Monday, October 29, 2007

Anna's Goth Phobia

My son, Eddie, and I went to the Peace March in Seattle Saturday; most of the press called it an Anti-War March, although from the quantity of signs being carried around it looked more like an “Impeach Bush March” or “Impeach Bush and Cheney March” or “Impeach the Whole Administration March” – he does draw out certain emotions. From one point of view there were many points of view displayed, including "Jena 6" "Don't Bomb Iran" "End the Palestine Occupation" and "Code Pink for Peace"; a student group organized the march but there were plenty of us older folk, too. I think my favorite among the marchers’ signs was “Why Not Try a Friendly Foreign Policy?”

Yeah, why not?

My daughter, Anna, didn't want to go to the march – she feared there would be some of those Goth people there. We didn’t see any Goths, but there was a group of scary looking dudes dressed in black from head to toe with their faces covered up; Eddie said he wasn’t picking up any peaceful vibes from these guys. The children have senses we used to.

I learned about Anna’s Goth phobia last April while visiting London. I had business in Vienna and she said she would go with me this year, but only if we could spend a few days in London; and how could I say no? On a prior trip I learned about a place called Camden Town, which is a short train ride north of the City, and packed with great restaurants, live music venues and lots of energy.

So we took the train to Camden Town looking for something to eat and some music. The crowd and energy had grown quite a bit since my last visit, and as far as you could see shops and vendors lined both sides of the main street that runs through town. London must be one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world and Camden Town brings it all together in one swirling cacophony of sight, sound and smell.

As we walked up the street, I was intrigued by the shops selling leather coats, boots with spikes, wild dark looking things, and heavy metal music booming out the front door. But try as I might, Anna would not let me enter any of them. We saw a small group of kids dressed in black leather with spiked mohawk haircuts sitting on the bridge on the other side of the street, and I didn’t realize then what it meant, but she hugged me close as we crossed the bridge and I told her the police, who were keeping an eye on them, would protect us.

Later we found a terrific Caribbean restaurant for dinner, and after we ordered our meal, Anna said: “Dad, aren’t you afraid of them, too?” She was talking about the Goth people, and Camden Town had more than its fair share of them out and about that evening.

I said, “No, I think they are funny. They mean no harm. Why are you afraid of them?” She replied in all seriousness, “I am afraid they will eat me.”

I immediately called my wife at home on the cell phone and told her, “You didn’t tell me about Anna’s Goth phobia.” And I could hear her laughing all the way across 9 time zones.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Let the People Decide Where the Truth Lies

Four Justices of the Washington Supreme Court, the print media, the bloggers and, most if not all of the Seattle Times letter writers have incorrectly characterized the issue decided in the case of Rickert v. State of Washington, Public Disclosure Commission, which was announced on October 4, 2007. The contention that the Supreme Court declared that politicians can lie with impunity as Justice Madsen’s dissent alleged is simply wrong; the Court said no such thing. Unfortunately, the headlines picked up Justice Madsen’s over-statement, few people appear to have actually read the decision, and none of this serves the public interest.

In Rickert, the incumbent and victor in a State legislative race complained to the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) that his opponent, Ms. Rickert, made false statements about his record in her campaign literature. Under the relevant Washington statute, the PDC had authority to examine the complaint, decide what, in fact, was the truth and, in the event of a lie, impose punishment on the perpetrator. The PDC is a commission composed of men and women appointed by Governor Gregoire; they are unelected and unaccountable to anyone. And the PDC concluded that Ms. Rickert’s campaign literature contained false statements and they imposed a $1,000 fine.

The legal issue in the Supreme Court was whether the PDC’s statutory authority to censor political speech ran afoul of free speech rights under the Washington and U.S. Constitutions. In other words, the legal issue was whether the governor’s appointed commission should be allowed to decide for the voters who is telling the truth. The issue was not “can politicians lie” as Justice Madsen’s dissent framed it; the issue was “who gets to decide”.

Our state’s political system has four branches of government: executive, legislative, judicial, and the people. The first words in our State Constitution, Article I, Section 1 say: “All political power is inherent in the people, and governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and are established to protect and maintain individual rights.” The inherent sovereign power of the people to decide what is best is reflected in the people’s power of referendum and initiative and, ultimately, in the power to elect the judges of our trial courts and the Courts of Appeal and the Justices of the Supreme Court.

In our system, the people will decide where the truth lies not some governor’s appointed commission. And in the race at issue, it appears that the people had little trouble figuring out who was telling the truth – the incumbent was re-elected by an overwhelming majority of 79%.

The headlines missed the point of the Court’s majority decision, which was only that liberty and free speech are at risk when we are compelled to rely on the government to tell us what is the truth, and the dissent’s hyperbole lead the media astray. Justice Madsen wrote that “the majority’s decision is an invitation to lie with impunity” and “honest discourse and honest candidates are lost in the maelstrom.”

Framing the issue in those terms must mean that politicians who lie will always win because the voters are incapable of figuring out the truth. But that was not what happened in this case and it gives the people too little credit to see through the maelstrom and decide for themselves who is telling the truth and who is not.

Let’s let the people decide where the truth lies.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

My First Job as a Lawyer

My first position after I became a lawyer was as a Judge Advocate with the Marine Corps. If you’ve seen the movie “A Few Good Men”, in my last year of service I had the job played by Kevin Bacon, and I had a case very similar to the one portrayed in the movie.[1]

I went to Officer Candidate School during the summer of 1975 and then on to law school that fall. Before I graduated from law school, during summer breaks I went on active duty and worked in the legal office at the 3rd Marine Air Wing Air Base at El Toro, California. Because I had not yet gone through The Basic School, I didn’t have any uniforms, and I wore a suit when I reported for duty the first time.

The Orders always say: “Report to the Commanding General” and, unaware there was another protocol for it, I found my way to the building with the sign out front that said: “Commanding General.” I walked down the hallway with a crisp determination until I saw a door that said: “Commanding General,” and I walked right in. I found working at his desk a ram rod straight guy with a grey crew cut flat top haircut, a bronze, weathered face featuring sparkling blue eyes and a chiseled chin, a stack of ribbons on his chest that went to his shoulder, and two gleaming stars on his shirt lapels. He seemed a bit startled when I burst in the door but, fearing nothing, I walked up to the front of his desk and in my best parade ground voice said, “Lieutenant Bond, reporting for duty, Sir!”

The General was actually a little amused by this apparition that had suddenly appeared in his office through a door that was never used, and after inquiring into exactly who the hell I was and what the hell I was doing here, he hollered for the First Sergeant to come take care of me. Outside, the First Sergeant took me aside and gently told me that next time I could just come through the front door to the front desk and check in with the Corporal; and it would be best if I got over to the supply building ASAP and got some uniforms, too, Sir!

After graduation, passing the bar exam and about 8 months of training at The Basic School at Quantico, Virginia and Naval Justice School at Newport, Rhode Island, I reported for duty at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) boot camp in San Diego, California. I was, as we learned to say at OCS, a high stepping, highly motivated, highly educated, hard charging soldier of the sea, and in this case I was burdened with the added disability of being a full fledged lawyer eager to get my first client out of some jam.

In those days, when a Marine was to be brought up on a minor offense that his Company Commander would deal with, the Marine had the right to consult counsel before the Commander could hold his “non judicial punishment” hearing. And it seems that the only soon to be Marines who were ever in that situation at MCRD were recruits who decided shortly after getting off the bus after flying all night from the middle of America, a good haircut and the first seriously loud yelling at, that they had made a real big mistake and would just as soon prefer to go back home. But they had signed a contract and the government had spent a little money on them so far, and it wasn’t as easy as raising your hand and saying, “Excuse me, Sir, I think I’ll go home now.”

I was always intrigued by the difference in training philosophy between officers and enlisted. From the minute we got off the bus at OCS, our drill instructors were in our faces challenging us to go home just as soon as we asked – they called it “drop on request” or DOR. It seemed like an effective way to challenge a young man to reach a little higher in life and not take the easy way out. After all, who wants to be a quitter? But for reasons I hope are well thought out, the enlisted recruits were never given an easy way out.

So these kids would create some disturbance or be disrespectful or try to get in trouble and they would be brought up on some charge under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). My father, who was a Marine Corps officer, too, and one time Executive Officer of the Marine Barracks at the U.S. Naval Brig at Yokusuka, Japan, told me that in his day they referred to the UCMJ as the Uniform Coddling of Military Juveniles. But, thanks to some enlightened thinkers, in my era they got a free lawyer before they were to be convicted and punished.

In the first few months of my first real job as a lawyer, I would come to work in the morning and find 6-10 freshly shorn young men lined up outside the door to my office waiting the see “their lawyer.” And I would bring them in one at time, sit them down, and try to listen – through torrents of tears – to their tales of woe. It seemed like every one of these big and strong guys and a few little and weak ones, but tough guys all, would just cry their eyes out, begging me to do something to help them get home. Instead of doing any real legal work, I was a camp counselor and psychologist who provided a safe place of refuge where, in as calm and unthreatening a voice as I could muster, I would try to reassure them that it wasn’t so bad, there was a reason why they wanted to join, and in a few months they would be glad they stuck it out. And more often than not it worked.

[1] In my case, a platoon drill instructor was convicted of battery at a General Court Martial. He had ordered two of his recruits to “straighten out” another recruit who was caught with chocolate cake from the mess hall in his foot locker, and the end result was they ruptured the kid’s spleen. Although a senior officer did not commit suicide as in the movie, the day before the trial began Marine Commandant General Barrow arrived at the depot and spoke to all officers and NCO's about recruit abuse. This was the jury pool and it made for a very interesting jury selection on the first day of trial. Every one on the panel said: “Yes, Sir, I was there and I recall the Commandant said something about disloyal, stupid, cowards and super-cowards and how he wanted none of those in his Marine Corps and no, Sir, it will have no impact on my decision here.”