My German exchange son, Willy Golz, gave me a wonderful Christmas present this year: a biography of German Chancellor Willy Brandt written by Helene Miard Delacroix. I believe he was named after this great political icon. My soul is so inspired by the actions of this morally courageous leader.
Many American millenials may not know the story of Willy Brandt, but they would be better off if they did. Willy Brandt was Germany's John F. Kennedy contemporary. They both lived during the same time period, both rising to the greatest heights of politics. His is a story in courage, perseverance and vision. He was raised by a single mother, never knowing his father. His grandfather was heavily involved in the country's socialist movement to improve wages and better working conditions. Excelling in school, he was singled out for higher education that he would not normally have been able to attain at that time. Passionate about helping others, he immersed himself in the labor movement as the country moved towards Naziism. It eventually became so dangerous to be a part of an opposing political party, he had to flee the country to avoid imprisonment. He fled to Norway and Sweden, took on a new name "Willy Brandt" and continued his activities to help the people of Germany by learning firsthand of improved labor conditions in Norway and Sweden and remaining involved in the underground German political movement. He survived and fed his family through his writings while also educating the world as to the horrors of Hitler's regime. When Hitler was removed from power, Willy returned and became the mayor of Berlin. He was mayor when the Soviets erected the wall separating West from East Berlin.
He envisioned a time where the East would be reunited with the West and dedicated a career to making this happen. He was a people's leader, both on a mass scale and one to one. He relished social engagements, enjoyed rather than despised the press, and the relationships he cemented propelled him to the country's highest reigns, the Chancellor. He always opted with courage to do the right thing, many times when it was very unpopular both nationally and internationally. Two such examples included when he opened direct communication channels with the Soviets and bowed at the Ghetto War Memorial to apologize for Hitler's atrocities.
Although his actions made the Allied powers very upset, they were the building blocks for eventual reunification of East and West Germany. He took critical steps to recognize East Germany as a country, which his counterparts and the country were unwilling to do (without which reunification would have been far more difficult). His brave efforts were rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971.
His entire life was marked by taking the high road where his courage was a strong suit. A Soviet spy was found among his cabinet as Chancellor and he took the heat and political fall for this, even though he was the victim. Willy Brandt never put himself over the good of his country. He led because no matter how unpopular his decisions, he persevered in doing the right thing. His moral convictions, vision, and hard work helped bring Germany from the ruined ashes of war and poverty to the powerhouse it is today. Great leaders sacrifice for the good of others. Great leaders do this by never fearing. The world is a much better place because of people like Willy Brandt.
Friday, June 02, 2017
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
"My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness."
The Dalai Lama
"When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That's my religion."
"Any religion or philosophy which is not based on a respect for life is not a true religion or philosophy."
"God has no religions."
"Be kind to all creatures. This is the true religion."
I simply can't understand why a minister should be fired from their church if they get arrested for a DWI (had a client recently fired and a chaplain put on leave). People make mistakes. A church who is living what they preach should show mercy and kindness. The very essence of Biblical teaching is to provide standards to live by, not stones to throw. Preachers pound from the pulpit "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone."
Many people make the mistake of a DWI. Most DWIs involve no victims (people pulled over for traffic violations like speeding). No one goes out with the intent to get a DWI. DWI is more a misjudgment than bad judgment. If the President of the United States can govern the country (George W. Bush) with a DWI, a minister should certainly expect mercy from their church. If not, one should consider the worth of the church to begin with.
When a person gets a DWI, it is a traumatic self inflicted 'gnashing of teeth' punishment (pride, humiliation, embarrassment ). The most hypocritical thing a church can do is to cast them aside. It is repugnant to me that one's church may be the last place they find forgiveness and understanding.
I would simply like to point out that churches have a very important role in society. They provide counseling and guidance to the soul for many. It is time that churches reassess blanket policies that go against their very teachings. A DWI is a mistake that anyone can make. A church should be a place one would expect forgiveness, compassion and understanding.
To conclude, a wise man (Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Roman philosopher, 4 BC A.D. 65) once said "Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful." No one is saying that religion does not have its good uses...
Saturday, July 16, 2016
I recently finished the book Catherine the Great by Robert Massie published in 2011 by Random House. What made Catherine the Great so great ? First, it starts with ambition. At 15, she left her native Germany and moved to Russia to marry Empress Elizabeth’s nephew Peter. Through all her struggles in learning a new language, culture and religion (Russian Orthodoxy forced upon her), and being with a young man who did not find her interesting or attractive, she persevered. She commented early on that ‘only you can make yourself happy or miserable, despite the circumstances’. She had a burning desire to become the ruler of Russia, so she prepared herself. She read voraciously (philosophy, political history and the sciences). She was never without a book. She eventually created Russia’s first national library donating over 38, 000 books. Her incessant reading made her wise beyond measure. Indeed, she was considered the most 'enlightened' monarch of all Europe. She forced herself to learn Russian by studying assiduously. Her attitude, reading and open mind caused her to embrace her new culture; and in return, the Russian people embraced her, choosing her over her husband Peter to rule (also from Germany, who preferred not to study and adopt Russian culture as arduously as Catherine) . She never saw her father after age 15. Her mother departed shortly after she married Prince Peter. She sacrificed being with her family and all the comforts of her native country for a possibility to lead.
Catherine at age 15
Second to ambition, Catherine succeeded due to hard work. As ruler, she awoke early every day to start delving into work and typically finished at 10 or 11 pm (work included dinners with diplomats and formal entertaining on behalf of the realm). She always continued to educate herself alongside her work. She formed intellectually significant relationships with the most respected philosophers of her time such as Diderot and Voltaire, eventually acquiring their libraries. With such a powerful mind, she determined that she would raise the standard of living for all her Russian subjects. At a time when females were not educated, she formed the first schools for Russian girls. She created Russia’s first medical school and mandated that every province must have a doctor (revolutionary at the time). Due to her high intellect, she was able to push the country forward in ways that were ahead of her time. By inoculating herself and her son Paul for smallpox, she convinced the people that this was indeed a safe and smart preventative. She studied criminal law (and did indeed discourage and commute barbaric practices such as ‘racking’ during interrogations) and wrote a much respected guiding, general preface to laws called the Nakaz (at a time where the codes were unorganized and outdated) for the encouragement of a new set of laws. She called together a parliament style gathering of over 600 Russians (that she created) for this purpose.
Catherine, the workaholic
She expanded Russia’s territory immensely during her reign both by conquest and smooth negotiations. She was, at the same time, the most feared and respected autocratic ruler of Europe. Her military risks were calculated and well informed. While directing widely successful military strategy across the Turkish Ottoman Empire, she educated herself in the arts and architecture by consulting with talented artists and architects while accumulating an impressive art collection (the Hermitage) and the construction of masterpiece buildings and palaces that remain to this day.
Inside the Hermitage
Catherine’s supreme governing ability was also accompanied by a generous heart. She led an effort to free the serfs (slaves) early on in her reign. She created avenues of redress for grievances of serfs to curb abuse and hold landowners accountable. It is a fact that eventually Russia (her grandson) freed its slaves two years before the United States did in Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. When Great Britain repeatedly requested to contract for Russian soldiers to battle the colonists in the American Revolution, she resolutely refused to entertain such negotiations (so the British settled for paid German Hessian soldiers). This was her perfect opportunity to support monarchy over democracy, and she refused.
Cream rises to the top. Catherine the Great brought a golden age to Russia in terms of education, medicine, conquests, the arts, and benevolent rule because she was wise. To be a great leader on a grand scale, one must certainly make a vocation of reading and accumulating knowledge. One must also cultivate a circle of intellectuals that knows no geographic bounds. The best of the best are the truly ‘enlightened’. Through knowledge, one’s heart becomes aware and one’s judgment refined. Greatness does not just happen. Truly great leaders live a lifestyle of benevolence towards humanity and an ever insatiable thirst for knowledge. Margaret Fuller said “Today a reader. Tomorrow a leader”. Catherine the Great is such an example.
Tuesday, June 28, 2016
For the sake of anonymity, the names of the involved have been changed or redacted.
Jane Doe is a hero of mine. With her permission, I share you her story. After four long years, we finally received justice. Jane Doe comes from a good family. Her parents divorced; they both invested themselves in raising good kids. She grew up with two older brothers who insisted on making her brave. Both handsome, dashing and fearless, they insisted on teaching Jane to skydive. Despite her persistent resistance, one day they literally dragged her out on a plane and forced her to jump (not alone of course). Little did her brothers know, they were creating a fearless fighter.
Jane was in her late twenties on May 16, 2012. She was working two jobs- a waitress and stock broker. She had worked so hard and was so good at saving her pennies, she bought herself a house. Her life was work, no husband, no kids (plenty of time for that later). Tired and exhausted, on May 16, 2012 after having a few drinks at home she decided to drive up the road to her local McDonald’s and grab a bite to eat. No one called 911. There was no accident. A police officer pulled her over for what the video tape shows to be innocuous driving. He claimed she was weaving. She got out of her car and performed a walk and turn and one leg stand test well (even passing the one leg stand according to the cop). They arrested her and against her will, drew her blood. Now the United States Supreme Court in April of 2012 (the preceding month) had declared the Constitution forbade drawing blood on DWIs without a warrant. This landmark case was touted all over the national news. This did not phase the Bedford police officer who had her blood drawn anyway according to a Texas statute which was no longer constitutional. Her blood results just did not add up. An expert witness verified our suspicions. I told her that the judge had an obligation to throw out the blood as it was unconstitutional. We had a motion to suppress the blood in violation of the 4th amendment to the United States Constitution. The prosecution and I stipulated to all the important facts. There were no exigent circumstances. The Bedford police department had a system in place to have judges sign probable cause warrants to obtain blood. The Bedford cop made no attempt to get a warrant. I even had the Bedford municipal judge there who signs the warrant. To my shock, the judge denied the motion. So we went to trial and the judge let the illegal blood draw in. The jury convicted her despite overwhelming evidence that the blood draw did not match the facts. The blood expert (chemistry PhD. and former expert of the prosecutors) we hired testified he had no confidence in the blood result. The jury returned a guilty verdict on evidence that should have never been admitted. One juror, called me after the trial to discuss how troubled he was at the verdict. After the verdict, Jane was fired as a stockbroker due to the conviction. With such grave injustice, I advised her to hire attorney (redacted) to do the appeal. She struggled but somehow managed to keep her house and pay for an appeal at the same time. Jane never lost the faith that justice would ultimately prevail.
In the meantime, the judge put her on bond conditions (probation department) despite the conviction not being final. The conditions were far worse than while her case was pending. For anyone not familiar with the justice system, on a DWI there is no “innocent until proven guilty” while you await trial. The interlock industry and their lobbying have made sure of this. For ten months Jane had to report twice a month to probation, each time paying for a drug test (of which she never failed). They even took a hair sample that went back six months to make sure she had not been drinking. The probation officer (bond case load) told her that she should be wearing an ankle monitor (like sex offenders and high risk criminals) but would make an exception by having her blow into her camera interlock at three scheduled times a day (so much for plans of any sort). This whole time she has had the interlock as a bond condition since May of 2012, her arrest. So for ten months, Jane could not visit family (majority living in Nevada, as she was not going to drive there) or go out of town for trips. After ten long grueling months, upon request, the judge relented and reduced her reporting to once a month. All this while the court of appeals decided to sit on the case for literally years while other cases just like hers (and that would be affected) decided to plead. At long last, the court of appeals (transferred to the Eastland County Court of Appeals, not surprising) kicked it back to the trial court reversing the jury verdict and judge’s decision to allow in the illegally drawn blood. Yesterday, on Jane’s 32nd birthday we went back to the same court, same judge and received justice. In all this wait, her stock broker license expired.
My opinion? If the United States Supreme Court rules, you better follow it. I gave that opinion (Missouri v. McNeely) to the judge and prosecutor. They had notice. No one would listen. In the meantime, a hardworking, young lady lost her career while everyone worried about the politics of the decision. How is this possible? Many people should have had their blood thrown out in Texas but did not (particularly in Tarrant County, Texas). Jane finally did. Why? Because she is a fighter. Happy 32nd Birthday Jane. You have proven that no one is above the law. The police, prosecutors and judges must obey the Constitution too.
Monday, May 16, 2016
The State Bar of Texas regulates all lawyer advertising. For a lawyer to advertise a flyer, billboard, website, or other solicitation, they must pay a fee to the State Bar of Texas and adhere to the advertising and ethics rules that bind Texas lawyers. The State Bar of Texas will review the advertisement and either approve or disprove of its use. The rules are in place to protect the public from false advertising. However, the State Bar is having a hard time keeping up with cunning new ways for marketers to profit from lawyers and trick the public.
The above letter I received from the mail is an example of 'for profit' entrepreneurship. For $410, I can have a plaque and use a logo on my website that touts me as one of America's "Most Feared Lawyers." The question is by whom ? Who owns this company that goes by "De Medici Ratings" ? How many lawyers vote ? What lawyers vote ? I have received at least 2-3 other such solicitations in the mail from companies I have never heard of that for a fee, will send me a plaque and website logo to use for advertising. All of them tout me as the best in something (such as DWI/DUI, etc.). This is ravenous preying upon lawyers by greedy profit mongers who want to make a buck. This is simply wrong. My advice to these proprietors is to get a degree, earn a reputation and tout your own worth.
The State Bar of Texas has board certifications that indicate a distinguished level of expertise in one's subject matter. The State Bar of Texas, as well as the American Bar Association (ABA) also recognize other prominent board certifications such as the National College of DUI Defense's (NCDD) DUI/DWI board certification. This is a true distinction of which to judge a lawyer's credentials.
Prominent industry organizations within the law, such as the nation's largest DUI/DWI organization, the National College of DUI Defense (NCDD) comprises of over 1800 members. They have a track record of over 20 years contributing to the public's overall betterment through training public defenders and other lawyers, as well as assisting with and submitting amicus briefs to the United States Supreme Court in defense of constitutional rights regarding DWI arrests. Membership and positions of leadership and contributions within such organizations inform the public of a lawyer's abilities, priorities, and respect amongst their peers.
In an age where a lawyer's website is key in giving the public information about that lawyer and their services, many "for profit" entrepreneurs are raking lawyers over the coals by promising high search engine results for a fee. In addition, many are touting fee membership to their own websites by promising referrals for certain cases. Their fees are exorbitant. Some pay per clicks are over $200 for popular search terms (for example: "Dallas DWI Lawyer"). All these costs are passed back down to the client through their fees. No one service can promise and deliver a constant high search engine rating and steady stream of clients (whose legitimacy is questionable under state bar rules for referrals). It is a shame how outrageous these claims and their fees are. The search engines are constantly revamping their rules to out such pay for play websites.
So where does this lead the public ? They should realize that when viewing a lawyer's advertising, ethically questionable declarations ("most feared lawyer') exhibit the morals of that lawyer. Lawyers who contact you because you have submitted information to a website are lawyers who are desperate enough to pay for clients. Websites that are at the top of search engines may or may not represent the best lawyers (as most skilled lawyers are busy with their clients and not their websites). My advice to the public is to be smart. Great lawyers are known because of their great results (first hand from people, not what is being purported in advertising). Any criminal defense lawyer or DWI lawyer who claims to get 90% of their cases "dismissed" or "reduced" is just lying. These numbers are simply not possible (a check with the clerk's office of that lawyer by code and their clients will quickly dispel such myths).
I, for one, am doing my part of helping other lawyers and the public by not participating in such solicitations. I refuse to pay for a "title". My accolades are all earned. I refuse to pay marketers for clients. All my advertising is my own. So for the next advertising firm that wants to spend "5 minutes" with me talking about my website, don't waste your time. I would not hire you even if your services were free. For all those "pay to play" companies trying to sell me a title or accolade- consult state bar rules. You should not be doing that. It is unfair to the public. For members of the public truly searching for a lawyer in earnest- I hope you have become enlightened. In addition, I hope you will not perpetuate the frenzy of vultures who prey on lawyers for a buck and thereby mislead you from a true merit based form of selection. Most of all, I hope you find a lawyer that truly represents you in the best way and one that you are most happy with.
Saturday, March 26, 2016
Just finished reading H.W. Brands' Texas history book: Lone Star Nation, The Epic Story of the Battle for Texas Independence. It is very well written, a real page turner. Heroes such as James Bowie, Stephen F. Austin and Davy Crockett jump off the page at you. It is always inspiring to delve into the lives of ordinary folks who achieved great things in the face of major obstacles. What stirred my soul; however, was the triumph of Sam Houston.
Sam Houston was accused of being a drunk. Yes, at times in his life he drank heavily. He resigned as Governor of Tennessee when his brand new bride left him and further embarassed him by divorcing him for another man. He had his share of financial woes and tete at tetes with politicians who disagreed with him. Yet one thing was consistent. He had a big heart for others. Despite being close to President Andrew Jackson, and serving under him in the military, he disagreed with him on how to treat the Indians. Perhaps living with the Cherokees for a time, brought full circle his open minded, cosmopolitan view of life.
He always tried to deal with others squarely and in fairness. After his first divorce, he took on an Indian wife but she too left him when she refused to accompany him to Texas. Sam Houston came to Texas in an effort to start anew, explore exciting fresh possibilities on a clean slate. He arrived in time to be elected Commander of the Texas militia as it fought General Santa Anna of Mexico for independence. The makeshift Texas government had no funds. The volunteers became recalcitrant and mutinied in frustration often. Founder of Texas, Stephen F. Austin was not too pleased with Houston's political rising. Yet, despite all the troubles and losses (the Alamo, the battle of Goliad), he pressed forward even when his own men questioned his judgment. Much like South Carolina's Frances Marion (the Swamp Fox of the American Revolution), Houston knew better than to fight a losing battle. He ordered the Alamo be destroyed so that it could not be used against Texans until they could establish a stronghold. His men ignored his orders and a tragedy of great proportion, 'Remember the Alamo', taking the lives of James Bowie and Davy Crockett among other illustrious heroes ensued. Houston's strategy was not to react emotionally but think logically and strategically to better the odds of winning. While his soldiers begged to fight, he scurried north towards the Louisiana border hoping to get the United States to intervene (smart considering the Texas numbers versus the Mexican army). He found ways to deal with rebellious soldiers and refocus their energies on the big battle. He even found a way to pardon a court martialled soldier. He was a man of mercy and forgiveness. He even spared Santa Anna's life (once captured as a prisoner of war, unlike what Santa Anna did to the Texas prisoners of war at the Alamo and battle of Goliad).
Santa Anna, the prisoner, comes before Sam Houston after the Battle of San Jacinto
Sunday, February 21, 2016
In this Presidential Republican Primary, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have been invoking Reagan frequently, as if to lighten the prevailing negativity of this campaign. Interestingly enough, I just finished a book on Reagan by H.W. Brands. I grew up with Reagan. He was President when I graduated high school in 1987. Thousands lined up to see him when he came to visit Baylor University when I was in college there. I have framed a letter he wrote me in December 1983 (I was a freshman in high school) that arrived at my childhood home in a huge White House manila envelope.
So why now? Why are the Republican candidates referring to Reagan ? There is an old saying, "People don't care how much you know, if they don't know how much you care." Reagan cared. We remember his consolation when he delivered remarks the night the Challenger blew up (he cancelled his State of the Union address scheduled that night because of it). We remember how he joked about being Republican on the operating table after his assassination attempt, with his doctor responding "Today we are all Republicans." He loved to make people laugh. He smiled incessantly. He had difficulty firing anyone because he prized loyalty (which caused some major problems for him in his administration). He valued what we are all raised to value: hard work (he graduated from college during the Great Depression and took any job he could get), kindness (he never allowed his Hollywood status to interfere with his humbleness), strength (he played high school football, served in the military and returned as Commander in Chief to build up our own military to outrival the Soviet's). He was very principled, despite whatever collateral damage that caused. Hence, Reagan's strong beliefs that the United States must defeat communism led to the problems with the Nicaraguan Contras and his compassion ensnared him in the arms for hostages negotiations with Iran. He rarely if ever, showed anger. We, the people remember him as the Great Communicator. Optimism in the face of challenge, tragedy and fear defined him. This too defines the American people. This is what resonates years later, we forget the Oliver North hearings and remember how Reagan made us feel. We remember how he said "Tear down that wall" and the Berlin wall came tumbling down. Americans have always been able to forgive if our hearts felt right about someone (Bill Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky side circus is a good example).
So what lessons can we learn today from Ronald Reagan ? It truly pays to smile. To smile, you must really care. You must be able to be happy from the simple pleasures in order not to be thrown off by the big failures. We all fail. Politicians fail. Reagan failed (he was lucky not to be indicted like Nixon for his role in what developed into 'arms for hostages' as some of his staff were). Every candidate running for President currently has failed in some major way (Cruz's underhanded campaign tactics, Rubio's constant absence from the Senate, Trump's business bankruptcies,etc.). The difference is when you fail, like Reagan, don't go attacking others in response to minimize your shortcomings. Reagan refused to play dirty politics. When running for Governor of California, he openly publicized that he would not attack his opponent personally and he never did. One reason why people hate lawyers, is because lawyers often play tit for tat. A lawsuit is not the answer for every slighted wrong. Reagan was a big picture guy. Thankfully, his big picture was full of hope, patience and generosity for others and a deep seeded Republican philosophy that every one is only limited by their own efforts and you don't snatch what someone has worked hard for and unfairly give it to another whose hand stretches wide open. This is not to say Reagan eschewed social security, he just believed there were limits: capitalism over socialism. Reagan was able to push through tax reform to reward those who work hard.
If Reagan could have a do over, he would definitely distinguish policy agendas from the law. You can't override laws Congress put in place, no matter how noble the cause to ignore them. You must fire people when they are not doing their job. Loyalty is unproductive when there are no acts to back them up. Actions speak louder than words and principles are worthless without efforts. When Reagan allowed his Chief of Staff and Treasury Secretary to switch positions, this was unwise. A cabinet is like a toolbox. You can't screw in a screw with a hammer. Each cabinet member must be situated to maximize their strengths. You can't effectively run a government with a handful of cronies given positions as political favors. Loyalty is important, but not more important than ability. You can't expect a chef to paint a watercolor masterpiece. Our current Presidential hopefuls would be wise to take note. In addition, the best way a President can achieve their agendas, is to ensure that the Chief of Staff is a veteran Congressman or Senator from the Hill. Passing laws requires a lot of stroke, a President has very little time.
The most glaring deficiency of the current Presidential race is optimism. It is not enough to speak a positive message, Reagan has taught us we must also be positive when doing so. The challenge is for us all to be Great Communicators in our walks of life. To do so, we must let go of the baggage, release the negativity, endure hardships while appreciating what we have with a smile, and charge forward with vision to make the world a better place.
Sunday, January 10, 2016
Resolution and Resilience
Practicing criminal defense law for 20 years, the one thing that really amazes and disappoints me is when a client loses hope in themselves. We all make mistakes. I’ve reminded many a DWI client that President George W. Bush got a DWI and his Vice President Dick Cheney had two ! No one is perfect. We are all inhuman and no matter how rightfully driven, we all will fall short of the mark at one time or another if we are honest with ourselves. It is the unrealistic and hypocritical juror, judge, prosecutor and other who can easily put themselves on the pedestal while issuing forth judgments that are devoid of compassion, understanding and goodness. All great leaders rise above their shortcomings while facing them head on resolving to become better and stronger because of them. It is good for all of us to remind eachother of such and do the same !
Just finished reading a biography of Theodore Roosevelt by H.W. Brands. When not working, I find my time best suited by studying the greats (normally I’m studying the Founding Fathers- as it also helps me argue the spirit of the law). Theodore Roosevelt was arguably one of our best Presidents. He even won a Nobel peace prize for his work in preventing a war between Russia and Japan. What I determined after intently studying his achievements and the manner in which he overcame obstacles, is the fact that you can succinctly describe his life by two words: resolution and resilience. His goals and aims in life were always lofty: being the first country to send its Navy fleet around the earth (akin to JFK putting a man on the moon), tackling the unsanitary practices of meat packing plants (after he was inspired by Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle) to ensure health for the American people, busting up trusts that perpetuated unfair business practices, bringing together labor unions and owners to stop and prevent shut downs by enforcing his “square deal” policies which guaranteed opportunity, tacking the Amazon on an adventure which nearly killed him, documenting a world class one year African safari hunt after his Presidency, … A hero, he achieved all of these and more. He even managed to successfully create a national third political party (The Progressives) for a short time period !
So what was his secret ? His life was not easy. He managed to become President despite holding two very unpopular jobs that cost him many political enemies (cleaning up the Civil Service Commission and the New York City Police Department where many, including political bosses were on the take). He always followed his inner moral compass by dealing “square” with everyone and doing his job to the best of his ability. Where many would turn away, he would volunteer. Whether it be his volunteer cavalry, The Rough Riders, he successfully led charging up San Juan Hill in the Spanish American war or tackling the perils of America’s favored pastime of football by creating a conference that defined foul play as penalties to reduce injuries, he jumped at the challenges involved in producing good whether on a large or small scale. Helping people always appealed to him. He rescued a sausage maker from ruin, whose sausage was banned simply because he named it Bologna (a regulation required it come from Bologna, Italy which it did not). He always employed common sense to his problems and in helping others. In 1906, he pardoned a court martialed navy midshipman whose career was ended over a hazing charge. Theodore could not see how hazing (if it did not result in harm) was injurious when it fostered fraternity and brotherhood. Yet all this and more from a man who lost elections, lost his mother and wife (right after giving birth to his firstborn) in two days during his first elected legislative session, and was blind in his left eye due to a boxing match while he was President (kept a secret).
When bad things happened, his modus operandi was to take on a challenge- whether it was playing cowboy in the Badlands of the Dakotas, or pushing himself on hunting trips throughout the Midwest. Even after being blinded from his boxing match and despite the advice of his doctor, he kept on boxing. He feared nothing. While christening a submarine prototype, he demanded to ride in it despite being told it was too dangerous for a sitting President. He declared, he would not put any of his military in harm if he wasn’t going to risk it himself. He never let a defeat define him. He rose above them all. At his death he was poised to make yet another comeback as President (as the ideal Republican nominee). He took heartache and disappointment on the chin. He preferred not to talk about it. He always looked ahead, never dwelled on his losses. As a matter of fact, it is said that after the death of his fist wife, he never spoke aloud her name again.
It is good to learn from Theodore Roosevelt. There is no job, no conviction, no life loss that has to define a person. Challenges push us to better ourselves. Without them, we don’t know the mettle that comprises our character. Character rises above defeat of any kind. Theodore Roosevelt possessed a quintessential American attitude of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps in all situations. Let us all be inspired by his noble example and turn whatever curve balls life throws our way into goodness for others. For it is he who famously said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
Thursday, December 31, 2015
I woke up this morning and my heart sank. I read on Twitter that TCU’s quarterback and Heisman trophy contender Trevone Boykin was arrested last night for a felony assault on a public servant, resisting arrest, and public intoxication. Tomorrow he was to play in the Alamo Bowl against Oregon in San Antonio. As a criminal defense lawyer the thoughts that immediately come to mind are: he would have to possess intent to strike the officer or it be knowing (report stating it is unknown who he intended to strike) or it be reckless (bar fight scenario not quite adding up to careless behavior intended to put the unintended in harm's way), intoxication is a defense to the felony assault if he was so inebriated he did not have the requisite mental state to form intent, and mostly- how it fits into the typical scenario of cops choosing to score an arrest versus looking at the bigger picture. What is that overall big picture ? Well, for starters Boykin did not start the fight, he merely responded to unwelcome and unseemly heckling. When two people agree to fight it is legally called the defense of mutual combat. Much like yelling "fire" in a crowded movie theater, words do create actions. It is preposterous to think that the hecklers were throwing jabs as a friendly gesture. The reports have yet to reveal the “fighting words” that brought forth Boykin’s reaction. Sure, when cooler and sober heads prevail, in hindsight it is always crystal clear that the best thing to do is walk away; however, consider for a moment what would happen if a heckler called a man’s wife or daughter the ultimate explitive as they walked by in a continued taunting fashion ? Consider if the heckler were to do such while walking towards the man/wife or daughter scenario. With or without alcohol, in the Lone Star State it would not be surprising to see the heckler met with a physical response to his invitation. Trevone Boykin is a young, testosterone filled 22 year old. His frontal lobe for executive decision making capacity won’t fully develop for another three years. The fact is he responded. Would everyone ? No. Would most ? That is a hard question not knowing the exact words and physical behavior of the taunters. From a moral perspective, did the hecklers receive unjust action ? No, they knowingly asked for a fight . Is this something in the grand scheme of things the police considered ? No, I am not aware of any citations to any of the unruly bullies who started it all. So, here comes the police and one of them gets punched in the face by Boykin. Bad, of course. The real question is – did Boykin knowingly and intentionally punch the police officer. Nope. When a police report (which rarely includes exculpatory evidence) cites 'it is unknown' if Boykin knew who he was striking at this is a problem. This is clear cut evidence of a melee gone wild with multiple actors. You don’t arrest someone when it is unknown. Legally, you are required to have probable cause. So, one might ask did the police do this because of Boykin’s notoriety ? I assert no, but I am sure it did not hurt. Many rookie cops come at these situations from the angle that their summoned presence means someone must “pay” for the fight by getting arrested. Not that I advocate assault in any way, no one does, but too many times in my career I have represented the wronged party merely because the instigator lost the fight and was more convincing in their pleas to the police. I currently represent a tiny girl whom the police arrested because she and her boyfriend (who tried to stop a fight their cousin got into) were the only ones left for the bouncer to point to by the time the police arrived. Justice ? No. A good day’s work for the cops called out, yes- in their mind.
As for the resisting arrest and public intoxication, those are misdemeanor matters to be investigated and thoroughly vented before appropriate legal action is to be taken by Boykin, but actions that won’t ruin his life. Gone are the days in which a cop breaks up a fight and sends the real life lesson by scaring the instigators with a stern warning or appropriate citation. My heart goes out for Trevone. Sure, he should have remained in bed at midnight per team rules. Sure, I’m sure no TCU fan wanted him out drinking to the wee hours of the morning days before a Bowl game. But let’s put it in perspective, he is a hard working kid, like many who made some bad choices. Should his actions amount to a felony arrest and possible crushing of his life dreams ? No. TCU Coach Gary Patterson apologized to the city of San Antonio. If the hecklers were from San Antonio, I say the apology is unwarranted. I'm sure the rest of the city would agree. Not exactly a welcoming environment to a football team whose fans are bringing a lot of money to their city. Of course an apology to the injured officer performing his duties and who happened to receive the brunt of an uncalled for drunken melee is quite in order. Let’s hope that lady justice takes off her blindfold and sees this for what it is. Oh, and yes all this from a die hard Baylor Bear alum.
Friday, November 27, 2015
Thanksgiving, like for so many, is my favorite time of year for reflection. As 2015 nears a close and I reflect over the year, I am so grateful for so many things of which a few I share.
1. Health. I am so grateful that my family is all healthy. Mima is 81, living with me (ever since law school), still doing an amazing job of raising my kids (2 valedictorians and 1 salutatorian of the 4 kids so far). All 4 children are athletic and engage in sports (intramural and otherwise). Tony likes to run and although I am out of marathon shape, I can still whip out an 8 miler on Saturday mornings no problem.
2. Recognition. We all love it, right ? But when it comes out of left field, it means so much more. Was so honored this year to be honored by Texas Tech School of Law (Dec. Ft. Worth magazine Texas Tech “Strong Leaders”) and a top 20 minority of Texas by Texas Lawyer. I had to fight back the tears at the awards luncheon. I have strived to never take advantage of being a minority and compete on the same level playing field, but that luncheon made me realize it was never a level playing field for me, I have had to run twice as fast and go twice as far to get where I am. If my example can inspire others, then my accomplishments have truly meant something. In a spirit of giving back to the Texas Tech School of Law who gave me a scholarship, it is with joy I have created a scholarship endowment that will help a law student every year in perpetuity.
3. My work. My first thanks is to the people of my office who dedicate their lives to helping others and justice. It is not an easy job and all the staff who work at the Coffey Firm are tough, tried and true with a glowing heart of caring that takes precedence over everything else. The Tarrant County District Attorney’s office has hired two of my lawyer associates in 3 months. However, the silver lining in the clouds has come through our clients’ patience and understanding. They all expressed to me that no one wants a defense lawyer whose heart is not in the right place and their hope is that a few defense lawyers of my training might improve the district attorney's office. The two who left for the DAs office were replaced with two brilliant lawyers who have been arrested for DWI ! You can’t get any better understanding of our clients’ situation if you tried- compassion oozing out of every pore ! Love it ! We are very grateful for our longterm Dallas associate Andrew Morris’ miraculous health recovery ! The Coffey Firm celebrated 15 years this year, and it is with so much gratitude to so many clients, judges, prosecutors, clerks, probation officers and others that so much right and justice in the world has been accomplished. My heart swells with gratitude. Most of all, I would like to thank all the Coffey Firm clients past and present. Much love. (pic below of office Thanksgiving Fiesta)
4. The children. Proud to say that none of them work as their academics are their full time job and all are excelling as I am blessed to be able to support them. Kiki graduated with his biology degree from the University of Texas in May and is pursuing his Master’s in Kinesiology while teaching as a TA at the University of Texas. (pic below of Kiki on the right with Taylor and Willy on day of UT graduation)
Our foreign exchange student and naturalized family member son Willy had to return to Germany this summer. We are so proud he was chosen for a special internship at the Bundestag (German Congress). We can’t wait until he comes home to spend Christmas with us. We love and miss him very much. (pic below Willy with his German Congressman Kai Whittaker at the Bundestag)
5. Friends. So grateful to all of them: my longtime friends, my cigar buddies, my lawyer buddies, and my NCDD family- particularly my fellow Regents who dedicate their talents and time in sacrifice to educating other lawyers to better ensure justice nationwide. As many more DWI groups and seminars pop up across the nation, I am honored and proud to be in a leadership role for the oldest and most prestigious of them nationwide.
To all, I wish a Happy Thanksgiving and wonderful 2016 ! Remember, life only matters when it is bigger than yourself. Give back, don’t hold back, be good to others even if it hurts, faced between a rock and a hard place- always opt for giving someone a chance. Forgive. Remember harsh punishments accomplish more harm than good. Be smarter than the rest and to do this you must not be a sheep. Open up, let it out there- always opt for giving, even if it is just giving someone a chance. Only then, can you mean something….
Thursday, November 19, 2015
The Baby Boomer “Me” Generation is Retiring…….
Hallelujah. If there is one thing that rings true, it is putting others and most notably our kids first. For all the Baby Boomers who did this- this article does not apply to you. Thank you. You are the exception. Bravo for making the world a better place. You get that the unspoken obligation of every generation is to make it better for the next. Starting with all the Baby Boomers who forced your kids to pay their way through higher education when you could have helped- shame on you. “I wanted them to value it more by earning it themselves” is just a lame excuse to cover up a selfish agenda. The world is never a better place when others place their happiness above all else, especially an entire generation. Kids by nature need help. Those who do not get it are at a great disadvantage. Sure, some rise above it all, but trust me- they have no love lost for the Baby Boomers who spent a lifetime indulging themselves at the next generation's expense.
The irony of it all (some would say hypocrisy). Born in 1968, I am a part of the no name generation literally called “Generation X”. My kids are now the “Millennials”. My generation was raised by the Baby Boomers. So what was that like? One word: ironic. I grew up in a time where Ronald Reagan’s “war on drugs” filled the prisons for decades based on possession of the tiniest amounts, yet the Baby Boomers who passed such laws grew up in the Woodstock era: free love, drugs, LSD, you name it. Forget arrests or prison, they prided themselves on such rebellion as a badge to be proud of in the name of open-mindedness. Yet it is they who passed the current laws where you can’t even have a social drink without seeing highway signs that scare the piss out of you with ominous messages of “Drink. Drive. Go to Jail.”
It was generally accepted that my generation had to get a college degree to provide for a family. The Baby Boomers were raised when jobs were a plenty and a blue collar father with a high school education could raise a family of four. Speaking of which, the Boomers experienced college tuition at rates that anyone could afford ($15 a semester hour, are you kidding me?). Now a college degree costs more than an average house, so kids have mortgaged their future before they even begin. Shame! Look at Germany where higher education is free! How are we to compete worldwide and on an equitable scale, not just the kids of the wealthy? As the Boomers got into power, they tightened the belt in every department. A ridiculous example would be the curfew laws in many major cities where young people can’t even be out on the streets after a certain time after dark.
Yet the irony of it all is that the government debt shutdowns prove there is not enough money for the Boomers’ social security, Medicare, and other services. While Generation X and the now the Millennials have clawed for everything they have earned, we are now being told nothing will be left for us. What goes around comes around. It’s hard to have sympathy for the seniors with Porsches in their garages gripe about the government when they refused to help their own kids when they needed it most. People must reap the repercussions of their own choices. There must be accountability in policy. “X”ers and Millennials are too busy figuring out how to reverse Baby Boomer death knells such as unaffordable higher education and curbing a health care and insurance debacle free for all to worry too much about the Boomers’ retirement accounts disappearing due to a greedy, unregulated Boomer Wall Street meltdown that started in 2008 from overvalued mortgages and inequitable reverse mortgages that benefitted, guess who?
Many Boomers spent a lifetime indulging themselves at the expense of their kids and future generations. The national debt has spiraled out of control while the Boomers are grateful it is not their generation that has to pay it back. I for one am making choices that look forward. I view my kids’ education as a privilege and obligation I am honored to fund, not a sacrifice. I view my future grandkids’ happiness (health care, education, robust economy) as more important than going into more debt for insolvent government programs that Boomers should have otherwise planned for. Boomers have always preached with social security “there will be none left for you.” I don’t think they realize the rest of us don’t expect it. We are too busy focusing on contributing to a better future so our progeny won’t experience what we experienced. The Boomers have spent a lifetime focusing on their present. That present is almost gone. Time to look towards the new millennium and not repeat the same mistakes. Society is not bettered focused on itself. Time to leave it to the generation that in altruistic fashion will certainly leave an “X” marks the spot in all the right places. Let that be the mark of Generation “X”.
Moral of the story, as these Boomers age into the sunset- they should expect exactly what they have given. As for me and my husband, we thrive off sacrifice. We don’t view kids as a burden but a gift. We could care less about Caribbean vacations if that means our kids struggle. All 3 kids currently in college and grad school have received our full support and they have earned excellent grades and never had to suffer due to lack of support, a fact I am most proud of. My happiness will never ever come before theirs. That is what each generation owes the next. As the Baby Boomers retire, all I can say is- good riddance to the “Me” generation. I am looking forward to righting the course of history for future generations. To sacrifice is to live. May America learn to value again the “Giving” generation, not the one caught up in themselves. Let history prove which one betters the world…
A few blog pieces that reference the Boomer “Me” Generation
Monday, October 26, 2015
Mothers Against Drunk Drivers started out as a good thing. There was a sincere concern that there needed to be more attention focused on the dangers of driving while intoxicated in order to prevent more deaths. What has happened; however, over time is not. A campaign which originated to encourage responsibility has morphed into an anti-drinking campaign at all costs. Now there are cottage industries economically dependent upon the number of DWI convictions, such as the interlock, home monitoring, and SCRAM companies. It is these industries that are writing and passing the DWI laws in legislatures all across the country. It is no surprise that the laws they pass require more of their products even when it makes no sense. For example, why should a citizen convicted of DWI under the intoxicating influence of a drug or medication be subjected to an alcohol interlock device?
The State of Texas is also dependent upon the DWI surcharges to the tune of billions of dollars in order to keep out of the red (although only a fraction of people ever pay it, which has created more uninsured drivers on the roads). Judges and elected District Attorneys feel pressured to cater to the demands of MADD lest they receive bad press. This affects judges’ decisions, district attorneys’ policies, and police priorities. Have the DWI fatalities gone down? Yes, but the numbers of arrests have gone up exponentially and disproportionately. “Tough on crime” advocates argue that the ends justify the means. They argue that it is ok if a few innocent suffer if it benefits the many. This circular logic is unconstitutional.
Our system of laws guarantees that every citizen is afforded the protections of the Constitution and its laws. DWI victims are often paraded around by MADD as a battle cry in justifying the present day war on social drinkers. No one would ever justify the sufferings of any DWI victim. In that same vein, no one should justify the sufferings of a citizen accused where there is unjust punishment.
In 20 years, I have had misdemeanor and felony clients so stricken with grief and shame that even though their arrest did not involve a victim, nor had they been convicted yet or even received due process, they took their own life. Some of the many real repercussions that my clients suffer due to their arrests and subsequent convictions include: job loss, divorce, loss of housing opportunities due to a criminal record, loss of insurance, forced career changes, permanent unemployment, depression, anxiety and attendant health problems. These costs are often borne by not just the DWI accused but their families, friends, loved ones, employers, and of course the taxpayers. The 1.4 million DWI arrests in the US every year compared to the approximate 11k DWI fatalities do not add up. If the death penalty was the law for every DWI in which a victim died, this still would not prevent DWI deaths. Draconian judicial measures only serve to penalize the unwarranted.
The “one size shoe” policy does not fit all. Most first time misdemeanor DWI offenders never re-offend. They self-punish. The costs of putting all of them on traditional probation or incarceration is not justified when put on the scales, nor does it accomplish anything. The same for felony offenses. Some offenders require a different approach for corrective measures than others. To punish all for the deaths of an irresponsible few is not what our Founders envisioned when they created a system of “Innocent until proven guilty” and an 8th amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
I deal with the repercussions of this systematic knee jerk reaction of “tough on DWI policies” every day. I have seen countless lives destroyed in so many different ways, all without necessity where better means could be employed. It is time for judges, jurors, and prosecutors to take to heart that every case is different. Every person has a different way of being reached and many teach the lesson of having made a mistake to themselves. We need options available in the judicial system that treat each case appropriately. There needs to be diversion programs which result in dismissals that can be fully expunged. There needs to be different levels of probation from unsupervised, to deferred to long term probations with treatment. Not every social drinker who made a mistake is a future killer on the road.
It should be a given that where the police made an unconstitutional stop without probable cause, that case will be thrown out. It should go without hesitation where there is a reasonable doubt about the case, regardless of purported alcohol level, the law will be followed and a Not Guilty returned. We don’t live in a true democracy when people fear following the law due to political hype. If MADD was truly a charitable organization it would promote following all laws, not just seeking convictions. MADD has no business has no business supporting campaigns like: “Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving” and “Drink. Drive. Go to Jail.” when this is not the law. A society ruled by passion rather than laws finds itself ruled by lawlessness.
I think often about my few clients who took their lives. I wish I could go back and reassure them that everything will be okay. I think back to my conversations with them and my staff, my availability after hours, how everyone gets my cellphone , how my staff passes out my “compassion letter” and “challenge letter” which emphasizes hope. What I keep coming back to is the need for the system to change. Good people should not feel desperate over a DWI in a country with the best Constitution in the world. It is time we start placing the law, wisdom, and prudence above politics and furied passion. MADD’s victims are not the only victims. It is time we stop creating more unnecessary ones.
Thursday, September 24, 2015
Making the World a Better Place
Judge David Rippel
Collin County Court at Law no. 4
As a people’s attorney (defense lawyer standing up for the citizen against the government in the defense of one’s constitutional rights) for 20 years, the wisdom I have gained in what makes the world a better place is truly invaluable. Here are a few nuggets and observations.
A court focused on their statistics (how many trials they have a year, how old their oldest cases are, the number of dispositions), is not one that is attentive to the needs of the citizen accused or society as a whole. You can’t force justice. Most of the time, it is like baking a cake. For all the parts to come together perfectly- it takes time. Courts that harangue defense lawyers by not allowing them some say in scheduling, do this to everyone’s (including theirs) detriment. This is a court concerned about bragging rights to their fellow colleagues. The fact is- hardly anyone knows the judges they are voting for, much less their court statistics. I applaud Dallas County courts for being efficient by not requiring citizens accused to show up to every court date when a lawyer can do it. Many Tarrant County courts (particularly felony courts) are not respectful of the citizen accused’s rights or time when they require a mandatory appearance for every court date which could be handled by the attorney. Judges and court staff need to remember rule number one: don’t treat someone like a criminal before they are convicted.
The number one thing I observe wrong with the jury system is jurors not actually following the law. Jurors need to stop disassociating themselves from the case. The whole point of the jury system is to keep it real for the citizens. When jurors ignore reasonable doubt, issue guilty verdicts because they think they are suppose to, they render the system meaningless. A trial is not a rubber stamp process, it is a due process evidential hearing. Follow the law, reasonable doubt means NOT GUILTY. Listen and respect the evidence and law as if your own child were on trial. I walk away from many a guilty verdict knowing that the jury would not convict based on the law and the same evidence had it been their loved one on trial. Unfortunately the last 20 years has been quite the age of hypocrisy. Most trials have serious factual dispute issues. We would not have jury trials if the police were always right, prosecutors always honest and reasonable, and judges beyond reproach. Not to mention, most cases are resolved by plea bargain so a trial is the first indicator of serious issues at play that merit serious attention. When jurors don’t follow the law, they should know their verdict isn’t fooling anyone. They should not hope too hard if they should ever become accused, as repercussions breed a societal mentality. The general consensus of the last 20 years has been “tough on crime.” It has bred the overcrowded jails, millions of broken homes, and billions in federal poverty subsidies. When a justice system is concerned chiefly with “the stick” approach (retributive “eye for an eye” mentality), solutions and improvements lag behind retarding society from progress. Love, compassion, mercy and understanding is a far more effective answer and approach in reducing crime, and the civilized one.
Today I handled a few pleas in Collin County’s Court at Law no. 4. My repeated pleasant experiences with Judge David Rippel merits mention. The judge reminds me of what works in bettering society. Some may call his sentences given to my clients slaps on the wrist, but this is misdemeanor court where for many (a wise judge once told me), people self correct. Not only did he treat me along with all the other defense lawyers with the utmost respect (defense lawyers are too often treated like redheaded stepchildren receiving the brunt of a court’s venom and frustration), he treated my client with dignity, compassion and humanity. He even reached out to my client and asked caring questions (no, he did not preach or get on a soapbox about drinking). His judgments were the kind that produce good effects. Much akin to child rearing, the greater the love and positivity- the better the results. Inevitably, I have seen strict parents have the worst results. Life is about trust, respect, and encouragement. Who doesn’t make a mistake? The secret for those in power is not pleasuring in the negative (very indicative of low self esteem) or control, but gaining one’s happiness by encouraging and helping others. The justice system works when those caught in it want to turn it around for good by being good themselves. You just don’t do that when you fail to recognize basic humanity in the process. I would love to see all the courts more full of positive, forgiving, hopeful and compassionate people (judges, their staff , law enforcement and prosecution). It’s time to trend positive and reject what has clearly not worked in this new age of record number prisons. We have ailed as a society when cops feel like they have to arrest every violator they see. There was a time when a cop would warn a DWI to call a ride and not do that again and they wouldn’t. We live in an age where people parked in parking lots intoxicated (because they don’t want to endanger others by driving) are arrested and convicted.
Judge David Rippel, you change the world for the better. You focus on hope and the positive. You are a beacon and with heroes like you, others will follow. One day, cops will feel free again to let people who made mistakes call for a ride and they will be thanking people who pull over in parking lots to do the right thing. Good always wins over evil and society will be better for it.