Azimuth Check: Farewell to a Fellow JAG

We all need an azimuth check every now and then. This weekend, I got a huge one.

In mid-2004, I reported to Fort Lee, Virginia where I underwent the first phase of training to be a JAG lawyer. This included learning Army customs and courtesies, basic weapons training, basic soldier skills, and other rudimentary military training. Owing to the fact that I’d already spent 5 years as an Infantryman, I asked to skip this stuff. Plus, I was already a Captain.Compass

Instead, the JAG powers-that-were told me, “Nope, we need you to be the class leader.”

This began about a dozen weeks of herding proverbial cats. It is one thing to deal with privates who have no clue about the Army. It is entirely different dealing with a gaggle of lawyers who have no clue about the Army.

The class consisted of Active Duty members, Reservists, and National Guard members. One of the National Guardsmen was a particularly clean-cut man who was about my age, First Lieutenant Beau Biden.

In short, Beau performed magnificently. He conducted himself as a quiet professional, even when enduring some of the less-endearing tasks, such as unmasking in the gas chamber, smearing camo paint on his face, and crawling on the ground while being yelled at to “get that helmet in the dirt!” He always had a smile on his face and seemed to enjoy the best part of the experience–being around the other members of the class. Nobody saw him as Joe Biden’s son. We all saw him as a good friend and a great classmate.

I didn’t stay in contact with Beau after we left Fort Lee. I’m not really the staying-in-touch type. However, I valued the time I spent with him, as did the rest of the class.

A fantastic friend. A great classmate. A quiet professional. A quality Army officer. An American Soldier.

He is missed.

Dear DOJ, I fixed your “We Hate FIFA” Charts

I’m not particularly interested in the prosecution of FIFA officials who allegedly took bribes, but I’m always a sucker for a good chart. However, the government is historically bad at making simple, easy-to-understand visuals. The Department of Justice is notoriously bad at this.

Maybe the charts make sense to the fine folks at DOJ, but they aren’t very useful to anyone else.

Of course, I’m here to help. Here you go. You’re welcome.

Screenshot 2015-05-27 12.44.50

Can an Address Book Tell a Story?

While I find technology and digital databases to be an exceedingly useful tool, I do miss the art created through the judicious use of analog means and methods.

A few years ago, I transferred my address book to digital. Today, I’m wondering if that was the best decision for me.


Watch this at least twice.

The first time, pay attention to the main event, Gay Talese’s address book.

On the second, make note of his (characteristically) meticulously-tailored suit.

BREAKING NEWS: I’m not his lawyer anymore. (UPDATED)

We criminal-defense lawyers often do unpopular things. Occasionally, we make a few people happy, but we always piss someone off in the process. It goes with the territory. We are vilified in our efforts to protect our clients’ rights and zealously defend them. If a criminal-defense attorney can’t handle this, they should quit. The job is simultaneously lonely, frightening, frustrating, and rewarding. Not everyone is cut out to do this type of work.

Here are a few rules that help to frame this reasoning:

1. Criminal-defense lawyers are unpopular to most. We must accept this.

2. Some cases are high-profile immediately as they become cases. Some fester into high-profileness. Usually, this enhances our unpopularity, and that is nothing short of uncomfortable. We must deal with this and focus on doing what we need to do to zealously represent our clients. It may happen to us. It may never happen to us. Whether it happens is largely a crapshoot.

3. In every representation, someone will hate us and wish unmentionable things upon us and our families. Again, we must deal with it.

4. If we must withdraw from a case for any reason, we should remain publicly silent about the nature of representation. Forever. Why? Because we still owe a duty of loyalty and confidentiality based on prior representation. It doesn’t matter whether our experiences are good or bad. We shut up. Violating this constitutes Attorney Dipshittery in the First Degree. Aggravating factor: disparaging (even in a veiled manner) the now-former client on Facebook and/or Twitter. A press release to clarify your newfound non-representation and veiled condemnation is particularly egregious and constitutes Capital Dipshittery.

5. Most of the time, the evidence is overwhelmingly not in our favor. We just have to deal with it and try the best possible case.

If you can’t handle those 5 things, you should never become a criminal-defense attorney. Never. Ever.

Why am I writing this? Because of the “Best Law Firm in Charleston.”

UPDATE, 2:45PM: Rule #4 is amended to include giving an interview to the Daily Beast as an aggravating condition necessitating elevation to Interstellar Capital Dipshittery. Of course, all of this is just my opinion, as I’ve already received feedback from others who seem to believe that this lawyer’s conduct since dumping his client is perfectly hunky-dory.

Screenshot 2015-04-08 11.04.12
Screencap for archive and instructional purposes only.
Screencap for archive and instructional purposes only.
Screencap for archive and instructional purposes only.

Free Advice Du Jour: If The Call Starts With This, Hang Up Immediately

This is something not taught in law school.

Ask any experienced lawyer. It is possible to detect the nature of a cold-call to your office within the first 20 seconds.

Here’s an example.

“I was hoping you could just tell me how to (specific legal action*).”

*The specific legal function may be as simple as drafting a basic will, but it could be as involved as defending against multiple felony charges.

This person has no plan to hire an attorney. They will not spend $20 for legal representation any more than they would spend $20,000. The key word is “just.” Go back and look at the context of this weasel word. It, in essence, mandates “Give me the information I want, and I promise to end this conversation and never call again.”

What they don’t realize is that, if you were to fully explain how to do a particular legal action, you’d be on the phone with them for many, many hours as you explain the various permutations, contingencies, and possible/probable courses-of-action. There’s a reason that lawyers are part of a profession.

If they truly intended to hire a lawyer to shepherd their case, a potential client would never ask this question. After all, they would realize the answer to the “…tell me just how to…” question is “Hire an attorney to take charge of the case and guide it to completion.” The original statement is the functional opposite of “I need an attorney, are you available?” or “Will you take my case?”

Therefore, this statement tells you something very important within the opening seconds of the call. You are merely the extension of a Google search to this individual. In fact, they probably don’t even know who they are calling. If you allow the conversation to reach a polite and natural ending, I guarantee they will ask “Now, who am I speaking to, again?”

End the call as quickly as possible and get back to your current cases.

Ranger Qualified vs. Army Ranger

Ranger Tab. Most people who have earned this are not Army Rangers.

People are so excited about the possibility of a female soldier attending the US Army Ranger School that they are completely screwing up the facts. Let me straighten this out, once and for all.

Here’s the latest in screwed up journalism on this newsworthy event, courtesy of the Colorado Springs Gazette.

A Fort Carson lieutenant could become the first female Ranger, the Army said on its website.

The woman, whose name wasn’t released, is a Fort Carson helicopter pilot and the only woman of 17 who attempted to complete the Ranger Training Assessment Course last month. Completing the course is a requirement for Ranger training.

The elite Rangers, who specialize in difficult airborne missions and fall under Special Operations Command, have no women in the ranks. The Army, though, is working this year to open all units to women who can meet physical requirements.

The first step for Rangers has been allowing women to take the assessment course.

Women who complete the course, including the Fort Carson lieutenant, can go on to full Ranger training beginning in April, the Army said.

No, no, no, Gazette. You’re making people dumber.

So much is screwed up with this article. Where to begin…

I’ll attempt a response. Though, much of my personal knowledge is almost 2 decades old.

The United States Army Ranger School takes place at Fort Benning, Georgia (Benning Phase); Dahlonega, Georgia (Mountain Phase); and Eglin Air Force Base, Florida (Swamp Phase). It lasts approximately 3 months. If a person successfully completes the school, they are awarded a Ranger Tab (pictured above).

Now, here are a few notes to clarify all the stuff screwed up by the article above.

1. Having earned a Ranger Tab does not make someone a Ranger. It merely makes them “Ranger Qualified.” They are entitled to wear a Ranger Tab (top picture). Nothing more. By graduating from Ranger School, the young lady from Ft. Carson could become the first female to complete Ranger School and earn a Ranger Tab. It does not make her a Ranger.

Ranger Scroll. This is worn by all Army Rangers. (This denotes a person assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment Headquarters. Each Ranger Battalion has their own distinctive scroll, but they look substantially similar to this one.)

2. In order to actually be an Army Ranger, you must be assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment. Anyone not assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment is not an Army Ranger. Understand?

3. It is possible to be an Army Ranger even if the soldier has not earned a Ranger Tab. In fact, most junior enlisted Army Rangers have not yet had an opportunity to attend Ranger School. However, those who want to serve in the 75th Ranger Regiment as Noncommissioned Officers and Officers must generally be Ranger Qualified. Even if a soldier has a Ranger Tab, they must endure an additional selection program to be accepted and assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment.

4. For example, I graduated with Ranger Class 3-97 (Yes, this month will be 18 years since graduating). Therefore, I earned a Ranger Tab and can call myself “Ranger Qualified.” However, as I was never assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment, I was never an Army Ranger. I cannot call myself an Army Ranger. Ever. (Well, unless by some freakish turn of events I find my 40+ year old butt assigned to the 75th.)

5. The Ranger Training Assessment Course at Ft. Carson mentioned in the excerpt above is typically called “Pre-Ranger.” This is a course owned by Fort Carson in order to assess possible candidates for Ranger School. Ranger School has a very high failure rate. So, before spending money and sending soldiers to Fort Benning for the course, most Army posts will hold a pre-Ranger course to identify candidates who are likely to succeed at Ranger School. That’s it. However, it is not a strict requirement for Ranger School attendance, as I never attended a pre-Ranger course. It is merely a requirement for Ft. Carson to agree to pay to send a soldier to Ranger School. This is a good first step for individuals wanting to successfully complete Ranger School. However, completion of a pre-Ranger course means nothing as a stand-alone accomplishment.

6. As a pilot, the young lady from Ft. Carson will likely never find herself in Ranger Regiment. They may have a pilot job in regimental headquarters for an aviation staff liaison, but her best assignment would be in Task Force 160, which provides helicopter support to the Rangers and other Special Forces units. Those assigned to Task Force 160 are not Army Rangers, but they are a critical part of Special Operations. If she loves being a pilot, I suspect this would be the best place to go.

So, let’s rewrite the article correctly.

A Fort Carson lieutenant could become the first female to graduate of the US Army Ranger School.

The woman, whose name wasn’t released, is a Fort Carson helicopter pilot and the only woman of 17 who attempted to complete Ft. Carson’s Ranger Training Assessment Course last month. Completing the course means that Ft. Carson will send her to Fort Benning, GA to attend Ranger School

Combat branches of the Army, including Infantry, Armor, and Special Forces, have no women in their ranks. The Army, though, is working this year to open all units to women who can meet physical requirements.

One of the first steps toward full integration of women in the Army is to allow some to attend Ranger School.

Women who meet current Ranger School physical fitness and tactical knowledge prerequisites, including the Fort Carson lieutenant, can attend Ranger School in April, the Army said.

Having completed this valuable civic duty, I have been asked by more than a couple of people about what I think of a woman attending Ranger School.

Here are my personal thoughts, which, in reality, are not worth the electricity powering your monitor as you read this.

1. The school should not lower its standards. As far as I can tell, they are not lowering any standards. The physical fitness baseline for Ranger School is challenging. However, just as with men, it requires excellent conditioning ( both strength and endurance). This is for good reason. Ranger School is a valuable learning experience for any Army leader. It forces individuals to make tactical decisions while deprived of food, sleep, and comfort. In short, it forces a person to maintain good leadership qualities while under mental, emotional, and physical duress. She will graduate more aware of her limits and abilities.

2. She (they) should prepare for possible permanent physical consequences, and good hygiene is a challenge. Many Ranger School students suffer from skin (often cellulitis) and gastrointestinal infections (even with them hitting each of us with a biocillin shot at the start of each phase). To this day, I cannot feel one of my big toes. The last time I had feeling in it was at the beginning of Mountain Phase. I began the course at 175 lbs. At graduation, I weighed just over 120 lbs. During one 10 day stretch, I slept approximately 5 hours, total. I hallucinated all kinds of crazy stuff. My visions centered around food. Most of us craved chocolate chip cookie dough. Not cooked. Just a big log of the Pillsbury stuff. Eaten unbaked. The whole thing.

3. As long as I don’t have to do it again, they can send whomever they choose.

4. Remember, it is about more than just a black and gold tab. Much more. Still, it is coveted, even by people like this jerk.

5. After graduating Class 3-97, Ranger School has been easy and soft (inside joke).

6. I hope the ladies kick ass at Ranger School. To each of them, good luck.

Today’s Legal Deathmatch: Bellerophon Jami Tillotson vs. Chimera Police Inspector Brian Stansbury

Today’s hero of UA probably never wanted the spotlight, as she quietly and professional performed her duties today as a Public Defender in San Francisco. However, she has it, and it’s a good thing.

In short, thank you, Jami Tillotson. You responded perfectly in every way. You have our respect. Permanently. You’re a hero.

Of course, for every Bellerophon, there must be a Chimera.

That honor goes to POS Police Inspector Brian Stansbury, who directed that Jami be arrested because she acted to protect her client’s rights. He cited “resisting arrest” as Jami’s dastardly party foul, despite the fact that he was not conducting an arrest.

So, let’s break this down:  Nobody was under arrest, until somebody resisted a nonexistent arrest. Clearly, this rule was devised by Dean Vernon Wormer.

OK, OK. We realize that the “resisting arrest” statute in CA is a bit broader than most realize. Fine. Was Jami behaving in a way that obstructed Stansbury from performing his duties? Sure. That’s what attorneys like Jami are supposed and sworn to do.

If you don’t believe me (and you probably should not), just watch the tape. (Below)

As an aside, I commend everyone on Jami’s team for the way they behaved in this tape. I would’ve been louder, and, potentially, much more…….. Well, let’s just say I’m a bit more of a hot-head.

As another aside, what was Stansbury waiting for? A glamor shot? Why didn’t he just snap a picture? But I digress.

So, let me be much more succinct about my opinion of San Francisco Police Inspector Brian Stansbury.

San Francisco Police Inspector Brian Stansbury is an idiot.

San Francisco Police Inspector Brian Stansbury does not know or understand the law. Therefore, he isn’t competent to do the job the people pay him to perform. If he does understand the law, he blatantly ignored it for his personal benefit and pleasure, thus actually betraying those he is sworn to protect.

San Francisco Police Inspector Brian Stansbury should not be allowed to walk away from this situation professionally unscathed.

San Francisco Police Inspector Brian Stansbury does not deserve the trust or respect of the people of San Francisco.

“Justice” (per my skewed definition of it) is best served by sentencing San Francisco Police Inspector Brian Stansbury to be chained to a witness chair and subjected to a cross-examination train run by every member of the SF PD Office and Defense Bar. For a police officer, there’s no lower circle of hell.