Taking notes from a friend

One of my oldest friends, an indispensable one, took a moment to tell me he liked the improvised intro I wrote yesterday for the anaconda of a ms. I am wrestling with.   It was good, he wrote:

until you began to spit at the ones who will …what did you call it… “pony up”…..cooperating while not being disgusted is not an impossible goal. especially now that you have the wind at your back.

I took his notes to heart and took the lever to a few descriptions in the objectionable paragraph.  You can be the judge of whether, with the revisions, I’ve succeeded in not spitting at the corporate fucks whose smug faces I originally took careless aim at (oops, sorry about your Jerry Garcia tie, man). The revised version is immediately below.   The original graf my friend commented on is below that, for comparison.

new:

Beyond that, of course, the challenge is to turn the story into a winning book proposal, something to convince a corporate type to give an unknown sixty-one year old author an advance to finish writing the book.  I know, I know, with that attitude what self-respecting corporate shill is going to pony up anything for my book?  I know.   My biggest challenge, outside of learning how to charm this indispensable type, will be to write the blurb, a 30 word masterpiece of copywriting that will sell the ambitious book I have been wrestling with for a year and a half now.  Or at least get me into the decider’s office.

original (and extra crispy) version:

Beyond that, of course, the challenge is to turn the story into a winning book proposal, something to convince a corporate fuck I wouldn’t so much as shit on to give an unknown sixty-one year old author an advance to finish writing the book.  I know, I know, with that attitude what self-respecting corporate cocksucker is going to pony up anything for my book?  I know.   My biggest challenge, outside of learning how to charm this (I forget how I originally referred to the despicable sell-out), will be to write the blurb, a 30 word masterpiece of copywriting that will sell the ambitious book I have been wrestling with for a year and a half now.  Or at least get me into the piece of shit’s office.

NOTE:  Of course, neither version of the paragraph would go in the actual intro to a published book.  The challenge it mentions would have already been surmounted and only a petty and self-destructive baby would seek to make mention of it in the actual published book the reader is holding in her hands.  In its place I’d have a nod of thanks to the corporate cocksuckers who showed confidence in the marketability of my work, gave me the generous payment and put the thing out for public consumption.  I would, of course, call them neither corporate nor cocksuckers in that grateful nod.

That said, I don’t think the paragraph suffers at all from the revisions.  Then again, I’m not a supremely over-sensitive fucking corporate shill… Reading them over now side by side, I don’t know.  The rewrite seems to lack a bit of integrity, somehow.  What do YOO think?

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Why the fuck am I keeping this on-line journal?

Good question, even as I have to jet out of here in a moment.  I write here, as often as I can, mainly for the feeling of being in control of things we humans have little or no control over.  It makes me feel good to write.   I write here to make sense of things as they happen, to the extent I can.  I find it helpful and hope that what I write is sometimes also helpful to someone reading it.    

I also like to keep the old writing pencil sharp, because I love the craft of writing.  It is very satisfying to see words lined up to bring something into focus.  I also hope, one day soon, to sell these little darlings like the adorable hookers they’re supposed to be, in the Free Market.  After all, any craft unsold is just a fucking hobby (he added, with gratuitous bitterness).

Today I made an appointment for screening of my skin for more possible cancer, long overdue in part because I’ve had to find three new sets of doctors in the last three years thanks to my man Obama’s beautiful compromise with the perfect, which disabled my ability to see the dermatologist I’d been seeing for years, a doctor I liked.  The earliest appointment for a new patient I could get today is for August 31, at 2:30 pm.  I took it.  I’m also on the waiting list for any earlier appointment that might pop up.  If I’d done this three months ago, instead of being discouraged when nobody I called accepted my new Silver level insurance, I’d have an appointment for next week.  Of course, I’m free to call as many other dermatologists as are on my insurance company’s list, in the meantime. This is America, after all.  In the meantime, I fucking write.

I’m being pressured to begin immunosuppressive therapy for my kidney disease.   This therapy includes three months of steroid treatment, in alternating months (chemotherapy type agents are administered every other month) each month beginning with three days of IV infusion of steroids.   I am trying to educate myself about the disease before committing to this pharmaceutical blunderbuss approach.   I read this just now, from the Mayo Clinic:

Membranous nephropathy (MEM-bruh-nus nuh-FROP-uh-thee) occurs when the small blood vessels in the kidney (glomeruli), which filter wastes from the blood, become inflamed and thickened. As a result, proteins leak from the damaged blood vessels into the urine (proteinuria). For many, loss of these proteins eventually causes signs and symptoms known as nephrotic syndrome.

In mild cases, membranous nephropathy may get better on its own, without any treatment. As protein leakage increases, so does the risk of long-term kidney damage. In many, the disease ultimately leads to kidney failure. There’s no absolute cure for membranous nephropathy, but successful treatment can lead to remission of proteinuria and a good long-term outlook.

You have to admire the candor of “in many, the disease ultimately leads to kidney failure.”   Regardless, I have my life to live, and a nice box of chocolates to buy for a 95 year-old birthday girl, who I have to dash off to see after a shave and a shower.    

I feel so much better having taken this little break to practice my word arrangement.  Thank you, Diary Dear.

On a Lighter Note

Our thirteen year-old cat, Skaynes, recently diagnosed with a fatal and irreversible disease, chronic renal failure, just hopped up on to his feeding post and looked at me expectantly.   His appetite has been spotty lately, but he still shakes us down for treats, even if he doesn’t always eat them.  I took a break from thoroughly cleaning his litter boxes to find out what he wanted as a snack.

I took down the box of his various treats, and, as I offered the first to him, he sunk his grey fangs into my wrist.  I pointed out to him that he was literally biting the hand that was trying to feed him, but he was unimpressed.  He bit my wrist again, by way of reply.  He bit it every time I tried to place his treat in front of him.  We often refer to him as The Baron.  This was certainly baronial behavior, it seems to me.  

Thinking of fucking barons, those born booted and spurred to ride and rape the rest of us, reminded me of this lighter note, such as it is.

Farmers used to love Thomas Jefferson, they saw him as a fellow farmer.  I heard a quote of old TJ’s yesterday, a wonderful quote by the old agrarian.  

“Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God.” [1]

I know it’s wrong, and I couldn’t help myself, but I started thinking of the rest of the quote, lost to posterity:  “and I should know, bitch, I own more than three hundred of them!”  

Just then his beautiful half-sister-in-law (his wife and her had the same white father) and long-time mistress Sally, a piece of his personal property, in both senses of the word, walked by.  

“Got to go now, bitches,” said the Author of Liberty with a wink, a man way, way ahead of his time.

 

[1]   It goes without saying (he said) that Jefferson held this truth to be as self-evident as the proposition that all men are created equal.

Tempus Vug It (Part Two)

“But wait a second,” said the college kid, a bright young man with an inquisitive mind, “if you already got this old man the deal that anyone would have wanted you to get for him, why is this judge busting your balls?  Is a judge allowed to just do that?”    

I was impressed by how simply he stated this question of fundamental fairness.  

“Well, actually, strictly, legally, no, not really, a judge can’t just randomly dance on a lawyer’s balls, beyond a certain point.  It would be an abuse of discretion for the judge to give the lawyer more than a little bit of shit, even worse in  the case where the lawyer had provided his client with the highest degree of professional service.  So, the plain answer to whether a judge is allowed to just do that?’ is ‘no, not allowed.'”

The young man looked up at me quizzically, his expression confused, open-minded and ready to laugh.  

“I understand,” I said, “I know that sounds confusing, because I am a lawyer, I’d done my job diligently, and I was getting random shit from some snippy young cloaca of a judge, something the judge is not allowed to give to an attorney for no real reason like that.   Here’s the thing: as a Guardian ad Litem, even though I am a lawyer, I am in court in that instance not as a lawyer but as a friend of the Court, someone to advocate on behalf of the respondent who cannot adequately advocate for himself.  Strictly speaking, I appeared in those cases as the tenant, not the lawyer for the tenant.”  

“OK,” said mother and son in unison, neither of them grasping the fine, somewhat mad, legal distinction I was talking about.  

“I have to give you a bit of history.  Does the name Eleanor Bumpurs mean anything to you?”  It didn’t, the young man hadn’t been born when the tragic New York City story had been in all the papers, his mother had been living in California at the time.

I told them the terrible 1984 story about the agoraphobic Brooklyn woman with severe mental problems shot to death in the front hall of her NYCHA apartment by the law enforcement officers who were trying to evict her.  She’d been summoned to court for nonpayment of something like $100 in monthly rent.  She may have missed two or three months rent by the time they summoned her to court.  She never appeared in court, so she lost automatically and they sent her the paperwork telling her she had to leave or be evicted.   She’d been refusing to pay because, among other things, Reagan’s people were leaving cans of human feces in her bathtub.  

After Ms. Bumpurs was killed, and the settlement paid to her family, the city brass put their heads together.    There is no legal allowance for a right to free court-appointed counsel in eviction cases.  This is based on a peculiar, legally attenuated, definition of the word ‘jeopardy’.   Jeopardy, for purposes of a constitutional right to counsel, is when you face the possibility of imprisonment for a year or more.  Homelessness is considered a bad roll of the dice, constitutionally, not ‘jeopardy’ for purposes of triggering the right to court-appointed counsel.

“That’s very fucked up,” said the young man.

Yes, but they found a work-around, in the wake of the Eleanor Bumpurs shooting.   The Chief Administrative Judge summoned the wisest minds of the new New York City Housing Court, bastard step-child of the New York City Civil Court.   They came up with an excellent work-around for the usual right to counsel business that would protect tenants like Ms. Bumpurs from her arbitrary and capricious state killing under cover of law, or at least from homelessness that could be prevented.  It was an excellent decision.    

They created the deeply flawed Guardian Ad Litem (“protector for the suit”)  program,  a good program that had a series of distracted, part-time, ineffective administrators.  The judge would appoint a “GAL” to stand in the shoes of a person not able to adequately defend themselves against an eviction attempt.   In the early years, lawyers did most of the Guardian ad Litem work and it saved Housing Court judges from a great deal of grief, dealing with lawyers instead of mad tenants.   The program also had the effect of providing capable court-appointed lawyers for indigent, vulnerable tenants facing eviction.  

Initially most of the Housing Court GALs were lawyers, but I believe that presently no GALs are lawyers.  There is no requirement that a GAL be a lawyer, and as time went by, and GALs were treated by the court with less and less respect, and paid a modest flat fee for an often enormous amount of work, sometimes including multiple Orders to Show Cause and a dozen court appearances, it became untenable for lawyers to act as Housing Court GALs.  A list of modestly trained free-lance citizen GALs took over for the lawyers, and problems with the program began multiplying.

“Yes, OK., but, in court, aren’t you still a lawyer?” said the college boy with a smile.

I tell the boy that I am, indeed, but that de minimis non curat lex, as they say — the law shits on your little troubles.  I then recount the story my mother told me of a man she had some business with.  She’d asked my legal advice, and I’d given it to her firmly and simply as I could.  I told her exactly what she needed to tell him.  She somehow told him exactly the opposite of what I’d coached her to say.   She protested that her son the lawyer had told her to say exactly what she had said.   “Your son must be the dumbest lawyer in New York,” said the man, not unreasonably.   Now, in the context of that story it’s up for debate, in the context of my life story, he has a pretty strong case.

I described how virtually all of my work was standing in the shoes of tenants deemed unable to adequately defend themselves against eviction.  I am in court not as their lawyer, but as them.  They have already appeared in court and the judge has decided, or an inept agency called Adult Protective Services has moved the court that the tenant cannot effectively advocate for themself.   It may be because of some mental problem, or a strong personality quirk, or physical infirmity, advanced age– it just has to be an articulable suspicion that the person needs someone else to play the part of them for the legal proceeding that could render them homeless.

So, at any given time, I am standing in the broken backed, smelly, perforated shoes of twenty or thirty such poor devils.  I’d say 75% truly need the help, and appreciate it, 15% are too crazy or otherwise debilitated to connect with and the other 10% are professional grifters who get thousands in back rent paid on their behalf every few years so they can spend all their money on booze, or prostitutes, or whatever it is that makes their lives worth living.  

One crazy old guy, who loved cocaine, lived with a crack addicted hooker and the two of them, for whatever reason, moved their bowels into plastic bags that were left all over the vermin-infested apartment.  In court, the part of this insane bastard, who was not required to show up in court at all, was played by me, over the course of many months.   My pay for this court-appointed role play was a flat $600, whether I appeared once or a dozen times.  Most often I had to show up at least four or five times.   

As a result of this quirky system that required me to do an ongoing tap dance in front of judges while the overwhelmed agency dithered, and the interminable delays in Adult Protective Services providing services, which caused me to appear month after month after month on most of these sad cases, some judges regarded me with a certain distaste.  Articulate, capable and despicable.  In the way that certain bitter people come home after a bitter day and kick their cringing dog, lawyers that were in my line of court-appointed work were available for booting, whenever the pressure mounted on certain of these judges, those least endowed with what we think of as judicial temperament.  

 

“So you’re telling me that you are unwilling, are refusing, to go see the tenant, to meet and consult with your ward?” demanded the judge, at 12:42, as the clock was running out on my poor mother’s plans for lunch.  

This was right after he asked me why I took the case if the tenant only spoke Spanish and I spoke almost no Spanish.  He didn’t it like him when I told him his court attorney had assured me the language issue was not a problem.  At any rate, I had to speak to his worker at Adult Protective Service to work on his case plan anyway.   Whatever I did for him in court was based on what APS would be able to eventually do on his behalf.   There were only so many ways these cases turned out: pay the money, cure the nuisance, get an Article 81 guardian.

He didn’t like any of that at all, that I kept having all the damned answers to everything he threw at me.   He could not afford to look bad in front of those two law students, I suppose.  He told me he would not sign the stipulation and that he was adjourning the case to allow me to go visit with the tenant and then report back to the Court, which is how he referred to himself, with legal precision if not humility.  This is the way a judge did it, he demonstrated to the law students.    Josh put a hand on my sleeve, regarded me sympathetically, urged me quietly to remain calm as snarls began forming on my lips.  He put his hand on my shoulder as we walked out of the courtroom at 12:45.  

It was at best 50/50 that I’d make it down to the NYCHA Part in time to find who I needed to adjourn that last case.  By 12:40 people started heading off for an early lunch, though the courtroom was technically open until 1:00.  I had visions of not getting out of court until 3:00 or later, because this immature weasel of a judge had made me wait ninety minutes to force me to do something unnecessary, something that could not help my client in any way.  It would, of course, show that he covered his ass with the letter of the law, which is no small thing I suppose, and there was nothing I could do about it anyway.  

The top of my head blew off just as I reached the door of the courtroom.  Shoving the door to the hall open I snarled to Josh, not using my inside voice at all, “why is he being such a fucking dick?!!!”  Josh, a man built like a bull, quickly pushed me into the hall and pulled the door closed behind us.

(to be continued, as tempus fugit)

 

Tempus Vuggin’ Fugit

A guy is playing a distorted electric guitar through a wah-wah pedal– some groovy rock and roll guitar, as the freaks used to say.  I remember doing that, over a simple three chord vamp highly conducive to every possible bluesy invention.   4-14-06 it says next to the title of the song.  Eleven years ago yesterday! Jesus, tempus really do fugit.  

I am walking up a long, steep hill from the Hudson River to a graduation party.   My mother, now dead almost seven years, was alive and I was talking to her on the phone as I walked.  It was June, sunny and humid, and I didn’t notice how hot, until I arrived at the party soaked to the skin.  My host gave me an iced drink, a mojito, maybe.  It was cold and delicious and I was dehydrated, it went down in a couple of draughts.  I had another.  I just about emptied the sun-room, walking in glistening as if just doused with a fire hose pumping sweat.   Two remained, a mother and her son.  The woman asked how I was doing.  As I began the third cold mojito it all flooded out. Talk about fire hoses.  

My mother was toward the end of her long death, my daily calls to her in Florida the highlight of her days, my visits even more so.   I’d just spent a solid month with her, every waking hour, the second two weeks in New York.  Towards the end of that month I had to take care of several court cases and an imperious young judge solemnly read me the redundant letter of the law, although I’d already done everything in anyone’s power to protect an old man from eviction, had, in fact, indefinitely put off the eighty year-old’s inevitable eviction.  

The young judge was performing for two law students he had on the bench with him, to show them what a judge’s day is like, how he conducts business.  As the law students looked on the young judge read our agreement and agreed I’d done everything anyone could have done in this case, that the stipulation was not only reasonable and well-drawn, but the terms where generous, under the circumstances of the $13,000 in rent arrears.   He refused to sign off on it, though, which is what I needed him to do so I could dash off to the NYCHA part and get out of court before it closed for the lunch recess.

“Judge, with all respect, I don’t have any other arrows here in my quiver.   The only thing APS can do for him is get him an Article 81 Guardian.  The guardianship application will stay the Housing Court proceeding until someone can place him in alternative housing.  I wish there was another plan, but he has no income, is not a U.S. citizen, owes over $13,000 in arrears.   We can’t get a grant to pay the arrears, Article 81 is, sadly, the only option.”

 

“Yet,” said the judge seriously, “you didn’t bother to ever meet with the tenant to find out what his preferences might be?”  

“Judge, again, with respect, this tenant is not a U.S. citizen and he has no income.  Technically, APS should not even be taking his case, which I should not mention on the record, except that Josh is a good man and won’t make an issue of it.   I didn’t meet him because his preferences are not at issue here.  If he said, for example, that he wants to move to Hawaii and have APS get him airfare and several months rent in Hawaii, how would I be able to do anything but what I am doing to protect his interests?”

“So, you refuse to meet with the tenant you are representing, or bother to even find out what he might want,” said the judge, for the record.

“Judge, again, how does what he wants enter this discussion?   He hasn’t paid rent in over a year and has no money.  The only way to prevent his immediate homelessness is by having APS apply for an Article 81 guardianship.  I will undoubtedly write an Order to Show Cause, maybe two, before they complete the Article 81, but when the time comes, I will do that.”   Josh nodded, told the judge the same thing.

The judge began digging through a pile of papers on his desk there on the bench.  He dug for a while, as I looked at Josh, and tried to keep my face as composed as possible.  The court room clock now read 12:20, if I didn’t wrap things up here soon I’d have to come back to court at 2 pm to adjourn my last case.

My mother was waiting for me in Queens for lunch.  I had five cases on the calendar and was done with all of them, but this case and one in the NYCHA part that could be quickly adjourned with a stip I’d sign and have the NYCHA attorney submit for us both.  I had one foot out the door as Josh and I wrapped up the stip, it was about 11:20, I was in good shape for getting to my mother in Queens by 1:15 or so to take her for lunch.  Not after an almost hour wait to have this important judge allocute the stipulation between two attorneys.

The stip Josh and I wrote could not have been improved by the most eloquent and exacting jurist.  The judge himself was not disputing that.  The agreement covered everything, the landlord was owed a tremendous and exact sum, and that, in light of the impossibility of the tenant ever paying (the only way to end a nonpayment eviction proceeding staying in the premises) a judgment of possession would issue to the landlord and a warrant of eviction would also issue forthwith, to be stayed thirty days, or maybe it was even 45 days, for APS to complete its application for the Article 81.   Everyone knew this sporting agreement meant my having to make at least one emergency application, two months from now, to stop the scheduled eviction.  

It was around 12:30 when the judge found what he was looking for, a memo from his boss.   The court officer took two copies from the judge and handed one to me and one to Josh.  The copies were so degraded it was hard to make out the words on them.   The judge struggled to read his own greyed out copy and finally found the language he read aloud.  The memo advised judges, in light of the vulnerability of tenants represented by Guardians ad Litem, particularly the crop of new GALs without legal expertise, to make sure their robe was extra long in the back.  

“To cover their asses,” I clarified to the college boy, when he raised his eyebrows quizzically.  His mother nodded, horrified but very interested in the jarring collision that was about to happen in Part A of the New York City Housing Court.

(to be continued, as tempus fucking fugit)

Book Idea page 2

The devil, of course, is always in the details, and the pertinent one is always waiting, to do its damnedest at the most perfect possible moment.   As my mother drank coffee in Queens and waited for me to take her to lunch there was one devil waiting to emit a sulphurous “kitchy koo!”.  In hindsight I should have been expecting it, although ‘should’ has always been a dodgy word in the courthouse and hindsight is hindsight.   I tell mother and son something to this effect as I describe the court’s intention in creating the Guardian ad Litem program.   A little history can be found here.  

The short version is that the right to counsel is only guaranteed in criminal cases where you face the jeopardy of imprisonment for  a year or more if convicted.   The right of an indigent to have a court-appointed lawyer was an innovation of our Constitution, but it covered only those threatened with prison time.  The Framers, who some hold in the same reverence religious Christians reserve for the authors of the Gospels, did not foresee a time when millions of Americans would live in rented homes that could be taken from them for a variety of infractions, forcing them to join the vast invisible army of the homeless.  The law, in its majestic equality, regards as a trifle the right of rich and poor alike to be defended against homelessness, to echo Anatole France.

I described how New York City paid a lot of money to the family of Eleanor Bumpurs, a woman who was killed, in effect, for being mentally ill and owing less than four hundred dollars in subsidized rent for her public housing apartment.  She was riddled with bullets at her front door when she reacted to armed NYC officials by raising a large kitchen knife.   The tragedy got a lot of media play.  The new Housing Court, bastard step-child of the New York City Civil Court,  decided that protection was needed for tenants like Ms. Bumpurs.  It was an excellent decision.    In the early years, lawyers did most of the Guardian ad Litem work.   This had the effect of providing capable court-appointed lawyers for indigent, vulnerable tenants facing eviction.  

I see the college kid nodding earnestly, like he’s acknowledging this is God’s work. His mother raises her eyebrows and nods encouragingly too. I quickly disabuse them of this God’s work business.   I explain that the reason I call it Piss Boy work is because some Housing Court judges, hearing officers really, with jurisdiction only over who has the right to possess disputed parcels of rental property and enforcing certain codes about the conditions in that property, view the court-appointed lawyers on the list who stand in the shoes of tenants as hamstrung losers lacking ambition.  Those judges sometimes treat the Guardian ad Litem accordingly.

Any lawyer making a decent living would not put himself on the list, certainly not for more than a case or two a year.   Anybody with any ambition would not appear regularly to stand in the filthy, worn shoes of New York City’s most vulnerable tenants, and the canny grifters who sometimes pose as those tenants.  What could be said of a subsistence lawyer appearing exclusively in this low and ill-paid role?   Whatever one might say about Housing Court judges, most of whom are fine people, each had demonstrated determination and ambition or they would not be on the bench.  

Civil Court Judges in New York City are chosen by the Democratic party machine, like in the days of Tammany Hall.   A certain political background is required, and making connections of a certain kind.   I carried the piss bucket long enough to see several court attorneys, and even a Legal Aid lawyer I’d shot the shit with a few times, suddenly attired in robes, sitting on the bench, smiling graciously as I said “congratulations, your Honor,” the first time I saw them as judges.  

Once in a while one of these smiling political appointees would show another side, the dog kicker side mentioned earlier.  A judge can’t generally get away with openly kicking an attorney appearing in front of him in his role as an attorney.  Attorneys are careful not to cross the line where they can be kicked.  There is no such line for the Guardian ad Litem (GAL), one learns belatedly.   Cross a line or not, for the GAL a cranky judge gets a free kick.  Just part of the game.

So, anyway, Josh and I finish writing up the stipulation.  It provides that the landlord will wait thirty days to serve the eviction notice, and will inform the GAL before he does, and the landlord will not contest an Order to Show Cause, meaning more time will automatically be granted, if needed, for APS to take the only action available, while the GAL serves the marshal with papers halting the eviction.  The terms were generous, Josh was a decent guy very familiar with the drill.  

It was the best deal anyone could hope for in the situation.  The aged tenant in question didn’t have much of a leg to stand on.  To put it more accurately, he had no leg to stand on.  He was an illegal alien who lived in the apartment with several adult family members, all indigent, none of them able to get any kind of public assistance.  They owed the landlord something like $13,000 at that point.  APS was going to apply for a guardian of the person to figure out how to relocate the old man.   The application for the guardian under Article 81 of the New York Mental Hygiene Law….

“You’re shitting me, there’s a New York State Mental Hygiene Law?” said the woman.

I shit you not, ma’am, a clean mind is a good mind in New York State.  Anyway, the Article 81 filing in Supreme Court would stay the eviction proceeding in Housing Court for up to a year, put it in a deep freeze, while they determined if the old man was legally incapacitated under New York State law, appointed a guardian of the person and that person, or agency, figured out the details of the impossible.  Josh was consenting to all this instead of pressing the judge to get justice for his client the landlord.  It was 11:15 and my mother was waiting for me in Queens.  I was glad to be almost done in court, it was well-worth agreeing to petition the court for more time for the inept APS to act.    

Except that on this early summer day the young judge in this particular courtroom, an ambitious former court attorney who had jumped several more senior candidates on the list, was performing for several law students who were with him on the bench.   The stip Josh and I had signed gave him the chance to demonstrate how a judge went about his business in a GAL case.  His court attorney informed Josh and me that the judge intended to allocute the stip. Meaning we’d have to wait to be called so he could read aloud on the record, allocute, what we had written and signed.  

Generally allocution is only done in a case where one party needs the agreement explained to them by the judge so that everybody’s ass is legally covered against the charge that the unrepresented party had been tricked by the other party’s lawyer into signing a deal they did not understand, an agreement against their best interests.  No matter that this agreement was written and signed by two attorneys, and that it was the only possible deal, outside of immediate eviction, the judge was doing it the way it should, technically, be done, since one of the lawyers was playing the part of a non-lawyer.  The Court Attorney asked us to take a seat and brought the file up to the judge.  

I later had the occasion to learn that this young judge had been admitted to practice law the same day that I had been, April Fool’s Day eight or nine years earlier.   We’d taken the oath in unison in the impressive old Appellate courthouse off Madison Avenue, then headed in opposite directions, him to court attorney and judge, me the other way.  

I was also informed that he’d been one of “Shelly’s boys”, a protege or personal friend of Sheldon Silver, then Speaker of the New York Assembly, a powerful New York Democrat who a few years later would fall steeply from his powerful position as kingmaker in New York State politics and wind up disbarred for his multiple felony convictions.  As far as I know the disgraced Silver is still free on bail waiting to appeal his long jail sentence, as befits a powerful corrupt man convicted of using his position to steal millions.  Silver’s fall was a dramatic one, well worth a footnote [1].  

All I knew at the time was that this seemingly mild-mannered and bespectacled young judge was seemingly mild-mannered and wore glasses.  I had no idea, as I sat next to Josh on that long wooden bench, how much shit was poised to hit the fan, nor how hard and far flung that shit would spatter for the humble Piss Boy.

(stay tuned for part 3)

[1]  from Wikipedia:

Silver’s trial lasted for much of November 2015.[43][44] On November 30, 2015, a unanimous jury found Silver guilty on all seven counts, triggering automatic expulsion from the Assembly.[45] The New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, which handles judicial and attorney misconduct, affirmed his automatic disbarment for felony conviction.[46]

On May 3, 2016, federal judge Valerie E. Caproni of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York sentenced Silver to 12 years in jail, and ordered him to pay $5.3 million in ill-gotten gains and $1.75 million in additional fines. Silver received two prison terms: 12 years for six criminal counts against him and 10 years on the seventh, to run concurrently.[47][48] As of January 2017,[49] he remained free on bail, pending an appeal based on the U.S. Supreme Court‘s decision in McDonnell v. United States that reversed the corruption conviction of a former Virginia Governor.[50]

Personal life

Silver and his wife Rosa, a former special needs schoolteacher, have four adult children.[51][52] According to court papers unsealed during the sentencing phase of his trial, Silver was alleged to have had two extra-marital affairs, both of which were connected to his Albany position.[53]

By the time he became Speaker of the Assembly, he was known to play basketball with other high-ranking officials, including former Governor Mario Cuomo and former Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi.[54]

Two weeks after Silver’s criminal conviction, his son-in-law Marcello Trebitsch was sentenced to prison for a separate multimillion-dollar crime, also prosecuted by Bharara’s office.[55]

 

Book Idea

You don’t sell the biography of an unknown man, part scholarly idealist, part monster, as a first book.  Complicated book, complicated story.   How do you give the elevator pitch?  It’s about how much a person can change, how much a person can take, what finally breaks a person, how much we can truly forgive.  It’s about history, and the constant, maddening spinning of what children think of as fact.  It’s about taking a year, or a decade, or several decades, to digest something that is indigestible, although experienced in some form by millions.

We’d better be going to a very high floor in this elevator if I’m going to finish the pitch.  If it takes more than twenty words to summarize, you lose the sale.  If you can’t sell it you don’t get paid.  Simple.  Keep it simple.   The man was a monster who never gained monetizable notoriety for it, died recanting his monstrousness to the son who forgave him.  Fuck it, too simple.  So here’s a book idea for a first book, the better to sell what would become the second book:

Man trying to take care of his dying mother long distance, speaking to her daily from New York.   She hates it in Florida, especially now that she’s a widow.   The man works as a Piss Boy in the New York City Housing Court, carrying the piss bucket for judges, who are actually, technically, hearing officers in black robes.    Death is taking its time with the old woman, has been toying with her for decades.  A million cancer cells when they opened her up, the remission, unfortunately, not as complete as they assured her it was when they gave her the five year clean bill of health a few months earlier.  It is now two decades after they found those million cancer cells, husband and nineteen year-old poodle both gone, the mother’s death the leisurely hobby of an inconstant cancer.  

I am walking up the long hill from the train station by the river, in a river town ten miles north of New York City.  It is a warm late June day, in fact it is a hot, sunny day, the sky perfect for a picture postcard of the town.  I am walking to the home of old friends for a party celebrating their oldest son’s graduation from college.  I talk to my mother on the Motorola Razr as I climb.  I do not notice my Hawaiian shirt becoming wet with sweat, or that my cargo shorts are also getting wet, as are my socks.  I amuse my mother a few times, and as it is a long walk up the steep, winding hill, and this conversation is the highlight of her day, I am not in a hurry as I make my way up the vertical sidewalk. 

Arriving at the party I bid my mother goodbye, snap the phone shut and am greeted in the yard by an old friend who hugs and kisses me before recoiling.  “Oh, God, all the make-up just ran off the side of my face!” she says, her face dripping on one side, and I notice, for the first time, that I am soaking wet.  It is like I’ve just emerged from long swim in an ocean of sweat.   I am soaked to the skin, down to my socks.  My host hands me an icy mixed drink in a tall glass, tells me to drink.  I do, it’s delicious.  I shake the graduate’s hand with a wet hand, probably hand him a damp card with a check inside.  I head inside out of the sun, a second tall, iced mixed drink in my hand, and within a minute, everyone in the room is gone, suddenly excusing themselves.  

Two people remain, a woman in a chair and her college aged son, on the couch.  The woman asks me how I’m doing, and as my host hands me a plate of food and a third drink, I begin, in a  twisting torrent, to tell the woman and her son exactly how I’m doing.  The intertwined stories come out in a flood, my mother’s slow wasting death, my many trips to Florida, my mother’s recent two week stay in New York, during which I had to tend to a backlog of my cases in the court.  How, in hindsight, it had been a mistake to bring her back to New York with me after a two week trip to Florida, how I should have taken a break as all my friends suggested, the call from my mother shortly after my birthday, a few days after our month together, complaining bitterly that I don’t love her because I sent her away just before my birthday.  I took a fork full of food, and described my work as a Piss Boy, and the recent, infuriating threat to even that livelihood.  The woman and her son found this funny.

Well, obviously, I said, I don’t find as much mirth in it as you seem to.  Most of these judges are OK, but from time to time, always at the worst possible moment, one of them will insist on pissing into a bucket that is already gleaming right along the line of the brim with the collected urine of a dozen other jurists.  “Your Honor,” you will say, “give me just a moment to dump the bucket, I’ll be right back.”  Making this request is not really an option, of course, for someone designated piss boy.  Then I explain about the designation.  

“I thought you were a lawyer,” says the college boy with a smile.

I tell the boy that I am, and then recount the story my mother tells of a man she had some business with.  She’d asked my legal advice, and I’d given it to her firmly and simply as I could.  I told her exactly what she needed to tell him.  She somehow told him exactly the opposite of what I’d coached her to say.   She protested that her son the lawyer had told her to say exactly what she had said.   “Your son must be the dumbest lawyer in New York,” said the man, not unreasonably.   Now, in the context of that story it’s up for debate, in the context of my life story, he has a pretty strong case.

I described how virtually all of my work is standing in the shoes of tenants deemed unable to adequately defend themselves against eviction.  I am in court not as their lawyer, but as them.  They have already appeared in court and the judge has decided, or an inept agency called Adult Protective Services has moved the court, in the manner of an implausibly costive bowel movement, that the tenant cannot effectively advocate for themself.   It may be because of some mental problem, or a strong personality quirk, or physical infirmity, advanced age– it just has to be an articulable suspicion that the person needs someone else to play the part of them for the legal proceeding that could render them homeless.

So, at any given time, I am standing in the broken backed, smelly, perforated shoes of twenty or thirty such poor devils.  I’d say 75% truly need the help, and appreciate it, and the other 25% are professional grifters who get thousands in back rent paid on their behalf every few years so they can spend all their money on booze, or prostitutes, or whatever it is that makes their lives worth living.  One crazy old guy lived with a crack addicted hooker and the two of them, for whatever reason, moved their bowels into plastic bags that were left all over the vermin infested apartment.  In court, the part of this insane bastard, who was not required to show up in court at all, was played by me, over the course of many months.   My pay for this court-appointed role play was a flat $600, whether I appeared once or a dozen times.  Most often I had to show up at least four or five times.   

As a result of this quirky system that required me to do an ongoing tap dance while the overwhelmed agency dithered, and the interminable delays in Adult Protective Services providing services, which caused me to appear month after month after month on most of these sad cases, some judges regarded me with a certain distaste.  Articulate, capable and despicable.  In the way that certain bitter people come home after a bitter day and kick their cringing dog, lawyers that were in my line of court-appointed work were available for booting, whenever the pressure mounted on certain of these judges, those least endowed with what we think of as judicial temperament.  

“Why would you kick a talking dog?” I wondered, slowly shaking my head as I finished my plate of food and polished off that third strong drink.

The college lad, a bright and engaging young man, was waiting eagerly for the rest of the story.  The woman also looked with a bright and interested expression, and so I continued, describing my mother waiting for me for lunch, as I rushed to Manhattan Housing Court to tend to a half dozen cases.  In the ordinary course of things I’d find the landlord’s attorney, we’d scrawl an agreement called a stip, short for ‘stipulation’, setting forth the reason we needed to come back four weeks later, and one of us would file the stip in the courtroom where the expedited special proceeding was making its snail-like progress, complete with slime trail.  

I’d put all my Bronx cases off for the same date, all of the Manhattan ones, all of the Brooklyn ones.  On a good day, I could find everyone I was looking for, get the stips filed, and be out of the courthouse in an hour or two.  On a bad day, I’d encounter some asshole who would not agree to my reasonable terms and demand a hearing in front of a judge.  There was rarely a time the judge did not agree to postpone the case again for Adult Protective Services (APS) to complete its laggardly work.   In cases where the judge’s impatience for maddening APS got the best of her, I’d be forced, a week or a month later, to write and serve an emergency motion to the court to stop the marshall from proceeding with the eviction.  I wrote dozens of these over the years.  

My mother was waiting in Queens as I dashed into the city to take care of my cases. It was on something like day 25 of my 29 straight days with mom.  My mother was needy, she was dying, she was lonely.  She would be dead less than a year later.  I was the light of her life, if such could be said.  She was waiting for me to take her for lunch.  I had two more cases to adjourn and I could head back out to Queens.  It was around 11:00.  

Things were looking good, no tenants were in the picture and I’d disposed of the first four cases quickly.    I didn’t have to wrangle with the Giant Squid, the brilliantly insane tenant in the Bronx who hadn’t paid rent in a decade and who would eventually sue me personally.  I wouldn’t be accosted by the carping, annoying Paul Small or bellicose retarded George who insisted on his right to smoke crack and enjoy the company of prostitutes in the apartment at his deceased mother’s nursing home, and who would file a blank disciplinary complaint against me with the First Department after I prevented his eviction and settled his case. The First Department takes such complaints seriously, even if blank.  

It was around 11:15, Josh, my friendly adversary, and I were signing the stip and one of us would hand it in.  I just had to run down to the NYCHA part on the first floor and that would be quick.  Then, out the closest door, a dash to the train and I’d be on my way back to Queens and my impatiently waiting mother.

(to be continued)