Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Ah, the Byrds. They were pretty great, but it is hard to look over their catalog and not see that problems were going to be inevitable. Probably the chief problem was David Crosby, and that's what makes their reunion album, Byrds, is so interesting.  This review pretty much gets it right, I think. CSNY was an new concept for a supergroup at thetime because it was designed to leave room for remunerative side projects. Byrds was intended to be such, probably, at least by Crosby. It was a return to a band that he'd been kicked out of, a band that was pretty indisputably Roger McGuinn's band once Crosby moved on. The band that showed up on Byrds was a different sort of Byrds-- it was a Crosby-fronted band, because Crosby had returned as the bigger star. Byrds chiefly featured Crosby songs, or songs by Crosby bandmate Neil Young, or Crosby pal Joni Mitchell. The single, Chris Hillman's "Things Will Be Better" is probably the catchiest thing on the record, and is probably the thing that kept Byrds out of the cut-out bin for as long as it was. It wasn't very long-- I don't think I ever saw a copy without the tell-tale notch in the top of the jacket. You know what? "Things Will Be Better" is pretty slight stuff.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A political note. What impresses me about the negotiations with Iran is that they have been going on for seven months. That's a long time to keep something as momentous as a potential nuclear treaty under wraps. Even more notably, the process proceeded without a great deal of chest-beating or other public posturing. Contrast this with the fake weapons of mass discussion conversation that was had in the run up to the Iraq war and what you see, I think, is the difference between serious people endeavoring to address a serious problem and dangerous people with an agenda. Agendas are like sharp objects: some people shouldn't be allowed to play with them.

The Iran deal is also a useful contrast with the way that Congress has operated this term. The Republican Party has maneuvered itself into a place where it is now in opposition to government itself, while the Administration steadfastly sets about getting things done. The hew and cry over poorly functioning websites is absurdly trivial, and my sense is that Obama has resolved to disregard for the most part the artificial media narratives that dominate public policy discussions in favor of conducting public policy. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

An interesting brush with academic dishonesty has caused me to muse on the question a bit. I am told that there are studies that show that 65% of American students* admit to committing an act of academic dishonesty some time during high school and college-- too broad a net, I'd say. Copying homework on the bus is not the same as submitting a plagiarized research paper. As indifferent a student as I was capable of being, I think I pretty much reckoned that my work was my own, for good or for ill. I think I also knew that the probability of getting caught-- by a teacher, or by an all-seeing god-- was pretty high. Still, I am privy to the law school's annual report on the issue, and am annually surprised at how common it is . Thirty years in law has taught me that if you haven't seen something yet, you will soon, so I suppose I should not have been surprised as I was to encounter a plagiarized paper. What actually surprised me was my emotional response. First I was annoyed that the student was going to cause me more work; and second I was annoyed that the student apparently believed I'd be fooled by such a bungling effort. I'm still not sure what part of it pisses me off most. Off I went to read the university's procedures, which were complex and prolix.The penalties are harsh, although they stop short of chopping off a limb or death by stoning, which goes to show that UB is more merciful than the Bible. As I reviewed it all I mused over what my life would be like today if I'd been called to task for everything  I did when I was 19... or 21, or 30.... That's no kind of world to wish for.

I was also struck by the pointlessness of it. This student comes to class, and seemed to have a handle on what we were talking about. The exam is a six day take-home, which, I suspect, most people manage to complete in a couple of hours. It is designed to elicit the best thoughts of the students on a subject that was sufficiently interesting to them seven weeks earlier that they were induced to sign up for the class, and I make a point of giving the exam when the students tell me they do not have any conflicting tests or projects due. I guess these may be reasons I haven't encountered the problem before, but I still come back to asking "why?" The student's response to that question was sufficiently shoddy for me to conclude that little more than shear stupidity was involved, but there is still the larger pedagogical issue presented.  Could it be that some students regard a university degree as a sort of credential awarded upon the conclusion of four years of tedium? How miserable! "I'm sitting here waiting for my ticket to be punched." What a way to go through life.

*Apparently it is most common among students pursuing Management Degrees. This is weirdly comforting-- they may crash the world economy, but at least nobody dies in a bridge collapse.

Monday, November 25, 2013

To NoHo over the weekend to see LCA as the Emcee in Leading Ladies' production of Cabaret. She was quite good-- I don't personally think that acting is a difficult skill, but when I see her on the stage I realize that in fact there is apparently more to it than I suspect, because she is so obviously a commanding presence. It's not just me-- the response from the audience is telling. I could go on about the performance-- others were good as well-- but instead, two observations. First, an all female cast for Cabaret makes the show that much more pervy, and since that's kind of the point, the whole thing was pretty enjoyable. Second, an anecdote: LCA relates that they didn't need to rent costumes, because women at Smith all already own leather bustiers, garter belts and the like. It is, apparently, what one wears to parties-- for at least some Smith women.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

John Edwards is returning to practice. I'm sure there'll be no shortage of clients, and who knows? Maybe he'll connect with juries- he seems very charismatic. He also seems kinda gross, but what really upsets me, still, is how this vaunted trial lawyer didn't show up in the Vice Presidential debate. The world historic worst VP debate performance remains Joe Lieberman's, but Edwards was mighty bad. If he asked me in voir dire if I held anything in his background against him, that's what I'd say.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

You try enough cases and after a while they all blur together. I was raking leaves (I hate raking leaves) during the first half of last Sunday's Bills game, so I missed the guy who fell out of the upper deck and landed on someone. Over the course of the last couple of days I've followed the story, mostly because in Buffalo you never know-- I might be acquainted with one of the participants. Turns out I'm not, and then I remembered something. A few years back I represented the Buffalo Sabres in a case brought by a guy who'd had a drunk fall on him from the upper deck in the old Aud. We did okay in that case, and I reckon that makes me the leading authority on that particular tort, at least in Western New York.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Charles E. Burchfield is kind of a big deal around here, but until fairly recently I didn't care much for his work. He was a local boy, and Buffalo State College has been home to the world's largest collection of his work, but for a long time the Burchfield-Penney Gallery was housed in an infelicitous setting on campus, and I just never got it. When the Burchfield-Penney moved into a new building on campus I spent a little more time with his stuff, and I started to understand what the big deal was. The fact is, the guy understood the quality of light in Western New York. The other day I was out looking at an accident scene, and taking a few photos. On the right is an example of what November looks like around here. On the left is Burchfield capturing it. Now, I'm not saying that the early winter skies of Western New York are the most cheerful sight in the world, but there is a quality of light here that I don't think I've seen anywhere else, and Burchfield nails it. With music I find that I respect people who listen with big ears. I'm less well versed in the visual arts, but I'm catching on, gradually, and what I am finding is that it is important to look with big eyes.

Monday, November 11, 2013

I do not take a very curated approach to my iPod. It holds a substantial portion of my cd collection, and I have a tendency to download quite a bit that I run across as "subjects for further research." This means that frequently stuff pops up on shuffle that is long- forgotten, obscure and never heard before. I think obscure is what Keith Moon's "When I'm Sixty Four" qualifies as. It is, truth be told, a rather pointless cover. Keith Moon was a charming enough singer in his way, but the arrangement adds nothing to the original. As soon as I realized it was Keith Moon I knew what it was from: in 1976 a film and soundtrack album called All This and World War II briefly graced movie screens and record stores. The movie was a pastiche of period films and documentary footage with a soundtrack of Beatles covers by a bunch of mid 70's characters. You know, the BeeGees (who were prone to this sort of thing), Leo Sayer, Elton John... that crowd. As I think back on it, those were peculiarly Beatles-obsessed times. There was always some sort of Fab Four project in the wind, to the extent that on Saturday Night Live Lorne Michaels made a running joke of offering $400 dollars for them to reunite and play on the show. Remember Klaatu? The whole thing was sort of sad, now that I think of it, and of course it became much sadder shortly thereafter when John Lennon was murdered. The irony, I think, is that although the 70's produced a generous amount of rank garbage those years also represented a peak in rock and roll. When you stop to think about it, a lot of artists who we think of as 60's artists-- Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Sly Stone, the Rolling Stones, did some of their most memorable work at the same time that Peter Frampton and the BeeGees were rehashing Beatles tracks for Robert Stigwood.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

I understand what is talking about but I still think The Twenty-Seventh City is pretty good.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

A while back, as part of the information campaign that we've been running about the prosecution of Lawrence Brose, Doug Ireland agreed to interview Lawrence-- and I sat in, to be sure that no attorney-client privilege was broached. My writing about this case has been exclusively based on information in the public record-- court filings, testimony and the statements and stories which have appeared in The Buffalo News, so I knew how far Lawrence could go. (It was two years ago-- we know more now, and it is all exculpatory.) Ireland was everything I could have asked one of my journalistic heroes to have been, raspy-voiced, caustic and outraged. The piece he produced was likewise. And now he is dead, which is sad. Everything that I do professionally-- lawyer, writer, teacher-- is really a way of trying to look at and think about things critically, and all my life it's been people like Doug Ireland who have shown me how to do that.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

I knew what "benday dots" were, but I didn't know they were named after Ben Day, and I would never have guessed that he was Clarence Day's kid brother. (via Notes from ME.)

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

# 27 at our polling place this morning at about 8:30. There are only three contested elections this go-round: Supreme Court Justice, Sheriff and Comptroller, and the choices are rather stark for the latter two. The current Sheriff runs a holding center that has got the county sued by the federal government, and which has a suicide rate that ranks with the worst in the country. You see his signs when you cross the city line, which is pretty awful. The Comptroller race pits the incumbent-- a former television reporter-- against Kevin Gaughan. On is hard-pressed to think of an office that Kevin hasn't run for, but that's besides the point: he will do a respectable job I think. He was at our polling place to vote this morning-- he may be the least natural politician I've ever seen, but he really puts his heart into it. The turnout will be key. Supreme Court Justice amounts to a choice of cats whose respective political parties reckoned they'd put in their time (and, I assume, their money). I hate judicial elections. Party affiliation is no sort of indicator. Both candidates have a background as local prosecutors; in my view that amounts to the same as saying that they've been the beneficiaries of an unfortunate local tendency to appoint ADAs on a patronage basis. It also means that they haven't done much time in private practice.

I like voting on Propositions, and the new fill in the dots ballot may mean that these get a little more attention that the old system, which involved looking up past the candidate lines and reading the Prop, probably for the first time, standing in the machine. A big No on the Adirondack propositions: Sorry, but "Forever Wild" means that. Yes on letting judges serve till they are 80. I suppose there is something to be said for giving someone else a turn, but since it isn't going to be me, I figure age is a pretty arbitrary reason to tell someone that they can't do something any more. Being a judge is a skill that it takes time to acquire. Once someone is good at it-- a skill that is attained at public expense-- they should be allowed to do it as long as they can. No to more casinos-- you'd think that by now people would have figured out that casino gambling is no sort of economic tonic at all, just based on experience, but apparently not. Here's the deal: Native American casinos are terrible. State run casinos are even worse.

Allowing municipalities to exclude debt incurred in constructing water treatment and sewage facilities to be excluded from their constitutional debt limits is a Yes. I understand why it is on the ballot, but seriously, how is that the sort of question lay people should be asked?

Monday, November 04, 2013

Nice turn of phrase: David Crosby, "I was so high, I was hunting geese with a rake."

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