January 28, 2011

You Can’t Tell a Book by Its Cover

In my career as a lawyer in Davis, I had a surprising and painful but beneficial discovery of the truth of the common saying that you can't tell a book by its cover. It all started when a local bank in the community asked me to handle a case for two of its customers.

At the appointed time, my new clients, a husband and wife team, showed up. When I saw the couple, I felt that my jaw had dropped and that I would fall through the floor. They were Arabs!  My belief was that they and their compatriots had many times sworn to kill all the Jews in the Middle East and wipe the State of Israel off the map. They were the enemy to me and to my support of the State of Israel.  I was also awakened to the reality that this husband and wife team knew that I was Jewish. In their eyes, I was the enemy. The couple had dark complexions, black hair, and spoke with a Middle Eastern accent.

I quickly got over the shock of this introduction so that everything proceeded calmly and cordially. I was able to gather from my clients all of the information relevant to their case as well as answer questions that they asked.

Then we set up an appointment to meet a few days prior to going to court so that we could take care of any last minute items. Right after they left, I started struggling with some profound soul searching. I had been raised in a family that believed in and practiced tolerance. But I had failed to live up to all that I was taught when put to the test of dealing with my new clients.

I knew that I could not be effective in representing the interests of my clients if I did not overcome my bias. Every lawyer has a duty to represent a client zealously and within the bounds of the law. I could not do this if my personal views conflicted with those of my clients.

Thinking further, I remembered the experience of patriot John Adams way back in 1770 in defending the British soldiers who had shot protesting citizens in the Boston Massacre. Despite sharing the views of the protestors, Adams successfully defended the British soldiers because he believed that they were entitled to a fair trial. Adams then experienced insults and ridicule from the city's "patriots." As well, his law practice diminished because few patriots would deal with a "traitor."

I remembered too the famous Skokie, Illinois case that took place in the 1970's. A group of Nazi sympathizers planned to march in Nazi uniforms in the town of Skokie where they knew that a large part of the Jewish population was made up of Holocaust survivors.

The marchers were denied a city permit to have their parade. One of the marchers then sued the city of Skokie, claiming that his right of free speech was being denied. The marcher was represented in court by a Jewish lawyer who believed that the principle of free speech was more important than the subjectivities of the client or his lawyer. The lawyer won the case for his marcher client.

I was impressed by these two historical incidents although I did not believe that the case of my clients was as profound as those two. However, influenced by those two incidents, I satisfactorily resolved my own inner conflicts and proceeded with the case. We went ahead and happily gained an easy victory.

The story does not end here. Several weeks later, when I was walking downtown early one Saturday afternoon, I bumped into two friends, Barbara and Elmer. They were dressed very formally. I asked them whose wedding they had attended. They replied that they had not been to a wedding but rather a Bar Mitzvah, the first one that they had ever experienced and that they still did not understand everything about the ceremony.

I explained to them that a Bar Mitzvah is a coming of age religious ceremony that takes place when a boy reaches 13 years of age. At that time, he goes to a synagogue and affirms that he will honor a commitment to observe the Commandments spelled out in the Old Testament and related writings.  Girls go through the same sort of celebration and it is called a Bat Mitzvah. The terms are loosely translated as son or daughter of the commandment. The ceremony is followed by a festive reception with good food being served accompanied by good music being played.

Who do you think were the joyful and proud parents of the happy Bar Mitzvah boy? Yes, it was my client and his wife, the "Arabs." Following the war that Egypt and other nearby Arab countries waged unsuccessfully against the State of Israel when it was founded, Jewish citizens of those Arab countries were forced to leave their birth places where they and their ancestors had lived for hundreds of years. It is estimated that more than 800,000 people had to leave and were not permitted to take much with them. My client and his wife, both Egyptians, were part of this exodus.

I have never seen the husband or his wife since our day in court. But the entire experience of dealing with them has led to changing my outlook and behavior for the better. My jaw does not drop nor do I feel that I will sink into the floor when I now encounter this kind of experience. I have learned to be an observer, calmly look at each such incident, and, with my personal views under control, proceed to the next step.

Not too long after this episode with my clients, I had a great opportunity to test whether I had really learned from the experience. I was at the Rome airport waiting at the international terminal to catch my flight back to the United States. I noticed a grandmotherly looking Arab woman, dressed in native clothing and wearing a head scarf. She was walking around, flight ticket in hand, and showing signs of confusion. I guessed that she did not read or speak Italian or English and, of course, I did not speak Arabic.

I walked over to the lady and gestured that I wanted to see her flight ticket. She handed it to me and I quickly saw that both of us were on the same flight. I gestured to her to sit down and wait and that I would take her to the boarding area when the flight was ready for us. In due time, I escorted her to the boarding area where we boarded the airplane together. Then I personally led her to her assigned seat. She smiled and gave a silent nod of thanks.

I cheerfully walked down the aisle to my seat and sat down feeling that doing my homework had paid off. I was also optimistic that I could cope successfully with any other of my demons that dared to show themselves.

November 1, 2010

How the Super Saved My Father

Almost everyone, especially apartment house dwellers, in and around  New York City knows that mentioning “The Super” refers to a very important individual. He is an employee of the apartment house owner, lives on the premises, and is in charge of all custodial services and other matters. This includes janitorial service,  plumbing repair in individual apartments, collecting rents each month, making sure  each apartment has heat during the winter, and, perhaps most important of all, taking out the garbage. If the apartment house is large enough to have many tenants, there can be staff members to handle the work under the direction of the Super. It is very obvious to most apartment house dwellers that keeping on the good side of the Super and giving him a cash gift at Christmas time assures prompt service whenever any matter requires expert attention.

Our family got along very well with our Super. In fact, we were on a first name  basis with him. We called him Doug, and he referred to my father as Sam.

One day, two FBI agents came by to question Doug about my father.  Supers knew much about their tenants and also networked with other Supers in the neighborhood so that information about tenants in other buildings was shared many times. The agents said that my father was suspected of smuggling diamonds into the country, especially through Asia.

During the session of intensive interrogation by the FBI, Doug interrupted the agents, exclaiming, “I just can’t believe this about Sam. He’s a good man who respects the law.”  One of the agents then opened a folder and showed a photograph to Doug, saying, “Well, here is what he looks like.”

Doug looked at the photographed and immediately replied, “That’s not Sam. It’s Ivan Zimmer. He lives two houses down the block. Nobody likes him, and you can check up on him with Dino Belucci, the Super in that building.”

Ivan had obviously stolen my father’s identity for his passport. The agents went on their way, possibly to talk with Dino about Ivan and his activities.  A short time later, no one saw Ivan in the neighborhood any longer.

The Super, being friendly and supportive with us, told my father all about this episode. When my father shared the information with us, we were somewhat confused because he had never left the United States for any reason after emigrating here from Germany some 35 years earlier and never acted suspiciously or secretly. We were also frightened because we had no experience with the FBI or any knowledge about their procedures.

Our “brush with the law” took place around 1938. My father died in 1963. Here is it is the year 2010. I suspect that somewhere in the archives of the FBI is a folder containing some yellowing pages referring to my innocent father as a suspected diamond smuggler.  So it goes sometimes with crime and corruption in America!

Mortimer D. Schwartz is Professor Emeritus at the UC Davis School of Law.

July 25, 2010

Memoir - The Bodenheimer Saga

Brigitte and Edgar Bodenheimer were colleagues and dear friends for many of us. My relationship with them was very close. I even gave them a ride to the San Francisco Airport, and when they left on a trip, I would babysit their home. And when they first visited Davis to check out everything, I drove them around on a tour of the town.  In my entire experience with Brigitte and Edgar, they never spoke of the past. Here is some information about them that I garnered from an outside source.

Brigitte and Edgar were natives of Germany and trained as lawyers there.  Brigitte’s father, Ernst Levy, was a renowned Roman law expert. Back in the early 30’s, after reading Hitler’s book, Mein Kampf, Edgar concluded that the family should quickly leave Germany.

The family wound up in Seattle, where Ernst Levy had received an appointment at the University of Washington as a history professor. But there was a problem. Ernst did not speak English well, if at all. This was quickly remedied by Brigitte. She transliterated his written lectures so that when he read them, he was reading what appeared to be German but the sounds were coming out as English.

At the same time, Brigitte and Edgar matriculated at the University of Washington law school. Both did well. In fact, after classes, students would assemble around the outgoing Brigitte to discuss what went on in the class lectures, while reticent Edgar would stand on the periphery and listen attentively. On one occasion, Edgar suddenly spoke up to disagree with what Brigitte had stated.  He cited the exact page and words from the casebook to emphasize his disagreement.  Edgar obviously had a photographic memory. The students then started gathering around Edgar.

From Seattle, the Bodenheimers moved to Washington, D.C. where eventually Edgar wound up on the staff of the prosecution at the Nuremburg Trials. From there, the Bodenheimers went on and joined the law faculty at the University of Utah where they did very well. But the siren song of Davis lured them to the new UCD law school and they became part of the founding faculty. We talked about many things, which was easy to do since our offices were near each other. Edgar helped me by evaluating a program that my son wished to join. Brigitte helped me much with great input on family law issues, especially childrens’ rights, that I was researching. But never was there any referring to what I state above. This was related to me by Marian Gallagher, the law librarian at the University of Washington, who knew the Bodenheimers well too.

One further item. Edgar specialized in legal philosophy, but he also taught a class in Equity law, which at the time was emphasized on the California Bar Exam. After the exam books were graded, the State Bar would send reports to each law school indicating how their students did on the various subjects covered by the exam. Edgar’s students always did very well above average. His scores usually put him at or near the top when compared to our other UCD teachers. This I remember well because I was always amazed that a philosopher could handle so well a basic subject like Equity.

June 15, 2010

Two Vignettes on a Pocket Watch

by Professor Emeritus Mortimer D. Schwartz

Knowing of my hobby of collecting pocket watches, my wife, Giovanna, surprised me by showing me a pocket watch made by the Tavannes company. The watch once belonged to her late husband, Martin, who was a professor of labor economics at UCD. Martin received the watch from his father. Both father and son were held by the Nazis in Bergen-Belsen, one of the most notorious concentration camps of World War II. Anne Frank and her sister, and the sister of actress Marlene Dietrich, died there. Martin’s father did not survive either, but Martin was there, hardly alive at 15 years of age, weighing 50 pounds and suffering from tuberculosis and other diseases, when the British army liberated the camp on April 15, 1945. His task as an inmate and young teenager was to cart bodies to burial pits. Somehow, the watch had been successfully hidden from the Nazi camp guards.

Photo credit: Glowna Komisja Badania Zbrodni Przeciwko Narodowi Polskiemu, German National Archives

On liberation day, when a British soldier noticed the watch, he took it from Martin and gave in return a Mickey Mouse wrist watch. A sergeant nearby grabbed the watch and gave it back to Martin. When I looked at the watch, I saw a broken crystal, and I knew that the watch had not been used for at least 25 years or more. Obviously, the attention of a watchmaker was needed because the watch would require cleaning, oiling and adjusting along with a new crystal.

I immediately got in touch with my pocket watch guru, as I call Darryl Lesser of Darlor Watch up in Montreal, Canada. He has given me reliable guidance. I have bought three wonderful railroad grade pocket watches from him so far, and I know that he is a first rate watchmaker too. When I told Darryl the history of this watch and asked him for a quote on servicing it, his immediate reply was to instruct me to send the watch at once, and, further, he could not charge for servicing a watch with this history. In less than a week, the Tavannes pocket watch was serviced and returned to me, with a new crystal and obvious watchmaker’s attention to the case and movement. The watch is now in the hands of Martin’s son.

Sometimes and item such as this watch is less important than the story behind it. I describe my experience as the joy of watch collecting.

June 11, 2010

The New Building and An Interesting Proposal

by Professor Emeritus Mortimer D. Schwartz

The new addition to the UCD law school building is almost a separate entity of its own, considering its size and the scope of its interior space. From my perspective of participating in the planning of the original building starting with architect's drawings, revising here and there, and dealing with heating and electrical engineers, interior designers and library furniture manufacturers, I can state that this new addition will be a complete success.

The original building was named in honor of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and is referred to by most people as King Hall. Another part of the history of the building may be the surprise of learning that way back around 1970, plans for building an addition to King Hall were written up by Dean Ed Barrett as an interesting proposal to the Board of Regents. Major decisions such as which buildings would be constructed on any of the then nine campuses of the University were made by the University Board of Regents.

The proposal was entirely the brain child of Dean Barrett. There was some stirring at University headquarters that the initial law school enrollment of 500 students would be doubled. Ed Barrett believed that a maximum enrollment of 500 students offered best educational advantages, such as greater and better exchanges between teachers and students, compared to a law school where the enrollment was 1,000 or more students.  Both Boalt Hall in Berkeley, where Ed had been a faculty member, and UCLA, had law school enrollments of around 1,000 or more. Ed wanted closer contact among the law school community because he believed that it enriched the educational process. But Ed, because of his experience working in the bureaucracy as an assistant to the University president, knew that sometimes the best action would be to "join them if you can't beat them. "  So Ed came up with a well thought out proposal.

The first step would be to build an addition to King Hall so that 500 more students could be accommodated. This would involve more space for classrooms, more offices for additional faculty members and for administrative staff, and for student activities. There would also be a dean's office set up similar to the existing one.

The shape of the proposed new addition was interesting too. King Hall is shaped much like the letter, "U". At one arm of the U are classrooms and administrative offices. The other arm of the U consists mainly of faculty offices. The base of the U is occupied by the law library.

Ed proposed that the new annex be built on the west side of King Hall and consist of two wings that essentially turned the U into an H. The new quarters would serve as let us say, School B, the original building would house School A. The two schools would be competitive and complementary. Some subject specialties would be taught to both the A school and B school students by a faculty member who belonged to either the A or B school, but not both.  School B would have its own dean.  Both schools would be served by the existing law library.

However, it was not necessary to "join them because you can't beat them." Somehow, the idea to double the enrollment did not happen. The proposal for this first new addition may well be buried somewhere in the filing cabinets or archives of the law school.

Incidentally, did you ever notice that faculty offices on the outer side of the office wing are larger than offices across the hall from them? Originally, all offices were of the same square footage.  But the outer offices had balconies about three feet wide extending beyond the outside wall of each office. This was a touch of the  San Francisco architect who designed the building.  No, no, was the reaction of some number cruncher up in Sacramento who checked all building plans against some rules about what could and could not be included in the design of faculty offices and other parts of buildings. The easy solution was simply to do away with the balconies by extending the length of each such office so that the balconies no longer existed.