Monday, September 17, 2012

The Pwease Defense

I don’t know about you, but teaching manners to my children often feels like I am fighting a tidal wave with a paper towel.  If one of my Baby Belles voluntarily employed a “ma’am” or “sir” while addressing an adult, I honestly think that I would expire right on the spot.  Honestly, if my children can remember which fairy is who on Twinkle Pix Town (or whatever it’s called) I don’t see why they can’t remember to throw in a little courtesy in their dealings with others.  They are Southern Ladies and that title is a lot to live up to for heaven’s sake!

Please.  I think we all agree that “please” is a critical word.  Baby Belle 1 rarely employs this word on her own, but Baby Belle 2 will throw it in every now and again to make me skip around and feel like a decent parent.  Of course, I am also forced to employ that soul-crushing parental exercise when my children demand something without using the Magic Word where I stand or sit stoically ignoring them while waiting to hear their request politely rephrased.  The soul-crushing part of the exercise is when I sit there forever and they hang off of me nagging horribly and loudly for what they want without ever catching on.  Really, one would think that they would figure out my tactic and intent after all these years.  It makes a Belle want a mint julep. 

On the other hand, “please” can be a bit of a double-edged sword.  Once the precious little ones learn the Magic Word and that their use of it can often get them what they want, they begin to think that their employment of the word should get them absolutely everything they want:

            Baby Belle 2:  Mama, I want that pink Barbie Jeep.

            Mama:  No.

            Baby Belle 2:  BUT.  I.  SAID.  PWEASE!!!

            Me:  I know and your manners are great, but that Jeep costs as much as a real Jeep.

            Baby Belle 2:  BUT.  I.  SAID.  PWEASE!!!

            [Cue the poked-out lip, the crossed arms and the sit-in protest at Target.]

I just imagine going to the jail to visit one of my clients for grand larceny, asking why they did it and hearing them say, “BUT.  I.  SAID.  PLEASE!!!”  Well, then it makes perfect sense that you should take that shotgun from the pawn shop.  Nice manners!

Thank you.  Once again, I can only hope that Baby Belle 1 simply likes to drive me crazy by withholding the thank-you’s at home while employing them out in the world as she should.  (Good Lord, give me strength with that child!)  Baby Belle 2, on the other hand, is better thanks to what I like to call “The Tickle System.”

When Baby Belle 2 was smaller, I gave her a little tickle and said, “You’re welcome!” whenever she said thank you.  She giggled and thought it was fun and it reminded her to employ good manners.  What could possibly go wrong?


Well, one day whilst in a public place (doesn’t it always happen whilst in a public place?) Baby Belle asked for something and I gave it to her.  I was involved in a conversation, so I wasn’t really paying attention, but my precious little thing thanked me for my service. 

All of a sudden the entire crowd heard, “I SAID THANK YOU, DAMMIT!”

It was an example of manners gone horribly wrong.

I’ve been pondering the subject and, now that my children are getting older, I’m thinking of new and cooler ways to advocate politeness.  I hate to go there, but it’s true that manners can cover up a wealth of sins and get you out of some pretty tight spots.  It’s the Eddie Haskell Rule:  If you’re polite to other people’s parents—and adults in general—you’re golden.

When I was in high school, Mr. Moore was my principal.  He was a great guy in a thankless job.  To tell you the truth, I felt kind of sorry for him, so I went out of my way to speak to him.  Mr. Moore always remarked on my manners and said it was so wonderful to hear such graciousness in a crowd of rudeness.  (Call me a suck-up if you want, but he really did get crapped on all the time and it was pitiful.  The inmates truly ran the asylum.)

Anyway, my high school had a sadistic “on-campus” lunch policy.  Blech.  On the days when rebelliousness kicked in 3 or 4 of us would jump in a car that was hidden off behind campus and go get better food for lunch.  Our plan was foolproof until one of us accidently bumped up against a piece of crap El Camino and set its car alarm off. 

The first member of faculty we ran into was Mr. Moore:

            Mr. Moore:  Hello Miss Culbreth.  Did you have a good lunch?

            Me:  Yes, sir.

            Mr. Moore:  I’m sure you ate in the cafeteria like you were supposed to.

            Me:  Yes, sir.

            Mr. Moore:  Because you know that you aren’t allowed off campus for lunch.

            Me:  Yes, sir.

            Mr. Moore:  Such nice manners.  Enjoy the rest of your day.

            Me:  Thank you, sir.  You too.

Mind you, the entire conversation was conducted with me holding a giant soda cup from Taco Bell.

Yes, manners cure many, many, many shortcomings.  I don’t suppose that I’ll use the aforementioned example as a lesson for my Baby Belles, but I’ll think of something.  The important thing to remember is that politeness is critical for Southern Belles and, quite frankly, please’s and thank-you-dammit’s can get you a long way no matter who you are.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Doilies, Flannel Shirts and Cocoa Puffs

The good Lord knows that there’s a need for folks like domestic attorneys, real estate attorneys, tax attorneys and the like because I wouldn’t touch that stuff with a 1,000-foot pole.  Mind you, it’s not that I feel that those areas of practice are beneath me, but the intricate skill and INFINITE PATIENCE required to be an attorney in those forums would have be picking people off with a shotgun from a bell tower less than half a day into trying.

There’s also one little plus in favor of being a general practitioner over a sole practitioner:  You don’t have to miss all the fun.

Yes, I am a criminal defense attorney and I see plenty things in that line of work, but I get to work in other areas of the law that present different and very, very, very unique challenges.  What in the great wide world am I talking about? 

The Last Will and Testament
Bless Your Heart

Ah yes, Wills.  The crazy shit people want to do when they go on to the Hereafter.  Folka blow me away with their post-mortem preferences. 

For those of you who have yet to enter into this “Final Contract,” allow me to assure you that your signature on said contract will neither cause nor speed up the process of your death.  I get an alarming number of quite distraught folks coming in to sign their Wills—seriously, we’re talking a 5-10 Kleenex situation.  I guess it’s the thought of their death that gets them in such a froth, but why should they give a shit?  They’ll be dead for crap’s sake!  They’re going to die after they sign at the same time that they’re going to die before they sign.  (My paralegal suggested that I not use the aforementioned argument as a tool of comfort for crying clients.) 

Bequests are always interesting.  The husband leaving everything to the wife and vice versa is always nice and one or two specific bequests (Cousin Tom gets my shotgun) aren’t that big a deal either.  It’s when you get the client who wants to inventory their entire house right down to the dust bunnies and leave every single thing to a different person that makes one’s eye start that nervous twitch.  I’ve done Wills 80+ pages long that looked like lists for garage sales.  You get the:

Random:  The doilies on the red armchair to the left of the fireplace in the front sitting room go to Sister Gladys at the church.

Bequests that lower value:  One of the pair of antique silver candlesticks on the dining room table goes to Cousin Hilda and the other candlestick goes to Cousin Martha. 

Bequests that make no damn sense whatsoever:  The size XXL red and black checked flannel shirt with three of the buttons missing goes to Uncle Ned.

A particularly fun characteristic of folks who draw Wills with 4,342 bequests is that they constantly want to change who gets what.  They also need to update their Wills frequently when they acquire new items.  Whatever floats their boat, God bless ‘em.

Another interesting aspect of Will preparation is the passive aggressive Testator/Testatrix.  This is an individual who will put up with someone that they despise for their entire lives in order to give them the ultimate post-mortem middle finger in what they view as their final manifesto, i.e., their Will. 

I can’t begin to tell you how many times folks have come in wanting to leave out a child or their brother or sister.  What’s more, it wasn’t enough to just leave them out—the Testator/Testatrix wanted to tell them why:  “In case George is wondering why he’s not getting any of my earthly belongings, I know he’s the one who got drunk and messed up my pig cooker and he was too cowardly to tell me and too cheap to replace it.”  I usually manage to convince them that leaving So-and-So out of the will is more than enough of a slap in the face.

Still, I had one gentleman go completely crestfallen at the news that he wasn’t legally allowed to disown his wife.  A legally married spouse is automatically entitled to 1/3 of their spouse’s estate in North Carolina and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it.  While she was going about her business at home, he wanted it put in his Will that he was forced to leave her a portion of his Estate and he didn’t want to leave her anything because she’d kept him miserable for 47 years.  According to Darling Hubby, she never let him go to the Moose/Elk/Buffalo/Whatever Animal Lodge, she made him go to church, be nice to the neighbors, she kept him constipated and he actually wanted to  marry her sister and carried a torch for her all his life.  I couldn’t even get him to tone it down, so I sent him to another attorney.

What’s the craziest request?  Lord have mercy—Cocoa Puffs the cat.  No, this isn’t one of those urban myth deals where kitty inherits a massive fortune and everyone suddenly has to be nice to the little bastard.  To this day, I will never understand if Cocoa Puffs was a beloved pet or a reviled pet, but he sure to hell was unlucky.

Cocoa Puff’s owner wanted it in her Will that, upon her demise, the gardener was to report to her house, whack Cocoa Puffs with a shovel—yes, she was specific about whacking the cat with a shovel—and bury the carcass of the less than dearly departed Cocoa Puffs between the pool house and the shed.  One of the very many things that gave me pause about this highly questionable plan was that she didn’t even want Cocoa Puffs buried with her, so it wasn’t like the owner was desirous of having her feline companion with her for all eternity.  I have no idea whether or not the gardener was on board for this plan, but I have the distinct feeling that Cocoa Puffs was most decidedly not.  I hate cats, but I wasn’t on board either.

Believe it or not, one constant truth in this legal universe is that something even crazier is guaranteed to walk through the door just when you think you’ve seen it all.  If it trumps whacking Cocoa Puffs the Cat, you might just have to visit me in that padded room we all know I’m destined for sooner than later.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Just Hang Your Head Out the Window

I am from New Hanover County, North Carolina.  For those of you unfamiliar with the area, there are two types of hills within the confines of the aforementioned county:  (1) Sand dunes;  and (2) putting greens.  On the astronomically rare occasion of snow, children all over Wilmington sneak onto golf courses for the sorriest excuse for sled rides that you ever did see.

I am a flatlander.  My ears pop when I go over bridges. 

A little over a year ago, my family went on a trip to the Lake Lure area of the mountains.  Beach folks are supposed to go to the mountains for vacations and mountain folks are supposed to go to the beach, right?  Huh.

Scott and I packed up the Baby Belles and we all set out in the family SUV and headed for the western portion of the State.  After a while, the straight paths of the interstates turned into the winding little pig paths that snaked up and down mountains and around waterfalls and creeks.  The scenery was beautiful, but we were 2 hours past ready to be out of the car.

Then it started.

Baby Belle 1:  “Mama, I don’t feel so good.”

Truthfully, I thought she was bellyaching because she was tired of riding.  Baby Belle 1 does a scene worthy of any Shakespearean tragedy when she gets so much as a paper cut.  Nonetheless, she claimed that she felt queasy and God knows I never take the threat of barf in the car lightly, so we rolled down all of the windows and I told her to stick her head out like a dog and breathe deep.  (Ah, the tender mercies of a mother’s healing hands.)

We made it to the resort successfully, checked in and drove up the ol’ mountain to our cabin.  Up, up, up the winding mountain to our cabin.  We arrived and stared in abject disbelief at what was allegedly our driveway.  I won’t say that it was a 90 degree angle, but it was at least 100 degrees.  I totally sucked at geometry in school, but I swear I could prove myself with a protractor on that one.

Scott seemed determined that he could get our cram-packed Suburban up the black diamond slope, but the Baby Belles and I were all for sliding back down the mountain and sleeping in the lobby of the check-in center.  In spite of the fact that he was resoundingly outvoted, Scott turned the truck and took it on.  He was treated to shrill, eardrum-bursting screams of holy terror from the three females in the car, but he made it.  I will furthermore add that those screams occurred every single time we went up and down that damn driveway for the duration of the vacation. 

Naturally, everywhere we wanted to go was a Von Trapp Family Alp Trek.  We careened to a crafty country store hanging on a precipice over river rapids where Baby Belle 2 got out of the car and announced that she was going to throw up.  Throwing up is Baby Belle 2’s super power.  That kid can throw up at the drop of a hat and let me assure you that it is a spectacular show each and every time.  She yakked right at the front doorstep of the store and I had no doubt that the culprit was car sickness because she used to get queasy when I tried to put her in the little bitty baby swing as an infant.

Unfortunately, the kids weren’t alone.  I was about to suffer a serious blow to my pride.  I have been on tiny little boats tossing around out in the ocean where everyone else on board was as sick as a dog and I was perfectly fine.  I was skipping merrily around the Queen Mary 2 in the icy and churning waters of the Atlantic Ocean between New York and Portsmouth, England while hundreds of other passengers couldn’t lift their heads out of bed.  Wusses one and all.

Ashley.  Doesn’t.  Get.   Motion.  Sickness.

Ashley got motion sickness.

Naturally, it was all Scott’s fault.

If he hadn’t been tearing around those winding-assed roads like he was on some German car Autobahn commercial, his wife and children wouldn’t have had to suffer on their vacation!  It wasn’t like we were on the clock or anything!  We could get there when we damn well felt like or we didn’t have to go in the first damn place.  Good God Almighty.  Great balls of fire.  Grumble, grumble, grumble.

Up to that point, I’d insisted that Scott drive because the hills and the angles and general nightmare of the mountain roads was not something that I wanted to tackle, but the time had come:  Scott was relieved of his command.  I drove like a tranquilized octogenarian.  Yep, our Suburban ripped along those roads at a roaring 19-20 miles per hour.  Folks on my back bumper just loved me and—oh yeah—I still screamed like a banshee every time I drove up and down the driveway to our cabin.

Of course, when I drove the family to Asheville for a day trip, Scott got carsick. 

Now we’ve left the flatlands of the coast and moved to the Piedmont.  Honestly, those rolling hills might as well be mountains.  To top it all off, we live down a steep slope.  Yet again, I screech in horror every time I put the car in reverse, turn off the emergency brake and the car starts to roll toward the house before the gas kicks in.  The Baby Belles think I’m hysterically funny and Scott thinks I’m hysterically crazy. 

Baby Belle 1 has gotten carsick on a couple of trips to the grocery store.

If you’ve read my other entries, you know that I don’t do snow and ice, so we are tee totally stranded when it comes to winter weather events.  I already need a pick and a rope to climb to my mailbox, but I will have to call helicopter rescue if I want to check the mail in slick conditions.

Someone laughingly told me that I would get used to it.  All I can say is that I lived in various parts of the area for a total of 7 years for college and, if I didn’t get used to it then, I’m screwed now.  Bless my heart.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Dignity. Ain't It a Bitch?

Oliver Wendell Holmes.  Thurgood Marshall.  Atticus Finch.  Yeah, I know Atticus Finch isn’t real, but such a legendary character joins the other great attorneys in history as the raison d'ĂȘtre for starry-eyed applicants to law school.  The powerful personalities and victories of these heroes of the legal world even manage to overshadow the tsunami of lawyer jokes, ambulance chasers and general ill will toward the legal profession.

Yep, every attorney and prospective attorney is certain that they can withstand any storm or circus by reminding themselves of the dignity that great men like Judge Holmes, Judge Marshall and Mr. Finch bestowed upon the practice of law.



Dignity.  Such as when you find out that the client you’ve been zealously representing in his personal injury case has what one might call a...side job.  Yes, your Plaintiff has a bit of a habit of standing on the corner of notorious traffic intersections and jumping into the back seats of cars post-collision.  Imagine the whiplash he imagined! 

I know that many of you are asking, “Wait a minute, the driver would notice someone they didn’t know in the backseat of their car!  Duh!” 

All I can say to you is that you wouldn’t believe the amount of detail—or glaring inaccuracy—that gets overlooked in a wreck.


Dignity.  Such as when an incredibly angry forty-ish year-old hooker storms into your office with a shotgun threatening to kill her most recent john because he had the nerve to try and steal her Cinderella doll.


Dignity.  Such as when you are in court and one of the prisoners in the jail box either needs to come off his meds or get his meds because he is convinced that you are one of the hookers in his stable.  Accordingly to Mr. Loud Pimp Daddy, your name is Jeanina, you owe him money and you aren’t earning anything by keeping your “lazy ass” in the courtroom instead of on the street.  What’s super fantastic is that L.P.D. won’t shut the hell up and just gets louder as he is dragged out of the prisoner box to the cells in the back hall.


Dignity.  Such as spending three days of your life that you will never get back arguing a personal injury case that essentially boils down to whether or not your client is truthful.  That’s not exactly one to cause great shock and awe, I know.  The mortification of the matter is that the truth centered around my client’s bodily functions. 

In the moment in time my Plaintiff had to see the car careening toward him, he had a booboo in his britches.  The question hinged on whether or not the booboo was a Number 1 or a Number 2.  My client had been inconsistent in his statements as to which bodily function had actually occurred and the defense had jumped all over it—figuratively speaking—to show that the frequent changes in statements proved that my client lied like a cheap K-Mart rug. 

You actually have argue to a jury about poops and tinkles and the various names for the same.  A true highlight of your career. 


Dignity.  You have a client who is secretly videotaped in her apartment by her pervy troll of a landlord.  As the result of the supremely disappointing resolution of the criminal court case, you work with the client to get a bill passed in the Legislature making it a felony to secretly peep on another person.  Yay!  A rare and satisfyingly successful outcome!

Less than a month later, you are court appointed to this little buzzard who is charged with...guess...secret peeping!  There is no way in ten kinds of hell that this appointment is random.  (I would like to interject briefly here and add that I didn’t call him a little buzzard at the time of the appointment.  He was simply my client just like everyone else.  Since that time and the resulting events, I have called him everything under the sun.)

The allegations were that the young gentleman had a video camera in his bag and was filming up girls’ skirts in the library at UNC-Weed.

He was an insistent little bugger and, holy crap, he was indignant about the charges leveled against him.  He didn’t come in for an appointment so much as he stormed in and paced around your office claiming entrapment and vendettas and everything other than culpability for the charges.  You buy the spiel.

You fight tooth and nail for the kid and then someone finally recovers the data from the damaged DVD in question.  The first part of the disc shows a bunch of extremely stupid skateboard stunts that look like an audition for “Dumbasses on Film” or some other reality show on Spike TV.  Some of your brain cells manage to survive to about three quarters into the video when suddenly you find yourself looking up the flowered skirt of a young lady as she stands in line to check out a book.

As the DVD progresses, you go on to see the nether regions of females as they climb stairs, study in cubicles and stand around for no particular reason.

Then your client skips bail.  Then you have to tell all of that to the Assistant District Attorney with whom you have argued your client’s angelic innocence. 


Dignity.  Ain’t it a bitch?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Legalization of Motherhood

Lawyers are such weirdos.  Of course, it doesn’t help when we answer the “So what do you do?” question at parties and our reply either makes people’s eyes widen in horror or causes them to ask for free legal advice about Uncle Bernie defaulting on a loan.

Still, it’s true.  We think differently than other folks and I can tell you why:  Law School is like boot camp from hell.  They break you down into sniveling bits of nothing during your first year and then they build you back up to what you signed on to be:  A cyborg-ish individual with statutes and case notes programmed into your brainwaves who sees the potential for liability at every single turn in both your professional and private lives.  More fun than a bag of tacks.

If I am at the grocery store and see something spilled on the floor, I take the time to alert a store employee of the problem so that the business is “aware of the clear and present danger” in the event someone falls and hurts themselves.  Thanks to the dumbass Legislature, such “irrefutable” knowledge of the danger is a prerequisite to a successful slip and fall case, so I go out of my way to leap that hurdle.  I even hover around until they take care of things so that I can make myself available for testimony in the event that something happens.

I also don’t flash my lights at oncoming cars to warn about speed traps because that’s my bread and butter.  Sorry.

The main problem about this lawyer programming thing is that it doesn’t turn off and that’s when you run into what I call:

The Legalization of Motherhood


  1. Nesting:  It’s that adorable and cozy little thing that expectant mothers do right before they check into the hospital (or go batshit crazy and get some midwife to help them drop a baby in a kiddie pool in their living room).  They put sheets on the crib, wash and fluff the blankets, fold clothes, match all of those microscopic socks and put them in their special microscopic sock drawer and do whatever else comes with the unbelievably massive undertaking of having a child.

How did I nest?  I wrote my Will, my Health Care Power of Attorney, my General Power of Attorney and my Declaration of My Desire for a Natural Death.

  1. Lullabies:  We’ve all been there.  It’s 3:00 AM and you’ve gone through the entire iPod in your head.  You’ve sung Jimmy Buffet, Bob Marley, The Drifters, The Chairmen of the Board, Ozzy, Guns ‘n Roses, Harry Belafonte, Willie Nelson, David Allan Coe, Broadway Hits, Broadway Flops and even that “Dooby Dooby Doo” song those penguins did in that beer commercial.  You start making shit up.

What do lawyers make up?

Hush little baby, don’t you cry,
Mama’s gonna buy you an alibi...

  1. Chores and Allowances:  As the rugrats get older, they give the appearance of being able to act responsibly and handle chores.  Of course, all parents know that this is complete bullshit and if you depend on the children to actually feed the dog, the ASPCA will be banging your door down for willfully starving your animals to death.  Nonetheless. parents and children continue to engage in the time honored fallacy of giving money to children for doing pretend work.

This is where being a lawyer actually works out.  I drew up an Allowance Contract.  There are forum clauses, non-compete disclosures, unilateral penalties—hell, the contract has been underway for a year and Baby Belle 1’s been in breach so many times that we’ve only distributed 5 or 6 payments.

  1. Sibling Arguments:  The bane of parenthood.  They fuss from the time they get up in the morning ‘til the sun goes down at night.  Sometimes I think that I even hear mine carrying on in their sleep.  When the planets align just perfectly and one of them feels like being nice, the other one is a complete shit and vice versa.  Some parents try a points system, some parents try a more fascist straight punishment system.  Let’s face it, no matter what sort of approach parents try, they still end up leaving head dents in the walls.

What does a lawyer do?  I choose to amuse myself while confounding my children:

            Baby Belle 1:  Mama! Baby Belle 2 won’t share Daddy’s iPad!

            Me:  Objection sustained.  Baby Belle 2, hand it over!

            Baby Belle 2:  Huh?


Baby Belle 1:  Mamaaaaaaa!  Baby Belle 2 said that I’m being Miss Bossy Pants!  Make her apologize to me!

Me:  Objection overruled.  You were pretty darn bossy to me right there.  Tone it down, young’un.

Baby Belle 1:  But Ma—

Me:  Your objection is noted for the record, but my ruling stands.  If you wish to file your appeal with Daddy, he gets home at 6:00.

Baby Belle 1:  Huh?


Me:  Baby Belle 2, I’m giving myself permission to treat you as a hostile witness.  I did, in fact, give you 3 chicken nuggets for your lunch, did I not?

            Baby Belle 2:  Um...

Me:  And I did tell you that you had to eat all 3 chicken nuggets if you wanted to have a popsicle for dessert, right?

            Baby Belle 2:  Um...

            Me:  I see that your plate is empty, is that correct?

            Baby Belle 2:  (Smiling because she thinks she’s got it now) Yes!

Me:  But isn’t it true that you only took one bite of one of the chicken nuggets and fed the rest to the dog when you thought I wasn’t looking? 


            Me:  Isn’t it?

            Baby Belle 2:  Um...huh?

Am I using my using my powers for good and not evil in the world of parenting?  Debatable, but occasionally enjoyable.