Recently I received a “Save the Date” notice for my law school thirty-year reunion. Hordes of middle-aged lawyers, ex-lawyers, judges, deans, and general counsels, plus a couple of physicians and one priest will gather in New Haven this October. Since the 25th year reunion, our classmate Brett Kavanaugh has ascended to the Supreme Court fraternity. In the meantime, I’ve descended from a successful career in private practice and public service to my present status as an unemployed disgraced disabled single gay dad.
I haven’t decided whether I can go to the reunion. I’m not sure if PTSD and I are up for Ivy League cocktail chatter.
I spent most of 2019 in limbo. I changed rental houses and became a fulltime single dad. Mostly I waited: for recalcitrant tortfeasors to respond to reasonable settlement offers, for bureaucrats to do their jobs, for employers to ignore my resume, for the Court of Appeals to hear oral argument in my appeal, and then for the Court of Appeals to issue its long-delayed ruling.
Finally someone in power listened to my story. In September 2019, the Washington Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s erroneous legal ruling and reinstated my damage claims against the sleazy lawyers at Ogden Murphy Wallace PLLC. I looked forward to getting my life back on track. Instead, thirty minutes before the deadline, an automated email notification informed me Defendants had filed a Petition for Review by the Washington Supreme Court.
Like the United States Supreme Court, the Washington Supreme Court accepts only a small number of appeals each year. No one over at Team Ogden Murphy actually believed the Supreme Court would accept review. Nor did they believe there’s a realistic chance the Supreme Court will 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.
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.”
|A disabled attorney arguing before the Washington Supreme Court|
On my way to chorus rehearsal in Vancouver that week I was seething. Not because Defendants 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’d 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 would take the case?
The result is described in my blog essay “This is what ‘Impact Litigation’ Looks Like.” I 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. I explicitly invited the Court to 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.
Once a month, the Washington Supreme Court meets behind closed doors to evaluate a stack of petitions for review. The day before they confer, the Court’s website lists the petitions that will be considered. The day after, you can see the results on the website.
Based on the Court’s ordinary pace, I expected an announcement the first week of March. However, with an uncharacteristic lack of procrastination, I filed my Answer a couple of weeks before the deadline. Apparently if lawyers do their work early judges can, too. When I neurotically checked the Court website last Tuesday, I was startled to see my case on this month’s list, scheduled to be considered the following day.
When I checked back on Thursday morning, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I wasn’t sure what I wanted. Then I heard a voice in my head saying “Oh, it would just be a hassle anyway.” I recognized the voice of defeatism and sour grapes. So the rest of the voices in my head told it to shut up.
As you can see, out of a batch of seventeen petitions that day, Department Two of the Washington Supreme Court (i.e., the five justices on the right side as you face the Court's official portrait) voted unanimously to accept two cases. Mine was one of them.
Most of the members of my family prefer to communicate via a combination of subtext and telepathy. This can be problematic, particularly when a communication involves the location or timing of family gatherings.
My father, however, can be blunt. A few months ago he asked me point blank: “Do you think you’re ever going to have a job again?”
Four years after my unfortunate encounter with PTSD and dishonest lawyers, my health is much improved and the kids are alright. My career, however, remains in the toilet.
It’s easy to lose track of time when you “work” at home alone with kids and dogs. You have to impose a little structure on yourself, like taking regular showers. Wednesdays are my “Career” day. Each week I survey a dozen regional job sites and slog through hundreds of LinkedIn listings. Most months I apply for a handful of plausible openings in legal, nonprofit, and other professional settings. For example, in the last couple of years I’ve applied for six positions next door at Western Washington University, with such inviting titles as “LGBTQ Director” and “Disability Access Manager.” Nevertheless, I haven’t gotten a single acknowledgment of my job applications, let alone an interview – further evidence that I’ve been illegally blackballed by my former colleagues.
Still, every Wednesday I scrape the bottom of the barrel. Here’s my favorite recent job prospect:
The Portable Toilet Service Tech Position is responsible for providing necessary services for our portable toilet customers. Duties include deliveries, pickups, route service and other services. Ability to learn a Professional Trade with an established, growing company in the field of Septic Maintenance Services. Ability to work on your own in a fast paced, hard working environment. Ability to respect the needs and concerns of the company, the customers, other employees. Can communicate well with co-workers and provide courteous and efficient service to customers. Able to do what it takes to make sure the work is done well and the customer is pleased with the service. Ability to use GPS mapping and smartphone. Knowledge of the Whatcom and Skagit County area is a plus. Valid driver's license, good driving practices and clean driving record. Ability to lift up to 100 lbs, pass a drug test and a background check.
I’m increasingly confident of my eventual vindication, particularly in light of the Washington Supreme Court’s decision to shine the bright light of justice on my story. However, what my family will need to finally move on from this tragedy is some combination of (1) public education, (2) career boost, and (3) financial compensation. The precise ratios remain to be determined, as well as the relative contributions from the miscreants at Ogden Murphy Wallace PLLC, the Washington Attorney General’s Office, and Western Washington University.
In response to my father’s question, I worry that misconduct by the State and its tools have forced me into an involuntary early retirement. But I remain hopeful.
|Another disabled attorney arguing in the Washington Supreme Court|
I’m not sure how to describe my job status in response to the law school class reunion survey: “Martyr”? “Papa”? “Contingent-fee pro se disability/LGBT discrimination/public corruption attorney”? “Gadfly”? This is not what I planned to be doing with my life.
Nevertheless, I’m excited about the next year. I don’t expect to find a “normal” job or to obtain financial relief any time soon. Instead, this is my fulltime job – parenting, writing, and pursuing advocacy efforts in so many rings of the circus even I lose count sometimes. Nice work if you can get it.