Articles Posted in Misc

IMG_4434-e1502116891803-225x300Sometimes, less is more.

It is said that, when comparing business cards, having only a few words on a business card signals that the person is mighty important.  For example, the business card of the old Cuban dictator Fidel Castro just says “Fidel Castro Ruz.  Primer Secretario Del Partido Cumunista De Cuba”.  That’s it.  No phone number.  No email.  No fax line.  No web address.  No “find me on Facebook”.  No Instagram.  No Snapchat.  Definitely no Snapchat.   My card, on the other hand, gives away the fact that I’m not that important of a guy.  I list twenty ways to contact me.  My office number.  Another office number.  My fax number.  My web address.  My email.   You name it, I list it.  I’m an attorney–and I’m just not as important as other folks.  But, this brief moment of humility reminds me of a recent news story.

I don’t live near the beach, unless living an hour away from the closest beach qualifies as living “near the beach”.  I grew up in St. Louis and to a Midwestern kid, driving one hour to the beach is, like, walking-distance to the beach (remember that song, “All the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey…”,  St. Louis is kinda like that song).

Can you “know” the truth by reading a few words?  think-300x224

Often, truth cannot be reduced to words, its just something you feel deep down (Are we talking about feelings already?  And you thought you were going to learn some legal stuff?  Patience, Dear Reader).

For example, I truly knew my beloved youngest brother.  And, I could write a book containing everything about him, all of our good times, his heart felt laughter, his date of birth.  This book could describe every moment we shared, but those words on a page will not, ever, adequately describe who he was.  What he meant to me.  Words just don’t cut it.

Without getting too fuzzy here (too late?), the good news is that the truth can be conveyed without words.  Maybe a kiss.  Maybe just the touch of a hand (Yes, I stole that from a song).   Think about spiritual practices, for example.  Many people have experienced profound truths that cannot be reduced to symbols on a page.  My pastor always says that you get things in church that you just don’t get anywhere else.

The same goes for music, it can deliver truth where mere words would fail.  Have you ever heard a song a thousand times, only to have it jump out and reveal a truth you hadn’t heard before?  My youngest brother, for example, was a big Grateful Dead fan.  Yes, concerts and everything (that’s what I mean by a “big” Grateful Dead fan, he followed them around).  I never got it.   Then, a few years ago, “Scarlet Begonias” came on the radio.  I’ve heard this song a thousand times.  I like Sublime’s cover better (blasphemy?), but I’ve listened to this Dead song for, like, thirty years.  The song came out in 1975.  In 2016 the lyrics just jumped out at me.  I got it.  After all these years.  Odd, right? Continue Reading

st-louis-airport-300x225I was going to title this article “How Target Knows You’re Pregnant Before You Do”, but my mom mentioned to me that my titles never truly match what the heck I’m talking about.  This article is going to be a rare exception to that rule.  Thanks Momma.

The predictive power of computers–once they have enough data–is fascinating.  My preoccupation with data began when I learned that supermarkets were getting in trouble for  sending out ‘suggestive’ coupons after crunching a customer’s shopping habit data.   The prime example of this, I believe, was Target.  Target was sending women coupons for baby stuff before these women knew they were pregnant!  Imagine the father of a high school daughter getting maternity clothing coupons in the mail?  [for a great article on this, check out How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did, Kashmir Hill, Forbes, Feb 16, 2012].   Similar problems are created at home when criminal defense attorneys start sending “Arrested? Hire Me” letters to that same daughter–somebody’s going to start asking questions.  Sure, kids think that they can hide their shenanigans by intercepting the mail before Mom & Dad get home, but “kids helping out” can be even more suspicious than overly suggestive attorney solicitations.

Anyway.  How does Target know a woman is pregnant?  Well, we humans are rather predictable.  No, I’m not talking about you, dearest reader–you are unique, different, and “nobody understands you.”   Target’s computers were able to anticipate the shopping needs of women based upon changes in their shopping history.  Once a computer knows you’re buying luggage, you’ll be buying “travel size” deodorant and toothpaste at any moment.  Same goes for pregnant women.  The data points were, apparently, more sophisticated than the old myths regarding pickles & ice cream.  It was important that Target figure out when a woman was pregnant before it is made public, because, “birth records are usually public, the moment a couple have a new baby, they are almost instantaneously barraged with offers and incentives and advertisements from all sorts of companies.  Which means that the key is to reach them earlier, before any other retailers know a baby is on the way.” [from an excellent article entitled “How Companies Learn Your Secrets“, by Charles Duhigg, New York Times, Feb 16, 2012]  Duhigg’s NYT article provides some clues on how this works, noting that: “One Target employee I spoke to provided a hypothetical example.  Take a fictional Target shopper named Jenny Ward, who is 23, lives in Atlanta and in March bought cocoa-butter lotion, a purse large enough to double as a diaper bag, zinc and magnesium supplements and a bright blue rug.  There’s say, an 87 percent chance that she’s pregnant and that her delivery date is sometime in late August.”  Continue Reading

Two thousand years ago, there was a great Rabbi named Akiva.  Akiva was heading home late one night, when the darkness and fog caused him to make a wrong turn.  Rabbi Akiva ends up at this massive Roman outpost.  As Akiva approaches, he hears a wrestling on top of the wall, and a soldier yells down “who are you, and what are you doing here?jump-for-joy-219x300

Akiva responds, “Excuse Me?”

The guard yells, again, “Who are you?  What are you doing here?”

franklin-graham-award-winners-e1484091990549-225x300When you first become a lawyer, it’s a special feeling.  Everything is new, and egos are out of control (new lawyers are the worst, trust me).   Back in 1993, I joined Joe DuRocher’s Public Defender’s office and was thrust into a glorious pot of new attorneys, many of whom are now judges, friends, or both.  Jimmie “David” Gentle was in that group, and we have been friends ever since.   David has taken a different path of late, which we’ll get to eventually.  First, why are we talking about our old boss?

Well, I’m getting more and more sentimental these days.  My morning routine involves listing a few things I’m thankful for, and rather consistently, I have deep gratitude toward my old boss Joe DuRocher.  Joe passed on in 2012, and I miss him.  Also, I owe him.  He gave me not just a job, but a great career.  I’ll never be able to repay him for that.  The problem is, I struggle to recall all the stories Joe had for we attorneys, so, I did what I always do when I need to know something–I Googled Joe Durocher.  I didn’t find much.

I decided to call David, hoping he could recall some stories.  Joe had great stories.  The problem is, many of the stories were told during our monthly PD staff meetings.  I was “too busy” with my PD case load to pay much attention  (as much as I try to make myself look good via this blog, I have to admit that ‘being busy’ simply means that things were out of control.  In that sense, and in a financial sense, I don’t miss the life of a public defender).  Anyway, I do miss Joe’s stories, so, can I get some help here?  Yes.  That’s where David Gentle comes in. Continue Reading

[This is Part 2 of my cut & paste Kindle highlights of the wonderful book Fooled by Randomness, by Nassim ponce inletTaleb]

Observational data is important to science, and Fooled By Randomness  by Nassim Taleb cautions us that we should not take scientific data so seriously.  We live in a random world, and data can only get us so far in life.

To understand the white swan problem, let’s start with the basics (actually, we’ll end with the basics too, but you know what I mean):

At some point in history, a biologist of the binocular sort (other biologists are of the microscope sort, right?) decided to prove once and for all that “all swans are white”.

He started proving “all swans are white” by observing lots of swans, and documenting his findings.  The first year, he observed 1,000 swans, and all of them were white.  Even with a thousand observations under his belt, he was not ready to publish his results in “Nature”, as more data was needed.  So, he observes another 3,000 swans the next year.  Same result–all the swans were white.   The question is, how much data must this biologist collect before proving that all swans are white?  And, as this biologist collects more and more data, how much more confident should we be in the theory?  Will another 10,000 observations of white swans make us pretty sure that all swans are white?  How about another 100,000 observations of white swans?    Continue Reading

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Every 23 seconds, an attorney is asked: “What are my chances of winning?”

Some attorneys play along with this game, especially if it’s a slow month, and throw out a number, like: “You have an 90% chance of winning”.  Most people call several attorneys, and the attorney who is most confident (throwing out numbers, say, in the 90% range)  may end up getting the case.  Confidence is a good for business, right?  But, are such numbers honest?

After 23 years of defending criminal cases (my web people love statements that brag about decades of practice, I will get a star beside my name for this), I am here to tell you that such numbers are pulled out of thin air.  I know, it’s shocking to hear that an attorney could utter words that stretch the truth.  Pull yourself together and read on, because other professions are just as guilty of spitting out misleading/unsubstantiated numbers as attorneys.

Financial advisers and scientists are at the top of the misleading numbers list.  Yes, this is why you don’t believe every infomercial that claims “studies have shown xyz 99% effective”.  But the problem here runs deeper than shady marketing practices, the problem involves what sort of conclusions scientists and financial analysts should be permitted to draw from their data.  To understand problems with data interpretation, we’re going to take a journey through my Kindle highlights from an excellent book by Nassim Taleb entitled Fooled By Randomness.   The book explains just how difficult it is to answer the very simple question “What are my chances”. Continue Reading

What if you were just told that you’re about to hear a “shocking, unethical, and unprofessional” story?  First, the word “shocking” sounds like something straight out of The National Enquirer, and handshakeevery week this tabloid claims to have a new, shocking story (which then has the effect of making it seem not so shocking).  Is it shocking that a vegan celebrity was caught eating ribs at 4 Rivers?  No, its not, because the BBQ at 4 Rivers is so good, it’s intrinsic deliciousness has the power to convert vegans to the other team.  Now, maybe vegan-to-ribs is a bit of a stretch, vegans may start with cheese or egg long before they lick the meat off a slab of ribs.  If CNN or Fox News tells you something is “shocking” and “unethical”, you’ll immediately think that some politician was caught with “his” pants down (yes, I said “his”, because it seems that women don’t get caught in such compromising positions–why is that?).  Today, our shocking story doesn’t come from a tabloid, or cable news, it comes from The Florida Supreme Court.

In The Florida Bar v. Adams and Filthaut, the Florida Supreme Court called the behavior of these lawyers “the most shocking, unethical, and unprofessional as has ever been brought before this Court”.   (Fla. No. SC14-1054, August 25, 2016, you may find the opinion by clicking here).

It all began in Tampa with a lawsuit between two local DJ’s.    After the first day of trial, the lawyers for each side retired for the evening.   A paralegal for the defense attorneys (Adams, Filthaut, and Diaco) spotted the opposing lawyer (Campbell) at a bar in a nearby steakhouse.  She called her lawyer bosses to let them know what she’d found.  After a flurry of communications between the paralegal and the three defense lawyers, a plan hatched to have their female paralegal flirt with opposing counsel (he didn’t recognize her as being part of the other side).  She flirted, lied about where she worked (obviously), and bought him drinks–enough drinks to dip him into a DUI situation.  And, a DUI arrest was the goal here.  To aid in the plan, attorney Filthaut reached out to a cop friend Sargent Fernandez to post up outside the steakhouse to await his big lawyer arrest.  Everything was in place for when Campbell would drive home. Continue Reading

“Comparison is the death of joy.”  – Mark Twainscoresheet

Our brains are constantly sizing up other people, and it should come as no surprise that there is always someone with less body fat and a bigger bank account.  Comparison can be a bad habit, yet every party has at least one “one upper”, someone who has always been to a better restaurant, a better beach, or went to a better school than you did. [for the ultimate one upper story, see comedian Brian Regan, last 3 minutes of “I Walked On The Moon”]

Comparison is a big problem in criminal defense, even though it provides plenty of referrals.  For example, I had several 25 year minimum mandatory prison sentences dismissed for a client and as such, every referral from this old client starts like this: “Guidry, you got my friend’s 25 year mandatory prison case dismissed, and my case isn’t that serious, so you can do the same for me, right?”   Yes, I’m bragging about a serious case result, and yet, providing a helpful example.  Cocky, yet informative.

Every criminal defense attorney has negotiated a “deal of the century” that was, subsequently, not appreciated by the client.  Here’s my paraphrasing: “ATTORNEY: Great news, they’re going to drop all charges, the cops will write you a letter of apology, and you’re getting two free tickets to Sea World.  CLIENT: What? Sea World? I want Disney tickets or there’s no deal.  My bunk mate’s attorney got his whole family Annual Passes to Disney.  You’re not as good of an attorney as my bunk mate, are you?”

There is sentencing inconsistency in Florida, the statistics bear this out (what statistics you ask?  Just a few more paragraphs to go, then I’ll show you).  A case that is serious in Orange County may not be that big of a deal in Osceola County, or Seminole County (my SEO people love it when I mention my practice counties by name, so yes, I practice primarily in Orange, Seminole, and Osceola, just saying).  Some counties are known for their outrageous sentences, and that’s sad (Marion County comes to mind, and I think they’re proud of this fact).   But, such disparity raises an interesting question: Is it possible that a long sentence can violate the Constitution as being cruel, even if it is legal?   The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution bans cruel and unusual punishment.   Can a sentence fall so far outside the range of typical sentences that it becomes cruel?  These issues are addressed in the recent case of Alfonso-Roche v. State, 2016 Fla. App. LEXIS 8352 (4th DCA 2016, 4D13-3689). Continue Reading

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Frank Turner The Sleeping Souls at The Beachum, June 11, 2016

I took my daughter to see Frank Turner & Gogol Bordello at The Beachum last night.  Really, she took me.  I’m not a music journalist, as you will soon realize, so, I’m going to tell you how I felt.

First, Frank Turner and his band The Sleeping Souls.