President's Message

Posted by: F. Williamson on Jun 1, 2017

On Errata Sheets

by F. Lane Williamson
It’s always been my practice to recommend to a client or a witness that he review and sign his deposition.  I tell him that he may note any errors of transcription on the errata sheet, but he should not change the substance of his testimony.  I’m not sure there’s any point to this practice, as more often the witness either doesn’t even read the transcript, or if he does, there’s no corrections to be made.
I suppose the usefulness of the exercise is really to give the witness the opportunity to see what he really said, to remember it better if necessary and to find out if he screwed anything up.
A couple of days ago, however, I had an expert witness who actually made a few corrections on his deposition errata sheet.  Nothing major, mind you, but I was pleased to see that he was paying attention and was concerned to see that the record was set straight.
As an aspiring ex-president (or for one given to spoonerisms, “an expiring ass-president), I’ve tried to do things a little unconventionally.  Given that this is my last president’s column, the traditional thing to do is to reflect upon the year and tell you all the great things that we’ve accomplished during my tenure.  Sorry for all you traditionalists, but I’m not really into that.  Rather, I’m just going to go back over a few things, throw in some random musings with more than the usual flow of free association and end with a hint of why the photo of the porpoise instead of my graying mug. Call it an errata sheet for the past year.
I count myself fortunate to serve as your president during a year when the public expectations for a president of practically anything are at historic lows.  If even a semi-literate snollygoster can be elected POTUS, then the pressure is off my back for sure. 
I also have been blessed that there have been no major crises at the bar during my tenure to present me with the opportunity to rise to greatness:  no Civil War for a Lincoln, no Depression and World War II for a Franklin Roosevelt and no threat of nuclear annihilation for an Eisenhower.  [Digression—Eisenhower is rising like a bullet in the survey of historians’ ranking of presidents.  He’s now up to number five.]  I also have not seen fit to initiate any major pet projects that suck up bar staff time and strain the budget.  No Lyndon Johnson Great Society style programs for me. 
So, I don’t have any ambition to be remembered as a great bar president.  On the other hand, it would be disappointing to be ranked as the James Buchanan of the local bar.  I’ll settle for comparison to someone middle of the pack—a Grover Cleveland, say.
I have, however, accomplished at least one of my goals for the year—to keep Executive Director Nancy Roberson continually on edge fearing what I might say or do next.  She assures me that I’ve done a darn fine job on that score. 
In the column “On Jerks” I closed by saying that Heriot Clarkson, the youngest member of the Charlotte Bar in the 1887 photo, had turned out all right.  That may have been somewhat disingenuous, in that I knew at the time that Judge Clarkson had in 1896 established a “white persons club” with the aim of making Charlotte white again in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Plessy v. Ferguson decision that ushered in the Jim Crow era. He also later founded the whites-only mountain enclave of Little Switzerland.  If I’m going to call out South Carolina governor “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman as a racist, then I should call out Clarkson too.  But that inconvenient fact just didn’t fit in with the narrative point I was trying to make.  I apologize.  Then again, maybe Clarkson’s racism faded during his years on the North Carolina Supreme Court.  Who knows? After all, Justice Hugo Black, a liberal stalwart of the Warren Court, had been a Ku Klux Klan member in his youth. 
Regular readers will take note that on occasion I’m prone to veer off-topic into a random digression. I’ve already done that here. Well, here’s an extended digression upon a digression.
In the column “On Legacy Building(s)” I related that my daughter had taught special education at Johnnie L. Cochran Middle School in Los Angeles, one of the few schools I know of named after a lawyer. [Yet another digression—the middle initial “L” in Cochran’s name doesn’t stand for anything, just like the “S” in Harry S. Truman].  Cochran Middle School was for most of its existence known as “Mount Vernon Junior High” and the original building was a copy of George Washington’s residence.  Only in LA would a school be built as if it were meant to be a movie set. 
Mount Vernon School was built on the site of a house where Wyatt Earp (yes, he of Tombstone and “shootout at the OK Corral” infamy) lived part time for the last quarter century of his life until his death in 1929.  That house was moved across the street to make room for the school, and is now a tourist attraction. 
Some years before being renamed for Cochran, there was an initiative in the nineties to rename Mount Vernon as “Wyatt Earp Middle School.”  That attempt met with protests, not because of who Earp was, but because parents thought that the name “Earp” would be subject to derision because it sounded like a symptom of indigestion. 
That reminded me of the controversy a few years back over the naming of Hough High School here.  Parents were outraged because they were afraid the school would be mocked for its name, whether pronounced correctly (as in “huff”) or incorrectly (as in “ho”), “huff” having the vernacular meaning of the act of getting high through the inhalation of chemical fumes and “ho” having the vernacular meaning, of, well, you know what that is. 
William Amos Hough was the long-time principal of North Mecklenburg High for whom Hough High is named.  When the matter of naming the new school was under consideration, our own Superior Court Judge Richard Boner, who knows a thing or two about having a snicker-prone moniker and does not suffer fools gladly, wrote an op-ed piece in the Charlotte Observer in which he noted how juvenile the argument against naming the school after the beloved Mr. Hough really was.  Judge Boner’s view prevailed, and Hough High is now one of the top high schools in the state. I doubt that anybody gives its students much grief about the name of their school.  Besides, what’s in a name?  A gingko tree by any other name would still smell like vomit. 
I could go on and explore the etymological history of why the same letter combination of “ough” is pronounced differently in words such as “tough,” “though, “and “slough,” but that’s “enough” of that.  
One of most important lawyering skills is the ability to project an air of knowing what you’re talking about even when you really don’t.  It’s a lot easier to do that in writing when you have time to research, compose and revise than when speaking extemporaneously.  I’ve taken advantage of that, as well as the convenience of looking up stuff on the internet.  Without Google, I wouldn’t have bothered to take the time to load up these columns with bits of arcana. For instance, if you think that I knew offhand that Dr. Seuss wrote in anapestic tetrameter, or that I would recognize this poetic meter if it rose up and bit me on the synecdoche, then I’ve hoodooed you into thinking that I’m a lot more learned than I really am.
I do claim, however, to have more of the best words than does our current POTUS, who truly is a huckster when it comes to the vocabulary department. [Digression—the word “potus” in Latin has several meanings, the most appropriate of which is “the act of imbibing an intoxicating beverage.” On the other hand, the acronym “SCOTUS” has only one meaning in Latin, which is, as one might guess, “a person from Scotland.”] 
Speaking of Dr. Seuss, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary added the word “Seussian” this year, meaning “of, relating to, or suggestive of the works of Dr. Seuss.”  I’d like to think I had something to do with that, but it’s probably just a felicitous coincidence.  In addition, after a ten-year absence “snollygoster” was reintroduced this year, its resuscitation ironically being due in part to its occasional citation by former Fox pundit Bill O’Reilly.  If you don’t know what snollygoster means (and if you do you are extraordinarily well-informed), then look it up.
In the column “On Judicial Selection,” I expressed the opinion that there really isn’t a good method for selecting judges.  Events since then have mostly borne that out.  
On the federal level, the Senate continues to disgrace itself by its handling of Supreme Court nominations, first by the Republicans refusing to give well-qualified nominee Merrick Garland a hearing, and then by the Democrats filibustering the nomination of the equally well-qualified Neil Gorsuch, thus calling in a nuclear option strike upon their own heads. Talk about being hoist on one’s own petard. 
On the state level, the General Assembly continues its assault upon the judicial branch, with bills to divide Mecklenburg’s district court judges into sub districts, to reduce the seats on the Court Appeals and to abolish emergency and special judges, among other inane initiatives. [Digression—I can’t let it pass without mentioning the bill that could result in removing the ban in the North Carolina Constitution against secession.  Good Lord--oops, maybe I shouldn’t say “Lord,” might offend somebody.]
There have, however, been a couple of bright spots, at least on the state level.   Following a vote of our bar members for a district court judge opening, we sent the names of the top five vote-getters to the governor for his consideration.  Any one of the five would be an excellent choice.  Governor Cooper, who was free to ignore the list if so inclined, ended up appointing the bar’s top vote-getter, Tracy Hewitt.  That was a heartening development.  Then there’s Court of Appeals Judge Doug McCullough, who through taking mandatory retirement a month early fought a rear-guard action against the General Assembly’s Appeals Court “unpacking” plan. I don’t have the space to explain how that worked, but if you’re not familiar with it you should look it up.  Judge McCullough is a hero of the resistance.
In my March column, “On a Pusillanimous Weenie,” I explained that I had originally written a column entitled “On March Madness,” which in a fit of self-censorship I had pulled from publication.  I now am offering for a limited time the opportunity to my loyal readers to obtain a copy of this column, provided that you execute a strict confidentiality and nondisclosure agreement. Simply send me an email with the initials (not the full name—that would invoke the curse) of the main subject of the article, who is a former Charlotte resident well-known among courthouse old-timers.  Here’s a hint— “Progressive Insurance spokesperson.”
Getting back to my prerogatives as president, I think it only fitting that I be given the latitude to engage in a little pettiness and vindictiveness, even though I don’t have a Twitter account to turn to as an outlet. I’ve threatened to sign up for one, but Nancy Roberson won’t allow it. 
Ray Owens early on in my administration issued a challenge to me to insert into one of my columns a reference to the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, preferably to their song “Hunting Tigers Out In India.”  The quest to do so has, however, eluded my powers of creativity.  While I could work in a citation to Frank Zappa, the Bonzos have defeated me.  Thin-skinned narcissist that I am, I just can’t let it go.  As revenge, I have engineered the abolition of Ray’s Mecklenburg County Bar seat of power—his chairmanship of the Medical-Legal Committee, which for several years has been a do-nothing committee of one.  Take that, Low Energy Ray!!!!!!
And then there’s my feud with former bar president Bob Dortch.  Don’t ask me for evidence that he has tapped my phone.  I believe it to be true, and therefore it must be so.  Trust me.  Like that TV reality host guy said of Little Marco Rubio, Lyin’ Bob is just a “leightweight chocker,” whatever that means.  I looked it up, and near as I can figure it’s a phrase from Old English by way of Norman French that translates as “a short length woman’s necklace.” Seems to me like as good an insult as any.
Regular readers among you have probably noticed that most of my columns have included a reference to some cult movie.  That’s true here as well, as I sign off: SO LONG, AND THANKS FOR ALL THE FISH!