My kids

A trial lawyer’s occupational hazard: details details details


Here is my confession of the day.  I am not only highly detail oriented at work.  There is some spill over.

My girls have done their best to keep me from going over the edge into full blown OCD.   We used to have a rule from the time they could walk.  The house stayed clean except they had dominion over their own rooms.  So long as I could close their doors they could do what they wanted.  That is until I eventually couldn’t stand it anymore and picked up and sorted through the various piles of debris.

They would commonly complain that I had picked up their dishes before they were done eating.  Or I moved a critical piece of something before they were finished using it.  “Relax mom ” was one of their most common phrases to back me down.  Still is….

It’s simply that I like things just so.  My office is clean like my house.  I like order and symmetry and pretty pictures that don’t hang crooked.  Every drawer deserves dividers and little baskets to help it become completely organized.  Except the one drawer in the kitchen that is intentionally left messy.  So we can call it a junk drawer.  It is really a test.  I catch myself wanting to clean and sort through it.  But usually resist the urge.

At work this skill set comes in handy.  The most detail oriented person in my office is Paul Stritmatter.  When we work on cases together it is almost frightening.  He’ll send out an email with a list of maybe 20 things and then I’ll add another 20 things and then he’ll add another bunch and then so will I.  And so on.  Of course we make it a competition. And have a great time.  And our paralegals are rolling their eyes.

There isn’t a button I can push to completely turn off my very particular lawyer’s brain at home.  But it’s okay.  Because over time, my kids have adapted.   And become a bit like me.

Photo:  a portion of my closet…

Dealing with Death Wednesday – a tirade


Yesterday night Noelle didn’t come home.  I worried about her.  Even though I figured she was staying at her friend Leda’s house.  Noelle is 19.  Old enough to think that she doesn’t have to check in every single minute of the day with me.  I have a hard time with that. Cristina and Alysha, her older sisters, know that 19 is not my magic cut off number.  Because I still call them and ask where they are every single day as well.

Today am working on two different cases where two kids Noelle’s age, didn’t come home ever again.  Here’s the story of one of them.

S was actually a year younger than Noelle.  He and two buddies went to a 7-11 to pick up some candy and chips.  Happily munching their snacks as they walked home, they were mowed down from the rear by a drunk driver.   Once this despicable individual (and his buddy) stumbled out of their junker and realized what they hit was human, they got back in and fled the scene.  Until they hit a tree.  And eventually were caught.

Now, I don’t learn all this simply by talking to people.  Or having Bryson my investigator tell me what people said to him.  No.  I learn it by re-living it.  Scour ever sentence of the 376 page police report.  Examine at zoom-in level each photo.  Study each line of the Medical Examiner’s report – googling all the medical terms to make sure I get it.  Look at the broken covered body of S.  Look at the broken uncovered body of S.  Look at every single thing there is to see.  And it is overwhelming.  And sad.  And devasting as I think of his family.  In particular his father who raised him after he was deserted by his mother.

At times am crying.  This young person died on a cold, hard, road.  The last person to look at him before he left this world, was a police officer.  There was no one to whisper words of love.  To hold him.  To kiss him goodbye.

And then I get angry.

Angry at the insurance company who says there is no case.

Angry at The State of Washington for disrespecting the family.  For drawing a fake line in the sand.  That a parent has no rights when their child is killed if that child is over 17 years old.  That a parent’s right to the love, care, companionship, and affection of their child vanishes on a birthday.

Noelle calls to say she’s on her way home.  And somehow, I need to put S and his dad and all these details and images out of my mind.  And try not to drive her batty with my over-protective instincts borne of an elemental love – that the State of Washington could care less about.

Photo:  Every parent’s nightmare.

Say hi to my daughter: the tale of a grumpy Allstate lawyer


This is an excerpt from my trial diary day 3.  In most car crash cases, the jury is never told about insurance.  This old rule makes no sense in our current world.  This case is brought against Allstate for failure to pay an underinsured motorist claim (UIM).  The person who hit M did not have enough insurance. They paid what they had.  Now M seeks to recover the balance from her own UIM coverage.  Allstate has a “sue us” clause in their policy.  This means, if they don’t agree to pay the UIM claim, they force their own insureds to file a lawsuit.  This is what happens here.

I tell Judge D that we need the Allstate adjuster to go on before the neurosurgeon they’ve hired, James Blue.  Plus he’s retired anyway so what’s the big hurry. Jodi (the Allstate lawyer) protests but up goes Tracey Smith (the adjuster) and boy is she unhappy.  Jodi objects to every single question asked.   Except what is your name.  Tracey is Miss Smarty Pants one moment and clueless the next.  At one point, ask her how many UIM claims she handles at any one time.  She smirks back: “one.”  Sweetly lob it back, well then within a single year.  To which she replies 200.

We break in the middle of this scintillating testimony for lunch.   Cristina has come to visit (and bring me a cookie).  We are back in court waiting for the judge and Cristina takes a picture of me to post on her instagram.  We are teasing each other about this.  I turn to Jodi and introduce her sweetly to Cristina.  In response Jodi actually cuts her eyes at and barks at my girl.  Says don’t take any picture of me.  Cristina reassures her that she only took a picture of me because of my cute red jacket.   Jodi swivels away.  Snap just like that.  Which frankly is unprecedented.  Even in the heat of battle, every single defense attorney I can ever remember introducing to my kids, has always been gracious to them.

Jury files in.  Complete my apparent torture of Tracey Smith.  Watch with a Mona Lisa smile.  As she spits and scratches.  All twisted up on my delicate hook.

Photo:  Cristina’s instagram post which clearly does not have Jodi in it.

Vote for…me…The ABA law blog 2012


The Velvet Hammer blog won its category last year as the top Trial Law Practice Blog.  Am in the running again this year.

Me:  Alysha, did you you vote for me

A:  Yes

Me:  Well, those kids from Philadelphia are on the hunt.  They are going to catch me.

A:  Just post it on your blog

Me:  Okay

A:  Do you get anything if you win

Me:  No

A:  So what’s the big deal

Me:  You know me. I hate to lose anything.

To vote:    Register for free.  You don’t need to be a lawyer or member.  Velvet Hammer is under the Trial Practice category.

Photo:  Courtesy of ABA Journal 2012

The Toad…a Halloween story


No matter how hard I tried to sweet talk her out of it, Alysha wanted to be a toad.

What about a witch – no.

Simba the lion king – no.

Ariel the little mermaid– no

A ghost – no. no. no.

But honey, toads are gross.

Don’t care.  I want to  be a toad.

What about a frog – they are cuter.    Plus we might be able to find something at the costume store.

No. A toad.

Cristina and Noelle had their costumes already picked out.  But as October 31 approached, I began to get that sinking/anxious feeling that procrastinators get.

Every day, Alysha stayed on her message: did you find my toad outfit yet.

Necessity is the  mother of invention.  Accordingly, the day before Halloween, inspiration hit.

I could make a toad costume by mutating Cristina’s outfit from the year before.  She had been a caterpillar.  (Seriously – right?  I mean these kids had high expectations).    I had gotten some Kelly green polyester, sewed it into a body bag and glued black fuzzy round patches on it.  The mask/helmet went over Cristina’s entire head.  With a hole  cut out for her face.  A couple more black fuzzy spots were strategically placed.  And…well…here’s where I messed up. Couldn’t quite manage the antennae.  They wouldn’t stand up straight.  Plus the black fuzzy fabric was a bit hard to sew.  So the antennae ended up looking like skinny droopy Basset hound ears.  She was a  caterpillar puppy.  But cute.

This was the outfit destined to become Alysha’s toad.

Halloween fell on a work day.  But I wasn’t panicked.  I arrived home with a plan.  Cristina and Noelle were  getting dressed up.  Alysha confronted me.  Chin slightly quivering.  Mawwwwwm.  You Promised.

It’s going to be great Alysha, I said.  Go have Cristina make your face look like a toad.  It should be greenish brown and ugly.   She looked at me suspiciously.  But went off to the face paint room.

We lived in a Halloween hot spot.  Families would come from all over the county in order to trick or treat in our neighborhood.  There were not only the typical jack ‘o lanterns, spiders and cobwebs, graves, ghosts, and other scary decorations.  But haunted houses that you would walk through.  Some people handed out giant size candy bars.

Darkness was falling.  I needed to hurry.

The caterpillar/toad suit was long and straight.  Toads as I recalled, were squat and bumpy.  Swept up in a creative frenzy, I began wadding up newspapers.  Then stuffed them into several black garbage bags.

The girls emerged from the makeup room.  Cristina had decorated Alysha’s face blotchy toad green with black warts.  Alysha looked at the green spotted fabric tube and said – it doesn’t look like a toad outfit.  Her bottom lip jutted out.

It’s going to be perfect, I smiled with great certainty.   Here get in.

She stepped inside the green fuzzy spotted thing and it puddled around her feet.   Cristina and Noelle were watching in fascination.  Waiting for the miraculous transformation that was about to occur.  Confident that their genius mother would work magic.

Now, I’m going to make you puffy like a toad, I said.  And began to stuff the lumpy newspaper filled bags into the outfit.

This isn’t working, Alysha worried.

No problem, I said.  We just need to make it puffier.  Here, lie down so I can stuff it in better.

Cristina and Noelle offered to help but I had it covered.  All under control.

Alysha was lying flat out on the kitchen floor.  I was jamming the puffy bags into her outfit until there was no more room left.  The fabric was as tightly packed as it could be.

I lifted her until she was upright.  Stood back to look at my handiwork.  And before I could suppress it, a bubble of laughter escaped.  I tried to keep a pleased-yay-mom-made-you-into-a-toad looking face.  But the guffaws had a mind of their own.  Cristina and Noelle started howling.

Can you walk, I asked between snorts and giggles.

She couldn’t.  She couldn’t move at all.   She was so completely packed that if I had tipped her over she would have bounced right back up.  Like one of those plastic punching bag pop up toys.

Alysha couldn’t see what she looked like.  But suspected it wasn’t like a toad.  She was becoming upset.  Tried to walk.  But all she could manage was a teeny waddle.   Her eyes started to well up.  Then overflow.  What a terrible mom I was to make my child cry on Halloween.

I kissed and hugged her and somehow managed to keep her from completely degenerating into total tears. Cristina and Noelle joined the effort of positive thinking.  Oh Alysha, you look scary…  It’s going to work… Oh, you look (hahaha) like a monster.

Eventually Alysha chose to suspend her disbelief.

We ended up taking the stuffing out of the green black spotted fuzzy outfit.  Turned Alysha into a “Halloween Creature Thing.”  Whatever that was.

I armed them with flashlights.  Gave them their candy sacks.  And Raggedy Ann, Zelda the Witch and The Creature Thing went out into the Halloween night.

Photo:  Alysha after removal of the bags.










Mom – I think I just saw something dark run across the room


I think it’s a mouse, says Noelle.


Um.  Let me go look.  She is in her nighty.  Walks on tip toes, bends down, looks under the t.v. cabinet.  Jumps up runs back and springs onto bed.  Yes, it is.


Let me go look again.  She repeats the whole thing.  Yes.

Yelling, screaming, and a twitter rant ensue as follows:


@union station hotel Nashville supposedly one of the best. And there is a freakin rat in the room .

Apparently it sniffed a kernel of white cheddar popcorn that Noelle dropped

They said they would be up 15 minutes ago. Still not here. Mouse has popcorn and just scooted under the door.

Back to the hall of this hotel To snif out more foodies

This is the worst. Where the heck is @union station security

I screamed and started shaking just like they do in the movies. Makes me really want to stay here again. Not

@union station just called us to tell us they are coming. Don’t hurry too much. Take your time. We are hoping more mice will come to visit

Noelle is laughing. Bit she was shaking too. She kept peering under the cabinet. Yup it’s a mouse she said

An ugly gray gross mouse. I didn’t want to see it. Bit  it really wanted that dumb piece of popcorn.

Hurry up and get us OUT OF HERE

I’d (if) you come to the @union station hotel on Nashville. Bring a cat.

Nala would have protected us. We are still waiting to leave.

I would like to go out to the hall to wait for the hotel people. But the mouse is out there and will get us.

We ate (are) leaving. Noelle is in her mitt. We don’t want to stay here anymore

The porter they sent up didn’t speak English.

We have now been moved to a room that is under the main lobby. That’s right folks. The only good thing

Is that we are now five floors under the rat

$399 a night for two. And they’ll throw in a rat for free.

Photo:  Noelle’s anti-rat strategy for the new room.

Yogalysha strikes again


I had to bribe my children to read.

It started when Cristina reached Junior High and the other two were in grade school.  They never wanted to read for enjoyment.

Growing up – I made weekly treks to the Lake Forest Park library underneath the neighborhood shopping center.  It was small.  I read every book in there – sometimes more than once.  So it was disorienting that my girls could not conceive of reading a non-school book.

For their first summer reading program I offered $5 per book over 200 pages.  They were not impressed.  Bargained me up to $10.  I figured they’d read five books max.  That first year all of them read over 20.  Laughed at me for being such a sucker.

I let them buy clothing with their newfound wealth.  Too late they realized that I would have furnished their back to school wardrobes anyway.  Next year they imposed a new condition on the bribe – it had to be paid it in cash.  Which I countered with – half cash, half to their savings accounts.

In the end the strategy worked.  The girls stopped reading for dollars and found themselves in love with various authors and stories.  This translated to the fact that all of them write beautifully.

Here is Alysha’s latest blog.  It puts mine to shame.

Panic before the party


Don’t write out “to do” lists.  Don’t want or need to see how much there is to do.  What would be the point. Besides, the lists go around and around inside my head like a pinwheel anyway.

Lately though,  have been a bit filled to the gills.  Can obsess about work when the kids are away.  But when they return – it is kids plus work.  Add to that the house remodel and have no breathing space left at all.

This manifests the day before the party.  Rush to work.  On the way from car to office, drop off some recycling in dumpster.  Also drop keys.  Can here the clank at the bottom.  Reach over trying to grab them.  Dumpster lid flops across back.  Legs dangling, waving in the air.  See them.  Can’t reach them.  Am unsuccessful dumpster diver.

Walk into office and happily Mike is right there in the kitchen.  Tell him dropped keys and he gets a tool and goes to fish them out.  Don’t realize it at the time but dropped keys are an omen.

Go straight to deposition.  Cristina calls to go to lunch.   Need to get Alysha’s birthday present on the way.  Drive to store.  Buy present.  Go to Red Robin.  Noelle is not happy with me.  She is on break from school and waiting for my call.  Call and wait for her to get back to me.  Mommy Lawyer Guilt sets in.  Put brand spanking new iphone in purple case on lap to make sure hear it when rings.  Eat lunch.  Get up and drive back to office just in time for second deposition.

Am getting ready to leave office to go to the conference room when realize.  Don’t have iphone.  Whaaaaaaa.  Look in purse and coat.  Dump purse out.  No phone. Forgot it was on lap so wouldn’t miss Noelle.  Must have stood up and dropped it.  Call Red Robin.  No phone has been left.  Yeah right.  Call Cristina.  She will go back over there to find it.  She goes back.  It is gone.

Which brings us to the day of the party.  Have crossed it off on calendar.  DO NOT BOOK ME.  Have 2 dozen people coming to house that we’ve only been in for a week.  Jon the builder arrives at 7:15 and is working on the fireplace which won’t be done for another week but at least is no longer a hole in the wall.  Dust is flying.

Am checking email, writing preamble and conclusion sections for the two summary judgment responses (that Paul and Garth wrote).  The ones Grinches Nick and Dale filed the friday before Christmas Eve.  Have to make fruit salad, buy desert, find a gluten free version, get more food, wrap gifts, get card, do something with construction debris and moving blankets, figure out where dishes are and wash them.  Etcetera.

Email pops up.  Co-counsel Gordon is stuck in Las Vegas at the airport.  The flight is delayed.  He can’t make it in time to cover the deposition set for 1:00.  I have to do it.  Waaaaaaaaaaaah.  At least it is by phone.  But wait.  Have no cel phone.  Lost it day before.  Have to go to office.   Drive.

Deposition starts.  And keeps going and going and going.  Engage in twitter rant with twitter pals.  Here is how it goes.

  • I’m not supposed to be working today. Supposed to be getting ready for alysha’s 21 birthday party at our new house.Instead am stuck in dep.
  • Defense lawyer is moving at the pace of a slug. Am going crazy listening to his monotone. Want to shout out: HURRY UP!!! Bite tongue.
  • It is a ponderous, agonizingly slow, repetitive monotone that is driving me bonkers. I have places to go things to do for Pete’s sake.
  • @davidsug seriously. The billable hour enables gross waste of time. If they got paid like us based on results – life would be better.
  • @mitchjackson if he was doing this in trial, the entire jury would have fallen asleep by now. Depos should be abolished!
  • @wyzgaonwords envision eyes rolling around, arms and legs twitching and aura of intense frustrated exasperation emanating from my rigid form
  • okay 1 hour 45 minutes and defense lawyer #1 is done. #2 is now starting off by asking THE SAME QUESTIONS already asked. Kill me now.
  • @Nicole1515 @DavidSug we should videotape the defense lawyers, not the witnesses.Maybe if they saw how awful they were, they’d stop.
  • #2 says. Ok have nothing further. Oh, one more thing… and he keeps on going and going. Will no longer be upset. This is my life.

Three hours have been sucked out of OUT OF OFFICE day.  Go for very quick run.  Have to.  Am mad crazed woman.  Need stress relief.    Cristina and Noelle get cupcakes, flowers, disco ball balloon.   Anne has ordered all the Thai Food per list written out during deposition.  It tells Rice & Spice do not deliver until 7:00 and please have it be hot.

By time get home Jon the builder is gone.  Nancy and Gustavo the housecleaners fantastically are done and gone.  Scurry around house in a tizzy.

And then somehow it is time.  Everyone shows up.  Everything is perfect.  It is a family friend filled wonderful evening.  Alysha is 21.  We sing her happy birthday.  She blows out her candles.  Opens her gifts.  And eventually we call it a night.


Where’s my biscotti


Eagerly open the door to the hotel and rush over to the little table in my room.  There’s the candle and right next to it should be the chocolate covered biscotti.  Last night found it in the little goodie bag left by one of the convention sponsors.  Didn’t eat it then, but was saving it for a moment just like right now.  Except there is no biscotti.

Where could it be.  Did I already eat it.  No.  Pretty sure did not.   Look all over room and suspicion grows.  Have adjoining room with Cristina and her friend Michele.  Would she – no she would never.  Open connecting door – they are out on the town.  Look inside room.  What a mess. Consider taking a picture of it, but decide to preserve world peace and don’t.   Find various wrappers around the place but can see no evidence of missing biscotti.

Had been out with dear friends at a restaurant and did not order dessert because of the biscotti which isn’t here.  Find a pack of gum and begin to chew.

A little while later I hear her calling me.  They are back.  Being cute and delightful.  I say – did you eat my biscotti. Cristina says – what biscotti.   Michele says – yes she did.  At the same time.

After spending four hours in CLE followed by three hours of receptions and a meal, I want one little piece of sugar and it has been consumed by my daughter.

This is how the second day of the WSAJ convention ends.


Check out a recent interview by Super Lawyers about my blog. Yes, I'm a lawyer. But I'm also a human being. I have a doggie named Nala, three daughters, eat brown sugar cinnamon pop tarts for breakfast, and wear jeans as often as possible when not in court.
Favorite Quotations

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.
— Nelson Mandela

Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you've to say, and say it hot.
— D. H. Lawrence

Why slap them on the wrist with a feather when you can belt them over the head with a sledgehammer.
— Katharine Hepburn

Truth, when not sought after, rarely comes to light.
— Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Hold fast to dreams For if dreams die Life is a broken-winged bird That cannot fly.
— Langston Hughes

There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart.
— Jane Austen

Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality. — Edgar Allan Poe

If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything, wouldn't you, at any time? And you would achieve nothing! — Margaret Thatcher

Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.
— Dr. Suess

Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.
— Abraham Lincoln

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. — Desmond Tutu

True eloquence consists in saying all that is required and only what is required. — La Rochefoucauld

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. — Aesop

The thing you fear most has no power. Your fear of it is what has the power. Facing the truth really will set you free. — Oprah Winfrey

If you're not failing every now and again, it's a sign you're not doing anything very innovative. — Woody Allen

The soul never thinks without a picture. — Aristotle

To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man. — William Shakespeare

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. — Muhammad Ali

Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change. — Stephen Hawking

It is better to have less thunder in the mouth and more lightning in the hand. — Apache proverb

People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they're not on your road doesn't mean they've gotten lost. — Dalai Lama

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.
— Anne Frank

Learn to laugh; it is a discipline to be mastered. Let go of the everlasting burden of always needing to sound profound. — Richard J. Foster

Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. — Albert Einstein

Believe, when you are most unhappy, that there is something for you to do in the world. So long as you can sweeten another’s pain, life is not in vain. — Helen Keller

Remember that lost time does not return. — Thomas á Kempis

If thou faint in the day of adversity thy strength is small. — Proverbs 24:10

Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense. — Gertrude Stein

It is harder to crack a prejudice than an atom. — Albert Einstein

The right of trial by jury shall be preserved. — 7th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution

I'd rather die on my feet than live on my knees. — Ludacris

And the trouble is, if you don't risk anything, you risk even more.
— Erica Jong

Words are chameleons, which reflect the color of their environment. — Judge Learned Hand

You may shoot me with your words, You may cut me with your eyes, You may kill me with your hatefullness, But still, like air, I'll rise. — Maya Angelou

The moment that justice must be paid for by the victim of injustice it becomes itself injustice. — Benjamin Tucker

He who keeps his eye on results cannot give himself wholeheartedly to his task, however simple or complex that task may be. — Howard Thurman

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. — Mahatma Ghandi

Life is painting a picture, not doing a sum. — Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr

The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally. — Flannery O'Connor

We must adjust to changing times and still hold to unchanging principles. — Jimmy Carter

To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul. — Simone Weil

It is not the level of prosperity that makes for happiness but the kinship of heart to heart and the way we look at the world. — Alexander Solzhenitsyn

It is high time that the ideal of success should be replaced by the ideal of service. — Albert Einstein

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference. — Elie Wiesel

I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody. — Bill Cosby

The time is always right to do what is right. — Martin Luther King Jr.

I had rather attempt something great and fail, than to attempt nothing at all and succeed. — Robert Schuller

It is very easy to break down something. You can take a stone and throw it through that window; that is easy. Try fixing it, and that takes longer. It takes longer to help someone who has been broken. That’s the work you’re doing. — Desmond Tutu

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. — Annie Dillard

Mine honor is my life; both grow in one; Take honor from me, and my life is done. — William Shakespeare

To straighten the crooked you must first do a harder thing – straighten yourself. — Buddha

A thought is an idea in transit. — Pythagoras

Fall seven times, stand up eight. — Old Japanese proverb

No generalization is wholly true, not even this one. — Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

Of what use is eloquence? He who engages in fluency of words to control men often finds himself hated by them. — Confucius

There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. — Martha Graham