Dianne Barker just wants to cartwheel. Is that so bad?

Dianne Barker just wants to cartwheel. Is that so bad?

OK, that may have been a link-baiting headline if there ever was one. But a recent Arizona news story teaches us one of America’s oldest lessons: Leave it to a lawyer to crush a woman’s cartwheeling dreams.

The facts are simple: A woman expressed herself at a public hearing not simply through her words, but also through a cartwheel. Cue the irked board, which had its attorney send a “please knock it off” letter.

What, were all the lemonade stands already boarded up thanks to covenants not to compete?

I joke, of course (as this is Change of Venue Friday). The anti-cartwheeling letter that attorney Fredda Bisman sent this week was entirely understandable—though the sentiment behind it has become the butt of quite a few jokey news stories.

Here’s what happened, as reported by Arizona Republic reporter Dustin Gardiner. (Dustin covers all kinds of serious, City Hall-type stuff, too. But this story is the gift that keeps on giving.)

Dianne Barker is a community activist and what acid-reflux-affected public officials call (through clenched teeth) a “gadfly.” I know Dianne, and she speaks often and whole-heartedly at many public meetings.

The 65-year-old woman also takes a shine to cheerleading outfits. And she has developed a reputation as someone who will offer a cartwheel—along with her words—during public comment periods.

Most recently, she offered the alley-oop at a meeting of the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG). As the topic was transportation, and as she is a bicyclist and wellness advocate, she may have been merely expressing the value of getting out of our cars.

You should read the whole story here.

It’s happened before, apparently. For more background, here is an excerpt from minutes of a March 28, 2012, MAG meeting (found via this news story). As you’ll see, Dianne cites to a higher authority—now-retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

“Chair Hallman recognized public comment from Dianne Barker, who stated that multimodal feels good. She said that she used to do cartwheels, but the doctors and lawyers stopped that. Ms. Barker said that she saw Justice Sandra Day O’Connor at the Arizona Centennial celebration and she asked Justice O’Connor what might happen if Ms. Barker were to do a cartwheel in her courthouse to which Justice O’Connor replied to just do it and see what they say. She did the cartwheel and the guards liked it.”

Back to the current legal tumble and the letter sent to Dianne. This blog’s legal audience yearns (I know) to read the letter itself, so here it is:

Diane Barker cartwheeling letter

I know what you’re thinking: What part of Citizens United does this lawyer not understand? If money is speech, how could a cartwheel be anything less? (Yes, I joke.)

Time, place and manner restrictions? Can cheerleaders shout “Go, Phoenix!” in a crowded boardroom? Perhaps Dianne should foreswear the cartwheel and shift to a vocal offering: “Two, four, six, eight, what do we appreciate? A little humor! Sheesh!”

Of course, anyone who has ever had a client can picture the conversation between the MAG leadership and the MAG general counsel: “You want me to send her a letter that orders her to stop cartwheeling? Really? You do know this will end up on the late-night comedy shows, and be confused with an Onion story—right?”

But the client proposes, and the counselor disposes.

Finally, I can’t top the way a newspaper reporter concluded his coverage (and got “tyranny” in the headline): “Give her gymnastics, or give her death.” (Writer Larry O’Connor goes on to muse what George Washington would have thought of cartwheels. ‘Nuff said.)

Have an exhilarating—and legally aerobic—weekend.

Advertisements