Archive for the ‘Obituaries’ Category

RIP: Prof. David Siegel


Professor David Siegel, from his Albany Law School biography page

Calling Professor David Siegel a giant of the New York legal world would not only be a bit trite, but would still be an understatement. His treatise on New York Practice, the bible of New York civil procedure, is a required text for anyone that works in this state’s courts on the civil side and is routinely cited by judges at all levels, both state and federal.

He died yesterday.

In an obituary at the New York Law Journal, former Chief Justice Judith Kaye is quoted thusly from a 2008 Albany Law School event honoring him:

“Who among us doesn’t know that he is the—absolutely the—preeminent authority on matters of civil practice in the entire universe?” Kaye said at the time. “There’s no one with a bit of good sense who would dare ever to cross you on matters of civil practice, David Siegel.”

Like many other local lawyers, I attended Siegel’s continuing legal education classes regarding our civil procedure many times. And here’s the thing: The guy wasn’t just smart and practical, he was funny.

That humor was reflected not only in his on-stage manner, but incorporated into his New York Practice book. I mean really, who the hell ever laughed out loud at something in a book about legal procedure? But Siegel could pull that off.

On a few occasions in this blog over the years I’ve mentioned that it sucks to be a test case, usually on the subject of our new and untested ethics rules regarding online conduct and solicitation. That mantra of “it sucks to be a test case” comes from Siegel, who used to preach that advice when lawyers would pose factual situations that might (or might not) comply with our procedure.

Ever the practical person, he knew that it wasn’t always whether some procedural issue would work or not, but that lawyers should avoid placing themselves into the position to have to make that decision. You might (or might not) win your test case, but it will cost you time, money and sleepless nights to get there.

From appellate lawyer Jay Breakstone:

I suppose it’s to be expected.  A lawyer dies and we all gather around and describe him in the most glowing terms, whether he was a saint or a nasty bastard.  Sometimes, it’s like being at Hitler’s funeral.  “All in all, what can we say?  He was a hell of a dancer.”  At the time of death, there is always something nice to say about anyone.

But the recent loss of David Siegel is something else.  It is the true loss of someone we needed, not just admired.  Prof. Siegel was that one tool on the belt of every working lawyer that we couldn’t live without.

He was the Vise-Grip plier that could wrap itself around a particularly nasty question and break it loose from our own ignorance.  And, just like that Vise-Grip plier, he was always there.  Except for now.

To those of us who write about the law, David Siegel had a very unique talent.  The Professor could make the law understandable.  What a gift!  After all, this is not John Grisham writing about steaming plot lines and attractive anti-heroes.  This is New York practice, about as entrancing as a heartburn.  Yet, David Siegel made it sing.

How did he do that?  To this day, I do not know.  In the master’s hands, New York practice was just about the most interesting thing in the world.  It involved real people and real lawyers and real problems and, best of all, real answers.  Like some ancient prophet, Prof. Siegel revealed all that came down from on high to those of us who lived below.

I first came across Prof. Siegel at a bar review course in 1976.  They said that his course on New York practice was essential.  I think I paid extra to take the course and they were right.  He lectured in a style that can only be called “conspiratorial.”  This was a lawyer talking to other lawyers (almost.)

It was him and us against the world.  At last, this was the real thing.  No theories, no big shot federal jurisdictional issues; this was blue collar lawyering at its best.  We listened enraptured, for we quickly understood that if by some slight chance we actually passed the bar exam, this was what we needed to know on the day after our admission. I can still hear David Siegel today:

“One day, as young lawyer, your boss will send you to court.  How exciting!  You will carry the nice new briefcase your parents bought you and head off to the courthouse at 60 Centre Street.  You will walk up the steps with the sun shining, ready to do battle for justice.  You will enter the beautiful lobby and, just as quickly, you will descend into the bowels of hell.  You have been sent to the Special Term, Part I courtroom.

As you open the swinging doors, you will be assaulted by a scene out of Dante’s Inferno.  Hundreds of lawyers will be there, shouting out the name of hundreds of other lawyers.  You will sit down in the back of the courtroom and wait for the judge to take the bench and call your case.  But there will be no judge to hear your application for an adjournment.  Only the clerk will take the bench and he will begin to rattle off case after case in the order they are on the calendar taped to the wall outside the door – – the calendar you did not notice when you came in.  So, you will listen for your case to be called.

Quickly, the case names go by, and then, you think you hear yours!  You walk to the front of the courtroom, only to realize that in the time it took you to make that trip, fifty other cases went by.  There is no one to talk to; you are alone in a crowd, secure in the knowledge that once you get back to the office, you will be fired and have to pack up your desk in one of those cardboard boxes and go home, telling your mother you’re not a lawyer anymore.”

It was then that David Siegel, as he did until the day he died, rode in like a knight on horseback and saved our lives:

“This is what you have to know:  There are only three things you may yell out in Special I.  Nothing else will register in the mind of the clerk.  He or she is only programmed to respond to these three magical phrases.  Write them down now.  Memorize them.  Never forget them.   Here they are:  Ready for;  Ready against; Application.”

Prof. Siegel, I have never forgotten those words . . . or any of yours.

Pete Seeger, 1919 — 2014

Pete SeegerThe first time I saw Pete Seeger sing was in a driving rain storm. It was in Albany, 1981, and I was part of a university crowd marching downtown to protest the  Springboks —  the national rugby team of apartheid South Africa.

The skies opened up on us during the march. But there was Pete, banjo in hand, with supporters holding umbrellas over his head, singing. Through the eyes of a 21-year-old college student, he looked old even back then. This was the scene, as recorded by the New York Times:

ALBANY, Sept. 22— After a day of Federal court decisions, a bombing of the sponsor’s headquarters, arrests of radicals and mobilization of the city’s police force, the touring South African Springboks rugby team played a rain-drenched match tonight on a floodlighted field in Albany’s outskirts.

While the players scrummed and kicked in the mud, the shouts of 1,000 demonstrators confined to a knoll 100 yards away reached the field, which was surrounded by the police. Pete Seeger led the protesters in the African song ”Wimowey” and a local minister said, ”This will go down as one of the blackest Tuesdays in American history.”

I’m not going to sit here and say I agreed with every position that he stood for over the course of his 94 years. I can’t say that about anyone. But when a man stands up to the House Un-American Activities Committee because they are afraid of his music, it’s hard not to appreciate his strength of conviction in the First Amendment. He reportedly had this to say in 1955:

I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.”

You can actually see the testimony on Seeger’s own website.

But that doesn’t mean he was unwilling to tell this most un-American of committees a little bit about himself. He offered instead to sing the songs that the committee mentioned. They refused. He was blacklisted. He was indicted. He was convicted.

And the conviction was overturned, though not on First Amendment grounds, which were not even discussed. Today, that is the way most would have looked at the refusals to testify.

This is a fuller part of the inquisition before the committee:

MR. TAVENNER: The same occasion, yes, sir. I have before me a photostatic copy of a page from the June 1, 1949, issue of the Daily Worker, and in a column entitled “Town Talk” there is found this statement: The first performance of a new song, “If I Had a Hammer,” on the theme of the Foley Square trial of the Communist leaders, will he given at a testimonial dinner for the 12 on Friday night at St. Nicholas Arena. . . .Among those on hand for the singing will be . . . Pete Seeger, and Lee Hays-and others whose names are mentioned. Did you take part in that performance?

MR. SEEGER: I shall he glad to answer about the song, sir, and I am not interested in carrying on the line of questioning about where I have sung any songs.

MR. TAVENNER: I ask a direction.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: You may not he interested, but we are, however. I direct you to answer. You can answer that question.

MR. SEEGER: I feel these questions are improper, sir, and I feel they are immoral to ask any American this kind of question.

MR. TAVENNER: Have you finished your answer?

MR. SEEGER: Yes, sir.

MR. TAVENNER: I desire to offer the document in evidence and ask that it be marked “Seeger exhibit No.4,” for identification only, and to be made a part of the Committee files.

MR. SEEGER: I am sorry you are not interested in the song. It is a good song.

MR. TAVENNER: Did you hear Mr. George Hall’s testimony yesterday in which he stated that, as an actor, the special contribution that he was expected to make to the Communist Party was to use his talents by entertaining at Communist Party functions? Did you hear that testimony?

MR. SEEGER: I didn’t hear it, no.

MR. TAVENNER: It is a fact that he so testified. I want to know whether or not you were engaged in a similar type of service to the Communist Party in entertaining at these features.

(Witness consulted with counsel.)

MR. SEEGER: I have sung for Americans of every political persuasion, and I am proud that I never refuse to sing to an audience, no matter what religion or color of their skin, or situation in life. I have sung in hobo jungles, and I have sung for the Rockefellers, and I am proud that I have never refused to sing for anybody. That is the only answer I can give along that line.

I’m not going to write a full blown obituary for a 94-year-old man with a full life in the public eye. You can read any number of them circulating on the web in news reports. But this is a law blog, so I choose the legal angle. And from my standpoint, that means using words and symbols in order to argue a point.

PeteSeegerBanjoInscriptionAbove any one particular political position he held was the pursuit of non-violence and that people should talk to each other. The inscription on his banjo read:

This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.

Back in 1979, the late Harry Chapin — one of many, many singer-songwriters he influenced — wrote a tribute to Seeger called Old Folkie, that you can find on YouTube, that starts like this:

He’s the man with the banjo and the 12-string guitar.
And he’s singing us the songs that tell us who we are.
When you look in his eyes you know that somebody’s in there.
Yeah, he knows where we’re going and where we been
And how the fog is gettin’ thicker where the future should begin.
When you look at his life you know that he’s really been there.

Americans of all stripes have much to be grateful for in the Seeger lessons. Because free speech affects all of us, regardless of political bent. It’s worth repeating, from his 1954 testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee:

 I have sung for Americans of every political persuasion, and I am proud that I never refuse to sing to an audience, no matter what religion or color of their skin, or situation in life. I have sung in hobo jungles, and I have sung for the Rockefellers, and I am proud that I have never refused to sing for anybody.

Blawg Review 325.7 (RIP: Ed.)

The late, anonymous Editor of Blawg Review, kinda, sorta photographed by me in 2009.

If you didn’t know Ed., please bear with me. He made me a better blogger, and a better lawyer. He died of esophageal cancer last week, as announced by his son on Twitter.

Newcomers might not remember Blawg Review, the weekly round-up of law blog posts that he started in 2005 that rotated around and around from blog to blog. The Blawg Review website that he managed and edited held down the anchor with all of the links. The roster of those who hosted Blawg Review looks like a Who’s Who of the legal blogosphere. I was honored that he asked me to host three out of the 324 prior editions before it came to an end last year.

As I noted back in 2009 — a lifetime ago in pixellated years:

Without Ed., there would be no Blawg Review. And if someone else were doing the organizing, you just know it wouldn’t be nearly as good.

Ed. wished to remain anonymous, even as he traveled the country and met with scads of bloggers. To my knowledge, not a single one of us knew his real name. As Scott Greenfield noted, he was always just Ed., the editor of Blawg Review. I had the pleasure of meeting him several times as he passed through New York.

Ed. didn’t want to be known by name. He didn’t want it to be about him. It was about the Blawg Review project. He was the living, breathing embodiment  of how to conduct yourself online under cover of anonymity — the exact same way you would if you were face to face.

According to his son:

There was nothing my father enjoyed more than debating the philosophies, merits, and impacts of laws around the world – sharing opinions and celebrating the discourse you helped create here at Blawg Review.

So why did he make me a better blogger and lawyer? It all goes back to The Mummers Veil that he wrote on January 1, 2007. This wasn’t just any old round-up of posts that constituted a Blawg Review that he wrote, but rather, a delightful flight of fancy as he imagined himself traveling the world visiting law bloggers. This was the literary device he used:


Ed. as he appeared to the world in his Twitter profile.

In this Blawg Review #89, your dutiful editor appears as the lone mummer, visiting the sites of legal webloggers far and near in the blogosphere between Boxing Day and New Year’s Day 2007.

Now literary devices and lawyering don’t usually go hand in hand — lawyers are boring and write dryly and stuff their pages with case citations and numbers that correspond to book volumes. Some lawyers seem hell bent on putting judges and law clerks to sleep.

But look what was possible in the blawgosphere! There was Ed., not just enjoying the writing that he found at the end, but enjoying the journey to find it. The possibilities of communication were without limit — even for us boring lawyers —  and by organizing this weekly round-up of legal writing that he orchestrated, I could explore not just what others were saying, but how they were saying it.

And with that I engaged in my own flights of fancy when he asked me to host Blawg Review, wrestling with how to enjoy the journey through the blawgosphere while at the same time presenting its stories. It inspired me to run the 2007 NYC Marathon with law bloggers in tow, fantasizing that they were running the streets of New York with me while discussing what was going on in their sector of the legal woods. It was marathon length and it was great fun, and the journey was inspired by Ed.’s mummer traveling about.

The same was true when I went trick or treating in 2008 with the Bogeyman in tow. This time we tricked and treated at the homes of law bloggers, each telling us their particular stories. Again, it was Ed. and his turn as a mummer whispering to me at the keyboard while I typed.

The third and final flight of fancy that I engaged in had Arlo Guthrie and numerous law bloggers visit me for turkey and a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat. Ed. was with me all the way.

I received a few accolades for those pieces, but in truth, it was Ed.’s traveling mummer that was the inspiration.

So how did he make me a better blogger and lawyer? By reminding me that it’s all about telling stories and journeys from place to place. Every article we write or client we have has a story in the background. It is not the facts and figures that capture the imagination and compel people to listen — though they are critical to proving a point —  it’s the stories.

You can tell them from the start, tell them from the end, or tell it from the middle, just figure out a way to tell it. That is true whether you are blogging or lawyering. As Mark Twain once wrote:

“Narrative is a difficult art; narrative should flow as flows the brook down through the hills and the leafy woodlands, its course changed by every bowlder it comes across and by every grass-clad gravelly spur that projects into its path; its surface broken, but its course not stayed by rocks and gravel on the bottom in the shoal places; a brook that never goes straight for a minute, but goes, and goes briskly, sometimes ungrammatically, and sometimes fetching a horseshoe three-quarters of a mile around, and at the end of the circuit flowing within a yard of the path it traversed an hour before; but always going, and always following at least one law, always loyal to that law, the law of narrative, which has no law. Nothing to do but make the trip; the how of it is not important, so that the trip is made.”

Ed From Blawg Review

Photo via Robert Ambrogi

How many others did Ed. influence?  Hard to say, but as you read the obituaries online from last week and today — starting with an intro at the Blawg Review site by Colin Samuels — you can see that the answer is many.

But not just any many, for those that he influenced may have, in turn influenced others. Because they are bloggers and they have readers. And it works like a giant chain —  just as the bees influence the flowers, and the flowers influence the lovers and the lovers have babies and pretty soon we’re all talking in high squeaky voices and saying, coochie, coochie, coo. Because of the bees.

I think Ed. would have liked that; it was like a little story.

My condolences to his family. I don’t know how much they knew or appreciated how he influenced others, but from where I sit at my keyboard here in New York, it was plenty. He left a legacy despite being anonymous. That’s one hell of an achievement.

Some of you are regular readers and started today at this blog, and you may wonder about the title, Blawg Review 325.7. That .7 exists because this is part of a big web ring, and you are currently in the middle.

Some of you arrived here from Popehat (Blawg Review 325.6), a blog based in San Diego. In honor of Ed., please fly back to the west coast and visit with George Wallace in Pasadena, CA, (Blawg Review 325.8) for his thoughts on Ed.s’ passing.

And then, dear reader, please complete the circle visiting other bloggers, as Ed. did with his mummer.

And we can all wonder if our own obituaries will be half as fine.

RIP: Irwin Kosover

A guest post obituary today from Lee Huttner:


Irwin Kosover died this week at age 80. He was a fixture for many years in Kings County Supreme Court, representing defendants only.His cast of carrier clients included Empire Insurance and Eagle Insurance. He was well known for his no nonsense approach, which made some younger attorneys feel that he was a bully — only to learn over the years that he actually was helping toughen up his young adversaries.

It was well known among the “regulars” in Brooklyn that he hated motions dealing with “serious injury” threshold because he believed all lawyers should make a living. Even though he thought most cases were exaggerated, he usually “lost” the threshold motions. His “file” was a single sheet of paper.

Irwin maintained an office at 26 Court Street for many years. He refused any and all offers to buy him lunch, preferring to eat in the office. He once promised he would let me buy lunch upon his retirement. He knew that day would never come as he knew that he would work to his dying day.

Many attorneys have provided stories about Irwin. I’m sure he would be happy to know that he was respected. A common thread throughout the stories was that he was tough. Young attorneys thought he was mean and abrasive. Irwin would always smile when a young lawyer figured out that it was “shtick” from a tough old fashioned lawyer. One attorney tells how she first met Irwin as a litigant. He was tough and pushed a settlement. He did not want to see her get nothing-but not too much either.

Most of all Irwin loved his wife. When she was suffering from the cancer that eventually took her life, he would say she was his life. When she passed a piece of Irwin died as well. Hopefully they are together again. He will be missed.

RIP: Robert Conason

It is a rare day for me to simply copy-and-paste the lede from another story and then link to it. I like to add my own thoughts, opinions and commentary.

But time doesn’t allow for that, and since Bob Conason was one of the giants of the personal injury bar here in New York, I will break my own rules. To his friends and family, and the partners, associates and staff at Gair, Gair, Conason, Steigman, Mackauf, Bloom & Rubinowitz, my condolences.

From today’s New York Law Journal:

Robert Conason, a highly successful personal injury attorney and partner at Gair, Gair, Conason, Steigman, Mackauf, Bloom & Rubinowitz, died early yesterday. He was 80.

Friends said Conason died from complications from leukemia at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan.

Among his most notable legal triumphs were $100 million in settlements for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and their families with the Victims Compensation Fund, and a $50 million settlement on behalf of relatives of business executives killed in the 1980 fire at the Stouffer’s Inn in Westchester County.

Friends and colleagues remembered Conason as much for his humility as for the outstanding success he achieved in the courtroom.

The rest of the story is here:  Obituary: Robert Conason



Court of Appeals Judge Theodore Jones Dies at 68

Judge Theodore Jones. Photo courtesy of New York Court of Appeals.

New York Court of Appeals Judge Theodore Jones died suddenly last night of an apparent heart attack. He was just  68. Judge Jones ascended to New York’s high court by way of the Brooklyn courts, where he was highly regarded for his respect for both the law and lawyers.

That respect is reflected in the following introduction of Judge Jones delivered a few years ago by Evan Goldberg when the New York State Bar Association gave  him an award. The remarks are reprinted here with the permission of Goldberg.


Our speaker this evening is well known to us all.  Judge Theodore Jones has long been a friend of the trial bar, after years of being a trial lawyer himself. He started in the Legal Aid Society, then went to private practice and began his career as a judge in the Juvenile Offender part of Kings County.  All this helped shape his judicial character, as a jurist who honestly wants to help people.

His rapid elevation, from Supreme Court, to Administrative Judge, to the Court of Appeals is a testament to the high regard his colleagues have for him.  And his TV persona, exhibited during the infamous 2005 transit strike let other people in on what was, at that time, Brooklyn’s best kept secret; that when Judge Teddy Jones got onto a case, an equitable resolution was soon to follow.

When the trial bar lost Judge Jones to the Court of Appeals, we all grieved, because we need judges like him for our trials, but we took collective solace in the knowledge that he would be safeguarding the rule of law in a Court deserving of his inspired participation.  Whether he’s penning a scholarly opinion or driving for the green on the golf course, he always devotes his impressive skill with full effort, skill and passion.

For me, personally, Judge Jones has always been available to lend his ear and offer advice.  His inclusive, fathering approach is innate.  He regularly attends the lawyer golf outings and he’s so good.  How good is he?  He’s so good, we don’t even have to pretend to lose.  Um, not that we do that.   Judge Jones is also quite the marksman, a skill he undoubtedly honed when he was a Brooklyn Court Street lawyer.  His service as a captain in Viet Nam may also have helped.

Just two days ago, our association’s Diversity Committee gave Judge Jones a lifetime achievement award for his longstanding efforts to advance minorities in our profession.  Whether he’s working with high school students, seasoned veterans, or anything in between, Judge Jones is everyone’s BFF.  I was truly honored on behalf of our association, when Judge Jones agreed to be our speaker.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present Associate Judge of the NYS Court of Appeals, the Honorable Theodore T. Jones, Jr.

Update: From the New York Law Journal, a sampling of opinions from Judge Jones.


Michael McAllister, Top New York Mediator, Has Passed On (Updated)

It’s with great sadness that I’m reporting the death late yesterday at the age of 59 of one of New York’s top mediators, Michael McAllister. Anyone that has tried civil cases in New York over the last two decades  knows who he is, and has most likely appeared before him at some point.

McAllister was the Neutral Evaluation Attorney in charge of the New York County Supreme Court Mediation/Neutral Program at its inception in 1994. This state didn’t have any official mediators before that, and this program was turned into a model to be used in other counties.

He was personally responsible for having settled thousands of cases, both through his role as official court mediator, and subsequently from March 2005 onward with the private mediation company JAMS. That included numerous million and multi-million dollar disputes including labor law, medical malpractice, toxic torts, municipal liability, and thousands upon thousands of slip/fall and auto cases.

He was a trusted and respected neutral, widely liked by both plaintiffs and defendants, on both a personal as well as professional level, and amazingly effective at what he did. He appeared just days ago as part of the faculty of a continuing legal education class, The Art of Negotiating and Mediation.

The letter below regarding McAllister appeared on October 1, 1998, in the New York Law Journal. How often does praise appear in print for someone who works out of the spotlight?  It is republished here in full, with the permission of its author, Matt Kreinces:



In the course of my short career I have had the opportunity to work for some of the best negligence/medical malpractice trial lawyers in this state, including Richard Godosky, Anthony Gentile, Raymond Furey, Joseph Awad, Joseph Miklos, Ivan Schneider and Harvey Weitz. While having worked for these individuals I have had the opportunity to appear before and meet some of the most distinguished jurists including Chief Judge Judith Kaye.

All of these are recognized by the profession and the public on a daily basis. However, one individual who I have come to know who seems to go completely unrecognized is Michael McAllister. Mr. McAllister, a court mediator in State Supreme Court, New York County, is currently settling cases that no one else can settle, clearing dockets that no one else can clear and maintaining a level of professionalism I can only hope to obtain during my career as a lawyer.

Within the past five years I have had the opportunity to appear before Mr. McAllister on a number of occasions and have come to know him personally. One instance that stands out concerned the death of a woman after childbirth. The woman gave birth to her third child, developed complications, was allegedly saved immediately after the birth, but died a few days later due to a redevelopment of complications. I was working on this matter as a plaintiff’s attorney. Prior to a note of issue being filed, Mr. McAllister came upon the case and called it in for a conference.

There were four defense attorneys as well as my boss and myself. The initial conference was an amazing tribute to Mr. McAllister’s ability to recognize the strengths and weaknesses on both sides of this complicated medical malpractice action. After a number of conferences, and long before this matter ever would have reached a trial, Mr. McAllister was able to effectuate a substantial seven-figure settlement. Given the defendants and carriers involved, this was not an easy task.

Mr. McAllister does his job on a daily basis with the utmost of courtesy and respect for the lawyers who enter his courtroom, even when that respect and courtesy is not reciprocated. I am writing to thank Mr. McAllister for giving those of us who are still early in our careers an opportunity to see what being a lawyer is all about, as well as something to strive for down the road.


He is survived by his wife and four children. A funeral announcement has not yet been made, but is expected later today when JAMS will put out a statement.

Update: The wake for Mike will be held at Beaugard Funeral Home in River Edge:, 869 Kinderkamack Road, River Edge, NJ 07661; 201-262-5050.

The wake is tomorrow (Saturday, 1/29) from 7pm-9pm and Sunday from 2pm-4pm and 7pm-9pm.  The mass is on Monday (1/31) at 11:30am at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, 305 Elm St., Oradell, NJ 07649

There will be a celebration from 1pm-5pm at on Monday at Maggianos in the Riverside Mall in Hackensack, NJ.  The arrangements are open to friends, family and clients.  (of note, Mike will be cremated)

The family has set up The McAllister Education Fund for Vanessa and Brian, in lieu of flowers. Donations should be mailed to the funeral home (The Fund’s EIN is 27-4684686).

R.I.P. Jane Jarvis, Shea’s Queen of Melody (And a Lesson For Lawyers)

Jane Jarvis, the long-time organist for the New York Mets at Shea Stadium, died last week at age 94. Shea Stadium’s Queen of Melody inspired fans over the course of 15 years, and her playing, oddly enough, held lessons for lawyers. Stay with me here. I have a point this time.

Those of my age that grew up spending times watching the Mets at Shea remember her playing for the fans, and the fans responding, and Jarvis tinkling the ivories back at us. It was like an exuberant conversation during her 1964-1979 tenure as she kept us entertained between innings and during other breaks. Anyone who spent time at the now-gone ball yard remembers Jarvis doing Meet the Mets on the Thomas organ.

Ultimately she was replaced by over-amplified canned music (and a thousand other distractions of the modern ball park). But canned music, of course, can’t respond to the fans. Her playing was personal. She could see and hear what was going on, and speed up, slow down and modify on the fly. Live music is like that.

So where does the law come in to this? Lawyers often used canned materials too. We borrow briefs and memos from others for use.

But here is the important part: Too many lawyers, it seems, borrow the brief and don’t actually read it. They don’t make it personal to the actual facts of the case. The writing doesn’t crackle with originality and pertinence, because oft times it is neither.

I once read a brief that was filled with “this honorable court” and “respectfully” this and “respectfully” that, and behind all the obsequious writing was garbage. I always figured that if one wanted to be respectful to the court, one would tailor the brief to the actual facts and points that needed to be made. The writer would make it easy on the eyes instead of forcing the judge (or clerk) to go burrowing through the darn thing trying to figure out what the actual point is.

Other briefs I’ve seen over the years have clearly been filled with cut-and-paste from other briefs, or straight out of WestLaw. It’s pure laziness and the message that the judge no doubt receives is, “If the lawyer didn’t care, why should I?”

There isn’t anything intrinsically wrong with a form book, of course. If you are doing something for the first time it’s good to see how someone else did it. The mistakes are in believing that this the only way to do it, or that the form shouldn’t be changed at all. The mistake is in ignoring your audience.

Jarvis used sheet music to get her songs down when learning them. But then she adapted each song, just as the lawyer must adapt each and every argument (if, that is, you actually want to communicate a point to the judge)

Jarvis was a virtuoso when it came to the organ and the crowd. And that was because she didn’t sit back and rely on the forms she started with.

A 2008 article in the Daily News described Jarvis’s experience this way:

When it comes to music and the Mets, Jarvis once wrote the book. “I made all the decisions,” she says. She had a song for when the Mets trotted to their positions, and a song for when they smacked a homer, and then there was the Mexican Hat Dance to get things going when the home team really needed it during the seventh-inning stretch. An entire generation of Met fans came to identify the team’s championship run in 1969 with her lilting keyboard work. 

Rest in peace.

(P.S. Pitchers and catchers report in 17 days. I think Jarvis would want me to mention that)


Judge and Blogger, Jerry Buchmeyer, is Dead at 76

In my blog roll off to the right under “Legally Humorous” sits a link to Say What?, a little Texas law blog from US District Court Judge Jerry Buchmeyer, who died Monday at 76.

But I didn’t add him to my blog roll and RSS feed to read about Texas law. I tuned in because he had a great collection of trial and deposition snippets that, when you read them, were sure to lift your day. And to warn you about engaging the mouth before engaging the brain.

Oddly enough, though he died Monday, he has a post dated today (reprised from 2001). So somewhere up in the Great Beyond, Judge Buchmeyer must be laughing a little. And as long as Judge Buchmeyer continues to post, I’ll continue to keep him in my blog roll.

One sample from the blog looks like this:

Q. Do you know how much money?

A. No, not specifically.

Q. You recall testifying as to a seven or $800,000 figure concerning Roseneath yesterday?

A. Whatever the record said.

Q. You recall discussing a seven or $800,000 contribution to GRI by Roseneath?

A. And I said whatever the record said.

Q. You don’t recall that right now?

A. I said whatever the record said.

Q. That’s not responsive. Do you recall?

A. Read my lips.

Q. Read mine. Do you recall?

A. Look at me again, read them real careful.

Q. And read my lips carefully -

Mr. Butler (wisely): All right. Gentlemen, I guess that’s about enough of this.

It’s easy to watch an hour disappear just roaming through his archives reading some of the transcripts that people had sent him over the years.

You can read some of the obituaries, that focus on his judge-life as opposed to his blog-life, here:

WSJ Law Blog;
ABA Journal;
Box Turtle Bulletin;
Tex Parte Blog;
Pegasus News;
Legal Blog Watch