Thursday, July 26, 2007


A few years ago, I was covering cases in the UM/SUM part. These were cases involving "uninsured and underinsured motorist" insurance. I won't bore you with the technicalities, except to say there were a lot of technicalities. They were always talking about the size of the type on the cancellation notices, and how you had to mail the various notices (do you count the day of mailing? what about holidays? what if the address was wrong? what if you mailed it to the attorney?). It was the Seinfeld of courtrooms, a show about "nothing". It was here I heard one of my favorite phrases, when Allstate attorney Frank Sena referred to the part as "Weasel-dom". After he said that, I noticed how all the attorneys were hunched over, how their noses wriggled, and how they avoided sunlight. Sometimes in the UM/SUM part, there were three parties to the dispute, two insurance companies (each trying to get out of paying, though one of them had to) and the plaintiff. The plaintiff's attorney didn't really have to do anything, and when I would get calls for the UM/SUM part, I would ask, "Do I have to do anything, or am I a spectator?" I even made that a box on my intake sheet. Circle one: primary carrier? Uninsurance carrier? Spectator?
I never wanted to learn about point sizes and cancellation notices, so after awhile, I only took spectator cases in the UM/SUM part.

Eventually, the UM/SUM laws evolved, and the part became less weasel-y (Is that a word?) However, there is a new front in Weasel-dom, the so called "No-fault" cases. Fasten your seatbelts.....tomorrow we are going to the new Weaseldom.....

Monday, July 23, 2007

Emilie's Birthday

7/23/07 - My daughter Emilie Seidel is 21 years old today.

Some of my blog readers know her well, some know her a little, some not at all.

I'm fortunate, I know her a long time and I know her very well. I try to share stories and observations with my readers, hopefully they are thought-provoking or funny or motivational. Here then, is the Emilie update:

This June she graduated from Francis Lewis High School, a NYC public high school. She was in an "inclusion" program, which means she took mostly regular high school classes, and went from class to class on her own. She did several years of "work study", and has worked in Filene's, in an office, and in a school. She was in chorus for 3 years, and sang in performances. In her last year in high school she took the travel training course (an AMAZING program offered to special needs students in the NYC high schools). She did not pass the final exam (she talked to the fake stranger), but she re-took the class, passed it, and now travels on her own. The last few months of school she took the City bus to school and back. This trip included a bus transfer. I had more than one neighbor tell me they saw her on the bus and were choked up. I only followed her the first day, after that I just marveled at her accomplishment.

At the Francis Lewis High School graduation (950 students), she received three school-wide awards:

1. English Department award for most improvement in the English language.
2. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo award for Character, Courage and Commitment.
3. Phys. Ed. Department award for excellence in Yoga.

When we went to the ceremony, we knew she was winning an award, but we did not know for what. We did not know she was winning more than one. Each of these awards were right on the mark. There was a time when it would be fair to say Emilie would not have known this was a big deal. She knew.

Emilie actually went to two graduations. One for Francis Lewis High School, and the other for PS 811, the special ed high school. At the PS 811 graduation, she gave a speech.

At one time Emilie was so afraid of dogs, she would panic at the sight of one. She would scream and jump on a table to avoid one, or run dangerously in the street. We told her that she should try to not be afraid, because she might not be able to travel on her own. She took this VERY seriously, and began to try. It was not easy, as the fear was deep-seated, almost innate. One weekend though, we stayed with friends who have a calm dog. She sat with that dog the entire weekend, and then announced "I'm not afraid of dogs anymore." We then got Dov, and there is nothing better than watching him lick Emilie's face while she laughs.

Emilie is excellent at cooking. She regularly downloads recipes from the internet, makes a shopping list, cooks it, serves it, and cleans up.

Emilie is away at camp this summer, at the Northwood Center in upstate New York. It's a "life-skills" environment. The campers live in an "apartment", and learn about chores, budgets, shopping, cooking, repairs, and making social arrangements. This will be her last year at the camp. In September she will look for a job. She has been approved for supported employment, and should have a real paying job. She is happy about this, and ready.

Here are a few things we can all learn from no particular order:

Fears can be overcome.
Things that happen slowly are often worth waiting for.
Respect doctors and professionals, but don't follow blindly.
Trust your instincts.
If you are supposed to practice.....practice.
Family game night is important.
If somebody doesn't understand you, say it again, clearer.
It's good to remember people's names.
Being embarrassed doesn't help you break through.
It's important to eat healthy foods.
A person should take good care of themself.
If you are not distracted, you can get a lot done......I challenge anyone to do "paint by number" as well as Emilie. She does cool sculptures too.
Being 21 can go to a casino

A few more things....Emilie has taught me to be very careful about labels and generalizations. She may have some autistic aspects, but there are some things about her that are decidedly NOT autistic:
She is very intuitive about how people FEEL. She knows if I'm stressed or angry or sad, without a word being said. She is like this with everybody.
She likes routines, but at the same time, she is more flexible than most people. She doesn't mind if plans get changed, she just wants to know what the new plans ARE. Hey, I'm like that too.

Sometimes I want to tell people how blessed I feel for all my Emilie related experiences. Sometimes, another person captures just the right words or feelings for something you are trying to say. Many people are familiar with the "poem" Welcome to Holland. The first time I heard it, Emilie was pretty little, and was clearly a member of a club I wanted no part of. I remember thinking "This is a poem people use to rationalize their miserable situations."

I was so wrong.

Nobody on Earth is as joyful to be around as Emilie.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Noxious Liquids

I used to have a part-time gig working for the taxi drivers union. My friend's wife's Dad was the founder and President of the union. The union provided health insurance to the drivers, and represented them in contract negotiations with the City. They also offered the members a "legal plan". The main benefit of the legal plan was a free lawyer for traffic court. Actually, a law firm represented the union, and part of their retainer agreement required them to provide lawyers for traffic court. Sometimes the firm just couldn't make all the traffic court appearances. When that happened, yours truly got the call.

I used to mostly go to "Manhattan South" (down by Astor Place.....terrible parking, but a big Starbucks across the street) or "Manhattan North" (126th Street in Harlem....parking not too bad, but no Starbucks). Most of the cases were red-light tickets (there's a surprise). I got pretty good at them, topping out at winning 75% of the time. The way I learned to do it was watching lawyers who went to traffic court every day, and if they were nice, asking for some advice. Most were nice, and after a few visits, I knew how to do it.'s not what this post is about, but I will tell you how I used to win many of the cases. The easiest ones were when the officer didn't show, but that didn't happen too much. Traffic officers have their regular court days, it's part of the job. Any tickets where people plead not guilty get a date that is that officers day. The really good traffic cops were hard to beat, and my 25% losers were with them. They would lay out the case perfectly, and if it ever came down to credibility (drivers word versus the cop, the driver is dead meat). As one of the regulars told me, you NEVER want a traffic case to hinge on credibility.

The way to win, is to know when the officer has left out some element of the "prima facie case". This would be because either the ticket, or the officers testimony, was lacking an essential element of a case. I had a little mental, time, where officer was, light in working order before and after, vehicle kept in continuous view, things like that. Officers who are not strictly traffic guys, cops doing their work who pull someone over and give a ticket, would frequently fill out the ticket wrong OR not testify to the required elements. If they left one out, the Judge would ask them "is there anything else?", and if they couldn't think of anything else, I'd make a motion to dismiss and Beldar Conehead Singh could go on his merry way.

Unfortunately, the union president called me in one day and said, "I'm sorry, but we can't pay you to go to traffic court any more."

Being a stellar businessman I replied "But I can't do it for free."

He said "Of course not, what happened is we need our union law firm to cover ALL the traffic court stuff, and we don't have it in the budget to pay you for the extras, THEY have to get their own people. But don't worry, YOU are gonna do the ECB cases".

I knew that ECB stood for Environmental Control Board, but I didn't see what that had to do with the taxi union.

I said "What are the ECB cases?"

"Well, those are mostly noxious liquids cases."

And so, I got to make the call that every young lawyer dreams about....

"Hi Mom, guess what? I'm starting a new thing, I represent peeing cab drivers."

Actually, there were two main kinds of noxious liquids cases. I called them either "containers" or "squirters". Containers were when a driver poured a "noxious liquid" from a container, usually a coffee cup, into the street. I sometimes wondered how the officer KNEW it was a noxious liquid and not just cold coffee. I also wondered what the officers told THEIR mothers about their job.

A squirter ticket was when the officer actually saw the driver delivering his noxious liquid streetward. Those were difficult to defend, especially if the driver insisted that he didn't do it. I mean, what could you say......I was just.......resting......or something.

I did the noxious liquids cases for about two months. Actually, it was kind of fun. The main reason I stopped was that ECB was somewhere mid-town, and you couldn't park. It was worth doing it, just to be able to tell you about it fifteen years later.

Thanks for listening.

Monday, July 9, 2007


I was a little concerned as we approached the movie-plex to buy tickets for Ratatouille, the new G-rated Pixar/Disney movie. The lobby was packed with folks who looked like they were out for a change of scenery from father/son WWE and Ultimate Fighting. Fortunately for us, the throngs were awaiting "Transformers", enabling us to scoot nimbly past, into air conditioned civility and elbow room.

THIS movie is what the powers behind Disney/Pixar had in mind. The highest level of animation and effects, combined with an engaging script, exploring themes that would engage audiences of all ages. I did not just "tolerate" the story, I got caught up in it, as did my wife and 13 year old daughter.

In Ratatouille, a young rat (Remy) approaching manhood (rat-hood?) has an extraordinary talent. He has a highly refined sense of smell, and an appreciation for the culinary arts. He is inspired by a famous TV chef and his best-selling book "Anyone Can Cook". He wants to leave the rat life of garbage eating and stealing food, which causes conflict with his controlling father, who wants him to stay and become part of rat life and his extended family. He confides in his dopey brother, who wants to support him but does not fully understand Remy.

A series of rat catastrophes cause Remy to be separated from his clan, and he discovers that "all this time we have been under Paris!". He happens upon the restaurant of the famous chef, now deceased, and the back workings of the kitchen of a famous Paris restaurant. The plot is actually quite intricate, and I will not spoil it. Remy becomes deeply involved in the conflicts of many players in the restaurant drama, and he DOES get to use his culinary skills. Many of the characters, human and rodent, are put to high level moral and life altering tests. Can I pay a higher compliment to an animated movie than to say that, throughout, "I felt for all the characters".

Remy was voiced by Patton Oswalt, a comedian I have seen a few times. I did not know this in advance, and for awhile tried to place the vaguely familiar voice. Eventually I stopped trying to figure out the voices, because I was absorbed in the story and the characters. This was a big improvement over celebrity voicing in other animated films. For example, while I enjoyed Finding Nemo, the entire movie I felt Albert Brooks talking to Ellen DeGeneris. In Ratatouille, the characters and story line stood strongly on their own.

I don't know whether the powers that be intend to score with a big marketing and product bonanza on this film. It probably does not lend itself to that. I do think this movie will "have legs" for exactly what a great movie is supposed to, a thoroughly enjoyable watching experience......for the whole family.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Handicapping the Presidential Election

Gambling is illegal in this country, except where it's legal, like Nevada, Atlantic City, some Indian reservations, on barges in many cities, and arguably in "private home games". Also legal is horse racing, dog racing, jai-alai and other "pari-mutuel" forms of betting (I know WAY too much about this, and if anyone wants an explanation of pari-mutuel betting, post a comment and I will explain). Also legal in some States is poker, though internet poker is "illegal" (yet somehow I may be playing later tonight). Sports betting is only legal in Nevada, though billions of dollars is bet illegally on all sports. Ever wonder what those baseball odds in the paper are all about? (Yeah....I know about that too). Lotteries seem to be everywhere, too.

In this country, you can't bet the Presidential election legally, but there ARE places where you can. I Googled "Odds on Presidential Candidates" and got this cool site

Check it won't be arrested.
It made me think, Polls Shmolls, this is where the action is.
I will list the odds as this site states them, with some comments:

1. Hillary Clinton 2-1 knew she'd be the chalk, these are "best" odds, some books have her at even money or less. No filly has ever won the big one, but Bill can really ride.
2. Barack Obama 5-1 does he have a better chance than Rudy? I don't see it. I may use him in an exacta with Hillary.
3. Fred Thompson 6-1 Who??? Rudy is in trouble if this guy is a lower price. First time politicians rarely can get around two turns.
4. Rudy Giuliani 8-1 Not a bad price. Might have beaten Hillary for Senator but came up lame. Breeding a question mark.
5. Al Gore 12-1 Could emerge if Hillary stumbles. Shoulda taken the prize back when.
6. Mitt Romney 14-1 Couldn't pick him out of a lineup. Is he a Mormon? Big Love is my favorite show.
7. John Edwards 20-1 Big overlay. All or nothing, won't take second seat.
8. John McCain 25-1 Can you picture it happening? I can't.
9. Michael Bloomberg 40-1 Awesome mayor, incorruptable, strictly business. Could affect race and would likely hurt Hillary. Pbly will scratch.
10. Evan Bayh 50-1 Not this time.

There are other longshots listed....Jeb Bush, Dick Cheney, Condi Rice, Newt Gingrich, Bill Richardson, John Kerry. I wonder if you could bet the "Field" of others, that would probably be about 25-1 right now.

Who do you like?

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Wills and the Dysfunctional Family

Sometimes family members feud.
Sometimes its irreparable (in the eyes of the participants.....I would always beg to differ, but that's another story).
Sometimes thoughts of mortality and money will lead a person to take action.

So they make a will....with one main make sure that " X " doesn't get anything. Sometimes there are related purposes, to make sure that " X " gets the message, or knows what he missed out on, but the theme is often the same......." X " gets nothing.

I've done a lot of wills like this. In these situations, one thing you don't want is a will contest in the future. Sometimes the main problem the will-maker has with " X " is "he's the kind of person who would contest a will". The solution to this is something we learned in law school, which students think would never come up, but in practice is does, it's called an "in terrorem clause". Sounds pretty's how it works. You leave " X " enough of a bequest to make it interesting, and add a clause that says effectively "If after my death ' X ' takes ANY steps to contest this will, he will get ZERO". People who are so inclined seem to love this suggestion, but some real thought has to go into it. To make it effective, you actually have to leave " X " something in the Will. Clients in this situation will invariably say "So leave him $10"....but this is not the way to do it, because " X " would have nothing to lose. A better approach would be to leave " X " a bequest of say, $15,000 or $25,000, in a million dollar estate, and let him deal with it.

Sometimes people don't want to do an in terrorem clause, but they do want to leave " X " nothing, and they want to minimize " X "'s chances in a will contest. One thing I always do, if someone is being left out, is specifically refer to them. It can be as simple as "I intentionally make no provision in this Will for X, and this is not due to an oversight". Some people go further and say something more....."I leave X zero because he .....whatever." Another one I have had, more than once, is "I leave nothing to X, for reasons which are well known to him." I didn't like it, but the clients wanted it and I did it. I always wondered if X really knew the reasons.

If there are any potential issues regarding the will-makers competancy, steps must also be taken to ensure the Will will stand. This would include using the best witnesses possible, keeping the language of the will as simple as possible, keeping detailed notes, and making sure you can document that you (attorney/draftsman) met with the will-maker ALONE.

There are legal provisions for video-taping a Will, but I have never done it. It surely is done, but I suspect not that often, and I can see many reasons not to.

Why all the fuss about possible will contests? Consider attorney can take a will contest on a contingency fee. There are often high stakes, where the will beneficiaries may get nothing (or much less) if the Will gets tossed. When Will contest cases first appear in Court, the first thing the Judge will usually say is...."any way to work this out?"......and eventually, there usually is.