Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Since seeing "It Might Get Loud" I've been trying to remember when it was that I saw U2. I recalled the circumstances-- it was at the Tibetan Freedom Concert, Downing Stadium, Randall's Island-- but I couldn't remember what album U2 was supporting then. Fortunately there's the internet, and now I know it was 1997, and the album was "Pop", quite possibly their worst release. Foo Fighters were better, and Patti Smith stole the show. (A Tribe Called Quest were special, too.)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A KRAC outing to "It Might Get Loud" last night, a movie I recommend to anyone who likes electric guitar. My problem with both Led Zeppelin and U2 is really with the singers (and the lyrical content)-- this was straight-on guitar, and that was great. I suppose Page is the highlight: he's Jimmy Frickin' Page, and he knows it, so even though he looks like somebody's old hippie uncle, he shows up for the session in a black frock coat and a lacy shirt. He can still play. I liked it when The Edge (seriously, David Howell Evans, if you'd use your own name it would be a lot less embarrassing)shows him a lick. "Are you sure?" asks Page, then nails it. It was also fun watching Page watch Jack White, who is essentially channeling Led Zep, then picking up the riff. Great archival footage of all three, too.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Robert J. McCarthy and Michael Beebe's front page story in today's Buffalo News is as good an illustration of the importance of a local press as you are likely to find, and a fine example of what makes the Buffalo News a better than average paper. It may well be that the ADA who is accusing District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III of backing away from prosecuting "Democratic kingpin" G. Steven Pigeon has an ox to gore. I don't know Mark A. Sacha, but he's a career prosecutor who has worked for both Republican and Democratic DAs. Back when he was DA Judge Kevin Dillon thought enough of the guy to make him City Court bureau chief and then head of the district attorney's drug prosecution unit, and Judge Dillon's opinion counts for a lot with me. It is troubling to think that Frank Sedita is allowing politics to color his prosecutorial decisions, but this is not the first time in his nine month tenure that something has quacked like a duck. During the campaign Sedita was quoted as saying "Every time some political operative or political partisan makes an accusation it doesn't trigger a special prosecutor." Maybe it ought to.

It's not like I think it would be a swell idea for a Republican candidate to capture the DA's office next go-round. The last time the Erie County Republican party produced a prosecutor we got Dennis Vacco, a poltroon of the first water, who surrounded himself with politically connected hacks and henchmen. Caesar's wife, Frank.

Friday, September 25, 2009

I tell clients who are going to be deposed or appear in court to dress as though they are going to church, and that pretty much gets me the result I'm hoping for, although not always. Years ago I was picking a jury in a big products liability case and one of the other lawyers spent a peremptory challenge-- no small coin-- to excuse a juror who was wearing a baseball cap. (I've had students in my Discovery class at the law school show up for the final in baseball caps too. Here's a tip-- that'll cost you half a letter grade.) I've said before that I'd favor wigs and robes for lawyers. I've also speculated that the day may be coming when a suit and tie is as exclusive to the legal profession as the backwards collar is to clergy. Comes now Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis of the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of New York-- as it happens, my all-time favorite federal district court-- to announce that a lawyer appearing as a pro se litigant does not have a constitutional right to wear jeans and a baseball cap in court.

"The function of a courtroom is "to provide a locus in which civil and criminal disputes can be adjudicated. Within this staid environment, the presiding judge is charged with the responsibility of maintaining proper order and decorum." In order to do so, a judge must have the authority to set reasonable limits on the conduct and behavior of litigants appearing before the court. The commonplace rule prohibiting hats in the courtroom is just one widely accepted example of such a limitation.
"As these principles may suggest, a courtroom is not a public forum for the expression of ideas. Instead, "[a] courthouse—and, especially, a courtroom—is a nonpublic forum." In such a forum, "[r]estrictions on speech…need only be reasonable and viewpoint neutral." A restriction on speech in a nonpublic forum is reasonable when "it is wholly consistent with the government's legitimate interest in preserving the property for the use to which it is lawfully dedicated." (Citations omitted.)

I'm not so sure how I feel about the notion that a courtroom is a "non-public forum"-- it seems to me that one of the small ways that our glamor profession has diminished itself over the time that I've been practicing is that it has become less open. Time was anyone could just wander into a courthouse, to watch a trial, or just look around. You still can, of course, but you have to empty your pockets, and pass through a metal detector, and if you have a phone you have to leave it, along with your pen knife and anything else. The hassle involved makes the courts less accessible, and the system, therefore, less transparent. When you consider that the courts are the most direct form of involvement most citizens have with government this is unfortunate. It seems wrong to me that people can't just go to 60 Center Street to look at the terrific rotunda, or to any of the other lavish courthouses that are out there. Public money was spent to make federal district courts as lavish looking as any Medici palace, and I would say that this is money well-spent, but people should be allowed to see where their money went. As long as the men take their baseball caps off, let 'em in I say.

This year's nominees for the Rock'n'Roll HOF once again illustrate how the institution is flawed: ABBA, Darlene Love, Donna Summer, Genesis, Jimmy Cliff, KISS, Laura Nyro, LL Cool J, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Chantels, The Hollies and The Stooges. What kind of a list is this? Is there anyone on it that deserves to be enshrined in a Hall of Fame? ABBA sold a ton of records, and remain a force. (I once met their lawyer at a conference. He was pretty modest about it, but a client like that is obviously pretty nice to have.) The Chantels were great, but great like Dom DiMagio, not great like Joe. The Hollies are an interesting problem-- bigger in the UK than here, they still scored several big hits stateside. "Bus Stop" and "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress" are pretty great. I suppose they deserve to be thought of as more than a second-string BeeGees, but not much more. It is not clear to me which Genesis we are talking about. Peter Gabriel Genesis? Phil Collins Genesis? Rutherford and Banks Genesis? In order, overblown, should have been run out of town on a rail, and who? I guess it doesn't make any difference which Genesis: I vote No. Donna Summer? Sure, why not? KISS? Hey, if they are going to let them in, let 'em in with ABBA. Jimmy Cliff? You can't be serious. Peppers? On what possible basis can that case be made? Stooges? Absolutely. Innovative and influential, they belong. Plus, having them around shows up KISS for what they really are. Hard to believe Laura Nyro isn't already there, and too bad she isn't alive to be inducted. I plead ignorance with respect to LL Cool J. Darlene Love and Donna Summer are both worthy candidates.

My ballot: KISS, Stooges, Nyro, Summer, Love and ABBA.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Here's the Ladbrokes line on the Noble Prize for Literature. Philip Roth at 7-1 is tempting, but a 25-1 tingle on Margaret Atwood is really hard to resist. I'd lay off Joyce Carol Oates, though. (Via Expecting Rain, which wants you to know that Bob Dylan is 25-1 too.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I don't know what David Paterson did to Obama, but it sure is weird seeing the President of the United States pushing to have him step away. What could be motivating this? A possible clue is in this NYTimes piece-- I have a hunch Rahm Emanuel is settling a lot of scores: "The intense involvement reflects the tactics and style of the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who helped Democrats win the House three years ago as chairman of the Congressional campaign committee." Who can tell me what's wrong in that sentence? It seems to me that the individual most responsible for winning the House was actually Howard Dean? Howard Dean who is presently on the outside looking in?

If Rahm Emanuel wants to throw his weight around, fine, but perhaps he should be picking on some of these Blue Dogs that are actually screwing up the Obama agenda, and laying off the liberal Democrats.

In a story that is not entirely unrelated, the Court of Appeals has just held that Paterson's appointment of Richard Ravitch as lieutenant governor was constitutional. It was a 5-4 decision, and it turned on party lines, with Judge Pigott writing the dissent, but they don't ask by how much, just who won. I didn't read Public Officers Law §§ 41 and 42 that way, but I didn't think it was all that clear-cut a question either.

Is "Dave Matthews at Our Wedding" the new "Hiking the Appalachian Trail"? Both are good, but the Edwards story strikes me as somewhat less hilarious, maybe because Edwards has been done like breakfast for longer than anybody really thinks. I was surprised to see the story on the front page of the Sunday NYTimes, actually-- who cares? Democrats sleeping around isn't news, is it? (It is only news when Republicans do it because they make such a big deal about not sleeping around.) Edwards has handled the whole thing badly, but that's not really a surprise either. He's been coming up small for years now, since at least the 2004 VP debate. He looked like he might be a contender in 08, and I'll admit that running to the left of HRC made him appealing to me, but that was the wrong year to be the White Guy-- history was going to be made one way or the other, and it wasn't going to be Edwards making it. Ray Acito used to tell me that a no-cause is hard to get because jurors want to do something big, and turning away a plaintiff isn't a big thing. He was right, of course, and the way the votes shook down last time was another way of illustrating the same point. Edwards' humiliation is self-created, but the fact that it remains this public seems odd. At some point washed-up pols are no longer interesting, and I wonder why John Edwards half-life is such a long one. He wasn't all that interesting in the first place.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The problem with all the hand-wringing about the Republican back-bencher with the bad manners is that the discussion has shifted focus away from where it ought to be. Maybe Joe Wilson is a bigot, and I hope his mom called him and told him she was embarrassed, but lost in the uproar was the fact that his assertion-- that the proposed health care bill would guarantee health insurance coverage for persons in the country out of status-- is factually false. Joe Wilson was wrong. And rude. And maybe racist. Maybe people have such a short attention span, but it seems to me that it's the pundits that do-- and that this story has been stretched beyond it's natural lifespan by Jimmy Carter and Kanye West.

I'm always surprised by the vehemence the illegal immigrant issue stirs in otherwise right thinking people. I suppose it is true that county hospital costs are adversely affected by poor, uninsured people. I guess that is inconsiderate of them, and I guess they should leave off being poor, so that we don't have to deal with them any more.

UPDATE: Salon gets it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Robert Christgau's quip ("Patti Smith is a better poet. And Lou Reed was a better junkie.") will forever sum up Jim Carroll for me, but it isn't really a fair assessment. "People Who Died" is a terrific song (and actually, now that I think of it, "Catholic Boy" had several other solid numbers on it; "The Basketball Diaries" is an excellent memoir (and a good movie). I'm even somewhat fond of his spoken word recordings, to the extent I am familiar with them through John Giorno's Poetry Systems recordings. Even though I doubt that I will ever play my copy of "Dry Dream" again, I have to say that to the extent I have thought about Carroll over the course of the last twenty years it has been with affection. A minor artist, who squandered his talent-- where have we heard that story before?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Number 79 at 8:30 voting this morning-- Kearns was outside canvasing, which makes a certain kind of sense. The Delaware District is probably a swing district, and he will need to carry it if he is going to win.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Last night I thought that this waiting room time might be well spent writing about this whole damn thing. I still will, at some point, but for now I will merely report that the surgery went well, and that the pathologist's initial assessment is that there is only normal breast tissue present. As horrible as the chemo was for her, it worked.

I will also note that we went for a run yesterday, and she kicked my ass.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

For some reason I don't read fiction on the web, perhaps because I don't read all that much fiction these days. Nevertheless, this short story, "Mr. Penumbra's Twenty-Four Hour Bookstore" really grabbed me. I recommend it.

"BACK AT SUPPLY AND DEMAND. The air is crackling with wi-fi; Kat and I are having the only spoken conversation in the entire place.
She’s wearing the same red-and-yellow “BAM!” t-shirt as yesterday, which means a) she slept in it, b) she owns several identical t-shirts, or c) she’s a cartoon character—all of which are appealing alternatives"

Thursday, September 10, 2009

One more Beatles post, because the wealth of writing accompanying the re-mastered reissues has been so rich. From Pitchfork's review of "Abbey Road":

"The Beatles' run in the 1960s is good fodder for thought experiments. For example, Abbey Road came out in late September 1969. Though Let It Be was then still unreleased, the Beatles wouldn't record another album together. But they were still young men: George was 26 years old, Paul was 27, John was 28, and Ringo was 29. The Beatles' first album, Please Please Me, had come out almost exactly six and a half years earlier. So if Abbey Road had been released today, Please Please Me would date to March 2003. So think about that for a sec: Twelve studio albums and a couple of dozen singles, with a sound that went from earnest interpreters of Everly Brothers and Motown hits to mind-bending sonic explorers and with so many detours along the way-- all of it happened in that brief stretch of time. That's a weight to carry."

There are other great album runs-- the Miles Davis run that starts with "Cookin", on Prestige in 1955 through-- what? "Kind of Blue?" "Sketches of Spain"? You could probably take that one all the way out to "Jack Johnson" in 1970. Sinatra's Capital output, from 1955's "In the Wee Small Hours" through "Only the Lonely" (1958) or 1960's "Nice 'n' Easy". "Beggars Banquet" through "Exile on Main Street". There are a few others, but the lists of tears like that is a pretty sort one.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Beatles, reconsidered.

"It is not easy to categorize the Beatles’ music; more than any other group, their sound can be described as "Beatlesque." It’s akin to a combination of Badfinger, Oasis, Corner Shop, and every other rock band that’s ever existed. The clandestine power derived from the autonomy of the group’s composition - each Beatle has his own distinct persona, even though their given names are almost impossible to remember. There was John Lennon (the mean one), Paul Stereo version McCartney (the hummus eater), George Harrison (the best dancer), and drummer Ringo Starr (The Cat). Even the most casual consumers will be overwhelmed by the level of invention and the degree of change displayed over their scant eight-year recording career, a span complicated by McCartney’s tragic 1966 death and the 1968 addition of Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono, a woman so beloved by the band that they requested her physical presence in the studio during the making of Let It Be."

Friday, September 04, 2009

Here's a harsh assessment of Norman Mailer, from Commentary. I think it is unfair to reduce Mailer's work to its worst qualities. Algis Valiunas can't bring himself to admit that "Armies of the Night" is funny and insightful, or that "Advertisements for Myself" is worthwhile.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Bruce Eaton has been writing about the concerts he booked as a student at Hobart & William Smith. Today's post is about how he brought Bruce Springsteen into town, and is pretty great.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

We went to Julie & Julia over the weekend. Maybe I'm over-thinking it, but my gosh Nora Ephron is a lazy filmmaker. I suppose the critical decision was to use the blog as a hook, rather than just making a movie about Julia Child. I enjoyed the blog when it was an ongoing project, but making a movie about blogging is like making a movie about sending email. It means that there are going to be scenes where the characters are typing, then pushing "Enter" except in movies the keyboards always have a button that says "Send". It means that voiceovers will tell us what has happened, instead of showing us. It means that the great strength of film as a medium-- the ability to depict action-- will be squandered.

It also means that half of the screen time will be devoted to an appealing ingenue, rather than to a seasoned pro giving an outstanding performance. The Devil Wears Prada wasn't Nora Ephron's fault, of course, but you'd think she'd have learned something from it. "Prada" is a good example of how a movie can outdo its source-- in that particular instance on the strength of an outstanding performance. (Two, actually-- Stanley Tucci is great in "Prada" and "Julie".) The title tells the tale-- in what universe does Julie Powell get billing over Julia Child? It is impossible for me to imagine that the audience for this picture wouldn't have gone to a straight adaptation of "My Life in France", so why bother with the rest of this?

So much time was spent showing Amy Adams typing that even the food seemed to suffer. The fillet of sole is the only great looking dish that I can recall from the movie-- the much hyped Boeuf Bourguignon gets short shrift, and we don't get much of a sense of what that boned duck dish is about either. Gags about boiling lobsters were funny 32 years ago, but are shop worn today.

Much has been made in the reviews I've read about the techniques that were used to make Streep appear taller-- but no-one I've read mentions that at the end, when the scene shifts from Julie gazing at Julia in the kitchen at the Smithsonian to Julia entering her kitchen, that Streep is shot in full length, wearing a pair of heels that have to be six inches high. What kind of movie-making is that? Up to that point when her feet were in the picture she was wearing flats (as in the scene when she is sitting with her husband with her feet on a coffee table) or a low heel. The huge heels she sports in the final scene are so out of character for Julia Child, and so distracting, that the whole illusion is shot to hell.

I'm vexed, I guess, because I am a Julia Child fan. She is well served by Streep's performance, but deserved more.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Nice list of things to avoid in brief writing (registration required).

" Lawyers believe that a formal writing such as a brief must use "official," meaning pompous or inflated, language. Not true. You are writing for a very overworked audience that has no time or patience for inflated language such as "in the instant case" or "in the matter at bar" when "this case" perfectly and clearly expresses the same idea. There is no need for "the Honorable Court," or "the Honorable Justice Scholar" when "this Court" and "Justice Scholar" works just as well. Nor is there any need for "the subject accident" or "the building at issue" when "the accident" and "the building" are just as clear. You can also omit, without losing anything, phrases like "we respectfully submit," "it is worth noting," "it is clear" and "it is important to note." These phrases add nothing to the court's understanding of your argument.

Here's a short list of some other inflated words and phrases that you can do without and their replacements:

• Instead of "due to the fact that," "by reason of," "inasmuch as" and "on the ground that" use "because" or "since."

• Instead of "in order to" use "to."

• Instead of "subsequent to" use "after."

• Instead of "during the course of" use "during."

• Instead of "in some instances" use "sometimes."

You get the idea. By removing jargon and inflated language from your briefs, you improve readability and make it easier for judges to follow your argument."

Good writing is hard, and the way lawyers are trained doesn't help-- there is very little writing involved in the three years we spend in law school. Maybe the best way to improve a brief is to have someone who is unfamiliar with the case read it, with carte blanche to cut.

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