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Lowering the Bars Print E-mail
by John Browning    Wed, Oct 31, 2012, 10:27 AM

Lawyers don’t just automatically become full-fledged attorneys the moment they receive that piece of sheepskin with “Doctor of Jurisprudence” on it.  Typically, there are more hurdles, such as passing a state’s bar exam, passing an ethics exam known as the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE), and being approved by a state bar’s authority for your moral character and fitness.  But there are many deviations from this typical path, particularly because of the sometimes mind-boggling differences in approaches among the 50 states.


For example, in some states it’s possible to become a lawyer without even going to law school.  Hearkening back to a bygone era in which aspiring lawyers “read the law” under the tutelage of an experienced practitioner, states like California, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington allow applicants to sit for the bar exam without attending law school.  They do, however, have to complete a period of study under the guidance of a judge or practicing attorney for an extended period of time—usually considerably longer than the 3 years that law school takes.  And in one state—Wisconsin—one can become a licensed attorney without even taking the bar exam.  As long as the person graduates from one of the two ABA-accredited law schools in the state (the University of Wisconsin Law School and Marquette University Law School), that person can automatically gain admission to the Wisconsin bar.


In addition to the typical degree and bar exam requirements, most states demand that a would-be lawyer demonstrate good moral character.  This can be highly subjective.  Sometimes, it seems like a clear call, as when those with past criminal convictions apply for admission to the bar.  At other times, it’s less clear.  In some jurisdictions, having past bankruptcies or serious credit issues can trip up an applicant.  In 2009, a candidate who had passed the New York bar exam was nevertheless denied admission by the New York Supreme Court because of excessive indebtedness (he had nearly $500,000 in unpaid student loan debt).  “Good moral character” has sometimes proven to be a moving target, subject to the values of another time.  For example, until the state’s Supreme Court reversed the policy in 1979, Virginia denied bar admission to female applicants for living with a man out of wedlock.


In some states, even taking the bar exam presents some quirks.  Louisiana—a state that already stands apart for the peculiarities of its state law, the Louisiana Civil Code—also does things differently when it comes to its bar examination.  You see, because it posts the results of the bar exam publicly on the front doors of the Louisiana State Supreme Court Building and on the Supreme Court’s official website, Louisiana allows its applicants to choose a fictitious name so that they can be spared public humiliation if they fail.  Pass, and your real name will be listed; fail, and your true identity remains a secret, your shame hidden by a pseudonym.  This year alone, the list of those who failed the Louisiana bar features some creative names, including fictional teen detective “Nancy Drew,” “Legally Blonde” lead character “Elle Woods,” “American Psycho” protagonist “Patrick Bateman,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” hero “Atticus Finch,” man of steel “Clark Kent,” and “Rongly Accused.”


          And if you think chivalry is not dead in Louisiana, you’ll love the dated Southern charm of Kentucky’s bar requirements.  I recently spoke at a law school symposium in Kentucky, and was surprised to learn that a quaint 19th artifact lives on for aspiring Kentucky lawyers.  Section 228 of the Kentucky Constitution requires all officers of the state and all members of the bar to take an oath swearing that they “have not fought a duel with deadly weapons within this State nor out of it,” nor have they “sent or accepted a challenge to fight a duel with deadly weapons, nor . . . acted as second in carrying a challenge, nor aided or assisted any person thus offending.”  This provision was put in the state’s constitution back in 1849 in large part because previous laws against dueling hadn’t worked.  Since many of the Southern gentlemen who felt the need to duel were often those likely to run for office (some of whom also happened to be lawyers), lawmakers made sure not only to ban dueling but also to deprive duelers of “the right to hold any office of honor or profit in this Commonwealth.”  On an official Kentucky state government website, there is even a helpful article that traces the history of dueling in the state and the U.S. itself (including famous duels featuring such prominent historical figures as Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, Andrew Jackson, and Kentuckian Henry Clay), entitled “Kentucky and the Code Duello.”


So, in order to be a full-fledged Kentucky lawyer, it’s okay if you hate horse racing, frown upon mint juleps, and don’t know the words to “My Old Kentucky Home.”  You do, however, have to promise not to engage in a good old-fashioned, “pistols at thirty paces,” duel.  Because, after all, lawyers aren’t supposed to shoot or stab people—just bury them with paper and confound them with legalese.

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Career and Technical Education Legislative Forum Print E-mail
by Tom Pauken    Wed, Oct 24, 2012, 05:30 PM

Everywhere I go in Texas, employers tell me about the shortage of skilled workers and a greying workforce. The annual survey of Manpower Group for 2011 found that the hardest jobs to fill in the United States were for the skilled trades. A recent survey by the consulting firm Deloitte “found that 83% of manufacturers reported a moderate or severe shortage of skilled production workers for hire.” The results are similar here in Texas.

            Just to cite a few examples: the average age of a welder is 55, a plumber 56, and a stone masonry craftsman is 69.

What happened to our pipeline of skilled workers? Somehow, over the last two decades, certain political elites decided that everyone should be prepared to go to a four year university. I call it a “one size fits all” approach. In an attempt to make every high school student “college ready,” our state has come to rely on a so-called 4-by-4 curriculum and an expensive high stakes testing system. First, there was the TASS test, then the TAKS test, and now we have the STARR test. So much of our educational system is driven these days by a “teaching to the test” mentality from the third grade through high school. In many ways, test learning has replaced real learning. Meanwhile, in this quest to push every student to go to a university, we have deemphasized our Career and Technical Education programs at the high school level.

In his marvelous book “Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work,” Mathew Crawford points out that “high-school shop-class programs were widely dismantled in the 1990s as educators prepared students to become “knowledge workers.” Writing at the time of the Great Recession four years ago, Crawford had this to say:

“This seems to be a moment when the useful arts have an especially compelling economic rationale. A car mechanics’ trade association reports that repair shops have seen their business jump significantly in the current recession: people aren’t buying new cars; they are fixing the ones they have. The current downturn is likely to pass eventually. But there are also systemic changes in the economy, arising from information technology, that have the surprising effect of making the manual trades – plumbing, electrical work, car repair – more attractive as careers. The Princeton economist Alan Blinder argues that the crucial distinction in the emerging labor market is not between those with more or less education, but between those whose services can be delivered over a wire and those who must do their work in person or on site. The latter will find their livelihoods more secure against outsourcing the distant countries. As Blinder puts it, ‘You can’t hammer a nail over the Internet.’ Nor can the Indians fix your car. Because they are in India.”

To borrow a phrase from Will Rogers, “if stupidity got us into this mess, then why can’t it get us out?” The answer to this critical shortage of skilled workers is simple, but not easy. There are powerful interests arrayed to protect the existing system of education financing and performance measurements. The problem is that the system is broken -- and the average Texan gets it, even if many of the political elites don’t. The time is ripe for major reform of our educational system so that we place greater emphasis on vocational and technical education at the secondary and post-secondary school levels.

            Let’s replace the one-size-fits-all TAKS and STAAR tests that we use to evaluate all our students, with two different tests – one that measures college readiness for those who plan to pursue that route such as the ACT or SAT, and one that measures career readiness.

            We all learn differently. Some students don’t enjoy or do well in an abstract classroom setting -- I have a son like that -- but would excel by working with their hands in a skilled trade. That’s why a “hands on” approach to skills training is so important in preparing a student to be job ready.

            Let’s give our high school students the facts about the employment market. Young people who have completed an industry-certified skills training program in high school or in a post-secondary community college or career school have a better opportunity to get a good - paying job than many graduates of four-year universities. A graduate of Texas State Technical College with a two-year associates degree in the engineer – related technology field of instrumentation can go to work in the petro-chemical industry at a starting salary of $68,000. A master plumber can make $75,000 in three years. An industry – certified welder from the Craft Training Center in Corpus Christi can make $1,700 a week.

            If we are going to move in this direction of rebuilding our pipeline of skilled workers with increased opportunities for vocational education, we have to be creative in how we go about implementing these changes given our finite resources. Equipment is expensive for certain technical training programs, and we have to be resourceful in providing these opportunities to our young people.

            We need to avoid expensive duplication of services wherever possible. The Craft Training Center in Corpus Christi is a great example of a public-private partnership that provides skills training for high school students in the day and adults in the evening in a cost effective fashion. Students from 14 area school districts and a charter school come to a central location at the training center where they receive industry-certified instruction to become welders, electricians, pipefitters, and in other skilled trades. Anne Matula runs the Craft Training Center, and she points out that students who get skills training there also do better academically as they learn to appreciate the importance of basic math and literacy skills in mastering the craft they are learning. In fact, research from the Texas Workforce Commission Labor Market and Career Information division has found that students who take a coherent sequence of CTE courses do better academically, have higher graduation rates, lower dropout rates, and better college attendance.

            We also should do more to empower community colleges to partner with school districts across the state. San Angelo area high schools operate a workforce training center with Howard College where high school students can earn an industry- certified credential in fields ranging from building and trades to allied health professions. Students not only get industry-certified training but also get dual credit. A similar program is operational in Mt. Pleasant with the high school and Northeast Texas Community College.

            Some community colleges have underutilized capacity that could be made available to provide technical training to local high school students. As a state, we need to make it more attractive for such partnerships to develop and flourish.

            A major priority in the next legislative session must be to fix a misguided education policy with a common sense solution which recognizes that students have different talents and interests. I want to make it clear that I fully support holding schools accountable through a multiple pathway approach to a high school diploma. But, the current system does not hold schools accountable for successfully educating and preparing students-rather it makes them beholden to performance on a single test. Success and accountability can be measured in a variety of ways.

            Some critics of my emphasis on reinstating vocational education as a key component in a comprehensive high school educational curriculum claim that I want to go back to tracking certain students, particularly minorities, away from college and into career education. Well, we already have a tracking system under the existing education policy -- it’s called the drop out track.

            Such claims fail to acknowledge that we are losing too many kids who lose interest in education at an early age and who might have thrived had they been given more opportunities for career and technical education in high school. A renewed recognition of the value of vocational education for those students so interested can provide an opportunity pathway for many students who otherwise might fall through the cracks under a “one size fits all” approach to education.

            Much of the emphasis on testing – including the unveiling of the STAAR program – is a well-intentioned effort to improve education attainment in Texas. But we’ve put most of our emphasis on standardized testing for the past two decades, and yet we still have a big problem with dropout rates, and increased scores on state exams often don’t translate into improved college entrance exam scores.

            The usual response from the testing bureaucracy is to roll out a new test, make a few technical changes to the accountability system, and promise everything will be better if we just give it a chance to work. That’s what they said when TAAS became TAKS, and that’s what they’re saying now that TAKS is becoming STAAR.

            Frustration on the part of parents, employers, and educators with the current system has built up for years. Change is long overdue, and we need to have the courage to propose bold, meaningful solutions to these issues, rather than just tinkering around the edges.

            It’s time to end one-size-fits-all and restore local control to our public school system. Instead of having the government telling students and parents what it thinks their career future should be, let’s provide good information to parents and let individuals choose what’s best for them. Let’s have a system that encourages students and school districts to work with local employers to fill good jobs in industry and manufacturing.

            Our state faces serious workforce challenges in the future as the “Baby-Boom” generation retires. The only way to solve them is to move away from failed policies and move toward what works.

            It’s time to recognize that the current “Teach to the Test” system is a failure and replace it with local control and individual freedom. I look forward to working with the people in this room to achieve those ends. Thank you.


Remarks by Tom Pauken at Headliners Club, Austin, Texas on October 18, 2012


Tom Pauken is Commissioner Representing Employers at Texas Workforce Commission

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Witches Need Lawyers, Too Print E-mail
by John Browning    Wed, Oct 24, 2012, 08:55 AM

Pity the poor witch.  Long-vilified in literature (Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”), folklore, and in films ranging from “The Wizard of Oz,” to “The Blair Witch Project,” those broomstick-riding, spell-casting sisters just can’t catch a break.  Why, in Romania (a country where a substantial percentage of the population still believes in witchcraft), the government even passed labor laws in 2011 that forced fortunetellers and self-proclaimed witches to pay income taxes.  Practitioners of the “dark arts” like Bratara Buzea spoke out against the law, and even threatened to cast spells on the offending lawmakers.


Witches don’t get any more respect in court, where apparently they’re not welcome as expert witnesses.  In Manhattan’s State Supreme Court in New York recently, a defense attorney attempted to introduce “expert” testimony on witchcraft during the murder trial of 42 year-old Bakary Camara.  Mr. Camara, a Senegalese immigrant, is accused of killing ex-girlfriend Rita Morelli last fall; he pleaded not guilty, saying he was under the influence of evil spirits (psychiatrists have already ruled out Camara’s previous assertion that he was delusional during the killing).  Defense attorney Seema Iyer sought to introduce testimony from Cheikh Ndao—a self-described imam from Africa who claims to be an expert on Senegalese curses and witchcraft.  Prosecutors were skeptical of the man they called a “witch doctor,” and so was Justice Juan Merchan.  He ruled that the defense had failed to demonstrate that Mr. Ndao satisfied the definition of an expert.  Perhaps if he had turned the judge into a newt?


Yes, witches aren’t feeling the love in our courtrooms.  Despite this, the descendants of some accused witches are turning to the legal system to seek formal exoneration for those executed for witchcraft during the 17th century.  Bernice Mable Graham Telian is one such person, seeking to clear the name of her ancestor Mary Barnes, who was hanged as a witch for “familiarity with Satan” in Connecticut in 1663.  Connecticut executed 11 women for witchcraft between 1647 and 1663, and in fact witchcraft remained a capital crime until 1750.


Telian has been aided in her quest by the Connecticut Wiccan & Pagan Network.  But she faces an uphill battle.  Although the governor can issue a pardon for someone convicted of a crime (essentially removing or reducing the sentence that was imposed, but not reversing the conviction itself), Telian is seeking something more: a formal declaration that Mary Barnes was not a criminal.  In 2008, the Connecticut state legislature weighed a resolution that would have formally acknowledged victims of the witch trials, but the measure failed.  Other activists have suggested that Governor Dannel Malloy should issue a proclamation apologizing for the colonial-era executions and exonerating the convicted “witches.”


Three other New England states that executed women accused of witchcraft—Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont—have already formally acknowledged the injustice of these executions.  The most notorious, of course, took place in Massachusetts during the Salem witch trials of 1692.  Nearly 200 people were accused of engaging in witchcraft or “consorting with the Devil” during the hysteria that swept Salem in the summer of 1692.  Twenty of those accused—15 women and 5 men—were executed; 19 were hanged, while octogenarian farmer Giles Cory was crushed to death for refusing to enter a plea.  Another four of the accused, three women and one man, died in jail.  One of the accused, a girl named Dorcas Good, was only four years old.


The accused were predominantly people who were perceived as outsiders by the rigid Puritan society.  Sarah Good, for example, was a local beggar who rarely attended church.  Sarah Osborne, one of the first women accused, had scandalized the village by having an affair (while unmarried) with an indentured servant from Ireland.  Martha Cory was accused of being a witch after giving birth to an illegitimate biracial child.  A number of other residents of Salem were accused after expressing skepticism at the cries of witchcraft by the young girls who started the madness in the village.  These included people like John Proctor and his wife Elizabeth, Susannah Martin, Sarah Cloyce, Dorcas Hoar, and George Jacobs.  Many of the accusations were leveled by members of the Putnam family, who just months before had lost power in Salem after they and their supporters were replaced on the village’s governing committee.  Eight members of the Putnam family were involved in the prosecution of about 50 accused witches.


Typically, these cases would begin with a formal complaint by a party allegedly injured by someone’s “witchcraft,” but any resemblance to our modern criminal proceedings ended there.  Accused witches were presumed guilty, not afforded any right to legal counsel, and the magistrates and presiding judges would usually ask leading questions that presumed that acts of witchcraft had taken place.  And although juries were empaneled to consider guilt or innocence, on at least one occasion, a jury that had acquitted a defendant was ordered to “reconsider” their verdict; not surprisingly, the jury reversed itself.  The “evidence” presented was a joke: nine accused witches were convicted based on nothing more than testimony from an alleged victim who testified to having been visited during the night by a spectral figure who resembled the defendant.  Others were convicted when they had difficulty reciting the Lord’s Prayer.


Eventually, the hysteria died down.  Reverend Increase Mather, a respected clergyman from Harvard, questioned the reliability of the “evidence.”  The trials, which had begun in June 1692, formally ended when Massachusetts Governor William Phipps dissolved the presiding tribunal in October of that year.  In spring 1693, Phipps ordered all of the remaining incarcerated accused witches released.


Meanwhile, in Connecticut, Bernice Telian seeks justice for Mary Barnes—even if it is nearly 450 years too late.

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Are Rich and Wealthy Businessmen/Women Evil? Print E-mail
by James Reza    Thu, Oct 18, 2012, 07:53 AM

This past Sunday the celebrant, a missionary, focused on this passage in the Sunday gospel: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Matthew: 19:24).  The priest went on to explain to the parishioners the evils of storing up riches or, aspiring to be wealthy.  He continued to say what good is wealth if one, who is rich, didn’t do good works with his or her possessions.

As I listened with an open mind I suddenly remembered my dear and wonderful friend and ex-boss, Carl Motheral, owner of Motheral Printing Co.  Carl, in my humble opinion was a business genius.  When I went to work for Motheral Printing in 1967, the company was a small company.  Wanting to expand the business, Carl’s brothers, Foist and Wes asked their younger brother, Carl, who had a thriving export business in Mexico to join the company, which he did.  Within 2 to 3 years the company grew tremendously.  After he joined the company, Carl bought most of the properties around the once small company and within time the company encompassed two full city blocks.  Carl then hired some of the most talented printing salesmen in Fort Worth and expert journeymen rotary pressmen.  Within a few short years the company was thriving with lucrative business accounts like: General Dynamics, Bell Helicopter, American Airlines, Mary Kay Products, Alcon Laboratories and scores of other thriving companies in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.  Needless to say, the company thrived and Motheral’s employees were reaping the benefits in enjoying great benefits and salaries.  Besides being a great businessman, Carl was a generous man.  It wasn’t uncommon for us to get a rewarding bonus every Christmas.  And, during summer, the company would take all of its employees along with their families to Six Flags to enjoy a wonderful outing and a catered picnic free of cost.  Having won several awards for the company with my typesetting skills, Carl and I became close friends.  So close, that when his son, Jim, got married, my wife and I were invited to the wedding reception at a prestigious country club.  So here you have me, a typesetting American Hispanic, rubbing elbows with Fort Worth’s elite.

During the course of my employment at Motheral’s, Carl begged me to join the company’s Profit Sharing Plan.  Eventually, I did.  After 18 wonderful years at Motheral’s I was offered a lucrative position at General Dynamics as an Engineer Illustrator due to my computer typesetting skills.  Carl encouraged me to take the well paying job and then gave me a check for 50 thousand dollars from my Stock Sharing Plan.  Folks, all I had contributed in 6 years was 6 thousand, which grew into 50 grand. Carl then told me to roll over my check.  I asked, “Carl, what the hell is roll over?”  He instructed me to reinvest my money otherwise the government would take one third of it if I spend it.  Carl then found me an investor and today that initial 6 thousand dollar investment has grown beyond my wildest expectations, which allows my wife and I to be financially secure and am able to help my daughter send our grandkids to Catholic school that is rather costly.

Another wealthy businessman I worked for part time as a typesetter in the 1960s was Mr. George Levitan, a Jew, who owned Good Publishing.  Mr. Levitan hired whites, blacks and Hispanics as pressmen, lithographers and bindery workers where many learned good printing trades.  To him color didn’t matter as long as you were a good worker.  Most of Mr. Levitan’s office personnel were black women who ran a very efficient business office.  Daily, Mr. Levitan would feed all of his workers during lunch with a hot meal prepared at the company cafeteria.  During the Fat Stock Show, Mr. Levitan would outbid all his competitors winning the prized 4H Club bulls and later he’d have the bull slaughtered and give the meat to needy families.

Besides Carl Motheral and George Levitan, one man sticks out in my mind as a wealthy, yet, generous business gentleman. His name was Nick Dieb, an Arab, who for years owned a department store in my Hispanic barrio (neighborhood) in North Fort Worth where I grew up in the 40s and 50s.  One must remember that back then most didn’t have credit cards as we do today.  If you got credit at a store it was all up to the owner and the honest word of the purchaser.  Most of the poor Hispanic households would purchase school clothes, shoes, toys, and school supplies at Nick’s.  I remember vividly my mom sending me to buy shoes and told to tell Nick to charge it.  I don’t recall Nick ever denying me, a young kid, from purchasing shoes on credit at his store.  Nick would take out a little book with ‘REZA’ written on it and mom later would pay him.

Again, I ask the question are all rich people mean and calloused towards the poor?  My honest assessment is “no!”  In contrast there’s not a week that goes by where I read in the newspaper or see on the news supposedly poor folks who rob, kill, rape, molest children, and Lord knows what else.  I ask, “Is it easier for them to go to heaven because they are poor?”  I also read where some clergymen of all faiths abuse children, women, and live lavish lifestyles, plus use a lot of their money they collect for their own use rather than helping the poor and hungry. Does anybody recall the shenanigans of the Rev. Jim Bakker and his wife Tammy Faye and the bawling Rev. Jimmy Swaggart?  Again I ask, “Is it also easier for abusive clergymen to enter heaven than the rich?”

When the mass ended the missionary told the congregation that he was selling candles at $10 each to offset his gas expenses that he said was very costly. I felt like asking the missionary, “Father, would it upset you if I bought a candle with the money I made from the evil rich guys in the Stock Market?”


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Lawyers—As Superstitious as the Rest of Us Print E-mail
by John Browning    Mon, Oct 8, 2012, 09:24 AM

“Superstition ain’t the way.”

- Stevie Wonder


Show me a particular occupation, and I’ll find you a superstition or two unique to that group.  Whether it’s sailors and their many nautical beliefs, architects designing buildings without a thirteenth floor, or theatrical performers insisting on hearing “break a leg” instead of “good luck,” everybody has their own lore.  Athletes are perhaps the most notorious for their superstitions, from wearing lucky colors or equipment to sticking to ritualistic meals during a streak or taking specific steps (however nonsensical) to break a slump.  But what about lawyers; those rational beings who dwell in the realm of logic and reason?  Surely, they are the exception to the superstition rule.


Nope.  It seems that lawyers can be just as superstitious as the next person, and trial lawyers are perhaps the most superstitious of the bunch.  I’ll admit it—I always wear a lucky tie on the first day of trial, and I frequently will stick with the same lunchtime spot close to the courthouse.  Once, I even managed to park in the same parking space every day (no mean feat at a busy urban courthouse), convincing myself that this little ritual had something to do with how well the trial went.


Often, the superstition is associated with a talisman or lucky object.  For most lawyers, that’s a lucky tie or suit (one prosecutor used to wear her “hanging suit” during every capital murder trial).  Ira Lee Sorkin, who represented Bernie Madoff during his big Ponzi scheme legal wranglings, always wears a particular type of Hebrew University tie during his opening statement.  Celebrity lawyer Benjamin Brafman wore a “bendel” (a slender bracelet of red thread from Israel that is supposed to ward off evil) every day while defending P Diddy (aka Sean Combs) during a 2001 weapons possession trial.  Combs was acquitted, and Brafman has been wearing the bendel at trial ever since.  Brafman insists he’s not superstitious, but says “I just wear it because since I’ve put it on, I’ve enjoyed good luck, both personally and professionally.  Do I think about just breaking it off and throwing it away?  Yes, the thought has occurred to me, But I haven’t.”  In California, Van Nuys Deputy District Attorney Terese Hutchison would never try a case without her trademark Batman watch, saying “My Batman watch is sacred to me.”  For Houston criminal defense attorney Jack Zimmerman, it’s his lucky boots that he feels make the difference.  Another Houston defense attorney, Joe Bailey, swears by his lucky shoes.  He says “The last success, or catastrophe, dictates which pair I wear.  They must be newly polished.  The left one goes on first and cannot be tied before the right one is on.  Even though they may develop a hole, I refuse to deviate from a ‘successful pair.’  They can be resoled.”


For other lawyers, it’s not the lucky talisman or article of clothing that brings out their superstitious side, it’s what they put in their stomachs.  New York defense attorney Murray Richman repeatedly eats the same meal—a Mayan sun salad with a sautéed filet of salmon—at the same restaurant every day during trials that can last for weeks at a time.  For Peter Quijano, his ritual meal during trial was a cheddar burger and bloody Mary from the same restaurant (the Whiskey Tavern), served by the same waitress and eaten at the same booth.  Quijano also has another quirk to ward off jinxes; he tries to insert the name of his Scottish terrier, Watson, into every closing argument.  “The trial gods are very powerful,” he says.  “You respect them.  You make little offerings.”


And for many attorneys, the superstition has nothing to do with items of food or clothing.  David Ruhnke, who specializes in defending capital murder cases, avoids the color black at all costs.  “I believe that black is a color particularly associated with death and mourning, so I will not write in black ink.”  He sends emails with blue letters, and uses blue, green, or white binders.  Maybe he’s on to something—he’s won 14 out of 16 capital trials, and hasn’t had a client executed.  Other lawyers ritualistically take the same route to the courthouse or always go in a particular entrance during trial, like Deirdre van Dornum of the federal public defender’s office in New York.  Meanwhile, still other attorneys refrain from getting their hair cut, while some listen to particular songs as part of a pre-trial ritual.  For Houston appellate specialist Brian Wice, it’s always Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” (a favorite of mine as well).  Bill Rosch, another Houston lawyer, is particularly fond of a classic, Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.”


Whether it’s a rabbit’s foot in your pocket, a lucky tie around your neck, or a ritualistic meal, why do otherwise rational professionals allow themselves to be governed by superstition?  Frances Cattermole-Tally of the UCLA Center for the Study of Comparative Folklore and Mythology has a theory.  “They’re in a profession where they’re sort of under the gun all the time,” she notes.  “When people are under a lot of stress—and lawyers are—they do things they might later recognize as irrational but which don’t hurt anyone.  And they might help.”  Arthur Miller, a law professor at NYU, says it really amounts to lawyers behaving much like, say, a baseball player tapping his cleats or a stage actor not whistling backstage—they’re only human.  “It’s part of the human condition that no matter how many years of education you’ve had, you still have faith in certain totems,” Miller observes.


Ultimately, trial lawyers are people, too.  And, hey, if wearing lucky socks makes your heart surgeon, airline pilot on your flight, or even the lawyer handling your case, feel better about his or her performance, should you really care?

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