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MIPTC's Travelogue: Prague, Czech Republic - Day 5, Part Four

This post is the fifth in MIPTC's travel series (part four), which started on April 5, if you're interested in reading from the beginning.  Otherwise, jump in and travel along.

Back in the hotel, it's time to get showered and changed for the evening ball at Troja Castle, which we learn later in the evening is actually a hunting lodge for a wealthy Czech back in the Sixteenth century.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  We've brought what we think are suitable for the event renaissance costumes.  Lisa's is a hoop-skirted gown with a bodice and two sets of sleeves, one long and decorative and the other functional, with a solid muted gold and beaded snood and a smart black short, rakishly angled black top hat with a small set of plumage on the left-hand side.  She's got a set of black pantaloons, a black underskirt that laces in the back and a almost wrap-around topskirt of moss green and gold, again beaded with small pearls and beads that exposes fabric matching the rest of her costume.  She's wearing a cream blouse with brown braided stitching under her muted gold bodice, with a long link of golden-brown pearls around her neck and pinned at the top of her bodice to create two falls of pearls.  An ornate feather duster hangs halfway down her skirt, at the ready to demurely hide all but her eyes when necessary.  She's the picture of elegance.

I've got the requisite black leather, knee boots with the top folded over in musketeer style, with small gold jangle chains around the ankles.  I, too, have a cream shirt with frill around the collar and cuffs like you see in the movies, but a bit more understated.  I may be a Lord, but I'm not a Duke or Earl, don't you know.  My doublet is a muted red/bright maroon and gold brocade, with ornately carved gold metal buttons down the front and likewise down the sleeves, from shoulder to wrist.  My pants match and are covered with black leather vertical straps, again in musketeer style.  My black belt holds a fifteenth century replica Scottish sword with a silver sheath and gold basket hilt with red velvet on the inside and a red tassel to boot.  The costume is literally topped off with a flat black fabric cap, which features long colored ostrich and peacock feathers. 

The males in our species are always the more flashy ones, don't you know?

Wanting not to give our costumes away until we reach the castle/chateau/hunting lodge, we duck the hotel wine-tasting on the ground floor where much of our group from the Orange County Bar Association is enjoying an oenological education.  The lift at the back of the hotel takes us down to floor -0 (yes, that's minus zero), which is where the pool and spa is located, and conveniently has a set of stairs at the front of the hotel, keeping our secret intact for the moment.  We jump into an open-air, 80-year old red convertible jitney for the ride to the castle from the hotel.  Our capes keep us warm in the car, and we arrive as planned, just before the four small buses with the rest of our group arrive.

The car gets through the tall, black iron gate of the castle and has the unusual opportunity to drive up through the formal gardens, up to the dual, left/right curved stone stairs and monumental façade.  It's an imposing entrance and it was built by the sixteenth century owner to rival the castles he saw in France at the time.  I believe he succeeded.

Our host and trip organizer Joe Chairez greets us, dressed in his own knight costume and cutting a dashing figure himself.  Since we're early, we get to peek at the ballroom, a castle great room typical only in its size.  The walls and ceiling feature one continuous, larger-than-life mural depicting travelers from around the sixteenth century world as they hunt and go through various stages of life.  It's hard to describe because every surface in the room is painted.  The walls are some four feet thick and feature double windows to keep out the cold.  Fireplaces flank opposite sides of the room with table rounds throughout the room.  It's surely to be a feast, not only for the eyes, but also for the taste buds.  We're to be served an elegant five-course meal, starting with drinks of white and red wine, champagne, sparkling water with lime, apple juice.  Once seated, we had salmon rolled with cream cheese and cucumber beautifully presented on small plates, followed by a clear broth soup with liver pate.  Next came a traditional Czech dish of sirloin beef, dumplings and goulash sauce.  Desert was another typical Czech dish of small pancakes, chocolate and ice cream, topped with a dollop of whipped cream and strawberries.

A fitting end to a wonderfully elegant evening and spectacular trip to Prague.  My only disappointment on the trip was not to have sipped some green Absinthe, which is not available in the US because it contains arsenic and can be deadly.  On the other hand, I'm grateful to still be writing this column and breathing, since someone else on our trip did sample it and apparently had to be revived after passing out.  I guess I'm more grateful than disappointed.

I hope you enjoyed this trip with me.  If you're looking for other travelogues, put either "Scotland, "Wales," or "Australia" in the search box over there on the right (under the ad), and you'll be able to vicariously visit those countries from the comfort of your computer screen. 

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Thursday, April 10, 2008 at 00:46 Comments (0) |

Lawyer 2 Lawyer Internet Radio Looks Green

With global warming and environmental issues plaguing the world, the legal community is doing its part by taking charge and partaking in individual tasks within their firms to save the environment. Join blogger and host, Bob Ambrogi as he talks "Green Firms" with the experts: Attorney Carolyn S. Kaplan, Chief Sustainability Officer from Nixon Peabody LLP and Attorney Daniel Eisenberg, the Public Service Vice Chair for the ABA Section on Environment, Energy and Resources (SEER) Air Quality Committee.

In this show, we will talk about the emergence of green firms worldwide, how firms can get involved, what going green can do for your firm and what employees within a firm need to do on a daily basis in order to stay green.


Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Wednesday, April 09, 2008 at 17:18 Comments (0) |

MIPTC's Travelogue: Prague, Czech Republic - Day 4

This post is the fourth in MIPTC's travel series, which started on April 5, if you're interested in reading from the beginning.  Otherwise, jump in and travel along.

Castles fascinate me; always have.  Maybe it's the Scot in me, maybe it's the Welshman in me.  Maybe it's the little kid in me, or just too many movies.  In any event, Prague is castle heaven.

Prague indeed has its fair share of castles, primary among them Prague Castle, which unlike many other castles also houses a towering Gothic cathedral.  The cathedral, St. Vitus, is a masterpiece of architecture, built over several millennia but almost impossible to tell the breaks in construction between the eras.  It is full of tall, black spires, gargoyles, statutes on both the exterior and interior and a very interesting mosaic.

Jesus sits in the top middle of the bright, multi-colored mosaic surrounded by red and gold with rays of  sunshine emanating from his head.   On his right, our left as we look at it, are figures of people climbing out of their graves, assisted by winged angels as they ascend into heaven.  On Jesus's left (our right), are figures as they stumble into hell, dragged unwillingly into the flames of Hell by Satan and his followers.

There is one major difference between the figures on the right and left of Jesus.  On Jesus's right there are only men.  On his left, there are both men and women.

Surrounding the cathedral is a thoroughly modern castle that houses the offices of the President of the Czech Republic, together with some 500 soldiers.  It's also got a riding school and stable, an art museum (the museum is recent, but some of the art is original).  There's the obligatory well, but unlike most other castles, it is covered with a fine display of decorative ironwork.

The Czech Republic's Crown Jewels go on display at the end of the month in Prague Castle, just in time for my birthday.  Strange coincidence, don't you agree?  Displayed only on state occasions, the line to get in to see the jewels is estimated to last a day.  I'll miss them, but we can get a video preview here

Tomorrow there will be more touring around Prague, but the featured event will be the masquerade ball at Troja Castle, where the river Vltava makes a big turn.  Stay tuned for the details. 

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Tuesday, April 08, 2008 at 09:19 Comments (0) |

MIPTC's Travelogue: Prague, Czech Republic - Day 3

This post is the third in MIPTC's travel series, which started on April 5, if you're interested in reading from the beginning.  Otherwise, jump in and travel along. 

Despite the wonders of Prague, we traveled to Karlovy Vary, a hot-springs spa about two hours outside of the city through country farms and small towns sparsely populated with old-stone agricultural buildings and farmhouses.  The bucolic countryside lulls me to sleep as I continue to adjust to the nine-hour difference in time from my small town on the other side of the planet.

But I have seen this spa town before, as you likely have, too.  Its main overnight accommodation, the Grand Hotel Pupp, was the centerpiece of the latest Bond movie, Casino Royale, which has a very Monaco/French Rivera look to it.  The cream-colored front of the hotel sports a very baroque-style imposing façade that simply oozes charm, breeding and money.  It is reportedly the most expensive stay in all of the Czech Republic, with rack rates starting at 500 Euros for the cheap rooms.  Most come not for the casino, however, but for their health.

The spa town has some 15 main mineral springs of varying temperatures, which the spa-goers dutifully drink from, presumptively for the well-being of their digestive tracts.  Cooler temperature mineral water supposedly acts as a laxative, while the higher-temperature springs have the opposite effect.  The trick, I guess, is to mix your consumption just right.  Especially if you have to travel back to Prague in a car for a two-hour trip. 

Each of the springs on the long walk through the town come out of pipes, some chrome but many decorative brass, ranging from snake mouths to duck bills.  The minerals are both white (calcium) and red (iron) that accumulate on the spigots and the basins underneath.  In fact, the "suvyneur" shops sell petrified roses and other trinkets that have been exposed to the mineralization for just a few months.

I can't imagine what the minerals comparatively do to your digestive tract. 

Along the long walk between the various mineral springs, there are many shops with Russian Cyrillic writing, unintelligible to me, but certainly capable of communicating the cost of the furs, watches, jewellery, Bohemian crystal and designer clothes, shoes and matching handbags.  The many different-colored buildings the shops occupy are equally as beautiful as the wares in the windows, with more baroque and rococo designs, complete with statues and faces carved into the plaster and marble of the building fronts.

Every town has its obligatory, center-of-town statue and Karlovy Vary is no exception.  It is a beautifully carved monstrosity with many of its figures' accouterments gilded in gold - crowns, stars in circles above heads and swords. 

No trip to Karlovy Vary would be complete without a stop at the Moser Glassworks, a bohemian crystal glass factory started in the early 19th century, and one of the most celebrated glassmakers in the world.  Many of its works are owned by the rich and famous, including Pope John Paul an Queen Elizabeth, just to name two.  If I were to name three, I'd have to include our traveling companions, Alex and Ellen Polsky

Evening brings the trip back to Prague and a wonderful dinner with my other traveling companion Lisa, together with Alex and Ellen at La Perle de Prague on the top floor of the Fred and Ginger building, which provides not only breathtaking rooftop views of the city, the Prague Castle and the Vltava river, but also exceptional food and drink and great company.  I highly recommend the food and the rooftop.   The company's fine too, and we're happy to accept all invitations.

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Monday, April 07, 2008 at 07:36 Comments (0) |

MIPTC's Travelogue: Prague, Czech Republic - Day 2

This post is the second in MIPTC's travel series, which started yesterday on April 5, if you're interested in reading from the beginning.  Otherwise, jump in and travel along. 

April in Prague, like most countries, brings showers and a bit of cold.  In the most visited city in the European continent, the rain has fallen on this city for some 1,100 years, and in the form of a light mist, it is falling again today.  The capital of the Czech Republic is a stunningly beautiful medieval city with innumerable churches, synagogues and a cathedral or two, which all contribute to the skyline multiple black-with-soot spires guarded by gargoyles spitting out steady streams of rainwater.

Constructed through the ages, the city defines itself by differing types of building construction, which ranges from renaissance, Gothics, rococo, baroque, art nouveau, neo-classical, industrial and extends to communistic, if you remember your recent history.  Some buildings employ multiple styles, leaving the most informed architects scratching their heads. Even Frank Geary has been here: he contributed the "Dancing House," which locals call "Fred and Ginger."

Prague was first settled by the Celts in 500 AD, but it wasn't until the 9th century when the Premyslid citizens started building their city with what of course is known as Old Town; In those medieval times, the city arose from four separate, but adjacent towns.

Praha, as the locals know it, started when Staré Mesto (Old Town) was combined with Nové Město, or New Town. Just to give you the Czech's idea of "new," the New Town was built in the 14th century. The current city is comprised of two other founding towns:  Mala Strana, the "Lesser Quarter," and Vyšehrad or the "high castle," which distinguished that castle from the lower castle (Prague castle) across the river.

That river, the Vltava, runs peacefully through the city and is spanned by some twelve bridges, the most visited of which is the Charles IV bridge. The famous bridge contains a number of statutes added after the bridge itself was built, including one that will grant visitors their wishes if they rub the brass dog or woman, as most tourists do.  The locals look for their wishes to be granted by placing their left hand (closest to the heart) over St. James's cross inlaid on the North abutment in the middle of the bridge.

Once over the bridge, we walk to the ropemaker's wife's café as recommended by our city tour guide, which has its own story worth reading here. The pub food at Il Provaznice is pure Czech, rich and tasty, with the obligatory practically national beer, Urquell Pilsner, an old world draft of very good quality. Once sated, we're back on the trail.

Like most medieval towns, it would not be complete without a castle on a hill, and to this obligation, Prague complies like no other town. Initially considered a secondary castle, Prague Castle commands a view of the entire city from a hill high above the Vltava and houses the equally commanding St. Vitus Cathedral. At night the long and high lighted castle and cathedral both dominate and define the city. Its rulers are equally luminescent.

King Wenceslaus, the one we know from the Christmas carol, who was actually just a prince, later became a Saint given his success in bringing Christianity to what was then part of Bohemia and helped start beautiful Prague Castle, which is now considered the prime castle in the city. Charles IV of the Luxembourg dynasty was the King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor and continued to build the castle.  His vision was largely responsible for converting Prague into the magnificent city it is today.

The Vyšehrad castle, situated on a high rock overlooking the Vltava on the opposite shore from Prague Castle, was the seat of the Bohemian dukes. In the 11th century, King Vratislav made it his home and the seat of government, building the castle to full glory. Charles IV reconstructed it in the 14th century, but in the Hussite wars in the 15th century, all but the church and rotunda of St. Martin were destroyed.  In the 1700's the French rebuilt the castle wall, but it remains a shadow of its former self.

The Vyšehrad castle started with the early Premyslid dynasty, which came right after the Celts. A mythical ancestor of the Premyslids, Princess Libuse, prophesied that Prague would become the beauty it is today when she said, "I see a great city whose fame will touch the stars." 

She was right in so many ways, and perhaps in ways even as a mystic she could not have imagined.

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Sunday, April 06, 2008 at 07:24 Comments (0) |

MIPTC's Travelogue: Prague, Czech Republic - Day 1

From SNA to ATL and then on to PRG via Delta Airlines:  it's a long, long overnight flight with wonderful service and almost lie-flat seats that practically allow you to fall asleep, but not quite.  Enough, however, that a 11:30 a.m. arrival in Prague brings a breathtaking view from just below the clouds right before landing.

There's a stately river flowing and bending through what is obviously a very old city where most buildings appear no taller than five or six stories with red-tile roofs, all packed tightly together in twisting, turning and very narrow streets.  It's a small city by US standards, just over one million inhabitants, but with a much longer and older heritage than we can imagine in our comparatively young country.

First things first after a check-in at the beautifully charming Alchymist Hotel, founded in 1517, just slightly more than a hundred years before the Pilgrims thought about stepping on Plymouth rock, just to give a comparative historical prospective.  It's time for an overview city tour, which we accomplish largely by walking, with a little help from trolleys and taxis.  We discover it's less than fifteen minutes to walk anywhere in the Centrum.

One of our first treats is the astronomical clock on the Old Town Hall, built in the middle ages.  Modern clockworks have nothing on this gorgeous masterpiece.  In fact, I can't find a present-day clockmaker, watchmaker or software program that can reproduce a working replica of this complicated and historical clock. 

Pictures do it justice, but can't communicate the feeling of the crowd as we gather to watch the every-hour-on-the-hour show, which features wooden figurines of the twelve apostles who appear from behind leaded windows, gliding and turning, acknowledging the faithful.  The lower marionettes on the clock delight, as well.  The skeleton with an hourglass nods his head, telling the others it's time to meet the grim reaper, while the very-much-alive Turk and wise man shake their heads in disagreement.  The brief, 46-second show ends when the golden bird above the clock crows his signal, and all become silent for another hour. 

We get a brief view of the remainder of the city, but nothing as stunning as nightfall from Havansky Pavilion, built in 1891 and continually used since then as a restaurant perched on a hill high above the river and city.  Luckily, we had window seats as the sun set and dusk enveloped the town.  Lights slowly illuminated the city, but the Centrum remained dark, as it was hundreds of years ago.  Indeed, we counted only seven neon lights visible from this point, a compliment to a people who respect their heritage.  Dinner at the small, circular ironwork-decorated Havansky Pavilion was a sumptuous treat of typical Czech food known for its flavorfulness, certainly a portent of things to come in this wonderful city.

As dusk turned inky black, we headed back to the Alchymist, just comfortably across from the United States Embassy for some of our own much-needed-after-a-long flight, inky-black shuteye.

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Saturday, April 05, 2008 at 06:49 Comments (0) |

Lawyer 2 Lawyer Internet Radio Deals with Homewreckers

This week's Lawyer2Lawyer discusses the sub-prime mortgage mess, foreclosures and housing downturn. The real estate world is stagnant and the U-S is now involved in a huge housing crisis leading many to take advantage and prey on vulnerable homeowners and Mortgage fraud is one product of the fall of the housing market.

Please join me and my fellow blogger and Bob Ambrogi, as we turn to the experts, real estate insider, Richard Hagar and Attorney Melissa Huelsman, to discuss the ins and out of the real estate crisis and mortgage fraud. We highlight the Operation Homewrecker prosecution case, the rise in mortgage fraud and discuss how to protect yourself from mortgage fraud and rise above the present real estate crisis.


Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Friday, April 04, 2008 at 17:10 Comments (0) |

Sometimes An Opinion Is Just A Ruling, Not An Opinion

Rights in real property are made up of a bundle of sticks.  At least that's what our property law professor told us when we were in law school.  And he was pretty much right. 

It helps to keep that construct in mind when analyzing how mortgages, deeds of trusts, liens, leases, easements, options, subleases, life estates, remainders and a host of other legal rights in real property all relate to one another.  Especially when those rights run concurrently or overlap one another. 

It also helps to know what real property is.  Essentially, it's dirt.  Sure, it can include mineral rights, oil and gas rights and even rights to air and light, but it all relates to dirt one way or another.  That's why I'm sometimes called a dirt lawyer, not only because I practice in the area, but it's also just a convenient nickname.

When decisions regarding dirt law are issued by the court, we lawyers tend to get excited, especially when they clarify points of law that may not have been entirely clear before. 

Here's the setup.  First, the Mr. and Mrs. Ng leased a basement in a commercial building, subject to a lease provision that read:  "This lease shall be subject and subordinate to all underlying leases and to mortgages which may now or hereafter affect such leases or the real property of which the premises form a part, and also all renewals, modifications, consolidations, and replacements of the underlying leases and mortgages.  Lessee agrees to execute such estoppel letters or other documents required to confirm the same."

In other words, if the building is sold, the Ngs lease may get terminated.  Here, however, the clause above doesn't say "deeds of trust."  The Ngs consequently argued that a deed of trust didn't extinguish their lease when the property was sold by the trustee when the building sold.

The Ngs lost.  Again.  The Courts consistently held that deeds of trust and mortgages are essentially the same thing.  That's actually been the law for a very long time.  Nothing new.

Sometimes, appellate opinions get issued like the one in Aviel v. Ng because people get one chance to appeal a trial court decision.  Still makes interesting reading for dirt lawyers. 

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Wednesday, April 02, 2008 at 23:49 Comments (0) |

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