Sunday, January 30, 2011

Journal Sentinel Trolls For Naughty Lawyers

On a hot summer day in 1966, I rode my bike down the slopping hill of Wisconsin Ave. in New Holstein, Wisconsin on what turned out to be an impulsively criminal mission.  I was headed to a small appliance store, which I had recently discovered was the only place in town that carried 45s and albums.  I walked into the store with empty pockets…and a headful of ideas that were driving me insane.

Damn Monkees.  Ever since my loving sisters brought the revolution home with the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, I was one hook-and-guitar loving fool.  I was also entranced with the Beatles’ charm and sense of humor.  The pre-fab Monkees had all of that -- not by nature, but by design.  Neil Diamond and Bice & Hart wrote their best music, some other guys played their instruments (at first) and Bob Rafelson wrote their lines, but they had me completely snowed.  I reveled in every joke on the TV show and sang every song in my head (except slop like Daydream Believer – even a starry-eyed fan like me could see through that Davey Jones crap). 

The store only carried like twenty records total, so the chances of them having what I was looking for were pretty slim.  And yet – there it was: a pristine, first-edition printing of I’m a Believer/ (I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone – the greatest A/B-side record pairing since I Want to Hold Your Hand/I Saw Her Standing There. Overcome by the devil in my 10 year-old rock-and-roll soul, I glanced quickly at the older woman running the place behind the counter.  I held the precious 45 in my hands and waited for her to turn away.  I thought she did and I slipped it clumsily behind my back, under my tucked-in T-shirt.  I browsed empty handed for another five minutes, real cool, as if I hadn’t found what I was looking for, and calmly walked out the door.

I looked up and saw the woman standing at the door, just looking at me.  I was so busted. I got on my bike anyway.  As I did, I felt the thin vinyl record fall out the back and land on the hot concrete.  She gave a heavy sigh as she bent over and picked it off the sidewalk.  I could imagine the look of panic and terror I had on my face as I saw my future and a certain date with a hairbrush in my immediate future.  My dad’s law office was only a block away.  I didn’t know her, but I bet she knew me.  Resigned to the fate of the small-town shopkeeper, she shook her head and walked back into the store.  I got on my bike and rode as fast and as far as I could, in case she changed her mind.

I thought about my uncharged criminal past as I imagined some poor slob at in the Journal Sentinel Watchdog team CCAPing me as part of their journalistic ambush on lawyers with records this Sunday.  Of course, I was only one of 24,000 names (!) that the paper ran for state and federal scofflawness, but, getting CCAPed by a stranger is still pretty creepy.  I mean, it’s not like I’m dating them or something.

As is the case with most of these sanctimonious Watchdog reports, the entire tone is like something is wrong.  “Convicted attorneys are still practicing,” blares the front-page headline, as if something is wrong with that.  What is the point of this latest campaign – that people with criminal records or traffic offenses shouldn’t be practicing law?  Other than one ethics crank from Georgetown, who says that? To get their license back, even after a short suspension, lawyers actually have to prove some rehabilitation and pay some heavy dues.  No other profession has those kind of requirements to get their tickets re-punched. 

For his trouble at the Capitol, a great guy like Brian Burke ended up with a felony conviction and, once he got his license back, a starting-salary job at the Public Defenders office.  Scott Jensen got a sweetheart dismissal of his felony charges by the political hack DA in Waukesha County and is now dancing in the endzone with the other Republicans currently polluting Madison, albeit in the shadows as a “consultant”.  Lawyers are held to a higher ethical standard than any other profession.  Consultants are held to the lowest standards of whoever will write them a check. [Aside to my consultant friends and family – not your kind of consultancy, obviously.]

But, the Journal Sentinel has apparently decided that the politics of envy works, as their fingernails cling to the cliff of their dwindling subscriber base. 24,000 lawyers checked and they could only come up with twelve lawyer mugshots?  That’s the point at which an ethical editor might conclude there is not much there to justify the pre-planned hysterics. 

Maybe, as an ethical editor, you might want to go beat up on another bunch of daycare providers or – here’s an idea – how about going after “choice” “school” scam artists? The paper runs all these small stories about “providers” getting bounced from the program from time to time, but we never hear about how bad their warehousing of poor students really was or the small group of vultures that fund and profit from the pretend-schools. There you go – sic your watchdog on their sorry asses. But that would fly in the face of the Journal Sentinel's right-wing stance on “choice”, a stance that the paper will take, quite literally, to its grave.

As for the lawyer disciplinary system, there is nothing wrong with it.  The Office of Lawyer Regulation and the Supreme Court does a fairly good job sorting through often-complicated facts and issues.   Like the jury system, it’s not perfect, but it works.  You don’t need to call the individual members of the Supreme Court – as the paper ridiculously suggests by giving out the numbers of each justice – to get decent lawyer regulation. It already exists. 

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