Sunday, May 24, 2015

Greetings From Saint Louis

No MSF today as I am in St. Louis for the wedding of my excellent nephew Eli. 

Talk amongst yourselves. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

My Sunday Feeling On Saturday

Beloved: I am jumping the gun a bit as I have a busy Sunday and won't have time to fool with this after today. 

Yesterday a federal jury returned its verdict in the penalty phase of the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for the Boston Marathon bombing.  And they showed him no mercy as they unanimously recommended that he be put to death.

At this point, a clarification, and not an entirely useless one, is in order.  Most accounts that I have read refer to the jury "sentencing" Mr. Tsarnaev to death. This is incorrect.  Only the judge pronounces the sentence.  The sentencing hearing will be held at a later date, which as far as I know has not been set as of this writing. Theoretically, the judge doesn't have to have to agree with the jury verdict, although surely he will in this case.  But the pronouncement of the sentence is within the strict province of the judge, not the jury.  Indeed, the jury has been discharged of its grim duty by the Court.  They are done. And undoubtedly glad of it.  

It is the same situation with a guilty plea.  I have seen a few in my day, mostly as I was waiting around to do business that I had with the Court.  Guilt or innocence ( or more accurately "not guilty) is a legal conclusion.  If the judge accepts the guilty plea (which he or she does not have to do) the Judge advises the Defendant that "I accept your plea of guilty and I hereby find you guilty." 

I have been asked if I am surprised.  I am and I am not.  I am mildly surprised in that Massachusetts has no death penalty at the state level and the folks there have a long history of opposition to it.  Indeed, most polls indicated that most Bostonians wanted Tsarnaev to catch life imprisonment instead of capital punishment.  

But I am not surprised in that, first of all, a person who sits on a jury in which the death penalty is sought has to be "death qualified." In other words, he or she must advise the Court whether or not they could issue a death penalty verdict in a capital case.  If they cannot, they are disqualified from serving. Which might strike you as stacking the deck against the Defendant if not completely perverse.  You are not alone.  But perverse though it may be, it has been held constitutional.  

After all, swabbing the condemned man's arm with alcohol prior to inserting the needle that will administer the poisons that will kill him is likewise perverse.  But it is part of the procedure.  (Theoretically, there is always the chance that a Stay may be issued before the button is pushed.  It is not as perverse as letting the condemned choose their last meal. But still.)

I am basically opposed to capitol punishment.  Especially as it is administered at the state level.  However, if anybody does it the right way, or as right as it can be done, it is Uncle.  In the first place the local US Attorney doesn't have the authority to seek the death penalty in a criminal case unless the Attorney General of the United States signs off on it.  This implies several levels of review entirely consistent with the gravity of the situation.  

Secondly, the average Defendant in a Federal death penalty case will have access to better quality legal assistance than his state counterpart will.  No knock on state Public Defenders but their case load is too high and they don't have adequate resources to investigate the case.  An indigent Defendant will have access to the Federal Public Defender or the Court has the authority to pay private counsel.  My late friend Hugh was one of three or four private lawyers appointed by the Court in a particularly grisly murder case that somehow violated Federal law.  Which is rare.  

Moving to the particulars of the instant case, the arc of the narrative of the defense was pretty low.  They won't let you plead guilty to capital murder.  And armed with the mountain of evidence of Tsarnaev's guilt, the Feds either didn't offer a plea deal or they rejected any such offer made to them.  

The Tsarnaev case reminded me of something one of my criminal lawyer friends said about the Jerry Sandusky case.  "Talk about nothing to work with," Peter said over lunch one day.  The analysis applies here.  The fact of the young man's guilt was inescapable under any set of facts.  So while the defense couldn't plead him out, they made the decision not to offer a defense.  Or much of one.  And this tactical decision made by able death penalty lawyers, one with which I do not disagree, put Tsarnaev halfway to the grave yard.

Talk about nothing to work with.  

All they were left with was hitting a home run in the penalty phase.  After all, they just needed to persuade one juror.  They failed.  And Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will get to face the music soon and very soon.

So as a lawyer, I get the ramifications of the decision not to aggressively defend the case.  You can't run the risk of pissing off the same jury from whom you will seek mercy.  As a prosecutor friend of mine says of similarly situated defendants, "He put himself in a real tough spot." And so to that extent I'm not surprised by what happened in the penalty phase of the trial. Tsarnaev put himself in a real tough spot.  His lawyers had nothing to work with,

And he did it by placing, along with his brother, improvised explosive devices in a crowded venue at Boston's most beloved sporting event.  They did it with the obvious intent of killing and maiming innocent bystanders and striking terror into the populace.  Later, they tried to shoot it out with the cops as they were closing in.

Here's one of my sayings.  I don't support the death penalty.  But some guys got it coming if anybody does.  That is what I consider to be a practical approach to the issue. 

Dzhokhar Tsarnev is one of those guys that's got it coming if anybody does.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

My Mother's Day Feeling

I like Mother's Day.  Not as much as I like Father's Day when I can get in on the Father's Day bargains at clothing and sporting goods stores.  But still I like it.

I approve of motherhood in general without which I would not be typing this and you would not be reading it.  But Moms deserve a special day, if not a special place in Heaven for no other reason than they lugged us around inside their bellies for 9 months.  That is no small feat and is not to be taken lightly.  My own mother did it three more times after having me.  


It is my honor and privilege to be spending a great deal of time with a mom type nowadays.  She's got 2 kids.  The girl is fixing to head off for college.  The boy is heading into high school where he is preparing to play football.  I don't see much of the girl.  She is pretty much busy being the star in her own movie. I don't mean that in a bad way.  She has a boyfriend.  She has her friends.  She has a bent for social activism that I can kind of relate to.  And she is going off to college in St. Louis to enter the marketplace of ideas with a bunch of other really smart people.  Her focus is elsewhere.  She is outta here. I get it.

The boy is pretty uncomplicated and user-friendly.  He's quiet like his mother and he favors her physically as well.  Like her, he is an athlete, tall and strong. He is currently spending most weekends playing AAU basketball.  While I tend to view AAU ball as a continuing criminal enterprise as much as anything, he's a good ballplayer and I enjoy watching him play.  I also like being around him and I think the feeling is mutual if for no other reason than I usually have a hundred bucks on me at all times which comes in handy at the drive-thru.  The boy can put it away.  It's an awesome thing to behold.  

I guess M is like most Moms in that she is a worrier.  I suppose when you put kids on this Earth you tend to have a constant parade of horribles going down the Main Street of your consciousness at least until they get into Med school or otherwise get their feet on the ground.  Maybe "worry" is too strong a word. Our mutual friend K seems to prefer the word "fret." So we'll go with that.

Now as fretty as these two gals can get, they cannot hold a candle to the near constant free floating anxiety that my own sainted late mother could put out.  As I have said Donice Bowen saw a bear in every window.  24-7. For some reason this long repressed memory just bubbled up to the top as I consider this: I remember my brother Dave and I bought an FM converter to install in whatever piece of crap vehicle we were driving at the time.  

Our mother naturally opposed this.  Her reason?  Because we might be busy tuning into a station while crossing a railroad track and get crushed by an oncoming train.  Really. It wasn't sufficient for her to fret about the prospect of mere inattentive driving on our part while trying to tune into the Stones.  No. She immediately cast her mind into my brother and I perishing in a common disaster of operatic proportions as the natural and proximate consequence of our purchase of a 25 buck appliance from Radio Shack.

I am not making this up. This is the way my poor mother tended to regard life. It must have been a terrible way to live.

I don't know that any of the moms I am privileged to have in my orbit are quite at the level of-well-pathology as was my mother.  But they all do tend to worry. Whereas Dads on the other hand tend not to worry too much as a class.  The ones I know more or less expect something stupid to happen eventually as a matter of course. Dads tend to prefer to deal with problems on a transactional basis for lack of a better way of putting it.  

It is my hope that on this one day set aside to honor mothers everywhere that they can turn the volume down on the parade of horribles and just enjoy themselves.  

Except that you know you shouldn't have spent that much on the gift.  There are better uses for the money. 

You know she will say it.  

Sunday, May 03, 2015

My Sunday Too Busy Feeling

Between a quick trip to Baton Rouge, AAU basketball which resulted in a trip to the ER with the 15 year old basketball player (he's fine) and a fundraiser for the Little Rock Zoo, there has been no time to share my gilded pensees with the public.

Talk among yourselves.  And if you keep getting decked out there on the court try not to land on the same elbow every time.  

Sunday, April 26, 2015

My Sunday Feeling

My buddy Jim is retiring next week.  He will be pretty much the first one of my close friends to lay down the burdens of honest toil-if you refer to practicing law in that fashion-in exchange for a pension.  Rick claims to be semi-retired.  But as far as I can tell he is working as much as he ever did.  Phil has no plans along those lines and Richard-who has to be 72 if he is a day-will be carried out of the US Attorney's office here in a pine box.  And Pat's girls are still teenagers. He will be at it awhile longer. 

Jim and Gaynelle have put the house up for sale.  They are moving to another town to be closer to her people.  He plans to go to work in private practice.  

But the truth of the matter is that he has no idea what will happen until it happens.  He doesn't know that yet despite my warnings.  Of course, I didn't know it either despite the warnings from my financial advisor either.  

Retirement is a really good place to be.  But it is a real change.  You don't just quit doing something you have done everyday for 30 years without it affecting you.  I have likened it to a divorce that everybody agrees is the best thing for all concerned.  But a door closes on 30 years of your life and how you largely defined it.  And it's heavy.  

It took me awhile to get adjusted.  I had defined myself almost completely by my work.  And because I was able to retire so young there was nobody in my age group to hang with. I wasn't retired more than 4 months when I was offered a consulting type job with a local consumer protection agency.  I took it.  The relief I felt at putting on clothes and having somewhere to go 2-3 times a week was downright palpable.  

Maybe it will be different for Jim.  After all, he has Gaynelle.  He has a plan.  I had neither.  All I had was an offer from Uncle to leave early without penalty by a brief time certain.  There was no planning other than making sure that the numbers worked.

Quite frankly, I struggled at first.  And I struggled for at least a year. Maybe two.  I can't imagine that Jim won't feel some of that as well.  After all, he is doing three major life stressors at once-retirement, moving and starting a new job. Unless you are a sociopath-which he is not-one would have to view this as a stressful marker along life's path.  He's a smart guy.  He will figure it out. But nothing is ever like you think it is going to be going into it.  He's got to live it.

As for me, everything is pretty cool. I enjoy spending my mornings out on the deck or taking a walk.  The days which seemed so empty get filled up pretty quickly now.  I practice law a little bit. I play golf.  I work out. I write.  I play music. I read.  I substitute-teach, which I love. All is well.

And I'm with somebody now.  I stumbled into her when I wasn't looking.  I'm a pretty tough guy and I am comfortable both in my own skin and with being by myself.  

But things are better now.  It's good to have backup.  It's good to have a purpose.  It has been too long.  

Jim told me to bring a bottle of his favorite whisky for his retirement present. Which is more than he brought me as I recall. I can do that. I'm a better man than he is.

I resigned from my little consulting gig a couple of weeks ago.  I enjoyed my tenure there.  But it was time.  

And while I will probably work again, I no longer define myself solely along those lines.  I have a different purpose now.

Like I said, Jim will figure it out.  

As for me, all is well. 

All is well. This sure beats workin'.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

My Sunday Taking A Powder Feeling

Too much stuff going on this week. As Tony Kornheiser says at the end of every broadcast of "Pardon the Interruption," on ESPN, "We'll try to do better next time."

Talk among yourselves.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

My Sunday Feeling

I got the news early Thursday morning from Lafourche Parish that Chris had joined the Club.  His mother Jane McCulla Riviere had passed away.  He told me that her death was peaceful and that she was surrounded by her family.  She was 88 and her health had been declining.  

Comes to us all.  And we should all hope for a peaceful end.  

The Club of which I am referring to is the "Without Parents" club.  I officially joined in 2009 when my mother passed away during a 30 minute stretch when nobody was looking.  Nobody but the lady from Hospice, that is.  We were told that they will do that sometimes.  Bob, who was pulling the night shift, had just gone home.  I was crossing the Faulkner County line around 5:30 AM when I got the call.

They will do that sometimes. 

I may be wrong, but as far as I know, our friend Don is the only one of our group that still has both parents.  I saw them a couple of summers ago when I traveled to Birmingham to attend my first and, so far, only baby shower.  Big Don and Virginia are doing pretty good.  Still live in the home and are independent.  Big Don delighted in referring to me as "that old retiree."

It did seem sort of odd to both of us at that.

My own father, of course, passed away when I was a senior at Hendrix.  At this stage of the game it is almost as if he had never existed.  After all, he's been under a white stone at the Veteran's cemetery for 38 years now by my counting.  That's a long time to be away.  

I don't know if this has happened with Chris yet.  But I was asked by more than one person if i felt like an orphan when Mother passed.  That struck me as odd. If somebody asks him, I'm sure he will find it to be equally so.  After all, orphans are children, and typically are wards of either the state or a member of the extended family. I was in my fifties when Mother died.  I was a full-grown man (to use the country expression) practicing law, fending for myself in a house I own and otherwise getting on as best as I could.  Not much different than now.  

I didn't much even get the notion that I had been orphaned in the psychic sense but I kinda do.  There is this an awareness of the magnitude of the situation on a certain primal level.  It doesn't last for very long-at least it didn't with me.  But when your parents no long exist, it is a sign that time, like a rolling stream, bears all who breathe away. 

That's original with me by the way.

Perhaps I would have felt this more keenly if I hadn't been without one of my parents for such a long time.  My friend Becky's dad up and died two weeks after they buried her mom.  I see from her post on Facebook that their loss still resonates with her on occasion.  That has got to be hard to shake free from your mind.  Anyway, while I imagine, as I say, that Chris might find such a question to be odd, still, he is not made of wood.  And when your remaining parent passes, it is a marker.  And it is heavy.

When I sat up with Mother during her deathbed coma, Chris would call from time to time to check on me and keep me company. Mostly he would tell me jokes about the hapless Cajun known as Boudreaux and his wife, girlfriend, foil (whatever the story requires) Miss Marie.  Chris has been telling me these stupid Boudreaux jokes since our law school days.  He is a bottomless repository of these stories, few of which may be told in mixed company.  A couple of them he has told are unspeakable. 

But here is a clean Boudreaux joke.

Boudreaux, him, was crossing the state highway to get to the mailbox to see if the welfare check from the State of Louisiana had come when-summamabitch- he get hit by a truck driven by Miss Marie, non?  Miss Marie got on that cellphone and called "neuf un un." Then she grabbed a blanket out of the back of the truck and ran over to Boudreaux who was laying in the road.  She put the blanket under Boudreaux's head.

"Boudreaux," Miss Marie say as she knelt down beside that boy, "Are you comfortable?"

"I make a good living, mah Boo," Boudreaux say back to Miss Marie. 

Chris loves these jokes.  And he knew that he could make me laugh at him in spite of myself.  That's what friends do.

Death never comes at a convenient time.  I am usually pretty flexible.  But I just can't make it to Thibodaux for the funeral.  Melissa thought it would be nice if I sent flowers to the house and so I did.  Women are great at stuff like this. I made a memorial gift to a charity the family suggested.  And I said a prayer of thanksgiving both for Mrs. Riviere's life and for the repose of her soul.

Hopefully I can get down there in the next month after things have settled.  We will probably sit on his veranda with a couple of glasses of something amber. His sister lives next door.  If she comes out in the yard he will call out to her "Come see!  It's Paul!"

North of I-10 they say "come here." Cajuns say "come see." Which I catch myself saying occasionally. I can think of no more pleasant way to get someone's attention.  

And while out there we will raise a toast to Jane and Donice.  And I will ruefully welcome Chris to the Club.  

That's what friends do.