As readers of “Legally Speaking” know, I frequently report on some of the more bizarre lawsuits out there. Sometimes—like this week—there are so many out there they warrant their own column.
In January 2012, when the ill-fated Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia ran aground and 32 people died, most of us expected there to be lawsuits filed. We just didn’t expect that one of those lawsuits would be a wrongful termination claim by the ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino. After all, Schettino currently faces criminal charges of manslaughter and abandoning his ship, and he was fired for pretty much doing the opposite of what a ship captain ought to do. He brought the cruise ship too close to shore, causing it to hit a rock; delayed evacuation of the ship; abandoned ship and took a lifeboat while passengers were still trying to escape (Schettino later claimed he tripped and fell into the lifeboat); and then refused Coast Guard orders to return to the ship. Yet, somehow, he feels he’s been wrongfully terminated. His lawyer says “It is the right of every worker to appeal against his dismissal and Captain Schettino has done no more than exercise that right.” Spoken like a lawyer . . . .
A wife could blame a number of people if she found out her husband cheated on her and had a threesome. For starters, she could blame her husband and his two sexual partners. But what if he died during the act—who does she blame then? Well, if you’re the widow of 31 year-old William Martinez of Lawrenceville, Georgia, you sue your husband’s doctor for malpractice. Confused? Join the club. The widow got a lawyer and sued Martinez’s cardiologist, Dr. SreenivasuluGangasani, claiming that the doctor failed to warn Martinez (who had a history of high blood pressure) to refrain from physical activity like sex. The day before he was scheduled for some medical tests in 2009, Martinez had a tryst with a friend and a woman who was not his wife, and died of cardiac failure during the encounter. As incredible as it sounds, when the case went to trial in 2012, the jury found Martinez’s doctor liable and returned a verdict of $5 million (because the jury assessed 40% of the fault against Martinez himself, the verdict was reduced to $3 million). The cardiologist’s lawyers said they would appeal.
David Hoogland of Perth, Australia claims he is the victim of discrimination—hair discrimination. Mr. Hoogland, you see, was thrown out of Point Hall, a popular Perth bar, because of his mullet. Yes, in 2012, Hoogland is still rockin’ the “business up front, party in the back” hairstyle made famous by Billy Ray Cyrus. Hoogland may be a victim, all right—a fashion victim.
As humiliating as it must be to be a grown man beaten up by a child, it has to be even worse when you draw attention to that fact by filing a lawsuit over it. Yet, that is exactly what happened with New York elementary school teacher John Webster. Webster, a 220-lb. former college football player, claims to have suffered permanent injuries when he tried to subdue first-grader Rodrigo Carpio (who Webster describes as “very very strong”) when the student began acting up. Webster claims to have suffered a broken ankle and a right knee injury requiring surgery, and he is seeking money damages from the school district. There is no word on how much the injury to Webster’s dignity might be worth.
A judge in New Zealand has thrown out a case brought by someone who evidently never heard the old adage “Never speak ill of the dead.” A New Zealand government ministry brought charges against South Korean fishermen Soon Ill Hwang and Dae Jun Lee of illegally dumping dead fish at sea. However, shortly after the charges were made, Soon died in a car accident. Despite this, the ministry’s lawyer argued that there were still reasons for the prosecution of Soon to go forward—a position Judge Gary MacAskill found “absurd.” Said the judge, “It reminds me of Monty Python and his dead parrot. I would have thought that the death of the accused is pretty fundamental.” Judge MacAskill even sarcastically suggested that the only way to obtain testimony from the accused would be to hold a séance.
A Staten Island, New York pastor and his wife, Michael and Angela Nwadiuko, recently fell short in their effort to change their names to “Mr. and Mrs. ChristisKing.” Civil court judge Philip Straniere cited separation of church and state as the reason for denying the unusual request. Straniere wrote that if he approved the name change, “many people would not only not be comfortable reciting the petitioners’ proposed name but that in doing so would be violating that person’s religious or lack of religious beliefs.” The pastor and his wife had previously (in another state) changed the names of their two children to “JesusisLord” and “Rejoice.”
In Texas, we live by a simple rule: you mess with the bull, you get the horns. And if a mechanical bull is involved, don’t count on a windfall. That’s the takeaway from the Austin Court of Appeal’s August 2012 opinion in Thom v. Rebel’s Honky Tonk. In the case, a man who consumed alcohol, failed to disclose a prior back condition, and signed a release of liability tried to sue for injuries sustained when he fell from a mechanical bull at the honky tonk. The court held that the plaintiff had assumed the risk and released the bar from all liability. C’mon, this is Texas—what did you expect would happen when you mounted a bull, mechanical or otherwise? You get thrown off the bull, and thrown out of court.
For most of us the best lessons in life are learned through the hardest times. When
we are the end of our own abilities and on our knees, humbled, well, then we can
finally hear God, or our conscience, and recognize things in ourselves that we
can't when we're puffed up by our own success, ambition or ego.
Perhaps much the same is true for our nation right now.
Tuesday was hard for many of us to understand. We've lived through four years of
one of the most radical, destructive, and incompetent presidents in our history.
For those of us sheltered in the greater Washington area, propped up by the out
of control government spending, it's hard to capture the real pain in our nation
unless you're traveling around the country. Unemployment and underemployment,housing,
poverty, and every other index that judges the state of our nation's health is simply
a disaster and trending in the wrong direction. The president is also adversarial
to many of his fellow citizens, even in the faith communities, while very solicitous
of the most unsavory elements abroad.
Yet President Obama and his radical left party were rewarded with another four years
to inflict "change" on the nation - rather like a surgeon who took out a spleen
instead of a gall bladder being given the new job as a heart surgeon.
Could it be that as a nation we're not yet on our knees; we're not yet quite ready
to hear what we need to hear? Are times not yet hard enough to get us to listen?
There will be plenty of time to digest this election in the coming weeks and months.
But, already we're hearing about things Republicans have to change according to
the experts; they have to be for amnesty right now, or they have to drop their pro-life
principles and embrace gay marriage, as examples. Others are saying that the party
is too conservative, in spite of the fact that the last two candidates nominated
were moderate to liberal, and both lost.
The reality is already obvious though. A quick look at the data reveals that three
million citizens who voted for John McCain in 2008 didn't go to the polls to vote
for Mitt Romney in 2012, for whatever reason. He simply didn't get the vote out.
But some of us believe there is something larger at work - and we have been preaching
this message to anyone who will listen for some time:
We conservatives, traditionalists, and constitutionalists (even in the faith communities)
must regain the compelling narrative of our core beliefs - along with the will and
the ability to explain how those beliefs make a real difference and improve the
lives of the average American. We have to learn how to take our values into the
marketplace of ideas and connect them to the actual circumstances of life that normal
citizens grapple with every day.
For a generation or more (at least since Reagan) too many of us have simply failed
to put in plain words the clear and persuasive truth that our values are hardwired
into the human heart in the first place, and that the timeless principles of life,
liberty and property represent at once the most practical and the most noble, moral
organization of human affairs. Only rarely do we even speak to or defend the ultimate
truth that the Founders stated - that God, not a government or a fleeting majority
- is the grantor of these human rights and our individual sovereignty and dignity.
It simply isn't enough in our "sound bite" age, to use, as an example, catch phrases
like "free markets" and "pro-growth policies" to stake our claim to being conservative,
when the citizens to whom we're speaking often don't relate those ideas to anything
relevant in their own lives.
While an auto mechanic may have little interest in "free markets," he absolutely
has interest in whether or not the dealership for whom he works remains in business.
A truck driver might not understand how "pro-growth" capital formation works, but
he's very interested in new and more efficient equipment, and increased cargo traffic.
These are the connections that we conservatives have to recognize and present; and
if we don't, we end up with endless campaign disappointments accomplished by small
If we in politics and public policy, and the orthodox traditionalists in the faith
communities, can't explain simply the intimate linkage between life, liberty and
property, and how these ideas connect us to our Judeo-Christian heritage and ethic
- which in turn protects and prospers each individual, creates the civil peace,
establishes the rule of law, and brings glory to the "Author of Liberty," then we
will find our voice in the culture eventually reduced to a whisper, and our relevance
confined to the status of fodder for late night comedians.
We are the inheritors of a timeless narrative of life and liberty; the question
raised Tuesday is whether we are ready to tell it to a wanting nation in economic,
spiritual and cultural chaos.
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;
served in both the Reagan and Bush (41) Administrations. He lives in Virginia with
his wife, and has three children.
On November 15, job fairs targeting veterans will be held across the state of Texas. Twenty-seven different locations will be hosting events as part of the Hiring Red, White & You! statewide job fair. That day will be the culmination of a joint effort among several state agencies, private employers, and countless staffers. But, it would not have been possible without the hard work of three unassuming men who have a heart for veterans.
Leaders at the Texas Medical Center (TMC) in Houston made it a goal to help our returning veterans make the transition to civilian life and in the process it has become a statewide model for helping veterans find jobs. TMC’s President and Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Richard Wainerdi, helped set up a task force from the TMC’s member institutions on military hiring. Joining Dr. Wainerdi were Dr. James H. “Red” Duke and Dr. John Holcomb. Both Dick Wainerdi and Red Duke served in the Korean War. John Holcomb is a veteran of the Iraq War.
These three men knew that many veterans possess skills and experience needed in the healthcare field and wanted to do a better job of tapping that talent. The task force examined the job recruitment process, looked for new ways to reach out to veterans, and worked to find ways to translate military skills and training into civilian course credit. As a result, TMC and its member institutions have integrated support for our military into their corporate cultures.
The task force – entitled Hiring Red White and You! – was so successful that Governor Perry, the Texas Workforce Commission, and the Texas Veterans Commission have partnered with TMC to build on their success by sponsoring job fairs under the same title in cities all over Texas.
As a Texas Workforce Commissioner, I was proud to present the Texas Medical Center with our office’s Texas Veterans Employer Award last month for the organization’s outstanding work in this area. Employers can learn a lot from TMC. Here are some of the key ways TMC created a veteran-friendly culture:
• Understand the military. Many skills taught in the military translate well in the civilian world. But sometimes the military uses its own terms and titles to describe such skills. TMC updated its resume-scanning programs to recognize military equivalents to civilian job requirements.
• Words matter. One of the most important things an employer can do is state that it is military-friendly and encourages veterans to apply.
• Working together is also important. One of the things that really impressed me about TMC’s approach is the way the member institutions are helping each other. It’s not uncommon for one institution to refer a veteran to another institution.
TMC works with many veterans organizations, including the Texas Veterans Leadership Program (TVLP). Sadly, the unemployment rate for our returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan exceeds the general unemployment rate. At the Texas Workforce Commission, we created the TVLP, run by veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, to help their fellow veterans make a successful transition to civilian life. It was modeled on a program I initiated in the Reagan Administration called the Vietnam Veterans Leadership Program to help our returning Vietnam Veterans.
Speaking of President Reagan, he had a sign on his desk at the White House which read: “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn't mind who gets the credit.” He governed with that adage in mind. As CEO of TMC, Dr. Wainerdi sure has exemplified that principle in his unassuming leadership on behalf of our returning veterans.
I encourage employers across the state of Texas to turn out November 15 for the statewide job fairs for veterans. For more information visit texasworkforce.org/svcs/vetsvcs/hiring-red-white-you.html or email
Tom Pauken is the Commissioner Representing Employers at the Texas Workforce Commission and author of Bringing America Home.
In 1960 I cast my first vote for a United States President. I remember paying my Poll Tax ($1.75 tax that allowed one to vote) and the white guys at work made fun of me by telling me, “Well James, you’re now a full fledge Mexican American! Without a Poll Tax you’re just a plain old Mexican!” Not offended by my white co-workers comments we all had a good laugh.
Aside from the racial comments made by my white co-workers some soon became upset with me when I told them I was going to vote for Senator John F. Kennedy, a Catholic. Some responded, “James, the Pope is going to be running the United States if this clown (JFK) gets elected! We don’t want any high official of the Catholic Church running our country!” My only response to them was that I, with my vote, wanted to prove that a Catholic without any interference from the Catholic Church hierarchy could govern our country.
It had had been 32 years since JFK; a Catholic had made a run for the presidency. In 1928, Al Smith, a Catholic and a Democrat, lost to Herbert Hoover, a Republican! In the end, the Republicans were identified with the booming economy of the 1920s, whereas Al Smith, a Roman Catholic, suffered politically from Anti-Catholic prejudice which was associated with Hoover winning by a landslide victory. Hoover’s victory was short lived when the Great Depression occurred during his watch. From that point forward the Depression made it very difficult for a Republican to occupy the White House for many years. Thus, Democrats came into power in 1933 under the leadership of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) who to my knowledge held the presidency for 3 terms (1933-1945). Though the United States had not recovered totally from the Great Depression under President Roosevelt, World War II quickly grew the economy out of the Depression with the help of the war machinery industry, which helped tremendously to put many people back to work.
Besides hearing negative comments about me voting for a Catholic in 1960, I also heard many unsavory comments hurled at the Republican candidate, former Vice President Richard M. Nixon, for President Dwight Eisenhower. Unbeknown to many, President Eisenhower was despised by many segregationists like Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus, a Democrat, for allowing black students to enroll in white public schools and colleges in 1957. Gov Faubus intervened by sending the National Guard to stop the integration of Arkansas schools. However, few blacks and others are unaware that President Eisenhower sent United States Army troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, to protect black children who enrolled in previously all white public schools from harassment and physical harm from anti black racists and the Klan. I vividly recall anti Nixon slurs like, “I’m not voting for no N-loving Republican!” So here you have it folks, Texas Democrats not knowing whether to vote for a N-loving Republican or a Catholic! By the slimiest popular vote ever (34,220,984 JFK — 34,109,157 Nixon) the Catholic Democrat beat the supposed black loving Republican. JFK by the way carried Texas, which was then a Democrat stronghold state.
Needless to say, my initial exposure in voting for a President was an eye opener for me, which left a lasting impression that sort of shaped my political philosophy. “How so James?” some might ask. Well folks, as a Hispanic, I endured the discrimination many blacks underwent along with Hispanics during those troubling times. To be quiet honest, I should have voted for Nixon instead of JFK being of the terrible discrimination Hispanics endured in those years. But, my desire for a Catholic to lead our nation made me side with the Democrat Catholic candidate.
Living in a predominately Hispanic and Democrat stronghold in North Fort Worth I often was asked by those seeking political office for my help due to my involvements in my Catholic parish, as a newspaper writer and fund raiser. Often, I would help those Hispanic Democrats who were well educated and had a genuine interest to improve our Hispanic community. I never helped those individuals who were affiliated with radical Hispanic groups or were community activists. Again, I’d make political enemies with those, though Democrats, who were against those I supported. As the old saying goes, “I couldn’t win for losing!”
In the 1980s I openly supported President Ronald Reagan, much to the disgust of my Hispanic neighbors and supposedly friends. And when President Reagan cleaned President Carter’s clock that infuriated my Hispanic neighbors even more. When President Reagan won his second term, the hatred by Hispanics towards me became more intense, but I welcomed it and often challenged those who disagreed with me much to their disgust. My answer was simple, “This is America and you and I can vote for whoever the hell we want!”
By now, some of you are wondering why I rendered this account of my voting experience with the title of my piece. Folks, I voted the 1st day of early voting. My wife went later. While there my wife told me an elderly gentleman was livid when they wouldn’t allow him to vote. Seems that the gentleman had recently moved into our precinct and had not received his voting registration certificate. Though he had all sorts of identification and his former voting certificate from his previous precinct he was held back. He then began to shout, “I’m a Korean and Vietnam veteran and I went to fight for this country for our freedoms! I’m going to have leg surgery tomorrow and I don’t know if I can come back before the polls close on Nov. 6th! Ya’ll are not allowed to ask minorities and even those who are here illegally for a voter ID and here ya’ll are treating me like I’m not worthy to vote though I went to fight for our country!” My wife, a Hispanic, stated, “James, I hate to say this, but I agreed with the vet!”
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.