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What, you may wonder, happens to suits against the federal government when the money spigot closes? And if you have a suit against the U.S. — say a Federal Tort Claims Act action — what should you do?

Good questions. Glad you asked.

Many courts have simply issued stays of all civil cases. Civil ones aren’t as urgent as criminal cases, as no one has their liberty in jeopardy.

But you know what? At least two judges in civil actions have now told the Department of Justice to go pound sand. One in West Virginia and one in Puerto Rico.

In the Puerto Rican case, a judge called the government request for a stay “laughable.” As per the Bloomberg article:

In a ruling denying the government request, U.S. District Judge William G. Young said lapses in federal appropriations, like the current one triggered by President Donald Trump’s demand for funding for a border wall with Mexico, aren’t a government “policy” that could theoretically justify staying such a lawsuit.

“Let us talk plain — they are simply an abdication by the president and the Congress (which could override a presidential veto) of the duty to govern responsibly to the end that all the laws may be faithfully executed,” Young said in the Jan. 2 ruling in San Juan. “Nor does such a lapse in any way excuse this court from exercising its own constitutional functions.”

Young…sarcastically compared the situation to a major corporation that “for whatever reason” decided not to pay its attorneys involved in pending litigation and instructed them not to interact with the court.

“Then the corporation says to the court, ‘We greatly regret any disruptions caused to the court and to other litigants, but please stay all proceedings until we get our act together.’ This does not constitute ‘good cause’ for any stay,” Young wrote. “In fact, it is laughable.”

Lawyers hate it when the judge calls your arguments “laughable.” There was no justification, in Judge Young’s view, for treating a plaintiff and defendant differently when it comes to moving a case forward. An excuse that doesn’t work for the plaintiff won’t work for a defendant.

In the West Virginia action, one judge issued an order granting a stay for all civil cases affected by the shutdown. But another judge said, nope, no way, not in my courtroom.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin issued a general order Jan. 2 exempting civil cases assigned to him from the federal shutdown.

So what happens if you have an action against the federal government? We’re not talking about immigration cases or police department consent orders or the census. We’re talking nuts and bolts basic cases of the type that don’t find their way into the news.

My suggestion? If a case is ready for suit, file that suit. Push the case forward. Take advantage of the fact that the defendant might not have a lawyer right now due to its own malfeasance.

Can you imagine starting a suit and the government failing to answer? A default. An automatic win for the plaintiff. Move straight forward to an assessment of damages.

Will a judge allow the default to go forward? It seems like it will depend on the judge. Some have clearly told the government to pound sand while others are cutting it slack.

But the argument by both Judges Goodwin and Young is compelling: The plaintiff in a civil suit against the U.S. would not get the benefit of a stay because the lawyers ran out of money, so the U.S. shouldn’t either.

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Photo credit Evan Vucci / AP

[Cross-posted from Above the Law]

On Thursday morning Donald Trump threatened to veto all legislation over his wall. No such Trump veto will happen. Ever. On any bill.

I don’t get into the realm of political punditry often as it’s not what I do — I usually confine political comments to those issues that deal with tort “reform” — but today we make an exception because this goes, in essence, to all bills sent to the president.

We start this short analysis with the observation that Trump hasn’t vetoed a single bill. He’s the first president since James Garfield to act that way, and Garfield was only in office six and a half months before being shot dead.

Before that was Millard Fillmore who left office in 1853, who also served a partial term as he took office upon the death of Zachary Taylor. Taylor didn’t veto anything, but was in office only 16 months. Before that was William Henry Harrison, who died a month into office.

The last president to go a full term without a veto? John Quincy Adams, our sixth president who left office in 1829.

And a few more simple observations: First, Trump loves signing things and makes a big show of displaying his signature, even for executive orders.

Second, he campaigned as a “deal maker.” It matters not one whit if you agree or not, or think he’s good or not. This is the persona he wants the world to believe.

And now, with the House of Representative turning to Democratic control, any bill that passes both the House and Senate that is in any way contentious will be the result of bipartisan compromise. A deal.

So if Congress passes a bill — even one that’s a complete anathema to his other policies — he will sign it and claim “credit.” Even if he had nothing to do with its negotiation.

Envision, for a moment, a bipartisan compromise bill on immigration. Imagine it chock full of things Trump claims to hate and campaigned against.

Will he sign it? No, the contents of the bill don’t matter. Because more important than the contents is that he would be able to claim “credit” for something, even if he campaigned against it. ‘Look at me, the deal maker.’

Will Trump supporters have a feeling of betrayal — one of the most powerful human emotions? Possibly. But that’s a column for another day. Trump’s first instinct has always been to look inward as to what was good for him today.

Why write about this now? Because every so often you will see Republican Senators claim that they won’t pass a bill because the president won’t sign it. Don’t believe it. It’s a diversion.

Trump will sign anything.

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Photo by Saul Loeb – Pool/Getty Images)

You don’t see me writing about criminal law here for good reason — it’s not what I do. But something happened during the sentencing hearing for General Michael Flynn today that deserves mention.

As many know, he was showing up to be sentenced for lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians and with regard to statements he made about his involvement as an agent for Turkey. Given that he was Trump’s National Security Advisor, and he was compromised, this was obviously a big thing.

But during the sentencing, press reports were that Judge Emmet G. Sullivan was, shall, we say, a bit irritated. To say the least. He called Flynn’s conduct “a very serious offense” and said he was not hiding his “disgust” at what Mr. Flynn had done. At one point he asked prosecutors if they had considered charging him with treason.

A small part of that anger may have been due to the fact that, prior to the sentence, Flynn’s lawyers suggested he might  have been set up, or duped, by the FBI.

And this is the reason that I write on this subject — because it has nothing to do with criminal law but about the relationship between attorneys and clients in general:

At the hearing, Judge Sullivan brought the subject up, making sure that Flynn distanced himself from the comments of his lawyers and fully acknowledged that he knew he wasn’t supposed to be lying to the FBI, even if they didn’t tell him he was the subject of an investigation.

Who’s idea was it to vacillate a bit on the reason Flynn got busted? Lawyer or client? Beats me. But at the hearing it didn’t matter to the lawyer.

At the hearing, to spare his client, Flynn attorney Rob Kelner said his client shouldn’t be punished for the conduct of his attorneys. He fell on his sword; he threw himself under the bus; he bit the bullet. No matter the metaphor you choose, the lawyer owned the problem and told the court the bucks stops with him.

Because that’s what a good lawyer is supposed to do.

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Papa Sharpton and Daughter Sharpton

On the one hand, I hate to refer Al Sharpton’s daughter, Dominique Sharpton, as “Sharpton’s Daughter” as she has an identity all her own. We all do.

On the other hand, nobody would be writing about her $95K settlement for her trip and fall case if her name was Jane Jones. The headlines below occurred because she is not only the daughter of someone famous, but a famous person many love to pillory.  You’ll notice that it is Papa Sharpton whose name appears in the headlines.

This trip and fall occurred on New York City streets, and it was the City that was the defendant.

I saw the headline in the Post first, then looked around to see what others were writing. Here are a few:

Al Sharpton’s daughter gets $95K settlement for sprained ankle (NY Post)

Al Sharpton’s Daughter Bags $95,000 Settlement for Sprained Ankle (Breitbart)

Al Sharpton’s Daughter Sprains Ankle ‘Real Bad’ On NYC Street, Scores $95,000 In Settlement (Sarah Palin)

Then a few tweets about that sprained ankle. You can find plenty, but this is a sample from “Sheriff” David Clarke:

Now as I said, something smelled about the headlines. And it smelled because I’ve litigated plenty against the City of New York and know that they don’t give up the taxpayer coin easily. And if they could make a point by knocking down a high-ish profile case, they would.

So I logged into the court system and pulled up a document to see about that “sprained ankle.” It took all of two minutes to find what I needed.Here’s a bill or particulars that outlines the injuries.

It turns out that the “sprained ankle” was actually ankle surgery (along with a number of torn tendons and ligaments). Now I know that  confusing a sprain with surgery isn’t the kind of mistake that I would make, or any of my readers would make, or any family, friend, or random stranger would make.

To make that “mistake” one needs an agenda to distort the news. The Post story had a single line about the surgery buried in the story, but oddly omitted that from the headline. 

Neither Breitbart nor Palin — who picked up the story from the local source that being the NY Post — could be bothered with mentioning the surgery. A 95K settlement over a sprained ankle is far more likely to generate outrage and clicks than a story where ankle surgery was needed. Surgery, you might rightly guess, didn’t fit their agenda.

This was not a one-off error for the NY Post, by the way. I covered this case back in 2015 when the Post ran a headline about Kid Sharpton missing a court conference for this matter — a conference that no client ever, ever goes to. It’s a scheduling conference that the lawyers handle. Yet there was the yellow journalism headline, trying to make something out of, quite literally, nothing.

And both stories were written by their regular courthouse reporter Julia Marsh, who certainly knows better after handling the beat for so many years. It’s not like she doesn’t know how to pull documents off the easy-to-use New York State electronic filing system.

This was, near as I can tell, a run-of-the-mill case of the City of New York neglecting its streets  and someone inevitably getting hurt while crossing one. When you’re looking  out for cars, pedestrians, dogs, bikes and other distractions, both dynamic and static, it’s easy to miss a pothole. The nature of the distractions may well affect the way a jury apportions liability between plaintiff and defendant.

This 90-second video, for instance, helps to show how an unexpected defect will cause huge numbers of people to trip.

To settle this case, as with any other, the City would have done a simple analysis trying to figure out the “value” of the injuries, factored in the extent of their defect and adjusted downward for the plaintiff sharing part of the blame. They would also factor in how a plaintiff appeared — was she a nun or a convicted criminal?  And they might, as they no doubt did here, adjust further downward if the plaintiff said dumb things on social media. 

The only thing noteworthy to the suit was that some tabloids could figure out a way to create outrage by distorting what happened.


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Rudy Giuliani

Most folks are familiar with the old Carl Sandburg quote, “If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.”

There’s much truth to that, because if we have something important to say on facts or law, any competent lawyer will put that up front.

This idea came home to roost on Friday when Rudy Giuliani spoke on behalf of Donald Trump. Or at least he tweeted, which apparently is good enough for legal representation these days.

The tweet came on the heels of Trump claiming he answered the questions of Special Prosecutor Robert Muller “very easily.

But Giuliani went off message as he completely contradicted his client, saying: “Answering those questions was a nightmare. It took him about three weeks to do what would normally take two days.” 

So what to do? Well, this is where the Sandburg quote comes in…notice how this Giuliani tweet is utterly devoid of facts and law on the issue at hand…

Some in the media are distorting my statement that answering the questions was a nightmare. That is because as President he was interrupted so often with critical and more important matters. It illustrates why Mueller should end this now and media should be fair.

Giuliani starts in one place, trying to reconcile his comment with his client’s. But then goes wildly off course, in the space of one measly tweet, and Mr. Law and Order asks for immunity.

Now lawyers see similar stuff all the time in legal arguments. Lawyer 1 says the evidence shows red light, and Lawyer 2 argues that his client’s pants are purple.  

Lawyers aren’t fooled. We know distraction when we see it, and the job of Lawyer 1 is to make sure that the judge sees that Lawyer 2 never addressed the issue. The only thing the purple pants arguing  lawyer did was destroy his own credibility on the next issue, whatever the next issue may be.

Here, the issue was whether Trump was answering the questions and Giuliani simply makes an argument that presidents are busy, so Mueller should stop asking questions.

The nonsense from Giuliani didn’t stop there, however, as he continued with another inane tweet of defense, this time to the campaign finance laws he appears to have broken. The best Giuliani could do was claim that because John Edwards wasn’t convicted for a payment to cover up an affair/child, that Trump is innocent.

It’s as if Giuliani said that because one bank robbery defendant was found not guilty all must be. As if all factual scenarios are the same. Here’s the humdinger of a tweet:

The President is not implicated in campaign finance violations because based on Edwards case and others the payments are not campaign contributions. No responsible prosecutor would premise a criminal case on a questionable interpretation of the law.

Sometimes, the things to look for are not the distortion of facts in a case but the distractions of opposing counsel. Trump does this all the time, of course. You can ask him about campaign contribution violations and he’ll answer something having to do with Hillary Clinton.

But when lawyers do it, it really brings home the point that there’s trouble in the house and the lawyers don’t have the tools to deal with it.

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This is a repost — the message hasn’t changed, but I continue to run turkey trots in the costume. The cigar, however, has been updated.
————————
People in mixed families — some of whom voted for/against Trump — may be dreading Thanksgiving and seeing certain relatives.

But it isn’t up to me to tell you how to grow up and handle awkward and painful situations or deal with the Crazy Uncle (apparently it’s never a crazy aunt).  If you haven’t figured it out yet, you are unlikely to learn how to do so here.

This doesn’t mean you can’t be thankful. As you likely should be, if you are reading this post.

The first time I did a Thanksgiving Day message, it was in the form of a Blawg Review, recounting the time Arlo Guthrie came to dinner at my house for a dinner that couldn’t be beat. That was 2009.

In 2011 I wished one and all a Happy Thanksgiving as I celebrated my fifth year blogging. I decorated my blog that year with the photo you see here: me dressed up in a turkey suit for a local race. That message is below.

In 2013 I came back with this message to put away those little pocket computers, unless you wanted to use the phone function that some of them have to talk with those dear to you, but perhaps not so near.

I am now a blogger for 11 years. And this past Sunday I put on that turkey suit that decorates this post for a local 5K, and I’ll put it on again for another on Thanksgiving morning.  Because I can.

The costume does not come with a trigger warning. So if I scare the bejesus out of someone — and oddly enough it does frighten some small children — they will just have to deal with it.

Running around in a turkey suit sure beats one of the alternative lives I could be having: Living in the anarchy and horror of Syria. Or suffering with the  terrorism in France. Or Lebanon. Or Israel. Or Nigeria/Cameroon. Or Yemen. Mali. Iraq. Libya. Egypt. Afghanistan. And I’m only scratching the surface here.

There are many different ways to count your blessings. This is the way I want to do it. My original posting from 2011 is below.

–Eric “Turkeywitz”

—————–

Now you can see that I have a couple pictures here of me in a turkey suit, shot Sunday at a local Turkey Trot. And you might be wondering what the heck that has to do with blogging, or lawyering, or five-year anniveraries. And, you also might wonder if I’m nuts to put them up here, out of concern that it diminishes the seriousness of what I do for clients in the courtroom. Or that it might be seen by a potential client who will quickly hightail it elsewhere.

Glad you asked.

I see my fair share of human misery come through the doors with busted up bodies that shouldn’t be busted up. Anyone that deals with the consumer end of law will see variations on this theme, from divorce, criminal charges, bankruptcy, etc. And seeing those things gives me (and should give everyone) a greater appreciation for what we have. I know, from seeing it happen to others, that a car could blast through an intersection and instantaneously change my life and those of my family forever. Don’t say it couldn’t happen to you, because it sure happens to some people, who’s only fault might have been sitting patiently at a light. And it only takes a momentary lapse of attention on the part of a driver.

There is no limit to the number of ways that life could be quickly altered for the worse, and I’m not sitting in the middle of a war zone.

So I am thankful for each day that I get. And if I get the chance to dress up silly and run a 1-mile Gobbler race with a few hundred local kids, giving out gift certificates to a local cupcake shop for those that finish near my feathers, then yeah, I’m going to do it. And if I can have a few hundred adults in the 5K race chase the turkey, with a chance to win free entry into a little half marathon trail race I put together, well that is fun too. Community events are often like that. Fun. And it’s nice not just to participate, but to help create them.

In deciding to dress like a turkey for this event for the third year in a row — and with my name I’m the natural choice for this gig —  I’m also mindful of Benjamin Franklin’s view of this particular fowl, as he advocated for it to be our national bird instead of the bald eagle:

For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America . . . He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.

I decline the opportunity to put on the “serious lawyer face” 24/7. You might see the suit and tie shot on my website, but you won’t see it on my blog. Here I get to let my feathers down.

I write this blog the same way I go through life. I try to enjoy it, while at the same time taking what I do for a living very seriously. I think that’s reflected in the 1,000+ posts that I’ve done. And yes, this is the same reason that I have for running  the occasional April Fool’s gag.

This week is Thanksgiving. Look around you. Be thankful for what you have. And live each day to the fullest.

I hate to use Latin phrases in law, as it invariably sounds pretentious, but I’ll make an exception today. Carpe diem.

Now if someone could please cue up a copy of Alice’s Restaurant, I’d be most grateful. I hear Arlo may be coming to dinner….

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Noble McIntyre, unloading turkeys in 2017.

Over the years, I’ve had my fair share of fun skewering attorney marketing.

There was, for example, the law firm that advertised over a urinal.

Lawyers that used Google ads or YouTube to chase plane crashes and train accidents.

And there were companies that wanted me to advertise on funeral websites or in an unethical manner.

But when a law firm does it right — no matter how rare it may appear — we should sit up and take notice, yes?

Enter, stage right, the McIntyre Law Firm in Oklahoma City.

What did they do right to earn a little free press from me?

On Thanksgiving Day they will distribute 2,500 free turkeys to the people in their area. And, I’m guessing, they will feel pretty good about doing it.

It’s the 9th year in a row for the firm that, it just so happens, finds it convenient to distribute them from the parking lot of the law firm building.

And this is part of a larger effort by the firm and other local personal injury firms:

“Our goal every year is the same – to serve as many Oklahoma families as possible,” said attorney Noble McIntyre, a co-founder of Lawyers Fighting Hunger and a former President of the Oklahoma Association for Justice. “The combined financial efforts of so many Oklahoma plaintiff trial lawyers donating to Lawyers Fighting Hunger, combined with the physical resources of the Local 157 Oklahoma City fire fighters and the Oklahoma City Police officers allows us the opportunity to be of greater service to the Oklahomans most in need of a helping hand. With the help of plaintiff trial lawyers across Oklahoma we are able to not only provide thousands of free drinks and hamburgers at each location on the day of each event but also free turkeys for thousands to take home to their families.”

Nobody out there has to yell and scream “hire me!” The turkey recipients aren’t injured.

The lawyers just do good deeds in the community.  And when needs arrive for family or friends that may call out for legal assistance there’s a pretty good chance someone will remember who the good guys are.

Community relations. It may be an effort, but it’s not a complicated concept.

You can read more about the firm’s efforts in leading over 100 other Oklahoma firms around the state to feed the needy at holiday time at this link.

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Christine Blasey Ford, by Manuel Santelices. Used with permission.

Much will be written about the horror show yesterday before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the emotional testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh. While there will be a million hot takes on its immediate significance, I’d prefer to look long term at the damage to the Court as an institution, and how to fix it.

Already suffering from deep politicization –made worse by the failure to the GOP to even give Judge Merrick Garland a hearing — it seems that the Court is doomed to have whatever shred of its integrity and dignity destroyed unless the Nation acts.

Over at Reason, however, Nick Gillespie sees no hope, and calls it “impossible.” In an article he wrote before the hearing, 3 Questions To Ask Yourself While Watching the Kavanaugh/Ford Hearings Today, he writes:

Is there any way to depoliticize the selection of Supreme Court justices? Almost certainly not, and it probably would be inadvisable in any case. The Supreme Court is part of the government after all, and the justices read the opinion polls and headlines too. They are selected by one politician (the president) and vetted by others (senators). Getting politics out of the process is impossible and ultimately, elections do indirectly change the makeup of the bench.

I disagree and offer my three ways to restore the integrity of the institution.

But before doing so, it’s important to note that when the Constitution was written, the average life expectancy was 36.  When you factor out all those that died in infancy and childhood, you obviously got a higher age, but it still would not have compared to today’s average age of 78.  Serving on the High Court was the culmination of a career.

Now, however, it is seen as a way to put someone on the Court for 30-40 years, thereby making each seat that much more potent. When you combine that with Congress’s continuing refusal to make tough decisions and instead pass its power to various agencies that make decisions without voter approval, you get a Court made even more powerful by virtue of the breadth of issues it must decide.

So how to deal with this? My three suggestions:

Term Limits. This is not a new idea and has been kicking around for awhile. If each jurist gets an 18 year term, with a new one picked every two years, you have regular turnover that reduces the impact of any one justice. After leaving the Court the judges can sit by designation in any District Court of Court of Appeals of their choosing, as retiring SCOTUS justices do now, and do so for life.

Pinch Hitters. As we saw with the Garland nomination, Senators have a motive to leave seats empty until a President comes along from their own party. This is, obviously, an insult to the Constitution. If the Democrats get a chance to get revenge and hold a seat open until the next election, they surely will do so. Additionally, there is sometimes an empty seat when judges must recuse themselves due to conflicts of interest, which was the subject of a satiric April Fool’s gag I wrote 10 years ago that had various justices recusing (or not) based on their participation in a fantasy baseball league. The gist of it was the recusal rules aren’t really all that clear and justices decide for themselves.

The solution? If there is a vacancy due to death, retirement or recusal, the Court pulls a name at random of a sitting Court of Appeals judge with 10+ years on the bench to sit by designation. This decreases the chance of Senators playing politics with the Court.

Advice and Consent. The Constitution says the President appoints the judges with the “advice and consent” of the Senate. But all too often, it seems, there is a request for consent without asking for that advice. The Judiciary Committee can agree, and make part of its rules, that it will provide to the President a list of 10 (or 20, or whatever) judges and that a hearing will be given for any one culled from that list. This, of course, requires actual cooperation among the Senators, who would choose the list members by a supermajority, thereby taking another step toward removing politics and eliminating extremist choices from either side. It would only be effective, obviously,  after the next election.

But you know what? This all presumes that the Senate actually wants the Court to be immune from politics. The more cynical view, and perhaps the more accurate one, is that Court nominations and fights are just another means of generating anger, which is then used for fundraising purposes.

So there are means out there to depoliticize the court. It can be done. The question is whether there is the will to do so.

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