The Common Scold

The Common Scold is named after a cause of action that originated in Pilgrim days, when meddlesome, argumentative, opinionated women who displeased the Puritan elders were punished by a brisk dunk in the local pond. Believe it or not, the tort lasted until 1972, when State v. Palendrano, 120 N.J. Super. 336, 293 A.2d 747 (N.J.Super.L., Jul 13, 1972) pretty much put it to rest. But the thought of those feisty women, not afraid of a little cold water, has always cheered me up and inspired me. I first used the moniker as the name of my humor column at the University of San Francisco School of Law many moons ago, and revive it now for this blawg!



KashNot again:  I thought we were through with attorneys whining about lawyer jokes after San Mateo, Calif. lawyer P. Terry Anderlini's 1987-88 stint as president of the State Bar of California. But now some idiot prosecutors in New York's Nassau County have charged legal reform activist Harvey Kash with disorderly conduct because he dared to tell a lawyer joke outside the district court in Hempstead, reports Newsday. Charges against Kash's co-conspirator Carl Lanzisera have been dropped -- but get this -- he was slapped with a subpoena to testify against his friend in the pending grand jury hearing. Here's the full story from Newsday.

"Lanzisera, 65, and Kash, 69, the Huntington founders of Americans for Legal Reform, gained international notoriety when their tirade of lawyer jokes on Jan. 10 caused a stir on the line leading into the court, where Kash was to appear on a charge of driving while intoxicated," reported Newsday's Zachary Dowdy. (Kash is on the left in the photo, Lanzisera on the right, in the Newsday photo above by Jim Peppler).

You wanna know what joke got them arrested? Q. "How do you know when a lawyer is lying?" A. His lips are moving.

Oh please. Can you spell stupid? Didn't lawyers learn their lesson after Anderlini got all hot and bothered about lawyer jokes and actually made it part of his presidential agenda. The California news media -- including moi -- had an absolute field day ridiculing his posture on this, and to be honest, I don't think very many people took him seriously because of it. (The only thing worse was when the Bar governors tried to legislate politeness among litigators, but that's another story.)

Americans for Legal Reform has been around since Anderlini's time, when their activists caused a lot of hand-wringing among the California bar junkies. But even though the ALR gang often has the collective credibility of Moonies or nudist camp enthusiasts, these folks have made some important points about how disenfranchised the average American feels about the legal system and lawyers. (And do I have to remind the California bar about the scandal over its discipline system that almost destroyed the mandatory bar?)

Doesn't the average lawyer realize that NOBODY -- NOBODY -- wants to come see us? If you are an average American, and you have to go to your lawyer, unless you've won the lottery, it's rarely good news. It usually means a crisis, where things you care about very much -- your money, your relationships, your family, sometimes your very life and liberty -- are suddenly out of your control -- and your future rests in the hands of someone who often won't even return your phone calls in a timely fashion. Going to a lawyer for even routine matters, for the average American, is about as thrilling as -- and more expensive than -- a root canal.

It's all about power. Everybody likes to control as much of our lives as we possibly can. When we are dealing with lawyers and doctors, we lose control. Have you ever been on the other side of a deposition? I have, and it's not fun. (THAT's another story.)

And let's face it  -- as lawyers if we're doing our jobs RIGHT -- like doctors -- we can't handhold or provide family counseling to all our clients 24/7.

So get over it, Nassau. Stop being ridiculously thin-skinned. Lawyer jokes are GREAT. If we can't laugh at ourselves, we don't deserve our bar tickets. Why shouldn't our clients let off some steam? Nobody likes to lose control, nobody likes to be vulnerable, and that's the name of the game when you hire a lawyer.

I like lawyer jokes so much I have a whole list of sites on this blog (bottom right nav bar.) And here's my two favorites. (Remember, I'm a California lawyer:)

Q. Why does New Jersey have more toxic dumps and California has more lawyers?
A. New Jersey got first choice.

Q. What do lawyers use for birth control?
A. Their personalities.

So sue me. Or arrest me.

(P.S. Despite his little aberration, Anderlini's actually a great guy, and was a good sport enough to let me make him tell a doctors' joke at a charity event I emceed.)

January 27, 2005 | Permalink


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» "I LIKE LAWYER JOKES, TOO. SO SUE ME!" from Legal Blog Watch
Monica Bay scolds New York's Nassau County for prosecuting a man who told a lawyer joke outside a Hempstead courthouse. In [Read More]

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» Update: "Jokester to face grand jury" from Overlawyered
"Prosecutors have dropped a disorderly conduct charge against legal reform advocate Carl Lanzisera, one of two men arrested for telling lawyer jokes outside District Court in Hempstead, N.Y. But his comedic and legal reform partner,... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 29, 2005 9:55:01 PM


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