Conflicts Check:
Conflicts Check:
Vautrin’s advice to Rastignac, a law student (from Balzac’s Father Goriot)

"We are as hungry as a wolf, and those newly-cut teeth of ours are sharp; what are we to do to keep the pot boiling? In the first place, we have the Code to browse upon; it is not amusing, and we are none the wiser for it, but that cannot be helped. So far so good. We mean to make an advocate of ourselves with a prospect of one day being made President of a Court of Assize, when we shall send poor devils, our betters, to the galleys with a T.F. on their shoulders, so that the rich may be convinced that they can sleep in peace. There is no fun in that; and you are a long while coming to it; for, to begin with, there are two years of nauseous drudgery in Paris, we see all the lollipops that we long for out of our reach. It is tiresome to want things and never to have them. If you were a pallid creature of the mollusk order, you would have nothing to fear, but it is different when you have the hot blood of a lion and are ready to get into a score of scrapes every day of your life. This is the ghastliest form of torture known in this inferno of God’s making, and you will give in to it. Or suppose that you are a good boy, drink nothing stronger than milk, and bemoan your hard lot; you, with your generous nature, will endure hardships that would drive a dog mad, and make a start, after long waiting, as deputy to some rascal or other in a hole of a place where the Government will fling you a thousand francs a year like the scraps that are thrown to the butcher’s dog. Bark at thieves, plead the cause of the rich, send men of heart to the guillotine, that is your work! Many thanks! If you have no influence, you may rot in your provincial tribunal. At thirty you will be a Justice with twelve hundred francs a year (if you have not flung off the gown for good before then). By the time you are forty you may look to marry a miller’s daughter, an heiress with some six thousand livres a year. Much obliged! If you have influence, you may possibly be a Public Prosecutor by the time you are thirty; with a salary of a thousand crowns, you could look to marry the mayor’s daughter. Some petty piece of political trickery, such as mistaking Villele for Manuel in a bulletin (the names rhyme, and that quiets your conscience), and you will probably be a Procureur General by the time you are forty, with a chance of becoming a deputy. Please to observe, my dear boy, that our conscience will have been a little damaged in the process, and that we shall endure twenty years of drudgery and hidden poverty, and that our sisters are wearing Dian’s livery. I have the honor to call your attention to another fact: to wit, that there are but twenty Procureurs Generaux at a time in all France, while there are some twenty thousand of you young men who aspire to that elevated position; that there are some mountebanks among you who would sell their family to screw their fortunes a peg higher. If this sort of thing sickens you, try another course. The Baron de Rastignac thinks of becoming an advocate, does he? There’s a nice prospect for you! Ten years of drudgery straight away. You are obliged to live at the rate of a thousand francs a month; you must have a library of law books, live in chambers, go into society, go down on your knees to ask a solicitor for briefs, lick the dust off the floor of the Palais de Justice. If this kind of business led to anything, I should not say no; but just give me the names of five advocates here in Paris who by the time that they are fifty are making fifty thousand francs a year! Bah! I would sooner turn pirate on the high seas than have my soul shrivel up inside me like that. How will you find the capital? There is but one way, marry a woman who has money. There is no fun in it. Have you a mind to marry? You hang a stone around your neck; for if you marry for money, what becomes of our exalted notions of honor and so forth? You might as well fly in the face of social conventions at once. Is it nothing to crawl like a serpent before your wife, to lick her mother’s feet, to descend to dirty actions that would sicken swine—faugh!—never mind if you at least make your fortune. But you will be as doleful as a dripstone if you marry for money. It is better to wrestle with men than to wrangle at home with your wife. You are at the crossway of the roads of life, my boy; choose your way."

Everyone has a friend or two who is a train wreck. No matter what you do for them, no matter how many times you save the day at the last minute, give them a ride home, help them with rent money, bail ‘em out of jail, etc., you know you can never depend on them to do the slightest fucking thing for you when you ask. And it’s not because they’re bad people or spiteful or anything; they simply can’t get it together enough to do much of anything.

I have (mostly) learned not to resent these friends. It’s partially because it feels good to do something good for someone without the expectation that you’re going to get something in return. (I don’t believe in karma, for the record.)

And it’s partially because, on a certain plane of existence, I am one of those people. I have learned to accept this over the years, too.

That is not to say I accept the role of ‘train wreck’ as a general proposition. I don’t. I try to be as reliable as possible. But I am convinced that there is a sort of charitable food chain at work in my circle of friends and acquaintances. Some people seem destined to help me over and over, and I am powerless to reciprocate. I want to, but the opportunity never presents itself.

It doesn’t depend on economic status, either. The people I can think of who I’ve been dependent on throughout my existence - mentors, close friends, colleagues, and relative strangers - come from all walks of life. There is just some magic shit at work that puts you on one side of the equation or the other. If you think about it, you can probably put yourself in both the ‘dependent’ and the ‘dependee’ columns if you take stock of all your interpersonal relationships.

The role of parasite in a relationship can be, and often is, more frustrating than that of the host. Remember that, and continue being kind to people even when you think your kindness reserves should be exhausted. And spare some kindness for yourself, too.

This editorial somehow manages to tie together the issues of marriage equality and capital punishment. It does so in the context of the Attorney General’s willingness to defend the law. In my professional opinion, the piece is completely stupid. According to the LA Times, it’s okay to defend an unjust, unconstitutional law but ONLY if there’s a lot of popular support for said law. If you believe in your professional capacity that a law is unconstitutional, it seems like a no-brainer; you must not enforce or defend the law. But if it is not unconstitutional, and merely grossly unjust, then I think personal integrity demands what can sometimes be a tough decision.

However, I do not believe whether to categorize someone’s family as second-class, or whether to take someone’s life, to be tough decisions. I see no reason at all to be complicit in tyranny, least of all a paycheck.

The above links to my article in Insider Louisville about Kentucky’s death penalty.

On the Road to the 6th Circuit

We’re hurtling toward Cincinnati in a minivan. 3 lawyers, a paralegal, and a toddler. Rally tonight, then arguments all day tomorrow. Michigan, Ohio, then us, then Tennessee.

We’re going to try to convince a panel of three appellate judges, two George W. Bush appointees and one Clinton appointee, who are on the bench for life, that our clients should have marriage rights. Tomorrow’s one of those days that made us want to be lawyers in the first place.

I keep getting asked what I think is going to happen. My stock answer is that I don’t make predictions.

But here’s my prediction: we win.

Maybe we don’t win at the 6th circuit. Maybe we lose. Maybe we never get to the Supreme Court, or maybe we lose there too. Maybe we don’t win in a year or two years or ten. But we by-God win. Eventually.

Of all the cases we’ve pored over and tried to understand throughout the course of this litigation, there are only a few that lead me to this conclusion. Here’s a gross oversimplification:

Plessy v. Ferguson (1898), in which the “separate but equal” doctrine was endorsed by the Supreme Court.

Brown v. Board of Education (1954), in which the Supreme Court said Plessy was wrong.

Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), in which the Supreme Court said LGBT folks have no rights.

Lawrence v. Texas (2003), in which the Supreme Court said that Bowers was wrong.

Loving v. Virginia (1967), in which the Supreme Court said states could not prohibit interracial marriage, despite its bullshit reasons involving tradition, religion, procreation, and anything else a bunch of bigots could come up with.

With a minimal understanding of history and just a tad bit of insight, imagination, and tempered optimism, you can see where things are headed. We win. Our clients win. Y’all win. History always wins.

Harold McQueen, Jr.

I am writing a piece on the death penalty for Insider Louisville, but I got sidetracked by this guy’s story. Please indulge me for a minute. Rest assured, I read your hate mail.

Since 1976, only three people have been executed in Kentucky. The two most recently killed were Edward Harper in 1999 and Marco Chapman in 2008. Both of them volunteered for it.

McQueen is the only involuntary execution in the last 50 years out of 78 people sentenced to death. About a third of Kentucky’s death row inmates have been there since the 1980s. Chapman was sentenced in 1981 and executed in 1997.


I’m not kidding; I want to know why. I cannot find any reason that makes any logical sense. Why did McQueen get fried, but no one else since (unless, of course, they asked for it)? McQueen is like almost all the other death row inmates in Kentucky. He was white, he was middle-aged, and he was convicted of a drug-crazed murder. His accomplice was convicted of the same murder and paroled in 1988. 

The notoriously defendant-unfriendly, pro-capital-punishment, in its lengthy page on McQueen, quotes a prison psychologist who describes him as a “corrections success story.” It doesn’t look like he was involved in any prior violent crime (despite a lengthy criminal history, but damn near all the death row guys have that), and no one contends he was a danger to anyone in prison.  

I have looked at it and looked at it and looked at it, and I have come up with two inescapable conclusions:

1) The only reason for McQueen to have been Kentucky’s sole execution in the last 50 years is his own incredibly bad luck. 

2) A system that singles out one person out of a pool of death row inmates for execution in a 50-year time period, apparently based on nothing but that inmate’s incredibly bad luck, cannot possibly be constitutional, moral, or even sane in any way.

I am prepared to be proved wrong, but I think I’m right. 

The above links to my appearance on KET’s Kentucky Tonight, in which Chris Hartman and I debate Stan Cave and Martin Cothran about same-sex marriage. I will refrain from commentary about the process, except to say that doing a continuous hour of live TV with no commercials, no dump button, and obviously no editing of the stupid things one might say, is nerve-wracking. I’d say that it all turned out okay, but I truly don’t know because I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch it. 

Onward to the Sixth Circuit!

White-Bean Hummus with Lemon and Basil

This has nothing to do with the law or music or whatever, but I made this on accident out of crap lying around and people have asked about it enough that I figured I’d post it. It’s simple, healthy, and delicious. And totally vegan, if you’re into that sort of thing.


2 cans (30 oz.) cannellini beans, drained

A roasted red pepper (optional) (do NOT stick a raw one in there)

7-8 leaves fresh basil

1 clove garlic (peeled, you fool)

Juice of 1 lemon

A generous amount of olive oil

Salt to taste, about a teaspoon ought to do it


1. Put all the ingredients except the olive oil and salt in a food processor.


2. Check your toddler to make sure that she’s out of earshot, or absorbed in something else that will keep her from absolutely freaking the fuck out over the noise the food processor makes.

3. Turn on the food processor.


4. While it’s running, add the olive oil until everything gets to be the texture of hummus, or at least a texture you like. You might have to stir it up a bit to get it all the same consistency. I highly recommend you turn the processor off before stirring. I have actually lost a wooden spoon that way. But I’m not terribly bright.

5. If you have neglected step #2, go soothe your toddler. A Disney movie should do the trick, or perhaps a solemn promise that you will never allow such a horrible noise again.

6. Salt to taste. Pulse the food processor a couple of times to make sure the salt gets through the whole batch.

7. Eat it on raw carrots, or pita bread, or whatever you fancy. Like most things, it tastes better the second day.


Most people I know

including me, are trying to do this:

when we probably ought to be working on this:

The Secret Desire of All Lawyers

This post is not nearly as sexy as the title suggests, even if you don’t think the secret desires of lawyers are all that sexy. Sorry about that. No, this post is about magic.

Buried deep in the dark heart of every lawyer is the secret, burning desire to work magic. Some of us are warriors, and some of us are thieves. Some of us are chaotic good, some lawful neutral, and some neurotic evil. But deep down, we all want to be the mage. (And that’s as far as that analogy needs to go.)

The point is: I’m an instant gratification kinda guy. The reason I went to law school in the first place was to effectuate instantaneous change. You write a brief, you argue to a couple of robes, and BAM! The death penalty is abolished. An innocent person goes free. Schools are desegregated (or resegregated, if that’s your cup of tea). Your friends can get married. Miracles happen.

But it’s almost never that simple. And even if it is, you can’t promise miracles without overpromising. And overpromising is something a lawyer must never do.

Of course, I’ve done my share of overpromising. When I first started handling my own clients it was a lot of ‘they can’t do that’ and ‘how dare they’ and ‘it’s a moral outrage’ and ‘we’re going to make them pay for it.’ But I’ve learned my lesson.

The problem is compounded by the fact that our clients want us to be magicians, too. To chant some ancient Babylonian shit and undo the wrongs that befell them. To fly around the world backwards and unmake history. And oh, how we’d like to do so.

But one of the reasons our friends’ friends don’t like to talk to us at parties is that our line of work demands a great deal of negativity. You must underpromise and hope to overdeliver. It is our job to prepare clients for the worst, even if you know you’re right, even if you know the law, the judge, and God Himself are all on your side. Indeed, the worst often happens, even when it clearly should not.

What can we do? Lawyers often speak in terms of a client being “made whole.” This concept is perhaps the greatest legal fiction in common usage today. To be truly “made whole” requires magic. We cannot give back the use of your legs, or your dignity, or your child. We can get you money. That’s about it. Nothing magical about that. Most clients find this idea deeply unsatisfying. So do most lawyers. Nonetheless, cash quickly becomes the measure of success, because what other measure is there? And so it is fetishized. Results are equated to dollars. Dollars are equated to the practice of law, and to the law itself. There’s a reason the ‘greedy trial lawyer’ meme is so popular.

This conflation of idealism with materialism, and the inherent need for pessimism, along with the simple fact that a perfect, magical solution is so unimaginably rare in the practice of law that it might only come along once in a lifetime, leads to disillusionment. Depression. Anxiety. Hopelessness. Alcoholism. Probably suicide. A whole host of nasty things. And yet we soldier on, without magical powers, in hopes that we accidentally get one incantation right. One combination of words said at the right place at the right time that changes a life, or many lives, or the state, or the country, or the world.

It almost never happens. But sometimes it does. And ‘sometimes’ makes it worth it. After all, if magic happened every day, it wouldn’t be quite so magical.

The above links to my story and interview with attorney Greg Belzley about the state of health care in Kentucky prisons. 

Today is my 13,345th day of life. I spent it writing a brief, making chilli, and playing with the baby. That was pretty good. I’ve got 5 hours left. Maybe I can do even better.

The above links to a panel discussion on the status of the marriage equality cases. This was held at Human Rights Campaign’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. on March 26, 2014. If you’re interested in hearing me, or several other smarter, better-looking attorneys discussing the origins of the marriage cases and where we’re going, check it out.


So finally, at long last, I’ve got a band that has recorded some original music. Ladies and gentlemen, The Vatican Bank presents Pork Chop Paul

You can check out a couple of free tracks at

Available on, iTunes, our Facebook page, or our website for the low low price of like 6 bucks or something. Seriously, you pay more than that for a beer on 4th Street. Or so I’m told.

Also, check out the insane album art by Ira Smith of the band Mistakes in Aviation:



Remember that people are the least lovable when they are most in need of love.