Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Lawyers and Judges in Harmony

I will admit it. Some of my best friends are doctors. On occasion we argue about our respective professions. We get into these silly comparisons about who works harder and who contributes more to society's well-being. And when we get into discussions about California's MICRA legislation, misnamed the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, I sometimes feel like ripping a stethoscope from around someone's neck and putting it to an unintended use. The doctor says, "It keeps medical costs down by limiting unwarranted damages in malpractice suits." I argue that for over three decades it has frozen non-economic damages to a mere $250,000, despite a precipitous rise in the consumer price index. I posit that this cap on damages means the greater the doctor's negligence, the less damages he or his insurance carrier pays.

And then the conversation may degenerate into something about doctors bringing life into the world, and lawyers seeking either the imposition of the death penalty (bad thing) or defending murderers (also a bad thing). I had such a discussion with a doctor a while ago. The "bringing life into the world" topic took a turn into a discussion of childbirth. My doctor "friend" told me that women deserve recognition as true heroines for bearing the burden and pain of childbirth. Who’s going to argue with that? But when she implied that males were wimps, I pointed out that male sea horses carry the eggs of the young and give birth to them. Can you believe that she considered that undeniable fact “the most ridiculous rebuttal” she had ever heard?

And then she made an accusation, which was in fact a disguised inquiry. "I bet this winds up in your column." You would think I had nothing more important to write about. And then she criticized my column for starting out in one place and ending up in an entirely unexpected place. Can you believe it?

But it doesn’t bother me. We judges are used to criticism. Law professors and so-called legal observers relentlessly search for so-called “flaws” in the reasoning of our carefully wrought decisions. And higher courts, well, I guess they are entitled to their opinions. But splashes of disapproval evaporate like morning dew as the sun rises. We don’t take it personally… well, not that personally.

My dissatisfied doctor was too close to her profession to see that MICRA was in need of revision. Her attack on my column reflected a narrow worldview. She yearned for topics that in her limited experience were related. She obviously lacked the insight to see connections that were beyond her ken. What I am saying here is that not everybody “gets it.” If some ignoramus doesn’t… -oh, never mind. Strike the preceding sentence and disregard it in your deliberations about this column. I simply think we should expand our perceptions of the world and periodically question our values. When we challenge the established norm, or even what is politically correct, we may discover something new, the unexpected.

I suppose too many people are locked in their cozy little boxes of the familiar and the conventional. The composer Igor Stravinsky accurately described the phenomena when it comes to modern music. He said that when people remark that they know what they like, they really mean they like what they know. When I related this relevant comment to my doctor friend, she bragged about the doctors symphony. What is there to brag about? The Los Angeles Doctors Symphony admits in its website that its players are not all doctors. Some are veterinarians, and many have never even seen a doctor. Christian Scientists are welcome. How can you call that a doctors symphony?

Speaking of music, that brings me to lawyers. I will make the connection in due course. But, first, I want the record to reflect that I truly like and admire lawyers, judges, and doctors, even if now and then they criticize my column or my opinions. I explained to my doctor friend that lawyers are often castigated when they should be praised. Take for example the Watergate break-in that brought about the resignation of President Richard Nixon. People remarked that many lawyers were involved in the Watergate incident and its cover-up. Yes, but lawyers brought the wrongdoers to justice.

I have heard business people complain that lawyers are obstructionists who lack the creativity to see the beauty of a business deal they work out. “We set up this perfect series of transactions only to have them screwed up by the lawyers.” These blockheads fail to realize that the lawyer’s suggested revisions brought the transaction into compliance with the law and, it is hoped, will avert lawsuits.

Lawyers are creative and resourceful. Their talents extend beyond the law. I am impressed that a proctologist may play the bassoon in the doctors symphony, but I am in awe when Administrative Law Judge Stuart Waxman plays tympani drums in the Los Angeles Lawyers Philharmonic. And in this lawyers symphony all his fellow musicians are connected to the legal profession. Judges Mary Thornton House and Helen Bendix are in the viola section. Retired Judge Aviva Bobb plays in the first violin section. Many of the lawyers and judges in the orchestra received their musical training at such institutions as Julliard, the New England Conservatory of Music, and the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California.

It is hard to believe this outstanding legal-musical aggregation of some 75 musicians did not exist until just a few years ago. Please note the connection to Stravinsky and music mentioned a few paragraphs ago. The orchestra owes its existence to its dynamic conductor, Gary Greene also an attorney.

Gary's uncle, renowned Dr. Ernst Katz, had formed the famed Junior Philharmonic a long, long time ago. How long? The year of my birth let's leave it at that. Gary, who was the concert master for the Junior Philharmonic, became its conductor when his uncle died in 2009. Taking over the revered Junior Philharmonic and practicing law afforded Gary a huge block of time, at least five or six seconds, to form the Los Angeles Lawyers Philharmonic. Apparently, Gary does not sleep.

An ad he placed in the paper in 2009, "Musicians Wanted," produced requests for auditions, many of which took place in his law office. When Gary's secretary stuck her head in the waiting room and said, "Mr. Greene will see you now," a probate lawyer, encircled by a tuba, put down his Daily Journal and went in for his audition.

In a mere two and a half years, the Los Angeles Lawyers Philharmonic has given over 24 concerts in such prestigious venues as Disney Hall, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and the Greystone Mansion. Their recent performance at Disney Hall of the IV Presto movement of Beethoven's "Ninth," with the debut of the 100 voice choir, Legal Voices, won a unanimous verdict of praise from the audience, which included opposing counsel in a sold out performance. It is reported that immediately after the concert, 281 cases settled in the foyer.

The orchestra's executive director is Gary's daughter, Debra, a radio news reporter, who has won two Edward R. Murrow awards and the Mark Twain award from the Associated Press. She, who is also a talented violinist in the Junior Philharmonic, manages all aspects of the Lawyers Philharmonic, including publicity, and produces its many concerts. I don't think she sleeps either. Yet, she and Gary are always wide-awake. Mmmm. Could be something in their DNA.

Gary has more verve, more power than any other musical director anywhere. He stands on a podium looking down at lawyers and judges and tells them when they are out of tune, and orders them to pick up the tempo, or to play softer, or not to play at all. Pardon the injudicious comment, but I like our lawyers symphony better than the doctors symphony. Nevertheless, some of my best friends are doctors. Well, at least this column has ended where it began.

No comments: