The Orson Welles I grew up with was not the brilliant director of Citizen Kane, nor the handsome provocateur behind the War of the Worlds radio scare. Instead, I got the obese wine pitchman of the 1970s.
Ever since, I’ve wondered how the folks at Paul Masson vineyards knew it was time to sell that particular bottle of Pinot Chardonnay.
As I’ve written before, hydraulics have become my primary metaphor for the various stages of the writing process. Droughts and deluges. Sluicing and mixing. Pressure and release.
Fluid imagery is particularly useful because it accommodates both natural and unnatural analogies. Inspiration can arrive like a gentle dew distilled from heaven, or like a flattening tsunami. Later in the process, words take their time simmering under pressure in your subconscious, or fermenting in various vats.
So how does a writer know when it’s time to open the valve labeled “publish”?
This summer I was inspired to finally finish a series of connected blog essays about my former employers at the Washington Attorney General’s office. I accused them of a pattern of unethical, incompetent, and dishonest conduct, and presented extensive documentation supporting my accusations. After a couple of years of research and pondering, my subconscious apparently determined it was time to say everything I had to say about my employer-abusers, tie it all up in a bow, and move on.
Nevertheless, after reading the first essay in the series, "Unrighteous Dominion," my mother called to ask if I was about to embark on the kind of semi-deranged rant I was known for in my early days of living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I assured her there would be no ranting. To the contrary, I’d already written most of the final essay in the series, to be called "Pivot," in which I described how I’m cheerfully moving on with my life.
I told my mother I'm “done writing about my former colleagues and my workplace trauma, at least until some interesting new development comes along.” At least that's what I wrote in "Pivot."
Although I recognized my life was heading in a new direction, I still didn’t know how the Court of Appeals was going to rule on my pending appeal. As the summer passed without a court ruling, I started drafting two separate “Pivot” essays discussing the relationship between the eventual litigation milestone and my life and writing.
Meanwhile I was surprised by other important life changes, like becoming a fulltime single dad again and moving into a new house near campus with three kids and two dogs. Life is good. Fortunately, I also won my appeal. On October 3, 2019, a month after the Court of Appeals issued its decision and the kids and I settled into our new routine, everyone got to read the cheerier version of my essay.
A few minutes after posting “Pivot,” I realized I’d jumped the gun.
Litigants in Washington are entitled to one appeal. In most cases, the Court of Appeals has the final word. Like the United States Supreme Court, the Washington Supreme Court accepts only a small number of appeals each year. Unsuccessful civil litigants like Ogden Murphy usually don’t waste time and money petitioning for discretionary review at the Supreme Court level. Nevertheless, thirty minutes before the court deadline, an automated email notification informed me Defendants had filed a Petition for Review.
No one over at Team Ogden Murphy actually believed the Supreme Court would accept review. Nor do they believe there’s a realistic chance the Supreme Court would actually reverse the Court of Appeals’ sensible and straightforward legal ruling. Rather, Defendants and their truth-impaired insurance defense lawyers were grasping at any opportunity to stall. As usual.
The Washington Supreme Court grants fewer than one in ten requests for discretionary review. But there is one sure thing: Defendants’ last-minute filing guaranteed we’d add at least another five months to the two years I’ve already lost while waiting for the Court of Appeals to correct the trial court’s legal error. As Martin Luther King wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
On my way to chorus rehearsal in Vancouver that week I was seething. Not because Defendants Ogden Murphy Wallace and Patrick Pearce exercised their right to seek discretionary review of the Court of Appeals’ decision, or because their Petition for Review was predictably sleazy, or even because I’ll be waiting until at least Fall 2020 to finally have my day in court. No, I was frustrated because as a lawyer and a writer, I knew I wouldn't be able to resist filing an Answer to Petition for Review. I couldn't think of anything I could say to the Supreme Court that would make it even less likely for them to accept Defendants’ half-baked appeal. And I used to write exactly this kind of brief for a living.
Then like the Grinch I had a terrible, horrible, wonderful idea – why not try to make it more likely that the Washington Supreme Court will take the case?
The result is described in my recent blog essay “This is what ‘Impact Litigation’ Looks Like.” I have joined the strategically clueless folks at Ogden Murphy in urging the Supreme Court to accept review. This case indeed presents important issues of substantial public interest that should be determined by our Supreme Court. Hopefully the Court will take this opportunity to provide guidance to lower courts and the public – not just about the proper interpretation of Washington’s whistleblower protection statute, but also about how the legal system should respond when lawyers start lying, and then won’t stop.
My original “Pivot” essay began like this:
The verb “pivot” means to reach a point and then turn in a new direction. Like a basketball player. Or the Titanic.
As I pivoted, I promised my parents and my lawyers that I would shut up and move on. I meant it. But thanks to the megaphone provided by Defendant Ogden Murphy Wallace PLLC, “Seattle’s sleaziest bottom-feeding law firm®, this fall’s new direction has involved the kind of shuffling pivot that most referees would call traveling.
Long ago, a grateful law firm partner gave me a bottle of vintage champagne. I still don't know what Dom Perignon’s 1999 vintage actually tastes like. For years it was impossible to identify any occasion that would justify opening a $200+ bottle of champagne.
Eventually I zeroed in on three possibilities: becoming a judge, saving my house on Whidbey Island, or finding a real boyfriend. All three turned out to be hopeless causes. The bottle is still sealed in its box.
According to Wine Spectator, the Dom Perignon 1999 vintage is “best from 2008 through 2020.” I’m running out of time. Fortunately, I’m confident there will be interesting developments soon in my ongoing litigation and public education campaigns. Whatever happens, I’ll be ready to write about it. Then propose a toast. And then write some more.