My friends, I was born into a Catholic family. Though my parents were not devout Catholics, all of that changed when mom nearly died of TB back in the 50s and suddenly my parents started to attend church regularly and soon thereafter got married by the church.
Luckily for me, mom sent my sister (Cecilia) and me to San Jose Catholic School, which had a predominately Hispanic student body and where the Sisters of St. Mary of Numur gave us Hispanic students not only a good education in regular school subjects but also taught us our Catholic faith well.
At San Jose Catholic Church, our pastor, Father Louis Dot, of the Claretian Order recruited me, a sort of bright kid to be an altar boy, a church chore I soon learned to love for several reasons. The main one was that Father Dot paid me a nickel for each weekday mass and a quarter for each Sunday mass. Father Dot, a hard working missionary founded 3 parishes in the Hispanic communities in Fort Worth and would thus have me not only serve mass at San Jose, but would take me along to the other small missions to serve mass. I recall Father Dot giving me 1.50 every Sunday after helping him serve weekday and Sunday masses. Needless to say I was a high roller kid!
As I grew into a teen and then went to public school I never quit going to mass on Sunday’s and on Holy Days of obligation. Though I have my faults like most of us do, I always tried to do as the nuns taught us about attending church and trying to follow God’s commandments, which I regret breaking many times.
After I graduated from high school and made good money building mobile homes, I soon became a big party animal! Man, how I loved drinking with my buddies and dancing the night away at local night clubs and dance halls. I recall waking up on Sunday mornings with a huge headache from partying and drinking and how bad I wanted to stay in bed. However, I could hear Sister Lawrencia whispering in my ear, “James, it is Sunday and you need to go to church!” So folks, tired and with a big hangover I’d get up and go to mass!
In 1960 after partying, having a great time with my girl friend of 2 years I asked her to marry me and she accepted and we got married at All Saints Catholic Church. This coming year, January 16, 2015, my wife and I will celebrate 55 years of marriage! Wow, how did she ever put up with me I now ask? Have I been a perfect husband and good father to my 3 kids? Yes and no is my answer. Again, I’m well aware of what is right and wrong according to the teachings of my Catholic faith and what is expected of me according to God’s laws as written in the Bible. But I know I’m a sinner and I daily pray to God to forgive me and as the Lord’s Prayer so plainly states, “deliver us from evil”.
Where are you taking us with this James some of you might wonder. Folks though knowing God’s laws fairly well, I never try to cast stones at others for their misdeeds and so, I keep my opinions to myself about what others do good or bad and I let others judge me as they see fit without trying to portray I’m holier than thou because I happened to go to church.
A few weeks ago, as I left my bank I tried to open my car and for some reason I couldn’t. All the while a black gentleman keep looking at me. Finally the man said, “Sir, that’s my car! Why are you trying to open it?” I then realized that my car was parked next to his and they were almost identical. I asked him to excuse me and that I should have noticed that his car didn’t have a rosary my mom gave me that hangs in my rear view mirror. Laughing he asked me, “Are you a Christian?” I responded that I was. He then asked me if I was a devout Christian and followed God’s laws to the letter. I told him I knew God’s laws very well but sadly I was a sinner and many times I broke them but always asked Him to forgive me. He then told me he knew God’s laws backward and forward and he followed them to the letter as written in the Bible. I told him, “Good for you sir, you will be rewarded by God one of these days for following His laws without question, nor swayed by the evil that lurks in this world.” I then asked him, “Sir do you believe in abortion?” “No! No!” he responded in a loud voice “that is against God’s 6th commandment, Thou shall not kill!” I then asked him, “sir do you believe in a same sex marriage?” Again the black gentleman responded vehemently, “No! No! No! God detests those sins and their blood with be on their own heads as so written in the Bible!” I then asked him, “Sir, are you a Democrat and did you vote for Obama?” Proudly he responded, “Yes sir I did twice!” I then told him, “sir the party you support the Democrats and President Obama wholeheartedly support abortion and same sex marriage! And sir, did you know that annually, over 300,000 black babies are aborted in our country yearly and black women have the highest rate of abortion!” I then told the black gentleman that since Roe v Wade in 1973, 16 million black babies have been aborted far larger than any other ethnic group and though some Republicans are Pro Choice most Democrats by and large support abortion on demand. I ended my conversation with the gentleman by telling him, “Sir, you are a hypocrite, you claim you follow God’s laws but sadly like me, you and I are big time sinners. You sir, remind me of a Jew who would have voted for Hitler!” With those parting words, the black gentleman lowered his head , got in his car and drove away.
My friends, I didn’t instigate that conversation nor, did I ever proclaim to the gentleman that I was a true Christian as he insisted that he was!
Let’s face it—when we usually think of judges, we think of them as little more than stern, humorless authority figures, perpetual bearers of a dour expression as if to remind all onlookers of the immense gravity of court proceedings. For such judges, the words in their orders and judicial opinions are to be read as the most omniscient of narratives, like pronouncements from Mount Olympus itself. Most legal scholars and observers readily excuse such a detached style, pointing out that judges must remain aloof in order to maintain the necessary aura of authority and impartiality.
I have a different take on this. Judges are human too, as recent headlines like the Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice caught up in an email porn scandal remind us. My favorite judges are the ones who embrace their humanity and strive to remain accessible in their professional roles. Sometimes they inject a little humor or a pop culture reference or two into their opinions. One of my personal favorites is Justice Don Willett of the Supreme Court of Texas. His opinions are well-written, scholarly, and well-reasoned, as you would expect from a judge on our state’s highest court. But Justice Willett is also intellectually secure enough to throw in the occasional dose of humor or pop culture, as when he cited “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” for the principle of the good of the many outweighs the good of the one.
Justice Willett takes the same everyman approach off the bench. He is active on Twitter; since joining the social networking site in 2009, he’s authored over 12,800 tweets. When referred to him in a recent profile as “the most avid judicial tweeter in America,” Justice Willett responded with typical humor that such a distraction was “like being the tallest munchkin in Oz.” His tweets run the gamut from mentions of family outings, sports talk, and occasional forays into political commentary to witty observations. A September 8 tweet included a photo of two federal judges during an appellate argument, one appearing to doze off while the other engaged in a little nasal exploration, complete with the caption, “This is why some judges (not me) resist cameras in the courtroom.” Last year, he tweeted a photo of a delicious-looking Bundt cake with the caption “I like big bundts and I cannot lie”—a sly reference to the iconic rap song “Baby Got Back.” While Justice Willett is keenly aware of the pitfalls of social media, he also embraces the opportunity to connect with the public; after all, he points out, they vote and we live in an age in which it is “political malpractice” not to use social media.
Justice Willett isn’t the only entertaining judge out there. Justice Joseph Quinn of Canada’s Ontario Superior Court of Justice recently issued an opinion in a contentious breach of contract lawsuit that dragged on for nearly 3 years over the purchase of a hearing aid business. After 72 days of trial, Judge Quinn awarded the plaintiff a whopping $423.20. The reasons for the minimal award have much to do with how unconvincing the judge found the plaintiff, Stefan Fridricksson, to be. As Judge Quinn put it, “Fridriksson has taken everyone on a hideously time-consuming and obscenely expensive journey down his private yellow brick road to the outskirts of the Emerald City where, it appears, he has a residence. It was not a worthwhile adventure.”
Justice Quinn reserved his best zingers for recounting how Fridriksson fared as a witness. As he led off, the Canadian jurist observed that
“Determining credibility can be a challenge for a trial judge. We have no special powers in that realm and, wherever possible, avoid reliance upon darts, dice, and Ouija boards. However, rarely has a witness generously offered up so many reasons to be disbelieved. Fridriksson was an evidentiary gift who kept on giving. He ignored rule number one in the Litigants’ Credo: ‘Know thyself, because others soon will.’ Enough of this preamble, come with me now on a visit to the phantasmagorical world of Fridriksson. Pack lightly.”
Justice Quinn continued the barbed and often hilarious analysis of Fridriksson’s testimony, saying that “In the world of Monty Python, Fridriksson would be the Minister of Silly Expectations,” and that Fridriksson “plays Lieutenant Columbo with Inspector Clouseau results.” After Fridriksson finished testifying, the judge noted, the plaintiff was “noticeably dazed, his credibility was reduced to existential confetti and he even appeared to be physically shorter than when the trial began.” Ouch! By that point, the judge said, “The case for the plaintiff was leaking oil (at one point, I thought that I saw smoke).”
The opinion itself is very long, but well worth a read for the humor value alone. Justice Willett and Justice Quinn, thanks for restoring my faith in judges’ humanity.
The bizarre twists and turns that the legal world take would make a great Formula One race course. If you don’t believe me, then just consider the following strange offerings from the justice system.
Just in time for Halloween comes this lawsuit from Vancouver, British Columbia. Jian Liang Hu claims in a breach of contract lawsuit that he bought a 35 percent stake in two Buddhist relic stores owned by Han Xiao, after Xiao demanded $90,000 from him. Jian maintains that Han’s business sells amulets from Thailand blessed by monks and purportedly containing hair, finger nail clippings, or other relics from dead babies, along with ghosts from the dead babies’ souls. Jian’s suit states that Han demanded that he provide the money under the threat of “the defendant using the souls of the baby ghosts in the possession or of the defendant to curse the plaintiff if he did not provide the funds.” Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters!
How far would you go to avoid a lawsuit? Well, if you’re Alan Knight of Swansea, South Wales, you fake being in a coma for two years. Facing theft and forgery charges for allegedly scamming a neighbor out of nearly $100,000, Knight claimed to be a quadriplegic and even feigned being in a vegetative state. Knight was ultimately caught by police going on shopping trips and vacations with his family, as closed circuit camera footage at local Tesco supermarkets showed him walking around. What tipped off law enforcement? The frequent use of Knight’s customer loyalty card at the grocery chain. Knight now can’t get out of going to court and he’s pled guilty to 19 charges of forgery, fraud, and theft spanning more than a year.
Maybe Alan Knight should have adopted the approach taken recently by one New Zealand woman—if you don’t like what you hear in court, just walk away. In October, a West Auckland woman who learned in court that she would be sentenced to jail time simply walked out of the sentencing box and out the front door of the courtroom. No police or court security staff were in the courtroom at the time. According to an eyewitness, the judge said “Someone stop that woman,” but she “just kept on going. It’s quite embarrassing for them really.” The woman, described as a “low risk offender,” had not been recaptured as of press time.
Appellate judges have been known to fuss over all kinds of things related to the documents they must review, from the length of the brief to the margins and spacing to the color of the paper. But in a recent Indiana Court of Appeals decision, Judge Edward Najam, Jr. took exception to a different feature—the “unpleasant odor” of certain documents in the record that reeked of smoke. In a footnote, Judge Najam wrote that the odor was “consistent with that of cigarette or pipe smoke that is apparent, offensive, and consistent. We kindly remind all those who handle the record on appeal to avoid such contamination.” And it’s not the first time the judge has made note of a smoky odor to the record; he made a similar objection in a 2012 opinion. Courthouse sleuths says that the two cases also share one other feature in common—being handled by the same deputy attorney general. Perhaps it’s time for someone to kick the habit.
Smoky appellate briefs are one thing, but what about the other kind of briefs—as in, underwear? One court in York County, Pennsylvania has actually posted a sign indicating that, with respect to the payment of fines and court fees, “Money from undergarments will not be accepted in this office.” Really? Do people really do that? Apparently, in Judge Ronald J. Haskell’s court in York, it has been a problem—and perhaps there have been other issues as well, since another sign near the court reads “Pajamas are not appropriate attire for district court.” I’ve got to admit that courthouse staff are asked to do a lot of things, but handling the damp dollar bills that someone pulls out from God knows where shouldn’t be one of them.
Partisan elections in judicial races are usually pretty dry, even boring fare. But not this one in Washington state. There, a disbarred lawyer and former driver of a Zamboni ice-smoothing machine at Seattle-area hockey games is making a dark horse bid for the state Supreme Court seat of the very justice who stripped him of his law license. John “Zamboni” Scannell, a long-bearded, ponytail-wearing former lawyer, faces Justice Debra Stephens on the November ballot. Stephens authored the court’s 2010 opinion disbarring Scannell for obstructing a multiyear Washington State Bar investigation into his alleged ethical violations, saying that Scannell’s conduct “poses a serious threat to lawyer self-regulation.” If Scannell were to win the election, state officials would face a quandary (and not just over who drives the Zamboni), since justices are required under the state’s constitution to be admitted to practice law.
Finally, we come to a story that shows where the NBC sitcom “Parks and Recreation” must have gotten its comedic inspiration—the Parks and Recreation Department of St. Paul, Minnesota. On August 4, 2014, Parks and Recreation employee Megan Campbell was driving back to her office in a city vehicle when she struck and damaged a parked car—her own 2001 Nissan Pathfinder. So now Ms. Campbell is making a claim against the city for the damages caused to her car by—her. She rationalizes that “Because I was working for the city and driving the city vehicle, I feel they are responsible for paying the damage done to my car.” The city calls the situation “unusual.” Suing the city that employs you for your own negligence? Yes, I’d call that unusual.
"America is on fire and it is in desperate need of leaders and thinkers and doers - not political pyromaniacs."
At first it seems a parochial issue; a handful of old cranks desperately trying to find a way to hold onto "power" (whatever exactly that is) in Fauquier Republican politics.
Realizing that they couldn't win an intra-party election outright if only Republicans and conservatives voted, they import Democrats and "green" environmental activists to push them over the goal line - not dissimilar to the slating fights of the past summer in the 5st and 7th Congressional districts where the "old guard" attempted to manipulate convention delegations.
The difference is that in Fauquier County when the old guard was caught breaking the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) rules, they actually filed suit against their own Party for enforcing those rules!
However, when you do a little spade work, the more you realize that the recent brouhaha in Fauquier County is emblematic of the problems in the statewide GOP organization, and in the national Party structure as well. Intra-party fights have been very brutal, and there are a number of state elections that could turn on the organized effort of the "establishment" Republicans to purge the party of Reagan-style or Tea Party backed candidates.
It's the attack of the "Chicago Republicans," (think Obama and Rahm Emanuel here).
They are party "careerists" or apparatchiks who like their Democrat cohorts, could care less about ideas and principles, but concern themselves with accumulating and using "power," in whatever form they can, by whatever means possible, for its own sake.
These Republicans would rather lose elections than see elected offices go to strong conservatives, and they have done so frequently.
We are seeing the national consequences of this right now as discredited GOP Establishment-supported Senate incumbents or candidates stumble in the polls jeopardizing the hope of retaking that chamber; made worse by the old guard's public attacks demeaning the conservative base.
It's not really a new phenomenon; it's just more critical now because America is on fire and it is in desperate need of leaders and thinkers and doers - not political pyromaniacs.
In a nutshell what happened in Fauquier County is that a canvass was held that elected Scott Russell as chairman over conservative Cameron Jones. The only problem was that the "establishment" in Fauquier cheated and failed to follow the rules set forth by the RPV and the Party Plan. In August, the State Central Committee (the elected leaders of the RPV) upheld a decision by the district committee, and overturned the results and called for a new election.
In a bizarre move, Russell joined long time liberal Republican activist Jim Rich to file suit against the RPV claiming that its rules are&well, rules, and they don't like them.
At the first Fauquier County Republican Committee (FCRC) meeting after the RPV ruling, in early September, Russell supporters held a meeting and replaced some of the existing committee members with Russell's own supporters. The meeting was railroaded Chicago-style by Rich, a former 10th Congressional District Chairman. No questions, no arguments, no shame. Once the parliamentary jujitsu ended, the pre-canvass slothfulness and irrelevancy of the FCRC leadership was reinstated.
(Russell is the new executive director for Mike Farris' Convention of States Project - an ironic twist if there ever was one.)
Jim Rich remains as a festering rash in this whole affair. He has a long history in Republican politics as a hugely destructive, divisive force, with a bad habit of publically trashing Republican candidates.
Now, Rich, along with Russell, takes his contentious and destructive brand of Chicago politics into the courts, distracting from the effort of getting Republicans elected in November.
The drama in Fauquier, the Commonwealth, and the nation this year reveals a lamentable moral:
The Republican Party has become a dysfunctional anachronism that is essentially irrelevant to the outcome of modern political campaigns. It now exists to cheerlead from the sidelines and make sure the consultants are well paid; but unlike its Democratic opposition, the Republicans as a serious political organization have not learned how to use the media, social platforms, protests, micro-targeting and organization to back up candidates. Worse still, while the radical Democrats have perfected messaging in the broader culture, the "establishment" Republicans treat serious ideas and principles like Superman does Kryptonite.
This fall's elections for better or worse are already largely baked, but 2016 is still being put together.
After two "moderate" candidates in a row have failed to win the White House because they have gotten successively fewer working class and middle income voters, the ongoing battle for the soul of the conservative movement could not be more important; in Fauquier County, in Virginia and all across the nation.
Mike Giere has written extensively on politics, foreign policy, and issues of faith. He is a former candidate for the US House; worked for Ronald Reagan in 76 & 80; and served in both the Reagan and Bush (41) Administrations.
It’s that time of year again when the Center for America releases the winners of its Wacky Warning Label contest.Yes, nothing demonstrates how ridiculous and overlawyered our society has gotten quite like the warning labels chosen by the Center and its senior fellow Bob Dorigo Jones.How far in absurd extremes will companies go in an attempt to avoid lawsuits?Consider these finalists:
A sheet of decals (intended for bikes, bike helmets, skateboards, and scooters) given as a promotion by the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, which includes the warning “Decals are for decoration only and will not prevent you from any bodily harm or injury.”If you think a decal doubles as a protective device, clearly your brain is no longer worth protecting; leave the helmet at home.
Speaking of helmets, another finalist is the warning label used by a football helmet manufacturer that reads “No helmet system can protect you from serious brain and/or neck injuries including paralysis or death.To avoid these risks, do not engage in the sport of football.”Let me see if I’ve got this straight: you’re in the business of making football helmets, and your advice is to not play the sport.Good luck with that business model, folks.
The ink cartridge for a printer features a warning label on its packaging that reads “Do not drink.”Seriously, if you need to be told not to drink printer ink, I not only don’t want you working in the office pool, I don’t want you reproducing in the gene pool.It’s just too much of a risk.
The Mickey Mouse 4-in-1 Ride On toy, which bears a label that says: “Do not push vehicle while child is riding on it.”I guess that leaves the sillier of two alternatives—push the vehicle when no one is on it and look stupid, or allow your child to experience the fun and play value in remaining absolutely still.
And maybe they’re onto something with that “no kids” theme.Another finalist is the warning label on a cellphone battery charger which reads “Get rid of children.”It’s either a really bad translation from the original language, or a cruel statement—take your pick.
Of course, wacky warning labels aren’t the only source of entertainment in the law.There’s also the wit and wisdom of federal judges, like Judge Barry Ted Moscowitz of the Southern District of California.Judge Moscowitz didn’t take kindly to the 495 total objections lodged by the defendants in Mills v. Buffalo Pumps, Inc. et al., particularly their objection on the grounds that one witness, a Mr. Willis, had not been shown to be unavailable to testify.Judge Moscowitz pointed out that “The Court is confident that Mr. Willis is unavailable; he is deceased.While federal subpoena power is broad, Mr. Willis is now beyond this Court’s jurisdiction.”As both federal judges and pirates can agree, dead men tell no tales.
And speaking of the dead—“The Walking Dead”—another likely lawsuit may answer the question “If I run over a zombie, will my insurance rates go up?”At San Diego’s annual Comic-Con recently, the driver of a car traveling past the annual mecca of all that is sci fi/fantasy/horror had a run-in with zombies.Not the real kind, mind you, but a crowd of costumed people dressed as the flesh-craving undead taking part in the convention’s “zombie walk.”The 48 year-old driver and his family in the car—who clearly do not watch much television—became “scared” of the slow-moving zombies as they lurched through the intersection and pawed at the car.The driver sped up and then “plowed through” the crowd, injuring one woman who was taken to a nearby hospital.Here’s a quick bit of legal advice: plowing through a crowd of zombies during a zombie apocalypse may save your life, but plowing through a crowd of people dressed as zombies as part of a science fiction convention will get you sued and possibly thrown in jail.
And just to show you that some people really do have problems distinguishing reality from fiction, I leave you with Ms. Ajanaffy Njewadda and her lawsuit against New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and the cable network Showtime.According to her lawsuit filed in late June, Ms. Njewadda fell down a Grand Central Terminal stairwell and broke her ankle on June 20, 2013 because she was “startled” by a disturbing ad for the Showtime series “Dexter” (which is about a serial killer who kills other serial killers).The poster in question covered the side of every step in a stairwell leading to a shuttle train and depicted the face of “Dexter” star Michael C. Hall.Njewadda claims that the “shocking and menacing” face frightened her and caused her to lose her balance, and has given her nightmares as well.Both the MTA and Showtime have denied liability.
Maybe we need a warning label to place on people who can’t separate fact from fiction.