I managed to keep my job today. A subdivision plat came before the City Council for its approval. Dissatisfied with the particulars, the Council voted against it. This plat comprised one piece of a larger development plan already approved by the City, and was simply the first platted phase. But the Council thought the first phase should contain some of the master plan’s promised amenities instead of consisting only of residential lots. “Did the Council just deny approval?” I whispered to the Mayor. The Council had, she confirmed. Even as the frantic developer raised his hand to object, I gently intervened to express my sympathy for their concerns, but reminded the Council of their prior approval of the development master plan, and of the law in Utah that requires approval of subdivision plats if they comply with City ordinances (which this plat did), and that the Council, actually, was required to approve this plat. I explained that their rejection of the plat certainly would be challenged by the developer, and that the City would lose the challenge. I walked the Council through the proper parliamentary procedure to approve a motion to reconsider the prior rejection, then to present a motion to approve the plat. All of this I said with a sort of frozen apologetic smile. Actually, I was tensely walking a long legal tightrope: in general, elected officials do not appreciate being told in public that their vote is questionable, or that they are required to vote contrary to their inclinations. What’s worse, this whole exchange was broadcast to the world on Facebook Live. To my great and immediate relief, all the Council members thanked me for helping them understand the law and for walking them through the corrective process. Driving my hour-long commute late that night, listening to the Chernow’s Hamilton, I felt so grateful to be working with reasonable, intelligent, ethical people—and to have kept my job. Mom and Dad were equally grateful, and relieved, when I recounted to them the event.
(Pictured above: 1844 Town Plat of Nauvoo, Illinois, by Joseph Smith, Jr. Source: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Used pursuant to the Fair Use doctrine.)
“That reminds me of something,” Dad chuckled. For many years, Johnson & Johnson’s companies in Central and South America were Dad’s responsibility. He had to know each country’s peculiar manufacturing, corporate, and import/export laws, and advise company officials on staying within those laws. J&J subsidiaries in the various countries manufactured many products, which were shipped between countries in locked and sealed steel shipping containers. On one occasion, a J&J subsidiary in Mexico received a shipment from a J&J subsidiary in Columbia. Shipments from Columbia were subject to strict procedures, which included inspections of the shipping containers, and container locks and seals. If a container arrived with a broken seal, company representatives were to summon police authorities prior to unlocking and opening the container. Upon breaking the seal on one shipping container from Columbia, unlocking the lock, and opening the container, J&J personnel found a large shipment of cocaine, along with the legitimately imported hospital and pharmaceutical supplies. The subsidiary general manager called Dad with a frantic, “What do I do?” Dad first instructed him that the drug cartels had bigger and more guns than J&J security, to leave the container unlocked, without guard, and to move all company personnel as far from the container as possible in case cartel agents came to collect their property. Dad then instructed him to call federal law enforcement, state law enforcement, and local law enforcement, to inform them of the situation, and to arrange for all three police agencies to arrive at the same time to investigate. The general manager did exactly so, and the police agencies arrived simultaneously, removing the cocaine without incident. Dad learned later that the cartels had developed a mechanism and method to lift and remove shipping container doors as a unit without breaking the door seals, adding to or removing drugs from the shipments, and replacing the container doors, leaving the seals intact and with no indication of the containers having been disturbed. Something had apparently gone awry with this particular shipment. Dad’s protocol kept company personnel safe, protected Johnson & Johnson’s legal standing, deprived the cartel of its drugs, and minimized the potential for corruption by involving three competing police agencies.
(Photo by Guillaume Bolduc on Unsplash.)
Mom showed me her summons to jury duty, and asked me what she should do about it. Having been a prosecuting attorney who tried many cases to a jury, I knew Mom would not be able to endure the experience, even the preliminary stage of jury selection. So, I helped her fill out the questionnaire, which asked, “Is there any reason you cannot serve on a jury?” I wrote in my best cursive, “I am too old to be on a jury. I cannot walk but a short distance because of arthritis in my knees. I cannot sit for a long time, and need frequent restroom breaks. I am getting hard of hearing. And my memory is not what it used to be. I am just too old and feeble even to show up for jury duty, let alone actually hear the whole case. And I am a caretaker for my husband, who is even older than me. I simply cannot report for duty. Please excuse me.” She signed the questionnaire after assuring me that my words conveyed her true sentiment. I felt confident that no judge would hold this feisty great-grandmother in contempt of court for not reporting for jury duty, especially after so articulate an explanation. Mom had served before on a jury in a criminal case. She had listened intently to the evidence, applied the relevant law, and found the accused guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. She was proud to have fulfilled her constitutional obligation. She would be happy even now to serve again, were she able. But she is not able, and she knows it. And now the judge knows it. Nothing but the truth.
(Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay)
I have often second-guessed my career as a lawyer, wondering if I would have been better suited as an ornithologist, a cosmologist, an English teacher, or a writer. It doesn’t matter anymore, really: I’ve been a lawyer for 25 years. And I will be the best municipal lawyer I can be until I retire, and happy to do it. Throughout my career, I have found opportunities to be both the intellectual and the romantic, the lawyer and the poet, the analyst and the naturalist. In my poem “Farmer” I explore the concept of being who we really are in the midst of circumstances that, we think, may not suit us but in which we find ourselves. And, maybe we are right where we need to be: learning, stretching, becoming.
looking back thirty years,
I would to have sidestepped
a torturous jurisprudence.
I would, rather, to have studied
the sturdy soil,
the art of growing things.
from my desk,
I till and I plant;
I nurture and hoe out the choking weeds,
looking to the harvest.
Resolutions are my cash crop,
statutes and prosecutions.
Policies and proclamations
yield forthcoming fruits.
The pen is my plough,
reams of paper
my fertile, furrowed fields,
poems my flower garden,
where butterflies condescend