Words to Live By
[This is the first in a series of articles that features contributions from our members.]
Quotations can be life rafts. “They are the dangling threads that memory can latch onto when everything else goes blank,” says Geoffrey O’Brien, editor of the 18th edition of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. Recognizing the power of quotations, this article, my first as editor, is devoted to cherished words and phrases. I sought the views of eight individuals who are among our section’s most esteemed members about whether there is a quotation that has had special meaning in their careers and lives. After all, lawyers live by words, and many great writers, including a lawyer or two, have been obsessive collectors of quotations.
The responses were thoughtful, varied, and prompted interesting conversation. Presented here are their recommendations for "words to live by" and, along the way, some insight into our colleagues. They were admitted to the California State Bar long ago; together they represent 472 years of legal expertise. Hopefully, what follows will provide some inspiration and guidance, especially to younger lawyers who may read this.
For former California Supreme Court Justice Carlos R. Moreno (Ret.), now U.S. Ambassador-designate to Belize, one quote stood out since his school days at Lincoln High in East Los Angeles. Inscribed in an anthology of poetry given to him by his English teacher, it is from Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem Ulysses: "I am a part of all that I have met." To him, those few words say a lot about who we were, are, and will be. We are a product of the sum total of our life experiences -- the good and the bad, and influences from school, family, and work. This breadth of exposure aids us as lawyers and judges, enabling us to better understand the trials and tribulations of those who appear before us or those we are trying to help.
The Justice said the quote is also a reminder that everyone we meet is important in some way. We should appreciate people for who they are, and try to draw something useful from them. He recalled a particular moment long ago, when he was on the Los Angeles Superior Court bench and sentencing a criminal defendant. The anxious, worried young man said: "you've only seen the bad side of me. I have a good side, too." Moreno said that he understood that, but that he had broken the law. Then-Judge Moreno took the time to state on the record how important it was that the young man had family in the audience who obviously cared for him. Moreno told the defendant that he believed in the young man's future because "they will be there for you when you get out – they want to help and support you." That small episode is a thread in Justice Moreno's tapestry of experiences.
John Van de Kamp, former California attorney general, has two quotations that he often uses. One is by Albert Camus: "I shall tell you a great secret my friend, do not wait for the last judgment, it takes place everyday.” It's from The Fall, Camus' last book of fiction (1956), published the year before he won the Nobel Prize for literature. The book is a poignant first-person confession by a formerly hotshot Parisian lawyer who comes to realize his life is hypocritical. The quote has a number of interpretations; one is: don't put off or save for another day your best self. California, indeed, the world -- right now -- needs your greatest gifts: kindness, commitment to others, self-sacrifice, generosity, and empathy.
The second quote Van de Kamp favors comes from American novelist William Faulkner: “The greatest privilege in life is to help others endure by lifting up their hearts.” Faulkner spoke those words in his acceptance speech upon receiving the 1950 Nobel Prize for literature in Stockholm.
In a sense, we are what we quote. Van de Kamp has been exceptional in his public service, making generous and lasting contributions to the fair administration of justice, equal access to justice, as well as to the enrichment of cultural life in Los Angeles. He began his career in the U.S. Attorneys Office, became the first federal public defender in Los Angeles, served as District Attorney during some tumultuous years, followed by two distinguished terms as Attorney General. After an unsuccessful gubernatorial bid in 1990, Van de Kamp entered private law practice, although throughout his private sector years Van de Kamp has remained publicly active and visibly involved, in environmental causes, local and state political issues and campaigns, and as the 80th president of the California State Bar from 2004 to 2005.
The Honorable Nancy Brown, who served on the Los Angeles bench for 35 years until her retirement in 2003, replied to my question about a favorite quote by summarizing her judicial philosophy: "Always render justice." Famously independent, appointed to the Municipal Court by Governor Jerry Brown and then to the Superior Court by Governor George Deukmejian, Judge Brown believes that bench officers need the freedom to exercise their best judgment without feeling beholden. In talking with her further, it is clear that there is more to her than this "down the middle" exterior. Early on, one seminal event established her life's course.
Raised and bred in the Chicago area, she earned her bachelor’s degree from Indiana University and set her sights on graduate school in political science. With the unwavering encouragement of her mother -- who tired of seeing women settle for inferior positions -- she applied to Stanford. She was accepted and at the start of the term, attempted to register at the political science department. The acting department head took one look at her and explained that no staff was available to assist before 9:00 am; it was 8:50. She thought for a split second, and made a beeline over to the law school and talked to the Assistant Dean who said "maybe" they would consider her because they needed three ladies. "We already have two, so maybe you're it." That was 1957. This episode changed her life, setting in motion a career in the law. It taught her something that she's never forgotten: Be prepared to maneuver past obstacles; avoid those who cannot be supportive; and stay self-motivated.
The year 1956 was a memorable one for Robert S. Warren: he was admitted to the California State Bar and joined Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, where he would spend his entire career as a standout litigator. Along the way, he became a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, and chair of the group; served on the senior advisory board of the Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference; and, upon retirement in 2008 received the Ninth Circuit's John Frank award which recognizes "outstanding character and integrity… success in promoting collegiality among members of the bench and bar; and a lifetime of service to the federal courts of the Ninth Circuit."
Given Warren's deep involvement with the Ninth Circuit, in lieu of a favorite quotation, he offers the "Principles of Practice" that he helped draft with the senior advisory board of the 1998 Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference:
- Give your word, and then keep it.
- Accept responsibility, and then perform.
- Pay attention to detail, but keep the whole picture in mind.
- Remember that exploiting short-term advantage often brings
lasting bad consequences.
- Of course be truthful, but also take the trouble to be accurate. Being
candid requires both courage and tact.
- Understand that courtesy and graciousness is usually repaid in kind.
- Remember that your integrity is your greatest, and most
- Be an attentive listener.
- Avoid criticism that is either needless or non-constructive or both.
Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, immediate past member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, former Congresswoman, and member of the bar since 1956, earned her spurs when she joined the legal profession at a time when women and African-Americans were few in number, and the country was essentially segregated.
Following graduation from USC law school, Burke was actively engaged in the practice of law, her life’s ambition. But the 1965 Watts riots changed everything. She helped organize a defense fund for those arrested; she was deeply involved as events unfolded. When then-Governor Pat Brown appointed a Commission to analyze the causes of the riots, she was tapped to be its lawyer. Among other things, the Commission recommended that more young people get involved in politics. That led to her 1966 run for the California Assembly, resulting in a sweeping and unexpected victory that put her on a political path. Back then, the legislature had only one female member; she and a newly elected Chinese-American woman arrived together in Sacramento and raised the figure to three. In 1973 Burke won a seat in Congress -- the same year a Texas district elected Barbara Jordan. History repeated: that election year raised the female count in Congress to three since Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm had preceded them. For Burke, those were exciting, tumultuous times when the nation was embroiled in issues of race, war, and women’s rights.
Burke’s favorite quotation evokes steely determination, and hope. "I have always remembered the words of a famous athlete, 'all of my success is due to my god given ability to keep on working when everyone else has given up.' I have found that particularly helpful in Government. Difficult changes do not come about easily. They require a willingness to face defeat after defeat and often, one compromise after another. But sometimes just getting one foot in the door keeps it open. Eventually we are able to accomplish important changes in the law, and in people's minds, and in so doing transform the landscape of our community."
She continued, "I was walking with a guide in a large park that had been destroyed by wildfires. All of the trees and shrubs were burned. I asked the guide for the name of a particularly beautiful flower before us that I had never seen. She said it was a fire flower. It only blooms when the earth has been scorched. The resulting heat causes it to restore itself and it blooms in all of its glory. Many of us often think we are burned out and stressed out but, like that flower, adversity makes us grow with new ideas and new strength."
Edward J. Horowitz, this year's Section chair, noted appellate practitioner, and Fellow of the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers, was a Bruin before he went east to study law at Harvard. Like a good Bruin, he often reflects on UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden's famous “pyramid of success." The line he particularly likes is: "Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable." The lesson Horowitz draws from this is that you may consider yourself successful in any endeavor (writing a brief, playing basketball, parenting, etc.), if you performed at the best level of which you are capable. Our task is to take care of everything in our control because that’s all we can do. Knowing that you did your very best has its own reward. Ed adds that one of the building blocks in Wooden's pyramid is especially memorable because it dispels the popular notion that the successful are born that way: "Success travels in the company of very hard work. There is no trick, no easy way."
Bela Lugosi, Jr., highly regarded trial and transactional lawyer in Los Angeles for 49 years and son of the famous actor Bela Lugosi, was in the 7th grade when he learned a lesson that he'll never forget. His family is Hungarian, and at that time he was living with his grandparents in the then-very rural Lake Elsinore area, which had a substantial Hungarian community. Many of the elders liked to play cards. One day he came home and his grandfather rebuked him for passing by a friend of the grandfather's and failing to acknowledge him. This scolding really made a huge impression on him. It helped him appreciate the importance of showing respect to other people, especially your elders, and that how you act reflects not only on you but your entire family. Bela has passed this lesson along to his four children and seven grandchildren. He credits the episode with aiding him in the practice of law and in all of his relationships.
Judge Samuel Mayerson was admitted to the bar in 1951, and has been on the Los Angeles bench for 32 years. Prior to that, he had a stellar quarter-century career in the District Attorney's Office, capped when he was selected to handle the high-profile Patty Hearst/Symbionese Liberation Army case in 1976 that involved the infamous shoot-out in Inglewood. A phrase came to him recently that had a profound effect on him. It is the saying by the Scottish poet Robert Burns: "O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us."
A little background is in order. The line was written below a drawing of the Judge’s portrait done recently by someone in the courthouse. It depicted him with a sour expression on his face, and a particularly downcast mouth. The Judge’s clerk found the caricature and brought it to his attention. Mayerson was aghast that the artist, or anyone, might perceive him that way. He has taken a lesson from the injunction "to see ourselves as others see us," and now makes every effort to have a less forbidding countenance, to avoid wearing on his face all he may be thinking about a litigant or a case.
I've long savored quotations; they are irresistible. In preparing this article, I rummaged through my files and found one I’ve particularly liked that I first heard spoken by Gore Vidal. It is a saying by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, "Talent is formed in quiet; character, in the stream of the world." Another original thinker believed similarly: Theodore Roosevelt.
Roosevelt put a premium on character and spoke powerfully about it. In the spring of 1910, a year after his presidency ended, he had come to Paris with his son Kermit to give his Citizenship in a Republic speech. Delivered at the Sorbonne in the Grand Amphitheater at the University of Paris, the speech emphasized his belief that a republic’s success rested not on the brilliance of its citizens but on the strength of their character. If ever one needed a tonic, or a spur to move from complacency and inaction, this is it. On Roosevelt’s 7th of 35 pages, comes this:
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
Life rafts. Here is one: "Things are never as good or as bad as they seem." It works beautifully because in triumph one can “bank” some elation; better to draw on later if one stumbles.
Quotations can deliver us. "They make it possible to channel-surf millenniums of cultural history, plucking out whatever fragment turns out to be precisely what you were looking for. At a certain point, you make it part of who you are, whether or not you ever quote it to anyone but yourself," writes Geoffrey O'Brien. Quotations respond to a deep place within us. Savor their power. They can sustain, galvanize, and renew.
Frozen-in-Time Continuing Series
The Death Penalty in California: Past, Present & Future
Eminent guest panelists include:
The Honorable Gil Garcetti, former Los Angeles County District Attorney
The Honorable William Pounders, LA Superior Court Judge (Ret.)
Bobby Grace: Deputy District Attorney and death penalty trial lawyer
Joseph P. (Joey) Esposito: Assistant District Attorney for Special Operations
(and chair of the District Attorney's death penalty committee)
Marcia Morrissey, longtime death penalty defense attorney
Date: November 21, 2013, Registration and light dinner: 5:00-5:45 pm; Program: 5:45-9:15 pm; at LACBA; 3.25 hrs of CLE.
Roman Polanski: Trials & Tribulations within the Criminal Justice System
Tentative date: Spring, 2014
Recognizing and dealing with alcohol abuse and mental issues as senior lawyers.
Date: December 2013 or January 2014 (date to be determined)
Reminiscing about the good and bad, funny and serious cases, people and events over the years.
Date: January 2014
Mentoring for New Admittees to the Bar.
Date: February 2014
• A monthly night out in various locations so that members of the Section can meet, get acquainted, and have some fun!!
• Dim Sum. December 2013 and May 2014
• A Day at the Museum. June 2014
We urge our members, who are able to do so, to volunteer to participate in LACBA's many pro bono projects.
For a full list of LACBA's projects, check LACBA's website, www.lacba.org.
You can keep up with our section's doings between issues of the Dinosaur Digest by clicking here to visit our page on the LACBA website.
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