Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Avoiding Codependency

I will always think of my Bellingham physician as a kindly version of Dr. House – the abrasive but insightful head of TV’s fictional “Department of Diagnostic Medicine.”  When I showed up in November 2015 and described the weird assortment of symptoms plaguing me, he told me two things.  One was that I appeared to be suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Many of my acute symptoms indeed point to the impact of trauma, and the PTSD label has offered a useful shorthand for the disability that has transformed my life over the last two years.

But the very first thing my doctor told me was that I needed to read Facing Codependency, by Pia Mellody.  I promptly bought a copy at Henderson’s Books, the best used book store in Washington.

I always thought “codependency” referred to the unhealthy dynamic between substance abusers and their caretaking enablers, a phenomenon you learn about from cable TV movies on Lifetime, or pamphlets published by Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon.  Nothing to do with me – I grew up in a Mormon family and never even tasted alcohol till I was 25, and my boyfriends and partners have all been light drinkers at most.  Other than Skinny Pharmacist introducing me to fancy wine tastings years ago.   (However, there is something to be said about the power trip you get from dating a guilty smoker.  Something unhealthy, as I now realize.)

It took me six months to finish the first chapter of Facing Codependency.  Admittedly I was so anhedonic last year I couldn’t read any other books either, but this was suspiciously avoidant behavior.   I’ve always been the avoidant type, and you can learn a lot by examining what I avoid most.  As the author insightfully points out throughout her book.

It turns out “codependency” can also refer to a disorder separate from the dynamic between addicts and enablers.  It is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have healthy, mutually satisfying relationships.  Codependents share traits such as:

·      Denial patterns, like difficulty identifying one’s own feelings; masking pain in humor, anger, and isolation; and communicating passive-aggressively (which seems perfectly normal in Seattle)

·      Low self-esteem patterns, like perfectionism, indecisiveness, and reliance on others’ approval

·      Compliance patterns, like hypervigilance for others’ feelings, and putting aside their own interests to do what others want

·      Control patterns, like the compulsion to take care of others

·      Avoidance patterns, like pushing others away, evading direct conflict, and allowing addictions to distract from achieving intimacy in relationships

The author of Codependency for Dummies calls this her favorite codependent joke:

Two codependents have sex.  In the afterglow one says to the other, "Well it was good for you, how was it for me?"
Codependents grow up in an environment where they never develop the necessary tools for valuing and expressing their individual identities, or for maintaining healthy personal boundaries.  Many codependent individuals come from homes affected by addiction, but others do not.  Like me.

Last fall, when I finally had the strength and courage to read Facing Codependency, I knocked my head against a passage late in the book that probably jolts many readers.  The author offers two insights in quick succession – that you the codependent reader are busy thinking “my parents are wonderful people, I can’t accuse them of neglect or abuse” – unless you are busy thinking “OMG someone needs me to stop me from messing up my own kids.”

In response, her advice is twofold.  First, remember bad things can happen even when no one intends to cause harm.  And second, worry about your own progress out of codependency, and the kids will be alright.  

I am blessed with loving parents and children.  We will all be alright.

Monday, May 22, 2017

This is what a lawsuit looks like: A Little More Complaining

It’s been a balmy week in Bellingham, out here in the upper left corner of the contiguous 48 states.  But a flurry of lawyerly emails today reminded me I needed to finish introducing my lawsuit before it’s time to explain some pressing new development.

Last week we got as far as explaining the caption of my Complaint:







No. 17-2-11921-1 SEA


The body of the Complaint sets forth each of the factual allegations the plaintiff believes entitle him to relief if ultimately proven to be true.  For everyone's convenience, they are always arranged in numbered paragraphs so it's easy to zero in on particular allegations.

The first section is under the heading “Parties.”  Paragraph 1 identifies me.  Paragraph 2 identifies the first defendant, Ogden Murphy Wallace PLLC.  “PLLC” stands for “professional limited liability corporation.”  In the United States, only lawyers are allowed to practice law or have an ownership interest in a legal practice.  For many years most law firms organized themselves as old-fashioned general partnerships.  But a couple of decades ago, states like Washington authorized various alternative organizational structures.  For example, my former firm Davis Wright Tremaine is a “limited liability partnership,” owned by a couple of hundred partners.  My first law firm, Bogle & Gates, imploded years ago, but I remember when like Ogden Murphy it adopted the PLLC structure.  The owners of a PLLC are called “members” rather than partners, which caused a lot of tittering at the time.

Paragraph 3 identifies the other defendant, Patrick Pearce, who is a member of the Ogden Murphy firm.  Washington is a community property state, so Paragraph 3 alleges that Mr. Pearce acted on behalf of his marital community, assuming he’s married, so the income of both spouses is available to satisfy any judgment.  A gay friend of mine was recently sued in Washington, and was amused to see his husband named as “JANE DOE” in the caption.  I prefer to avoid stereotyping.

Paragraphs 4-7 and Exhibit A to the Complaint (which is taken from Mr. Pearce’s bio on the Ogden Murphy website) are not part of the typical allegations identifying the parties.  They are relevant here because different legal standards apply to an individual with a law degree when he is performing a nonlegal task, rather than representing a legal client.

Paragraph 8 quotes language from my settlement agreement with my former employers at the Washington Attorney General’s Office.  I released any claims against the State and all of its employees and agents.  Vendors and independent contractors are not covered by my release.

Paragraph 9, under the heading “Jurisdiction and Venue,” confirms that the claims and parties belong here in Superior Court, and not before some other tribunal.

The bulk of the Complaint, Paragraphs 10 through 72, comes under the heading “Facts,” and tells my story.  Defendants will have the opportunity in their Answer to admit each allegation, to deny it, or to deny it in part.  At that point we will know what facts are actually disputed.  The parties will have the opportunity to gather and present evidence, with the jury ultimately responsible for resolving any disputed factual issues.  The judge is responsible for deciding the legal significance of facts that are either undisputed by the parties or determined by the jury.

Paragraphs 73 through 105 identify each of the five legal theories which would entitle me to relief if the jury agrees with my factual allegations.  Under the modern “notice pleading” approach, it’s not necessary for plaintiffs to identify their specific legal theories at this point, just the factual basis of their claim, and requests to amend a complaint are liberally granted.  But as a practical matter, it’s useful for the lawyers and the Court to have a legal framework to work with.

Count One is for negligence:  under the common law, individuals have a responsibility to exercise reasonable care, and may be held liable for damages caused by the failure to meet that duty. 

Count Two is brought under the Consumer Protection Act:  the Washington legislature has authorized plaintiffs to sue defendants for damages caused by deceptive or unfair acts that affect the public interest.  The fact that the same investigator caused a similar harm to another whistleblower just two years before underscores the importance of my CPA claim.

Counts Three and Four are for negligent and fraudulent misrepresentation respectively.

And Count Five is brought under the Washington Law Against Discrimination:  I contend the Ogden Murphy Report has two gaping logical and factual holes where it should have properly considered my sexual orientation and disability.  Instead, defendants acted to further my employers’ implicit and explicit bias.

The final section of the Complaint is the “Prayer for Relief,” which asks for an award of money damages as well as compensation for my litigation expenses.

Defendants’ Answer is due June 1 – then we’ll see what happens next….

Click here for more information about my lawsuit against Ogden Murphy Wallace PLLC and Patrick Pearce

Friday, May 12, 2017

This is what a lawsuit looks like: Can I Sue Someone?

After learning you’re a lawyer, perfect strangers often feel free to tell you their problems and then ask, “Can I sue someone?” 

I generally give the correct answer (“Of course”), then duck all the more interesting follow-up questions, like “What would happen next?,” “Do I have a potential claim or will it just be thrown out?,” “Will I win?,” or “Will I be hit with a nasty counterclaim and realize I made a terrible mistake opening up this Dickensian can of worms?”   

As James Thurber says in The 13 Clocks, anyone can merely hunt for the thorny Boar of Borythorn.”  Agreeing to go hunting is entirely different from accepting a quest to slay the nonexistent Boar.  In 2017, all you need to sue someone in Washington State is a credit card number good for $240, and a send button.  Of course, answering the question of what happens next can take months or years.  You don’t need to be a lawyer for either task.

But degrees in both English and law are useful for telling this kind of story.  Here is how it all starts:

As I previously announced, this month I filed a lawsuit in King County Superior Court against the Seattle firm Ogden Murphy Wallace (Seattle’s sleaziest bottom-feeding law firm®") and one of its partners, Patrick Pearce.   When I was still employed by the Washington Attorney General’s Office, I submitted a written sexual orientation discrimination complaint regarding an unpleasant and homophobic encounter with my immediate supervisor.  The AGO appointed Mr. Pearce as an ostensibly “independent” outside investigator to look into my discrimination allegations.  Instead, the Ogden Murphy Report is third-rate taxpayer-funded character assassination.  Just two years before, the same Seattle lawyer did the same thing to another distinguished state employee – Chief Hearing Officer Patricia Petersen, who like me was fired on the basis of Mr. Pearce’s “independent” investigation into her whistleblower complaint.

A civil lawsuit starts with two documents:  a Summons and a Complaint.

The Summons is a message sent on behalf of the Court, telling the defendants that a lawsuit has been filed against them, and they or their lawyer need to respond in some fashion within twenty days or face the consequences.

The Complaint is how a plaintiff begins to tell his story.  The purpose of the Complaint is to put the defendants on notice of what kind of lawsuit they can expect to be a part of.  In the old days, you had to follow very detailed rules for explicitly setting forth each of the particular elements and other requirements for each specific kind of legal claim.  Now we have “notice pleading,” which lets the plaintiff open the door to access the community’s tools for enforcing the rule of law by setting forth a general statement of the factual allegations he believes entitle him to relief if ultimately proven to be true.  Over the following several months of litigation, both sides will have the opportunity to figure out the contours of the plaintiff’s claims and the defendants’ defenses, and to locate and examine the body of evidence that the trier of fact will ultimately rely on to determine which of each party’s factual allegations is true.

But of course the system was set up by and for lawyers, so we start with some procedural niceties.

The caption looks like this:







No. 17-2-11921-1 SEA


            The caption starts with an extra wide top margin, so everyone has room to stamp dates and squiggles on their own hard copy of everything.  Then it identifies the specific court that will have jurisdiction over plaintiff’s claim.  In Washington, the Superior Court is the statewide general trial level of court that handles all kinds of court actions, including civil, family, and criminal matters.  (District, municipal, and other types of courts may address small claims and crimes, or more particular types of relief.)  All superior court judges are originally either appointed by the Governor to a vacancy, or successfully run for an open seat on the bench.  Judges then stand for election every four years.  Most superior courts cover a single county.  King County has the largest superior court, with 53 judges.

Next, the left side of the caption identifies the parties.  Here I’m the only plaintiff.  There are two defendants.  One is a professional limited liability corporation, and the other is an individual who is one of the members of the PLLC.

On the right side, the caption includes the Court’s case number, and the name of the document.  Lawyers call each stand-alone document filed with court a “pleading,” even though the technical definition of pleading is limited to certain key case documents like the plaintiff’s Complaint and the defendants’ Answer.  The Court’s docket for each case is available online, and serves as a hyperlinked index to all materials filed in the case.

But enough of this tedious law stuff.  I’ll address the substance my Complaint another time.  It’s a lovely Friday, go outside.

Click here for more information about my lawsuit against Ogden Murphy Wallace PLLC and Patrick Pearce

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Missing Marie's Crisis

I am not a bar person.  I barely drink these days, I live in a small town with one lame gay bar, and my PTSD makes crowded social settings more of a trial than ever.

My interest in bars nowadays is mostly nostalgic – remembering the old Rumours in Bellingham or the old R Place in Seattle, and my long-gone bartender crushes at each (definitely stories for another day).  Memorable roadtrips to Portland (real strippers!) or San Diego (cute boys!). Camping out for hours at Sidetrack in Chicago (a story from another day).  Buy me a drink some time and I’ll try to remember a few more embarrassing anecdotes.

Whenever I climb on my curmudgeonly soapbox to rant about how Seattle has changed for the worse in the last quarter century, I eventually sigh “I miss the Ritz….”  Frankly the Ritz closed in 1991, not long after I moved to town.  But it was a piano bar, hosted each night by charming and talented pianist/singers who invited patrons to gather around the piano to make requests and sing along with the crowd. 

I love piano bars.  I have an encyclopedic knowledge of Broadway showtunes, as well as having most of the Great American Songbook memorized.  I have a strong voice and compulsively harmonize.  Although I’ve never been drunk or stoned enough to sing a solo, I’d be one of the top draft choices for any pickup gay chorus.  I consider the hours I’ve spent at Gentry’s in Chicago, the Ritz in Seattle, and 88s in New York to be golden.  Of course, they’re all closed now.  It turns out piano bar is one of those doomed business models that break hearts and bank accounts. 

Right now, Marie's Crisis is my neighborhood bar.  It’s an institution, where singing barflies gather around the piano every night.  Unfortunately it’s 3000 miles away in Greenwich Village. But whenever I’m in New York I’m there until 4 am, long past my bedtime anywhere else.  I don’t go for the singing waiters, off duty chorus boys, or gay and gayish celebrities.  (One night last year Darren Criss and Michael Feinstein each touched me.  Well, brushed by me on the way to the bar.)  I go because that’s where my tribe gathers.

In case you’re wondering, karaoke night is very different from a piano bar.  Monday nights in Seattle you can hear some exceptional karaoke singing at Purr, particularly after the Seattle Men’s Chorus rehearsal ends at 9:30 and a few SMC prima donnas wander into the bar to belt out predictable pop song solos.  Not the same at all.

I loved my fifteen years singing in SMC, which is a well-oiled gay machine, but I was always frustrated that it lacked an after-rehearsal social ritual.  Almost everyone just retires to their Seattle-nice homes.  Purr doesn’t count.  In contrast, when I sang in Windy City Gay Chorus, every Wednesday night after rehearsal most of the chorus headed down the street to Big Chicks, a friendly neighborhood gay bar, for a drink or two.  Big Chicks had a tradition of handing out free shots at midnight.   Every week I would vow to be home in bed before shots.  Instead, I usually made it to last call at 1:30, and learned not to schedule anything important at work on Thursday mornings.  I met my Chicago boyfriend Skinny Pharmacist at Big Chicks one Wednesday night in 1999 after midnight.

I’ve been singing in Vancouver Men’s Chorus for over a year now.  VMC is well run like SMC, but also warm and cuddly like WCGC.  I’ve even dragged myself to the designated post-rehearsal watering hole a few times.  Pumpjack is an agreeable leatherish bar, with a couple of “Reserved for VMC” signs on the tables in our corner every Wednesday.  It’s been great chatting with baritones and basses from the other side of the chorus.   But I’ve never had more than one drink before heading for the border.

This week at Pumpjack I overheard someone talking about going across the street to XY, a bar I’d never even heard of before.  It turns out for the last year XY has hosted a piano bar every Wednesday night, organized by another pining Marie’s Crisis devotee.  Sure enough, the bar was filled with UBC theatre majors and middle-aged chorus boys, singing along with a couple of excellent pianists.  I was there enjoying myself until last call. 

I don’t know whether to thank Jim for telling me about XY this week, or to berate everyone for hiding a secret piano bar from me for the last year.  With my luck it will be out of business before June.  I already love my new mobile Marie’s Crisis.  I’ll be there next Wednesday.  But I’m already resigned to missing it soon.

More Showtune Night Stories:

"Get Out and Stay Out" (10/18/17)

"Six Degrees of Kristin Chenoweth" (10/31/18)

"Comfort Animals" (4/24/19)

"I am Third" (5/29/19)

"Spongeworthy" (6/13/19)

"Maybe I Love Showtunes Too Much" (9/17/19)

"Artificial Emotional Intelligence" (2/25/20)

"Do Gay Androids Dream of Electric Brunch?" (2/26/20)

"A New Brain"  (5/5/20)

Monday, May 1, 2017

A supposedly fun thing I hope I never have to do again

Or anyone else, for that matter.

But I’ll start with an actual fun thing. Many folks consider Chicago’s Sidetrack to be the best gay bar in the country, perhaps in the universe. It is beautifully designed, with multiple bars spread  throughout tastefully designed rooms and patios.  It is conveniently located in the heart of Boystown, just a few blocks from my old apartment. My bartender crush, who still works there, has held up much better than me. He still serves frosty mugs full of my favorite purple frozen slushie drink.  Every week buses stop at the corner of Halsted and Roscoe to unload a new shipment of corn-fed boys from across the heartland, following their gay city dream.

Damn, I miss the old days. Before the internet and smoking bans, when you still had to go to a bar for human contact, sex, or dates. It was well worth coming home with smoky clothes and liver damage.

What makes Sidetrack special is its mix of music and videos, lovingly curated by co-owner Pepe. Thursdays are comedy night, including clips from classic TV shows. Monday nights are my favorite:   Showtunes. My friend Charles and I had a standing date every Monday night. I’d watch “Ally McBeal” alone at home, then walk through the snow to Boystown. We would gossip about Chicago’s A-gays, point out the cute guys as they aggressively ignored us from across the bar, sing along with Seymour and Audrey, or watch Jennifer Holliday belt out “And I’m Telling You” for the millionth time. And we’d each vow to have only two purple slushies. There is a point in those frosted mugs, about a third of the way down your second slushie, where you feel your toes start to tingle. A fourth purple slushie becomes inevitable. Or fifth.

I recently realized my entire knowledge of pop culture comes from the Sidetrack video clips that Charles and I watched during our first vodka-infused slushie each Monday. (After that I can’t remember anything.)

This week we are celebrating the twentieth anniversary of Ellen’s coming out episode. Before Ellen there were lots of gays on TV, of course, including the unnamed bitchy waiter on “Cybil.” I recently stumbled upon an episode featuring him, and realized there were B and C plots I’d never seen. At Sidetrack we only watched the gay subplot, over and over. Cybil invites the waiter home to cheer him up by watching “Mommy Dearest.” She discovers he’s depressed because his boyfriend recently dumped him, and this very night the ex and his new boyfriend are throwing a party at the fabulous apartment the waiter used to share.

Cybill’s advice: “Don’t stay home and be a victim. You crash that party and be a martyr!”

Thursday night was the twelfth annual banquet for members and supporters of Q-Law, the LGBT Bar Association of Washington.  I’ve gone every year. I am one of the distinguished Old Gay Men and Lesbians who serve on Q-Law’s Advisory Committee, so I get to sit at the grownup table with State Supreme Court justices and law school deans.

Last year the Q-Law Banquet was excruciating. Although I was still technically employed at the time as WWU’s general counsel, I was stuck on my abusive administrative leave and about to be fired the following week. So all evening I had to listen to judges and lawyers gushing about my amazing new gig in Bellingham working with the wonderful folks from the Washington Attorney General’s Office.

Ducking questions at Q-Law last year reminded me of when I came home from Chicago for my brother’s wedding. I didn’t want to draw focus by coming out to the various family friends who probably last saw me when I was leaving for my Mormon mission in Korea. However, I had just moved to Chicago with my first boyfriend, to be a LGBT rights lawyer for the ACLU. I didn’t realize that left me with exactly zero nongay material for cocktail chatter. Afterwards I vowed I would never again intentionally or accidentally wander into to such a closet.

This year I could have avoided embarrassment and awkwardness by skipping the Q-Law banquet. I’m sure there are plenty of unemployed lawyers who watched Netflix rather than facing their peers at another painful schmoozefest. But I refused to cower at home as a victim, or to stay unnaturally silent again. Instead, I chose to crash the party and be a fabulous martyr. Pass the dip.