Tag Archives: law

Sometimes You Quit Your Job to Speak Your Mind

10 Feb

We are currently living in an environment in which our freedom of speech is under siege more than ever before.  We are denied access to vital information, misinformed by those who we trust to keep us aware, denied the opportunity to safely express our opinions.  Students are threatened with expulsion, journalists with incarceration, employees with termination all simply for holding others to reasonable standards of behavior.  And all this is so incredibly intertwined with money, power, ego, and entitlement that those of us lacking access to any, and sometimes all, of those things can be left completely voiceless, powerless.  That shouldn’t be so.  At a time when people reference the Bill of Rights almost constantly, why do so many of us feel so very silenced?

I have always been an opinionated girl.  What started out as indiscriminate screaming as a toddler has evolved into well thought out and incredibly strongly held beliefs about all manner of things.  It is one of my favorite things about myself but also what gets me into most of the jams I find myself in.  Sometimes I wish I could just keep my mouth shut, simply not care as much as I do, but then I wouldn’t be me.  The fact of the matter is that I care. If I had to go out on a limb and articulate what I care about more than anything else it would probably be equality.  At the same time,  if I had to say what it is that I personally work on harder than anything else, it is seeing everyone as equal.

I think that we are all raised in environments that, due to a myriad different factors, value certain people over others.  Be it due to skin color, religious beliefs, gender, sexual orientation, class, appearance, profession, native language, accent, mental or physical ailments, we have a very unfortunate tendency to assign worth to individuals.  I am by no means innocent of this very thing.  The thing about it, though, is that I am trying.  I am trying, while understanding the privilege that I was born with, to shed preconceived notions of people, to make myself more tolerant, more understanding, more open, more human.  One of the by-products of this journey is that I am acutely aware of when I, and those whom I love, are treated as somehow lesser than.  It happens to me because I am Jewish, because I am female, because I work in the service profession.  It happens all the time and, just as I think others do not deserve that kind of treatment, I believe that I deserve better.  And so I speak and I write and for that I am not sorry.

Honestly, I am angry that I am writing this right now.  I think it is crazy that I have to sit here and talk about the fact that I believe people, all people, should be able to wake up in the morning and feel safe.  We should feel safe in our homes, on the streets, at our jobs.  We should feel as though we are of some value, some worth.  We should feel as though our friends and families are in our corner.  That should simply be part of being.  None of us should go through life constantly being told that we are not deserving of simple human kindness and yet, day after day, this is what happens to so many of us.  We shouldn’t have to justify our existence, our choices.  I was born female, I was born Jewish, I chose to bartend.  All of these things have made me who I am and I am not ashamed of any of them and I never will be.

If you come into the place in which I work and you disrespect me, my coworkers, my employers, you had better believe I am going to have something to say about  it.  Being drunk does not give you an excuse to treat other people with utter disregard.  We should never be called names, be threatened, or have things thrown at us simply for doing our jobs.  Nobody should.  We all are worth something, but by treating others poorly because you think your money or your degree somehow makes you worth more you are simply devaluing yourself.  Threatening a small business with a baseless, frivolous lawsuit simply so you don’t have to be held accountable for your own poor behavior devalues your profession.  Threatening someone’s freedom of speech simply because it gets your nose out of joint devalues the law itself.

So I quit my job.  I quit my job because I was asked to take my blog posts down and apologize to those who were bothered by them and I will not do either of those things.  I quit my job because a few members of an otherwise kind, intelligent, fun and caring group of legal professionals decided to lob an empty, and I believe ethically questionable, lawsuit at a bar because a barely-read blog detailed the extremely poor behavior of a few.  (One of whom, might I point out, has already had his name and profession published in the New York Post in connection with a drunken assault charge.)  The thing is, I never published last names and I have only published first names, and common ones at that, twice.  Once was retroactively, after I received an anonymous comment from an email address that was created for the occasion and subsequently disabled and after I quit my job, and the other because the person repeatedly threw things at me, on camera, which seems to me grounds for an assault charge.  And yet I left their last names out, and will continue to do so, not because I am afraid of being sued but because, for whatever reason and in the face of years of poor treatment and bad behavior, it seems like the moral thing to do.  Sometimes a girl just needs to vent, she does not need to impact someone else’s life in any real and negative way (possible ego bruising aside).  But that’s just me.  Some of these people might be assholes, but they are human beings and deserve to be treated as such.

And besides, my integrity is simply too valuable to me.  I might not have as much money as some other people, and my resume might not be as impressive, but I feel damn good.  I have a right to say what I believe and I have the obligation to attach my name to what I say.  If that means that people don’t like me, that people threaten me, that people undermine the ethics of their own profession, that is their problem, not mine.  I have always been me and I always will be.  If I like you, believe me you will know it.  I will tell you in no uncertain terms.  But if you are disrespectful to me or someone I care about, I will tell you what I think.  That is my right and my obligation as a person who gives a damn.  You want to use your education to scare a few kind, hard-working, small business owners to death?  Go for it I hope you’re proud.  I will use mine to simply treat people with the kindness and respect they deserve.

Good luck and enjoy the bar, it’s all yours.

Miranda and the Public-Safety Exception

30 May

I read this quote yesterday from the Supreme Court case of Ex Parte Milligan* which was decided in 1866:

“The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people, equally in war and in peace, and covers with the shield of its protection all classes of men, at all times, and under all circumstances.”

This all made me think about the public-safety exception to the Miranda warning against self-incrimination.  So the deal with Miranda for those of you who don’t (a) watch a lot of Law and Order or (b) read a lot of legal things is that if a suspect is questioned before he is read his rights then those statements are not admissible in court.  According to this article, the public-safety exception was first introduced in 1982 by Sol Wachtler, the former chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals.  The case that is invoked in any debate over the constitutionality of the public safety exception is New York v. Benjamin Quarles.  The Quarles case went as follows:  in 1980 a woman in Queens flagged down a police cruiser and told the officers that she had been raped by an armed man who subsequently fled into a grocery store.  The officers then went into the store, corned Quarles, frisked him and upon seeing his empty gun holster asked him, before reading him his rights, where the gun was.  He gestured towards an empty carton of detergent, the cops retrieved the gun, and then they read him his rights.

After that it all gets kind of confusing for me.  The law and math are two things that always sort of make my brain into a pretzel.  In the end it seems as though this action was allowed because it was spontaneous as opposed to planned out.  I suppose it couldn’t really have been planned out because this was the case that established the public-safety exception which basically says that if the police think that there is a clear and present threat of danger to the public, and that a suspect possesses information that can put an end to that threat, the police can question that person before reading him his Miranda rights without officially violating the established procedure. (Did that make sense? Because I totally just confused myself.)  I do get the sentiment behind it but I also think that if we think about it in keeping with the aforementioned quote, it is a bit of a problem.  Maybe I would be singing a different tune if I was in the middle of a public safety emergency and there was some person who had all the information and because of Miranda wasn’t saying anything.  Or maybe I wouldn’t be because Miranda has protected far more people than the public-safety exception and, in the grand scheme of things, is worth protecting at all costs.

Or maybe I am having too simplistic a view of all this.  Maybe I am being too idealistic.  I just think that no matter what we do, no matter how evil it might be, we are still human.  Part of the purpose of the law in this country, as I understand it anyway, is that it is there to protect people.  Sometimes that means that through improper action of the police or legal teams, guilty people go free and they commit horrible crimes again.  In a perfect system, that would not be the case.  But the reason we have things the way that we have them is so that we can check the system, so we can make sure that people are being treated equally despite their race, class, religion, gender, or whatever.  And things still aren’t perfect.  I just think that given the way that things are going, having this public-safety exception is more dangerous than anything else; it’s a slippery slope.  At a time when people are afraid of things is precisely the time when government has more leeway to overstep historical boundaries, and it is also the time when we need things like the law to keep that in check.

Then again, maybe I need to think more about this. Either way, I really like that quote.

*This was one of the first cases decided after the end of the Civil War and said that as long as civilian courts are still operational, it is unconstitutional to try a civilian in a military tribunal.