VA and Service Dogs, Again

Maybe Veterans Administration was right to shut down a clinical trial of service dogs for people with Post-Traumatic Stress, but it’s clearly wrong to keep stiff-arming the service-dog idea rather than embracing it.  Back in 2008, before I was an official blogger at the RBC, Mark wrote about my efforts on behalf of NEADS (I’m on the board) to get the VA to consider helping with the cost of service dogs for wounded combat veterans.

Now the Atlantic has a piece about service dogs in the treatment of soldiers’ post-traumatic stress disorder.  Apparently the VA suspended their study with a Tampa charity providing this type of dog to veterans.  Continue reading “VA and Service Dogs, Again”

Prof. Thomas S. Szasz, M.D. (1920-2012)

Tom Szasz died on September 8, 2012. I met him in the early 1990s, when he was in Cambridge to participate in a symposium on drug policy. Keep in mind, please, that what I know about public policy, psychiatry and the War on Drugs could fit into a teaspoon. Mark asked me to help him host a post-forum dinner for the panelists solely because of his faith in my social skills. Two of the men at the party were known to square off against each other based on a difference of ideology, and Mark wished to avoid unpleasantness. I was touched by his groundless belief that good manners could prevent a food fight, and I resolved to do my best.

As things turned out, there was no need for oil on troubled waters. The dinner guests kept it civil, and I got to meet Tom, who was seated across from me. I don’t want to sound melodramatic, but it was a life-changing experience for me. Continue reading “Prof. Thomas S. Szasz, M.D. (1920-2012)”

Dogs to the rescue when the government thumbs its nose at the ADA

If there is any interest, I could post an essay toying with some ideas about how to tweak the Americans with Disabilities Act so that government employers actually obey it.  For the moment, I’ll simply note that gimps such as myself are well advised to have a Plan B for when they don’t.  If you must rely on someone for help with activities of daily living, man’s best friend is a better bet than your fellow man.  I don’t walk well and I’m even less skillful at standing on the subway.  For seven years, I had loyal service all day and every day from a Shiloh Shepherd named CJ’s Blue Smoke & Mirrors.  He never grumbled about working and the worst thing he ever did was to snore while a judge was droning addressing counsel.  I was so grieved by Blue’s death that it took two years to get up the gumption to move forward, and now the day is upon me.  On Monday and Tuesday, I’ll be training with my new partner, and then we’ll be on the job together in Boston.  Here he is:

Honestly, I feel like I’m embarking on an arranged marriage.  I’m worried about everything.

For those of you who may not know how dogs help gimps, you may enjoy reading the NEADS website.  If you like the idea of prison reform, check out the Prison Pup Partnership video.  Don’t watch the video about Canines for Combat Veterans unless you have Kleenex handy.

And one other thing.  My new dog was born in the Czech Republic and his name is Cormet, which really doesn’t work for me.  Among other things, it’s a strange sound to the American ear, so unless I change it, I can plan on spending a lot of time repeating and spelling it.  Dogs don’t care if you change their names.  To a dog, a name is just that sound the two-legged one makes when she wants your attention.  So I’d love some ideas.  I’ve considered Reacher, Jake and Rover, but I’m stuck.


It’s not just wisdom that comes with age

When I was a brand new baby lawyer in my twenties, I could not fathom sexual harassment.  I got the point that a law school diploma and an admission to the bar were meaningless in the face of my complete lack of knowledge about how the real work of lawyering was done.   I understood that the gladiatorial nature of litigation meant I was bound to take some body blows from seasoned lawyers.  Nonetheless, I could not for the life of me understand why the hostilities so often had a sexualized overtone.  What could be causing these men to remark on my appearance in between barbs and snark while standing in a filthy courthouse corridor arguing about discovery obligations in a surety case?  It made no sense.  A clerk once called into chambers to tell the judge that I had arrived, and said, “It’s either Ms. Heussler or a young Maureen O’Hara.”  What?  And who was this Maureen person anyway?

So, okay, I turned 50 last year and I now I get it.  Continue reading “It’s not just wisdom that comes with age”

Let me take that one, professor.

Commenter Mike Kaplan asks Harold Pollack a question:

Why am I paying taxes to take care of your brother-in-law Vincent? He is your family – why don’t you take care of him? Why do you want to force me to sacrifice my time and labor – in taxes – to do what you are not doing?

Not a very nice question – even setting aside the obviously false premise that Vincent isn’t being cared for by his family – but it does have a fairly easy answer.

Professor Pollack is not and should not be obligated to support a disabled relative, because that relative is neither his minor child nor his chattel.  Vincent is a human being.  The government has determined that Vincent lacks the ability to support himself, and therefore Vincent, not his family, is entitled by law to a subsistence income from the Social Security Administration.

Before Social Security, people like Vincent were considered unpleasant accidents best kept out of the public eye and certainly undeserving of personhood status.  The family of an intellectually limited person was presumptively the only means of support, and consequently entitled to make use of him or her in any way they chose.  Developmentally delayed children grew up to be exploited as slave labor and for the sexual gratification of those who supported them.

Every disabled person should be afforded the ability to live as independently as possible and to have choices so he or she is not forced out of personhood.  In Vincent’s case, this means an income from SSI, which is an entitlement, not a gift, as it would be if it came from a family member.  I can hear the libertarians lining up to scoff at the notion that a monthly SSI check can be considered “independence,” but it is the best we can do.  For people with physical disabilities, independent living requires the expenditure of public and private funds to build entrances that allow them access to buildings and transportation services.

And of course not every developmentally disabled adult has a high-income relative. In the richest country in the history of the world, whether such people can lead minimally decent lives should be guaranteed by policy, not left to accident.

This discussion reminds me of a passage from Tom Jones, following an act of generosity by Squire Allworthy:

Allworthy here betook himself to those pleasing slumbers which a heart that hungers after goodness is apt to enjoy when thoroughly satisfied. As these are possibly sweeter than what are occasioned by any other hearty meal, I should take more pains to display them to the reader, if I knew any air to recommend him to for the procuring such an appetite.

Nations, like individuals, can learn to “hunger after goodness.” Or not.



Exotic pets must be banned.

Thanks for raising the issue, Keith!   You’re right; there will not be a recurrence of the Zanesville zoo situation, but a ban on the sale of exotics as pets is sorely needed.  Unfortunately the Ohio legislation is only designed to regulate the keeping of potentially lethal animals, and to protect the public, not the animals.  It should ban the sale of all exotic pets.  I am (shh, don’t tell anyone) a fancier of turtles and tortoises.  It’s not my fault.  I came home from school at age 7 with one of those green dime-store turtles as a prize.  My academic-minded parents sent me to the library to research its biological needs.  The local library was insufficient, and I was forced to consult the biology department at Princeton University.  Since my little turtle, a hatchling Trachemys scripta elegans, got the UVA and UVB light he needed, in addition to an adequate diet (which involved, in the beginning, supplying him with disabled guppies that he could catch for himself (an experience that probably scarred me for life), he grew to be full sized and we released him into the wild several years later.  Continue reading “Exotic pets must be banned.”

More on Judge Dougan

Mark and Steve had some entirely appropriate concerns about my defense of Judge Dougan.  Mark wrote:  “Wait. He acquitted someone of DUI despite a BAC twice the legal limit because the guy was an alien and would have faced deportation, and Dougan didn’t think that was fair? You can call that lots of thinks, but it ain’t judging. Would you have been similarly outraged if the public defender had “papered” one of Boston’s fine hanging judges for convicting someone in the absence of evidence? If not, what’s the difference?”

And then he said I should post my response.  So here it is (with my bad language self-censored): Continue reading “More on Judge Dougan”

Dan Conley: much worse than a sore loser

[Update here.]

Suffolk County (home to Boston, Massachusetts) District Attorney Dan Conley has filed a complaint against Boston Municipal Court Judge Raymond Dougan with the Judicial Conduct Commission. The alleged offense is not taking bribes, or sitting on cases when he had a conflict, or sexually harassing anyone– Conley alleges that Judge Dougan favors the defense. You heard it correctly.

The shocking part of this story is that the Judicial Conduct Commission did not dismiss the complaint out of hand. Judge Dougan has had to ask the Supreme Judicial Court to intervene to block the JCC from requiring him to submit to questioning about his decisions. Really, there aren’t enough adjectives for how bad this is. Judges make decisions. That’s what they do. And every decision will leave someone unhappy and feeling like the judge was biased. To my knowledge, no judge has ever been required to explain himself absent some form of misconduct like having an undisclosed interest or ex parte communication.

Conley was able to assemble a list of cases that make Judge Dougan look bad, and to the lay observer, they certainly do. The judge did release a defendant before trial with horrifying results. But for crying out loud, we don’t pig pile on a judge for locking up a defendant who is later acquitted. Should we go after judges whose convictions are later reversed on appeal? Mr. Conley may not lose any sleep over the possibility that an innocent person will be convicted when a judge sleeps through the trial, but the rest of us rely on the judicial branch to thoroughly test the prosecution’s case.

I completely understand the aggravation that Mr. Conley feels when his prosecutors lose. Trial lawyers are like racehorses; losing too frequently demoralizes them and makes them less effective. I get it. Been there, been demoralized. But does he not acknowledge the flip side? Pro-prosecution bias extends from the front door of the courthouse (I heard a jury officer apologize for courthouse security by explaining that “criminals come here for their trials”) all the way to the top. Mr. Conley’s cavalier statement (“I cannot stand by while a clearly biased judge ignores the law and threatens public safety”) suggests that judges are superfluous. If he brought the case, apparently, judges should defer to his opinion and rubber-stamp his decision. And frankly, even if most judges aren’t merely rubber-stamping cases, they still presume that the DA’s office has thoroughly investigated the case and adduced credible evidence against the defendant.

I wonder if Mr. Conley would answer honestly if asked whether any judges are biased in his favor. It’s not a secret in the trenches. ADAs don’t even need to spell it out. After I rejected the offer of a plea deal, one young ADA was hugely amused. “A trial?” he chortled. “You’re going to try this to Judge X? Don’t come here often, do you?” Trying cases to some judges is just a slower way to plead guilty. Does Mr. Conley think his assistants should ask these judges to recuse themselves?

I am disappointed in Mr. Conley for acting like an uneducated hypocritical crybaby, but my real disgust is reserved for the Judicial Conduct Commission. How many complaints of bias (mostly brought by non-lawyers who don’t understand the concept of judicial independence) has the Commission dismissed with a form letter explaining that a claim of bias, without more, cannot be investigated? If the JCC did not have the courage to tell Mr. Conley to put on his big boy underpants, I surely hope the Supreme Judicial Court will.