Why not Colby?

This is not about what we practice. It is about where we practice. Though, the two are often inextricably intertwined.

Yesterday, I enjoyed making fun of North Dakota with a few friends. I like this because, while I’m also from a sparsely populated state, I can always revel in the fact that folks in ND will always have it worse than me.

Statistical Tidbit: North Dakota population: 699,628. Kansas population: 2.886 million. Number of votes for Mark Bennett in his bid as a Libertarian for a seat on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals: 1.326 million.

This got me thinking about where lawyers choose to live and work.

Some lawyers want to work in huge cities. New York. Washington. Boston. Philly. Chicago. Houston. San Francisco. Miami. Los Angeles. And the like.

Others prefer the smaller, yet significant cities like Oklahoma City, Fresno, Portland, Charlotte, Richmond, Kansas City, etc.

Others of us go for something…..well…..less substantial. I’m one of these.

I want to eventually settle my practice in Colby, Kansas.Image

Now, hear me out on this one. Consider a few important factors. I’ll grade each.

Availability of Work: A

Last year, I attended a continuing education seminar where the idea of selling, closing, and/or passing-on a practice was raised. The conversation morphed into some lamenting by an older lawyer from Colby, Kansas. He noted that it was virtually impossible to lure younger lawyers to the area. He feared that his practice would die with him. It wasn’t that he wanted to leave a legacy. Quite appropriately, he was worried about his clients who relied upon him for various legal needs. The paying work was definitely there, but too few lawyers live in the area to handle it.

Air Quality: A-

Overall, the air quality is fantastic. However, I did dock points for the occasional dust storm and summertime pesticide applications on the huge farms surrounding the town. Even with that, the air quality is markedly better than those facing persistent smog in larger cities.

Availability of Services: C+

Walmart put a gleaming new SuperCenter there, so all the basics can be handled. Aside from that, there are some mom’n’pop stores and cafes coupled with a few chain places along I-70. While I’ve seen worse, folks in larger cities definitely have it better. Colby is still working on its status as a great place to find quality seafood.

Weather: B

Good news: no hurricane threat, fairly ho-hum temperate environment.

Bad news: Can get bitterly cold in winter, especially with the near-constant westerly winds. Every time you glance at clouds to the southwest, there’s the constant wondering whether they might be bringing a long-overdue F-5 tornado.

At more than 3000 feet above sea level, you’re safe from the flooding that’ll be cause by those pesky Antarctic ice sheets. For a while.

Things to Do: B-

You might be surprised to learn that Colby is the home of the Prairie Museum of Art and History and is conveniently located just 2.5 hours from Mount Sunflower, the highest point in Kansas. Check out this site which goes into more detail about Colby. Be sure to also check out the “8 Wonders of Thomas County, Kansas.

Denver is a mere 4 hours along I-70, and the thriving metropolis of Hays, Kansas is just 2 in the other direction.

This is a great place for those who find sport in observing mullets in their natural environment.


A picture taken by intrepid climbers at Mt. Sunflower.

Cost of Living: A+

To give you a bit of understanding for how far a dollar goes in Colby, look no farther than the local restaurant reviews. A Qdoba opened along I-70, and one of the locals regarded it as being “pricey.”

Average home price is less than $60 per square foot. That’s great considering that most of the US is higher than $75/. Commercial office space is equally (if not more) cheap and is readily available. I can already see myself as a valued neighbor to the Feed’n’Seed store.

As for everything else, expect to pay very little for the goods that are available. Of course, most expensive goods are not available, so your sorta forced to be frugal. Going to a fancy restaurant with the ladyfriend equals steaks at Montana Mike’s.

Quality of Work: A

This is largely a matter of perspective. You really have no choice but to be one of those small town guys who does a little of everything. From divorce to criminal to small business to municipal to animal husbandry. You’ll do all of this because the community needs you to do it. Prepare to travel to nearby (nearby = 2 hours) counties to appear in those courts. For those with adult ADD, you’ll be in heaven. For those who want to become a subject matter expert in one, specific, sharply-definied niche, this wouldn’t be a good marriage.

Sick of traffic every morning and afternoon? That doesn’t exist here. To Colbites, “traffic” is something that is occasionally observed zooming-by on I-70.

You’ll be a bigwig in the local chamber of commerce along with the banker, pharmacist, and funeral home director. The little league team will bear your firm’s name on the back of the jerseys. If you learn how to square dance, you’ll be mayor in a few years.

Overall GPA (on a 4-point scale): 3.42

That’s a solid GPA that would put most students on the honor role. As far as places to work, you couldn’t ask for better, as long as you’re not a big fan of choices……and seafood.



Hourly Rates

As a kid, I spent a fair amount of time at McAbee Body Shop in Topeka, Kansas. Several of my father’s close friends worked there, and he’d occasionally help to fix their welding equipment. Back then, nobody wore masks or any sort of protective gear (except the occasional welding mask/goggles), myself included. I realize this explains a lot.

Thanks to Clark at Popehat, I’m reminded of a sign that hung on the wall in Mac’s shop. This isn’t the actual sign, but it says substantially the same thing. I never fully understood it as a kid. Now that I’ve practiced law privately for more than 10 minutes, I understand it perfectly. Funny how closely our profession is tied to other, more blue-collar services.


Nonsensical and Dangerous (Updated)

Most of you already know that the Supreme Court of Kansas chose to disbar former Navy Judge Advocate Matthew Diaz, who was convicted of, in short, improper handling and disseminating of classified material while serving as a defense lawyer at GITMO. Interestingly, they chose not to accept the recommendation of the disciplinary administrator that would have allowed Diaz to practice law.

Here’s a bit more detail on the conviction, via the appellate decision (notes: “composed of members” means that he had a jury and a dismissal is equivalent to a dishonorable discharge).

A general court-martial composed of members convicted Appellant, contrary to his pleas, of one specification of violating a lawful general order, one specification of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, one specification of communicating classified information, and one specification of removing classified material, in violation of Articles 92, 133, and 134, Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), 10 U.S.C. §§ 892, 933, 934 (2000). The members sentenced Appellant to six months confinement and dismissal from the Navy. The convening authority approved the findings and the sentence as adjudged.

There are many lessons to be learned from this case. CAAFlog has already done an excellent job of recapping this debacle. I’d like to highlight two points:

1. No enough was made about the involvement of a Chihuahua.

Prosecutors said Diaz went to his office in January 2005 and used his classified computer to log onto a classified military network and access a database with detainee information. They say he printed information that included the names of 550 detainees, their nationalities, the interrogators assigned to them and intelligence sources and methods.

Prosecutors said Diaz then cut the document into 39 sheets that he placed inside a card with a big heart and a Chihuahua on its front and mailed it to Barbara Olshansky, who at the time worked for the Center for Constitutional Rights.

The nonprofit legal group was suing the federal government to obtain the names of detainees after the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled the detainees had the right to challenge their detention. Olshansky turned the document over to federal authorities, and they traced it to Diaz.

How bad is it when the nonprofit seeking to nail the government turns your handiwork over to the government?

2. It is important that, in any appellate matter, we as advocates should avoid having our arguments labeled as “nonsensical and dangerous.”

We begin our analysis by recognizing that in apparent support of respondent’s position that the military courts have sufficiently disciplined him, he repeats an argument he made before those tribunals. Respondent essentially argues that while his actions were wrong his motive was virtuous. In short, he disclosed the information to protect the Guantanamo Bay detainees’ habeas corpus rights declared in the United States Supreme Court opinion of Rasul v. Bush, 542 U.S. 466, 124 S. Ct. 2886, 159 L. Ed. 2d 548 (2004). During the general court-martial proceedings, that tribunal excluded respondent’s motive evidence showing his purported honorable intent in disclosing the classified information. As noted by the hearing panel, the United States Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed, finding his motive argument “nonsensical and dangerous.” United States v. Diaz, No. 200700970, 2009 WL 690614, at *5 (N.M. Ct. Crim. App. 2009) (unpublished opinion).


Going back 5 years (while I was still in uniform), Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice addressed this very topic, prior to both appellate decisions (published CAAF decision and unpublished NMCCA decision) and disbarment action. Interesting to juxtapose his take on this subject with the eventual decisions of three appellate courts.

That’s My State, And My Law School

Chad Gaddie is always quick to remind me of dubious honors achieved by my Kansas peeps, especially those who matriculated from the University of Kansas. He, being a University of Missouri graduate, must dedicate part of his workday to such endeavors.

Today, he hit a seam of Mizzou fan gold–courtesy of Congressman Kevin Yoder, KU undergrad and law alum. Via wikipedia:

In August 2012, it was reported that during a fact-finding trip to Israel, estimated to have cost $20,000 and funded by the American Israel Educational Foundation, a group related to AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobbying group, Yoder, after a night of dining and drinking in a Tiberias restaurant, stripped naked and dived into the Sea of Galilee in front of other members of Congress, along with their families, and staffers.[17][18] In a statement to Politico, Yoder confirmed the report, and apologized to his constituents for any embarrassment he might have caused. The FBI investigated the incident to see if any inappropriate behavior occurred, but no formal allegations have been made.

But, really, who wouldn’t want to swim naked in the Sea of Galilee, especially if you were voted one of the “Hottest Freshmen in Congress?” Am I right? Of course I’m right.

On a related note, I’m pleased to know that the FBI is spending time and resources to investigate this matter.

An aside: It should also be noted, given UA’s recent decision to profile some of the more noteworthy voters in America, that Congressman Yoder holds both a vote as a citizen and as a member of Congress.

Azimuth Check: Catching Up

Line-art drawing of an azimuth

See? Easy. Image via Wikipedia

It’s been a while since I’ve had an azimuth check. For those of you new to these parts, an azimuth check, in orienteering, is when you check to make sure you are going in the right direction–your azimuth. I use it as a potpourri of different things to get my mind back on track.

Yep, That’s My State

Sometimes, I love being from Kansas. (For those of you from one of the coasts, it’s a place you occasionally fly-over). Sometimes, I loathe it. Lately, it has been the latter. I weathered the days of forced “intelligent design” in classrooms (yep, I’m a product of KS public schools). That fight outed KS as a state that didn’t fully grasp the first few amendments of the Constitution. However, it did give us the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and that’s not a bad thing. Pasta be praised.

Now, I’m learning of the case of Brownback v. High School Senior. It seems staffers at the governor’s office found a disparaging tweet by a high school senior. Staffers informed the senior’s principal. The principal decided to give the student a rash of shit and order an apology. The student stood her ground. The student won (as of right now). The First Amendment also won (for now).

As a taxpayer, I’m doubly frustrated. If I understand it correctly, one of Gov. Brownback’s staffers monitors social media on a regular basis for comments about the Gov. I’m not feeling warm and fuzzy about my tax dollars paying salaries to watch social media, especially Twitter. I’d rather the state spend my taxes to refurbish the pavilion that houses the World’s Largest Ball of Twine.

Better Late Than Never

In 1980, the Army separated criminal defense attorneys from installation legal offices in order to prevent any actual or apparent improper influence upon their ability to zealously and fully defend their clients. It was the right call.

I’ve always been frustrated that the Marine Corps did not follow suit. Their lawyers remained under administrative and operational control of the same authorities that maintained the same close, local control of the prosecutors. Having grown in the Army system, it seemed wrong, wrong, wrong.

Finally, heat was brought on the USMC that shed a bright spotlight upon the system, and the Corps chose to amend their system to one similar to the Army’s Trial Defense Service.

So, a few months belated, I’d like to congratulate the USMC for separating their defense counsel into a separate command–Defense Services Organization. You’re 30 years late to the party, but we’re happy to have you all the same. Now, could you talk to your buddies in the Navy?


I’ve now had a private law office focused on military members and veterans for a bit. I noticed some law offices tout themselves as Premier law offices. Where do I get certified as Premier? Is it offered by the Univ. of Phoenix? Are classes required? Is it based on longevity? An LLM? Does it come to me spiritually on a vision quest? Can I eventually be ordained to bestow this title?

It sure seems swell to work for a Premier law office. The lawyers are always smiling and wearing nice suits. They seem to have very, very diverse practice areas. They have spiffy web sites.

And they all seem to have capped teeth.

Go Ahead, Call Him Shirley

Events of the last few days have caused me to think about blogging, blawging, and shooting my mouth off. There are always consequences in doing one or more of the aforementioned three things. Sometimes the consequences are personal, and sometimes they are professional. Either way, there are consequences for pretty much every action we take–we just don’t notice most of them.

A friend of mine faced consequences for his words. His name is Paul Shirley, and he grew-up in my community in Kansas. I remember both he and his brother, Matt. Although, it has been 20 years since I’ve seen either in person. Paul is two years younger than me, if memory serves me correctly.

Luckily, I was able to follow Paul, even from my college dorm in New York. He grew many inches in high school before settling at 6’10” and walked onto the basketball team at Iowa State University. There, he became a 3-year starting power forward for some of the most successful ISU basketball teams in school history. In the end, he became a 2nd Team Academic All-American and finished with two consecutive Big 12 titles. Paul experienced success in almost everything he did, except rowing. Paul sucks at rowing.

He went undrafted after college, but landed in the NBA where he was a solid roleplayer for the Chicago Bulls, Phoenix Suns, and Atlanta Hawks. Eventually, he ended his career playing for several European professional teams.

While length of bone and coordination helped him to succeed in sport, his true gift is writing. I know. I’ve been reading his blog posts and articles for many years. He started writing while still playing in the NBA, and this morphed into a gig as a “freelance blogger” for ESPN. His column, “My So-Called Career: Paul Shirley’s Basketball Journal,” traced his movement from team to team and city to city. Just looking for someone to pass him the damn ball.

Eventually, he published a book, Can I Keep My Jersey: 11 Teams, 5 Countries, and 4 Years in My Life as a Basketball Vagabond. An enjoyable read, it follows his odyssey through 11 teams in professonal basketball. The book, coupled with his ESPN column, signified a sharp upward path for his writing career.

Then, everything ended with the Haiti earthquake of 2010. Paul wrote a post at the collaborative blog, the Flip Collective, on his views on the outpouring of support/requests for support from Haiti. The post is direct, controversial, and harsh. It talks about showing restraint as humans and accountability in charitable giving. It places much of the blame for Haiti’s suffering upon the choices of the Haitian people. It states openly what a lot of people were thinking, and what many others didn’t want to acknowledge.

He was vilified for it. He was cursed, demonized, and threatened as a result of his writing. Anonymous commenters peppered the blogosphere to cast arrows at him. A few days later, ESPN “fired” him as a freelance blogger for ESPN.com. In the eyes of mass media markets, he was poison.

I understand his post. I also understand the arguments against it. The purpose of my post is not to discuss its merits. Instead, I want to discuss his ownership of it.

Paul never backed-down. To this day, his post remains for public consumption. Nothing was removed or edited. He did respond, but only to affirm responsibility for his words. It showed guts, even in the face of public outcry and cyberflogging. That’s a rare commodity these days. He knew there were consequences for actions, and he accepted them as a reality of life. He accepted every strike from the lashing.

Oh, by the way, he never sued anybody about it, either.

Paul didn’t publish his post under a pseudonym or the name Anonymous. He published it as “Paul Shirley.” Most of the responses, on the other hand, came from people named YouSuckShirley, RubberChicken, or Anonymous. To think, I once thought Frank Zappa strange for going with Dweezil and Moon Unit.

Paul continues to blog at Flip Collective, along with his brother, Matt. As far as I can tell, he travels a lot and enjoys life. He blogs about his observations on everything from music to to politics to travel (and even basketball, sometimes). All of the Haiti stuff is now utterly 2010, and the water has flowed under the bridge. The debates ended (except now that some asshole attorney who went to his high school opened old wounds).

Fear is an ugly thing. It causes us to pause. It makes us hesitate. It forces retractions and deletions. It mutes our sensibilities and ability to communicate the same. Through fear, we stop taking chances. The only shots we take are the easy ones, and soon we forget the big brass ring and settle for the plastic ones within easy grasp. Sometimes, the fear is of losing one’s online brand (whatever the hell that is). Others, it is losing friends. Most often, it is a fear of losing the green stuff from their wallet.

It motivates people to change their name to Anonymous, or RubberChicken. Even worse, it causes people and entities with listeners and clout to turn away, choosing to face safer topics–things without risk. They choose a limp existence.

It’s a damn shame. Cause that ain’t living, man.

Paul continues to blog with aplomb. He is fearless, and everything he writes is unabashedly attributed to “Paul Shirley.” He’s never done otherwise.

Do the world, your country, and your clients a huge favor. Be fearless, too.

The Marlboro Man of Kansas

A few weeks ago, I attended a CLE seminar as a means of keeping in the good graces of the Kansas Bar. I talked about all the geriatric lawyers there in a previous post. While there, I attended a brown-bag luncheon.

I know very little about Kansas Law, having practiced Military/Federal-centric law for my entire legal career. I know little about the status of Kansas courts or the lawyers who practice within them. Nonetheless, I found the luncheon to be informative and instructive.

The keynote speaker was the Chief Justice of the State of Kansas, Lawton Nuss. Damn, I love that name. Lawton Nuss sounds like someone who spits tobacco at least 25 feet and has a shadowbox filled with different varieties of barbed wire on his wall. It is the name of a real man’s man–a guy who embodies everything the Marlboro Man is supposed to be–minus the carcinogenic stuff. Here’s a picture of this former Marine who stands about 6’3”. Am I wrong?

He spoke to us in the most unpretentious manner about the state of Kansas courts and the initiatives undertaken to streamline operations and improve accessibility. I was impressed (something I don’t say often).

My opinion of all state court systems is that they are ripe for stagnation. More than any other branch, they get away with the statement “that’s the way we’ve always done it” more than any other. They do so by being relatively inaccessible, closed to new thoughts and procedures, mysterious, and exclusive. They are led by bureaucrats, not leaders.

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Dead Lawyer Society

Last week, I attended Continuing Legal Education (CLE) in Manhattan, Kansas. This is not to be confused with the Manhattan borough of New York City. They are quite different. For instance, we might consider how to find each. The old joke about Manhattan, KS is that you travel west out of Kansas City on I-70 until you smell it, then turn north and continue until you step in it. Manhattan, NYC, on the other hand, draws with its gravitational pull. You can control your descent into it, but only if your will allows.

For me, the difference is much simpler. Manhattan Island, unlike Manhattan, Kansas, has some redeeming qualities (with apologies to JMo, you know I love you, buddy).

I attended this particular CLE because I needed it, not because I necessarily wanted it. They offered, in one 2-day seminar, 12 total hours of credit (2 of which addressed Professional Responsibility). Wonderful. I can get the requirement for FY 2011 knocked-out in two days. I do so applaud efficiency.

I knew no one, nor did I expect to see any familiar faces. I wasn’t particularly social in law school, and I haven’t socialized in Kansas for more than 20 years. So, I saw no reason to encounter any semblance of familiarity. To pass the time, I eavesdropped and people-watched, all in blissful anonymity.

This was the first CLE seminar I’ve ever attended. Prior to this year, I was exempted from CLE requirements due to my military service, and the military classes/seminars I attended in years past consisted of a relatively homogenous group of lawyers.

What I heard and saw was interesting. The younger (pre-40) lawyers did little talking. Mostly, they consumed energy drinks and fiddled with electronics. The middle-aged crowd socialized in very niche groups. You had the cleancut-civil-law-types in one corner talking about the amusing (only to them) arguments in their latest pleading. The beatnik/burnout crowd all gathered in another corner and bitched about their income and the last time they got their ass handed to them by the pre-40 crowd. The personal injury folks pranced around each other dressed in their Bernie Madoff duds, and the CDLs all sulked at their seats looking like their breakfast consisted of rice crispies pissed-upon by a government official.

Then there were the old folks. This CLE had a large contingent of AARP brethren whose purpose in attending was to maintain their law license. Most didn’t practice, or practiced in a very limited fashion. They clung to their licenses for their own reasons. Most, I suspect, wanted to feel relevant. After all, each of us has a bit of Willy Loman hiding in the back of our soul.

They talked and talked. They arrived early and gathered in groups of 2-4, talking about what was on their minds. They talked about the same thing.

Dead people.

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Change of Pace – CANdYRAT

I have about 5 mainstream MU posts in the wings, just haven’t had the time to finish them. So, I thought I’d depart from the norm and share a little bit.

Sharing is good, right? OK, unless it’s with prosecutors. I don’t even share my fries with them.

So, here’s a bit of what clogs my 2400 baud modem when taking a break from the day job.

The folks at Candyrat Records never cease to amaze me with their constant stream of great stuff. While you’re there, check out the outstanding solo projects by my fellow Kansas native, Andy McKee.

As much as I wanted to put one of Andy’s riffs on here, I had to go with this duo. Don Ross and Jimmy Wahlsteen transform a Canadian street into a recording studio. Oh, to be strolling past on that day…

A Sobering “Success” Story

Sign, Wapello, Iowa. This was put up in reacti...

Image via Wikipedia

Last night, I read a post on the blog “Simple Justice” which is owned and operated by Scott H. Greenfield, an attorney in New York City. It is a disturbing post. With both sarcasm and irony, he titles it “A Success Story.” I encourage you to read it before proceeding further.

Essentially, it highlights a suicide note he received from a man who was convicted of internet solicitation (in a gay chatroom). Over 8 years ago, the man accepted a deal as recommended by his attorney (not Scott Greenfield) with the understanding that his record would be expunged following 3 years of probation. Now 8.5 years later, he continues to be registered as a sex offender. He lives in his own personal hell. No public defender exists to help him to correct his situation, and he lacks the money to retain assistance.

Many argue that sex offender registration is not a punishment. You could have fooled me. For these individuals, it is a perpetual purgatory preventing them from obtaining meaningful employment and moving forward socially. Is it necessary for some? Perhaps. Have we taken it too far? Absolutely.

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