Select Page
What Is Political Common Ground?

What Is Political Common Ground?

Have you ever just stopped in the street and said to yourself, ”Wow, I wish I had that to do over!” and then found yourself exploring even larger questions?

Because of my short-lived political background, I ponder irrelevant questions and worry about them all the time.

I have some regrets.

For me it all happened back in 2014, but it only became clear what my concern should have been about two weeks ago.

Back in 2014, I was asked a question that I couldn’t answer. That was the problem.

Back then, I hated gerrymandering and concluded that the country was getting dangerously divided because of it, so I ran for political office on a theme that ”We must not lose our common ground.”

My strategy would be to find common ground with every person in my divided district and thus bring them together so we could reason together.

Maryland is two-to-one Democrat and the state legislature had crammed as many Republicans as possible into the district where I lived. I am a Democrat but I was sympathetic to my outnumbered Republican neighbors. I consulted the experts and was informed that I had at best of five percent chance of winning as a Democrat in this district.

I jumped right in!

I really believed I would win if I could find some common ground each time I knocked on another door.

I was all in. I contributed my own money to the campaign and I raised over $150,000. Susan and I and a small group of overoptimistic diehards spent that summer and fall knocking on 5000 doors, and debated the three incumbents who raised only around $5,000 together. They did not need the money. They had all been in office for over a decade in this gerrymandered district.

Late one hot summer Sunday morning, it turned out I didn’t know “ common ground” as well as I thought I did. Only about two weeks ago, did it all became clear.

When I knocked on the doors, I always had the same pitch: ”I believe we must find our common ground so we can all talk together.” Then for humor I would add, because I was over 65 years old, that ”if they were worried about term limits, nature would take care of that in my case.” Everybody laughed, and we talked as friends until I was asked whether I was a Republican or a Democrat, at which point the door was slammed in my face.

Of course, I remained optimistic. As I would drive home while the sun was going down, I believed the depth of my commitment would pull me through.

The depth of my commitment was only challenged once, when I could not find “common ground.“

Late in the August heat, I knocked on the door of a well-kept home in a trailer park, which had three steps on either side of the front door.

I knocked on that door and a heavyset woman dresses in a giant muumuu answer the door and after my pitch she announced: “I can’t talk to you right now because I don’t have any underwear on.”

How was I to answer that? For the first time maybe ever, I was speechless.

I couldn’t say, “You don’t need to be wearing underwear to read my materials,” or, “No problem I’ll wait til you put on your underwear.” I was dumbfounded. I could find no common ground.

For almost ten years, I have pondered this interchange. I thought and rethought about my inability to find an answer. I have not hesitated to tell this story to others in the hope that they might suggest something. Then about two weeks ago, a friend of mine had an answer right off the top of his head!

He said, “You forgot your theme. Why didn’t you just say, “That’s okay, I don’t either!”


Trial Strategy Learned from a Chicken

Trial Strategy Learned from a Chicken

Abraham Lincoln famously said, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

Lincoln’s quote applies to the voting public as well as trials before a judge or jury.

Former President Trump appears to be trying to win his legal cases with political arguments. He cares little about judges, but is determined to win an election, in order to pardon himself or have another Republican pardon him if he doesn’t run. Trump is leading in the polls, so this should be easy for him to do.

I learned how to do this from a chicken.

Years ago, I represented one defendant of four that were accused of stealing trade secrets that were provided to the lead defendant who allegedly included them in a patent for software designed for huge construction projects.

The plaintiff was a self-taught computer programmer. He was represented by a prominent New York patent firm.

The lead defendant was represented by a large Chicago law firm, which had contracted for the entire floor of an NYC hotel for the two month trial. The four trade secret defendants were represented by separate individual lawyers. I was one of them. The case was tried before a jury in the federal court in Manhattan.

I liked my client. I believed in his innocence after watching how he lived. Over the two years of depositions and trial prep, I became convinced of his innocence.

He had gotten a scholarship to college as an athlete. He struck me as a fellow who played hard, but he played by the rules. He was remarkably oblivious to how personal impressions shape jury decisions, perhaps because he was so straightforward.

The large Chicago firm gave the opening statement for the defendants that ran for a day and a half. They kept open every possible defense available and there wasn’t a defense that they didn’t like. One juror went to sleep but the lawyers seemed too busy to notice.

The other four defendants, the trade secrets defendants, each argued in their openings for at least two to three hours each, except for me.

As I watched those opening statements, I abruptly changed my strategy given the jury’s reaction to the openings.

I told the jury my opening statement would be no more than 15 minutes and whenever this trial ended, my closing summary would be no longer than 15 minutes and they would find that my client was not guilty.

I told them a little about my client and his little company, and then I sat down easily within the 15 minutes I had slotted for myself.

Every day of the trial, all the lawyers for the defendants went to lunch in Chinatown, which was right behind the Federal Court in Manhattan. The restaurant we went to had two attractions: 1) the dancing chicken, and 2) the chicken that would play tic-tac-toe against you.

You put the coins into the slot, and out would come the chicken. It would stare at you until you made your first move, tapping on the tic-tac-toe board that was on the glass that separated you from the chicken. An “X” would appear. The chicken would then make its counter move, pecking its choice of position, where an “O” would appear.

Even though all of the defense lawyers went to eat at this Chinese restaurant, none of them played this game because, I’m convinced, they didn’t want to dim their genius by losing to a chicken. That is certainly why I didn’t play against the chicken.

This was a serious chicken. The chicken was really good. It was so good that years later when the chicken died it got an obit in the New York Times. It was all a con job, but everyone was captivated by it. The chicken was given a signal where to pack in order to get fed, and thus peck the correct box.

As the trial progressed, I grew more worried that this case was so complicated that nobody understood it. Worse, now there were at least three jurors who were dozing off.

I became convinced that the defendants would not be considered individually. I feared that they would be lumped together with the patent defendent, and the smaller trade secret defendants would be found guilty as well, including my client.

When it became my client’s turn to testify, he came to town and, before he took the stand, we went to the Chinese restaurant. However, on the way to the men’s room, when I wasn’t looking, my client challenged the chicken.

The lawyers stopped eating and watched my client as he lost to the chicken about an hour before he was going to testify. After he lost to the chicken, everyone was remarkably quiet and nobody seemed to be eager to talk to me.

In a funny way, the loss to the chicken confirmed for me my client’s integrity and it fit quite nicely into my new strategy.

When I put him on the stand, I abandoned my prepared outline and changed gears. I kept it short, simple and direct. I flat out asked him whether he had stolen anything that became part of this purloined patent. He was surprised that I had changed our planned testimony. He replied instinctively without reservation and answered no.

I then announced that was the only question I was going to ask and then I sat down. The plaintiff never cross-examined him because he was small potatoes, and there wasn’t much testimony to cross examine.

Thereafter, I also changed gears and cross-examined the plantiff’s patent expert witnesses about the trade secrets case, which they knew nothing about. They cared only about the patent, not about the claim of trade secrets theft.

I asked each expert witness the same question: “After the years that you have put into preparation for your testimony, did you find any evidence that convinced you of my client’s guilt?” In each case, they shook their heads and answered no.

The other lawyers thought I was crazy and looked down at their papers in an effort to avoid laughter.

I added insult to injury by dramatically turning to the court reporter and saying that I wanted a copy of the answer to my question and, in each case, the court reporter nodded and I would get a couple of pages of transcript the next day.

After almost two months of trial, we went to closing, and again all the defendants gave days of closing arguments. When it came to me, I put my watch on the lectern and I looked at the jury and said, “Remember my promise of almost two months ago? I am going to give you a closing that will not exceed 15 minutes.” Then I quoted from the transcript pages that I had requested from the court reporter, the answer from each expert witness that stated they had found no evidence relating to my client.

Back then, during breaks, everybody could smoke cigarettes in the hallway. I got to know the plaintiff because he smoked a pipe and I smoked cigarettes, so we shared matches and talked.

He saw what I was doing and actually appreciated it. He would always start off after we inhaled and then, with a smile, would laugh and say, “smoke and mirrors.”

All the other lawyers waited three days for the verdict. I had to catch the train back home because I had a small trial starting the next day. After three days, the jury came down hard against all of them, but acquitted my client.

A day later I got a faxed letter from the plaintiff. He had won big, but he still sent me a letter with a smiley face and “smoke and mirrors — congratulations.”

So much of the time, appearances are more powerful and persuasive than the facts. We will see if Trump “fools the people” in the end.

Back to the Future

Back to the Future

Last month I took a trip because I wanted to “feel” what it was like to live in WWII Germany and the Soviet Cold War occupation in Czechoslovakia and Poland.

I already knew the dates, places and times from textbooks, but it’s quite different to experience what it was like to have lived during those times.

Of course the trip would come alive in museums and, unexpectedly, it brought back for me a long lost feeling I had years ago when I was just a young boy. I had gotten lost off shore in Buzzards Bay in a small motorboat that was running out of gas on an outgoing tide in thick predawn fog.

It is odd how we learn through memories and association.

How odd that museums, which were about imprisonment, brought back the feeling of drifting out to sea, creating an odd claustrophobia without barriers other than an endless borderless fog.

The claustrophobia slowly kicked in when I visited Checkpoint Charlie, the famous heavily guarded passthrough in the Berlin Wall, which kept the East Germans imprisoned inside.

It started with a set of pictures of a boy who had scrambled to climb the wall in an effort to live in freedom, but the photos chronicled how he had died riddled with bullets, hanging from barbed razor wire near the top of the wall.

How odd that I could feel claustrophobic under wide-open skies?

A few days later, the claustrophobia increased in one of the East German museums that focused on the Nazi SS and their little gray bread trucks. These had no windows, just a sliding door on one side and three closet-sized cells so small that prisoners could not stand but only sit in a narrow chair, hands by their sides, while they were taken to a concentration camp somewhere outside of Berlin.

A few days later as we traveled toward Prague, we stopped at another prison that was three or four stories high with interrogation cells on the top floor. The inmates who would not answer were showed pictures of their family who would be killed if they continued to resist.

Putin had spent six months in the house across the street when he was in Soviet intelligence, attempting to flip the tortured inmates to become Soviet spies.

The claustrophobia wrapped around me in that silent building when I realized what it must have felt like day and night in there. It was missing the noise of slamming cell doors, the echoing screams and the smell of the single bucket in the corner, which acted as a bathroom in each cramped cell, with three to a single bed and no mattress.

I know now why the feeling I had on this trip was claustrophobic but I thought it was still an odd reaction to the history of the past until I realized I had lived my whole life free in a democracy.

All of a sudden, I felt imprisonment under borderless wide open skies as a psychological imprisonment which became unbearable.

All of a sudden, I could feel the last breath of the boy crucified and bleeding from razor wire on the top of a Berlin Wall as a reaction to my claustrophobia and his death.

Years ago, as I slowly ran out of gas in my little boat, I saw the outline of a cliff as the late morning fog broke. There were connected ladders and a climbing set of stairs. I beached the boat and climbed to the top of the cliff and knocked on the door of a little cottage overlooking the ocean.

A woman with the Sunday newspaper tucked under her arm answered the door. I breathlessly asked, “Where am I?” She looked at me quizzically and answered “Menemsha,” then paused, “Martha’s Vineyard,” and then paused again… “The United States of America.”

I remember feeling happy and alive.

Fear Separates Heroes from Cowards

Fear Separates Heroes from Cowards

Fear separates heroes from cowards.

I live in beautiful northern Baltimore County west of Harford County, north of Baltimore city and south of the Pennsylvania line. It is rich with beautiful horse farms, deer and fox hunting, verdant farmland and wonderful people.

I am a moderate Democrat. Where I live is by and large Trump country but I love my neighbors. For the most part, we don’t let politics get in the way of respect and friendship.

Last week, two friends and I held a small fundraiser for a Democratic Congressional candidate who is running to unseat an incumbent Trump Republican who met in the White House to plan the January 6th attack on the Capital.

As the midterms have been approaching, for some reason, I have been remembering old litigation from when I had been hired by a prominent personal injury lawyer to try the cases he thought he would lose.

I wanted to learn how to try cases before I started my own firm in 1990, so this was perfect and I took the job.

In the 1980s, the Harford County Courthouse was being renovated. An alternative courthouse annex was set up to handle cases while the renovations proceeded.

This temporary courthouse had a makeshift heating air conditioning and ventilation system hung from the ceiling, and the sounds from other courtrooms and the neighboring bathroom could be heard through this system during the proceedings.

I had been assigned a case which my employer had said was “difficult.” Our client, a young-for-his-age teenage boy, was so shy he could barely answer my questions about his bicycle accident during our first meeting.

The accident involved a car and the boy had his leg broken and his bicycle destroyed. There were real questions about who was at fault. His parents filed on his behalf, and without his knowledge, a lawsuit for extensive damages.

The boy had no friends and was so shy that his only freedom came when he left school in the afternoon to ride his bike for hours along country roads while his classmates played seasonal team sports.

His parents were clearly disappointed by their son. He would never be the football captain or the class president.

I met him with his parents for trial preparation about a week before trial. After we went over the case that had been filed, the boy seemed reticent and I asked his parents to leave the room. I asked him to go over the facts once more with me one on one. He looked down and repeated what his parents had told me before they had left the room. He was uncomfortable, but what was striking about him was that when his eyes met mine and he told me something, he was honest, definitive, and straightforward.

I feared this was a boy who was being forced to tell a story instead of the truth.

He clearly was not looking forward to testifying under oath.

On the day of trial, I asked his parents to bring him to the courthouse early so that he could sit in the witness chair alone without anybody there, to familiarize himself with the space and settle his nerves.

When he sat alone in that witness chair he was terrified. I wanted his parents to see him sitting there alone staring into space and shaking before anybody else came into that courtroom.

I then asked him to go sit with his parents so we could talk about the possibility that the case could be settled before trial. The parents refused and reiterated that they wanted several hundred thousand dollars in damages.

Several minutes later, the opposing counsel came in and started to set up for the trial. Shortly thereafter, the people who would be chosen as jurors filtered in.

The boy become more and more frightened. About 10 minutes before the judge would appear and we would pick a jury, the boy slowly started to cry by himself. I noticed that the parents were trying to cover this up, and they asked to remove him briefly from the courtroom to go to the bathroom so he could compose himself.

The defense counsel had offered nothing to settle the case, because he believed that the boy was too shy to make a good impression before the jury. He ambled over and offered a nominal amount to resolve the case, which is not unusual before a case begins.

All of a sudden, through the heating ducts from the bathroom, the sound of gagging and then a toilet repeatedly flushing could be heard.

The defense counsel asked where was the boy. I said I was sure he would be back before the judge entered and we started picking a jury.

Moments later, the boy’s father came into the courtroom and signaled for me to join him in the hall. He told me the boy had refused to testify but his father instructed me that he was going to make sure he did.

I asked the father to consider a settlement of the case, because the boy clearly was uncomfortable with testifying to something that apparently he did not believe was true. The father said he would consult his wife. I insisted that whatever decision was made had to be given to me by my client, their son.

He hurried off to the bathroom and returned with his wife who agreed that the boy would be ready to testify.

I told them to get their son. They told me to come into the men’s room because he wouldn’t leave his stall.

The boy looked at me when he came out of the stall, tears streaming down his face. He looked down and wouldn’t talk. I looked at him and said, do you want me to resolve this case? And he nodded. His parents objected. I push them aside. What do you think is a fair settlement, I asked. He waved his hands as if to say nothing. I told him that the other side had made a nominal offer to merely resolve the case and I asked him whether I could negotiate further and resolve it rather than dismiss it. His parents resisted, but he nodded yes.

When I reentered the courtroom the sound of the toilet flushing was coming through the ductwork and there were muffled heated voices also coming through.

The defense counsel asked again where was my client. The judge was about to enter. I joked that if he only had offered a little more money, maybe it could have been resolved. He added to his offer. I told him I was authorized to settle the case for double that amount and we did.

It wasn’t much. It was a compromise. Enough to pay some hospital bills and get a replacement bicycle for the boy.

It only took about 10 or 15 minutes to put the settlement on the record and send the jury home. I left the courthouse and looked for the boy and his parents. Their car was gone and I never saw them again.

I wish I could have said goodbye to that boy who was too shy to confront the world, but had the courage to stand his ground and refuse to lie!

Fear separates the heroes from the cowards.

Two days ago, after our little political fundraiser, my friend and his wife, who had held the reception at their home, woke up to find a dead fox hung from their mailbox.

This is not who we are in northern Baltimore County.

This not who we are as Americans.

I Have Twice Lived in a Divided Country

I Have Twice Lived in a Divided Country

I have twice lived in a divided country. The first time it still had American kindness and we could still talk.

The Vietnam War had divided my country in 1968. I was hitchhiking because I wanted to abandon all of that, and be together with American strangers and their kindness, which was how we defined ourselves. I wanted to believe.

I got rides from both sides.

A senior Marine officer in a convertible had taken me into the PX at Parris Island to buy tax-free cigarettes. The marching soldiers on both sides of his car stopped to salute his license tags when he brought me in and then returned me to the highway.

It was a kindness he offered to me.

I had changed my mind late that summer. I had made it to California, but decided to head back to be with my father in Easton, Maryland for his birthday at the end of August.

The Democratic Convention in Chicago would be happening in about week. Violence was predicted.

Because it had been impulsive and I had started late, I tried to hop an eastbound freight train in Cheyenne, but I got caught and was mercifully dumped back on Interstate 80 East by a gruff but kind state cop who told me to disappear in 30 minutes because he was coming back.

Within 15 minutes, I got a ride from a boy dressed as a rhinestone cowboy in a white convertible with the top down and Iowa tags. He was heading east to Fort Dodge. He was going home to see his father. This was good. It would be a 660 mile ride so I would make up lost time and we were going to get to know each other.

He told me he had spent two years in Vietnam and was a war hero. He told me he had spent a year in Wyoming herding cattle. He told me that the night before, he had been in Las Vegas with girls in the front seat and girls in the backseat and had won big at the slots and had decided he wanted to see his father back in Fort Dodge. We drove nonstop all afternoon and all night laughing, smoking and talking. From the start, we liked each other.

We were Americans and therefore brothers by accident.

When he pulled over for gas, he bought me cigarettes, a can opener, and a can of peaches. It was a kindness he had offered to me.

As we rolled down the highway, I forked out the peaches and drank the sweet syrup. He told me about his life in Vietnam and the year he spent out on the western ranch, and how much he loved his father.

As we turned off the interstate and entered Fort Dodge dawn was breaking and, as the sun was coming up, he parked the car in front of a broken house in need of paint and shutter repair. The front door was unlocked and two of the windows in the front of the house were broken.

When we entered the house, there were slats missing on the staircase going up to the second floor. Beer cans littered the floor and overflowed out of a trashcan next to the refrigerator.

Before the boy went to wake up his father, he opened the refrigerator and handed me a beer. Then he took two more and excitedly bounded up the staircase.

There was loud coughing from upstairs and after a while the boy and his father came down. The old man was weak and had phlegm in his lungs. He didn’t look like he was long for the world.

I wanted to leave them alone so father and son could be together. I asked if I could take a bath upstairs. They said no and pointed at a wash tub, tilted against the stove. I was told there was no hot water but I could heat water on the stove and mix it with tap water and bathe while we drank breakfast.

So I did.

I was happy in my warm and soapy water thinking about how soon I would have a “dishpan body” as I sat in a washtub in the dawn drinking beer.

It was clear the boy and his father loved just being together. They joked, laughed, and chided each other as if they were long-lost friends.

After about a half an hour into my bath and after more breakfast beer, there was a knock on the door and two police officers entered the unlocked door without permission.

I obviously was in a considerably compromised position, but the officers paid no attention to me.

Chaos broke out. The car I had been riding in apparently had been purchased about a week ago with stolen money. Both the father and the son were confessing to the police officers to save the other. The officers arrested the boy, handcuffed him, and took him away in a squad car. The father burst into tears and told me the story.

The boy had just been released after seven years in prison for smoking marijuana. He had not served in Vietnam or been a cowboy, but he had won big in Las Vegas with money his father had given him. The boy had come home to give his father money to pay off the used car his father had bought for him.

After his father had given the car to his son, he had ordered him to leave and go west to start a new life. He instructed the boy to not come back but his son could not resist sharing his good fortune. They had only each other in this world.

The old man continued to drink beer, cough and smoke cigarettes at the kitchen table. The more he told his son’s story the more he drank and the more he cried. Somewhere around noon, he took off for the police station on foot in an effort to do what he could for his son.

I had not slept since before Cheyenne so, when he left, I put my duffel bag under my head and I curled up on the floor and slept for a while. I woke up late in the afternoon. The father had still not returned, so I threw the knapsack over my shoulder and headed out to try to catch a ride.

There was a United States post office hub in Fort Dodge, so I hung around there until I got a postal driver to let me ride shotgun to the mail district in South Chicago. As I was let out, I got cat calls from some of the postal workers who were waiting to punch the clock to begin their shift. Mayor Richard Daley was fighting the demonstrators outside of the convention.

From Chicago, I got short rides through Ohio, Pennsylvania, and then across the Bay Bridge on to Maryland’s Eastern Shore. My last ride was from a tow truck driver, who had never left the Eastern shore, and never been on a boat.

During those last short rides, I kept thinking about how different we all were, but how we could talk and share our lives, and how each person had enriched mine.

That is America to me. That is what will make us great again.

I got to Easton on my father’s birthday, and the prodigal son was welcomed home yet again.

How Do You Cover Up the Perfect Conspiracy?

How Do You Cover Up the Perfect Conspiracy?

There has been a lot going on in American politics since the search of Mar-a-largo to recover some confidential documents. A lot of finger pointing.

Almost half of the country believes it is a “witch hunt” and the FBI is a cover up for the deep state.

I decided to quickly solve this problem and offer a solution.

Trust me — here is the inside story!

The deep state is real and I have the proof. 

(The real deep state is never capitalized. That’s how you know it’s the real deep state.)

The deep state is real, as is evident from the demise of the stick shift.

Ask yourself: In a world driven by Classified and Top Secret Information, isn’t it amazing that nobody has objected to the disappearance of the stick shift?

It is that big of a cover-up!

Hasn’t the entire insurance industry for years been obsessed with “uninsured motorists”?

Why wouldn’t they be? Think of the years of lost profits.

So, why no reporting on the fact that the insurance industry has silently teamed up with personal injury lawyers in order to support driverless cars?

It was hidden but obvious. Follow the money!

It benefits the insurance companies and the lawyers!

If only cars — and no longer the drivers — can be sued, lawyers need only to sue Tesla and other car manufacturers making driverless cars and then, even better, the manufacturers will have to buy the liability insurance — not the drivers — so uninsured motorists are no longer a problem.

You know how they did this?

They eliminated the stick shift.

It gets better. Imagine if they got a favorable interpretation of the Constitution?

If you are an “originalist” member of the Supreme Court there is no evidence that there were any cars with stick shifts around at the ratification of the Construction. In fact, there is ample evidence that there were only horses.

This Supreme Court could put the icing on the cake, because an originalist Court could rest its case on the fact that horses back then never were operational by stick shift.

Thank God for the wisdom of the founders.

The thing is, the deep state can get you off track intentionally. They often hide things in plain view. Like our former president admits everything to avoid a cover up.

For example, remember that signer of the Declaration of Independence with a huge signature? John Hancock? Why the big signature? What was his line of work? Could it have been he just started an insurance company that would solve the age old problem of uninsured motorists and ambulance chasers?


I told you. The deep state is all about getting you off track.

Think about it. The deep state is too smart to be really concerned about insurance companies or personal injury lawyers!

You guessed it?

It is all about Elon Musk controlling Twitter and a past president who can’t buy his voice back and didn’t buy Twitter stock early?

… Go a little deeper. It is about communication in fighting.

Why did Musk go into space on a space ship that did not have a stick shift?

It was a secret message.

This is actually very subtle, even for the deep state. Is it in fact a message from the anti-deep state, which is the deep state acting as the anti-deep state being the deep state that is really the actual hidden deep state?

So maybe Elon was sending an undetectable message that ”all is ready. Release our guy from the past!”

What do you think that raid at Mar-a-Largo was all about?

To attack the FBI and American law enforcement in a “new law-and-order campaign” of the deep state?

Nobody messes with the deep state! They got their man — and the first steps to a new law-and-order campaign for a new nation!

Okay, I promised to offer a solution. Here it is:

If you don’t want the deep state to hack into your passwords, install a stick shift on your computer — because no one but you will remember how to use it — and then put your GPS in a driverless Uber Eats® and send a cheeseburger to Mar-a-Largo with extra ketchup and napkins.

No one will understand, so you will be safe.

If there is any problem, the lawyers will have to sue the car.