From the Road to China to the Antiques Road Show

I asked Joan whether I could write about her family and the Antiques Road Show. She gave me permission. She had one caveat. No bragging about her family. I agreed.

John Wagoner was a young lawyer in Grand Island, Nebraska when WWII broke out. He had to call in some favors, but he got into the Army Air Corps. He trained as a pilot, but ended up doing logistics for C-47s flying over the Hump from China. He also defended soldiers in courts martial. Additionally, he had “an extra-legal” business trading between China and India, but that is a fascinating story for another day. In short, John was a resourceful person.

a_veteran_in_olive_drabHis tour of duty took him to Chungking (now Chongqing) China, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek’s provisional capital. At the airfield one day, John observed a VIP air plane land. It was General Hurley’s plane. On it was Florence Gerrard. John noticed her and returned the hat box that she had left on the plane.

Ms. Florence Gerrard was to begin work for the State Department at the American Embassy. She was to perform secretarial duties at the embassy and John was very interested in the tall young woman, but I am getting ahead of myself.

Florence (Gerry or Flo) Gerrard was raised in Greenway, Arkansas. That’s near Piggot. Her home had no inside plumbing until she and her husband had plumbing installed for her parents sometime in the late ’50s or early ’60s. The tall girl graduated high school and then secretarial school in St. Louis. After that, she took a civil service exam, the war broke out and she ended up in Panama with the U.S. State Department. After two years in Panama, she returned home.

While at home on leave, she received notice from the State Department that her next posting would be in China. If she could quickly get to Washington, D.C., a plane would take her there. Florence caught the train, and made the plane.

The girl from Greenway learned that she was on the plane assigned to Major General Patrick Jay Hurley and various other important people like Kathleen Harriman. Ms. Harriman was going to Moscow where her father, Averell Harriman, was ambassador to the Soviet Union. The three-week flight to China took Florence to London, then to Turkey, Egypt, Moscow, back to Egypt, then to India, and over the “hump” to China. While Florence was a secretary at the Embassy, there is some evidence that Florence was really employed as a secretary by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor of the CIA. Florence never said much about her work except to make vague statements about it.

By now, you not doubt realize that John and Florence fell in love and married. After the war, they decided to stay in China. They had fallen in love with each other and the people and culture of China.*

John opened an import/export business in Shanghai with some Chinese partners. The family lived in the French Concession. (In 1994, Joan and I believe we may have found the home that by then was a multi-family apartment.) Joan was born, and then June was born. Business was good, but the communists were an ever-present threat.

John and Florence loved beautiful things, particularly beautiful things that could be bought cheaply after the war. One of the stunning pieces they acquired was a hand crafted silver plate cutlery set in an Art Deco pattern of the early ’20s-’30s. It is shown below.



By 1949, the communists were closing in. John sent Florence, Joan and June back to the US. Six months later, John followed after hitching a ride on a military plane. John renewed his law practice in Grand Island becoming a well-known trial lawyer. More children came. The union of John and Florence produced seven children. Joan (“Miss Boss” as she was known by her siblings) is the oldest. John and Florence are gone now.

From the period of 1945-1946, fast forward nearly 70 years. Joan’s three sisters in Omaha each put in a bid to attend the Antiques Road Show that was to appear in Omaha. Only one got a ticket.

The lucky sister, Mary, took the silver cutlery set that belonged to sister Ann. A producer was captivated by the set and the story behind it. The Roadshow experts could not figure out the markings on the set, but they decided that the it was probably made by a German or Austrian silver smith. Mary will appear in a short segment when the Road Shoe presents its program on Omaha. The silver set will be featured. Florence would have been so proud.

The family has a transcript of an oral interview of John and Florence about their time in China. It runs 155 pages. The transcript is entitled “Road to China.” It is fitting that a part of their fascinating story will be recounted on the Antiques Road Show.**

Addendum: Subsequent to this post going up, I have learned that June, one of Joan’s sisters, has been able to confirm that Florence was with the OSS. June searched a repository of declassified documents and found references to Ms. Gerrard. That probably explains why Florence was flown with a bunch of VIPs to China. Fascinating.


* This beautiful Chinese piece hangs in our home.


** The Roadshow in Omaha took place this weekend. I have no clue when the segment will appear.

In this instance, Judge Posner lied

Let’s face it, I don’t belong in the same sentence as Judge Richard Posner. I regard Posner as a giant. I respect him and wish he sat on the Supreme Court. He is known for speaking the raw truth, and I highly respect him for that trait. But he is wrong as hell to write in Slate* that the Chief Justice’s dissent in the gay marriage case was heartless and furthered the cause of bigotry. It is a damnable lie.

The Chief Justice ends his dissent in the gay marriage case with these words:

If you are among the many Americans—of whatever sexual orientation—who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision. Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.

Obergefell v. Hodges,  576 U. S. ____ (2015), slip op. at p. 29 of dissent.

Those are not the words of a cold and heartless and bigoted man. Indeed, if anything the dissent reflects a sadness that the Chief Justice cannot join the majority.**

Paul Barrett said it best when trying to understand the Chief Justice and his views in the Obamacare and gay marriage cases:

On Thursday, Chief Justice John Roberts drew fierce conservative fire for upholding Obamacare (again). A hero to political liberals for 24 hours, Roberts seemingly flipped positions on Friday to write the lead dissent opposing the nationwide legalization of gay marriage. What’s with this guy?

Actually, his opinions in the marquee cases of the 2014-2015 Supreme Court term aren’t difficult to reconcile. Agree or disagree with Roberts on the merits, one can easily discern an essentially restrained jurist concerned with promoting the machinery of democracy and the reputation of the highest court in the land.

Paul Barrett, Why John Roberts Upheld Obamacare but Dissented on Gay Marriage
He sides with liberals one day, conservatives the next. What gives?, Bloomberg Business (June 26, 2015).

No heartlessness. No bigotry. Instead, as Barrett stresses, “Roberts was notably gracious toward the gay couples who challenged state same-sex marriage bans.”

Posner’s assertion that Chief Robert’s dissent reflects a cold heart plus bigotry is a vicious lie–and Posner knows it. Why he lied in the Slate article is a mystery.


*H/T How Appealing.

**I continue to be enraged by Judge Sutton’s decision. He unnecessarily forced the Supreme Court to take this case. In doing so, Sutton harmed the Court as an institution. He should have cared more about the legitimacy of the Supreme Court than he cared about his idiosyncratic beliefs that were shared by no one else in the other Circuits.

“Angering Conservatives and Liberals, Chief Justice John Roberts Defends Steady Restraint”

Please read this insightful piece from Adam Liptak in the New York Times.*

download (3)The Chief Justice is fast becoming my hero.

He may well be the best Chief Justice since Chief Justice John Marshall.





* H/T Howard Bashman at How Appealing.

Judge Joe has the right to crow (but he won’t)

Judge Joe Bataillon is a really nice guy. I have objective proof of that assertion.

imagesLisa, my middle daughter, the one in China, told me what a nice man Joe was long before I knew Joe. She knew Judge Joe before I did because Lisa and one of Joe’s daughters, see here, went to Marian High School together and were good friends. Marian is an all-girls Catholic High School with a proud tradition in Omaha.

After I met Joe all those many years ago, I realized what Lisa meant. Joe is truly a good man. He always, and I mean always, seeks to do the right and fair thing even when others (like his church) push hard for Joe to do something different. Joe is indifferent to reversals by the Court of Appeals. His focus is doing what he believes is right.

Yesterday, when the Supreme Court declared that gay people had the Constitutional right to marry, Joe was vindicated. Since 2003, Joe had said essentially the same thing. See Waters v. Ricketts, No. 8:14CV356 (D. Neb., March 2, 2015) (“Nebraska’s “Defense of Marriage” Constitutional Amendment, Section 29, is an unabashedly gender-specific infringement of the equal rights of its citizens.”); Citizens for Equal Protection, Inc. v. Bruning, 368 F.Supp.2d 980 (D.Neb.2005) (” Section 29 does not merely withhold the benefit of marriage; it operates to prohibit persons in a same-sex relationship from working to ever obtain governmental benefits or legal recognition, a right they had before the passage of Section 29. If the purpose, as offered by the proponents of Section 29, were merely to maintain the common-law definition of marriage, there would be no need to prohibit all forms of government protection or to preclude domestic partnerships and civil unions. The court concludes that the plaintiffs have established that Section 29 is an unconstitutional bill of attainder.”); Citizens for Equal Protection, Inc. v. Bruning, 290 F. Supp. 2d 1004 (D. Neb. 2003) (denying motion to dismiss and stating, “Section 29 does not just withhold a benefit; it actually prohibits same-sex relationship couples from working to obtain governmental benefits. If the purpose, as offered by the defendants, of Section 29 is merely to maintain the common law definition of marriage, there would be no need to prohibit all forms of government protection or to preclude domestic partnerships and civil unions. I conclude that the plaintiffs have met the legal requirements for stating a claim of bill of attainder.”).

Judge Joe has the right to crow. But he won’t because he is also a humble man. Indeed, I feel fortunate to have Judge Joe as a colleague and a friend. By his actions, Judge Bataillon has offered us all a lesson in humanity. By the way, it is not his fault that I am a bad student.


What do Joseph Goebbels, Paul Krugman and Antonin Scalia have in common?

Joan tells me I could be a Catholic. She might be right.

Driving back to Omaha yesterday to resume my trial after successful visits with my doctors in Lincoln,* I forced myself to listen to Rush Limbaugh. I feel deep guilt and horrendous shame for all the sins that I have committed. Listening to the moronic Rush is a small part of my penance.

Anyway, I got to thinking about propagandists and ideologues. There is a commonality, I think, between expert propagandists and ardent ideologues. The best way to see what I mean is through real life examples.

In the 20th century, the most brilliant of all propagandists and ideologues was Joseph Goebbels. Goebbels was a brainiac (and maniac) who obtained a Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Heidelberg.

245px-Bundesarchiv_Bild_146-1968-101-20A,_Joseph_Goebbels“After the Nazi Seizure of Power in 1933, Goebbels’ Propaganda Ministry quickly gained and exerted controlling supervision over the news media, arts, and information in Germany. He was particularly adept at using the relatively new media of radio and film for propaganda purposes. Topics for party propaganda included antisemitism, attacks of the Christian churches, and (after the start of the Second World War) attempting to shape [public} morale.” He was so committed to Hitler and National Socialism that, after poisoning his six children in Hitler’s bunker, he shot his wife in the head and then shot himself in Hitler’s above ground garden.

Then there is Paul Krugman. He is another brilliant fellow and winner of the Nobel Prize in economics. Krugman writes for the New York Times. He worships John Maynard Keynes, and writes devastating columns eviscerating any who dare disagree with his ideology of printing money to do good. He uses his NYT column like a rapier

225px-Paul_Krugman-press_conference_Dec_07th,_2008-8“Krugman was one of the most prominent advocates of the 2008–2009 Keynesian resurgence, so much so that economics commentator Noah Smith referred to it as the ‘Krugman insurgency.’ In June 2012, Krugman and Richard Layard launched A manifesto for economic sense, where they call for greater use of fiscal stimulus policy to reduce unemployment and foster growth. The manifesto received over four thousand signatures within two days of its launch, including from prominent economists,and has attracted both positive and critical responses.”

In this same vein, is Antonin Scalia, a Justice of the Supreme Court. There is no better writer than Scalia when it comes to argumentation. He is quick-witted. His IQ is obviously off the charts. He believes passionately in a legal ideology that features, among other things, a textualist approach to statutory interpretation. He seeks to propagate his views whenever he can.

220px-Antonin_Scalia,_SCOTUS_photo_portraitSpecifically, Scalia slavishly adheres to his “ordinary meaning” creed to the exclusion of any other reasonable method of construction and interpretation and without regard to whether the impact of the “ordinary meaning” canon produces harmful results. His bombastic dissent in King v. Burwell, so obviously intended to appeal to an audience much broader than lawyers and judges, is a perfect example of an expert propagandist and ideologue of the first rank. (“The Court holds that when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act says ‘Exchange established by the State’ it means ‘Exchange established by the State or the Federal Government.’ That is of course quite absurd, and the Court’s 21 pages of explanation make it no less so. . . . Today’s interpretation is not merely unnatural; it is unheard of. Who would ever have dreamt that ‘Exchange established by the State” means “Exchange established by the State or the Federal Government’?”)

The dissent is all the more remarkable when contrasted with Chief Justice Robert’s majority opinion. That opinion is moderate in tone, practical in approach and lawyer-like in reasoning. It does not seek to appeal to the fringe.

What do these musings mean? Two things, I think.

First, I could never be a Catholic, despite the love my life’s suggestion to the contrary. While I have the requisite heaping dollop of guilt and shame, I am too much the skeptic to accept the dogma.** That is also why the likes of Paul Joseph Goebbels, Paul Robin Krugman, and Antonin Gregory Scalia–expert propagandists and ardent ideologues each of them–frighten me. Because of the power of their propaganda, people have a tendency to believe their extremely passionate ideological claptrap.


* My creatinine levels have returned to normal thus indicating that I will not have continuing renal problems and, further, my shingles are past the eruption stage and without secondary infection.

** On the other hand, I loved the movie Dogma, especially the scene where Alanis Morissette appears as God.

Kings and Queens and Financial Disclosure Reports

The time has come when the judges and Justices of the federal courts should make their financial disclosure reports easily and publicly available at the time of filing. As things stand now, if you are a reporter or just an ordinary citizen you have to make a request to Washington for a copy of the report. Then the judge who is the subject of report is notified. And sometime later you, the reporter or citizen, will get a copy.

We judges and Justices can make things easier. When we file, we can post our reports on our courts’ external web sites. Redactions can be made if necessary for security purposes. That happens now anyway. But I see no reason we as judges and Justices can’t make life easier for those who wish to see our reports.

I am tired of, and annoyed by, the bureaucratic hassle and delay we impose on reporters and the public now. There is no good reason for it. Mark Sherman of the Associated Press rightfully complains that 5 Weeks After Filing, Justices’ Finances Still Not Public, AP (June 24, 2015).* Mr. Sherman is right to bitch, and we have it in our power to avoid bad publicity by simply uploading our reports to our web sites on the day we file them. Easy. For example, see here.

We aren’t kings and queens, and we ought to stop acting like we are special. Most important to me, and like other inquiring minds, I want to know the financial details of the Austrian gig that my friend Tony enjoys each year. See, e.g.Justice Kennedy to Teach in Summer Salzburg Program, McGeorge School of Law (March 12, 2015). I doubt the accommodations mimic solitary confinement.


* A tip of my STFU cap to Brother Bashman at How Appealing. Indeed, Howard Bashman warrants high praise for providing us with a wide array of legal news in a timely fashion. Howard’s site is an absolute treasure!

A correction to “Michael K. Ausbrook and the snipe swarm”–He has worked for free

Now, I am even more amazed at Michael’s work. See the post immediately preceding this one. 

He has done it all for free. All of it.

Michael explains:

I  have truly not meant my experiment as charity. I have just fronted the money to run the experiment. Had the cases come back losers in the first couple or three years, I would have moved on to something else. My idea is that there are cases that can be identified as probable winners in federal court and that they can be won. If that idea has support in reality, then my vision is that there should be offices in every state doing the work, just as there are Innocence Projects everywhere. (Innocence, schminnocence, I say. Some of my clients are innocent; others aren’t. They have all been demonstrably cheated by the Indiana state courts and are serving legally undeserved extra decades in prison as a result.)

I’ve gone on and on again. The point is pretty easily made: There isn’t a living in what I’ve been doing, but I think there should be. With the recognition of the Gideon Award and now the really wonderful post you put up, I begin to get the credibility necessary to start going hat in hand to likely sources of material support.

Michael K. Ausbrook and the snipe swarm

One of things I love about writing this blog is that it provides me with the opportunity to highlight the good works of young (or younger) lawyers. This is one of those posts. It is about Michael K. Ausbrook of the Peoples Republic of Bloomington, Indiana.

Michael and I became acquainted after I wrote a snarky post about federal habeas corpus cases. It was entitled, The high cost of snipe hunts.

Photo credit: JJ Harrison ( per  Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Photo credit: JJ Harrison ( per Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

I implied that you simply could not win those cases, and they were ultimately a waste of everyone’s time. Stated differently, finding a winner was next to impossible. That did not sit well with Michael. But let me digress for just a moment.

Micheal and I share a love for the classics and Loren Eiseley. I wrote about Michael, the classics and Loren Eiseley in a post entitled All the strange connections and the classics (“Don’t you see? In some strange way, and if only for a moment, the love of the classics brought Richard Arnold, Michael’s father, Michael and me (and perhaps even Robert Lincoln) together. Eiseley would not have been surprised.”).

From time to time, Michael and I correspond. Some times he sends me blog tips as here. Other times, we just shot the breeze. He is a wonderful writer with all the sensibilities of a gentleman who went to Exeter, taking Latin and Greek, and then majoring in the Classics at the University of Pennsylvania.

It was with this background that I was overjoyed to see that Michael’s work on federal habeas corpus cases resulted in his being honored as the 20th recipient of the annual Gideon Award given by the Indiana Public Defender Council, a branch of the Indiana judiciary. The Council has 1,100 members. The Council’s purpose is to provide a support center for lawyers who represent indigent criminal defendants.

Here’s the blurb about the award that Michael received:

The purpose of the Indiana Public Defender Council’s Gideon Award is to honor an individual who embodies the attributes of a zealous criminal defense lawyer for poor persons in Indiana and has distinguished him or herself in cases or his/her career. The Gideon Award is named in honor of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 US 335 (1963), which first articulated the right to appointed counsel in felony cases.

Here is the YouTube video of the presentation and Michael’s thoughtful acceptance remarks:

Why did Michael receive this high honor?

Initially, you need to know his legal background. Michael graduated from the Indiana University School of Law, magna cum laude, Order of the Coif, in May of 1993. He is very smart. He is also an excellent writer and a researcher as his clerkship (1993-95) with the Honorable Frank Sullivan, Jr., Associate Justice of the Indiana Supreme Court evidences. It would be fair to conclude that Michael is among the best and the brightest lawyers Indiana has to offer.

With these extraordinary talents, Michael had an idea.

His idea was this: (1) if you taught yourself everything there was to learn about federal habeas corpus law, including the hideously complex creature that is AEDPA (Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996); (2) if you asked criminal defense lawyers from all over Indiana to refer indigent cases to you that might warrant federal habeas relief; (3) if you spent hours and hours determining whether a case could be a winner and you selectively took cases to federal court, under the federal habeas corpus statute, that had a reasonable shot of succeeding; (4) then you could really help indigent criminal defendants and make a living at the same time.

Guess what? Michael’s idea worked. He has won 4 of the 6 habeas cases he has taken to the 7th Circuit.  For context, understand and appreciate that federal habeas corpus petitioners have a national winning percentage of less than 1 percent. Michael’s success was mind-blowing. Along the way, he saved his clients 183 years of prison time.

For two of the many of cases brought by Michael, see Barnett v. Superintendent, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 70289 (N.D. Ind. June 1, 2015) (state conviction for burglary, battery, intimidation, and an adjudication that defendant was a habitual offender), granting writ of habeas corpus after summary reversal and remand by Barnett v. Wilson, 7th Cir. Case No. 13-2625 (7th Cir. Feb. 4, 2014)); Stitts v. Wilson, Southern District of Indiana Case No. 1:10-cv-765 (S.D. Ind. April 2, 2014) (state murder conviction) granting writ of habeas corpus after reversal and remand in Stitts v. Wilson, 713 F.3d 887 (7th Cir. 2013), reh’g and reh’g en banc denied, cert. denied 134 S. Ct. 1282 (2014)).

Now for a disclaimer. Michael was very concerned about my desire to write about his stunning successes. He absolutely flipped out when I insisted that he post the video of his award and his acceptance speech on YouTube. First, he is a truly humble person. Second, and most importantly, he did not want to be seen as a self-promoting huckster to the judges on the federal trial bench in Indiana or to the judges on the 7th Circuit.

I convinced him, after a bunch of e-mails, to allow me to write this post using the following argument: Michael, your idea is a good one and needs to be considered by others. The ability to practice a fascinating but obscure part of federal law while making enough to support yourself, if only modestly, and to do good at the same time is a rare opportunity. You would by a morbidly obese hog if you kept it to yourself. Besides I am frigging federal judge, you have to do what I say. He relented.

How to sum up? That’s hard. Michael exemplifies the very best of our profession.* More particularly, he has helped, along with others, to repair the near dead soul of a cynical and skeptical old federal trial judge. That’s miraculous.

Thank you Michael. Fiat justitia ruat caelum.


*Michael didn’t tell me, but his Dad was a very distinguished lawyer too in Washington, D.C.


Travels with Rich

Really, really good lawyers for my civil jury trial here in Omaha. A horrific crush injury is involved. Diversity jurisdiction.

Lots of money at stake. I love good lawyers. My job becomes easy.

I have known one of the lawyer for over 30 years. He is 71 and still trying cases ’cause he loves it. He once got 10 of us, who were taking depositions in a big case, into a disco in Denver in the late 1970s by telling the proprietor that he was the body-guard for Paul Volcker of the Federal Reserve System. One of the other lawyers was really tall and he played the part of Volcker admirably. We got comped all night. Afterwards, ten of us piled into one cab, I think. Somehow we got back to the hotel. I don’t remember much more of the evening.

The damn digital audio failed in the middle of the Plaintiff’s opening statement yesterday. It was fixed but the IT guy had no clue why it failed. To make me even happier, the digital audio failed for a bench conference as well. I feel like Ted Mack overseeing the Amateur Hour. Trust me, some IT ass is in for a good chewing.

I had dinner in the Old Market. If you come to Omaha, you must visit the Old Market. Old buildings that used to be the warehouse district for Omaha’s booming trade with the frontier have been preserved. It is heaven for frivolous young people, many with garish art on their bodies. Truth to tell, I like it too.upload-2806080741763048738

My face stills looks bad. The skin began to peel off today. I wore my STFU hat when I went to dinner and pulled it way down. I sat on a sidewalk cafe to eat. That way few people were required to confront a leper slurping white wine and eating a huge BLT. Bacon, bacon, bacon, bacon.

I’m done with my course of anti-viral medication. Still taking Lyrica for the pain. That makes me walk like a drunk. I don’t know why but I literally cannot walk a straight line. My cognitive powers, limited though they have always been, remain the same. I just wobble and weave when I walk.

The College World Series is going on. The government is going to pay through the nose for my hotel room. A lot of Omaha police officers patrol the floors of my hotel. The Vanderbilt baseball team–that made it to the finals for the second time in so many years–is staying here. Almost got into a fist fight last night when several of their older fans laughed and pointed at my STFU hat. But one of them was a particularly nice guy, a lawyer from Tennessee. We exchanged business cards. No fight, just warm greetings. Go Vandy!

The jury pool was only moderately terrified by my scabies and unshaven face. I told them the truth. That is, I was bitten and I am among the walking dead. That seemed to comfort them.IMG_1590


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