By Mark David Blum, Esq.
I really do love my work. When asked, I normally tell folks that, “it is the best thing you can do standing up.” At some level there must be a certain kind of crazy to enjoy the combat and mental gymnastics that go along with being a trial lawyer. As exhausting and exhilarating as the job is, I don’t hesitate to go charging like a raging bull into a fight. I verily believe that I am doing the Lord’s work and that I am making things better for people caught in a moment of misery.
As with everything in life, with the good comes the bad. I do not meet people when everything is right in their world. Instead, our paths normally cross when things are at their worst. Someone is in trouble, someone is being attacked, someone is hurting. To me they turn to find the magic solution, extricate them from their pain, and euthanize whomever or whatever is causing the distress. Sometimes it works. Sometimes despite the doctor’s best efforts, the patient still dies.
Last night, I was thoroughly engaged in a verbal fist fight amongst horse show people at the State Fairgrounds. These are good folks who have been together for decades; working together, competing against each other, and who have formed near familial relationships. So, it was a sad moment in time when one of them, for no other apparent reason that pure spite and being a sore loser (time and time again) decides to turn on another. Families don’t fuck each other; at least not here in the northeast. We leave that activity for southern republicans.
First let me say that driving onto the New York State Fairgrounds when the Fair is not in town is a very surreal experience. In any given year, my contact with the fairgrounds is limited to being my home-away-from-home for two weeks at the end of each summer.
Entering a deserted fairgrounds, I was able to drive down streets that normally are filled wall to wall with booths, vendors, and tens of thousands of people smashed one against another. Instead of the noise, smells, and chaos, I was presented with a virtual ghost town. Memories of a million stories rushed through my head as I meandered about up and down various avenues. Seeing shuttered restaurants, closed buildings, and empty barns hit a spot deep inside me. This is not how the fairgounds are supposed to appear. I am so used to the hustle and bustle such that seeing nobody and nothing made the experience funeral-esque. It was a ghost town and there was I; the sole survivor.
The overwhelming smell of rotting garbage and the sight of trash everywhere was the only reminder of what once was a great and powerful Fair. When I arrived at where once stood the Midway, I was treated to great vast empty asphalt beach. Seagulls too full and fattened from food scraps stood in squadron formation all over the empty space. Obviously these critters had eaten their fill and didn’t (or couldn’t) fly anymore; choosing instead to just stand there in hot late afternoon sun. Even as my car approached and drove through their formation, they barely moved to inch out of my way. Not a one took flight. Nah, I was the outsider; the interloper. It was like seeing a model before her makeup or your mom naked in the shower. Without the glitz and glitter, the fairgrounds is just a vast nothingness. It is a fantasy that exists only in your mind when the Fair is in town.
In one small corner of the fairgrounds, the target of my visit was found. Hundreds of beautiful horses along with their owners, riders, caretakers, handlers, trainers, and a plethora of children and other interested persons were all gathered and in various stages of unrest and getting setup for a show this weekend. Some of the most beautiful animals and unique markings were on constant display. (The horses were pretty fascinating too). I parked and meandered about, acclimatizing and meeting people and their black, brown, white, tan, and spotted stallions, ponies, geldings, and every imaginable type of horse (did you know some horses have powder blue eyes).
Eventually I found my clients, chatted them up, met with witnesses and learned as much as I could by observation and interrogation so as to be prepared for a hearing scheduled for later in the evening. All the folks I met were just simply good honorable and kind people. I guess you have to be that way to work with and love horses. I have friends who are horse people and I know that it takes a special person to work with a horse. You cant be a wimp; horses do not like cowards. They are strong glorious animals and they know it. Respect them and they will respect you. Walk behind one and your testicles could be halfway up your intestinal tract from a swift kick.
While driving the fairgrounds may have been a morose and empty experience, meeting up with these horsefolks rekindled a fire. In one small corner of the vast fairgrounds, there was life again. There were animals, people moving everywhere, stuff going on, and even a clean bathroom. (Thank god for the clean bathroom as something I had eaten earlier that day went through my digestive tract like a bullet train).
Unfortunately, I was not there to re-live the sights and sounds of the fairgrounds. No, I was there on business. This organization showing the horses is a large family. My clients are the mom and pop of the group. They are the top ribbon and award winners time and time again, show after show, year after year. Their expertise is top notch, their training attracts horsepeople from around the nation. The work they do with their own and their client’s horses is beyond reproach. If there was to be a gold standard, these folks are it.
But in any large organization, there will always be that one person or clique of petty, small minded, bitter people who do not fit in and are always on the lookout for things about which they can complain and fight. They hide behind “the rules” and create friction and misery for no reason other than to try and capture what they cannot do professionally. Since they cannot win at the competition, they try and harm those who do so as to clear out the competition. It would be like Jimmy Johnson trying to have Kyle Bush sanctioned and thrown out of NASCAR because Johnson cant win a race against Rowdy. That is not how it is supposed to be done. You settle your differences in the competition and when done and the dust settles, you shake hands, kiss cheeks and move on to the next. That is the definition of good sportsmanship. Being a whiney ass little crybaby is not.
Last night I had to deal with one such cowardly little man. Not being able to control the organization and win at competition, this person filed a grievance against my clients for what in the end was for small niggling alleged violations of rules that don’t even exist. Even a “big gun” lawyer with dozens of names on after his on his letterhead came in from Rochester to stand up to me. It was game on.
Now, in the past 20 years I have been in a lot of court settings, administrative proceedings, arbitrations, and innumerable formal and informal quasi and actual judicial proceedings. This was a first for me – not because it was horses or even that it was held on a Friday night. It was a first as I actually got to appear and try the case in jeans. You don’t wander around horse barns wearing a suit. Of course, big city Rochester lawyers still wear ties and dressy clothes but that is their problem. For me, it was casual Friday.
Despite this being a dispute and semi arbitration type setting about horses, it was as close to being a Kangaroo Court as I have ever experienced. The Rochester lawyer there to advise the organization and hearing panel was acting as a cross examiner and doing the job of the committeepersons. The grievant, the knucklehead who filed the frivolous claim against my client, was not required to testify or provide any support for his allegations. Though he was allowed to sit in the room and did answer questions from the panelists, I was denied any opportunity to question him or expose his claims for being false and unfounded. Yes, they allowed me to call witnesses but denied me the chance to question them about anything relevant. The Panel interrogated my client and got into an argument with him. It got so bad that I pointed out how one of the panel members hearing the case had approached my client hours before the hearing and told my client, “don’t worry, it will all be OK tonight.” Imagine a judge going up to a party in a case before a trial and telling that party not to worry about the outcome. While it may have been my client to whom the words were addressed, this same person is locked in a business relationship with the complainer.
As insignificant as this may all appear on the surface, underlying it is a lot of money. Sanctions that could come down as a result of the complaint could cost my clients their business and professional reputations. After spending the first hour fighting just about rules and defects in the proceedings and the complaint, there really wasn’t much of a dispute remaining. It became apparent that the complainant had just wasted everybody’s time and the organization’s precious (and scant) dollars. So we took our testimony, I made my arguments, and now we wait.
Outside after, one of the committeeperson/judges approached my clients and I in the parking lot. During that discussion, he so much as admitted that a secret hearing had been held back in June where only the complainant was invited and he and his witness were allowed to present his dispute. The panel even telephoned a witness to interview them. We had no idea such a proceeding even took place. But this person we talked to last night not only confessed to the secret proceeding but also shared openly that the committee had already decided the outcome of the case back in June. We learned of their intended recommendations and stood there dumbfounded that a decision was reached despite the rules explicitly giving both parties a chance to be heard. Apparently the opportunity to be heard does not mean that the hearing cannot be decided before you are heard, but at least you got your day in court. “Nay, nay”, say I. Somehow I have a feeling this matter isn’t going to be over and sooner or later, actual judges and juries will be involved.
It truly saddens me when I see people who should be working together and have a common cause turn on each other and rip each other to shreds. No good comes of trying to fuck your family, friends, and colleagues. Though the organization itself is strong and does a good thing for the participants and the public, to be a sideline observer watching one member try to screw another (without even a reach around) is so wrong. It is no different that the shame of families who have to be in family court for doing the same thing – pettiness and jealousy as the motivations for trying to hurt someone who is otherwise a part of your life.
Hopefully in the end, pettiness will not rule the day and despite the dishonor done to the good name of ‘Lady Justice’ by the complainer, the committee, and its Rochester lawyer, the organization will do the right thing. Too much damage has already occurred and that is a shame. These people do this work with their horses out of pure love. That love has to come from the heart and not just be mouthed for the sake of appearances like fucking a $20 hooker.
As I drove off into the night headed back to the safe confines of my own home and washed off the dirt of the day and the mud slung earlier in the evening, I couldn’t help but think that we people need to treat each other better. If we look at the time, money, and energy expended fighting stupid irrelevant and petty battles because we cannot control our own jealousies, we have to come to realize that there has to be a better way. We have to be nicer to each other.
But then again, I gotta eat too. So I guess at some level it is in my best interest that people, even family, continue to fuck each other over and do stupid things. The question once raised by the Marivinjian is, “which is the cause and which is the effect?” To me, the answer is simple: there are always going to be those people who are poisonous to the gene pool. So long as they walk the earth, I and those in my hallowed profession shall not want for a meal.