April 15th, 2014

Passover and the Boston Marathon Bombing

Exterior, Kings County Supreme Court (Brooklyn) — Photo credit, me.

Once again, a confluence of two seemingly unrelated events. On the one hand, today is the first day of Passover. On the other, it is the one year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing.

Passover celebrates breaking away from tyranny and bondage and the establishment of freedom and the rule of law. While celebrated by Jews, we recognize its universal symbolism. So too do others, as we see the Ten Commandments displayed in courthouses around the country as an example of one of the first descriptions of written law.

The bombing, by contrast, represents both anarchy and totalitarianism. Anarchy from the acts of violence themselves, and (to the extent news stories are accurate that this was an act of militant Islamism) the use of that anarchy to promote theocracies where religion reigns supreme and freedom is restricted.

I have a place in my heart for the Boston Marathon, having been privileged to run it in 2009 and again in 2012. This year it is run with a still-fresh wound, despite the brave faces many victims wear.

But this will not be the first time a marathon is run in the wake of a terror attack.

In 2001 the NYC Marathon was run just two months after the World Trade Center fell, and the fires were still burning. As we crested the Verazzano Bridge at the one mile mark of the race’s dramatic start, you could see the hole in the downtown skyline.

There were some that didn’t show up to run that year, concerned over reports in the week before the race that a bridge was the next suspected target. Rumors and fear ruled the day.

But 25,000 did show up. And the streets were teeming with people that day for a massive public event for which adequate protection could not be assured. And the reason for the lack of protection was simple, if you want to live in a free society, you can’t “protect” 26 miles of roadway through the streets of New York.

We knew that back then. People with guns or backpacks with bombs could emerge from the crowd of 2 million at any time. Runners and spectators alike had bulls eyes on their chests. But it was important to be there and to celebrate New York and to say that we would not live our lives in fear. Cowering was not an option.

BostonStrongAnd it will be important again next Monday when the 118th Boston Marathon is run. The crowds will be thick and the runners stoked, with each participant — runners, volunteers and spectator alike — tossing caution to the wind to be there. They know that others will be watching them on this great stage.

The police will try to protect parts of the race course, of course, as they do in New York and all major sporting events. But the reality is that the security is a thin veneer. There is always a way in a free society to wage an attack.

Freedom is like that. It is hard to gain, as recent events show in the Middle East and now Ukraine. In biblical times it took us 40 years of wandering in the desert to get there.

It’s easy to become complacent about freedom and to take it for granted when there is no challenge to it.

But when the challenges to freedom come — and terror attacks are certainly such challenges — it feels good to see people willing to put themselves out there to celebrate it, and thereby protect it. Spectators will, quite literally, be manning the barricades.

Cowering is not an option. #BostonStrong

 

November 12th, 2013

Running, Lawyering and The Great Stage

Collins-Stops-843x1024I’m going to weave together six different stories today, some dealing with running, some with lawyering, but all leading to the same place. Trust me on this, I have a point to make.

We start on October 6th at the finish line of the Paine to Pain Trail Half Marathon, where Matt Collins — a person you’ve never heard of, and in a story that’s never appeared anyplace but a blog —  stopped dead in his tracks just steps from the finish line. And he waited for #2 and #3 to pass him before he walked across the finish line. It seemed that the guy who ultimately won had taken a wrong turn in the woods and was followed by #2. Collins was 3rd at the time, called them back as he took the lead, and then waited at the finish for the other guys to finish ahead of him.

On a very popular running forum, Collins was excoriated by some for not having grabbed first place. But this is not a race with a cash prize; people run for fun, health and personal glory. He didn’t feel like he deserved it as he wasn’t the fastest runner that day, and that was good enough for him. While the stage was rather small given the number of onlookers, a few people appreciated this act of extraordinary sportsmanship.

Move on to story 2 and the NYC Marathon — a vastly bigger stage — and another runner you’ve have never heard of, Mike Cassidy. He’s what we call a “sub-elite.” He’ll blow the socks off you in any regional race, but isn’t Olympic caliber. He’s not the guy who gets the sponsorships. That would be a guy like his hero, Meb Keflezighi  – 2004 Olympic silver medalist and 2009 winner of the NYC Marathon.

Meb — he’s always just Meb — was having an off day due to a series of injuries.  And when elite athletes have an off day they usually just drop out so that they can come back sooner in another race and not risk further injury. But Meb kept going.  And Cassidy caught up to his hero three miles before the dramatic Central Park finish.

Cassidy-KeflezighiR-NYCmar13Look at the picture to your left. As Cassidy recounts in extraordinary race report:

This is the type of moment you only dream about. The scene had played out in my mind countless times before: me, having the race of my life, gracefully passing Meb in Central Park en route to a stunning victory. It’s one of those wild fantasies that get you through the solitary 7 am 10 milers.

As I eased up on his shoulder, I looked over and said, “Let’s go Meb.”

He responded, promptly picking up his pace and we entered Central Park at 90th Street, shoulder to shoulder. The next three miles were the most surreal I have ever experienced.  “Let’s finish this together,” he said.

In recounting the experience of running with Meb through the closing miles, jammed with screaming fans, he said:

It was like getting to play basketball with Michael Jordan. Only it was Game 7 of the NBA Finals and he had just passed me the ball.

Why did Meb keep going?  Once more from Cassidy’s amazing write-up:

It was readily apparent that all the stories I’d heard about Meb’s remarkable attitude were true.

As we entered Central Park at Columbus Circle, I turned to Meb and told him as much. “It’s an honor to run with you,” I said.

His response is something I’ll never forget.

“No,” he said. “Today is not about us. It’s about representing New York. It’s about representing Boston. It’s about representing the USA and doing something positive for our sport. We will finish this race holding hands.”

Meb knew. People were watching.

Now story 3, we turn to lawyering and back to the smaller stage. Last week I wrote about the death of the anonymous Editor of Blawg Review, who everyone knew simply as Ed. Ed. worked behind the scenes. He was known, at least in this digital incarnation, only to a group of law bloggers and some of their readers. But he influenced us and how we wrote, and created a forum in which to celebrate quality, and not the marketing pablum that some try to pass off as blogging. Ed. was respected for what he was doing in his Blawg Review project, as is evident from all the stories posthumously written about him. People were watching.

Now story 4: I wrote in unflattering terms the other day about the tactics a lawyer used when suing Red Bull for $85M, in a case dealing with the death of someone that drank the stuff while playing basketball. I was less than charmed about his decision to place a monetary amount in the complaint when that tactic is not permitted in New York. The headlines all dealt with the money, instead of dealing with the safety of the product. And when we talk about newspaper headlines, we are most assuredly back on the big stage. People were watching.

Child's eyesStory 5: It came across social media like so many other viral videos do, this one dealing with how children reacted to same-sex marriage, by having them watch various same-sex marriage proposals. Everyone wanted to see how kids react. It’s been viewed, so far, over seven million times.

But if you thought about it, it wasn’t really about the kids. It was about the parents, because kids mostly just mirror what the parental units do and say. If kids are accepting, you can bet the parents are also. If a kid is a raging bigot — regardless of whether it’s about sexual orientation, race or religion — you can place a pretty good bet where it came from. The stage inside your home is as small as it gets. But the kids are watching.

Story 6: I tried a case in September, and every so often a lawyer or two would filter in and out of the courtroom on unrelated business. Last week I got a call from one of them who’d seen one particular cross-exam, and he wanted a copy of the transcript to use to teach a class of students. An audience of one just grew. Someone was watching, other than those required to do so.

The Point: We don’t always know how big our audience is: It may be a few people standing around a finish line, or jammed sidewalks and national television for the  NYC Marathon, or newspaper readers or “just” our kids. But people are always watching and listening (and I don’t just mean the NSA — “the only part of government that actually listens“).

When I select juries, I know that whatever opinions the 30 people sitting in the room  are going to form about lawyers will be directly impacted by the few things they hear from us. In doing so, I am always confronted by the entrenched attitudes some folks have because of the conduct of lawyers and news stories that came before.

We cannot view our conduct in isolation as it oft times impacts others.

This is something to think about with each bit of marketing a lawyer does, with every interaction with a client or potential client, and any interaction with the press. People are watching. And listening. And it matters.

 

May 2nd, 2013

The “New Normal” After Boston?

In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, I wrote down some of my thoughts about the event (Boston Marathon Bombing — And the Lives We Lead), since the race is one of my favorites.  One of those thoughts, at the end, was this:

Some psychotic(s) want to affect the rest of us by terrorism. But I’m not interested in losing my fond memories, or stopping the creation of new ones.

This guest post below addresses that very theme; it was an essay written by my running club president Steven Stein for our weekly newsletter, which went out last night.  Last weekend he ran a race in Central Park and noticed that things had changed. A lot.

Since Stein grew up outside the U.S. he brings a perspective different than most to the concepts of freedom and security. It is reprinted here with his permission:
——————————————

SecuityScreeningSign1It was a clear, crisp, beautiful spring day. 7:50 a.m. on a Sunday morning and New York City was just beginning to wake and stretch. The drive into Manhattan from New Rochelle was quick and uneventful, and I parked in my usual parking lot on 66th Street just a short block walk from Central Park.

Everything was familiar and normal. The temperature was in the low 50’s and I decided there was no need to check a bag for the race. This decision was made in part due to the pleasant temperature as well as a warning from New York road Runners that new security measures had been put in place since 4/15/2013, the Boston Marathon.

As I headed up the parking lot ramp onto the street, I saw the normal flurry of activity on the streets. Runners with their race bibs pinned to their shirts were scurrying towards the park. Parents were leisurely pushing strollers towards the park. In fact, everyone I saw on the streets seemed to be gravitating towards the park on this sun filled morning. A perfectly normal spring day in New York City.

I entered the park on Central Park West and 67th Street, by Tavern on the Green. This is when I first encountered the New Normal. A Security Checkpoint! No entry without being asked to show contents of your bag, including the contents of my Spi Running Belt strapped around my waste.

Mixed emotions. I was happy that there were new security measures in place to keep us all safe.  Then I thought; “will I ever be able to walk into the Park without being subjected to a security search? Is this New Normal just applicable to events in the Park, or are these permanent measures?

A few hundred yards into the park, I saw a young guy looking inside his backpack on a park bench. Did he go through security screening? Should I tell someone I saw a backpack? What did this guy look like? Should I remember his face? What is the new normal? What are the rules? Why is a perfectly normal morning being spoiled by these abnormal thoughts?

PortoPotty SecurityAs I made my way deeper into the park, in the distance I saw the normal long line of Porta Potties. Good thing they are still at the race. Something’s normal. But as I got closer, I saw that the New Normal included a checkpoint to get into the Porta Potty Area. A big Yellow sign read Security Screening Area. 

I looked left, and I saw a NYC Police security crane with a security booth lofted 40 – 50 feet into the air with cameras pointed in every direction. Another Big yellow security signs read. Attention: Due to Enhanced Security Measures, Baggage Will Only Be Accepted In The Provided Clear Bags.  Another New Normal. The $25 New Balance red backpack I purchased last summer specifically for race-day will now lie unused in my closet at home.

This was my first organized race since April 15th, and the National Anthem took on a deeper, more meaningful meaning than ever before, as I thought about those who lost their lives and those who were badly injured in Boston. I thought about the land of the free and the home of the brave, and how thankful I was to be living in the greatest nation in the world. The word Free stuck around in my mind for quite some time. Are we becoming prisoners in our own free land?

The race itself was as normal as it ever was. Crowded in the beginning and then it opened up after the first half mile. After the race I walked over to the post-race festival, set up to support lung cancer research and awareness through the Thomas G. Labrecque Foundation. In its 10thyear, the event was founded in honor of former Chase Manhattan Bank chairman and CEO Thomas G. Labrecque, who died of lung cancer at age 62. Labrecque was the model of good health and a non-smoker all his life.

Another security checkpoint to get into the festival area on Ramsey Field!

As I made my way back to the parking lot on West 66th street, my thoughts turned back to the New Normal. Is this just a knee-jerk reaction? Are the organizers and security professionals worried about copy cats? Was this a reaction to an isolated incident in Boston, or should we be expecting these events on a more frequent basis? Will security measures be eased any time soon?

Whatever the answer, there is a New Normal. Just like 9/11 changed forever the way we fly, the way we travel, and the way we enter buildings, the Boston Bombings have changed the way we gather and congregate for our organized races.  We say we will not be defeated, we will not be terrorized. But they have already changed what is normal, and enforced a new, less free normal existence upon us. What is the right balance between being prudent, protecting a crowd from a repeat incident v.s. being free and not thinking about such threats all the time?

I grew up in a country where we left our front doors open when I was a young kid. As the country became more and more riddled with crime, most houses installed burglar alarms. Soon alarms were supplemented with burglar bars on every window, then a security gate on each exterior door, and in no time high fences and walls surrounded most residential properties, then electrified fences were installed, and each neighborhood had a private security company on call to protect you as you arrived home and walked you to your front door.

Ten years went by and we realized we were living in our own fortresses. Free in our own self-created prisons. With each security feature added, at first it was uncomfortable, but we soon got used to it and it was normal.  But when one looked back at the open doors with no gates and no alarms to the prison we had created for ourselves, it was an enormous change.

My point – although I do not have a solution, lets be prudent about what security measures we put in place, let’s be safe, let’s rely on the security professionals and law enforcement to protect us, but let’s be careful not to imprison ourselves in our own free country.

 

April 19th, 2013

What Does A Smile Mean? (Updated x2)

Jeff Bauman in the hospital after the Boston Marathon bombing

Jeff Bauman in the hospital after the Boston Marathon bombing

Jeff Bauman is in the picture to the right. He is in the news right now because he had the great misfortune of being near one of the Boston Marathon bombs.

In the picture Bauman is smiling and giving a thumb’s up. He is also missing both of his legs. Actor Bradley Cooper is to the left and New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (who tweeted the picture) is to the right.

As soon as he woke up in the hospital, he asked for pen and paper to write that he saw the bomber and then went on to help the FBI.

I bring this smile photo up today because, over the years, I’ve covered several rulings by courts that deal with defense attorneys asking to fish through the Facebook and other social media sites of plaintiffs. They ask to fish because the plaintiff is smiling in a photo and claim that the smile is inconsistent with suffering.

Here are two examples: In Davids v. Novartis,  drug-maker Novartis went fishing on the basis of a smile in a photograph and Magistrate Judge Williams D. Wall slapped it down, writing, “is not clear to the court, one picture of Plaintiff smiling does not contradict her claim of suffering, nor is it sufficient evidence to warrant a further search into Plaintiff’s account.”

By contrast, a Suffolk County judge permitted access to Facebook based on the same theory, writing in Romano v. Steelcase:

In this regard, it appears that plaintiff’s public profile page on Facebook shows her smiling happily in a photograph outside the confines of her home despite her claim that she has sustained permanent injuries and is largely confined to her house and bed. (see also, in contrast,  Eric Goldman’s commentary on the Romano photo)

Perhaps future courts will take note of the picture of Bauman, with a smile and a thumb’s up, to note that a smile in a snapshot does not magically mean everything is well.

As Bauman makes abundantly clear in this picture, people can smile for a multitude of reasons. It may be because they are happy to be alive. Or because someone said something humorous, even at a funeral. Or simply because of instinct when someone lifts a camera and hollers, “Say cheese.”

Judges and practitioners, please take note.

Heather Abbott, of Newport, R.I., is wheeled into a news conference past members of the media, behind, at Brigham and Women's Hospital, in Boston, Thursday, April 25, 2013. Abbott underwent a below the knee amputation during surgery on her left leg following injuries she sustained at the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)Updated (4/26/13) – Another smile, this time from bombing victim Heather Abbott. One week after the bombing, she had her leg amputated. Prior attempts to surgically repair the leg had failed.

Three days after the amputation she appeared at a press conference. And smiled. You can see her expression here.

A smile may mean many things.

Updated June 24, 2013: People Magazine ran a cover photo in its June 11, 2013 edition — three amputees, three brave smiles. If a defendant tries to claim a smile in a photograph means the person isn’t injured, just show them this cover.PeopleMagazine-BostonStrong

 

April 17th, 2013

Boston Marathon Bombing (And the Lives We Lead)

Boston Marathon logo 2015I wish I could say that I was shocked by the explosions that rocked the Boston Marathon on Monday. But I wasn’t. Appalled, disgusted, and cringing for others, yes, but shocked, no.

Since 2001 I have long expected that a major road race would eventually be a target. It is, quite frankly, too easy. A 26.2 mile race course is unsecurable. Boston’s marathon has 500,00 spectators and New York has two million. Those spectators are a large part of what makes such events magnificent pieces of urban theatre.

Do the risks of such events mean that we should not create them or participate?

In 2001 the fires were still burning at the wrecked World Trade Center when 25,000 runners stormed over the Verrazano Bridge to start New York. I was one of them. If not for the attack, I would have deferred my entry due to injury. But the thought of canceling vanished from my mind when I learned the race was going forward; it was better to run slowly than not run at all.

Each of us, runner and spectator alike, knew back then that we wore bulls eyes on our shirts. Yet the crowds were as large as I’ve ever seen. It was important to both commemorate those that had been killed as well as the vitality of lives that we had.

If we want to live in a free society we have to accept such risks. The alternative is unacceptable. Since the September 11 attack I’ve run a dozen races with fields of 15,000+  in New York, Boston and Washington DC, the last of which was the Cherry Blossom 10-miler in the capital last week.

The only acceptable response is to continue on with life, to enjoy what you enjoy doing. Cowering is not an option. I don’t believe that the families of those killed and those injured would want to cede freedom to fear.

Boston Marathon finish line in the winter.
Photo credit: Me.

One point on the bombing that I did want to mention: Unless there was a certain significance to the date, I  think New York might have been the original target and that after the race was canceled due to hurricane Sandy the attack was moved to Boston.Why? Because the bombs went off at 4:09 into the race. (That time is based on the first of three waves of runners, each 20 minutes apart.)

While 4:09 would be ahead of the mid-pack of New York (average time in 2009 was 4:24), it is the back end of the pack for Boston runners. That is because the vast majority get into Boston based on strict qualifying times (average finishing time in 2010 was 3:50), while New York stresses a more democratic lottery system. One of the great allures of Boston is not just its age, but the fact that it is merit-based.

Those in the back of the pack, the ones mostly affected here, were running for charities or sponsors, who didn’t get in based on the swiftness of their legs.

The timing of the bombs is significant because they not only affect those in the immediate vicinity (mostly spectators), but they create city-wide chaos since an army of people are still running toward the spots when it happens.

Attacking the back of the Boston race is much different than attacking the front of New York. While in Boston 17,000 had already finished the race from a starting field of 23,000, in New York most would have been behind the bombing and the starting field would have been almost 50,000. Instead of six thousand Boston runners, it would have been tens of thousands of New York runners. Trying to stop such an event on the fly is a daunting concept, to say the least. And reconnecting each of these people to items that they had checked in bags at the start (hotel keys, car keys, phones to connect with family, money for transportation, etc.) would be a logistical nightmare.

On a final note, the graphic I choose to use here is not one of blood and fear, but a simple photo of the finish line that I shot in December 2008 out the hotel window of the Charlesmark Hotel that sits over the finish line. I wish to remember the excitement that leads up to running one of these races and to remember Boston as I had run it the first time.

Some psychotic(s) want to affect the rest of us by terrorism. But I’m not interested in losing my fond memories, or stopping the creation of new ones.

Remember those killed and injured. Honor them in a manner that you believe is appropriate. Then lace up the sneakers and go for a run, and live the life that you want to lead regardless of those that wish to stand in the way.