The aptly named Fibber Mc Gee had a wife named Molly. As with many couples Fibber often saw his remarks as witty whereas Molly saw them for what they were. In most of their more than 1600 radio episodes from 1935 to 1959, Fibber would spout out some lame attempt at humor and Molly would set the record straight with, “T’aint funny Mc Gee”. I dredged up this sage advice to obtuse comedians when I walked into one of my favorite shops and saw that my friends who run it had posted a sign derisive of lawyers, banker and others.
I know the owners well and find them caring and witty. That made this lapse of awareness even harder to understand. They are certainly not old but, perhaps, old enough to remember the days of “Whites Only” or “No Irish Need Apply”. We all are aware of our current pariahs, Muslims, Arabs and Mexicans. Should we not be among these groups we might not mind the plethora of movies and television shows depicting Arabs, Muslims and Mexicans as murderers and drug runners. We might even nod knowingly at caricatures of Muslims berating women or Mexicans who look like gangsters.
One of the ironies of the sign posted by my friends is it contains several pieces of advice about holding one’s tongue or not saying words we cannot take back. In other words, it recognizes my Mother’s sound advice: “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing.”
Over the years I have from time to time lost sight of this wisdom. Each time I have regretted it. One of my worst memories, and one I cannot exorcise, is from 1966 just after I got out of the Air Force. I grew up in Oklahoma which at that time was segregated by law. The dominant white culture had a lexicon of numerous “witty” sayings. One of these was sometimes used to denigrate certain products such as Spam or Vienna Sausages, etc. Men, it was a male thing, would respond to a comment about a product they disliked, “Well, a thousand Niggers couldn’t be wrong.” In other words, only a “Colored” person would eat that. We white guys would laugh.
Well, back to 1966. I was working on the night shift at RCA in Bloomington, Indiana with an African American friend of mine at a time when we both smoked cigarettes. I smoked Winston’s and he smoked a menthol type. When a mutual friend of ours commented over the lunch break about the odious smell of the menthols, unfortunately, it just popped out of my mouth, “Well, a thousand Niggers can’t be wrong.”
My Black friend looked at me with sadness and said, “That hurt my feelings.” Things changed after that.
My friends, perhaps your sign may be witty to some, but to others it hurts feelings. I know that was not what you were thinking. Perhaps you were like me in 1966 and just were not thinking at all. Perhaps, as Ronald Reagan might have said, “My friends, take down that sign!”
The current presidential campaign began so long ago who wins in November has lost all flavor, except, who will be the First; will we have a First Lady or a First Gentleman? After so much mutual garbage exchange, it matters little who sits at the head of the table at White House dinners. However, who sits at the foot of the table holds considerable opportunity for making the cable news channels giddy.
Our first First Lady to occupy the White House was the redoubtable Abigail Adams who is remembered for her sage advice to John on matters of State and for hanging her family’s laundry in the East Room of the presidential mansion.
For over two hundred years our First Ladies, they have all been women so far, have admired the White House from afar and then proceeded to transform it to their liking when they moved in. Of course, the male presidents, they have all been male so far, also enforced their tastes, or lack there of, on the Executive Mansion. For instance, that Tennessee homeboy Andrew Jackson had brass spittoons lining the formal public drawing room and Georgia’s own Jimmy Carter personally managed the tennis courts.
However, from Dolly Madison to Jackie Kennedy our First Ladies have ripped up carpet, installed new drapes, changed the furniture and designed new paint schemes. It sounds like they all knew my wife.
Be that as it may, I have begun to look forward to January 2017 with anticipation. Let’s say Donald Trump wins. It will be like a re-run of the French speaking Jackie Kennedy who even re-did Abraham Lincoln’s bedroom. This time it will be Melania, who speaks five languages and knows designers personally who most of us are not sure are real people.
Think of Dior gowns at White House balls and Versace drapes in the Oval Office. Not only would our Peoples House be festooned with Gucci, Prada, Armani and Fendi, but The Donald could pay for them while Melania charms foreign leaders in their native languages. In other words, picture a complete reversal of the campaign atmosphere.
But what if Hillary Clinton wins? We have had a preview of what might occur when President Jimmy Carter was in office. Remember Billie, the First Brother? We did not get white washed tires embedded in the drive but we still had “Billie Beer”. Billie was to Jimmy what Bill may be to Hillary. And I have to assume the first First Husband will act about how all husbands act when their wives turn them loose around the house. I predict the first thing Bill will do is have a yard barn installed and fill it with tools he’ll never use.
Next I foresee a Man Cave being created in the East Wing complete with a pool table and big screen television of Jumbotron style. Of course, a refrigerator is essential as are several large leather recliners for husbands of foreign leaders to watch ball games and soccer matches with.
And just as the Trumps can fend for themselves financially so can the Clintons. Maybe all these improvements will be donated. I say let’s get this boring election over and move right to the international diva or the Arkansas homeboy invasion of the White House!
Part 3 of 3
Before we take another rung up the ladder of the law’s litigiousness I’d like to reflect on the proximity of Memorial Day and D-Day. I know we honor all of our deceased on Memorial Day and acknowledge the beginning of the end of WWII on D-Day. However, it seems appropriate that these solemn celebrations are only a week apart. Our Pantheon of loved ones and heroes includes family, friends, saviors and unknowns. As we remember and honor them we affirm our own worth.
So far we have discussed ways to completely avoid the legal system. If possible, this is always best. Unfortunately life often places such decisions beyond our control. That’s why systems of law were initiated. No rational person would choose even the simplest legal proceeding over a fair resolution of a dispute without resort to court. But just as sure as youth will fade, life has a way of demanding we sometimes pay tribute to Caesar, or at least to our lawyer. When the once avoidable controversy becomes “un”, that is, after we have ignored a problem as long as we can, is all out legal conflict our only option? No.
Let’s assume the highly unlikely possibility you actually read this column last week. If so, you may recall I suggested attempting to resolve legal problems by first informally talking about them with those who are of the opinion you may be wrong. In other words, no attorneys and certainly no judges should be consulted before a good faith attempt is made to swallow one’s pride and save one’s time and money. However, this may not work.
A reasonable next step is to consult a trusted clergy person or mutual friend. Then perhaps one might consult their family attorney who could give objective advice on whether a letter will suffice or if a lawsuit is necessary.
After all good faith effort has been expended to avoid the angry bowels of the courthouse, all is still not lost. Upon filing suit and the receipt of a response from one’s adversary a judge may order informal, face-to-face meetings where settlement is discussed. If no resolution is reached, early mediation before a trained mediator often helps parties settle their difficulties.
Almost every legal controversy in America is settled by the end of mediation. Therefore, the earlier problems are addressed the more money and time are saved and the less angst is endured.
You might wonder about cases that are settled but which have problems afterwards. Child custody cases are the most frequent to fall in this category but many other cases have on-going agreements which may need maintenance. Such matters as business relationships or injunctions come to mind.
Once again, instead of a first response of resort to court, an informal attempt to talk the matters out may work best for everyone. Of course, the courtroom will always be available if good faith and reason fail.
Part 2 of 3
Let’s say you and your neighbor have lived next to each other for twenty years. He helped you coach your son’s Little League team. You and he risked your lives cutting down a large oak tree that had blown halfway down across the property line between your backyards. Your wives conspired frequently to make sure the two of you did not spend your weekends playing golf or watching football or doing anything they hadn’t planned. About every other year either you or he or sometimes both of you dutifully attended a play, graduation, wedding or birthday party involving one of your children or his. Then, you decided to build a fence between your houses because your wife saw a picture in a magazine and told you via “female speak” you needed to build such an “improvement”.
Because you put the entire fence well on your side of the property line you saw no need to consult your neighbor first. After all, he didn’t check with you before allowing his twelve-year-old son to take a shortcut to school across your back yard.
The first thing that happened was, because his twelve year boy could no longer traipse across the back of your yard to get to school, he and his buddies started climbing over your new white picket fence to keep their shortcut. Your wife, who was unamused by a path through her new flowerbeds by the fence, demanded that you, “Do something!”
Because you have watched every episode of every television legal show from Perry Mason to Judge Judy you run to the County Clerk’s office and file a lawsuit seeking a million dollars in damages and an injunction against the boy. Or …
You call your best friends and neighbors of twenty years and invite them over for bar-b-q where you agree that you and he will build a gate in your fence and your wives agree to replant the flowers. Then your wives head to the mall together while you and your buddy finally get in a round of golf where he shoots 110 and writes down 88 and after you see his score you also write down 88 instead of the score you quit keeping after you hit a ball out of bounds on the third hole. Everybody’s happy.
The lawsuit would’ve cost you and him enough money to furnish game-day beer for the rest of your lives. It also would’ve languished in court for months or even years before it was settled on about the same terms you four friends worked out by yourselves. Which seems more rational? That is, which reminds you less of the present presidential campaign?
Of course, to resolve matters before suit is resorted to, someone has to swallow their pride and start the talking process. Based on my experience as a judge for thirty-five years I have decided most lawsuits could have been avoided if someone had just picked up the phone and started a conversation. The remaining legal matters may require some help from the legal system. If you are not busy “Mending Walls” between you and your neighbors, maybe we can move to this next stage next week.
Part 1 of 3
Hamlet is just the most famous of characters to complain about the pace of matters in court. He is far from the only one upset with the legal system.
Except for those held without probable cause or charges in Guantanamo, most persons awaiting access to justice in America’s criminal cases find the wheels of the legal system move apace. In fact, criminal defendants often seek to retard the system.
On the other hand, in civil cases from small claims to multi-billion dollar suits parties often bemoan the extended time between when a lawsuit is filed and when it is tried, mediated, settled between the parties with the help of the judge or the parties just give up and leave the case hanging in some musty file cabinet for their grandchildren to deal with.
About 95% of all lawsuits commenced in America never get tried. Yet from the time a case is initiated to when it dies from exhaustion can take years. If courts are charged with resolving conflicts, why not get them resolved as close to when they are started as fairness permits?
And since the parties involved in a case know more about their concerns than anyone else, why should they turn their lives over to a judge or jury or appellate court that knows only what the parties bring to the attention of these strangers?
The old adage there was never a good war or a bad peace applies in spades to lawsuits. To avoid “the law’s delay” people should avoid the law, if possible. Of course, some wars would be fought until there are no soldiers left alive if outside peacemakers were not brought in. The same is true in about 5% of lawsuits.
However, for 95% of life, there is light at the beginning of the tunnel. The legal system should be used to help people resolve their own conflicts as quickly, fairly and painlessly as possible.
For a little while I would like to suggest a few ways to do this. Maybe, if you have a case in mind, you might be interested in resolving it without permanent damage to your lives or bank accounts. Next week we can start with a pre-natal, i.e., pre-lawsuit approach, then move on towards the more political convention type resolution.
Thomas Jefferson was excoriated by the newspapers of his day. Still, he thought the First Amendment was so important to our democracy he said he would choose a country without government over a country without newspapers as long as everyone had access to and could read the newspapers.
Jefferson might reevaluate this premise were he alive today and be bombarded by the national television and print media, to say nothing of the flood of misinformation pervading the Internet.
Be that as it may, Jefferson’s Hobson’s Choice came to mind when I read, on the Internet, that three high schools in Texas are providing new football stadiums for a mere $180,000,000.
The first of these arenas was built five years ago in Allen, Texas at a cost of sixty million dollars. It seats 18,000 people. There are about 5,000 students. McKinney, Texas, five miles from Allen, is now building a 12,000-seat stadium for sixty-two point eight million dollars. McKinney High School has about 2,700 students. Katy High School in Houston, Texas is spending sixty-two million dollars on a 12,000-seat football stadium. Katy High School has nearly 3,000 students.
When I was an undergraduate at Indiana University, I.U. wanted to build a new basketball arena. There was such dissention between those in favor and those against that the administration named the new building “Assembly Hall” to indicate it would be available for academic events. Madison Avenue would have been proud. Can you imagine Bobby Knight’s reaction if a geology professor had wanted to pre-empt basketball practice with a lecture on global warming? Assembly Hall cost 27 million dollars. It seats about the same as the Allen High School stadium.
I grew up in Oklahoma. I know there are two religions in the Southwest: religion and football. My brothers and I played high school football. I get it. Call me reactionary but over 180 million dollars of taxpayers’ money for about 18 home football games has the feel of Through the Looking Glass to me.
I know Texans want to claim all things from stands to hands are larger in Texas. But, come on, $180,000,000 for about 18 high school football games a year means each game cost the taxpayers $10,000,000. I guess if the stadiums last a thousand years the economies of scale might justify the expense.
I pulled up the websites for all three high schools. They each have extensive facilities beyond football. To me that is not the point. The question is not do these public institutions provide scholastics along with football? The question to be considered is, how much educational return is there in the expenditure of $180,000,000 of public funds on three stadiums?
I like football. And even though I root against Texas every year in the Oklahoma vs. Texas college game, I am glad we stole Texas from Mexico. Maybe Mexico should have built a wall in 1846. Then that $180,000,000 could have been spent on soccer stadiums.