September 21st, 2011

The Largest Pro Bono Effort in History

Back on July 1st, I wrote a short piece praising SuperLawyers for writing an article, not just because it was on the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund, but because they actually called me to fact-check my quotes.  This fact-checking is something other media outlets have fallen down on from time to time.

That article is now out: The Largest Pro Bono Effort in History, about the creation of the Fund and Trial Lawyers Care, the pro bono legal effort (1,100 lawyers) that stepped forward to represent people for free.

I think it’s a good read. It sorts through not only the legal issues of the Fund, but also the emotional issues that presented themselves for many New York lawyers that were in town that day who then stepped forward to volunteer with Trial Lawyers Care.

On any given day it’s easy to find political types beating up on lawyers because, as I’ve said many times, when we defend ourselves we usually sound like lawyers. Stories about this massive pro bono reflect the very best of what the profession is capable of, and I was proud to be a (very small) part of it.

Please give the story a read, and if you have your own blog, pass it along as a counterweight to the negative stories that appear. I say that because negative news stories, not just about the law but about everything (“if it bleeds it leads”), are what drives the news business.


September 11th, 2011

September 11. The NYC Marathon. And Vaginas. (Yes, they are related)

I know what you’re  thinking. How can September 11th, the NYC Marathon and vaginas be related? Trust me. They are. And it won’t take long to explain.

When the NYC Marathon was run on the first Sunday in November of  2001, the fires were still burning at the World Trade Center. Rumor and fear filled the headlines, and police reported a potential bomb plot for a bridge that week. And this marathon starts, most famously, on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, in a staggering movement of compacted humanity familiar to even the non-runners of the world.

And you know what? Almost 24,000 people ran it anyway. And two million more lined the streets of New York. Every one exposed themselves to the potential for attack, simply so that they could participate in one of the greatest pieces of urban theatre on the planet, at the heart of the place that was just attacked. It was a great, big “up yours” to those who had hoped to alter the fabric of our freedoms.

As we ran the streets that day we saw fire engines by the side, ladders extended, with banners and firegfighters hanging off them. They cheered for us. And we for them.

But not everybody put their fears aside; in towns, parishes and cities across the land fear was palpable, though Peoria isn’t exactly a high profile target. A huge government-security complex was born, the most infamous of which is the Transportation Security Administration. The TSA has a lousy reputation. It should not surprise anyone. When you stick a tin badge on people there are a certain percentage that are incapable of tempering the exercise of the power they are given.

I have mocked them before for incompetence. As have numerous others. The TSA pat down of a 6-year-old girl was a classic. There’s the Michigan man who was forcibly patted down as he tried to explain such conduct might break the seal on his urostomy bag, and spill urine all over him, which it did.  A 24-year-old woman who’s top was pulled down by an agent in public. Lots of gropingThe ACLU catalogues them, including sexual assaults by TSA agents in public.

Which brings me to vaginas. Most particularly, to Amy Alkon’s vagina. She writes the Advice Goddess blog and, oddly enough, I don’t think she’ll mind me writing about it. Because she already has.

You see Alkon shares the sensibilities of many who believe we, as a nation, over-reacted to the September 11 attack by overly restricting our rights, handing our freedoms to extremists. So at an airport she declined to go through the scanner that allows the TSA to look at your naked image.

And guess what? TSA agent Thedala Magee was, according to Alkon, not amused that someone would show disrespect for her authority and decline the invitation to be scanned. I’ll let Alkon tell her story from here:

Basically, I felt it important to make a spectacle of what they are doing to us, to make it uncomfortable for them to violate us and our rights, so I let the tears come. In fact, I sobbed my guts out. Loudly. Very loudly. The entire time the woman was searching me.

Nearing the end of this violation, I sobbed even louder as the woman, FOUR TIMES, stuck the side of her gloved hand INTO my vagina, through my pants. Between my labia. She really got up there. Four times. Back right and left, and front right and left. In my vagina. Between my labia. I was shocked — utterly unprepared for how she got the side of her hand up there. It was government-sanctioned sexual assault.

Upon leaving, still sobbing, I yelled to the woman, “YOU RAPED ME.” And I took her name to see if I could file sexual assault charges on my return. This woman, and all of those who support this system deserve no less than this sort of unpleasant experience, and from all of us.

And if you think that’s bad, don’t worry. It actually gets worse. Realizing a lawsuit against the TSA would likely go nowhere, Alkon did the next best thing. She published it; e-shaming the TSA and the worker she said assaulted her. Because if TSA workers know they might be humiliated on the web after humiliating a passenger, perhaps some would think twice about abusing that tin badge.

Now this is where it gets ugly, because Thedala Magee, the TSA agent at issue, apparently decided that the best defense is a good offense. Big mistake. She hired a lawyer to threaten Alkon. How stupid is that? Well, the answer is, not nearly as stupid as the lawyer, Vicki Roberts of Santa Monica California, who proceeded to write a letter to Alkon demanding she pay her Magee $500,000. In her letter, published on TechDirt, Roberts somehow thought it would be smart to up the ante and subject her client to national infamy, as opposed to local infamy.

Alkon, in turn, hired First Amendment honcho Marc Randazza who promptly told Magee and Roberts to go shit in a hat and pull it down over their ears, though he was actually even more colorful than that. I don’t want to quote the letter. I want you to read it. It doesn’t take long and it’s well worth the time if you have even a tiny care about liberty. (And when you read that letter, you’ll understand why I want Randazza to be my lawyer.)

So why post this story on the 10th anniversary of the attack? Because it’s not enough that we stay vigilant with respect to potential terror attacks by outsiders, for we must also stay vigilant to civil liberties attacks from those who live here. Perhaps those outside New York City should be watching what those in the city do when they consider stripping down the Bill of Rights and subjecting people to unreasonable searches and seizures.

This weekend New York was on a  high terror alert. What did I do? Yesterday I took my kids to a big crowded area in New York City; we went to see the Mets play at Citi Field, which shares subway and parking lots with the on-going US Open. I would no sooner stay home from that arena than I would from that marathon I ran 10 years ago. Today will be spent with family also, but not in front of the television. Which, my friends, is as it should be.


Female Blogger Threatened With Defamation Suit For Writing About TSA ‘Rape’ (Kashmir Hill @ Forbes)

Complain About Being Sexually Assaulted By A TSA Thug? THEY’LL SUE! (Popehat)

TSA Thug Thedala Magee Threatens Suit (Defending People)

What Makes TSA Agent Thedala Magee So Special? (Simple Justice)

TSA Agent/Alleged Rapist, Thedala Magee, Threatens Blogger with $500,000 Lawsuit (Crime and Federalism)

Two Minutes of Terrorist Triumph: Alone With the TSA (Elie Mystal @ Above the Law)




September 9th, 2011

September 11 –10th Year — New Rochelle

Each year when we get to this point, my keyboard goes silent. I have little to add to the commentary that inundates us. That isn’t criticism.  It’s just that, while I was in Manhattan that day, there are a half million people with more interesting stories to tell and better points to make. And I mean half million part quite literally.

Last  year, my brother was able to add something to the collective cache of September 11 images when he saw migratory birds trapped in the memorial lights. In watching the one minute video he made, now viewed over 65,000 times, it’s impossible not to think of those birds as souls ascending to the heavens.

The only thing I’ve published on the subject, other than articles about the 9/11 lawsuits, is a tribute to Ken Feinberg, who ran the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund. And even that I didn’t publish on September 11, but waited until the day after.

Still, a few weird things still stick in my mind 10 years later, other than the obvious that has played across television screens worldwide:

  • The people eating dinner at sidewalk tables on the Upper East Side late that afternoon;
  • Looking at cars at the train station when I returned to New Rochelle, wondering about their owners;
  • Hearing the on air talent at network television say “Good evening” and “Good morning” when we all knew it wasn’t;
  • Hearing cheery music play at Old Navy the next day as we shopped for kid clothes, because I wasn’t going to pick a jury that day as planned, and I couldn’t bear to watch the television any longer, and acidly asking some salesgirl why there was music playing.

New Rochelle City Hall, setting up for a 10th anniversary silent vigil on September 11.

That isn’t the kind of minutia I would have expected to stay with me. But it has, for whatever reason.  These little tidbits of superficial normality are tucked in there with all the awful images created by people that think deliberately slaughtering innocent people proves some religious point.

As I drove home from the station tonight, I passed New Rochelle’s City Hall. They were in the process of setting out almost 3,000 flags, the type of scene that will be taking place in countless communities. I stopped to snap the photo you see here.

And each of those flags is likely attached to a million stories about a life, a family and a tragedy.

So the only real message is this, I guess, go tell someone you love them, for we never know what tomorrow will bring. Yeah, I know that has been said before. I told you I had nothing original to add. But it is one of those things that is worth repeating.


November 19th, 2010

Massive 9/11 Case Settles as Plaintiffs Meet 95% Threshold

The September 11 suit concerning 10,000 responders and clean-up workers at the World Trade Center settled in June for $712M, with an important provision: At least 95% of the plaintiffs had to agree.

And that has now happened, reports the New York Law Journal.

The plaintiffs lawyers undertook a spectacular risk by taking these cases on, and had to borrow millions of dollars to do it. While critics in the past have looked only at the fees they will earn, few ever look at the risks of failure. A big tip of the hat to Worby Groner Edelman & Napoli Bern for having the cajones to do this.


September 15th, 2010

A 9/11 Tribute Snares Migratory Birds

My screenwriter/filmmaker  brother Dan — the recipient of the now-famous letter from Justice Scalia saying “there is no right to secede” — made a one minute film on the annual memorial lights from the World Trade Center site.

And in filming, he noticed that the lights had captured thousands of migratory birds, and put that on film.

Wired Magazine has an article on it today along with the film, now on YouTube: 9/11 Memorial Lights Trap Thousands of Birds

Update (9/15): NPR now also has the video online (without attribution). The video has now been viewed almost 40,000 51,000 68,000+ times. And a direct link is here: Downtown NYC 9.11.10