Clients I Remember

These stories appeared serially in Experience, an ABA Publication

I entered law school and the profession in 1952.  Since then, I have been privileged to spend a lot of time thinking about what the law is or what it ought to be, and I have not had many clients.  Here are my recollections of twenty-six from whom I learned some things that I will not forget.

1.  Anna was my first client.  I was a second-year student in law school working in the Legal Aid Bureau.  Anna wanted a divorce.  She was a 100-pound woman who had two small children and a 300-pound husband who was often drunk and violent.  She was brought to our office by a neighbor.  I thought we could get her the divorce she wanted, although that was never a cinch in Massachusetts at that time.  The problem was that her husband�s earnings were insufficient to maintain their home, never mind two.  Obviously, no court would require him to pay all his earnings to Anna.  If it did, he would quit work and flee, so we would get nothing.  Anna and I considered the options together.  I suggested that she visit the state welfare office to see what if any support she might receive from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and to call me if she wanted to proceed with the divorce.

Anna did go to the welfare office, but was not reassured.  Three days later, the neighbor called to say that Anna had attempted suicide by turning on the gas in her stove and sticking her head in the oven.  It didn�t work, but she was sick and in Mass General Hospital.  I tried to see her, but visitors were not allowed.

So far from giving her financial aid, the social worker had now decided to remove her children from the home and place them in an orphanage.  I discussed the matter with the Legal Aid supervisor.  It was his opinion that there was nothing we could do for Anna.  We lacked the wherewithal to second-guess the social worker, and even if she was wrong in her judgment, there was nothing we could realistically do about it.  She had not asked me to help her keep her children, and the circumstances made it unlikely that we would prevail over the welfare office if she did.  I never saw Anna again, but I can still see her face 48 years later.

2.  Claudia just wanted a name change for her children.  She had divorced their father and married Ted.  She wanted them to have Ted�s name.  Because the children were themselves too young to influence the decision, it was not likely that the court would grant the change if their father objected.  I served him with notice of the proceeding.  He wrote on the notice: �You son of a bitch,� and mailed it back to me at Harvard.  Perhaps he sought counsel, but no one filed a response at the courthouse where it mattered.  My first appearance in court was to get the judge to sign the order.  I was apprehensive that the father of the children might show up in court to assault me, but he did not.  I was so relieved and pleased with myself in getting the order signed that I delivered it in person to the family in their apartment in a public housing project.  They made me stay for a glass of beer.

3.  Jefferson was a black man who was the heir to a 40-acre farm in Liberia that he wanted to sell.  First, he needed to clear the title.  I found a lawyer in Monrovia who said he did that sort of work and could probably find a buyer.  He wanted a fee that exceeded the apparent value of the farm.  I objected to the fee and he cut it in half so that there might be something left for Jefferson.  He sent Jefferson several documents to sign.  They looked OK to me.  Jefferson paid a hundred dollars up front, the rest of the fee to be paid from the proceeds of sale.  But Jefferson never heard from his lawyer again.

4.  For about five months, I practiced as an associate in a Dallas firm.  My first client there was Andrea.  I never actually met her.  She had been a telephone operator for Pacific Tel & Tel in California until she was put on paid sick leave.  She was a member of her union and their contract allowed the employer to withhold her pay if she did not seek medical attention while on leave.  Pacific Tel & Tel said she needed psychiatric attention, and her union agreed.  She regarded her mental health as quite satisfactory and she did not believe in psychiatry.  So she refused to go to the doctor and was terminated.  Lacking funds and an employment reference, she returned to her mother�s home in Texas.  She picked a name of a lawyer out of the Dallas phone book.  His office was next to mine, and he invited me to write a brief for her to be presented to the appropriate administrative board in California.  On reading my brief, the phone company offered her a year�s salary as severance pay and in settlement of her claim.  We took no fee.  She accepted the settlement, but never said thanks.

5.  The firm represented several hospitals pro bono publico.  In those days, hospitals were charities and performed many services for patients without charge.  They did not have many legal problems in those days.  They were not regulated and as a charity were immune from tort liability.  Most were therefore represented by lawyers who regarded the work as a public serve that it was an honor to perform. 

One day, a hospital director called to seek our help.  A doctor was complaining of the director�s action.  �All we did,� the director explained, �was revoke his privilege to use our hospital, and he is threatening to sue us.  Which just shows what an unprofessional person he is.�  My mentor Joe asked if anyone had listened to the doctor�s side of the matter.  The answer was no.  Well, why not give him a hearing?, Joe suggested.  �How in the world would we do that?  What is a hearing?� was the response.  Joe invited me to write some directions about how to have a hearing in such a situation.  I drafted three pages of rules of court that were sent to the director.  They held the hearing, and decided that indeed the doctor was right.  His privilege to use the hospital for his patients was restored.

6.  The firm also represented a local chain of grocery stores.  They asked us to represent Pedro, an employee who had been with them for about forty years.  Pedro was being deported.  He was not a citizen.  It seemed that he had committed a felony forty years before.  Immigrants who committed �crimes of moral turpitude� were subject to deportation.  The crime in Pedro�s case was statutory rape.  He had pleaded guilty to having sex with a fifteen-year old girl and had served several months in jail.  It seemed to us pertinent that he was himself fourteen years old at the time of the felony.  It also seemed pertinent that when he got of jail, he had married the maiden, who had not been offended (as her parents apparently had) by is attentions to her.  Indeed, by the time the Immigration Service got around to the matter, the couple had more than a score of grandchildren.

Unfortunately, there was no statute of limitations applicable to deportation proceedings.  I wrote a legal brief for Pedro contending that the doctrine of laches was applicable to bar stale claims by the Immigration Service.  I also argued that under the circumstances of Pedro�s case statutory rape was not a crime of moral turpitude.  Neither were strong legal arguments, but they were strong enough that the Immigration Service could easily have exercised discretion in his favor.  I paid a visit to their office to plead for mercy.  It was denied.  My mentor Wylie then got the Governor of Texas to pardon Pedro.  That did not work either.

Finally, Wylie asked the I&NS person why he was doing this.  He explained that he was under orders to do all he could to get dumb Mexicans out of Texas.  Wylie, enraged, told the agent he might get Pedro out of Texas, but if he did, Wylie would get the agent out of the United States Government.  In the face of that threat, the matter was at last dropped.  Wylie�s conduct in threatening the agent was perhaps a violation of the rules of professional conduct.  However, no grievance was filed against him with the Texas Bar.

7.  The firm also represented Bennett, a small-business man.  He and his wife added a playroom to their house, one big enough to house the pool table he had always wanted.  They hired a contractor to do the job for $2900.  After the work was complete and the $2900 paid, the contractor sent him a bill for another $900.  Bennett came to us in a stew.  Because the stakes were small, my other mentor Jack turned the matter over to me.  I questioned Bennett and examined his contract and cancelled checks.  I filed an answer denying liability.  We went to trial and Jack went along to watch me conduct my first trial.

The contractor was the plaintiff and the first witness.  He testified that my client had signed a change order for $900 additional dollars.  His lawyer handed us the exhibit.  It looked very much like a change order for $900.  I asked Bennett if that was his signature on the change order and he said yes.  I asked him why he had not given me a copy of the document that killed his defense.  �Because,� he explained, �I thought you just wanted stuff that helped my case.�  We confessed judgment and paid the $900 on the spot.

For many years, I supposed that Bennett�s mind had simply locked out the recollection of an unwelcome memory.  People do that.  But years later, I reconsidered and concluded that Bennett knew all along what would happen.  He did not want to tell his wife that he had spent $900 more on his poolroom than the sum to which she had agreed.  He went to trial so that he could go home that night and complain to his wife that he had had to pay another $900 because of the incompetence of his rookie lawyer.

8.  A client of the firm was president for the year of the Bicycle Dealers of Dallas.  It was his idea to have a bike race.  After they announced the race, someone asked, what happens if some of these kids run into one another?  Somehow the matter was referred to the two greenest lawyers in the office.  We decided that the liability of the dealers for accidents was certain unless they could get a release.  But the kids racing would be minors and not bound by any release they might sign.  It seemed likely that many parents would refuse to sign because there was nothing in it for them.  A race limited to the children of parents who would sign a release would not have been much of a race.  So we contrived the idea of having the children sign invalid releases of all claims and promises to hold the Dealers harmless against any claims by them or their parents.  We explained to the Dealers� president that the parents probably would not know that the release was invalid and would therefore refrain from seeking counsel in the event that an accident happened.  On that basis, the race went forward.  No accident occurred.  However, our conduct in imposing an invalid form on adolescent riders was clearly a breach of the rules of professional conduct.  We should have been punished.  The fact is that we never considered the possibility that this was so.

9.  For about eight months, while I was a Private First Class in the United States Army, I was assigned to the office of the Judge Advocate�s Corps at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.  Because I was not an officer, I could not participate in courts martial, so I was assigned to give legal advice to soldiers or their families.  My most common experience was negotiating on behalf of soldiers who had paid too much for an automobile and were being dunned for the balance due.  They were in a poor position because it was a breach of military discipline to default on a debt, so my clients were subject to �company punishment, � i.e., up to two weeks in the stockade if they did not pay.  Auto dealers knew this, of course.  They would sell a car to a soldier whom they knew could do no more than make the first payment.  Then they would repossess the car and tell the soldier that he still owed a lot of interest, insurance premiums, etc.  I saw many contracts on which the first year�s insurance premium exceeded the value of the car. 

There was one dealer in the District of Columbia, Uncle Joe Cherna, who sold many cars to our soldiers on such terms.  He sold one new car to a lieutenant, orally assuring him that the lieutenant could take the car with him on his new assignment overseas.  When the lieutenant went back to get Uncle Joe to sign permission to load the car on a ship, Uncle Joe refused unless the lieutenant paid him another two hundred dollars. 

One of the most satisfying experiences I ever had as a lawyer was to write a letter to Uncle Joe for Corporal Lollar to sign.  �Dear Uncle Joe,� we wrote, �I am a minor to whom you sold a car.  I now revoke our contract.  I tried to drive your car to California., but it ran out of gas on US 66 three miles north of Albuquerque.  Enclosed are your car keys.  I am sorry I lied to you about my age.�

10.  Private Shanahan was in a minor auto accident in Indiana.  His car was repaired at a cost of $280 or about two months� pay for a Private.  The other driver�s insurance company offered him $140 to settle.  Shanahan was furious because the accident was entirely the fault of the other driver.  I explained to Shanahan that the claims agent was not paid by the insurance company to settle claims for a hundred cents on the dollar.  Maybe, I suggested, Shanahan had experienced some very minor injury in the accident.  If he called attention to that possibility, the agent would likely settle for the full $280.  Shanahan was shocked and outraged by my suggestion that he indicate the possibility of a false claim.  I was impressed with his character.  So I drafted a letter to be signed and sent by a law school classmate who was working in a large Indianapolis law firm.  Our letter sent on impressive office stationery threatened suit in Indiana if we did not receive prompt payment.  We had a check for $280 within the week.  Sometimes a letterhead can win a case.

11.  In April 1957, I went into business as a tax consultant for civilians working at Aberdeen Proving Ground.  It was regularly part of my duty to help soldiers file tax returns, but that did not extend to the secretaries and barbers.  I helped them in the evening and charged $6 a return, so with about 25 returns, I doubled my income for the month.  It went well enough until I got to Rusty.  Rusty was a barber determined to have back all the money withheld from his 1956 pay checks.  As we went through the list of possible deductions, he claimed them all.  We had enough deductions to get his money back twice over.  I tried to challenge some of these, and refused to record some on the IRS form.  At last, however, I decided that I should refuse to sign as his preparer.  I gave him back his $6.  He was the only client I ever had to fire.

12.  Cornelia was a large black woman from Baltimore employed on the cleaning staff of a small hotel.  She came 30 miles out to Aberdeen on a bus and found her way to the post HQ, the JAG office, and me.  Someone had told her that we gave free legal advice to the families of soldiers.  But she was not sure she was family.  She had married a guy named John Thompson and bore his child, who was then in grade school.  One day, her husband had come home to announce that they were not married because, as he had just discovered, his real name was John Little, Little being the surname of his real father whose existence he had not previously known of.  Since her name was Mrs. Thompson, he concluded that they were not married.  He had then joined the Army as a cook and was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.  She had been thinking this over for some time.  Was she or was she not still his wife if his name was Little?

I opined that Cornelia was still married.  She had a marriage license showing that she married Thompson, and she had a letter from Little to her son from Fort Campbell.  I prepared an affidavit for her to sign, and an application for an allotment from his salary, attaching the license and referring to him by his Army serial number that appeared on the letter.

Less than three months later, she received a government check for $137 and an assurance that she would receive that amount or more each month as long as Little was in the Army.  The effect was to reduce the amount Little received on pay day from $107 to $45. The day she got her first check, she got on the bus and came to Aberdeen to thank me.  She is the only person who ever told me that my wife was very lucky to have me for a husband.  Indeed, I do not know of anyone who might have entertained such a thought.

13.  Master Sergeant Whitney had been in the Army for 27 years and had just returned from an overseas assignment in Germany.  To move his stuff home, he arranged for Bekins Van & Storage to provide transport at the Army�s expense.  Bekins had a wonderful idea to put all his belongings, including his automobile, in a single giant box with his name on it, so nothing could be misplaced.  When they reached New York, he watched the ship�s crane lift his box to put it on the dock.  Alas, the crane dropped his box into the Hudson River.  Unfortunately, his contract limited Bekins liability to $1600.  The Army paid the moving bill, but provided no extra insurance.  Whitney�s new German car was worth about $1600, never mind the clothes and memorabilia.  I wrote a letter or two for Whitney.  Bekins agreed to pay him $2100, and he accepted that sum.  In ignorance, I did not question the validity of the limitation of liability.  It may have been invalid under the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act.

14.  Master Sergeant Kinney had also been in the Army for 27 years.  He was about to leave Aberdeen to take up his last duty on the Embassy staff in Teheran.  As I often did, I wrote a last will for him.  But in his case, this was hard.  He had inherited a 109-acre farm in Virginia from his parents.  Having no family of his own, he wanted to leave portions of the farm to each of his seven nephews and nieces.  There was reason to hope that the farm might before long be in suburban Washington, so dividing it was not crazy.  But it was an irregular parcel and he had a map showing roughly how he wanted it to be divided into seven irregular pieces.  He brought me a copy of the recorded deed.  It described the property by metes and bounds.  So the will was a geometry problem.  I worked it out and then laid the will aside for a day.  The next day, I checked the geometry.  I did not have it right, so I did it again and laid it aside.  The third day, I checked and it was wrong again.  I kept doing it over for a week.  Every day it was wrong.  My metes did not meet my bounds.  Finally, the day came for him to sign the will, as he was about to leave for Iran.  I let him sign, hoping that I got it right.

I�ll never know.  But a few years later, a vast and elegant shopping center with high-rise buildings was erected at Tyson�s Corner, Virginia.  That was where Kinney�s farm was.  I have since wondered whether I might have created a flaw in the title to one of those multi-million dollar buildings, perhaps a holiday in the property description so that some of the land was not covered by his will.  I have also speculated on my liability for professional malpractice if I did.  Would it perhaps be a defense or a limitation on my liability that I was working for $137 a month?

15.  I have sometimes been paid by lawyers for my help to them, but rarely have I been paid by a client.  I was at least once, in Bloomington, Indiana, in June 1961.  I was walking from home to the law school and passed the site where an old stone classroom building was being wrecked to make room for a new University building.  I stopped to watch for a minute.  The contractor came over and sat on the same bench.  He asked me what I taught.  Law, I confessed.  He said he had a legal problem.  The city of Bloomington inspector had told him that he would need an expensive license to load the wreckage and transport it on city streets.  Should he hire a lawyer to fight this outrage?  I said that I had no idea whether there was a sound legal challenge, but I supposed a lawyer could spend a fair amount of time trying to make one, and could still lose the case.

�That sounds right to me,� he said, adding: �Could you use any of that limestone?�  He pointed to a truck loaded with gorgeous building stones, each 12x12x24.  I said I was thinking about building a retaining wall on two sides of my back yard.  �How big a wall?,� he asked.  Maybe 120 feet long and 3 feet high.  �What is your address?�  I told him.  Later that afternoon 180 beautifully cut pieces of limestone were deposited in our driveway while no one was home.

The stones were much too heavy for me to lay.  But Bloomington is in a region of limestone quarries, and Cletus advertised in the yellow pages as a stone mason.  He came over and admired my stones, estimating their value at $2000.  He showed up the next morning to do the job of laying them, bringing his adult son.  The two of them worked for 12 hours with a short lunch break and made a beautiful wall.  How much, I asked?  $150, he said.  I protested that I should pay him a little more.  �No,� he said, slightly offended.  �I have learned that nobody makes more than a living and my boy and I can live today on $150.  Just pay what I ask.�

16.  In March 1963, Miqdadi came to the legal aid clinic at the law school in Columbus.  His case was so extraordinary that four professors took it over.  Our client owned a used bookstore not far from the university.  He stood accused of violating the City of Columbus Red Goods Ordinance.  The law, enacted by the city council in response to the demand of the anti-Communist John Birch Society, forbade the sale within the city of goods made in thirteen named countries ruled by governments deemed Communist, unless the merchant placed a banner over the entrance to his store announcing �RED GOODS SOLD HERE.�  The law had been enacted at the behest of the local chapter of the John Birch Society.  Miqdadi was an immigrant from Lebanon.  A member of the Society had visited his store, found a book published in Poland, and caused his arrest.  The book was a Russian language edition of the Tolstoi�s great novel, War and Peace

Four professors could think of fourteen constitutional objections to the application of such a law to Miqdadi�s sale of that book, six under the federal constitution and eight under the Ohio.  Each one of them seemed to us unanswerable, and Miqdadi only had to win on one.  We had a ball writing a brief for him.  I took the issues arising under those provisions of the Ohio Constitution limiting the powers of municipal governments.

Ours was not the first case under the ordinance, but it was the first and only one in which a defendant appeared and was represented by counsel.  The guys charged with selling Yugoslavian baskets and Albanian hammers had knuckled under and paid the fine.  The City Attorney was wise enough to see that he had not a leg or even a toe to stand on.  But he could not dismiss the proceeding or the John Birch Society would have his hide.  So he filed a one-paragraph response to our crushing brief saying merely that he hoped the judge would not rule in our favor.  Judge Brooks read our brief and dismissed the case forthwith. 

Alas, Judge Brooks had to stand for election only a few months later.  The John Birch Society went after him, citing his decision as a manifestation of Communist leanings, and he was defeated.  Our regrets were magnified by the fact that Brooks was then the only black judge in the history of Franklin County, and a good judge to boot.

17.  Not long after I got to the University of Michigan in 1965, I acquired a sort of reputation as a person who would give political-legal advice to University students and faculty who were having problems within the University.  I was for a while on the University Civil Liberties Board that dealt with ponderous issues like the right of secretaries to take time off to attend religious services on Good Friday.  I was also for a time active in the American Association of University Professors as a member of the national committee dealing with issues of academic freedom.  And for a couple of years I was on the governing board of the Michigan Civil Liberties Union.  My University clientele generated by these activities was not large and none of them expected to pay for my services, but it was a steady trickle of non-business.

Sandra sticks in my mind.  She was a graduate student in the School of Music.  She wanted me to get her a new chair for her doctoral advisory committee.  The problem with her present advisor was that she was living with him and wanted to move out.  If she rejected him in that way, she feared that he might flunk her.  But she wanted me to persuade the chairman of the department to assign her a new committee without disclosing her reason for needing one.  On further questioning, she revealed guilt feelings that complicated her situation.  She had initiated the relationship with her advisor in the belief that it would assure the success of her doctoral program, and it had had the result of breaking up his marriage.  Because of her guilt feelings, it was extremely important to her that she not discuss the relationship with the chairman of the department.  She had no suggestions as to what might be said to the department chair to get the result she wanted without disclosing any of the facts.  I could not think of one, either, and she left my office very dissatisfied with my services.

18.  I heard about Bob�s problem for many years.  He was a distinguished professor, the author of the leading work in the world on orthodontia and the former chair of the Orthodontics Department in the Dental School.  When he came to me, he was the Director of the Center for Human Growth and Development, an interdisciplinary initiative of the University.  His problem was that his successor in the department hated him and would do anything he could to harass Bob.

Every year, it was a little different.  Graduate students were told that if they studied with Bob, they would not receive a degree.  His courses were not announced, or the schedule was arranged so that students had scheduling conflicts.  The Michigan Orthodontics Society in Lansing threatened Bob because it had been told that he was encouraging ordinary dentists to provide orthodontic services.  A recurring problem was that Bob had accumulated some extraordinary data by x-raying the heads of the children in the University Lab School every year for fourteen years.  His research technique was later demonstrated to be dangerous for the children, so his longitudinal studies were unique in the world.  The data was kept in a special room in the Orthodontics department so that everyone in the world could look at them, except Bob. 

Every year, on Bob�s behalf, I would speak to the Associate Dean about one of these situations and then to the Dean.  I never got anywhere in the Dental School.  There, as in 19th century Prussia, everything that was permitted was required, and every challenge to authority was immediately suppressed.  So then I would go to the Academic Vice President, who was a former dean of the Law School, but who was a close personal friend of the dean of the Dental School.  He discounted the evidence I brought him and always, perhaps reluctantly, affirmed the ruling of his friend, the Dental Dean.  And so I would go to the President of the University, and explain to him.  He would listen, and in a week or two, the Department Chair would back down.  Every year, we won in the end.

There was a comical aspect to this.  One year, there was an administrative hearing conducted by the Associate Dean.  I made a series of procedural requests, each more reasonable than the one before, and each in turn was denied.  Finally, my law faculty colleague who was representing the department chairman rose and told the Associate Dean that my requests were so reasonable and his denial of them was so unreasonable that no lawyer would be able to defend any decision the Associate Dean might make. 

The problem was not resolved until after I left Michigan.  Then some graduate students in Orthodontics went to the President of the University to complain that they had been told that their success in the program depended on their conferring sexual favors on the chairman.  He was suspended that afternoon and fired from the University the next week.

19.  One Sunday afternoon in the fall of 1969, I received a phone call at home from my friend Arnold, a professor of philosophy.  He was at the Michigan Union in his role as faculty advisor to the student governing board.  The Union had contracted with a traveling troop to stage their performance of Dionysius �69.  The show had not drawn well elsewhere.  On Saturday night in Madison, the cast decided to enlarge the attendance by performing in the nude.  This had been reported in the Ann Arbor News, and some church group had protested to the Ann Arbor police that this should not happen in their city.  The police had notified the Union that the actors would be arrested if they performed nude, and the Union warned Steve, the leader of the troop.  He was irate, so Arnold called me for help.  When I got there, tempers were high.  Steve demanded to know what sort of town was Ann Arbor if actors could be arrested for mere nudity?  Was there no freedom here?  If ours was a free society, Arnold and I would go on the stage nude, too, to challenge Steve�s oppressors.  Shying away from that option, I told Steve that if he was arrested, I would represent him. 

With that encouragement, the show was staged by eighteen nude persons, all of whom were arrested, but only after the performance.  In due course, I filed a motion to dismiss the criminal proceedings against them, supported by a ten-page legal memorandum arguing that the Michigan statute forbidding public nudity did not apply to nudity on stage.  The prosecutor kept asking for continuances, and that was fine with me.  After three years, when the church groups had forgotten the case, he joined my motion to dismiss.  That made me perhaps the most successful nudity lawyer of all time.  I had won 18 cases and lost none.

20.  Sister Suzanne was also a success story.  She came out to Ann Arbor from Detroit where she taught Chemistry in the Catholic college for women.  She was a serious chemist who had won an NSF grant, the only one ever awarded to a member of that college�s faculty.  She was furious with her college.  They had published in the AAUP Bulletin data on faculty salaries that reported compensation that was not in fact paid to the holy sisters.  It was explained to Sister Suzanne that in accordance with her vow of poverty, she had contributed back to the college 85% of her salary.  She didn�t buy it.  Since they had announced her salary to the world, she wanted to receive all of it.  She did not wish to leave her order, at least not yet, or to revoke her vow of poverty, but she wanted control of her money.  I wrote a letter for her to the college explaining her contention, and paid a visit to the president to see if we could find an amiable solution.  Nothing came directly from the meeting, but the President soon announced his retirement and the board elected Sister Suzanne President.  I heard no more about her problem.

21.  For several years, the Michigan CLU referred all their public schools cases to me.  I generally found a real lawyer to represent the clients, with just a little kibitzing from me, but some I kept.  Rudy�s was one.  He had been expelled from Saline High School for violating the grooming rules.  His hair was too long.  We wanted to try to make a First Amendment case out of it and filed in the federal court, asking for a preliminary injunction getting Rudy back into school.  That got us a quick hearing.  Our point was that Rudy was wearing long hair to protest the war in Viet Nam, and was thus covered by a Supreme Court decision holding that Miss Tinker had a right to wear a black armband to school in Des Moines for that purpose.  Rudy and his parents had gone to an anti-war rally a few months earlier and come home wearing buttons.  His dad had worn his button to his Euchre club that night.  His friends, with whom he had been playing cards for 20 years, were so offended by the button that they expelled him from the club.  The next week, he was fired from his volunteer position as Secretary of the Republican Party of Saline, having disgraced that organization by wearing his button.  The whole family went into a deep depression marked by acute rage over the war.  The federal judge listened sympathetically, but decided that the grooming rule did not violate the federal Constitution.  Rudy and his Dad cried.  I guess he got a haircut and went back to school.

22.  I also represented Claude, a young math teacher who was fired by the Ypsilanti Schools in March of his first year as a teacher.  There was a bulletin board in his classroom.  He announced to his students that he had no use for it, and they might use it for any thought they wanted to share with classmates.  Some of what they put up was anti-war stuff, but Ypsilanti did not mind that.  What caused trouble was a vigorous personal attack on the Sheriff of Washtenaw County.  A proclamation that SHERIFF HARVEY IS A PIG was more than the school board could stand.  Claude refused to take the message down and so was fired.  I went to the school board to argue for tolerance, but lost.  I threatened suit, but we settled for a year�s pay.

23.  Scott just wanted to pitch for the Grass Lake High School baseball team, but the Grass Lake School Board had enacted a rule, just for him, that forbade its coaches to allow married students to play ball.  A few years earlier, the Supreme Court of Michigan had unanimously decided that a school board in Messick could not forbid its football coach from playing a married tackle.  The court ruled that the legislature had enacted laws governing youthful marriages and it was not for a local school board to overrule the legislature.  I went to a meeting of the Grass Lake School Board to explain.  Its members looked at me with bovine indifference.  Nothing happened.  They had no respect for the law. 

So, trivial though the matter was, I was sufficiently angry that I sued the rascals in the Superior Court for Jackson County, Michigan and prayed for a preliminary injunction before the baseball season was over.  We got a hearing, and I showed the trial judge that he was clearly bound by law to grant my client relief.  He looked at me benignly, and said �Boy, do you know who picked the school board at Grass Lake?� �Yes, your honor, the voters of Grass Lake.�  �Do you know who picked me?�  �Yes, your honor, the voters of Jackson County.�  �Well then, you can understand why you are going to have to go to the Michigan Court of Appeals to get your injunction.�  There was not time for that.  At least at the hearing I at last learned why the school board was so stubborn.  It was not that Scott was married, it was that he and his wife were eating on federal food stamps when he should have been pumping gas at the filling station to buy their food, not out pitching ball.  If they had said as much, I might have disagreed, but it is not likely that I would have bothered to sue them.

24.  Woody blew a horn in the Van Buren Township High School Marching Band where he was a senior.  One day, the principal conducted a locker search and found in Woody�s locker 50 copies of a scurrilous mimeographed publication.  The publication came from the White Panthers, an organization centered in Ann Arbor that was devoted to the expression of hostility toward all manner of authority, but perhaps especially high school principals.  Among their publications known to me was a how-to-do-it manual for causing problems for people running schools.  An example of its useful suggestions was the removal of all doorknobs.

The circulars in Woody�s possession aimed at Van Buren High, describing the principal and many of the teachers in raw terms of utmost disrespect.  The critical sentence did not, however, mention anyone at the school.  It urged simply �Fuck God in the ass.�  A problem for the school was that Woody had never distributed one of the offending circulars.  He was nevertheless expelled.  When I asked the principal and superintendent to find a way for Woody to graduate in a timely manner, I was sent away. 

So I sued them in federal court, claiming Woody�s right to freedom of speech.  The school�s answer said nothing about all the scurrilous utterances in the circular, but emphasized that Woody was guilty of possessing the word Fuck even if he had not uttered it.  It seemed, however, that Woody had been assigned to read Catcher in the Rye in an English class.  At the hearing, after the principal testified that it was the possession of the word that caused him to expel Woody, we asked him to read aloud to the court three paragraphs from Catcher in the Rye in which the despised word appearedThe old senior federal judge promptly granted our motion to put Woody back in school, explaining that he did not know pornography when he saw it, but he could sure tell irrationality. 

25.  I spent some time as a scholar studying public school finance.  Ann Arbor had pretty good public schools in part because the University faculty were permitted by state law to vote some extra taxes to pay for items such as a deluxe music program.  A suit was brought against the state of Michigan and several �rich� districts (e.g. Bloomfield Hills) to require the state of Michigan to equalize the financial resources of the school districts.  The suit was brought in the state court in Lansing. 

I thought that this was not the right solution to a difficult problem and, moreover, I was a member of the Ann Arbor School Board; while we were not a named party, we had a stake in the case.  So I wrote a brief to be filed on behalf of Ann Arbor.

Several of us involved in defending �rich districts� recommended to the Assistant Attorney General representing the state that the case be removed for tactical reasons from state to federal court.  This was possible because the plaintiffs were asserting rights under the federal Constitution, but removal required that all the defendants sign the petition.  The Assistant AG did not want to sign without the permission of the Attorney General, who was engaged in foreign travel.  He was found in, of all places, Moscow.  He replied that he would not sign because he favored the plaintiffs� case.  Armed with that letter, the �directions from Moscow,� we filed the removal petition without his signature, explaining to the federal court that the Attorney General should be realigned as a plaintiff because he was not really on our side.  Thus, as required, all the real defendants had signed our petition. 

Curiously, no one challenged this questionable removal to federal court.  Instead, the plaintiffs got the Supreme Court of Michigan to order that the case be transferred from the trial court in Lansing to its own docket forthwith.  In due course, the state Supreme Court published an opinion celebrating Equal Protection of the Law, declaring the Michigan laws unconstitutional, and ordering the legislature to do something.  It was left to me to write the judge who wrote that opinion of the court to explain that the case he purported to decide was still pending in a federal court over which his court had no appellate jurisdiction.  I never got a response to that letter, but the court withdrew its opinion.  The case pending in the federal court was then dismissed when the Supreme Court of the United States decided that financial equality among school districts was not required by the federal Constitution.

26.  I was, however, not indifferent to the problem of under-financed school districts.  I noticed that the richest school districts in Michigan were not those serving rich kids.  They were the schools nearest the big automobile factories in Dearborn, River Rouge, and Willow Run.  Those schools mostly served the children of factory workers.  But here and there among the rich districts were some very poor ones.  Inkster was such a school district.  Its tax revenue in 1972 was about $500 per child.  But across the street dividing the two school districts, Dearborn was operating schools that cost $2200 a child.  The problem was confounded by the fact that there were virtually no black students in the Dearborn schools, while a majority of those in Inkster were black.  I offered my services to the Inkster School Board to correct this injustice.  They were quite interested until they realized that the remedy I was proposing was a consolidation that would occasion the dissolution of their board.  They were unanimously and passionately offended by that idea.  It was not clear to me that if I stayed around I might be lynched.

mailto:pdc@law.duke.edu index.htm

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