Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Monday, September 30, 2013

Finally got to watch a Bills game yesterday, then most of Broncos v. Eagles. The Broncos are making it look easy, but it's the Bills experience I want to muse on for a moment. For the past few years this has been just about the point where I decide that my Sundays are better spent doing nearly anything other that being aggravated by the poor play of the home town team, and from then on I catch the occasional game, or watch whatever is on in the airport bar. When we move into the post-season my interest re-awakens, and I am consistently struck by what an interesting and exciting game football is when it is played well. The athletes really are something special: fast and strong and playing with precision against athletes that possess the same attributes. Watching Denver right now is like that. Watching the Bills right now isn't quite like that, but it seems to be getting there. The Ravens -- defending Super Bowl champs-- couldn't execute, and although the Bills faded in the fourth quarter they played good football for almost the whole game, and hung on to win. Fun to watch shouldn't be too much to ask, and that seems to be what's on the field out in Orchard Park right now. My Bills season has been extended another week.

Friday, September 27, 2013

I was driving around on an errand the other day when a Peter Gabriel-era Genesis song came on the radio. It was a long one (like there were ever any short ones), which featured an extended instrumental introduction, undoubtedly composed to allow Gabriel time to change costumes. I hung with it, because I think that period of prog rock is such an interesting mistake, and I've been making a little mental project of trying to figure out how it happened, and what's wrong with it. It isn't just the pretension. There were certainly a lot of prog bands which reckoned that rock and roll would be better if they classed it up some with a dash of Mussorgsky or something. Neither deserve that treatment. Another issue was the notion that rock should be a vehicle for Big Operatic Statements. The Who were, I think, chiefly responsible for this, although concept albums weren't an entirely new thing. Genesis fell into this trap, but the concept album is not an altogether bad thing: in the hands of a genius like Frank Sinatra, or George Clinton it can be a good thing. Listening to whatever it was though, it dawned on me: even though Phil Collins really is a top drawer drummer, and even though I could hear him being very busy on the track, the drums didn't really drive the song at all. Put simply: It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing. What was remarkable about the breakout Peter Gabriel stuff was that, for the most part, it swung along quite nicely. Actually, the more pared down Genesis got the better they became at it too, until they (or Collins, at least) were doing adequate Motown covers.  

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I have found myself reading the reviews and the columns and the articles about the J.D. Salinger bio and the companion documentary, and I have to admit that I'm somewhat ashamed of myself. Caring about it seems voyeuristic, and the poor son of a bitch spent most of his life ducking from the voyeurs. Apart from that, I wonder why I should care.  My Catcher in the Rye phase ended long, long ago, and although I like Franny and Zooey I can't say that I think it is all that amazing. What does that leave? Well, Nine Stories, which is fine in its way, but no better than a dozen other collections by New Yorker writers from the same period; and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction. Also a handful of uncollected stories. When I was an undergraduate a spent a couple of weekends in the bound periodicals section of the Milne Library hunting those down. The trick was that the ones that appeared in Cosmopolitan weren't indexed in the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature, but the time span in which they appeared was pretty limited. At the time my impression was that the un-anthologized Salinger was pretty much the same sort of thing as, say "Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut". Which, again, is fine, but not world changing. Except, I guess, it is. At the time I was holed up in the stacks the question of whether J.D. Salinger was scribing away was as regularly brunted about as the possibility of a Beatles reunion. We ached for it. And now we know. He really was writing, the stuff he was writing will be published, and.... I just don't care. I seriously doubt that he has anything to say to me. What could he say, this guy who wanted to hang out with Joyce Maynard when she was 18 and he was 53? What could the man Norman Mailer called, "the greatest mind to ever stay in prep school" have to say after 50 years of disengagement?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Good Mailer anecdote from George Plimpton. “Nawmin, tell us ‘bout the big lion!”

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Because all of my daughters attended or are attending Smith College I am as fond of it as a non-alum can be, but I also like the other schools that they have attended. Of those Indiana has long been a favorite: Bloomington is a pretty little town, the campus is lovely, and there are some fun traditions there, even beyond the Little 500. Now I find there is another reason to hold IU in high regard: "Since 2005, the Indiana University Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Alumni Association has provided emergency grants to undergraduate students whose families withdraw financial support."
Right on, Hoosiers!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Fridays are Law Days (sometimes) at Outside Counsel. Here's Derouen v. Savoy Park Owner, LLC,, an interesting elevator case which teaches us something important about how summary judgment works. The plaintiff tripped and fell exiting an elevator, and sued the property owner. The property owner impeaded the elevator maintenance company. Then the owner and the maintenance company moved for summary judgment. The First Department elides over the fact that the maintenance company's motion was not timely made (they counted the 120 days from the filing of the date of the filing of the Note of Issue from the date the motion was filed instead of the date it was served-- remember that distinction for future reference), but then went on to deny summary judgment to both parties, on the merits. Why did the Court do that? Although unsaid, probably it was because the owner's motion was timely, and a motion for summary judgment "searches the record". Why did it deny the owner's motion? Because the basis for the owner's motion was a surveillance video which purportedly showed that the plaintiff's fall was caused by the wheels of her shopping cart rather than by the elevator shaking. 

 What is our take-away here? Well, several things. First, we are now living in a time when so much exists on video that it is, or soon will be, the rare trip-and-fall accident that isn't documented on video. Second, even if an accident is videoed that record is still subject to interpretation, and courts are going to be inclined to leave that to juries. In my mind's eye I can picture the lawyer for the owner on the day he got the video. He pops the disk into his computer and watches. It's grainy, and it has a counter on the bottom corner, counting the seconds, minutes and hours. He watches the door close, then open. Someone comes in and presses the call button, then scratches his butt. The lawyer fast-forwards through hours of this sort of thing: people with groceries coming in, people with dogs going out... then sees the old lady with the shopping cart. He slows to normal speed and watches as she pushes the cart out... and then goes down like a bag of laundry. He rewinds, plays it again. Did the elevator shake? He calls out to his secretary: "Hey, Yvonne- c'mere a minute." He plays it for her. "What does that look like to you?" Yvonne, well-familiar with the allegations of the complaint, trying to be helpful, says "I don't see it shaking." The lawyer nods, pops open the drawer on the computer, and takes it down the hall to his partner's office. "What d'ya think, Mark?" "Looks like summary judgment to me," his partner says. At the pretrial, naturally, plaintiff's counsel disagrees. Plaintiff's counsel, at least in the pretrial conference, has balls the size of coconuts. "You won't get to show that to the jury, " he says, "Because
I'm going to show it to them in my case in chief." He doesn't budge from his demand. Meanwhile, the elevator company says that its contract means that it's going to get summary judgment, and won't pony a nickel. Our hero makes his motion, shows the video to the trial judge during argument: "Just look at it. It's right there!" Not happening. Nisi prius has 85 motions on that morning, and the judge-- who has already seen the video, and asked his secretary, and his law secretary, and-- who knows? probably shown it to his wife too-- sits behind the bench impassively. He asks, "Anything further?" then moves on to the next case. Counsel for the owner is sweating. Can't they see it? He scans the Law Journal agate type decisions daily for a month, then sees the decision; that afternoon it arrives in the mail. He talks to his partner. What. The. Hell. He calls the carrier. This is messed up he says, except that he doesn't say "messed". The adjuster agrees. They decide to go up on it. Hey, it's right there on the video. The adjuster hates appeals, but he's reported up the line that this is a summary judgment case, so now he's committed too. They file the Notice, and make arrangements to bring in audio-visual equipment to the Appellate Division. Probably that means figuring out what the rules are for AV during oral argument. Maybe they have to make a motion. It's turning into an expensive appeal, particularly for a bullshit trip and fall where the plaintiff has up and died, not from this, although plaintiff's counsel is talking about amending his bill of particulars. Jeebus, that'll mean finding a doc who'll say that she just died from being old, and that's another $10k going into this rathole. It's not a $250k case, goddamnit. If the elevator company would come up with $30, probably he could get his guy to pay $60, and an old lady with a broken hip can't be worth more than $90k. Plaintiff's counsel won't hear of it. Time, which was working against him up until the old lady died, is now on his side. He has the owner and the maintenance company fighting with each other, and that's always a good thing. Why not hold out for $150-- or even $175? Hell, the jury might go nuts. It's not like a New York County jury is going to be in love with the landlord. They could pop for the $250, and then the defendants would have to decide if they want to go up-- again-- or just pay it. It won't be an expensive case to try. Meanwhile, our guy's adjuster is getting antsy. What the hell is going on with this piece of shit? Christ, look at the bills on this thing. Solomon-like, the First Department hands down its decision. There are triable issues of fact. Co back to 60 Center Street and work it out there. And thus, justice is served.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Hemingway's Hamburger sounds like it would be worth trying, but let's not kid ourselves: it's actually meatloaf.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Some further thoughts on Seward's Ice Box:

Salmon, carrots, kale and purple potatoes from the farmer's market
I wouldn't have thought of AK as a culinary destination, but come to find out that one can eat quite well there. We were near the end of the salmon run, so that was a priority, and halibut was peaking. Let me tell you about fresh Alaska halibut: it might be the best fish I've ever eaten. Recommended in Seward: Chinooks. We just lucked into the place, and each had something different each time. The Fisherman's Stew was the best thing, I think. There was a brewpub downtown that we went to for lunch, but because it was nearing the end of the season their selection was limited, so I had the Glacier IPA, which is pretty ubiquitous (and pretty good).

Crispy Fish
Back in Anchorage the Glacier Brewhouse was an attractive spot. I had the cod sandwich, and would have it again. I mentioned the Snow City Cafe already: the perfect breakfast place after whatever Alaska endeavor you got dressed like that to do. We also liked the Spenard Roadhouse, and recommend the Arctic Roadrunner, a classic Roadfood-style burger joint with walls covered in taxidermy and photos of the hunters and fishermen who bagged it.

Alaskans are proud of their local produce, which sounds odd, but isn't. Because of the short, intense growing season root vegetables-- potatoes, parsnips, carrots, rutabagas and the like-- all grow fast and are far sweeter and less starchy than their Lower 48 cousins. I was surprised by this-- Alaskan terroir?-- but it's worth ordering chowder just for the spuds.

Finally,  do not miss the Northern Lights Brewery, which I liked a great deal. I'd groused to CLA about the probable unavailability of a decent pastrami sandwich in Anchorage, and was proven wrong at this establishment, which also featured four different brewed in-house IPAs. Weird Alaska law limits the number of pours per visit because it is classified as a brewery, but I took a six pack of the Chinook Red IPA home, and was pleased that I did so.

Actually, I'd have to say that Alaska is a pretty good beer state. It makes a certain sort of sense: when everything gets shipped in why not ship wheat and hops instead of Budweiser, and add your own water on site? I don't imagine that much gets exported: where would you ship it? Washington and Oregon and California have plenty of good beer already.

Monday, September 16, 2013

To the 49th State to establish CLA in her new home. I have mixed feelings about travel, perhaps because I have done a fair bit of it. I sometimes think that my whole life has been spent searching for a city that feels like home, or at least feels like a place where I'd happily live. I knew as soon as I got off the plane in Alaska that Anchorage was not that place, but Caroline seems to have taken to it like an otter sliding into a stream.

Arctic Valley
When I told people we were going the usual response was to comment on how beautiful it would be, and, to be sure, as we rounded every corner A would exclaim over the vista. Anchorage is situated in a natural harbor, ringed on three sides with mountains that look like a diorama. It is a raw city, literally hacked out of nature, and still wild enough that a neighbor reported being chased by a moose when walking her dog in the park across the street during our stay. Yeah, there are bears too. The point of Anchorage is not the city: the city is there to provide a jumping off point for the Alaska that people move to Alaska for. The city proper is just about the ugliest city I've ever seen, but ten minutes from CLA's front door are mountains that mean it. Three weeks ago we hiked an Adirondack high peak; our first day hike of the trip was a near equivalent. 
Exit Glacier
This is, I think, the point of the place. The people who live in Alaska don't seem to define themselves by what they do for a living-- lots of them seem to work two or three jobs, or work seasonal gigs. They are chiefly Alaskans, and do Alaska things. They hike. They hunt-- Dall Sheep, to my way of thinking pretty exotic big game-- are coming into season. They fish. They berry pick. They spend as much of their lives outside as they possibly can. We went to breakfast our first morning at the Snow City Cafe downtown and found ourselves in the midst of a crowd of people in spandex and fleece, everyone looking like they commute in kayaks. Maybe they do. It seems unusual to find someone who is actually from Alaska-- and even more so to meet someone whose parents were born there, but that may be just Anchorage. Less rare were the sporty couples with toddlers wearing "Made in Alaska" hoodies. It seems to be a place that people go to because they are drawn to a particular lifestyle. When she was asked by locals why she was moving to Alaska CLA would reply, "For adventure," and it seemed to be the right answer. That's why they were there too.

Abandoned truck on state hiking trail
  They are there for something else, too. They are there to be left alone. Or maybe, they are there to do what they want to do. Nowadays we call it "libertarian", once it was called having an independent streak. The longer a person has lived out west (and Alaska is so far west that it is, in addition to being the westernmost state, also the state that is the farthest east) the more convinced they seem to be that rules and regulations are pretty much all unreasonable, and that they all, each and every one of them, know best and should be trusted to behave reasonably and responsibly. You see this in the tension between the proponents of the various extraction industries that are the foundation of the state's economy and the fisheries which likewise sustain the place, or in more mundane ways. Anchorage- and Alaska in general, has a big alcohol abuse problem.* One of the ways that the Greater Anchorage Area Borough addresses this is to put a red stripe on the drivers license of anyone convicted of DWI. Venders are barred from selling to persons whose license carries the red mark. I was curious about this, and asked an affable bartender how it worked in application and was treated to a five minute rant about how the law was an unreasonable intrusion on his discretion which made him an agent of the government against his will. It was an odd turn to an otherwise pleasant conversation which had mostly been about skiing and the outdoors, but the place is full of contradictions like that. 

*The supermarket keeps the Listerine and the vanilla extract under lock and key.  

My sister-in-law

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Five miles of bad road

Thursday, September 05, 2013

I understand that they have a lot of outside here. Also bears.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Law school is an intense experience, really quite unlike anything else I've ever done. At my law school we were divided into three sections, and took all of our first year, first semester classes together. Second semester the deck was slightly shuffled, and then after that we were all mixed into the general population. We all knew each other, of course, but that first semester first year meant that were all deeply acquainted with the members of our section. Through it all there were people who stood out. We all knew, for example, that the current Chief Administrative Justice for the Eighth Judicial Department was destined for great things. There were classmates that went deep into the annual Moot Court competition, and of course second year there were the people who made it onto the Magazine.

 Some people were just visible people: vivid characters who would stand out in any group. The coin of the realm was, I think, intellectual assurance more than anything else-- some people did the work, and were confident in their demeanor, and seemed comfortable in the peculiar climate of law school. One such was a friend who, I have just learned, has been disbarred, and I feel terribly sad about her fate. She has more trouble on her plate than she needs, obviously, so I'll refrain from naming her here, but I will note that she was (and is still-- we just saw her last year) an attractive and charismatic person who worked hard, and had been successful professionally. She'd been an Assistant District Attorney in a suburb of New York City, and had then gone on to private practice, and from time to time we were in touch-- when I needed someone to make an appearance in the county where she mostly practiced I'd give her a call, for instance. She'd always been very intense, but not in a way that prevented her from enjoying things when the work was done, and I think that it is fair to say that most of the people she encountered liked her.

At some point-- probably about ten years ago now-- she received a cancer diagnosis, and that seems to have been a twist in her path that she never recovered from, although she survived and has been, I believe, cancer free since. At around the time that she returned to practice, following a year or so of what I have to believe was misery, her name began to show up in the Attorney Discipline section of The New York Law Journal.  A federal district court suspended her from practice-- she'd repeatedly disregarded the court's orders, and commenced actions to enjoin the court, and been defiant in front of a jury, and generally carried on in a way that seemed bizarrely out of kilter. The Appellate Division suspended her too. Then there were a couple of public cautionary letters. Then she appeared before a State Senate committee to testify on judicial transparency, and gave a rambling account of her recent disciplinary problems that made it clear that she sincerely believed that she'd been targeted by the courts because of her aggressive advocacy on behalf of her clients.

And now it's over for her, as a lawyer anyway. It's a shame. I'm sure there were people who tried to tell her to pull it together-- in fact, I know that her law partner did-- but one of the qualities that all of us who know her would agree that she possesses in spades is a dogged stubbornness. Combined with whatever else she managed to drive into a stone wall, just because she was sure that going that way was what she had to do. I watch the video of her testimony before the State Senate Judiciary Committee, I read the various decisions directing her suspensions, dismissing her cases on the grounds of contumacious behavior, and now her disbarment, and I recognize her in each-- there is nothing implausible about any of it-- but at the same time it all seems terribly off, like a map that has been re-folded wrong.

Monday, September 02, 2013

The thing about Obama turning to Congress for authorization to intervene in Syria that I haven't read anywhere is that he is doing it because he understands and believes in the Constitution. This has been a consistent theme of his Presidency, and it marks an interesting departure from the history of the office from its post WWII development.

That's not to say that in this instance it isn't a particularly canny move-- it absolutely is. There really were no good options for this situation. Doing nothing opens him up for criticism from the unlikely combination of, inter alia Congress, human rights groups and the Arab League; and doing something is bound to inflame an already bad situation. Now he's done something, and-- hilariously John McCain and Huckleberry Graham, who've been hollering for him to start the bombing-- are already backing away. If the President wants to make this happen what he should do is a step beyond what he has done to this point. Right now he is meeting with members of Congress and showing them the intelligence that the Administration believes justifies action. He should show us too.

It vexes me that the discussion of this refers to Bush's Iraq war as resulting from a "failure of intelligence".  The intelligence that Bush used was intentionally ginned up, and the only intelligence failure was that of Congress and the country in failing to recognize this. It was pretty obvious at the time, but there are still people out there who refuse to accept that. The President should be explicit about this: "Last time you were lied to. This time I am putting the cards on the table so that you can see what I am seeing, and what Congress is seeing."

If I were sitting in the President's chair I wouldn't be proposing getting into this fight, and if I were in Congress I'd vote against it. All I see is downside here. That said, I think the President is going about this the right way, and I give him credit for that.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

I am conflicted about what to do about Byron Brown. On the one hand, his recent visit convinced me that he is quite a bit more intelligent than I'd previously thought. On the other hand, so what? My original thought was that he has had two terms to accomplish something, and I see very little that he can point  to as something that he has done. Buffalo seems to be turning some kind of corner, but my impression is that Mayor Brown has had very little to do with it. Has he been a better mayor than Tony "Mayor McCheese" Massielo? Well that's a pretty low bar.

I am inclined, I think, to go with Byron on the Devil You Know Theory. As with the NFL, a change means rebuilding, which means that little will be accomplished while the new guy learns the plays and gets his pieces lined up. In fairness to the present mayor a lot of the challenges around here arise from the core problem of old industrial cities: poverty. There are cranes building stuff all over town, and that may mean that we'll escape becoming the next Detroit.

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