28 March 2009

At last - back to unorganized Stuff . . .

No Place to Go

Friday night, Son Tim’s rescue company had a medic call off, so T doubled over and brought the medic response truck home overnight. (Briefly, the radio ID for the first medic truck 25 years ago was “Pervert 23” - Paramedic Emergency Response Vehicle with Emergency Response Team. OK, that was a stretch, but it seemed awfully funny at the time and I just loved to go on the radio, “Pervert 23, responding.”) I sleep lightly and heard his tones around 3 AM. (“Tones” are pure sound at a perfect frequency which operate the electronic equivalent of switches and turn on speakers or alarms in radios.) I arose to (1) answer “nature’s call” and (2) make a smart ass comment (“You taking this call or you want me to?”). T said he’d handle this one and headed out the door.

I had to force myself to turn and go back to bed, for I didn’t want to see the light bar reflecting off the fog as he pulled out. The worst feeling in the world for a rescue man (gender generic, women included) is missing the truck. It’s been over 20 years, and I still get that feeling. But, damn, I’m proud of Tim and the entire company. Some of the very senior people there are ones I trained. Hopefully, when they come to haul away my pulseless carcass, it’ll be people Tim trained.

Penthouse or Garden?

We live on a ridge in the middle of Fairmont. A close neighbor, Sharon, is a Ph.D. English professor at Fairmont State University, and she bought a vacant lot beside us “just” as a little botanical sanctuary. When I came home today, she was working there, and she and I had such a peaceful conversation about plants and beauty and life. (The intelligent parts came from her - I’m rather lame in botany.) At the end, we mutually posed the question: Who has the better life - She who can say, “I have a penthouse,” or she who can say “I have a garden”?

Oh, I know what the “correct” or approved answer is supposed to be, but be honest: What is your real answer?

E-books won’t do this:

A few weeks ago, I read 84 Charing Cross Road, by Helen Hanff. Do you read? Are books friends? This book is worthwhile. Indeed, it is deeply touching. It is a collection of correspondence between an American writer and a London bookshop from which she purchased books and developed deep friendships over four decades.

When talking about real, physical, paper, used books, Hanff says one of the wonderful things is that such a book “keeps falling open at the most delightful places as the ghost of its former owner points me to things I’ve never read before.”

Don’t Tell Me About DNA

My second father is moving back to Fairmont soon. After my Dad died, Jim became more and more dear to me. Family - sometimes it’s genetic, sometimes that has nothing to do with it.


Brother Pete in Nebraska has a long lead on me with the understanding of meditation. I’ve very recently relearned something: The chanting or music or whatever is not the point or the worship or whatever. It’s what draws all of the cacaphonous tracks of your mind together and lets you focus all of your mind. A Gavin Bryar CD, Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet, which is a Christian meditation, has finally gotten that through to me.

An extra lesson in that CD is that an ordinary voice, untrained, may have a role beyond the confines of the shower. As trained voices go, mine still piddles on the floor, so I’m somewhat hesitant to do any volume. But this was encouraging.

Pippa passes.


27 March 2009

A Multitude is Fed, and I’m Too Stunned to Get Their License Number

Did you ever have a day when something good happens and you want to claim credit? Oh, you do a rain dance and it rains, you have a positive attitude and get the parking spot next to the mall door, that sort of thing? Then you want to reach for the purple pointy hat with the stars and chant obscure incantations that only you know and listen for the "oohs" and "aahs" of all the People.

That was my day.

“I” set a record for largest downward departure in sentencing in a criminal case in the Federal Northern District. An explanation for the benefit of the scattered normal people dispersed about the globe: When someone is convicted of a crime in the United States federal system, something called the United States Sentencing Guidelines come into play. They all focus on a big chart six columns wide and forty-three lines long. Going down the chart is bad. A Level 1 Offense isn’t bad. A level 25 gets you some long sentence. A level 43 gets you a Life sentence. Going from left to right is bad. A Criminal History Category I means you’ve not been in any significant trouble in the past, so your sentence at a Level 20 crime, for example, is presumed to be within a range of 33 - 41 months. A Criminal History Category III means you’ve been a bad boy, and for the same Level 20 offense, your guideline range is 41 - 51 months. And at a Category VI, you’ve been a REAL bad boy, and you catch “Career Offender” treatment, which bumps you up to Level 34 no matter what you did, and your sentence will bottom out at least at 150+ months.

One reason for the Guidelines is to have some uniformity in sentencing, so that it’s not just a luck-of-the-draw thing (what Judge a Defendant gets) which determines what happens.

My case Friday was a man with a long criminal record, therefore a Category VI. (By the way, all of this was discussed in open Court, so it’s a public record.) He came to West Virginia from Florida, and continued a little bit of criminal activity. Then, he saw a sonogram photo of his twins in utero, and that was his “Road to Damascus moment.” He figured out that he had been an idiot up 'til then, and he cleaned up his life. That included kicking drugs, dumping the druggie friends, embracing the church, embracing family, doing honest work and enjoying his life for the first time ever. Then he got indicted for the last bit of crime he did. Well, he was stuck - now being honest, he entered a guilty plea pretty quickly and awaited sentencing.

Prior to a sentencing, the federal probation officer does a thorough investigation of a defendant, and part of that is calculating a proposed sentencing range. With a career offender treatment, this guy was looking at a minimum recommended sentence of 151 months. He is married, has 4 children in the home (they are all “his,” biological or not), works, and is one of the steady people of the church. But a part of sentencing is to impose consequences and to show the public that there are consequences.

I have known the District Judge for 30 years, and very much like & respect her. She is hard-driving and takes no crap from anyone, but is thoughtful and fair. What more can you ask?

As this gentleman’s lawyer, I’ve been advocating all along aiming toward today. The last hearing is always nerve-wracking, though. What do you ask for? And I think I’ve become known over the years for putting more of “me” into cases, more of my philosophy and feelings than perhaps most other lawyers do. But at some point, if you ask for a fantasy, you have zero credibility. Well, I’m the guy’s lawyer, not his mother, and I had his clear instructions – present the case and put the result in God’s hands.

Most pundits will tell you that’s a bad idea. The late John Mortimer, Q.C., author of the Rumpole stories, said that bringing clergy to a sentencing is guaranteed to add two years to the sentence. Invocations of Deity are nearly taboo in American courts – rather a secularly cowardly thing in my view to pretend that God’s not there and we’re smart enough to figure this out on our own, but I’ll admit it can go overboard real fast in a lot of court situations. But there was no way to tell this Defendant’s story without God as the Prime Mover.

And so we had a focused, open and honest sentencing hearing where, rather than a formalistic set-piece production where a pre-determined result was trotted out on cue, we “came and reasoned together,” (LBJ used to quote that from Isaiah a lot) and the Judge made a decision on the spot to put this gentleman on probation.

So “I” got a wonderful result. Maybe word will get around that I’m some sort of gunslinger extraordinaire.

Except, when it became clear which way the judge was going, I printed in large letters a note to my client: “THIS IS NOT MY DOING. I AM NOT THIS GOOD A LAWYER. THIS IS GOD AT WORK.”

What an idiot I am - I blew a chance to claim powers of advocacy beyond mere mortals.

One problem, though: This time, it REALLY WASN’T ME.

I no longer do training for EMS field skills, but I still speak to EMS groups about philosophical lessons learned. One of these is “Cocky kills.” That applies in the law, too. Thank God that I’m getting older now and the knocks over the years have beaten most of the cocky out of me. I don’t know how good an advocate that makes me, but it makes me better than I was before. Hmm - line out of a Gospel song: I don’t know where He’ll take me, but it’s better than where I’ve been.

Pippa passes.


26 March 2009

Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot . . .

Old Betsey the Laptop has been singing, but not with blog material. Some things will be filed in Courts, some perhaps published in the Fullness of Time, some sent in private directions and some consigned to the Seventh Circle of Electronic Hell. But I’ve a bit to blog on this evening.

I went to Berkeley Springs (Morgan County) for a hearing yesterday. There was a young man, apparently a lawyer, watching the proceedings and I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to him because I was concentrating on the client and the case. After the hearing concluded, though, he came up to me and said that he knew that I was in the [WVU College of Law] Class of ‘78. How, I asked? Then he introduced himself as Dan James, son of my classmate Dan James who practices in Keyser. This was pretty neat. Dan was a good friend in law school, and we’ve stayed more-or-less in contact over the years. In the mid-80's, when I would go to Keyser to conduct hearings for the Workers’ Compensation Fund, Dan would usually have a few cases and he would make gentle fun of me getting frustrated at the way the lawyers over there liked to stretch the hearings out with pointless bickering. And we probably are in contact every couple of years as we have business on one or the other side of the mountains.

The funny thing was, young Dan is the age of Dan and I. We are frozen in time in my mind, we are fresh from school, self-conscious in ties, and ready to put our shoulders to injustice and make injustice YIELD. It is impossible that we are “A Yondering,” where “. . . the sword outwears its sheath and the heart wears out the breast.”

As I talked to young Dan, a public defender came into the Courtroom and joined the discussion. She was hired by another classmate, Jerry Dambro. I knew that Jerry had died a few years back, but hadn’t heard how. Turns out he was on a Pacific-to-Atlantic bicycle ride (that’s the kind of thing Jerry would do), and was within a few miles of the finish when a drunk driver killed him. We shared some yarns about Jerry - I remember the week he trusted me with his near-antique flawless Mercedes because it broke down in Fairmont. Right out of school, Jerry went into practice in Buckhannon with Jim Cook. Jim was the oldest guy in our class, and the first classmate to die. He was retired from the Postal Service and was a totally pleasant guy.

All the way driving back, I was thinking about classmates. Some are well known. Eric O’Briant would have been voted the most calm & friendly guy in the class while we were in school, but he was the first to become a judge. Not only did he become a judge, he did so in Logan County, which is known as a really rough place. He’s remained judge there and is well respected. Let’s see, Chuck Chambers is now a federal judge after a good political career as a decent guy after law school as a decent guy. Well, Chuck is just a decent guy. His decision against mountain-top removal coal mining was just reversed by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, but the Obama Administration has proposed new rules which would virtually eliminate the practice. Jim Matish is a Circuit Judge in Clarksburg, and runs a very dignified Courtroom, and Rick Murensky is a judge . . . damn, I forget what town. I haven’t talked to Rick in a long time.

Let’s see - several of our classmates have been prosecutors – Mike Thompson was a prosecuting attorney for YEARS in the Eastern Panhandle, and young Dan says he recently retired. Paul Camiletti is an assistant U.S. Attorney and has been for 20 years. His wife, Terry Rieman Camiletti just retired, I heard, after a career as an ERISA specialist.

I’m back trudging up the (now vanished) drive to the College of Law on a hot August day in 1975, as I meet these people who would be my constant companions for the next three years and many of whom would be and are important to me for life. I’ve lost track of lots of them. Where is Geraldine Foucault Katz? She was a New Yorker or New Jerseyite, if I recall correctly. The don’t-fit-any-stereotypes formed a study group, and that included Gerry, and me. And Dan Ringer, who is still a close friend. And Glenn Schumacher. I shared an office with Glenn for a couple of years, and the last I heard he was practicing in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Let’s see - I haven’t been able to find Jo Walton Eaton who had an advanced degree in Literature. She was totally a classy person. Let’s see, I’ve known that Susan Woods Coffindaffer has been in the area, but hadn’t talked to her for quite a while. On Inauguration Day this year, I remembered that our pastor was part of a singing group that was performing at the state capitol, and I turned the TV in my room to that for background noise. I heard a rendition of a favorite song about West Virginia, My Home Among the Hills, heard a beautiful descant begin and said to myself, wow, that’s Susan’s voice. Sure enough, there she was. Hmmmm - Mandy Covey, haven’t heard from her in many years - last I heard, she was in the San Francisco area. Oh, Melinda Russell - She is a well-respected expert in juvenile
advocacy. She has a special place in my heart - in a very bad time in my life, when a family member was in big public trouble, she was one of the only classmates to call me just to check in and express love and support.

And when I go to the law school today, the building is mostly the same - but it’s not the same place. In my heart, it’s still about 1976, and all of my old comrades are there and we are at the beginning of life and have no limits, none at all.

I wanted this to be a happy reminiscence. But I’m growing sad and wistful.

Pippa passes.


11 March 2009

Hells Angels & Irish Clydesdales

The Donald

Sunday morning, the Pastor, Josh, referred to situations where you encounter people who are “more important.” Uncharacteristically, I remained silent. He used a TV program called Celebrity Apprentice as an example, and used Donald Trump as the archetype “more important” guy.

Is Donald Trump “more important”? Is there such a creature as someone “more important”? More powerful, sure. Able to say, “You’re fired,” absolutely. Is there someone powerful enough that we can’t be honest with them? Well, we always have the choice. “Yo, Donald, you’re a jerk, the women aren’t after your body, they want your money, and your hairdo is ridiculous.” True, but it might have the effect of his not giving us something we wanted. I support our governor in the strongest possible way - he’s brought us back from the economic toilet and positioned us to survive a Depression. But is he “more important”? Ask him. Others have, and he’s answered with a strong, “Hell, no!” And a “We’re in this together.”


Kaffiyehs & Colors

In the Disciples of Christ, Communion is (1) celebrated weekly and (2) open to all comers, no tests, memberships, oaths or stuff like that there required. Come in a suit, jeans, a kaffiyeh or biker colors, you are welcomed to the Lord’s Table, because it’s His table, not ours.

I’ve figured out that if that weren’t the case, I would be seriously screwed.

Other colors

That doesn’t keep me from being a tad curmudgeonly in the House of God. A dear friend made a comment last Sunday about my pocket handkerchiefs being two shades of bright green, so I must be getting the jump on St. Patrick’s Day.

If anyone were to call me a clothes horse, they would be thinking of a Clydesdale. But one thing I do to add a bit of color is put two or three bright pocket handkerchiefs in my breast pocket, and I did have two green and one bright blue.

Remembering the precincts, I let the button be pushed, but filtered the response, and told her that I’ll be darned if I’m going to drink green beer, talk about old Eire, or generally claim Irish ancestry, and that anyone who says that they are Irish-American can drag their derriere back to Ireland, ditto African-American, European-American and any other sort of hyphenated-American. The whole idea of tossing cabers, gobbling haggis, wearing top hats to sweep chimneys, brandishing short spears and silly stuff like that is ridiculous.

She got a large and long laugh out of it.

Pippa passes.


08 March 2009

A Message to the Families in Little People Big World and John & Kate Plus Ei8ght.

Ladies, gentlemen, and all of the delightful young people:

Many people in my extended family are charmed by your lives and admire the courage and positive energy you show in meeting the challenges which exist in your lives.

So, I’m glad that the Gods of Media having singled you out has created financial abundance to assist you with your special needs. I have read on the blogs and elsewhere misdirected criticism about the million dollar houses, big farms and so forth. It’s misdirected because you don’t boost someone up by tearing someone else down.

I know that you are an inspiration for your viewers.

But I’m worried that can go too far. I’m not sure exactly what the emotional state is called which is that of extending concern to your fellow humans. Certainly, it is a useful one. It has given us Clara Barton, Mohandas Gandhi, Mother Theresa. I know even less of the psychopharmacology involved, seratonin or endorphins or what. I worry, though, that constantly watching from the grandstands will fulfill our inner need to care for others, that after seeing the challenge of caring for many children or dealing with physical arrangements made for persons of drastically different size, we will go to bed thinking, hey, today I have CARED.

Sorry, but that’s a fundamental error. People who thump the Bible annoy me. So do people who deny good sense just because it’s in there. From Chapter 2 of the Book of James:

“What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”——but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. Now someone may argue, ‘Some people have faith; others have good deeds.’ But I say, ‘How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.’ You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?”

In other words, caring is a bitch. We have to work at it, not just feel it. Look, within 10 miles of each of your homes, there are semi-permanent homeless encampments. Ditto, nursing homes. Lots of diapers are a problem, sure. Well, been to a nursing home lately? Caring for bedfast adults incontinent to feces and urine is tough, and that says nothing about the life those patients lead. Talk about the physical world not working for you - I think of my friend who died last October - I still remember her so clearly from when we were in high school - near the end, she could not even move around in bed because the cancer had so weakened her bones that nearly anything would cause a very painful fracture. OK, a “reality TV” series about her would have been a total downer, or even a series about where she was, which is a top-notch nursing home. But there is so much need there. And not just for internal caring. Even if it’s by demonstrating to someone that there is ONE other person in the world who thinks about them and cares about them, you build rather than simply watch.

John, Kate, Matt, Amy, and all of the media people, keep telling your stories. Would you also consider mentioning that lots of other humans have stories, and that we really are all in this together? If they even call someone who is alone and lonely and prove to them that one other person in the world cares, they have walked farther along the path of humanity than watching you or anyone else will ever lead them.

Pippa passes.


06 March 2009


When Son Tim was about 4 years old, LaJ sewed a fireman’s outfit for him. It was made of bright yellow corduroy, and had Scotchlite® reflective tape in the appropriate spots, plus Tim’s name sewn on the back. He had a little black plastic helmet that fit complete with a clear faceshield, a plastic airpack, little heavy rubber boots, and he just loved that outfit. It was so cute, and LaJ made several alterations as he grew over the next couple of years.

I’ve chronicled his continuing journey through EMS in the same company I served.

Last night, I got home late after preparing for a sentencing in federal court today. Tim wasn’t home yet, and since he works strange hours (goes with the work), that wasn’t unusual. This morning, I needed to be on the road before the sun hit it, so I was up and out early. As I picked up briefcases headed for the door, I said to myself, Wow, LaJ is at it again! There in the dining room was another fireman outfit that looked a whole lot like the last one. Of course, this one’s a larger size, but it’s a yellow coat about the same color, with lots of Scotchlite® tape. On the back, in Scotchlite® letters, there’s the name of a nearby volunteer company (Company 10, Monongah), and as I examined the coat, I found that it wasn’t made of corduroy. Darn thing is made of a Nomex® shell, which is a fire resistant material, and it’s lined with an insulation layer and a vapor barrier, just like a real fireman’s. He has bunker pants of the same material, and the darndest Globe bunker boots. There’s a black helmet, with a “Fire Medic” rocker (that’s a sticker showing rank or specialty). On the table was an air mask.

What is play? What is real?

God protect him and all his colleagues, wheresoever about the world they may be.

Pippa passes.