BY RONALD W. BROWN
ON THE OCASSION OF RECEIVING THE IRWIN S. MARKOWITZ ALUMNI SERVICE AWARD FROM THE HARVARD LAW SCHOOL ASSOCIATION OF NEW JERSEY
I have always loved great screenplays and good movies. In my remarks this evening, I will be referring to several films. If you are not a film buff, you can nevertheless relax and enjoy the on-line version of my remarks which include hyperlinks to several film trailers. If you watch the Academy Awards/Oscars, the recipients of those awards sometimes take so much time thanking everyone that a signal is given to bring up the music, the equivalent of a hook to pull them off stage. I don’t intend to speak very long tonight. But those of you with IPods, I phones, cell phones, or other devices, please feel free to turn them on and key up the music if I do. The Lord is blessing me right now. And my heart is full. But I hope at the end of my brief remarks, that if Irwin Markowitz were here—and he is in spirit— he would say one sentence to me as this year’s recipient of the award that bears his name, and of my remarks. And that sentence would be the same one Will Smith said in the film Independence Day : “Now that’s what I’m talking about!” Permit me this aside: Anytime a lawyer refers to brief remarks, get ready for those remarks to end in eternity. But I promise you I will not take us there. I have published the full text of my reflections as a wordpress blog at: https://ronaldwbrownassociatesllc.com/. I am fairly confident that everyone going to the site will enjoy the graphics and audio files as well as learn something new. In addition, if Bob Holmes goes to that site he will see a picture of the basement apartment where we lived during our first year of law school and at which someone erected a plaque memorializing the parties we threw. Peter Mumma, if you go to the site you will find the results of some original research I did and I think never before published information about something Dean Derek Bok, Professor Albert Sachs and Professor Charles Nessen[i] did with students in 1967-1968, as well as information about correspondance between Professor Derrick Bell and Dean Derek Bok Everyone who goes to the site will find examples of the Socratic Method at HLS applied in life in two novel ways that I know will leave you laughing. Tonight I will only draw from sections of what’s presented in the blog so that we can honor our time commitment. Also by publishing a link to the blog, I can assure Pete Mumma from the HLS alumni office that we will not be requesting the next edition of The HLSA-NJ newsletter be published in multiple volumes like a treatise. Nicole, as your first act as the newly elected President of HLSA-NJ, would you please stand in place of Gerry Markowitz. Sylvia Cohn, would you please stand in place of your late husband Al. David Landau and Steve Roth would you please stand. Would everyone please join me in a round of applause for these prior recipients of the Irwin Markowitz Award and in memory of the great person after whom the award is named? Irwin Markowitz was married to his Gerry for 51 years. I have been married to my Geri for 41. In telling you that and despite the presence here this evening of the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, and distinguished members of the criminal defense bar, I also have to take this opportunity to confess to the commission of a crime. I suspect it must have been the same one Irwin committed with his Gerry, but I shall only speak about my crime with my Gerry. Given how obviously gorgeous my Geri is, I confess to the crime of marrying her before the age of consent. She wasn’t just a child when I married her, she was an infant. And truth be told, I not only married her before the age of consent, I married her before she was even conceived. The sentence I am serving for this crime is wonderful. It’s a life sentence, without the possibility of (or the desire for) parole.
Marian Wright Edelman was correct when she said “Service is the rent we pay for being.” The plaque I received this evening is for service to this organization. I hope to be able to continue paying rent by rendering service to it for a long time. One form of service everyone who is alum can perform is to pay you HLSA-NJ dues. Those dues help us fund such things as the Summer Fellows program. If you don’t know about that program ask Ken Oettle, and can talk with you about it. This year, we are not only recognizing the Fellows who worked in Newark this summer, but also our very first fellow John Bartlett who will be sharing not only what he did in his fellowship but more importantly what he has done since. I hope we can persuade all our former Fellows to be “come on back” men and “come on back” women. When you see a sanitation truck going around you will always see a person behind the truck signaling and saying to the driver, “come on back, come on back, there’s plenty of room”. We want our past Fellows to reach out to future Fellows and say come on back, come on back to practice in New Jersey. Come on back, there’s not only plenty of room, there’s plenty of opportunity! Another form of service is what we do when we help others.
There is someone here who shall remain nameless but we all know him in his official capacity. What most impressed me about him was when a former Governor talked about meeting this person while he was rendering service in a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving Day. And though I will not name that person lest reporters start showing up at every soup kitchen in New Jersey, I will drop a hint about how we all know him. Some in this room refer to him as the CJ while others more respectfully refer to him as Chief Justice.
A third form of service is simply by sharing what you know to inform others. Geri and I first did that when we authored a Case Note in the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. We have did that when I applied to be, and Professor Jerome S. Bruner accepted my application to become the first pre-law advisor at Currier House[ii] where he and his wife were to be the first Masters. Currier House opened in 1970. Among the students who were my pre-law tutees were Radcliffe students Phyllis James[iii]( Phyllis would go on to become Executive Vice President, Special Counsel for Litigation and Chief Diversity Officer for MGM Resorts International and in 2012 become the only gaming executive to be named to the “Top 100 Executives in America” by Uptown Professional Magazine) and Norma Barfield[iv]( Norma would go on to serve as the General Counsel and Corporate Secretary for The Bartech Group, a staffing services and human capital management firm).
In connection with this third form of service, I am pleased to advise you that there is a person here with us tonight that was formerly one of the editors of the newsletter for the Pro Bono and Public Interest Committee of the American Bar Association’s Section of Litigation . As you probably know, the Litigation Section is one of the largest in the ABA and gaining professional visibility through publications is always a wise career move. The editor of the Pro Bono and Public Interest Newsletter would eagerly have accepted anything you cared to write, and given the caliber of the writers within the Harvard Law School Association of New Jersey, would have fast tracked whatever you wrote. That editor has recently been promoted. The portfolio of the former Pro Bono and Public Interest Committee has been broadened through a merger with two other committees into the Access to Justice Committee. The Access to Justice Committee is having a conference call tomorrow night to discuss soliciting articles for publication. If you speak with me tonight about a subject about which you would like to write an article you will be fast tracked because the editor who was recently promoted is the same person who is editor of The Connector, the newsletter of this Association; me.
Some saints are easy to recognize. In New Orleans, you can recognize them by their National Football League helmets and by their fans who and who belong to the Who Dat Nation and say things like “Who Dat”. But there are some other saints among us are not as easy to recognize as those who love football in New Orleans. And though All Saints Day occurred earlier this year, we are going to recognize some saints tonight.
In addition to Gerry Markowitz and Sylvia Cohen, would anyone who was married to an HLS grad, please raise your right hand and keep it in the air? Now, would anyone who is currently married to an HLS grad, please raise your right hand and keep it in the air.
Finally, would anyone who in the future would consider marrying an HLS grad, please raise your right hand? Thank you. Everyone can now put their hands down.
I have great news for everyone who raised their right hand. I have it on the highest authority—- well not the highest but pretty high up—that each of you is a candidate for sainthood. As you may know, part of the criteria for being considered for sainthood is the performance of a specified number of miracles. And each of you who were married to or are married to an HLS grad have undoubtedly met that criteria. Anyone married to an HLS grad must on innumerable occasions have resisted the temptation to strangle them in order to get them to stop talking, and it is a miracle that you did not do so.
Let me mention a benefit of belonging to the HLSA-NJ. Not only do you get to meet some great lawyer such as Irwin Markowitz, and Al Cohn, you get to meet some great lawyers who are also super nice human beings. Their super powers consist of always being willing to extend a helping hand, and making a difference for HLSA-NJ, super people such as Bob Lack , Ken Oettle , and Fredi Perlmutter. So, if you have not already done so, become a dues paying member of HLSA-NJ.
When Irwin Met His Jerry
Not only was Irwin Markowitz Superman, he was Geri Markowitz’ husband. When I talked with Gerry Markowitz last month, I was disappointed to learn she would not be with us at the Lecture, but I was absolutely delighted when in response to my question, she shared how she and Irwin met and talked with me about Irwin’s hopes for the Vanderbilt Lecture. Gerry gave me permission to share the Irwin-Gerry story with you tonight, but I hope she will share the full story at a future Vanderbilt Lecture. It is not like the Billy Crystal-Meg Ryan film, When Harry Met Sally . It is even more romantic that the film Sleepless in Seattle
. I am also pleased to advise that my Geri has reviewed my comments about how she and I met, and after giving those comments her usual detailed editorial review, she has given me a “conditional green light” to proceed with telling you the story of how we met at HLS.
If I were thinking about negotiating a rights deal for Irwin and his Gerry’s story, and if I secured those rights, the trailer for their film would include at least two historically accurate scenes. The screenplay, which as everyone knows is always written in the present tense, would start out something like this. The first scene shows Gerry Miller, a college senior roaming around Europe for three months on less than $500. She loves opera. She speaks German poorly. She is staying in a youth hostel for less than fifty cents per night. She goes to the British Officers Club where she assumes she will find someone who speaks English. She forgets the observation of Winston Churchill that “Americans and British are one people separated only by a common language.” She tries to explain to several people in the Club that she wants to get tickets to the Salzburg Festival and find out what the train schedule is to Austria.
Irwin is visiting the Club. He is in the U.S. Army and stationed not far away from what had been Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest” house in Berchtesgaden. He overhears Gerry ask a question. As Gerry related the story to me, folks from a certain place in New York, always drop the “r’ at the end of some words[v] and add an “a”, so for example, “New Yorker” becomes “New Yorka”. This is very similar to you or I saying we are going to park the “car” while by someone whose native zip code is 02138 saying they are going to park their “ka”. When Irwin hears Gerry ask the question, he asks her: “Are you from Brooklyn or from Boston?” She thinks “what the heck do you care?”, but answers “I’m from Brooklyn”.
Fast forward. Irwin, living at home with his parents, is practicing law in Teaneck and in Gerry’s words working “700 hours a week.” A Yenta-like woman where Irwin works and who has unsuccessfully tried to “fix him up” with innumerous single women, finally in exasperation asks Irwin: ”Is there any woman you would go out with?” Irwin replies: “I’m too busy to date! I have to get my billable hours in!” The woman persists. Finally, Irwin answers: “Yes, there is a woman I met in Germany. Her name is Gerry Miller. She said she lives in Brooklyn. I would go out with her.”
Hearing “Yes”, this woman springs into action, bringing together the emotional skills of the Match Maker in Fiddler on the Roof and the detective skills Tommy Lee Jones in the film U.S. Marshalls, or Harrison Ford in “The Fugitive” . She starts calling every Miller listed in the Brooklyn telephone directory . Do you have any idea how many Millers live in Brooklyn?
She finally reaches the right Gerry Miller. Later, Irwin asks Gerry “Will you go out with me?” Gerry replies, “No, I’m too busy to go out on a date. I’m finishing my B.A. at Brooklyn College, and also pursuing my Masters at Hunter College.” Irwin makes a counter proposal:” You should go out with me on November 11th. That day is a holiday. No one is too busy on a holiday.” Gerry responds to the offer with one word:”Okay”. Later she tells her mother:”I’m going out with this guy—he lives in Teaneck—and I’m going to meet him in Times Square in New York City.” Gerry’s mother goes ballistic, asking a gazillion questions including this one: “So, why does this guy ——he has a name, right?—-not come to here to Brooklyn to pick you up?” Gerry says nothing but thinks “Because I don’t think he has a car and even if he had one, why should he drive all the way from Teaneck to Brooklyn to take me out on a date in New York City?”
Gerry’s mother jumps into the silence asking yet another question:, “So, what does this guy do for a living?” Gerry replies: “Irwin’s’ a lawyer”. Gerry’s mother looks as though Irwin will be dead on arrival because when it comes to professions, everyone in Brooklyn knows two things are true: Doctors make money. Lawyers make excuses! Gerry thinks I should have said: “He’s a doctor”, and her mother almost reading Gerry’s mind gives Gerry a look that says: “Okay! Now that’s what I’m talking about!”
I love good movies and great screenplays. Some of my remarks this evening will sound like screenplays, and hopefully visualize some events in my life that were movie-like. Four things happened in 1968 during the second semester of my first year at HLS. Each of these events permanently impacted my life. I am sure that two of these events permanently impacted yours.
- In February of 1968, I stood on Mass Ave outside a gate to Harvard Yard and prayed to God that while I was in Cambridge I would meet a woman with whom I could spend the rest of my life. Someone who was intellectually gifted, physically gorgeous, emotionally compatible with me. And for those of you who know me, you are probably thinking “Ron, you should have just asked for two out of three, because once you added that last one you were really pushing the outer limits for miracles!”
- On April 4th, while I was again standing on Mass Ave. at night, just outside Harvard Yard across the street from The Coop, we received the news from Atlanta that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot and had died.
- On June 5th, we received the news from Los Angeles, that Presidential candidate Senator, Robert Kennedy Jr. had been shot and later died.
- Sometime between the first event and the third, the fourth event occurred: My roommate Bob Holmes and I received our draft notices.
I want to elaborate on the first and fourth of these events. At the end of my first year I went into the National Guard and then to Fort Dix for basic training and adjusted to a new regimen. During that time I learned some leadership lessons, and applied the requirement of obeying a lawful order.
When I was in the Army, I lead my platoon in PT run training. The leader would and the platoon would do what was called a “Jody call”[vi] , a chant and the platoon would repeat the chant in response, which resembled the PT run in the movie An Officer and a Gentleman.[vii] Two of our favorites were “Everywhere We Go”[viii], and “Airborne School”[ix]. One day, immediately after the morning PT run and while going to a training session, my platoon committed some infraction and as platoon leader I was held responsible. While the platoon set in bleachers , I was called out and a First Lieutenant ordered me to start running laps. He simply said, “You, start running laps until I tell you to stop.” So, because I am required to obey a lawful order directly given to me, I start running laps. After about eight laps, the First Lieutenant goes up to the First Sergeant and says “Tell Braithwaite to stop running.” The First Sergeant who knows my name and that I am not Jorge Braithwaite does not move. Braithwaite isn’t running, Brown is. Braithwaite (an African American in my platoon who was from Brooklyn and would later go on to a distinguished career with the Federal Reserve Bank in New York), is sitting in the bleachers with the rest of my platoon receiving training instructions. When the First Sergeant does not comply with the First Lieutenant’s order, the First Lieutenant goes ballistic. He runs out onto the track and yells, not one foot from my face, “Braithwaite, stop running!” Without missing a stride, I go around him and keep running. The First Lieutenant then goes intergalactic, because not only do I not stop running, but he hears snickers coming from my platoon. He stomps over to the First Sergeant and tells him “Put that man on report. I want him in the stockade!” The First Sergeant responds, “Sir, I cannot do that.” The First Lieutenant goes beyond intergalactic, and says” Then you are on report too and can report to the stockade with him!” Momentarily realizing what he has just said, the First Lieutenant in a defiant voice asked, “Why can’t you obey the direct order I just gave you!?” With a look only a First Sergeant who is a drill instructor could muster , the First Sergeant replies, “Because the soldier’s name is Brown sir, not Braithwaite.” Chagrined, the First Lieutenant runs out on the track and yells at me,” Brown, stop!” In compliance with that legal order given directly to me, I comply with it by freezing in mid-step as though I were the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz . The First Lieutenant is so mad at me he can barely speak and gives me a look that is somewhere between Loki in The Avengers, and Marvel’s Dr. Doom . Through gritted teeth he orders me to walk over and rejoin my platoon in the bleachers. I do so. And almost to a man, my platoon gives me a thumbs up. Braithwaite quietly says to me, “Man, you are crazy, messing with that First Louie like that. He is going to be watching you like you were Kunta Kinte in Roots. You better not mess up!” I quietly respond, “Fiddler, I don’t intend to mess up and I intend to leave here with the same two feet I came with.” Aside from that instance, I was doing fine on active duty, not thinking about Cambridge and what I was missing at the Law School. Then someone sent me a Harvard Crimson newspaper from the Fall of 1968 . The headline, Harvard Beats Yale 29-29[x], later to be described simply as the greatest football game in Ivy League history[xi], did not do justice to the event or the excitement in Cambridge. And that’s when I lost it. Many years when Geri and I watched the video[xii] of The Game, I lost it all over again thinking about how great it would have been to experience it live with her. But God’s plan was not for me to meet her at the Game, but almost a year to the date after I prayed outside the Porcellian Gate, to meet her in Harkness Commons.
I completed my six month active duty requirement too late to begin second year in February. I transferred to the Massachusetts National Guard to begin fulfilling my six year obligation. Playing trumpet, I qualified for the marching band. After several months, I went from playing trumpet to being the Drum Major . . It was a strategic decision to do so. Mounted police riding Clydesdale size horses were frequently at the front of the parades in Massachusetts. Our marching band was directly behind these horses, which frequently somewhere around mid-parade route would deposit their morning feed in the streets through which we had to march. I became Drum Major so at least I could avoid the horse deposits and lead the musicians behind me around these manure mines. It’s not easy trying to play a Sousa march such as Stars and Stripes Forever, while marching around one of those mines, and the band musicians appreciated when I gave a special baton signal to take evasive stepping action. One of the nicest times I had in the band was when Dorian McGee, formerly from Elizabeth, now in East Orange and a Facebook friend, joined the same National Guard Company I was in. Dorian was one of the most fantastic drummers I ever heard. For many years he played with the road compamy of the Broadwasy musical ” A Chorus Line”. If Dorian had kept his drumsticks in the trunk of his car, I believe that eitehr Sorcerer Apprentice like, or like the Cylons in the original sci-fi version of Battlestar Galactica, those drum sticks would have materialized from that trunk, marched over to Dorian, and bowing their tips would have uttered four words: “Master, by your command!” When I gave the special signal for evasive step action, Dorian added some special side taps to his drum, and even musicians who missed seeing my baton signal heard his drum warning. A leader also needs vision (the ability to see ahead and what is coming), a sense of direction (including where you are and how much farther you need to go to successfully arrive at a specific end destination or goal) and change management skills[xiii]. In order to be an effective drum major, you have to know the music by heart, you have to be able to lead (conduct) facing away from those who are following you, and you have got to know what you are facing on the field or in the street. In order to be an effective drum major, you have to know what you are doing, where the band is supposed to be going, and the best way to safely and efficiently get the band to where it is going. It takes multiple skills to be able to play music while walking or marching as part of a group. You cannot look down and you have got to have one band and one sound. And whether you are a drum major leading a group or a member of a group following a drum major leader, you should do it with creativity, with passion, with class and a commitment to excellence. Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra , expressed it best this way: “The conductor, a magical figure for the audience, enjoys a leadership mystique of significant magnitude. It may seem strange to the orchestral musician that the corporate world would be interested in hearing a conductor’s views on leadership or that the metaphor of the orchestra is so frequently used in the literature of leadership, because, in fact, the profession of conductor is one of the last bastions of totalitarianism in the civilized world.” “A monumental question for leaders in any organization to consider is this: How much greatness are we willing to grant people? Because it makes all the difference at every level who it is we decide we are leading. The activity of leadership is not limited to conductors, presidents, and CEOs, of course—the player who energizes the orchestra by communicating his newfound appreciation for the tasks of the conductor… is exercising leadership of the most profound kind.”[xiv] The drum major is a musical leader, a walking conductor. In order to perform successfully and to ensure the success of those who are following, the drum major or leader has to know the score thoroughly. For example, a drum major needs to thoroughly know what is entailed in correctly and professionally playing some (of my) favorite and well known John Phillip Sousa marches such as Semper Fidelis[xv], The Washington Post march[xvi],The Thunder march[xvii], or the Stars and Stripes Forever[xviii]. He or she also needs to know what is entailed in correctly and professionally playing the somewhat different Johnny Owen march[xix], sometimes referred to and known as the Regimental March of the 7th Calvary. The former and the latter tunes are marches but they cannot be conducted or performed as though they were identical. They are played, performed, and executed differently.
I want to share three scenarios from the Roxbury Legal Services Center. The first two were related to me by Harrison Fitch[xx], the head of that program, before I accepted the job. The second scenario happened after I started working there.
One day a woman came to the Center with a large bath towel wrapped around her head. When asked how staff could help her, she just moaned and pointed to the towel. After several repetitions of this exchange, staff asked if they could remove the bath towel. She nodded affirmatively; they removed the bath towel, and were astonished to see an ice pick stuck in her jaw. The woman was able to communicate that her husband had stabbed her with it and told her not to touch it. The first thing staff did was to get her medical attention for removal of the ice pick. The next thing was to both refer the matter to the police and apply for a temporary restraining order. The thing that struck me most about this after the horror of spousal abuse was the traumatic condition this woman had been put in that paralyzed her to the extent of not being able to remove the ice pick. I had to ask myself if I was up to handling client situations like this. In truth I did not know but I had to find out.
A man came in with what staff at first thought was a landlord-tenant problem. This client had lived in Roxbury in the top floor of an apartment building with his wife and two kids. When it rained, the man had to take his family into the bathroom and stand in the bathtub with a raised umbrella because that was the only way for them to stay dry when it rained. He asked what could be done. And after staff explained the concept of a warranty of habitability, the man asked again, what could be done and how long would it take. What struck me most about this abominable situation was this: unless a legal remedy could be quickly found, this man might become so angry during the next time it rained that he resorted to self-help methods, including violence. The challenge was to find a remedy quickly enough to preclude that from occurring. Could we find it?
I personally experienced this. A man who I will refer to as Brother X, self-identified as a Black Panther and a Black Nationalist came into the office very upset about what he thought was a lack of swift movement in his case. Brother X was married to a woman who looked like Peggy Lipton in the Mod Squad or the wife of the Black Panther in the blackploitation film I’m Gonna Git You Sucka . Brother X met with Harrison. Soon, through closed doors we nevertheless heard the sound of the man’s escalating voice, with ended with his screaming “You are nothing but an Uncle Tom n_ _ _ _ _ _!” Whatever Harrison responded, the man went ballistic! He burst out of the closed door room and said “I am coming back here tomorrow and I am going to blow every one of you away with a Magnum!” In the office staff conference that immediately followed, I made this statement: “What are we going to do. That dude is coming back here tomorrow and blow us away!” Though I had had combat training while on active duty in the Army, and had seen it in the Star Trek episode where Kirk battled the Gorn and where Kirk thought he could beat the Olympian God Apollo , I did not recall having had any preparation during my first year at HLS on how to respond to the threat of being blown away with a Magnum. The first thing that Harrison decided was that the office would be closed tomorrow and indefinitely thereafter until Brother X’s threat had been permanently and legally neutralized. I was released from active duty in the U.S. Army in February 1969. Since I could not return to the law school until September, I took a job with the Legal Services Center in Roxbury. I learned a lot of lessons while working in that legal services center, lessons not then taught at HLS which at that time had a relatively small clinical law program. The lessons I learned in Roxbury from interacting with clients of the Center were just as meaningful as any learned in Cambridge from a casebook. See my blog for some of those lessons. A week after I was discharged from active duty at Fort Dix, and a week before I started working at the Center, I did something I had never done before. I went over to the Law School, walked through Harkness Commons , and just as I was going out the door, looked to my left, and there she was. This breath-taking beautiful woman, whose laughter was like twinkling stars with sound, sitting there with Noah Griffin. Just my luck, I thought, a gorgeous woman finally comes to the law school while I am away and Noah’s got her. As I started to go out the door, I heard her laugh again. I looked, and said to myself: “Noah’s a friend, but not that good a friend.” (As I was looking at Noah, if this had been a Steven Spielberg movie script here is where it would read cue in the shark music from Jaws.) I did an about face even sharper than I ever did on active duty and came back into Harkness. I went over and said hi to Noah and he introduced me to Geri. Geri was telling Noah about the surprise birthday party that had been thrown for her a few weeks earlier in February. Noah and Geri had both graduated from Fisk University and were good friends. A few days later I later asked Geri out on a date. (I called her at 8 am on a Saturday morning because during my first year we had class at 9 am on Saturday. Though Geri accepted my invitation to go out to hear Hugh Masakela at Lennie’s on the Turnpike , she told me never to call her again that early on a Saturday morning as the school had abolished Saturday morning classes!) She was reluctant to go out with me because of the stories she heard about parties I threw in the basement apartment at 25 Trowbridge Street where Bob Holmes and I lived during our first year of law school. (I did not throw these by myself. Bob was my accomplice!) Those stories were total, bald face lies told by people trying to discredit me. Ok, not total, but highly exaggerated. And in the parlance of the day, we got down to the Motown sound . I think we could still get down to that sound, but would need help getting back up. As we look back to those Days, Geri and I both realize that when we met was a special time,
and under circumstances that permitted us first to just be friends. And finding someone with whom you can be a best friend, is truly a treasure
.Noah is still a friend and was best man in our wedding. When I was at the legal service center, I talked about the matters that came up. All the time. Before work, at work, after work. I couldn’t shut it off. I was the same way when I was a corporate attorney in the legal department at ITT World Headquarters, when I was with the Motion Picture Association of America as Anti-Piracy Counsel for North America, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, and when I became Executive Vice President of the Sammy Davis Jr., National Liver Institute. I couldn’t shut it off. As I look back, I think that on innumerable occasions, Geri was tested and tempted to help me shut it off by strangling me to get me to stop talking about work. Fortunately, she did not have to strangle me. I eventually learned that working for a living should never become a substitute for your life or stated differently, what you do for a living is not a substitute for living your life.
In 1967, fifteen years after Erwin Markowitz, David Landau, and Norman Dorsen left Cambridge, my roommate Bob Holmes and I, along with many others, were standing on the steps of Langdell registering for our first year at Harvard Law School. I was one of five first year law students who had graduated from Rutgers College just a few months beofre. See the following for insights on my years at Rutgers:
As first year law students, we had some of the giants of the legal world as professors: W. Baron Leach for Property; Milton Katz for Torts; Lon Fuller for contracts
I want to share two experiences. One involves two professors and two distinguished visitors. The other involves a Civil Procedure class and then four things that happened in the second semester of our first year.
I want to share two experiences. One involves two professors and two distinguished visitors. The other involves a Civil Procedure class and then four things that happened in the second semester of our first year.
Here is the first experience. During the 1967-1968 school year, something extraordinary happened that I remember and you probably don’t know about. Dean Derek Bok , Professors Albert Sachs and Professor Charles Nesson quietly collaborated with two HLS African American students— Reginald V. Gilliam[i] , a founder and the first Chairman of the Harvard Black Law Students Association and Bishop Hollifield ) and brought five distinguished visitors to campus for some evening “conversations” with some faculty, some students who were on the Law Review, and us. Though these small sessions were open to anyone who wanted to attend, I don’t recall seeing any announcements about them in the Harvard Law Record or the Harvard Crimson. Two of those distinguished visitors who came up from New York City to participate in these evening “conversations” included civil rights activist Roy Innis , the founder the Congress of Racial Equality and Professor Charles V. Hamilton of Columbia University. Professor Hamilton was the author of a book on Adam Clayton Powell and the coauthor with Stokely Carmichael of a book on Black Power . One of the other distinguished visitors was Derrick A. Bell who would later become the first tenured African-American Professor of Law at HLS and for whom an official website[ii] was created after his passing in 2011. These conversations were an unprecedented, and in my view, courageous undertakings to broaden dialogue within the Harvard Law School.
Recent research in the Derrick A. Bell papers at New York University yielded additional insights on Derrick’s decision to come to HLS.
On June 2, 1969, Derrick wrote two letters. One letter was written to Dean Dorothy Nelson, USC Law Center. The other letter was written to Professor Howard Miller, USC Law Center. The first letter provides insight on Derrick’s decision to join the Harvard Law School faculty. The second letter underscores his commitment to legal services.
Below are the first three paragraphs of the letter to Dean Nelson. Note in particular the last paragraph.
“This is to inform you of my decision to resign from my position on the U.S.C. Law School faculty effective September 1, 1969.
As you know, in recent weeks I have been seriously considering an invitation to join the faculty at the Harvard Law School. Deciding to accept was difficult because it means terminating a relationship with this school which, while brief, has provided me with far more of substance than I can easily repay or even adequately describe.
My decision to leave reflects a number of considerations. Principal among them is the opportunity to work with the more than 100 black law students who will be enrolled next year at Harvard. The challenge of working with these students became irresistible when their leaders wrote and called urging that I come.”
Below are the first three paragraphs of the letter to Professor Miller. Note in particular the second paragraph.
“This is to submit to you as Chairman of the Board of Directors, my resignation as Executive Director of the Western Center on Law and Poverty, effective September 1, 1969.
As you know, I have been seriously considering an offer to join the faculty at the Harvard Law School. The decision to accept was most difficult because of my commitment to provide new avenues through which legal services lawyers can deal effectively with the problems of poverty and race that plaque our urban society today.
The need for the Center’s work in these areas is more crucial now than when we started little more than a year ago. Fortunately, the Center’s potential for effective action has attracted a staff the equal of any in the country. I am sure that given continued Board support, they will serve the poverty community with ever increasing vigor, skill, and success.”
On June 6, 1969, Derrick wrote a letter to Dean Derek Bok, Harvard University School of Law. The letter included a memo of the following transportation expenses incurred on May 27, 1969 “in connection with travel from New York to Boston and return for discussions with Harvard Law School faculty—as authorized by Dean Derek Bok:
Taxi to LaGuardia Airport $ 4.00
Eastern Shuttle round-trip fare $36.00
Taxi to Cambridge from Boston Airport $ 5.00
Taxi to Boston Airport from Lexington $10.00
More interesting to me than those transportation costs compared to what they would be today, are the following two paragraphs in that letter, particularly the second paragraph:
“The fringe benefits offered at Harvard are most impressive. (If the society could organize as good a welfare program for the poor, our domestic unrest would be greatly eased.) Harvard’s second mortgage program is particularly good and, with commercial mortgage money at the 8% level, I intend to utilize it. The problem I originally posed remains, however. If we have not completed sale of our Los Angeles home before leaving, is there a source for a low interest loan of about $10,000, repayable when I obtain my equity from the Los Angeles house?
On another subject, one of my secretaries, a Mr. Vernon White, has inquired about the possibility of accompanying me to Harvard. Mr. White is a phenomenal typist (speeds in excess of 100 words per minute) and has excellent shorthand and other secretarial skills. He is extremely intelligent and very dependable and has done some work on an advanced degree at Harvard. He turned to secretarial work after illness wrecked his hopes of becoming a concert pianist. If I can select a secretary, Mr. White would be more than satisfactory. (I do not expect that Mr. White will make demands for travel expenses of the outlandish variety to which recently you have been subjected.)”
While giving appropriate attention to practical matters, Derrick always kept a sense humor as well as a sense of commitment and caring about others. I think his letter reflects that.
Here is the second experience.. Let me set the stage by referring to The Paper Chase , a book written by John Osborne, a classmate with whom I took Contracts . There is a scene in trailer for the movie The Paper Chase when Professor Kingsfield calls a student down to the front of the lecture hall and says “Mr. Hart. Here is a dime. Call your mother and tell her there is serious doubt about your ever becoming a lawyer.”[xxi] As some people in this room will remember, back in the day, some Professors actually used put downs like that as part of their Socratic teaching method . Another of those infamous Kingsfield like put downs was this: “If that is your best answer Mr. Hart, we take this shroud and slowly draw it over your head. Your brain is dead, and we mourn its passing.” Professors had a seating chart with the name and picture of every student in the class and would look at that chart before selecting who would be called upon. I think they kept little marks next to the names so that they could be sure to distribute their penetrating questions evenly. People who had not read the cases or where otherwise unprepared did not sit in their assigned seat, but sat in the very last row of the lecture hall and were known as backbenchers. Being called on by a Professor was the intellectual equivalent of going into the gladiatorial arena. If you were not prepared you would be slaughtered. Back in the day, some professors entered the classroom with a facial demeanor resembling that of Ivan Drago entering the ring in the film Rocky III or Russell Crowe as Javert in Les Miserables I now want to share something that actually happened my first year. If it were a screenplay, it might be called: Civil Pro and the day no one knew the answer” We had a Civil Procedure class with Professor Shapiro . In one class he asked the most convoluted, complicated, and incomprehensible question ever heard in Austin Hall. The closest thing to that question was the type of questions Master Po asked David Carradine, a.k.a. “Grasshopper”, in the television series Kung Fu.[xxii] No one answered his question. With a visage worthy of Professor Kingsfield in The Paper Chase. Professor Shapiro calls on three students who usually had an answer to those kind of questions. One of those he calls on is Joel Klein (who would go onto Law Review, clerk at the Supreme Court, and later become Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education) . Joel says: “I have no answer to the question because I don’t understand the question.” The classroom seems to become very dark and quiet, as though an intellectual solar eclipse has occurred and we are inside Plato’s Cave rather than Austin North. Professor Shapiro again poises the question. Up in the far left corner of the room, the hand of Bill Jones slowly goes up. I think to myself: “Bill you have never spoken in this class. Please tell me your arm is having a spasm and that’s why your hand is in the air!”. Everyone, including Professor Shapiro sees the hand. The Professor asks, “Is there anyone else who thinks they can answer my question?” Seeing no one else respond, and Bill’s arm apparently locked in a Charlie-horse like cramp since his hand was still in the air, Professor Shapiro looks down on the seating chart, identifies the name that goes with the hand, and says “Mr. Jones?” Bill replies, “Yes, that’s me”. Professor Shapiro then asks “What is your answer?” In a clear, loud and confident voice, Bill says “ Professor Shapiro, I think that your question was asked and answered in Ashwander [xxiii] . For a few seconds there is no sound other than the rest of the class flipping to the index and the Table of Cases looking for Ashwander. It is not to be found. Someone whispers to a neighbor, “What’s Ashwander?” The even softer reply comes back “I don’t know. I thought Ashwander was something you ordered with extra sprinkles from Hazens in Harvard Square!” And then it happens! Professor Shapiro smiles. Back then, law professors do not ever smile. They have practiced frowns like that of Tommy Lee Jones either as U.S. Marshall Sam Gerard or as Thaddeus Stevensin Steven Spielberg’s film Lincoln. Smiling in class was surely a breach of the faculty code of conduct for classrooms. Professor Shapiro’s smile is like the sun coming up at daybreak dissipating the mental fog of our Plato’s cave. You can almost hear a couple of classmates, formerly with the Harvard Glee Club , start to hum the Hallelujah Chorus . For the next twenty minutes, Professor Shapiro goes back and forth with Bill Jones on Ashwander. At the end of the class the Professor commends Bill and says he hopes the rest of us will be as well prepared for our next class as Mr. Jones was for this one. A few months later I am at Bill’s apartment celebrating his birthday. After a few libations, I ask Bill, “How in the world did you do what you did that ‘Ashwander’ day in Civil Pro?” He replies, “Do you really want to know?” I said: “Yes.” He replies, “You promise not to tell?” I say, “I promise.” He says, “Come with me to my den”. There he shares his secret. He pulls down and opens two notebooks. The first page of one says “Harvard Law Review“ . The first page of the other says “Yale Law Journal” The pages of each notebook have extensive notes in the margins and different highlighted colors. Bill says to me, “Ron, I looked at the course syllabus at the beginning of the term and saw we were scheduled to discuss a certain principle in Civil Pro. I went to Langdell Library and found the Law Review article Professor Shapiro had written on that principle. I also found the critique and rebuttal to that article that was published in the Yale Law Journal, as well as Professor Shapiro’s response. I knew every argument cold. And every time Professor Shapiro asked me a question, I simply drew from the answers in the Law Review and Law Journal.” I said, “Bill, with all the work we have to do, how did you find or make time to do all of that extra work.” He looked at me and said, “Ron, welcome to competition at Harvard Law School.”
When I returned to law school, Gwen Alexis was one of the nice people I met. Gwen and Geri were both from California and very, very bright. Gwen would go on to graduate from HLS and become a member of the New York, New Jersey, and Florida Bars but also to earn a Masters Degree in Ethics from the Yale University Divinity School; and a Ph.D. in Sociology and Historical Studies from the New School for Social Research in Manhattan. In addition to her practice, she is a Associate Professor of Management at a University.
Gwen, was quiet and had a quick wit and for reasons I never understood would from time to time where skirts that were shorter than those Twiggy would wear on magazine covers and would remind you what would later become the cover for Donna Summers album Bad Girls and I would kid her about that.
One day she turned the tables on me and I have never been more embarrassed. Geri and I were walking underground between classes, and Gwen was walking in the opposite direction. Kiddingly, and in a soft voice that only she, Geri, and I could hear, I said why are you here wearing that short skirt I bought for you to work that corner on Mass Ave! Without missing a beat, Gwen dropped to both knees and started yelling at the top of her voice, “Please don’t make me go back on that corner. It’s cold in this skirt. And students have no money to pay!” I turned red with embarrassment and as fellow law students move away from me as though I was Iceberg Slim or was walking down the corrideor had not used deodorant in a century, I kept saying, ”Gwen get up, Gwen get up, these people don’t know you are kidding!”. And the more I pleaded the louder she got. “I can’t study on that corner. The light’s too dim!” ”Gwen get up, Gwen get up, these people don’t know you are kidding!”Then she asked me, “Are you ever going to say anything about my skirts!? I replied, “Never, never, never” to which she replied as she quietly got up as though she had simply slipped, and fallen, “Then we have offer, acceptance, and a contract; don’t breach or I will embarrass you so badly you will have to go to Mass General Hospital for an emergency ego transplant.”
When I returned to the law school in 1969, one of my favorite courses was Constitutional Law taught by Professor Andrew Kaufman . I loved Con Law and devoured the case book written by Gerald Gunter. Based in part on my experience with the legal services center in Roxbury, in 1969 I joined the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. Geri also joined. We co-authored a Case Comment. The Editor in Chief of that publication learned that the next edition of The Harvard Law Review would also contain a Case Note on that same case. He was concerned that our note would not be competitive as it contained a novel application of “badges of servitude” to this case.[xxv] After a vigorous “exchange of views”, it was decided that he would ask a person on the HCRCLLR to read our article and opine if it was good and we would ask a professor to undertake the same task. Both readers reached the same conclusion. Our case note was good, and so it was published. The Editor in Chief at that time was Mark Green . Mark, a former Nader’s Raiders, went on to serve as Public Advocate in New York City, and was a candidate for Mayor. The reader we selected to review our case note was Professor Derrick Bell . The reader that he selected was a fellow whose name was Bruce Wasserstein . The building that bears his name sits on a corner of the law school campus that was where Wyeth Hall used to stand. According to The Harvard Crimson newspaper Wyeth Hall was the first University Dorm open to women[xxvi]. Wyeth Hall 503 was where Michelle (L. Robinson, HLS ’88) Obama lived during her second year at HLS[xxvii]. The steps of Wyeth were a special place because it was on those steps that I first kissed Geri goodnight, and where in reunions past we would return and do it again.
HLS grads are thoroughly immersed in the Socratic method. In real life, that method has it its pros and cons. Let me share two personal examples.
Pro After Geri and I got married, we went to Jamaica on our honeymoon. Despite the fact that she does not swim, I persuaded her to go out on a rubber raft at the beach. She was on one raft and I was on another, and we were holding hands. She was wearing a kerchief, and somehow it came lose. Instinctively, she let go of my hand and reached for her kerchief. In the process she rolled off her raft into the water. I instantly came off my raft and held her up. She was panicking, Ron, don’t let me drown, Ron, don’t let me drown. Since I am a very good swimmer and had even taken some lifeguard classes at the Y many years ago, I thought about that training. It only took me a nano second to realize hitting her in the chin in order to calm her and get her into the lifeguard saving stroke position would not be a good idea. So I resorted to the next best alternative: The Socratic Method. I began by asking her, “Where are we?” She replied ,”Ron don’t let me drown! Ron don’t let me drown!” Since her response did not answer the question I had asked, I repeated it, this time yelling: “Where are we?” As new husbands learn, and seasoned husbands wisely know, if you yell at your wife under any circumstances, she will give you what we all known as “You are going to feel my wraith!” She gave me that look, and responded:” In Jamaica”. I moved onto the second question: “What are we doing here?” She responded: “Drowning!” I rephrased the question: “Why are we in Jamaica?”. She responded: “We are on our honeymoon.” I then said: “Before I let you drown on my honeymoon, I will drink this ocean dry!” As I started to put my mouth on the water to start drinking, she said: “Don’t be stupid, you can’t drink that much sea water!” And she smiled a little. I then proceeded to take three stokes with her in tow and then told her to stand. She said:”No, it’s too deep. And you’re not drinking it any lower?” I said please try. She did, and stood up since we were only in a couple of feet of water. In this case, if the Socratic method had failed, I might still be drinking sea water.
Early in our marriage, we were having a vigorous exchange of views. I presented the most clear, cogent, and persuasive arguments anyone ever heard. (At least they seemed that way to me.) And after finishing my arguments, I assumed the poise of the Man of Steel, folding both hands across my chest in a there you have it, take that poise . Geri, in slow motion like Sharon Stone opening the saloon doors in the western The Quick and the Dead or Clint Eastwood in the Outlaw Josie Wales or Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen in the film Back To the Future, she put her right hand on her hip as though she was going to draw on me. (As soon as she put one hand on her hip, I was a goner). Then she put her left hand on her other hip.( I was going to get blown away with both barrels. But instead of drawing weapons, Our conversation resembled that which occurred between Judge Chamberlain Heller (Fred Gwynne)(who graduated from Harvard University and was affiliated with Adams House)[xxviii] and Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny.[xxix]She took a gavel, and like Fred Gwyn the judge in My Cousin Vinny, said “Ron, that was a cogent and clear argument. “Overruled!”
Now any lawyer in their right mind, having heard those words, would simply have said, thank you your honor, and moved on. But not me, I proceeded to take my arguments to a higher level, walking back and forth, with an explosion of erudition, elocution, explanation, explication. She started looking all around, muttering softly, it must be around here somewhere, but where could it be. After about 30 seconds, I asked here, what in the world are you looking for. She replied, your mind since you have obviously lost it. Then in a Darth Vader like voice that would have made the knees freeze and the liver quiver in Luke Skywalker , she said to me: Ron, I did not marry Socrates. I married you. However, if you insist on being Socratic with me, I have only one question for you. How would you like it, hot or cold?. I responded, how would I like what? She replied, “Your hemlock!” . And then she said the twelve words that caused me to cease and desist from every being Socratic with her again. These words were later to be adapted and picked up by the character that was known as the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld the television show. This is what she said: “If you ever try to use the Socratic Method on me again, no milk and cookies for you!”
- IV. SUPERMAN: IRWIN MARKOWITZ[xxx]
According to two sources: “Irwin S. Markowitz had a law practice in Bergen County for 50 years. He was of counsel to Fischer Porter & Thomas, where he focused his practice on corporate and commercial transactions. He had considerable experience in alternative dispute resolution proceedings and had been appointed by the Chancery Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey in a number of complex matters with a high degree of success in achieving non-litigated resolution. Mr. Markowitz was on the approved list of mediators for the New Jersey Superior Court, the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of New Jersey and N.A.S.D.A.Q. He had also served as Chairman of the A.D.R. Committee of the Bergen County Bar Association and had lectured extensively to legal and non-legal groups on the subject. Mr. Markowitz was a graduate of the University of Wisconsin and Harvard Law School (Class of 1952).Prior to Mr. Markowitz’s entry into private practice he served as general counsel to financial and insurance companies. He was a U.S. Army veteran.”[xxxi] One of the reasons Irwin was so passionate about The Vanderbilt Lecture[xxxii] was his dream that proceeds from the event would help fund Fellowships for students to experience working in New Jersey in areas of Public Interest. Judge David Landau shares the following words with us, showing just how passionate Irwin was about the Vanderbilt Lecture: “In reading the short bio in one of the responses to your note, I think it omits singular aspects of Irwin’s service to the HLSA of N.J: tenacious dedication to ensure the successful continuation of our Vanderbilt lecture tradition and indeed, the Association itself. On his death bed, he had Gerry reach out to me on my cell phone, when I was driving in Massachusetts, to ask if I could arrange for an appropriate Vanderbilt lecturer. I was able to do so, fortunately, very quickly, by telephone from the car. He passed, knowing that the tradition would survive. Long time members will remember his telephonic efforts to remind them of THE LECTURE every year.” Some people think that Clark Kent was Superman. They are wrong. Irwin Markowitz was the real Man of Steel . The character created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster[xxxiii] in 1933, that first appeared in D.C. Comics, and later became a television series , was only able to do such things as “change the course of mighty rivers” and “leap tall buildings in a single bound.” Irwin Markowitz did much more than that. Irwin changed the course of people’s lives, for example, when, as Gerry Markowitz shared with me, Irwin paid the rent for a walk-in store front in Teaneck that provided draft counseling during the Vietnam War, as well as in his always being involved in the American Civil Liberties Union and in Fair Housing. Irwin “The-Man-Of-Steel” Markowitz changed the course of HLSA-NJ through his passion for the Vanderbilt Lecture and generating the funds from this event to help support its Summer Fellows program. I believe we are fulfilling Irwin’s dream for The Lecture, and it is a living testimony to him. If this were a film, the music you would start to hear now would be the Superman theme composed by John Williams , the greatest film composer of our time. Thank you Superman Irwin Markowitz. Thank you everyone for your attention and thank you for this award.
[xiv] The Art of Possibility: Transforming Personal and Professional Life, by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander, and Leading from Any Chair: Empowering Those We Lead to Realize their Full Potential and to Become Leaders Themselves http://hbr.org/product/leading-from-any-chair-empowering-those-we-lead-to/an/3766BC-PDF-ENG
[xxix] http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0012599/quotes. My Cousin Vinny (1992)
Vinny Gambini: I object to this witness being called at this time. We’ve been given no prior notice he’d testify. No discovery of any tests he’s conducted or reports he’s prepared. And as the court is aware, the defense is entitled to advance notice of any witness who will testify, particularly to those who will give scientific evidence, so that we can properly prepare for cross-examination, as well as to give the defense an opportunity to have the witness’s reports reviewed by a defense expert, who might then be in a position to contradict the veracity of his conclusions. [there is a short pause as Judge Haller appears caught off-guard by Vinny’s sudden compentence with knowledge of the law] Judge Chamberlain Haller: Mr. Gambini? Vinny Gambini: Yes, sir? Judge Chamberlain Haller: That is a lucid, intelligent, well thought-out objection. Vinny Gambini: Thank you, Your Honor. Judge Chamberlain Haller: [firm tone] Overruled.
Simply a masterpiece! Thank you, Ron, for this gift and celebration of “our time”. I will come back to this again and again. Gwen