Start of Summer

Morgan Freeman’s essay in Newsweek – makes you appreciate life – he observes how taking up golf, even at the age of 70, gets him exercise and fresh air; taking up flying means fulfilling a life-long dream; and acting in a comedy, hard work as it is, reminds him not to take life too seriously. Morgan Freeman’s the man, really.

On the APA front of things: a NY Times profile of a NY actor Kim Chan, a memorable character actor (well, if you watch as much tv as I have, you’ll remember him as That Old Chinese Guy that pops up on various shows – the accompanying video NY Times showed a clip where he was on “Kung Fu: The Legend Continues” – David Carradine’s syndicated series sequel, which – for me, anyway – was ridiculous but guilty tv viewing during the 1990’s – a scene wherein Mr. Chan’s character advises Mr. Carradine’s character – I say “guilty” because I still feel weird about Carradine’s role but concede that there were witty lines and angst on the series).

NY Times’ Ginia Bellafante has an interesting article on the play “Platanos and Collard Greens,” a drama on Black-Latino interaction through the lens of interracial romance. Bellafante explains the origins of the show. I especially found the article fascinating because (a) I had seen the play advertised in the subways and thought it sounded interesting, so the article really fleshed it out; and (b) well, it’s amusing that David Lamb, the show’s creator, went to law school (what is it with lawyers and the arts?) and got something out of a little networking:

“Platanos & Collard Greens” concerns itself with the tension between the African-American and Latino communities in New York and the overwhelming majority of men and women who go to see it, some over and over, are nonwhites.

In its ethos and sentiment, the play rests somewhere between a civics lesson and Howard Finster’s folk art. Mr. Lamb doesn’t traffic in the imperatives of angry reproach. “Platanos & Collard Greens” is a simplistic morality tale rendered in cheerful tones, a look at the refraction of racial prejudice from one minority group to another, and a primer in how best to curtail pernicious stereotype.

The story, some of which is told in belabored hip-hop rhymes, revolves around a group of ambitious students at Hunter College, an election for student body president and a chaste love affair between a young African-American man and Dominican woman whose mother disapproves of the relationship. Mr. Lamb removes the potentially complicating factor of class so that the mother’s criticism of her daughter’s boyfriend is rooted purely in the color of his skin. Hard working, the boy comes from a well-educated family. The mother, in denial of her own African roots, is the sort of woman who admonishes her daughter to stay out of the sun so as not to look like “those Haitians.”

The particulars of the storyline have made the play quite popular on college campuses, where Mr. Lamb is typically asked to stage it at the invitation of student minority groups. In the past few years, “Platanos & Collard Greens” has been produced at more than 100 colleges and universities across the country, including Princeton, Cornell and Wesleyan.

A graduate of Hunter College himself, Mr. Lamb grew up in a housing project in Queens before going on to graduate work at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton and later to New York University, where he studied law. It was at N.Y.U. that he began writing hip-hop fiction, self-publishing a novel “Do Platanos Go Wit’ Collard Greens?” in 1995 after he finished studying for the bar. Soon after the book was completed, Mr. Lamb was asked to talk to students at a public high school in the city where conflict had developed between African-American and Puerto Rican students on one side and newly arrived Dominican immigrants on the other. Eventually, the book became part of the curriculum of a handful of alternative schools in New York; Mr. Lamb was a popular speaker.

The teenagers he encountered, Mr. Lamb and his wife Jamillah, explained, introducing “Platanos” to its audience at the 400-seat Gould Hall Sunday afternoon, began expressing a wish to see the characters in the novel come to life. With no theatrical experience at all, Mr. Lamb — then working as a lawyer for a low-income housing fund — and Jamillah, a banker, invested $20,000 of their own to stage the play at the Producers Club four years ago.

“Platanos & Collard Greens” wears its allegiance to political solidarity obligatorily, like a host who inquires after the health of his dinner guests when all he wants to do is pour the wine and ladle the dirt. Mr. Lamb surely believes on some level that ending factionalism in the inner city could help to put to rest the afflictions that degrade it. But it is the idea of racial harmony as a lifestyle choice — a lot easier than the alternative, and considerably more fun — that compels him instead.

His inspiration for the story, he said recently, came not from any personal experience with the kind of relationship he depicts. It came instead from his internship during college for Representative José E. Serrano, the Bronx Democrat, then a state assemblyman. When the two men met, Mr. Serrano remembered the name Lamb as belonging to someone he fondly recalled from middle school. Mr. Serrano, as it happened, had known Mr. Lamb’s uncle. And from that point on, Mr. Lamb said, he recognized congeniality as the best preparation for riding the currents through which life might carry you.

Some law-related stuff of interested:

Linda Greenhouse on how the Ch.J. Roberts era seems to be about slowly overturning precedence. What it may mean — well, we live interesting times, don’t we?

Edward Lazarus’ Findlaw article on J. Ginsburg’s – umm – interesting year on the US Supreme Court in the Ch.J. Roberts era.

Prof. Anthony Sebok about the screwy cases
of the ALJ in D.C. who’s suing the dry cleaners and Judge Bork suing the Yale Club for his personal injury. He articulates very well why those two cases are just so irritating:

We can now see what makes these two cases so frustrating: The legal issues they raise are relatively simple–a dry cleaner should return pants brought to them by a client; a private club should offer a reasonably safe means to access a lectern to members of the public. Yet what makes the cases themselves hard is that the circumstantial evidence suggests that the plaintiffs may well be misrepresenting important pieces of information–pieces of information that, if conceded them from the outset, would have made each lawsuit so simple that it would either never have been brought, or would have been settled quickly for a modest amount.

The problem is that there is no way to decide ex ante whether any of the parties to these lawsuits are telling the truth. That’s why we have trials. Yet many people, myself included, feel very frustrated when confronted with suits like Pearson’s and Bork’s because we suspect that the plaintiffs are knowingly taking advantage of the American litigation system’s clumsy insistence on trying factual claims, rather than allowing “common sense” to dispose of cases like these. (Common sense would likely give Pearson the cost of the pinstriped suit, give Bork a fairly modest sum for his injury, and leave it at that.)

Why do litigants exaggerate or misrepresent the truth in pleadings? The obvious answer is that, until a statement is made under oath, there is little or no penalty for doing so. Statements made in the course of litigation are privileged – that is, they cannot be the basis of a defamation claim; the only legal consequence that can arise would be a difficult-to-prove charge of perjury. This is, as every lawyer knows, “the real world” of litigation. Hyperbole and trumped-up claims are tactical maneuvers that set out the furthest reaches of a litigant’s negotiating position when it comes to settlement, and everyone, in theory, is supposed to know that.

The problem, however, is that the real world of litigation has produced a situation where it can take a lot of time and money to cut through all the bluster that makes up so much of a plaintiff’s initial allegations. The Chungs had to spend thousands of dollars whittling Pearson’s case down to its real core. Now, they will have spend thousands more attempting to prove that Pearson is a liar In turn, the Yale Club will have to spend thousands challenging Bork’s claim that he should be able to collect $1 million in punitive and compensatory damages, before his lawsuit is finally reduced to the minor slip and fall case that seems to lie at its core.

The fact that plaintiffs and defendants can use lies and exaggerations tactically in litigation may seem commonplace to lawyers, but I think the public is right to be irate when they see these tactics being used, in particular, by judges who choose to become litigants. The public is upset, I think, because they expect judges to be part of the solution to the problem of dishonest litigants, not part of the problem. They expect – reasonably so – that judges should set a high standard, not lower themselves to the level of the typical litigant.

The civil justice system can only work if litigants monitor themselves, refraining from exploiting the system’s slow and clumsy mechanisms for ferreting out claims that are not true. By refusing to keep their claims and damage demands to a minimum that reflects the true core of their cases, Judges Pearson and Bork help erode public confidence in the civil justice system and weaken the very institution they swore to uphold.

Last, but not least out of my zany mind, I was poking around YouTube, which led to finding a Muppet Wiki. Can’t vouch for the articles, but love the pictures… Okay, I need to really get a life.