion County lawyer, something that I had wanted to be since high school.

The next bar picture was taken in March of 1985. Schumacher and I have moved down a couple of rows, since there were a few newer lawyers who had come to the bar after 1978. Judge Meredith died a few months before that photo, and Judge Rodney Merrifield had taken his Division. Brother David Born had come to the bar, and was not yet on the bench. This photo was on the south staircase on a sunny day. I’m not smiling, since it was a very difficult time for me. In fact, right after the photo was taken, Dave and I went across the street for coffee and to give me a chance to read him in on some ongoing problems that were about to blow.

In 1992, it was back to the north staircase, on a cloudy day. I was with my then-partner, and we were about halfway down the steps. By then, I’d gone to a LOT of bar memorials, and every time I would look at the older bar photos, I’d have some mixed nostalgia and sadness.

Flash forward to November 1997. I don’t recall why we did a picture in the fall/winter. Presumably due to the weather, this was taken in the Division I Courtroom. This is nicer than the Courtroom in the movie To Kill a Mockingbird. There is a balcony overlooking a huge space with widely separated counsel tables, an imposing bench, and an impossibly large jury box. I’m off on the right side of the picture, 1/3 of the way back in the crowd, in a dark suit, with long, slicked back hair, and I seem to be channeling the movie Wall Street look. Right beside me is Judge Born, and we are bantering as usual. Something very important to me is that on the back row is Leah J. Heimbach. I’ve know Leah since she was 18 (and I 25). She was a paramedic, then nurse, then went into steadily more responsible healthcare administration jobs. I would like to think that exposure to me had a little bit to do with her going to law school. When she graduated, she came to practice with us for a couple of years, and was a good, solid trial lawyer. The siren call of healthcare lured her back as a university medical center’s general counsel, and now she and her best friend (an RN/Master’s labor specialist) run a very successful and growing healthcare/legal/management consulting firm. It absolutely meant the world to me that Leah was a part of “my” Bar. The attorney general must have been visiting Fairmont, and he’s in the picture, too.

I can’t find my print of the next photo, which was taken around 2002. This was another rough patch, and I just don’t know what I did with it. I do recall that I was in the third row, beside Pete Higinbotham again, and once again the front row of the photo from 5 years before had been altered by death and the back rows augmented by new people coming to the bar.

And then came May 2008, and the photo Amy left behind today. It was a perfect sunny day. As usual, we were arranged by seniority, on the northern staircase, just like in the photo from 45 years before. The “kids” were in the back, and the old guys up front. The guys in front offer the lawyers in back glasses of milk, and the ones in back warned those in front that the front row is really dangerous, because sometimes the guys of front don’t live until the next picture. What a difference in how I look from the 1978 picture. Oh, I’m still standing right beside Pete Higinbotham, and we still do the khakis and dark jacket thing. Now, though, the black bushy hair has become a grey short crew cut and the moustache, while bushy, is a pretty dull grey. Partner Amy is there in the middle (but next time, she’ll be a judge and in front), and former partner Susan with her partner Gina Carpenter, and yet other dozens of lawyers and again I have stories about almost all of them.

I don’t know how to feel about this newest photo. It doesn’t feel right. I’m on the front row.

Pippa passes.


15 November 2008

Letters to Obama, one of which won't be read by him

[The first section is an excerpt from a copyrighted essay by Alice Walker.]

Nov. 5, 2008

Dear Brother Obama,

You have no idea, really, of how profound this moment is for us. Us being the black people of the Southern United States. You think you know, because you are thoughtful, and you have studied our history. But seeing you deliver the torch so many others before you carried, year after year, decade after decade, century after century, only to be struck down before igniting the flame of justice and of law, is almost more than the heart can bear. And yet, this observation is not intended to burden you, for you are of a different time, and, indeed, because of all the relay runners before you, North America is a different place. It is really only to say: Well done. We knew, through all the generations, that you were with us, in us, the best of the spirit of Africa and of the Americas. Knowing this, that you would actually appear, someday, was part of our strength. Seeing you take your rightful place, based solely on your wisdom, stamina and character, is a balm for the weary warriors of hope, previously only sung about.

[She continues in this vein, giving wise and gentle advice, for several more paragraphs.]

. . . Because, finally, it is the soul that must be preserved, if one is to remain a credible leader. All else might be lost; but when the soul dies, the connection to earth, to peoples, to animals, to rivers, to mountain ranges, purple and majestic, also dies. And your smile, with which we watch you do gracious battle with unjust characterizations, distortions and lies, is that expression of healthy self-worth, spirit and soul, that, kept happy and free and relaxed, can find an answering smile in all of us, lighting our way, and brightening the world.

We are the ones we have been waiting for.

In Peace and Joy,
Alice Walker
© 2008, Alice Walker

15 November 2008

Dear Brother Obama -

It’s pretty cheeky of me to be writing the president-elect, and darned unrealistic if I were to believe that you were actually going to read it. The best I can hope for, realistically, is that this becomes a datum in a report, something of the sort that of the 20,000 blogs examined, 15,432 were favorable, 4,112 were unfavorable, and 457 (including this) were confused blather.

But, silly me, I’m always thinking that sometime, somewhere, someone will pause and listen for the voice of that pesky Professor Reality before they tromp the cowpies of the body politic’s pasture.

Is the appellation “brother” a bother? I know OF Alice Walker, but I confess, I’ve never read a darn thing she’s written. I’ve heard that she boldly goes into racial issues, but I sure hope the “brother” thing isn’t racial. I may be wrong, and if I am, that’s really her business, and yours. Maybe it’s a Christian thing, that would certainly be nice. Between us, there could be a fellow lawyer thing going on but, let’s face it, you’re Harvard and I’m WVU. Harvard Law and Yale Law are the intellectual bigots of the law. WVU is among the aw-shucks, keep-your-powder-dry bigots of the law, so beyond the ability to stand up in the same Courts wearing clothing which is superficially similar, our experiences aren’t real brotherly. Somewhere in the recesses of my heart, there is the hope that you could find the concept of “brother” in a fellow human, not because s/he is a voter or a cause, but just because we’re all in this together. That’s the one I hope for, and yet the human experience (approximately since the evolution of our species) argues against that.

Hey, kudos, pal, you presided over one of the truly great campaigns, better than Clinton’s first, better than the Reagan express. Other than knowing of a very few top aides, I really don’t know who ran it, which is one reason it was great. Both campaigns of Bush II were effective, but the overwhelming presence of the Karl Rove troll diminished the Bush II appearance.

All that being said, it’s the top of the first inning. As president, you have done nothing. You don’t get a honeymoon. You don’t get 100 days. Prime Minister Medvedev of Russia has already been on your ass about deployment of the U.S. advanced missile defense system in Europe, and there’s nothing you can do about that yet.

And Alice Walker is right, the economy is not your fault, at least beyond the fact that you have participated with the other 534 people in Congress at the biggest brothel on Earth wallowing in the dough when times were good. We can hardly single you out for that. Well, the 1929 economy wasn’t Hoover’s fault, but he still gets slammed for it, and nobody seems to think that’s unfair. Oddly, the opposite is true too. Boom times weren’t Harding’s or Coolidges’s doing (Harding was drinking and playing poker, Coolidge was only working four hours a day), but they both got a pretty easy ride for all of the incompetence going on because for whatever reason, things looked good. So, friend, if looking for fairness, you have the wrong jog. A really harsh humor source, The Onion, had an article last week entitled something like “Another Black Guy Gets a Shitty Job.” What is funny is that it’s true. (By the way, why is it that mixed race folks always are considered "black"? I don't understand that one, it seems terribly ante-bellum to me. And sad that it's still in play.)

I voted for you. I didn’t then and do not now think you are Moses, and don’t be giving me a line of shit about the Promised Land. Go to work. Talk straight. Take your lumps, give out some lumps. Don’t blow sunshine, don’t promote a cult of personality, just work in the sunlight. When I believe you are wrong, I’ll express my opinions in a reasoned fashion. I will not yell, wave signs, or do other silly shit. I will be willing to listen, reason and, when appropriate, change my mind. But I - and others - WILL be a part of the equation.

Read Ms. Walker’s essay every night, or something like it. You’ll need the inspiration to do the dirty job you’ve taken on. And every morning, put it aside, and walk with Prof. Reality into a hard world.

Pippa passes.


10 November 2008


One of my secret desires is to have a HUGE library of my very own. I read about the personal lives of writers - Louis L’Amour gets short shrift as a mere writer of “westerns,” but his books were well researched and he was both an outdoorsman and a scholar, and he had a personal library of 18,000 volumes. I’ve just started Books, by Larry McMurtry, who reports that his library holds something like 40,000 volumes. I wonder - how many of those works have those guys read? And does it matter? And if not, is there something of the private art collection going on here, where things of value are locked away from view and use by others?

I also wonder where libraries are going in the computer age. I now use an Amazon Kindle, and I assume that I’ll continue to use an ebook of some sort when the Amazon/Sony/Microsoft/Whoever VHS vs. Beta war is over and the victor identified. Right now, there are about 100 books on my Kindle, several I’m reading, some reference, some occasionals (like Conan Doyle, The Federalist, Common Sense, The Republic, TR’s official papers) and many in the reading queue. How big will the future library need to be? I don’t think, though, that I will ever completely put aside the tactile feel of a paper and ink book. Certain books (bios, some histories, for instance), I still obtain in hardcover.

How will the modern public library keep up? Well, I’m thinking in Marion County, the answer is “Not well.” As a kid, I saw the public libraries as magical places. When we lived in Bridgeport, the library was in a big grey house on Main Street. I remember going upstairs to the children/adolescent section when I was in grade school and entering another world, my world, and it was a place where I was welcomed and nourished. (Sound hokey? I can live with that. That’s how I saw it then. That’s how I remember it now.) When I was in high school in Parkersburg, I would go downtown to the Carnegie Library, across from one of the fire stations. To the right of the entry was a large reading room with all of the recent newspapers and periodicals. That’s the first place I read the New York Times and Washington Post, and began to develop my (still limited) sense that there is a world beyond my mountains. Going into the stacks was a unique experience. The library didn’t have a huge footprint, but it had lots of levels. They were connected by old wrought iron spiral staircases, and the floors on each level in the stacks were glass brick. The stacks just went on and on until the imperfections in the glass made them vanish. The whole experience had a “taste” to it that I can recreate in my mind to this day.

Perhaps it is the library which is the greatest achievement of humanity. When I read of the Library of Alexandria, I feel sadness at its loss. When I read or see the account of the sack of that library (particularly by Carl Sagan in Cosmos), I just want to find St. Cyril and kick his ass. THAT was a crime against humanity.

I’ve not been a constant at the public library in Fairmont, because I buy so many books. Oh, I represent the Town of Fairview, and for a time after a fire, the library collection was in town hall, and I was pretty impressed by the breadth of it. When I culled my shelves two years ago, I sent 1,000 or so volumes (all recent, perfect to near perfect condition, suitable for the stacks if they so chose) over to the Fairmont branch. Now, Partner JC is very much a public library person. She was one of the Baltimore library system’s stars.

Two weeks ago, JC stopped at the library in Fairmont to get a library card. Sounds pretty simple. She’s a good risk, I think, a responsible attorney, dedicated reader and all that. Answer? Nope, she doesn’t yet have a West Virginia driver’s license. I called the librarian today, who informed me that West Virginia law requires that a new resident get a new license within 20 days (possible, I’d never heard that one) and that information they need that to prosecute people who don’t return stuff. Well, there is a new wrinkle in marketing, we don’t trust you, we don't care who or what you are, we just want a way to prosecute your ass. I had considered having a nice, information-gathering conversation with the librarian, learning more about the facility, and since JC and LaJ both swear by it, doing more for it. Knee jerk doctrine without thought doesn’t go well with conversation, though, so I just didn’t pursue it. Such an approach is such stunningly poor judgment, it just makes for a laugh out loud moment.

I had also thought about asking about another peculiar event at the library, but just didn’t want to hear the administrivia answer for that. A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to leave the library because I was reading. No kidding. I had taken my mother (85) and our neighbor (94) to listen to an author who they wanted to hear (and who sounded like a great bloody boor to me, but there’s no accounting for taste.) I got them set up in the room where the presentation was being made, and went back to the reading room. The library was closed but for the lecture, but I figured since I was their transportation, I was sober and quiet, and I was reading, they would probably tolerate my presence in the reading room. Hell, I wasn’t even using electricity, the lights were off and I was reading by sunlight. The librarian on duty disagreed. She asked me to leave. And I said, “For reading?” “Yes.” “In a library.” “Yes.” Some people would get pissed about something like that, but the absurdity was so savory, I thought I was in a Monty Python routine. I was looking around for the dead parrot stapled to the perch.

I have to cull the shelves again. I won’t be sending away any junk, because I don’t have any junk. I’m collecting boxes for, I bet, 500 volumes. I’m thinking I’ll ask TimSon to haul them in his truck to the Bridgeport Library, unless of course they throw me out between now and then.

I’m remembering an old Pogo cartoon, the caption of which was “We have met the enemy and he is Us.”

Pippa passes.


05 November 2008

Pardon Me, Is That a Concrete Block You Just Dropped Into My Teacup?

Close to Home

Partner Amy was elected Marion County Family Court Judge last night.  In so many ways, this has been a very emotional campaign.   My brother Dave Born was defeated by dearest Amy in the primary. 

The Regular Season Starts Now

I really enjoy reading Michael Moore, and listening to Michael Moore.  He is smart, he has a sharp mind, and he usually uses reason rather than buzz word blather.  This week he’s gloating, and it’s unbecoming and steps outside of reason.  His website (michaelmoore.com) is somewhat more controversial than he is, and he sends periodic emails to a large mailing list (me included.)  His Monday email (correctly) predicting the presidential election result (not that that was some amazing prognostication) positively gushed.  He quoted conservatives who called President-elect Obama “the most liberal senator” (he’s not, but he’s in the top 10 or 20%) and lauded the fact that after 28 grueling years, the Reagan era has come to an end.  He ends with the conclusion that we have arrived at “the Promised Land.”  Come on, Mike, you’ve been busting your ass since “Roger & Me” to present an alternative viewpoint to corporate dominated media and money-talks mentality.  (I’ll deal with Obama’s truckload fundraising in another post soon.)  But “the Promised Land”?  All we need to do is trust Obama & Company, and lie down in green pastures amidst plenty, yadda, yadda?  What total bullshit.The candidates have come through the gantlet of a vicious campaign, they have earned their laurels?  So did Warren G. Harding.  If they were a football team, they would have finished training camp and the exhibition season, and now the season is about to start.  NOTHING that ANY candidate for ANY office has done so far has benefited ANY citizen in ANY way.  It is DAY ONE.  Take a vacation, guys.  Monday the 17th, the WORK starts, what actuallly COUNTS starts, and NOTHING that you have done so far means ANYTHING to ANY of us.

A tidbit about the bailout of banks

About half of the billions of bailout money for banks will be used by the banks to pay dividends to shareholders.  In other words, select persons who made bad investments are protected from losses, and WE (taxpayers) are paying them their investment income.  Perhaps it is a legitimate observation of President-elect Obama that his administration will “redistribute wealth.”  However, a more accurate description is that his administration will continue to redistribute wealth, only in different ways.  How about the earnings of the folks laid off from the banks or brokerages?  None of the bailout money will help them. How about Joe & Jane Lunchbucket, the banks’ customers?  They deposited their paychecks from a company which uses the same bank on Tuesday but the deposit wasn’t posted until Friday.  In the meantime, they wrote five checks, including a car payment and house payment to the same bank.  Three of the checks bounced because the deposit hadn’t posed, and those were paid by “courtesy overdraft protection” for which the bank charged $31 per check as an “overdraft fee.”  Will they be bailed out?  I don’t think so.  And the bank officers, will their pay and benefits remain the same?  Will they be doubling up hotel accomodations when they do business travel?  Nope.  The couple who take home $40,000 per year together, no medical insurance, but make too much to qualify for medicaid, now the wife needs $1,200 per month for medication, will they be bailed out?  Oh, please, give me a break.  Or is this all an exercise in the Viking Motto?: I Got Mine.

Pippa passes.