August 17th, 2018

Dear Aretha… (A Letter from a Vietnam Veteran)

While biography forms the backbone of any obituary, it is the stories about a life that serve to illuminate it and give meaning.

The letter to Aretha Franklin below was originally written and mailed a few years ago by Earle L. Jackson Sr. — a medic for the 173rd Airborne. I publish it today (in slightly modified form by its author), with the thought that, perhaps, the story will help to illuminate the biography of her life that has been written and celebrated elsewhere

For context, the Vietnam combat below is the Battle of Dak To (Hill 875), some of the bloodiest fighting of that long ago, godforsaken but not forgotten, conflict.

The letter below is from a soldier surrounded by death, to an artist that helped keep his spirit alive.

Today is one of those days I post something that has nothing whatsoever to do with law. I publish simply because its one of these things that should not remain hidden.

——————–

Dear Ms. Franklin,

 

Please accept my apology for this letter being some 50 plus years over due.  In 1967, I was a 22 year-old combat medic with the 173d Airborne Brigade, the most decorated army brigade in Vietnam.  We were dug-in in a river valley next to the Dak Po river in Kontum Province, Republic of South Vietnam.  The valley was named Dakto which was about 50 miles by dirt road from the closest mountain village, in the rain-soaked jungles of the Central Highlands.

 

At any time during the day or night, from the surrounding hills and mountains, the North Vietnamese Army would rain down mortars and rockets killing and wounding scores of paratroopers and destroying critical supplies.  Dakto was an extremely dangerous place in 1967, over a four month period we had hundreds of troopers killed and another thousand or so men wounded.

 

We could never let our guard down in Dakto because the Cambodian border was just a few miles away where some 20,000 highly trained, battle-tested North Vietnamese soldiers were camped, poised to attack our position in the valley at any given moment.  If we did come under a full attack and had to defend this valley, we would do so with a little better than 1,200 men.  I don’t mind admitting, and I’m not embarrassed to say that for this 22 year-old kid from Plainville, Connecticut it was a very stressful time and place to say the least.

 

Every day as dusk settled into night over the valley, you could hear the hum of generators being started that provided the only electricity for 50 miles around.  The intermittent firing of our artillery into the surrounding hills and valleys kept the enemy off balance during the night and less likely to attack us.

 

It’s Saturday night in death valley, the enemy is taking a break from shelling us and the boredom is almost thick enough to cut with a knife, when through the crisp Dakto night air, as the moon rose above the dark peaks of the mountains, there came the sweet sound of a familiar voice belting out the soulful words “R-E-S-P-E-C-T find out what it means to me.”

 

Man, I say to myself, I’m missing home too much, could that be my girl way out here in this dusty hell-hole?  I want to get closer to what I’m hearing so I follow the sound and it leads me to a rain poncho being used as a door to cover an under-ground bunker.

In the bunker there are a dozen grubby, tired and home-sick paratroopers and they were partying in this hole in the ground like there will be no tomorrow.  On one side of the bunker, several paratroopers are harmonizing the background lyrics, and rocking to the beat of the music on the other side of the bunker are several other soldiers making up their own choreographed steps as they move to the rhythm of the music.

 

It’s a scene now etched into my heart and mind that will never be erased. This will be the start of a night in my life that I will never forget and its not over yet.

 

About 2:00 am in the morning I needed some fresh air so I stepped outside of that bunker.  It wasn’t long before my ears caught another familiar sound coming from the next bunker about 30 yards down the line of bunkers.  “You make me feel like a natural woman”, man, oh man, there is another party going on in the next under-ground bunker too. In this bunker there are another dozen or so paratroopers partying in the candle light, dancing by themselves while singing along at the top of their lungs with our “Queen of Soul”,   Ms. Aretha Franklin.

 

There may be a war going on outside of the bunker, but inside the safety of this bunker there is a party going on and performing for us tonight is Ms. Aretha Franklin, no charge.  In 1967 we spent many nights in some of the world’s most dangerous places on earth and you Ms. Franklin were always right there with us, helping us get through another tough night or giving us comfort on a bad day.  Even today when I hear your music I smile, a warm feeling comes over me, and I get carried back to those spirit lifting parties in that infamous river valley of death in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, in 1967.

 

Ms. Franklin you may never know the depth of the love we old veterans have for you and your music, or the impact that they had on us combat troops dug-in in the remote mountains and jungles of South Vietnam.  When we were down and needed a double dose of love, you gave it to us in your music; through your music we were able to get through the hard times and terrifying moments that lay ahead of us.

 

Well Ms. Franklin, I’m 74 years old now and I don’t think that I will ever get the chance to hug you and thank you personally for all that you did for me and the tens of thousands of other soldiers some 50 plus years ago, but please consider this, when you settle down to sleep and close your eyes please let your last thoughts for the night be about the tens of thousands of veterans who love you beyond words of expression and cherish those brief, precious moments when you single-handedly stopped the war and took us all home . God Bless you for that, and rest easy Ms Franklin, long live the Queen of Soul….

 

Sincerely and with much love , Airborne All the Way

 

Earle L. Jackson Sr.
Florida
(This publication is with the permission of its veteran-author, who maintains a copyright over the letter, so please do not re-publish without permission from his friend and lawyer, Ken Laska).

 

March 28th, 2018

In Defense of the Unicorn: Baseball, Peace and a Better Day

An old baseball of mine that I had stitched back together as a kid to keep the leather on. You didn’t buy them by the dozen back then. Every baseball was precious.

It’s in the air. I can smell it. And so can Jay Breakstone, appellate lawyer and wordsmith extraordinaire who, in 2014, penned Baseball, Poetry and Crocuses (Pitchers and Catchers Report Next Week!) for this space.

No stranger to conflict (of which he writes today), Breakstone grew up in East Flatbush, the product of a tumultuous mixed marriage: His mom was a Brooklyn-born die hard Dodger fan and his Dad a Bronx-born Yankee fan.

He survived that experience to emerge as a die hard Mets fan.

Perhaps, if the union of Dodger and Yankee fans can mint something like Jay, there is hope yet for the country:

—————————–By Jay Breakstone———-

America has become such an uncomfortable place to live nowadays. When I say “uncomfortable,” I thoroughly understand that such terms are relative. But being an American has meant that we worry about a lot less than those in other countries and I understand that.

Yet, to wake up every morning to the headache of political soap opera is taking its toll on me. I am more irascible than usual; quicker to yell at the morning news and yell at my family from dawn until dusk. This is not good, for there is a thin line between being a lovable curmudgeon and a raging lunatic. What to do?

And there it is. Shining through the gloom like a landing beacon on a dark runway; like Lady Liberty in the harbor; like Mom’s chicken soup, a Nathan’s hot dog or pastrami on rye from Katz’s Delicatessen. Goodness knows, its done it before; brought hope where there was none and salvation to the depths of hell. Opening Day.

Yes, Virginia, there is a new tomorrow, and sacrilegious as it may be, God lives only 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate. In fact, whether you believe in God or not, you can still believe in baseball.

You can be a Democrat and believe in baseball. You can be a Republican and believe in baseball. You can be a Democrat or a Republican, sit side by side in the same temple, and believe in baseball together. You can speak English, Spanish, Greek, Serbo-Croat, even Pig Latin, and believe in baseball.

You can belong to the N.R.A., the A.C.L.U., the National White People’s Party, the N.A.A.C.P. or the Mickey Mouse Club and believe in baseball. Because, as it says in an oft-forgotten footnote in Genesis: “And G-d saw baseball, and it was good.”

Have you ever noticed those old pictures of men in suits and hats, sitting in ball parks during the business day? Why weren’t they at work? One of them, a young attorney in New York City, nearly lost his job because he kept sneaking out to Giants games at the Polo Grounds.

Nonetheless, the kid made good, but never forgot the magic of baseball. So, when he worked his way up to being President of the United States and the country he led was in the depths of soul-shattering gloom following Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt knew one thing that would cut through the fog: baseball. He declared that the Axis could do many bad things, but it could never stop baseball, which continued throughout the war.

Time and time again, baseball has been that never changing point in an ever-changing American universe. To those of us who were at Shea Stadium on September 22, 2001, it was much the same thing. Roosevelt’s words to Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, baseball’s Commissioner in 1942, still rang true: “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going[.]”

I suggest that we need baseball now more than ever (as if there was ever a time we didn’t.) I think everyone should stay home from work on Opening Day and head to the ballpark instead.

If need be, dig up that old note from your mother, the one that says “Arthur could not be in school today. He has Dengue Fever.” If you can’t find it, I’m sure you can still forge her signature the way you did on the original. Eat a hot dog. Have a beer. Most important, let it go.

Nothing is so bad if it’s Opening Day, where all the past is prologue. Sure, it could turn out lousy, like the 1942 Brooklyn Dodgers, who had a phenomenal season, were in first place until September, only to lose the pennant to St. Louis. But on Opening Day, the Boys from Brooklyn took the opener, 7-5.

Opening Day is all about tomorrow. It always has been.

 

December 6th, 2016

Opting Out of Uber’s Forced Arbitration (The Clock is Ticking)

Uber logo. Used without its permission.

Uber logo. Used without its permission.

You have until December 21st. That’s it. But you can opt out.

Here’s the deal: Uber changed its terms of service to force people into arbitrations, taking away consumers’ rights to sue the ride sharing company if something goes wrong. Like plow into another car because the driver was looking at his phone to see where his next right might come from.

That kind of thing.

And compulsory arbitration is very bad for the little guy, as I’ve discussed earlier, as arbitrators would love to have the repeat business of the companies that are always involved in disputes. There is a hidden financial motivation to arbitrators to be gentle to Uber and other large businesses so that they continue to hire said arbitrators.

That is why, for example, Wells Fargo is trying hard to force claims against it for creating sham accounts into arbitration, instead of facing the wrath of juries.

So while Big Business of all stripes can pull it’s business from arbitrators who might not be as nice as they’d like, the one-and-done consumer has no leverage. None. Nada. Zip.

Advantage: Big Biz.

So, courtesy of Marea L. Wachsman, comes this easy-peasy method of preserving your rights against Uber.

Take it away Marea:
————————-

mareawachsman_492128262

Marea Wachsman, of Schreier & Wachsman, LLP

If a passenger is injured in an Uber vehicle due to its negligence, passengers were required to arbitrate their claims for personal injuries before the American Arbitration Association.  They were required to arbitrate pursuant to the terms and conditions of the Uber contract the passenger “accepts” when using Uber.

On July 29, 2016, however, Judge Rakoff from the Southern District ruled that the Uber arbitration terms were not conspicuous enough or did not evince the users “unambiguous manifestation of ascent” to the arbitration provision and therefore the court ruled that the arbitration provision was not enforceable.

With its forced arbitration clause tossed into the dumper, Uber tried again.

On November 14, 2016 Uber sent an email to its users to undermine Judge Rakoff’s decision, announcing it was updating its Terms effective November 21, 2016 —  while everyone was scampering somewhere, or doing something, in anticipation of  Thanksgiving.

In that same email, Uber instructed its users to read the new Terms and expressly stated it had “revised our arbitration agreement.”  The revision is with an eye to ensuring that negligence claims by passengers must have their claims for personal injuries arbitrated, and not litigated, thereby waiving the passengers’ rights to a jury trial.

Fortunately, you can reject the November 21, 2016 Uber Terms, by providing Uber with written notice by mail, by hand delivery or by email within 30 days of November 21, 2016.

If the rejection is by email, the email must come from the email associated with the individuals account and addressed to change-dr@Uber.com. The notice to reject the Terms must include the individuals full name and state your explicit intent to reject the changes to the Terms.

By rejecting the November 21, 2016 Terms, the individual continues to be bound by the Terms the individual first agreed to when the individual signed up with Uber.  Thus, presumably, the individual would still have the protection Judge Rakoff provided in having the claims for personal injury for an Uber passenger against Uber heard in a courtroom and not in an arbitration hall.

You can find the information buried on Uber’s legal page, in paragraph 5, reprinted in full below:

Uber may amend the Terms from time to time. Amendments will be effective upon Uber’s posting of such updated Terms at this location or in the amended policies or supplemental terms on the applicable Service(s). Your continued access or use of the Services after such posting confirms your consent to be bound by the Terms, as amended. If Uber changes these Terms after the date you first agreed to the Terms (or to any subsequent changes to these Terms), you may reject any such change by providing Uber written notice of such rejection within 30 days of the date such change became effective, as indicated in the “Effective” date above. This written notice must be provided either (a) by mail or hand delivery to our registered agent for service of process, c/o Uber USA, LLC (the name and current contact information for the registered agent in each state are available online here), or (b) by email from the email address associated with your Account to: change-dr@uber.com. In order to be effective, the notice must include your full name and clearly indicate your intent to reject changes to these Terms. By rejecting changes, you are agreeing that you will continue to be bound by the provisions of these Terms as of the date you first agreed to the Terms (or to any subsequent changes to these Terms).

 

May 18th, 2016

Joan Rivers and New York’s Dreadful Wrongful Death Law

Joan Rivers

My Monday post regarding the settlement of the Joan Rivers wrongful death case was meant to be a two-parter. Part one to laud the lawyers and part two to write about the injustices of our current (and ancient) wrongful death statute that dates to 1847.

New York used to be progressive, with the first in the nation wrongful death law that was designed to protect injured railroad workers.  There was no common law claim for wrongful death. Since an injured worker needed to be compensated, perhaps for life, but a dead one was worthless in the eyes of the law, saving the life of the worker was, ahem, detrimental to the profits of the railroad business.

In fact, not only wasn’t there a wrongful death cause of action, but even a claim for personal injuries (the pain before the death) did not survive the death of the injured person (or of the tortfeasor). It just evaporated. It was better (for the railroads) to kill workers than injure them.

Thus, the 1847 legislation. (You can read the history of it all in Grant v. Guidotti.)

But while once at the forefront of progress, New York is now a laggard in the law’s development. It has not been updated in 170 years. The law provided back then, and continues today, that the survivors may only collect “pecuniary” loss, basically meaning the wages that others depended on. And if your family member that was killed by the negligent conduct was not the family breadwinner, but happened to be an infant, homemaker or retired?

Sorry, Charlie. Children, retired seniors and homemakers have no “value” to the New York Legislature. And disaster-struck families have been told by lawyers, for generations now, that they won’t get to hold the tortfeasors responsible for their grief. They are on their own. You can blame the Leg.

Before I had a chance to fully write that piece though, Marc Dittenhoefer dropped a long comment into that first post on that subject, dealing with the Joan Rivers case. So I just asked Ditt to expand on it a bit and presto, a new guest post on the very topic I wanted to cover.

Take it away Ditt:
——————————

Marc Dittenhoefer

Marc Dittenhoefer

I applaud the outcome in the Joan Rivers case and join in sending kudos to Ben Rubinowitz and his team for the excellent job they did on all counts. However, results like this one always give me pause in that they highlight a great inequity that still bedevils our system.

Joan Rivers endured no conscious pain and suffering, had no impending fear of death or disaster, was the legal and obligatory supporter of no one, and was worth tens – perhaps scores – of millions of dollars at the time of her death. By traditional NYS legal measures of recovery, this case should have limited value. But Joan Rivers was rich, famous, powerful, beloved and white. Ka-Ching!

Now let’s think of an unheralded Ms. Gonzalez, or Johnson, or Yee; with several children dependent upon her for support; with days, weeks even months or years of conscious pain and suffering; and with a dread of impending doom all about her due to someone else’s fault in causing her death. THAT case doesn’t settle so fast, nor for anywhere near sum likely received here.

The reason? In New York, wrongful death damages are measured by two things:

(1) conscious dread, pain and suffering of the decedent, and

(2) monetary loss to those legally dependent upon the decedent for support.

Joan Rivers went to sleep fully well expecting to wake up shortly, felt no pain and suffered not at all, and left behind as an only survivor a fully grown, emancipated and high-earning woman in her own right who stands to inherit generously from her mom’s Estate. But for her fame and public profile, the measure of damages here would be negligible by current legal standards.

But an unknown single mother of 3 with no special skills or educational advantages, earning modest wages and perhaps even lingering in a death-spiral of pain for months on end?  Who also happens to be the family matriarch giving love and guidance to those within her household?

Defendants would be in no particular rush – nor in  the grips of any particular generosity – to amicably resolve that case to the benefit of the motherless children in dire need of whatever recovery their lawsuit might hold. Those moms do not make the headlines: no insurer seeks to avoid bad publicity by paying quickly or generously for them. While the Rivers’ settlement is celebrated by the tabloids with speculation of an 8-figure sum, the lesser recoveries of the “ordinary” litigants are decried as “runaway” results when the press pays attention to them at all. Yet the self-same interest of improved public health is served in both instances.

Fame has its privileges, all right. But NY’s laws need to recognize that:

(1) the current measure for damages in a wrongful death scenario is woefully dysfunctional and out of date, and

(2) “regular” folks need to be afforded the same quality of justice that the rich and famous get, even if their cases do not alway make the papers.

“Wrongful Death” reform is long overdue.

 

 

May 6th, 2016

Starbucks Iced Coffee Lawsuit – A Rebuttal

Marc Dittenhoefer

The one. The only. Marc Dittenhoefer

On Wednesday, I ran a parody of the Starbucks class action lawsuit regarding too much ice in the iced coffee. And yesterday I posted my explanation  as to why I did it: bad suits hurt good clients.

Now today comes a rebuttal from one of my friends, Marc Dittenhoefer. Take it away Ditt…..

——————-

Ok, so let’s get some obviousness out of the way first so we don’t have to waste any more time on it. Of course the “What, there’s Ice in my Iced Coffee!” lawsuit is a bit of a dopey exercise, more than a bit of bad PR, and the latest in a long, long line of easy pickings for satirists, comedians, anti-civil-justice advocates and for dinner table conversations everywhere.

I get that. As a lawyer who has made his living for 40+ years representing harmed people in legitimate lawsuits, these sort of headlines rankle me, too, and do have their effects upon the judges and jury pools that I, too, must practice before. I was no happier than Brother Turkewitz to see this latest juridical jalopy come down the pike. “Whoa Nellie………not, again!!!

Nevertheless, when one thinks about it a bit there are a few legitimate points behind this lawsuit: ones that we should be spending a moment or two on before we jettison this plaintiff and move on to our next exercise in righteous indignation.

Coffee is coffee and ice is ice. One costs money – quite a bit it of it in places such as Starbucks, it turns out – and the other usually is at nominal cost or given free with a purchase. The reason and rationale for why some shops charge the public what they do for a Cup of Joe folks can get for under a buck at a diner is that there IS a difference: you are paying for a comparable amount of beverage which is more expensive to buy and brew than the diner’s.

When someone plunks down $ 6.50 for a “venti” iced Blarfaccino, one has a (I hesitate to use such a lofty word in such prosaic a circumstance) right to expect the comparable 8, 12 or 16 ounces one gets in the diner version of iced coffee from ’round the corner, especially since the sizes of the various servings are posted, advertised and charged for by the Blarfaccino store itself.

It is no different than a can of soda, quart of milk or gallon of gas: what is listed on the signage is what you should receive for your money. But what if your can has only 7.9 ounces of soda, your milk a fraction less than a quart, your gas a tad shy of a gallon?

 To you, the individual Buyer it means perhaps not a whole lot: it might even be healthier for you over all – at least in terms of the coffee or the soda. But to the Seller ? By chintzing a bit on each of a hundred customers, all of a sudden you can sell 110 coffees from the ingredients that used to net 100.

That’s a profit of 10 coffees that have been “stolen” from the clientele. Or 2 TVs falling off every truck; three Mercedes’ off every shipload. Sooner or later, this adds up to some real money from out of the pockets of the unsuspecting and into the till of an already multi-billion dollar corporation. Not so silly any more, is it?

These scams have been done in business for as long as there has been business, and one of the valuable functions that government provides is to guard against such things, via regulation, inspection, quality control and mechanisms for enforcement and restitution. Thus is the “Class Action” invented.

Should a business — say a financial institution — devise a computer program that would take one cent each month from the account of each of its customers and automatically deposit it into the business’ operating account, that would be a theft. Yet most customers would not ever notice it, much less be willing to file a Police Report over it, and no DA would start a criminal action for anyone’s annualized loss of 12 cents. Multiply that amount however by a million customers, and you all of a sudden have a major revenue stream on your hands – or in your pocket.

An old riddle here is instructive: what would you rather have for your birthday, one million bucks or one penny doubled each day for a month? If you took the penny deal, you made the better bargain by far.

So yeah, the suit is dopey, but only in its poor choice of forum. This matter should be handled regulatorily by making Starbucks devise a way to ensure that the proper amount of paid-for coffee is served in their iced offerings. After all, the company that can invent a machine that grinds, brews, and serves up skatey-eight different types of coffee in 3 or more sizes each can certainly find a way to stock themselves with cups large enough to accommodate the proper amount of beverage WITH ice. It ain’t brain surgery – it’s just right. And this lawsuit says so.

As to the rest of it, considering Stella Liebeck’s case against McDonald’s I am convinced that the insurance, big business and and anti-consumer forces are not sitting idly by waiting for things like this to latch onto to further their PR campaigns. They are at it 24/7/365. This case might give them something to work with, true, but it also is one that highlights an area of abuse that could be redirected in a positive, pro-consumer way.

 We should be full-throated in our support, not necessarily of the suit but of the concept that a buyer should get what they pay for, and that sometimes recourse is needed when that does not happen. In this regard – although I am most certainly not of, by or for the “Tea Party” – they have a point. Free and unfettered access to the Courts to air grievances and correct wrongs is as much of a doctrinal touchstone as anything for the “Tea Party”. Why not for coffee ?