|From The Editor
I wanted to be careful in the take we took on a proposed rule that would open up Judicial Council committees and allow the public to see how the sausage of court policy is made.
I welcomed the rule as the editor of a news service that has unsuccessfully asked to attend a number of closed committee hearings. But I also wanted to know how the proposed exemptions would pan out, having seen state court bureaucrats fight transparency while giving it lip service.
Some really bad decisions have been made by the Judicial Council committees, the most fundamental of which was to go along with the former chief justice's campaign to shift power from the local courts to a central bureaucracy. A knock-on campaign to centralize court records set in motion and failed to financially control a contractor that would charge the state an enormous amount of money and leave it with nothing more than a cumbersome and already outdated software system.
Another effect was the extraordinary bloating, like an enormous balloon inflating, of the Administrative Office of the Courts which loved its perks and its money. When the financial crisis that would blast a huge hole in trial court budgets was already well underway, the Judicial Council's inaptly named Financial Accountability and Efficiency Committee met and recommended a big, retroactive pay raise for the already well paid AOC bureaucrats.
That meeting was the first chaired by the newly appointed chief justice. Through the chief's media person, we asked the chair to allow us to attend, a request that, again through the media liaison, was refused.
Since then, we have regularly reported on Judicial Council meetings which are open to press and public. But spirited debate is not the normal fare of those sessions.
The reporter who covers them estimates that 90% of the public discussion involves ratifying decisions made behind closed doors. "It's because things have been settled," said Maria Dinzeo.
The most recent Judicial Council session is a good example. On the agenda that day were 33 consent items based on decisions by closed committees plus two "information only" items consisting of reports on administrative structuring and public notice of clerk office closures. No debate, no vote.
There were three matters on the "discussion agenda," but one was a "no-action" item having to do with languages. The remaining two, involving facilities budgets and a laundry list of the administrative director duties, were unanimously approved based on recommendations by two committees, both of which were closed.
Of the many substantive issues facing the courts, none were discussed. There was no story, nothing to report.
In the past, council members have defended their consent items and unanimous votes by pointing to a vigorous thrashing out of the issues in committee. They sweep over the obvious irony that the committees, where all that vigorous debate took place, met in secret session.
So I welcome the proposal to open committee meetings and take with good faith the statements of the committee chairs in favor of the proposed rule.
At the same time, the rule is only being proposed under pressure from the Legislature. And the list of exemptions is long and wide, leaving an awful lot of room for interpretation by a committee chair who wants to close a meeting.
In the past, the clearly expressed intent of the Legislature -- to shut down the half-billion-dollar software project, for example, and eliminate the top-loaded, no-match, taxpayer-paid, 22% pension payments for the top 30 administrative office honchos -- was followed with apparent reluctance and only when the Legislature pressed the matter. In both instances, the software wreck and the pension perk kept a half-life.
Add to that the historical character of the administrative machinery at the top of the courts, which is to put on a show of transparency while undermining its substance. The recent gambit by bureaucrats and judges writing the e-filing rules is a fine example of that tactic.
The same group that brought us the technology boondoggle sought to muddle the definition of when a case is e-filed, an obfuscation that appears in every way to be a little trick, a definitional sleight of hand, that would give administrators an excuse to delay press access to the public record.
The concerted objections of a cross section of the media, including the California Newspaper Publishers Association, did nothing to affect those rules and was met with a defense that did not state facts accurately.
But then, those that put the e-filing rules in place were not dealing with a paymaster. The Legislature's views are not so easy to dismiss.
So the test of the open committee rule, and of those now leading the courts in California, will be in the exemptions, first to see how they are cut down and then to see how they are interpreted when we again ask to attend a committee meeting.
Amazon.com and Google are thieves.
Vampires sucking authors' blood.
What they do has nothing to do with culture or intellectual freedom.
Don't let then tell you different.
It's theft, impure and not simple.
Not that I do not profit from it, as a reader.
Though I suffer from it as an author.
How do I know this and why do I say it?
Several years ago, after a lifetime of poor decisions, I compounded my errors by deciding to write a book about Shakespeare.
I know, I know ... what could I possibly say?
Just a few things, maybe ...
This quest led me to the used bookstores of New England, where I spent thousands of dollars buying the basic literature on Shakespeare.
I also bought books online, using the services of Google and Amazon - those thieves.
These Internet pirates helped me find books I needed, and wanted, and they helped me buy them from booksellers far away, at a decent price.
There's a new book out, called "Shakespeare's Stationers: Studies in Cultural Biography," a compilation of scholarly papers, edited by Marta Straznicky (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013 - $67.50.)
Academic presses sell books at obscene prices.
There's no reason that book should cost $67.50.
Actually, there is a reason: Penn Press wants to make its money back in the first 2 weeks, when most of the copies will be sold, to other universities' libraries.
That's the average life span of a book in the United States - two weeks. The unsold copies are sent back to the publisher and pulped - dissolved in acid. Then some other nonsense is printed on the recycled pulp: "Zen for Cats." Whatever.
"Shakespeare's Stationers" looked good to me, but I can't pay $67.50 for a book. I'm just a poor shlub. An author.
I can't ask my English Department to buy it for me, then stick it in my office and hog it from students. I don't have a department. I'm just a reporter.
So, searching for a cheap copy of the book online, I found that Amazon had downloaded the whole thing and made 94 percent of it available for free.
Amazon covered its fat, mangy, dishonest ass by omitting every 6th or 7th page from the free download, which I am reading.
Come on, U.S. Supreme Court: That's theft. That's stealing.
I'm aiding and abetting. Arrest me, and I'll testify.
I don't need the whole book to rip off the authors.
I can fill in every 7th page from what I know already.
I could read every seventh page in a bookstore, if bookstores in Southern California stocked anything but born-again Christian pap, self-help crap and mysteries, which they don't.
I am by reading, for free, a $67.50 book that took many professors many years to write.
And I'm not paying a dime for it.
If I ever get my Shakespeare book published, it will be subjected to the same process of legal theft.
Google and Amazon and their evil spawn will scan my book and offer it for free, minus a few pages, for anyone who wants to read it - with ads on the side, from which Amazon and Google will profit, but I won't.
That's not intellectual freedom.
That's not culture.
That's the iron boot heel of capital on authors' necks: in saecula saeculorum: world without end.
|From The Courts
Who are you going to listen to - me or some guy who wants to be paid for advice?
The National Law Review has posted a lengthy piece by the CEO of something called The Rainmaker Institute, in which he answers what he claims are the "most common questions" posed at his company's retreats.
Many of the answers seem to imply that it's a good idea for lawyers to hire The Rainmaker Institute.
Perhaps I'm too harsh. Read the questions and answers for yourself and then compare them to my answers to the same questions.
Why does it seem like my prospects only care about price?
Because they only care about price. Lower your price.
My firm is small; how can I compete against bigger firms on the Internet?
Strange as it may seem, larger firms aren't entitled to larger shares of the Internet. In cyberspace, there is no size.
Also, a .xxx domain will help.
Can't I do this all myself instead of outsourcing?
How do ethics play into social media?
Have you seen the Internet? What are these "ethics" of which you speak?
Should I only focus on online marketing?
Only if you wish to specialize in representing young adults living in their parents' basements.
Why am I not getting referrals?
There are many possible reasons for this but the most likely is that you're a lousy lawyer.
What's a good way to get people to give me a testimonial?
When should I ask for testimonials?
After the third drink.
What are a few major systems I should have in my law firm in regard to managing client experience?
I'd go with a computer and an espresso machine.
The Rainmaker Institute isn't the only place to turn for guidance, for a price. There's also an outfit called Law Business Mentors that recently asked the question online: " Why Don't You Charge What You're Worth? "
Surprisingly, their answer isn't "because you'd go broke."
Instead, the Mentors author says, "You've got to wake up and really wrap your head around the awesomeness you already provide to your clients."
All you have to do is enroll in one of their programs to unlock your inner high-fee narcissist.
Successful lawyering is a state of mind.
Here's a reaction to marketing that I can't recommend: "If I ever saw this guy at an event, I'm pretty sure an ass-kicking would soon follow."
The quote is from a blog called Angry Asian Man and it's about an ad, allegedly for an Alabama law firm, which features a white guy in a coolie hat doing a really bad Charlie Chan accent.
"The shit could not be more racist if it tried," the blog says.
But were they trying?
According to a couple of news reports on this, the law firm claims it had nothing to do with the YouTube ad. A marketing firm claims it was hired by the lawyers and is inviting other companies to use the services of Wong Fong Su - who isn't racist.
You can decide the racist thing for yourself. Meanwhile, I'd avoid hiring Wong Fong Su unless you're going for the fart-joke fan, socially oblivious clientele.
Big market there - and you shouldn't have any problem charging the awesome fees you deserve.