Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Friday, March 16, 2018

For some reason I was invited to participate on a panel at Buffalo State following the screening of Free Angela and All Political Prisoners last night. Of course I said I'd do it: I seldom need to be asked twice about that sort of thing. I love feeling like Norman Mailer in the beginning of Armies of the Night even though I don't act like that. Still, being the only old white guy on the dais was kind of odd.

The movie itself was quite good. I was familiar with the broad outlines of the story, of course. Davis, who Ronald Reagan's Board of Regents had fired from UCLA because she was unabashedly a member of the Communist Party, was involved with the defense committee for the Soledad Brothers, three inmates who were charged with the killing of a corrections officer. Davis developed a friendship with George Jackson, one of the three inmates, and through him became friendly with his brother. She'd been receiving hate mail and threatening letters and bought some guns for personal protection. Jackson's brother -- who was, I think, 19-- used the guns that were registered in Davis' name to bust the Soledad Brothers out while they were in court, taking the judge and the ADA and some jurors hostage. That plan went about the way you'd expect, and Davis went to ground. Kids, when you are implicated in a crime, the 'A' answer is probably to talk to a lawyer. In any event, following a nationwide manhunt she was captured and extradited to California, where she was tried and acquitted. (In the grand California tradition the prosecution over-tried its case, which went on for months. A five day trial that omitted the politics and the rest of the atmospherics might have gone differently, although the defense team did some really fantastic work as well.)

It is tempting to think of this outcome as the system working the way it is supposed to, but  I think the larger take-away is that the system worked the way it always does, and Davis' outcome is just a outlier in the overall story. George Jackson was shot down in a prison yard while Davis was awaiting trial. He was in prison in the first place on a $70 dollar larceny rap, and had spent seven years in solitary. Davis, a real-deal intellectual, was in fear of her life because of her exercise of her free speech rights-- and that fear extended to a legitimate fear that she might meet Jackson's fate at the hands of law enforcement.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

At various times in my life I've enjoyed card and board games. I went through a big backgammon phase, for example. Trivial Pursuit was consuming for a while, and Risk. I drifted away from this, but I'm thinking that it would be fun to try All In Your Mind, a card came that is played in conjunction with  another game. The rules seem simple: everyone is dealt two cards: a Therapy card and one of five Mind Game cards which tell you what mind game to play on the others: gaselighing, guilt tripping, passive aggression, victim blaming and self-sabotage. There are also three "no game at all" cards. The object is to figure out what game, if any, the others are playing. This sounds hilarious, and quite likely to end in tears and broken friendships.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Stephanie Clifford seems to set up a dilemma, and as is common with Democratic dilemmas it is a Clinton dilemma. How can I distinguish ol' Bill's dalliance from President Trump's pre-Presidential sexual transgression? Certainly it is true that Clinton took advantage of the power disparity with his affair, and, oddly, Trump just seems to have thrown money around (and not that much of it). On its face that should make Clinton the worse transgressor, and maybe that's how it shakes out by some measure, but I think there is a difference, and the difference is notable. Both Clinton and Trump have large sexual appetites, but we expected more from Clinton. We expected that his intelligence and passion for policy, the things that defined him as a President, would allow him to overcome- or us to overlook-- his other defining quality, and when that didn't happen we felt betrayed. He'd permitted his tragic flaw to become the focus of his Presidency, undermining all of the decent things he'd done, or was trying to do.

Trump is just being Trump. His narcissism and his shallow nature are exactly what anyone who has walked by a newsstand in the last 40 years knew we were going to get, and frankly I don't know that we will ever see the bottom of this barrel. It doesn't matter, really, because his presence in the White House is a powerful suggestion that the US has lost, or is at least losing, the ability to self-govern. 

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

I've always assumed that Dykes to Watch Out For was set in Northhampton, or possibly Vermont, but apparently some people think it takes place in the Midwest, and even possibly Minneapolis.

Friday, March 02, 2018

In heavy rotation, to say the least. I assign Hamilton to my Constitutional Law students because its vision of the Constitution myth is more inclusive. Notwithstanding the efforts of any number of judges and law professors the Constitution has evolved, and I believe that it remains a functioning framework.
There are a lot of theories about what constitutes the American Character, but I'm mostly of the view that we are above all a nation of optimists.By some measures we are one of the oldest nations on the globe, but when we are at our best I think we are still a nation characterized by youth, even if we are no longer a young nation. This song gets that, I think. Franklin says:
Yeah, you can all thank me
Took some lightning, a kite, and a fat brass key
And they're putting up streetlights in Gay Paris
You're welcome from our young nation
I'm the only American the French wanna see
They call me a genius, I can't disagree
They have guns, they have funds
They can set us free
Invest in my reputation
And do you know who the fuck I am?
Yeah, do you know who the fuck I am?
Do you know who the fuck I am?
I am Poor-Richard's-Almanack-writing Benjamin Fuckin' Franklin
I said, early to bed, bitches, early to rise
They make a man healthy, wealthy, and wise
Soldiers are fighting for freedom, they have no supplies
So diplomacy happens at night
John's debates at the gates of Versailles
He whines and berates and awaits a reply
As I stay up late with a succulent breast or a thigh
Alright, diplomacy happens at night
And do you know who the fuck I am?
Yeah, do you know who the fuck I am?
Do you know who the fuck I am?
I am seventy-six-and-I'll-Still-Kick-Your-Ass Fuckin' Franklin
One pain that lingers, the hitch in my stride
Is my son back at home who I could not guide
Who sits all alone in a prison cell on the wrong side
Stands against our young nation
So I play my ambassador part with pride
I am known in the world, and the world is wide
To my children, my sins may be magnified, but I'd
Do it all again, no hesitation
And do you know who the fuck I am?
Yeah, do you know who the fuck I am?
Do you know who the fuck I am?
I am Poor-Richard's-Almanack-writing Benjamin Fuckin' Franklin
who the fuck I am?
(Do you know who the fuck I am?) who the fuck I am?
(Do you know who the fuck I am?)
I am Poor-Richard's-Almanack-writing
Polymath, bifocal-wearing
Harp and glass-armonica-playing
Benjamin Fuckin' Franklin
First of all, Colin Meloy nails it. His Benjamin Franklin comes on like a badass for four lines, but then comes the crusher: "You're welcome from our young nation." The private Franklin becomes more visible as the song progresses, but even the verse about his son is really about his love for the nation he was central in inventing.

And that last word is the most important. When I talk about national identity with lawyers from other places this is a point I try to get out: The US could be better, but it really was the first to try this kind of thing, and it has taken some refining, but we are working on it. When I see how aggressively we can turn on ourselves I question why I am standing in front of a class full of persons of color explaining Article I Section 9:

The migration or importation of such persons as any of the states now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each person.
This year I just threw the slide up and asked, "We all clear on what this was about?" They were.

Even so, I believe in this stuff. God help me, I'm a patriot. I don't think you can be a lawyer and not be a patriot. So this song is reassuring to me.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

If you can’t get elected without taking money from child murderers, why are you running?”

Brian Higgins, my congressman, was pretty bad on gun control, and then he got okay,  and now he's good. As I am writing this I have just received notification on my phone that there were shots fired in a Georgia high school, with no injuries reported. Kids, if you are going to take this past where we are today-- which is already further than we've gotten since, probably, the Brady Bill-- you are going to have to get a lot of your peers registered, and they are going to have to hit the streets. Can it be done? I think it can, but it is going to be a big lift. There are a lot of people for whom guns are a single issue. They need to know that gun violence is unacceptable, and you are going to have to be the ones that explain it to them.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Judged undergrad Mock Trial yesterday. Mad props to Jon Lines and Peter Yacobucci -- the Buffalo State students that I teach along with them can stand in the room with any of the students I saw yesterday.

It's a funny thing about teaching: I've been doing it for a long time now, and one of the big things I've learned is that it really doesn't matter where your students start-- as long as you gear your starting place to their abilities you can move them to the place where they can excel. I judged two rounds, so I saw 24 students in all. I find that I don't really care about where the students are from, for the most part, but two of the teams I saw were from medium-fancy colleges, and they comported themselves very well. (Overheard at lunch: "How come these kids are so much better than the guys I see in court every day? Most of those guys don't seem like they should be able to find their way into their own socks.")

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