Legal deposition regrets? I've got a few. rotating chicken

Legal deposition regrets? I’ve got a few.

You know what’s funny? Civil litigation.

Of course, litigation is rarely a barrel of monkeys. But on this Change of Venue Friday, take a moment to marvel at the wonders of a deposition. Part of the “Verbatim” series that I’ve mentioned before, the video is a production of the New York Times. Yes, it casts actors, and yes, it’s a movie set. But the script? Taken verbatim from depositions in civil litigation.

In a New York Times video drawn from a real deposition transcript, a poultry farmer gets his beak out of joint.

In a New York Times video drawn from a real deposition transcript, a poultry farmer gets his beak out of joint.

As the editors describe the project:

“The series, presented by Op-Docs, transforms verbatim (word for word) legal transcripts into dramatic, and often comedic, performances. Here you will find re-creations of actual events from the halls of law and government. You, our readers, can help us find material for future episodes. Have you come across court trials, depositions or government hearings that you think are surprising, bizarre or baffling—and lend themselves to performance? We especially seek original, publicly available transcripts, along with details about the source. Email us at opinion.video@nytimes.com and include “Verbatim” in the subject line.”

The video I share today depicts a 2001 case that sounds in trespass and tort. There, a Mississippi man sued a lumber company for damaging his chicken pasture. He sought $300,000.

Sounds normal enough? It kind of goes south at 01:23, when he asserts that he knows where Osama bin Laden was in the world. And it gets worse.

Let’s just say the deponent went a little free-range himself. Enjoy the video.

Have a wonderful—and poultry-free—weekend.

Faced with a bird-crazed deponent, the attorney rethinks his life choices. (Been there?)

Faced with a bird-crazed deponent, the attorney rethinks his life choices. (Been there?)

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law school

Is there any better morning than Monday’s to start an argument?

That’s why I wonder if you read an op-ed piece in last week’s New York Times. There, in “Too Many Law Students, Too Few Legal Jobs,” attorney Steven J. Harper assesses what he sees as the continued sorry state of the economics underlying legal education.

NYT Harper essay on law schools illustration by Kevin Lucbert 08-25-15

Illustration by Kevin Lucbert in New York Times

Where do you stand on legal education? Is it still on a troubling path? Or has it located useful solutions? (If you don’t think there was a problem in the first place, well, I don’t know what to say to you.)

He opens with predictably dire statistics regarding the employment picture of law grads. Given all that, and a national wellspring of hand-wringing, the profession must have developed strategies to right the ship. Right?

Not quite, says Harper. Quite the opposite, in fact:

“Amazingly (and perversely), law schools have been able to continue to raise tuition while producing nearly twice as many graduates as the job market has been able to absorb. How is this possible? Why hasn’t the market corrected itself? The answer is that, for a given school, the availability of federal loans for law students has no connection to their poor post-graduation employment outcomes.”

He goes on to spread his critiques liberally. He has little good to say about an ABA task force charged with examining the pr­­oblem. At the end of the day, he says, the task force “dodged the issues that should have been the focus of its work.” And he draws a line between the task force’s mild-mannered assessment of the industry and the man who headed the committee: former ABA President Dennis Archer, “the former mayor of Detroit, who is also head of the national policy board of Infilaw, a private equity-owned consortium of three for-profit law schools—Arizona Summit, Charlotte and Florida Coastal. These schools are examples of the larger problem.”

OK, he’s called out one of the three Arizona law schools, so I imagine I’ll hear some grumbling now.

Before writing me in anger or joy, read Harper’s complete piece here. And tell me what you think.

Tom Brady courtroom artist, panned online, apologizes

A Tom Brady courtroom artist was panned online and has apologized. Because priorities.

It takes a lot to get large media outfits interested on a deep level with the justice system. Despite how central our courts and laws are to every area of life, it usually takes a special element—like a notorious murderess or, say, a football player—to garner serious coverage.

Well, if you combine a famous baller with what’s widely perceived to be a visual fail, you’ve got a story the press wants to cover.

That’s what happened as New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady sat in a courtroom. And the story that emerged was about the lack of artistic justice he received from a New York Times sketch artist.

You can see the artwork above. While the Patriots fans among my readers cry deep and abiding Tom Brady tears, I’ll simply say, first … I have always been a big fan of the courtroom sketch artist, and I’ve covered their exploits before. Whether you’re drawing John Gotti, Tom Brady, or some other dissembler (sorry to bring on more tears, Pats fans), the job of the courtroom artist is a tough one.

Obergefell v. Hodges sketch by Arthur Lien.

Obergefell v. Hodges sketch by Arthur Lien.

So evocative can a courtroom sketch be that we’ll be running one (by Arthur Lien) in the next Arizona Attorney Magazine. It depicts the Supreme Court as the ruling in the same-sex marriage case Obergefell v. Hodges was announced. (And yes, we paid Art for his work!)

That’s why the NYT story irked as much as it informed. Brady was in federal court appealing his four-game suspension (The injustice! The horror!), and artist Jane Rosenberg did her best to quickly capture the essence of the sullied QB.

And, O the anger her work wrought, as people emerged to impugn her skill and wax poetic about Brady’s baby-faced visage.

Ultimately, the twittersphere would have its justice, as Rosenberg offered an apology of sorts:

“I’m getting bad criticism that I made him look like Lurch,” she said, referring to the Addams Family character. “And obviously I apologize to Tom Brady for not making him as good-looking as he is.”

Hey, Ms. Rosenberg, I’ve got a suggestion: Apologize for nothing. NOTHING.

After all, we have to be open to a deeper possibility. As an artist, Rosenberg was tapping a deep well of resonance. Maybe she drew not what was precisely before her, but what lay beneath.

Oliver Wilde offers an analogue in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Who’s to say what evil lurks in the hearts of men?

Oliver Wilde's Dorian Gray is a pretty-boy, but the painting reveals a deeper story.

Oliver Wilde’s Dorian Gray is a pretty-boy, but the painting reveals a deeper story.

And I reached deep within and tried my own hand at drawing a likeness of Tom Brady, but this is the best I could do.

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Cue the ire of the Patriots’ fans and Brady defenders (some of whom—men and women both—have told me, “He’s too cute to be guilty,” reminding me the jury system—and the human race—is a crap shoot).

I offer a hat-tip to Tim Chester of Mashable for the story link.

Here’s wishing you a great—and fully inflated—weekend.

je_suis_charlie The terror attack and murders of Charlie Hebdo staffers galvanized people around the globe.

Here it is Change of Venue Friday already. In its honor, and with a long weekend ending with the MLK Holiday, I urge you take a few minutes with a moving video.

Part of a New York Times series, it lets us into the offices of Charlie Hebdo, the magazine that was the target of a deadly terror attack this past month.

As you can see in the video, the dangers that accrued to exercising free speech were very much on the staffers’ minds. But they were resolute—to the end, for many of them.

It is haunting to see the words on the screen indicating birth and death dates of the speakers. Here is the video:

And here is a terrific cartoon by Tom Toles of the Washington Post that asserts an essential truth about terror and the power of the pen.

Washington Post Tom Toles on Charlie Hebdo murders

Have a great weekend. And if you get the chance, honor those First Amendment rights not just by standing with Charlie, but by seeing Selma, a film that explores the strategies and sacrifices of Martin Luther King, Jr., and many of his fellow civil rights compatriots.

The Academy may have largely (and distressingly) overlooked the film; that doesn’t mean you have to.

Should the owner of this shower pay more for water? An efficient market might say yes.

Should the owner of this shower pay more for water? An efficient market might say yes.

If there is a crisis in water supply in the West, perhaps a solution lies in the market.

Or, as Robert Glennon says, “Quite simply, we need to price water appropriately: people who use more should pay more.”

That is the matter-of-fact position of the University of Arizona Professor. And on its face, the statement could not appear less controversial. After all, that’s how we Americans treat most every other commodity.

UA Law Professor Robert Glennon

UA Professor Robert Glennon

But there is something funny about people’s perceptions of water and water use, Glennon points out. For example, I was surprised to read in his recent New York Times op-ed about the numerous American cities that do not even meter water—the notion being, I guess, that metering is the first step toward taking away people’s water. But when meters are installed, water use and abuse declines.

Read Glennon’s entire piece here. (It is part of a NYT series on “The Water Crisis in the West.”)

We all know photocopiers, right? Not according to a deposition transcript.

We all know photocopiers, right? Not according to a deposition transcript.

How many of us have conducted depositions, or at least sat in them? Has it ever occurred to you that the result could be a compelling piece of … art?

Me neither. And that’s why I am so taken with a New York Times project that brings cold depo transcripts to life. And you can play a role too!

The verbatim project is described by NYT staffer Jason Spingarn-Koff:

“This marks the debut of a new series, presented by Op-Docs, that transforms verbatim (word for word) legal transcripts into dramatic, and often comedic, performances. Here you will find re-creations of actual events from the halls of law and government. You, our readers, can help us find material for future episodes. Have you come across court trials, depositions or government hearings that you think are surprising, bizarre or baffling—and lend themselves to performance? We especially seek original, publicly available transcripts, along with details about the source. Email us at opinion.video@nytimes.com and include ‘Verbatim’ in the subject line.”

So your own transcripts might become fodder for a compelling video performed by professional actors. (Your ethics-rules violations may vary.)

Read more about the project and the inaugural video here.

A hat-tip to Rick DeBruhl for pointing me toward the ABA Journal’s mention of this NYT project.

And now because it’s Friday and we need a chuckle, I offer you the video itself, in which lawyers and a deponent argue over “what is a photocopier?”

Have a wonderful—and dramatic—weekend.

The photocopier struggle is real.

The photocopier struggle is real.

indigent defense need-blind justice by Yarek Waszul

Illustration by Yarek Waszul

Last month, I reported that attorney Larry Hammond and others are seeking to establish an Arizona indigent defense commission. The unfilled need is dire, he said, and growing worse. He asked the State Bar to step up and create a body that will study and propose alternatives. (The Bar is considering it.)

So timely, a New York Times article this Sunday explored two states’ responses to the crushing problem. Here is how Adam Liptak opens his piece on Need-Blind Justice:

“Fifty years ago, in Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court ruled that poor people accused of serious crimes were entitled to lawyers paid for by the government. But the court did not say how the lawyers should be chosen, how much they should be paid or how to make sure they defended their clients with vigor and care.”

“This created a simple problem and a complicated one. The simple one is that many appointed lawyers are not paid enough to allow them to do their jobs. The solution to that problem is money.”

“The complicated problem is that the Gideon decision created attorney–client relationships barely worthy of the name, between lawyers with conflicting incentives and clients without choices. Now a judge in Washington State and a county in Texas are trying to address that deeper problem in ways that have never been tried in the United States.”

“Their proposed solutions reflect competing schools of legal thought. The approach in Washington State is a top-down exercise of federal power, pushing lawyers to make sure they meet with their clients, tell them their rights, investigate their cases and represent them zealously in plea negotiations and at trial.”

“The one in Comal County, Tex., is a bottom-up appeal to the marketplace. Defendants there will soon be able to use government money to choose their lawyers in much the same way that parents in some parts of the country use government vouchers to pay for grade school.”

“The county calls it ‘client choice.’ Another name: Gideon vouchers.”

Read Liptak’s whole story here.

It was Justice Louis Brandeis who mused that states could serve as laboratories for democracy, where they might try “novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” It seems that Washington and Texas are doing just that, all in service to a problem affecting countless residents.

Two questions arise:

  1. Which approach, if either, offers the greatest likelihood of success?
  2. Where is Arizona’s approach? Will it be one of those two, or an entirely different strategy that a new commission may devise?

In Arizona Attorney Magazine, we’d like to cover the developing conversation. So what do you think?