Friday, November 21, 2014

A Criminal Defense Lawyer who is a Muslim becomes a Muslim Defense Lawyer

One of us on the "Keeping the Faith" panel was a Muslim, Khurrum Wahid, a distinguished criminal defense lawyer.  The moderator asked him what made him decide to go to law school.  He didn't exactly answer the question, but he did say that, as we "undoubtedly already knew," if one is a young person from a South Asian family (he referred to himself as a Pak-Asian, as his family was apparently from Pakistan), then of course you go to medical school.

But not him.

He said there was great consternation in his family and his faith community with his decision.  An uncle said to him that, "Back home, lawyers are liars."  (As the American public seems to preceive lawyers, we obviously have more in common with the Pakistani public than we might think.)  But Khurrum went to law school anyway, and from there into criminal defense work.

Then, he said, 9-11 occurred.  He overnight went from being a criminal defense lawyer who was a Muslim to a Muslim criminal defense lawyer.  Mothers, wives, sisters, daughters called him because their male family members had been "detained" by federal agents - not arrested, because that would have required charges to be filed - but "detained."   Suddenly, his family and community were very glad to have a lawyer in the midst.

I discovered that one can laugh and be appalled at the same time.  One can laugh at the irony.  And be appalled at what the government did.   I'm also glad that Khurrum went to law school.

A Story About an Illegal Alien

I had a case once where the beneficiaries of a large estate were at war with one another.  The housekeeper of the decedent, a person who had faithfully worked for the decedent for many years and who served the decedent well during a long illness before the decedent died, turned out to be an "illegal."  While she was here, she had married someone, had a family, house, car, paid taxes - the American dream, except for the Citizenship or Green Card.

One of the beneficiaries perceived - wrongly - that the housekeeper was on the side of the other beneficiary is their bitter, bitter fight.  So he called the immigration authorities.  They picked up the housekeeper, and took her to "Krome," the name around here of the federal detention center where "illegals" were warehoused.  I don't know whatever happened to her, but the whole thing made me sick.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Very Pleasant Time at the FIU College of Law "Keeping the Faith" Panel

Here are two photos from the FIU College of Law Keeping the Faith Panel event today.  The first photo is of me standing with three students from the Religious Studies  program.  A number of them attended and the chairperson of the Religious Studies department, Erik Larson, moderated.  (Do read Dr. Larson's bio at the link.  Amazing man.)

The second photo is of the panelists, the moderator, the student association representatives who planned the event (one from each of the Muslim, Roman Catholic, Jewish, and CLS law student organizations), and Gary Cameron, the IVCF staff member for the FIU graduate programs, who is an adviser for the CLS group.

It has been many years since my last visit to the FIU Campus.  The place is simply transformed!  Dr. Larson told me that there are over 54,000 FIU students and the university is number 5 on the list of America's largest public universities.

The College of Law has a very impressive building, all its own.

The President of the CLS chapter at the FIU College of Law is Jesica Geevarghese, who is Indian Orthodox.  (She is second from the left in the second photo.) She told me that the Indian Orthodox Church is from the Eastern side of Christendom and has a history that goes back to the Apostle Thomas.  Her church in Broward is St. Thomas Orthodox Church.

"Give us some real world advice: what is in store for us, as persons of religious faith, once we graduate and start practicing? Does being a person of faith make it easier or harder to be a good lawyer? What advice would you give a new, beginning lawyer?"

To my mind, being a person of faith makes it easier to be a lawyer. We are not all alone in dealing with reality. God is a God of Love. He created us with a purpose. He loves us. He has made provision for our shortcomings by sending his son, Jesus, so that we could, despite those shortcomings, be transformed through the work of the Holy Spirit into the sort of person, even the sort of lawyer, God meant us to be.

Here is some advice I might give:

1. Be a part of a faith community, study the Word, and have an active prayer life.

2. Study hard while one is in law school, and work hard in the profession.

3. Find a practice situation where there are older lawyers who can mentor you and whom you can admire, both as practitioners and people.

4. Get out of a practice situation in which you are unhappy as soon as you can.

5. Live a modest life, spend only what you must. Live below the standard of living at which you might otherwise be able to live or at which your peers appear to live. Do not borrow money to support an immodest life-style.

4. If God brings a person into your life who would make a supportive spouse and a good parent and who shares your faith, then by all means get that person to marry you and then, after a reasonable period of time, start a family with that person. God calls most of us into marriage and direct family formation. However, he calls some very special people into singleness. Jesus himself was single, as was the Apostle Paul.

"How does your religious faith affect the way you act towards other lawyers and clients?"

As to my clients, I hope it means that I have their best interests at heart and not my own. As to my partners and associates, I have the same hope.  Really, if I have eternity with the Lord to look forward to, why shouldn’t I seek the best interests of the people whom I serve?

As to my adversaries, whether opposing counsel or their clients, I owe them ethical behavior, respect, and courtesy.  In a way, by my being a reasonable, competent advocate, I am serving their best interests as well as the best interests of my clients, because I am being faithful to the system that we have of settling disputes.  In this way, one serves one's enemy, one expresses a kind of love even to them, approaching the standard that Jesus taught when he enjoined us to love our enemies.

"Tell us stories: do you have an example when your beliefs helped you perform as a professional, helped you be an effective advocate or counselor, and contributed to your success?"

I hate to make mistakes as a lawyer, but I have made some whoppers. How does one deal with them? I think that being a good neighbor, as God calls us to be, means that we disclose our professional mistakes and deal with them directly and in good faith.

In one case, I had recommended what I thought was brilliant, if original, tax-saving estate planning strategy to a client.  She and her attorney son in New England agreed with it and it was implemented. When she died, I asked my partner Juan to handle the settlement. In the course of his review, he came across that estate planning strategy, and he told me that he believed that it did not work. I reviewed the matter again and, with the benefit of hindsight, it looked like a problem to me too.  A big problem.

I called the decedent’s son and told him about the matter. He promptly hired a New England malpractice lawyer who wrote me a nasty letter. He also hired a Palm Beach probate lawyer to handle the rest of the estate.

I met with the malpractice lawyer, the new probate lawyer, and two of my NY partners at the NY offices of my firm. It was a dreadful trip to take from Miami to NY, for the estate stood to lose over a million dollars, if I had indeed been mistaken.

At the meeting, my NY partners said that they did not necessarily agree that I had made a mistake and instead believed that I had, in fact, saved the family a lot of money. They demanded that the new probate lawyer take my position on the Estate Tax Return, while making a full disclosure on that return of the suspect strategy. They were not asking that anything be covered up.

After I got home to Miami,  the Palm Beach lawyer called me. He said that he was impressed that I had spoken up about the problem and not attempted to hide it from the client or the IRS.  He said that he saw in the matter a mistake that he could very well have made. He also said the he would present the strategy fairly on the estate tax return, and that we would see what would happen.

About six months later he called me. My secretary told me he was on the telephone, and with trepidation I picked up the call. He said that the return had been accepted by the IRS fully and completely. He was nearly as happy as I was, and since then he and I have become great friends.

"Tell us stories: do you have an example of a time when your beliefs conflicted with the professional expectations of your firm, judicial position, etc.? How did you deal with the conflict? What did the experience teach you?"

What immediately comes to mind is an experience I had on a trip to the New York headquarters of the firm with which my Miami firm had merged during the 1980s. I flew up to New York City early on a Monday morning, expecting the meetings I was to attend to last all day, and that I would return late that night.

Instead, the meetings ended just after lunch. I spoke to people at the travel desk of the firm about my getting an earlier flight back to Miami. I said that if I could get home by six or so, I would be able to attend a board meeting at my church.

The person I was speaking to stopped what she was doing, put her pencil down, looked at me, and said, “What? You have another life?”

Thus, the main problem I have had with the profession has been balancing my family life and my professional life. I remember going to Washington DC and then to Tampa on a series of depositions in a case with several parties and, so, several lawyers. We were at least two days on this junket. At the end of the last day, I found myself in the airport bar, waiting for a flight back to Miami, and having a beer with one of the other lawyers, a younger lawyer, a senior associate in a big New York firm.

He told me that two huge things had happened to him that day. He had gotten a phone call from one of the senior partners of his firm who told him that the firm had just voted him in as a partner. The other thing was a call from his secretary to tell him that she had just accepted service of process on his behalf in divorce proceedings initiated by his wife.

As a result of trying to achieve a reasonable work-family balance (and also trying to tell the truth on my timeslips), I have always been at the very bottom of the billable hour derby with my fellow associates and partners. It was always a miracle to me that I was tolerated as a partner by the national firm in which I was a partner, although I took some serious financial hits along the way.

But, while my children were small, I made a point to be home for supper time during the week. We took vacations during which I seemed to spend a great deal of time worrying about my cases, at least during the first several days of them. I tried to remain attentive to my wife and to honor her. I took the entire family to church each Sunday, that is, I supplied a sort of spiritual leadership in our family. I was an active member of our church, took on leadership responsibilities, and taught a high school Sunday School class as my children moved through their high school years. I think it made a huge difference in our family’s life, whatever it did to my legal career. Sunday remained a day of church-going and of rest. Church participation still remains a priority for my wife and me, long after the children have left home.

As to worldly success, Jesus teaches that we should seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness and that all the other important things in life will be added to us as well.

"How has your religious faith prepared you or benefited you in your professional life?"

There is an ethical dimension of the Christian faith, of course. That dimension has certainly informed my professional life. Truth telling and competence, treating all people as neighbors, not just people who look like me and think like me, having courage and taking risks, leading by serving, all of these things Jesus taught. They have made me a better lawyer.

My Christian faith defines a particular reality that has informed my practice. First, I believe that there is a just, all-powerful and gracious God, one whose spirit empowers me to follow his will to the extent I choose to be so empowered, and a God to whom I will account at some point in the future, either during my lifetime, if the Messiah returns during my lifetime, or after my death when, at the Second coming, I will be raised from the dead and among the first to greet the Messiah at that coming. In connection with that coming, there will be a judgment day at which God will set everything straight.

This belief helps me deal with the big questions, such as why a loving and sovereign God would tolerate such suffering in our present world, and the small questions about how I am to deal with suffering and joy in my personal life and with my successes and failures as a lawyer.

This belief in such a spectacular end to history also gives teeth to what Jesus taught as the greatest commandment, that I am to love God with all my heart, soul, and strength, and that there is second commandment that amounts to the same thing, that I am to love my neighbor as myself.

That is the standard to which God will hold me at some point in my future and part of that accountability will be how I behaved as a lawyer.

"How, if at all, did your faith influence your decision to pursue the legal profession?"

I am appearing on a panel at the FIU law school today to discuss the application of faith to the practice of law.  The organizers of the event circulated some questions that the moderator may ask us.  To help prepare myself for this (to me) very unusual event, I wrote out answers to most of them.  The title of this post is the first question.  Here's what I wrote.

As an undergraduate, I majored in history and focused on the history of religion in America, more particularly in the antebellum South. With a sort of righteous indignation, I pursued the question of how people in the South who called themselves Christians could tolerate a slaveholding society.

In the course of the pursuit, I came across a minister from a slave-owning family who pastored a church in Midway, Georgia, during the 1830s. He founded an association called the Association for the Religious Instruction of the Negroes in Liberty County, Georgia. This minister, whose name was Charles Jones, promoted not only religious instruction but also literacy among the slaves, the provision, recognition, and protection of marriage among those people, their freedom to assemble, and their freedom to move from place to place. He condemned selling off members of slave families and, finally, he asserted that slaves were human beings who were so worthwhile to God that he sent his only begotten son, Jesus, to die for them, just as he had for everyone else.

I found this to be a surprising and potentially subversive application of the Gospel, and I explored how he got away with such a ministry. There were several factors. He came from what appeared to be a wealthy and economically secure family, so there was power there.  In addition, the congregation at Midway Church had been founded by New Englanders two generations or so before, so there was probably a different intellectual tradition still at work. Furthermore, a reform movement was sweeping the country generally. Finally, about 50 years before Mr. Jones’ ministry, a Midway Church member had established a foundation, and that entity helped support the ministry. In other words, there was a means of financial support independent of the contemporary situation.

It interested me that this foundation, a creature of the law, in the hands of a Christian minister who fully understood the implications of the Gospel, could work within a repressive culture and make a positive impact. This study helped push me to the decision to go to law school and not to graduate school, which was the other choice that seemed to be open to me at the time. It was not the only factor in my going to law school, but it was an important one. I had the idea that I could make a more positive impact on the culture as a lawyer than as a scholar cloistered in the university. My faith holds that God calls us to make such an impact.

Friday, November 14, 2014

AutoNation to go Online and Adopt Fixed-Pricing

It has been decades since we bought a new car.  Who wants to go through all that?  CarMax has had the bulk of our used car business for its enlightened approach.

This is either a huge breakthrough that heralds a new era in new car marketing.  Or just another way that dealers and their "factories" will attempt to flummox the public.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Global Banks Fined Billions for Rigging the Currency Markets

LONDON — Traders with such nicknames as the ‘‘Three Musketeers’’ and the ‘‘A-Team’’ plotted through Internet chat rooms to manipulate currency markets for years, profiting at the expense of clients and then congratulating themselves for their brilliance in profanity-laced banter, regulators said Wednesday, as they fined five banks $3.4 billion.

*   *   *

Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC Bank, and UBS agreed to the settlements with the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission, UK Financial Conduct Authority, and Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority. The British regulator said Barclays remains under investigation.  

*   *   *

Manipulation of the exchange rates has ‘‘a profound effect on the economy,’’ said Aitan Goelman, enforcement director for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

 -from the AP article in today's' newspapers by Danica Kirka and Marcy Gordon.  It is worth reading the entire article.  The article states that the Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation and the the Federal Reserve is coordinating a "probe" with Justice and other agencies.  

I say go to it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

But Who are the "Idlers and Slackers" in the Contemporary US Church?

How do we today apply Paul's declaration in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 that those who do not work, "shall not eat."  Who are today's idlers, slackers, and busy-bodies?  Is it appropriate to apply 2 Thessalonians 3 to church people who have no problem at all with securing all the physical nourishment they want (and beyond what they need) outside the church, regardless of whether their conduct adds value to the Kingdom.  Well, of course it applies.  In fact, Paul's declaration is simply devastating in its application.

"I choose a church on the basis of my needs getting met."  Such a consumer approach to church going refers to the needs of one's ego, at least in a significant number of cases.  (There are thoroughly legitimate needs that are met in the Christian community - or should be met, and we should seek healthy communities that can meet them for ourselves and our families.)  The idler and slacker consumes the social communion of the Christian community and the elements of the Lord's Supper and contributes little or nothing.  They "shall not eat," and, in fact, they do not eat.  That is, they do not grow into the person God created them to be.  Paul is hard on us.  But so was Jesus.  These are the facts of the Christian life.  No pain.  No gain.  Crossfit for the Christian life.

Monday, November 10, 2014

"If a man will not work, he shall not eat."

This is an adage that St. Paul quotes in 2 Thessalonians 3:10.  It is nowhere else in the Bible, so it must have been current and well known in the Mediterranean world at the time Paul wrote the letter to the Christians in Thessaloniki.  It is not a political statement addressed to a problem in the city, but a statement made to Christians about how they should treat each other.  In particular, Paul refers to a group of Christians in the church community who are "idlers" or "slackers."  (The English translation for the particular Greek word at issue depends on the version of 2 Thessalonians one consults.  But whatever version one consults, there is no mistaking the sort of behavior to which Paul refers.) 

How does this square with the admonition that we are to serve each other in the church community and those outside of it as well.  In this case, the best sort of service one can offer to the slacker or the idler is not to indulge him (or "enable" him, as the current jargon goes).  Usually it is far easier to buy someone off, - especially if one has the means - so maybe he will go away and leave us alone.   Coming to grips with destructive behavior is difficult, and being firm about the behavior opens us up to criticism that we are uncaring or unloving or "unChristian."   Not to take the buy-out gets us involved in the circumstances of the wrong-doer, because we remain called to treat with him, treat with him when we have other things we would prefer to do.  If we are honest, we really don't want that relationship after all.  Nevertheless, Jesus calls us into it.

Later in the passage, Paul writes that we are "not to regard him [the "slacker"] as an enemy, but warn him as a brother."  Frankly, I might very well prefer not to have him as a brother.  Maybe I can work it so that he will just go away.  Maybe I'll take the buy-out.

Compare Fred Grimm's excellent column yesterday in the Miami Herald to the problem of the homeless in Ft. Lauderdale.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

"Wow" is Right!

‘Wow. First off, I want to thank God for his abundant grace and mercy. Win or lose, it is more than sufficient for each and every one of us,” Scott Walker said, taking the podium on Tuesday night at the Wisconsin state fair grounds after being re-re-elected for governor.'

- from the interview of Scott Walker in today's WSJ.  The complete interview is well worth reading.

We can thank God that by his grace and mercy we live in America, where elections can be meaningful and effective for change, and that people like Governor Walker will run (and rerun) for office.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

God as Below and Above Logic

In 2 Thessalonians 3.1-5, Paul requests of the believers in Thessaloniki that they pray for him so that the word of the Lord "will go forward quickly and be glorified."  Almost immediately, Paul acknowledges that "the Lord will be faithful."

"Here is the paradox of Christian living: because the Lord is faithful and will guard us, therefore we pray that he will do so.  This always sounds illogical to those who aren't engaged in [preaching and praying, the work that apostles and churches share].  Those who are [so engaged] will know that prayer has a power and sense below and above logic.  Our praying hearts, minds and lives are put at the disposal of the living Lord, who remains sovereign, but who longs for our collaboration in his work of strengthening the church and guarding it from evil."

-from Wright, N.T., Paul for Everyone - Galatians and Thessalonians (Westminster John Knox Press 2002, 2004), p. 154.

Is it part of the essential character of God that God be logical?  Where does it say that?  God is love.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

The Stunning Silence in Revelation 7: 9-8:5, and Then . . .

On the subject of God's answering our prayers, more specifically the matter of when he chooses to do so, our friend Carrie, last night at a dinner Carol and I had with Carrie and her husband,  pointed us  to this remarkable sermon by Jeremy Begbie.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Tough Love from St. Paul about Taking Care of One's Family

If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

-1Timothy 5:8, and cited in today's reading in Stott's Through the Bible, Through the Year, at page 91.

I see this ethic applied among all classes of people, notably (at least to me) among the immigrant families here in Miami.

At the recent Annual Dinner hosted by Heartbeat of Miami, we heard a testimony from a young woman who, with the help of her mother at age 16, fled sexual abuse in Nicaragua from a man who threatened to kill her and her parents if she told them and the authorities about the abuse.  She came to the US in the way many of the Central American children come here that we read about:  She made the journey across Mexico, waded the Rio Bravo, was taken into custody by INS, but had an aunt in Miami who would take her in.  Say what you will about the government authorities, they gave the young woman bus fare and she finally arrived here, to be sheltered by her kinswoman and, from there, introduced to the Christian community that works with Heartbeat, her larger family.  Unknown to herself at the time that she fled her country, the man in Nicaragua had impregnated her.

When the INS gave her a physical examination, they discovered her pregnancy and a social worker advised her to get an abortion, telling her "Every time you look at that baby's face, you will see the evil that has been done to you."   The young woman refused.  Heartbeat helped her.  She said at the Heartbeat Dinner that when she looks into the face of her baby, now 2 years old and there with us at the dinner, she sees the face of Jesus.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Exploding Airbags

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration urges owners of certain Toyota, Honda, Mazda, BMW, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Chrysler, Ford and General Motors vehicles to act immediately on recall notices to replace defective Takata airbags. Over seven million vehicles are involved in these recalls, which have occurred as far back as 18 months ago and as recently as Monday. The message comes with urgency, especially for owners of vehicles affected by regional recalls in the following areas: Florida, Puerto Rico, limited areas near the Gulf of Mexico in Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Louisiana, as well as Guam, Saipan, American Samoa, Virgin Islands and Hawaii.

-from the NHTSA Consumer Advisory of October 22, 2014.

On NPR this morning, a report on this matter indicated that we in South Florida are particularly at risk because of our heat and  humidity.

We are pretty much a Toyota family.  Here are the Toyota models that are on the NHTSA list, at least right now:

Toyota: 877,000 total number of potentially affected vehicles
2002 – 2005 Lexus SC
2002 – 2005 Toyota Corolla
2003 – 2005 Toyota Corolla Matrix
2002 – 2005 Toyota Sequoia
2003 – 2005 Toyota Tundra

For makes other than Toyota, click the link to the article.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Zehaf-Bibeau a Lawbreaker!

Zehaf-Bibeau's long criminal record for a series of crimes, including drug possession, robbery and assault, barred him from owning or possessing a gun.

-from "Police: Canadian terror attack driven by ideology" on the USA Today website today.

I think the author of this quote meant to say that his criminal record made it "against the law for him to own or posses a gun."  Obviously, he wasn't "barred" from anything.  So much for gun laws in Canada.

Buying High and Selling Low

Millions of Americans inadvertently made a classic investment mistake that contributed to today’s widening economic inequality: They bought high and sold low.

Late in the stock-market booms of the 1990s and 2000s, more U.S. families clambered into stocks as indexes surged. Then, once markets tumbled, many households sold and took losses.

Those that held on during the most recent collapses reaped the benefits as stocks nearly tripled between 2009 and today.

The split path is one driver of stark inequality in the U.S. Many workers have seen their wealth and incomes drop despite more than five years of economic expansion in the U.S. Some fear the gap, widening for decades, could fracture society and slow the nation’s potential for economic growth in the long run.

-from "Bad Stock-Market Timing Fueled Wealth Disparity" in today's WSJ.

It was during 2008 and 2009 that I gave up trying to figure out when to buy and when to sell stocks and turned the portfolio over to Investor Solutions, just before the market plummeted.  When the market tanked, Investor Solutions liquidated fixed income securities in our portfolio, took the cash, and bought stocks as bargain prices.  Not that I am now among the rich, but many people were selling stocks at that time, as the article indicates.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Not Running Out of Oil Soon

The piece is probably on the other side of the WSJ pay-wall, and the title is accurate as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. Mills is one of those people whose views are similar to those of the retired chairman of the board of Texaco whom I was privileged to know back in the 80's. Mills believes we are not going to run out of energy, and the article bears witness to that belief. Mills, a Manhattan Institute Scholar, has just published a new book whose title tells it all, The Bottomless Well: The Twilight of Fuel, the Virtue of Waste, and Why We Will Never Run Out of Energy.

We are having an interesting governor's race in Florida.  One of the attacks being made on the Republican incumbent is that Florida, unlike most of the other Southeastern states, does not subsidize solar energy significantly.  I don't know whether that's true.  (I believe nothing that the attack ads on the gubernatorial candidates are saying.)  If it is true, however, then I think this is a good thing.  It would seem to me that Solar needs to grow up and compete with the big boys for investment dollars and that the State should get-out and keep-out of the marketplace on this one.  (How long has it taken to get NASA out of the outer-space market?  Where would we be if it had gotten out earlier?  Pluto?)