Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Monday, February 28, 2011

My Oscar Wrap for Spree is here.

Suze Rotolo has died. I liked her book, and I respect her for writing something that was honest and not exploitative.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Here's a guy who is charged with jury tampering because he hands out pamphlets advocating jury nullification in front of the Federal courthouse in Foley Square.He is obviously a Grade A crank, but this prosecution is, to use a technical legal term, bullshit. Seriously, Preet Bharara, this is something you feel ought to be prosecuted? You reckon this rises to the level that justifies bringing the force of the Department of Justice down on this guy? This is disgraceful, and I hope Magistrate Judge Ellis bounces it. I can't believe that the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York can't find bigger fish to fry.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

You look around at the way the world works and you wonder sometimes, how did it get like this? One of the ways is that, for good or for ill, lawyers made it like this. One of the cats that invented the modern corporate marketplace has just died: Joe Flom, the last name in Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Flom understood M&A practice before anybody else did. He transformed the way business does business, and along the way he transformed the way law gets practiced. I'm no fan of the Skadden model, but there is no disputing that they get their results by working hard to achieve them-- and it is clear that Flom was the model for that ethic.

It's interesting to consider a little law firm genealogy: the founders of Skadden, Arps, who hired Flom as their first associate, had been passed over for partnership at Root, Ballantine, Harlan, Bushby & Palmer-- that's the Harlan that became the second Justice Harlan, and the Ballantine that was Thomas Dewey's partner when the firm evolved into Dewey, Ballantine (which is Dewey & LeBoeuf these days). The Root was Elihu Root, the son of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, United States Secretary of War (under McKinley and TR), and Senator from New York. In between government gigs the old man was also a partner. Ballantine was the first solicitor of what later was named the Internal Revenue Service.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

To mark the signing of Carmelo Anthony by the Knicks the Carnegie Deli has introduced the 'Melo', a $21.95 sandwich that consists of pastrami, corned beef, salami, bacon, lettuce, tomato and Russian dressing on rye. A. says that it should be held together by a toothpick with a figure of St. Andrew on the top.

"While virtually every cyclist in America is also a driver, relatively few drivers are also cyclists. 'People either don't know how to handle you,' says Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists, 'or they don't want to handle you.'" 

I tend to think of Buffalo as particularly hostile to cyclists, but it is probably just typical.

Monday, February 21, 2011

To the Chilly Challenge yesterday, in perfect conditions for a February race. The roads were clear and dry, the sun was out, there was no wind, and I was wearing just the right combination of gear to be comfortable. Damn shame I'm so slow, but that'll change once I get more thoroughly on track. I doubt that will happen before the Shamrock, but that can't be helped.

Unfortunately the photograph of Captain X was sealed from view, so we were unable to visit that shrine. The new fieldhouse at Canisius HS is pretty nice-- don't let anybody ever tell you that there's no money in this town.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Interesting: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Washington, the District of Columbia and the US Virgin Islands are the only US jurisdictions which ban all drivers from using handheld cellphones. Except for Maryland, these are all laws are primary enforcement  laws -- the cops can cite a driver for using a handheld cell phone without any other traffic offense taking place. Laws seem to be trending towards an acknowledgment of the hazard, but it also looks like slow going. Personally I'm persuaded--  although I usually answer my calls I keep it short, and I seldom initiate a call. If there is someone else in the car they deal with the phone. (If it is CLA then she also deals with the radio, although I am less enthusiastic about that.) The odd thing to me is that the offense is tied to use of a handheld device. If you are good with looking like a cyborg and using a Bluetooth device then you are fine, notwithstanding the fact that the data suggests that it is the fact of talking on the phone that creates the dangerous distraction, not dialing or holding the phone. New York has just announced that in addition to the fine getting busted for cell phone use is worth two points on your license. That sounds like they are getting more serious about it, but I don't think I know anyone who has ever gotten a ticket.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Large black coffee, Old Fashioned Plain. $2.50. Sometimes I'll mix it up and have a Boston Cream, or a French Cruller. Very rarely I'll get the Sour Cream Glaze. It's always $2.50 though. Two bills, two coins. Sometimes five dimes. Simple. Not a lot of fumbling; I can tell by putting my hands in my pockets that I have exact change. It is perfect for the first transaction of the day.

This morning it was $2.64. Timmy's has raised its prices, and I can tell already that this is going to wreck havoc with my mornings. Now it's a three bills deal, unless I want to deal with two bills and counting out two quarters, a dime and four pennies. Or getting a penny in change. Or getting --arrrrghhhh!-- a nickel and four pennies.

I don't know about this. I like the Timmy's. It really is the best cup of coffee around; it is on the way to work; the level of interaction is friendly without being invasive. The line moves quickly. If I change my routine the options all have some critical flaw. Spot is out of the way. It is good coffee, but it has cooled unacceptably by the time I'm in the office. Also Spot means I'm having a scone, which, meh. Scones are mostly like sheetrock under the best of circumstances, unless you've baked them yourself, in which case you've been up for hours already and are no longer in the mood for scones, so why are you eating a scone? There's danish at Spot, but frankly it's lousy danish, so that's also a non-starter.

The Dunkin' Donuts spells 'doughnuts' wrong. Also the coffee isn't as good, and although it is actually about twenty steps closer to the office the line is slower. The Timmy's is in the lobby of an office building, and the people on the line are a slightly better looking group. The people in the Dunkin' Donuts smell like cigarettes, and look more beaten down by life. Also, the Dunkin' Donuts was always a more complicated change situation than the Timmy's.

Holly Farms coffee is the worst. It is the most convenient, but the coffee is horrible, and it comes in foam cups. Even though I pour my coffee into a mug as soon as I sit down at my desk, the styrofoam taste lingers, and it would be lousy coffee if it were served in a Limoges cup. Better range of pastry, but I think the Holly Farms is off the table.

Man, just when I was getting my routine in order. Damn.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A-Rod's contract with Texas was a total outlier at the time it was made, but the market caught up to it, as markets tend to, and now Albert Pujols is seriously underpaid. Ted Williams, Willie Mays and Joe DiMaggio you should be getting paid like the best player in the game. It is crazy for Miggy Cabrera or Jason Bay or Carlos Beltran (Let's Go Mets!) have better contracts, and no matter what Tony LaRussa, Esq. has to say about it, Pujols can and should make the best deal that he can. I've been to St. Louis, and I guess I like it well enough. Pujols is said to like it too, but I imagine he'll find a way to be just as happy somewhere else if he's pulling down the kind of dough the Best Player in Baseball ought to be able to get. If St. Louis doesn't want to pay it someone will.

(Oh, and I like Charley Pierce's take on LaRussa: "For an awfully long time, there has been no more overrated figure in American sports than Tony LaRussa." Seriously, has there ever been more of a fuss over a law degree from Florida State?)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman gave his annual State of the Judiciary speech today. The part I like best is the announcement of a new court rule that would require the recusal of judges from the cases of attorneys or litigants from whom the judges have received large campaign contributions ($2,500 or more from individuals and at least $3,500 from firms or multiple parties) within the previous two years. That's not great, but it is a step in the right direction, and it at least acknowledges that there is a problem.

Here's the thing: In small counties -- that is to say, in most of the state-- judicial campaigns shouldn't be that expensive. They are probably artificially expensive in Western New York. Contributions to judicial campaigns are bribes, but not so much in the obvious way. Generally speaking the lawyers who write the checks aren't getting any traction with the judge, but the judge is paying for the party endorsement, and maybe that benefits the lawyer or the firm with political juice down the line. In theory the judge doesn't know who paid what, but count on it, the chairman of the party whose line the judge is running on does. That's typically where the money goes: to the party. Judges aren't buying lawn signs, they are paying consultant's fees for other people's campaigns. Let's recall how Joseph Makowski got to be a judge.Nobody likes to talk about it, but back when Mr. Makowski was in the news the Buffalo News' political columnist spelled it out:

"The judge, you recall, arrived at the bench in a time-honored way -- he gained the favor of the Erie County Democratic chairman. Back in 1998 when Makowski was elected, he served as the party’s chief fund-raiser. That, combined with the mutual interest of the Democratic and Republican chairmen, earned him bipartisan backing and guaranteed his election.
'But Makowski believed he had a further obligation --this one to the system that got him there.
"He raised $33,575 for his campaign--even after his election was guaranteed. He gave $27,535, or 72 percent of what he raised, to the two parties and other campaigns -- the highest percentage for any State Supreme Court candidate that year.
"Makowski paid $9,000 in various ways to Erie County Democrats, $7,500 to Erie County Republicans, $2,000 to a fund supporting Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter Vallone, $1,100 to State Senate Democrats, $1,000 to Senate candidate Chuck Schumer, along with other donations.
"In addition, Makowski and his wife contributed $5,100 of their own funds to the Assembly campaigns of Susan Peimer and Brian Higgins -- top Democratic priorities that year.
"Makowski even paid a headquarters staffer $3,400 in consulting fees for a campaign in which he had no opponent."

That's where the money goes when you write your check for $250 clams to "Friends of Some Lawyer Who Wants To Be A Judge" or "Friends of Judge Cross-Endorsed Guy".

The threshold Chief Judge Lippman has created is too high when you think about it that way, although at least it undercuts some of the muscle large firms have when it comes to raising scratch for politics.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

We are at that place in the winter where we are past caring. The snow has hardened into ice, the sidewalks are more or less impossible to clear, the salt has crusted our shoes and the hems of our pants, and although the days are longer they are still grey. Long grey days are scant improvement over short black ones. I've been carrying the camera CEPA issued me to use for Visions of Greater Buffalo, but until today I haven't used it; what I had in mind was distinctly not photography depicting the city blanketed in knee deep snow, and I haven't had the kind of light I've wanted.

Today I said the hell with it and took the camera out when I went running. The light wasn't what I wanted, but it was neutral, and I may have gotten something. I have a few different things in mind yet.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

I watched "Forest Gump" last night, the first time I'd ever seen it. What an insulting mess. I suppose it is supposed to be some sort of a statement about the American journey and the American character-- it can't have just been about a sweet dimwit could it?

It occurred to me that what they might have been trying for was a sort of Candide story, but Candide went from catastrophe to disaster to cataclysm and was continually rocked by each. Gump emerges triumphant from everything, so that can't be it. Perhaps we don't want that kind of story anymore-- the Dickens sort of "just when everything looks like it is working out it gets suddenly much worse" sort of narrative, or maybe that's the effect that Gump was striving for by featuring the all the assassinations and the Vietnam war. The thing is, he is untouched by these things: his affectless demeanor actually works to diminish everything that happens around him.

I was also struck by the fact that the filmmaker had a nearly absolute lack of faith in his medium, something that is particularly notable in a movie that relies so heavily on CGI for its impact. The damn thing is almost all voice-over narration, which almost always means that the story isn't being told cinematically. The story is rubbish, but if had been shown instead of told it might have worked better. Come to think of it, that would have made it "Zelig", sort of. "Zelig" only not very funny.

Hanks got Best Actor, I suppose because playing a mentally handicapped man is a good way to win an Oscar. Zemeckis won Best Director, and the damn thing won four others, including, of course, Best Picture. The other nominees that year were "Four Weddings and a Funeral", "Quiz Show", "The Shawshank Redemption" and "Pulp Fiction". If we break it down we can see how the Academy got there: "Four Weddings" is the English "Big Chill", "Quiz Show" is about how the 50's sucked. "Shawshank" could have been a contender, but the 60's nostalgia of "Gump" mowed it down, and it had been a box office disapointment. "Pulp Fiction"? You know, in a lot of ways it is still too far out there, even though it is clearly the best thing on the list. Ah, 1994.

Friday, February 11, 2011

I can't say that I've ever been a huge college hoops fan, but I like it when St. John's is good. The last time that happened they were still called the Redmen, I think, a name that they changed out of racial sensitivity. This year the Red Storm has been up (beating Duke) and down (losing to St. Bonaventure, who I hate). Last night they beat UConn, who offered EGA a fellowship, so I like them, but I like St. Johns better. They are starting to look like a team that could surprise some people at the Big Dance, which is kinda cool.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

With the Super Bowl now behind us, and along with it, the meta-commentary about the commercials aired during the Super Bowl, I find myself wondering 'What ever happened to Alka Seltzer?' Time was that Alka Seltzer ads were the best things on TV, an integral part of the national sense of humor. What happened? Has the scourge of indigestion been eradicated?

Outside Counsel is glad to learn that President Obama has quit smoking. We hear it turns you orange.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Outside Counsel notes with regret the death of Mary Cleere Haran, a cabaret singer of taste and distinction. 58 years old, hit by a car pulling out of driveway as she was riding her bicycle. Damn.

Monday, February 07, 2011

289 finishers at Mr. Ed's yesterday, although I saw numbers going well into the 300s. There was a one mile fun run too, so that may have skewed my estimate -- I thought there were about 400, but some of that may have been Middleport Mr. Ed's groupies. The usual appalling conditions prevailed: cold, windy, alternating slippery footing and footing that resembled running on the beach. I rolled my ankle on the towpath, and it's a bit sore today, but I would have regretted not running this more than I regret a minor ding.

It's a funny thing that Niagara County takes over the running calendar in the winter months: Mr. Ed's is the only one I do, but there's the Lockport Y10, which I tell myself I should do, and the Olcott Polar Bear Run, which I suppose I should try as well. Next year maybe; for now, on to the Chilly Challenge.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Spree Arts editor Chris Schobert's Oscar picks-- and mine-- are here.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Worst. Snowpocalypse. Ever.

Seriously, three inches? Where'd it all go? Did it all fall on Lakeshore Drive before it got here? we stocked up on red wine and filled the wood box, and were braced for the real deal, and this is what we get? Very disappointing.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

In my mind this is still how New York looks. In my mind New York is usually a tropical city, like Calcutta. There's a whole page of these, photographs of New York's subways and surroundings, a few from 1977, most from 1979. I'd have lunch at that Brew Burger sometimes.... (Via The Morning News.)

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