May It Please The Court

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New Category In The Law: Why Appeal?

In the category of "Why did this case get appealed?", we get the State of California whining about taking its lumps after an unfavorable verdict.  Let me set the stage:  when the State designs roads that are unsafe, it typically gets held liable for the resulting injuries to the motorist. 

The State lost in this case, and the appellate court upheld the trial court's decision.  What is most troubling about the State's appeal, however, is that it cited no authority for one of the issues it took up on appeal:  the application of joint and several liability (each party is liable in full if the other party is unable to or does not pay).  The other troubling aspect of the tersely worded six-page opinion is the court's very quick and unrepentant application of the collateral source rule (a potentially liable party is not entitled to offset its liability with payments made to the victim by another party unrelated to the lawsuit, like an insurance company, or in this case, an employer). 

Has CalTrans learned its lesson yet?

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Sunday, April 16, 2006 at 23:25 Comments (0) |

Coast to Coast Internet Radio Covers The Good, Bad and Ugly Of Law Firm Websites

Does your law firm's website have the right stuff?  Is your website really a good representation of your law firm?  Coast to Coast examines these questions with my co-host Robert Ambrogia fellow attorney and blogger, and getthe answers from the experts.  
You'll hear from Tim Stanley, former CEO and co-founder of FindLaw who now runs Justia, a web design company for law firms and member of the California Bar; Pete Boyd, Florida Attorney and President of PaperStreet which he founded in law school and legal technology consultant, and Dennis Kennedy who is also on the boards of Law Practice Today and the ABA Techshow.  Give this podcast a listen.


Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Friday, April 14, 2006 at 19:21 Comments (0) |

MIPTC's Travel Report From Scotland: The Wales Edition, Part III (The Final Post)

This post is the last in MIPTC's travel series, which started on April 2. if you're interested in reading from the beginning.  Otherwise, jump in and travel along. 

MIPTC is in Wales, the land of my father's forefathers.  It's an odd feeling, knowing that youve got heritage in the deep valley where their home town of Cwmtillery sits, surrounded by two sided-mountains of grey rock, which are barely covered by grass.  Each side of the steep mountain forms a "V," where I stand at the bottom, looking at the clear and cold brooks tumbling down the mountainsides, pushing the force of time through my mind.  I try to imagine life here more than a hundred years ago, when Thomas and Mary lived here.  That evening, I fall asleep with images of the landscape and my imaginings of what life was like. 

The Big Pit is the first destination of the morning.  While somewhat indicative of the location, the Big Pit is not an open pit, but it is instead the name of the Wales National Coal Museum, an underground mine you can visit and travel 300 feet below the surface and see a mine, just as it was worked long ago.  As part of my family heritage, it's a must-see for me since my Great-grandfather worked in the collieries (mines) here, ultimately manning the fans that pumped life-saving air underground.  The video presentation transports me back in time, while traveling down the elevator shaft at some 18 feet per second sends shivers down my spine, both because there's a 20 degree temperature drop from the surface to the bottom, but also because I'm beginning to get a sense of that hard life they lived.  The mining lamps passed down to me from my Great-grandfather now have a fuller meaning as the guide explains about the "me-thane" gases that accumulate in the shafts, along with the several underground explosions that occurred until they perfected the lamp. 

Once at the bottom, the green metal mesh door slides open with a smooth whoosh, I look up and the solitary white light on my mining helmet illuminates the ceiling of curved steel bars, with what I can only describe as firewood stacked between the rails spaced every three feet or so, holding back the force of the earth above and on the sides.  The black coal seams still remaining glisten as the light bounces off them.  The mine guide describes the work necessary to get the coal from underground to the surface, with only a pick and sledgehammer.  You started mining when you were six years old, whether you were a boy or girl, if you lived to reach that age, and you helped your father fill five drams of coal a day.  The size of the coal dram gives a new meaning to the standard surface exhortation about drinking "just a wee dram of whisky."  An hour long walk through the lengths of shafts of coal leaves me speechless.  I just can't imagine the difficult working conditions even though the mine guide is fairly clear that in the early days, two would go down but only one would come up.  It's a solemn departure from the Big Pit, despite the beauty of the gently rolling green hills at the head of the valley where the mine is located.

We're on to Caerphilly Castle, the second largest in the UK and perhaps the most spectacular (for me).  If you'll scroll down to the photo of the great hall, and look at the lower-right hand shield on the wall, you'll see the Williams family shield.  The castle has working catapults, a large, deep moat and restored ruins that includes a leaning turreted tower.   It's a castle-touring day, and we're next on to Cardiff Castle, which includes a deceptively small Norman keep, situated above a dirt hill that resulted from digging a fully circular moat.  But the real beauty here is the restored castle, which is a sight to beholdWords can't do it justice.  You'll simply have to go there to experience it.  The tile drawing of the Invisible Prince in the children's nursery (scroll down in that last link and stare at the photo for awhile) is one of some thirty children's fairy tales pictured in the room.  A day of touring castles stirs memories of knights of old and damsels in distress.  At least that's the romantic in me.  The conditions in the castles were almost as hard as the mines.

My trip wraps up with visits to church graveyards, forlorn in their quiet solitude and faceless names on the grey slate gravestones, and town libraries, searching records and discovering the marriage certificate of my great grandparents, with the promise of more family history given the extensive resources available to genealogists.  Most of all, though, it's the very friendly of people of Wales that create memories, and that small pub dart tournament our newly found friends invited us to watch, and share in a small part of the local culture.  MIPTC is off to London Heathrow Airport (LHR) and then to LAX, and finally home to my small corner of the world, which is just a bit larger now with more knowledge of my roots.  

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Thursday, April 13, 2006 at 21:13 Comments (0) |

MIPTC's Travel Report From Scotland - The Wales Edition, Part II

Here's the penultimate post on MIPTC's travel series to Scotland and Wales.  April 2 was the start, but you can join in at any point. 

Yesterday, I was relating my "driving" experience in Wales. 

Today, nonetheless, I find my goal:  the Queen's Hotel in Blaina (just five minutes from Cwmtillery), and I begin to understand how Christopher Columbus must have felt when he discovered America.  The only reason he found it was because it was in the way when he was really looking for the West Indies. 

Despite the "experience" of driving, our hostess, Linda Granville, co-owner, catering manager and resident director (read:  chief cook and bottle washer) at the Queen's Hotel (really a bed and breakfast) is welcoming and accommodating, ushering us to our room and explaining the workings of the downstairs bar and restaurant.  As I look out the window of my room, I am struck by what I already know.

Having spent my elementary and teenage years growing up in Pennsylvania, the landscape, weather and people are much the same here in Wales, which makes sense when you consider that many of the Welsh, including in 1896 my paternal great-grandparents, emigrated to the US.  They sought out what they were familiar with:  mining towns where other Welshmen and women were located.  I marvel at finding a town in Wales named Nantyglo.  My great-grandparents settled in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania.  Even though it has been years since I have been there, these small towns in Wales are instantly familiar.

Both have row upon row of slate-roofed, two-story stone houses, bars at one end of the street and small, two-aisle grocery stores at the other.  Narrow streets travel up steep inclines, flattening out only to accommodate a perpendicular cross-street running at a right angle to the slope of the hill.  The streets are overflowing with kids out playing and churches appear every few blocks, accompanied by the obligatory and immediately adjacent cemetery.  I feel right at home in a foreign country because it is home. 

The people are likewise familiar perhaps because like the Scots, they are warm and friendly.  Of course as a foreigner from California in a very small Welsh town, I am a curiosity, and stick out like a sore thumb.  I didn't pick up a newspaper, but in Pennsylvania, a visitor like me would surely have been mentioned by one of the wag columns about the comings and goings about the town.   I discover that everything about my name is Welsh:  all three of my names appear with great frequency here.

Everywhere I go I attract attention, not because of anything about me as James Craig Williams, but because I dress and talk differently than everyone else.  I'm sure it had nothing to do with the fact that practically every time I got into my car to drive somewhere, I entered from the left, only to discover that someone had mysteriously moved the steering wheel to the right-hand side of the car.  They tried to explain to me that they drive on the left-hand side of the road because the tradition started with right-handed knights in jousting tournaments and as they would do battle against one another on the open road.

It was only then that it made perfect sense, especially given that the English as still doing battle against each other on the open road with their cars. 

The final travelogue appears tomorrow. 

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Wednesday, April 12, 2006 at 18:42 Comments (0) |

MIPTC's Travel Report From Scotland - The Wales Edition, Part I

If you're just joining this series1 and want to read from the beginning (which will make the most sense), then please scroll down to the April 2 entry where it all started.  Otherwise, jump in wherever you like.  It's all one trip.

The cavernous London Paddington train station is my departure point for Wales, the land of my father's ancestors.  Having departed Scotland, I left behind the clans of my mother's ancestors, ringing with Scottish names I see reflected in the history there:  Richardson (my maternal Grandmother) and Walker (my maternal Grandfather). 

But it's on to Wales to discover the other half of my heritage.  My paternal Great-grandparents Thomas Bees and Mary Ashman Hill Bees and my three-year-old Great Aunt Mabel emigrated to the US in 1896, departing Cardiff in steerage on the White Star Line for a whopping £66 pounds.  My grandmother, Hilda Beese (the family got the gift of an extra "e" at Ellis Island) was born in the US.

They first left the small, rural town of Cwmtillery (pronounced by the Welsh as "come-till-airy," with the emphasis on the second syllable).  Itís the four or five consonants before you get to a vowel that defines many Welsh words and town names, making it practically impossible for anyone not a native to pronounce these words properly.  And they think I have an accent thatís hard to understand, especially when I talk fast.  English is not the same language everywhere, you see.

The London train speeds along the countryside at 125 miles an hour (yes, it's miles in the UK, not kilometers), as I occasionally catch a glimpse of half-sized canal boats, some painted white, others painted black and a deep maroon, gracefully sliding along the waterways under tiny train trestles.  Stone houses and barns with nearby sheep, cattle and horses dot the landscape of gently rolling green hills after we depart the graffiti-covered train-track-side walls of London.  It's frankly a welcome change from The City. 

The train stops briefly at slightly different-looking depots in English towns like Reading, Didcot Parkway and Swindon on to Newton, my South Wales destination.  It's here that I get my first experience with driving a car from the passenger seat on the wrong side of the road, complete with turning from the wrong lane into the wrong lane.  If you'll pardon the expression, it's a right-brain exercise on the left. 

Oddly enough, the driving doesn't present too much of a challenge, but the road signage is another story.  It's  combination of the round-a-bouts (and I do mean bout), the need to be ready for them well before entering and the placement of the town names and road numbering system.  Names like Abergavenny, Ebbw Vale, Abertillery, Bryn Mawr (at least that college was a name I had heard before, but have since learned that we mispronounce it based on the original usage Ė it's "Brin Maw" with a short "a"), Tredegar and the like come at you very fast, and without much warning.  Your ultimate destination will likely not show up at the beginning of your trip Ė you have to know the names of the towns on the way.  It's a journey in more ways than one.

The roads are numbered first with letters followed by numbers, somewhat similar to our road lettering system, but don't be fooled.  Interstate freeways are a completely foreign language to the Welsh and English.  They have motor carriageways ("M" usually followed by one number), dual carriageways ("A" followed by three to four numbers) and streets, but the style of road can change in an instant, just on the other side of a round-a-bout.  It begins to make sense to me only as I get ready to turn in my "hired" car at the end of the trip.  Meanwhile, I struggle with what they call a system.

Don't get fooled here:  what is going on inside the car is a stark contrast with the landscape outside the car.  When I can turn my concentration from the road, the scenery is every bit as enthralling as Scotland's, and perhaps more so for me because of its strange familiarity to Pennsylvania.  Deep verdant valleys make up the predominant land feature, with steep, gray rocky mountains populated with heather and rushing brooks punctuating the slopes.  There are some nine such valleys in a row, with the deepest, wide-open part facing the southern sea, and then coming together at the top in the valley headlands, where a road running perpendicular to the valleys provides stunning views of the southern valleys that simply takes your breath away. 

Stay tuned.  More about Wales tomorrow.

  1     And just so you don't get the idea that this trip has been all sightseeing, I've spent most of my time visiting with clients, attending seminars and presenting a seminar on The Use of Legal Technology in the Courtroom, squeezing in some side trips here and there.  I'd bore you to death with all of that, so you're stuck with reading about the side trips, which is not my real reason for travel.  Think that'll satisfy the IRS?  back

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Tuesday, April 11, 2006 at 18:07 Comments (0) |

MIPTC's Travel Series: The Inverness Edition, Part IV

This post is part of a continuing series on Scotland that started on April 2, 2006, so if you want to follow along from the beginning, scroll down and read back up chronologically.


Host Alan Grant of Skibo Castle treated us to tea and toast upon our arrival.  Tea is a bit of a religion itself in Scotland, as it is across the United Kingdom.  Ceremony is complete as it is delivered with bone china saucers and cups, a silver tea service with the pot, creamer, sugar and strainer that straddles both sides of the cup, all properly placed on a silver tray, thank you very much. 


Grant, however, stands diametrically different than what you would expect in an old castle of wood parquet floors, marble water closets, wood-paneled walls, old hanging portraits of people dressed in full Highland regalia and dark suits who died some hundreds of years ago as the Marquis of the Grand Duke somebody-or-other.  Apart from what would appear to be a stodgy castle, it is Alan's shoes that strike you first.


Zebra-striped, fur covered cowboy boots that rise to just above his ankles, purchased, he claims, in Amsterdam (likely one of the only places you could find a pair of boots like this) with zippered sides but not zipped up, and topped with a pea-green pair of pants he dyed himself.  This outfit (is there any other way to describe it?) was capped off with a three-quarter sleeved, striped dull orange and blue thrift-shop shirt covering a rumpled white mock turtle-neck, and a crop of ever-so-unruly curly grey hair and a burly salt-and-pepper moustache and half goatee just below his lower lip.  Despite this outwardly spot-on eccentric appearance, Alan immediately conveys the warmth and closeness and genuine care that you know only from your closest, long-time childhood friend.


Grant is the self-styled resident ''deconstructor" of Skibo Castle, reminding its mega-millionaire, nay billionaire, members that neither position nor possessions can define them once inside the castle walls.  All were equals, especially around Carnegie's dinner table, where it is instead now Alan Grant who holds court (he calls it his office).  Privilege, I suppose, gave us the opportunity to have a four-hour conversation with this luminary, a philosopher without parallel.


Perhaps he developed his philosophies as a sheepherder (yes, that was his previous job prior to presiding over club members), but he has the uncanny ability to see your soul and delightfully allow you to see a glimpse of yourself as you listen to his incisive thoughts about life.  You can't help but walk away from Skibo marveling not only about its grandeur, but also about those who occupy its walls and vast grounds.  Alan would deny it, but he is every bit on par with economist Adam Smith and other great Scottish philosophers. 


It is that grandeur that is Scotland; its history, its struggles, its edifices, its striking and weather and geography of both the Highlands and the Lowlands that have shaped it.  But more important than all that, it is Scotland's people who set this nation apart from the rest, a place you will not want to miss on your journey through life.  Today was my last day in Scotland, and I'm sad to leave, but comforted by the thought that I can return to the bosom of this country's wonderful lads and lassies again.


While MIPTC says goodbye to Scotland, stay tuned for Wales, coming tomorrow.

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Monday, April 10, 2006 at 12:04 Comments (2) |

MIPTC's Travel Series: The Inverness Edition, Part III

It seems almost every Scot learns their national history, and our Inverness driver and guide "George" is no exception.  Having just celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary, he's certainly deserving of the mantle of wisdom he so willingly and ever-so-properly dispenses, with his grey, double-breasted suit, tie and driving gloves (he casually let slip that he was a five-time rally champion as he "pushed on" while driving the Highland roads). 


Guide George Thomson (no "P" in his Scot name, he's quick to tell you) of JA Johnstone Chauffeur Drive deftly recommends a visit to fairy-tale Dunrobin Castle and its sport-of-kings falconry demonstration.  A turreted, monstrously big castle seated on the edge of the North Sea about a hour outside of Inverness, it is still occupied by the Countess of Sutherland, one of a long-lined generation of Sutherlands who first occupied the castle in 1194. 


Our day trip with "Whatever-you-need-just-tell-George" also included Inverness Castle in the downtown central area.  The high-up-on-a-small-hill Castle now serves as the law court for the area.  George's connections got us escorted in to view a trial presided over by a white-wigged, black-robed Lord who looked remarkably like MIPTC's namesake judge pictured above. 


As if we hadn't seen enough castles, we considered ourselves lucky to be invited by a dear friend to the members-only Skibo Castle of Andrew Carnegie fame.  Mr. Carnegie originally purchased some 87,000 acres along with a large, manor-style castle that comes with a pool building, spa, full conservatory-greenhouse, walled garden, several small lochs designed for salmon fishing, a thrilling 18-hole golf course and miles and miles of horse trails and pastures. 


As we arrived at the unobtrusive, almost unnamed gate and drove down the long, tree-lined drive flanked by two small lochs, Skibo castle appeared in the distance as it apparently had sat for a century or two or so, supposedly first occupied as a Norse garrison when the Vikings were the scourge of all things South and West.  Later occupied by a Bishop, Carnegie bought it in the mid- to late-1800's after his success in the Americas.  He wanted a family home in his beloved Scottish birthplace to return to from the Americas, but it is much more than that now:  a swank, private club with all the eccentricities of Carnegie himself.


Stay tuned for more on Inverness.

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Sunday, April 09, 2006 at 12:00 Comments (0) |

MIPTC's Travel Series: The Inverness Edition, Part II

MIPTC's travel series started on April 2, 2006, so if you want to follow along, scroll down and read in chronological order. 


Once out of the city, the mountains (even though the Scots call them "hills," they seemingly would qualify as mountains since they're snow-capped) loom off to the North and glisten a bright white as the sunlight bounces off snow that rests on top like a Scottish tam.  The train slowly lumbers across the Scottish Lowlands, leading us up to the romantic Highlands surrounding Inverness.  It's not hard to see the strong emotional ties this land generates.  Even with the snow, the broad swaths of purple heather lay waiting for the winter melt to give way and the sun to signal Spring before bursting into their royal colours.


Meanwhile, trickles of dark, peaty clear water lead into "burns" (we would call them streams) that weave down the mountains like the bright colors in tartans, flowing in and out of the green pastures and fields.  Long lines of lichen-encrusted stone walls try to divide the land, but the herds of meandering sheep and "Heilin coos" (we would say "Highland cows," which look like a Texas longhorn crossed with a long-haired buffalo) pay no attention, wandering where they please, as they have done for centuries. 


It's the innately friendly people, however, that make this countryside come to life.  In stark contrast to the grey and green moss slate-roofed, stone cottages and barns that dot the land, practically every Scot we've met adds a new meaning to the strong sense of welcome that permeates this island.  From the train conductors that point out the sights and the associated history to the cabbies and drivers who ferry us around to the hotel staff that greet us, all add a new dimension to the pleasant graciousness of the Scots.  Gone are the tight, thrifty Scots.  These are a generous, warm people.


After crossing the Cairngorm mountains, we arrive in Inverness to the Culloden House, where we are greeted by Rose Johnstone, a royal Scot Highlander if I've ever met one.  As our hostess for several days, she sees to our every whim and desire with the all the aplomb of a Duchess and the warmth of a Highland lassie.  During our stay, we head off with a guide to see the Culloden Battlefield where the Highlanders lost their last major battle with the English, which resulted in a long ban of all things Highland:  clans, the kilt, regalia and the pipes.  I'm glad the English and Scots have for the most part mended their differences; there's no music quite as glorious as bagpipes and drums. 


Stay tuned for much more on Inverness.

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Saturday, April 08, 2006 at 11:57 Comments (0) |

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