Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Year in Review, 2007.

Places I've experienced this year (in no particular order):

1. Maui, Hawaii (biking a 10,000 foot volcano, snorkeling Lanai, and whale watching);

2. Montego Bay, Jamaica (ATVing in a jungle);

3. Belize City, Belize (snorkeling);

4. Merida, Mexico (climbing Mayan ruins);

5. Phoenix, Arizona (deposing a recalcitrant witness who pled the 5th throughout);

6. San Jose, California (lecturing);

7. San Francisco, California (lecturing);

8. San Diego, California (sailing);

9. Cozumel, Mexico (snorkeling and riding dune buggies);

10. George Town, Grand Cayman (snorkeling and swimming with stingrays);

11. Laughlin, Nevada (wave running);

12. Acapulco, Mexico (kayaking);

13. Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa, Mexico (snorkeling and wave running);

14. Manzanillo, Mexico (swimming and touring banana farm and other sights);

15. Galveston, Texas (sailing and sightseeing);

16. Seattle, Washington (visiting family); and

17. Portland, Oregon (visiting family).

Books I've read this year (in no particular order):

1. The Assault on Reason by Al Gore (one part insightful analysis of how television, for example, ruins the American political process and other parts anti-Bush screed that bespeak sour grapes);

2. The Truth With Jokes by Al Franken (funny book that exposes disappointing manipulation by those in power);

3. Outrage by Dick Morris and Eileen McGann (foments multifaceted causes for outrage about American politics but little more);

4. Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck (explains how the suburban design benefits cars but not people);

5. Portofino by Frank Schaeffer (semi-autobiographical novel that should be read in tandem with Crazy for God, below);

6. Crazy for God by Frank Schaeffer (eye-opening if not eye-popping insight into those involved in the religious right and evangelical circles through Frank Schaeffer's experiences);

7. God's Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America by Hanna Rosin (reviewed here earlier [for prior reviews simply type in book title into "search blog" box in upper left-hand corner of this blog]);

8. Death Benefit by David Heilbroner (reviewed here earlier);

9. Rough Justice: Days and Nights of a Young D.A. by David Heilbroner (reviewed here earlier);

10. A Mormon in the White House? by Hugh Hewitt (polemic for Presidential candidate Mitt Romney);

11. Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris (reviewed here earlier);

12. The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferriss (reviewed here earlier);

13. The Secret by Rhonda Byrne (reviewed here earlier);

14. The Operator: David Geffen Builds, Buys, and Sells the New Hollywood by Thomas R. King (reviewed here earlier);

15. DisneyWar by James B. Stewart (reviewed here earlier);

16. Den of Thieves by James B. Stewart (reviewed here earlier);

17. Blood Sport by James B. Stewart (reviewed here earlier);

18. Goldman Sachs: The Culture of Success by Lisa Endlich (wordy discussion of Goldman Sachs that reads more like a dry history text than a business text explaining how these leaders created an enviable corporate juggernaut);

19. The Monk and the Riddle: The Education of a Silicon Valley Entrepreneur by Randy Komisar with Kent Lineback (reviewed here earlier);

20. Confessions of a Street Addict by Jim Cramer (reviewed here earlier);

21. Pursuit of Happyness by Chris Gardner with Quincy Trope and Mim Eichler Rivas (reviewed here earlier);

22. Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser (reviewed here earlier);

23. g-d is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens (angry, but well-written book that is more an indictment of organized religions than of God, which are not necessarily coterminous); and

24. Before You Quit Your Job by Robert T. Kiyosaki with Sharon L. Lechter (quasi-schizophrenic book where one co-author [Kiyosaki] essentially promotes entrepreneurship as an end where failures are embraced and one takes a more measured approach endorsing prudent, planned entrepreneurship).

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


On holiday, I saw what appeared to be a sweet, elderly couple.

On closer examination, I had to drop the "sweet" adjective.

The grandmother wore a shirt that said, "It's So Cute How You Think I'm Listening."

The grandfather wore a shirt that said, "Do I Look Like Someone Who Cares?"

Glad they coordinated their outfits that day.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Switching Sides.

I've had a few nicknames over the years. When I toiled in a law firm that represented corporations sued for a variety of reasons, often wrongful termination, I garnered "Case-Killer" from my colleagues. The moniker emanated from a particularly fortunate string of defense victories, i.e. getting lawsuits dismissed long before a jury could ever hear about them.

In my current practice, we represent a balance of plaintiffs and defendants. My last few trials have been on the plaintiff side, but my latest allowed me to "switch sides" and represent a corporate defendant. Another time I wrote about here: and here:

This trial never got started.

Before my involvement, this corporation had lost a proceeding before the Labor Commissioner. The claimant was awarded a sum north of a quarter of a million dollars against the corporation.

Enter the case-killer. I filed a Notice of Appeal for the corporation, which in this labor law context means that the Commissioner's award is vacated and the matter is to be tried anew in the Superior Court.

Shortly after filing the Notice, I served some surgical requests for admission. In these requests, I asked that the claimant admit he was never an employee of my client. I also asked him to admit that even if he was an employee, he converted any such status to one of independent contractor for the period of the unpaid wage claim. I additionally asked him to admit that for the services he allegedly performed for the corporation were defective and caused the corporation more than five million dollars of damages. He failed to respond to these requests.

As a result, I brought a motion to deem the requests admitted. The court granted the motion about a month before trial.

The Friday before the Monday trial (12/10/07) I filed a motion in limine (Latin for "at the threshold") asking the court to prevent the claimant from introducing any evidence or argument and to enter judgment for my client, the corporate defendant. I reasoned that admissions conclusively established that the claimant could never make his case (because under California Supreme Court authority only employees can recover wage claims like the one he brought), and therefore, any information or argument that he would offer at trial would be irrelevant and inadmissible.

We showed up for trial, and I asked the court to rule on my motion in limine, which I said would obviate the need for any trial. The court read the motion and granted it. As he granted it, the claimant addressed the judge directly, claiming that he had a written employment agreement and that the corporation's SEC filings stated he was an employee. The judge said none of that was germane, as it had already been conclusively established he was not an employee and that eliminated a necessary predicate for his claim. The claimant continued to plead with the judge until finally the bailiff had to step in and tell the claimant he lost and it was over. A quarter of a million dollar award had just evaporated into thin air.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Book Review: God's Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America.

Washington Post writer Hanna Rosin's God's Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America is a political book.

First, it's political in the traditional sense. For example, according to Ms. Rosin's account, Patrick Henry College's ["PHC"] primary mission is to create Christian politicians (p. 16) to "save America" as the subtitle suggests.

However, the tome questions whether its George W. Bush clones or wannabees would save the nation. Rosin's text holds its students, administrators and faculty (for the most part) up to ridicule. Rosin's political bias makes clear that she thinks a school producing such politicians and other "culture warriors" would not save but sink the nation. As support, I offer this telling quote from one of Rosin's friends: "If they're all like her [one of the PHC students who lived with Rosin's family], we're in trouble." (p. 8.)

In addition to the troubling "us v. them" dichotomy, this snippet (which Rosin repeated in a brief interview on NPR) evidences a fear of these folks, no matter how pleasant they may seem. Rosin fans these flames suggesting her readers should be afraid of these accomplished students and their school. Chapter Six's "Go For Christ!" rally cry in the course of a political campaign couldn't have sounded the alarm of a marriage of Evangelicalism and Republicanism more loudly.

The book is political in other senses too. Rosin's work explores gender politics, school politics and the "politics of dancing" at PHC. Rosin seems to fixate on gender roles, dress codes and codes of conduct as if those somehow define "God's Harvard."

In diverting on these tangents, the book fails to deliver on its potential, much like Gary Coleman's current career. I hoped the book would explain whether and how this new institution [PHC] is "God's Harvard." In other words, I wanted this book to show how an "evangelical" college can compete in the rarefied air of this nation's finest universities.

Despite the title, this educational focus eluded the book. Rosin takes easy paths when she, predictably, discusses creationism-believing, home-schooling, movie-viewing predilections of the school's constituencies. The best part of this book unfortunately was never written or edited out of existence.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Gun Smokes.

Our estimated five-day trial lasted five weeks.

The wait was worth its weight in gold. The verdict came in this week: a seven figure award to my client.

According to the verdict, we proved fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of partnership, and elder abuse, among other things.

My closing argument started, "It's rare that a case has the proverbial 'smoking gun.' However, this is one of those cases. In fact, there are 72 smoking guns."

I then pointed to an enlargement of a check made payable to my client (a trust beneficiary), and the reverse evidencing that her name was forged by a person having a fiduciary duty to her and then deposited into a partnership bank account controlled by him. This pattern occurred more than 72 times. This was just part of the financial fraud that we were able to uncover and prove with the assistance of an excellent forensic accountant.

On top of the gratifying result in the form of a verdict, the judge delivered some kind remarks. The court said that on a complexity or difficulty scale this case was a 9.5 out of 10 (10 being most complex), and he was most impressed how we were able to present the case in such an understandable, cogent and persuasive fashion.

In addition to a factual setting spanning over 16 years, this case required a mastery of many different legal issues: tax, probate, trust, partnership, and corporations law, for example. A special challenge: other counsel tried the case a couple of years ago, which ended in a mistrial only after the court expressed extreme skepticism that the plaintiff (who later became my client) could ever establish fraud.

The greatest reward, however, was my 87-year-old widow client giving me a hug at the courthouse after the million-dollar-plus verdict.