Saturday, December 31, 2005


It Looks Like A White New Year’s

As opposed, that is, to the brown and sere Christmas we just had. Good color scheme, really, because that’s pretty much how it was this year. Let me hasten to add that nothing terrible happened, no one died, no serious accidents, no unexpected medical events, and no earth shaking emotional traumas in Mr. DA’s world this Yuletide. It was just kind of flat.

Warning -- Boring, non-legal, cathartic blather follows.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. The following has nothing to do with criminal law, or law of any sort. It’s me, venting to you about a Christmas that was OK, by almost every objective measure you care to think about. Trust me, I am well aware that I have it damn’ good compared to probably 90% of the current human race, and God and I discuss that on a regular basis. The following is just me dealing with seasonal malaise.

Christmas Should Be Better Than OK

I received an email from my sister (who lives in another Baja Great White North State) with some Christmas snapshots of my fairly new great nephew and the following note:

Hope you had a good Christmas. Ours was okay but Christmas should be better than ok so next year we are doing things my way and whoever doesn't like it can go somewhere else. These people who insist on going to church drive me nuts. Either go to 4:00 p.m. mass, midnight mass or go Christmas morning, but don't go to 6:00 p.m. mass and expect to have a nice family celebration after because by that time it's too late. Mom is 80, cousin Emmy is 2 and your great nephew is 5 months, they all go to bed at 8:30 for crying out loud. Anyway major changes next year.

That’s her mother-in-law who’s 80. I don’t know why I bothered to add that, seeing as our mother would also be 80 if she were still alive. I suppose it’s because I just realized they were the same age. Anyway. . .

This note got me to thinking about my own vague, unfocused feeling of nothing special having happened this year. I’m pretty sure I can spot my sister’s complaint - she was pretty clear about what was bugging her.

She married into a family that resides on the other side of the Great Divide: They celebrate the festive, gift-giving, wassailing part of Christmas with the relatives on Christmas Eve. Well, she’s been married longer than I have, so mixed-marriages can work out. Her point being, why get together when half the participants are going to asleep or really needing to be asleep and the other half are going to be taking care of the first half?

Unbeknownst to me, until I gave it some thought, we had sort of the same thing, here.

My wife and I are in a separate living mode that complicates things a little bit, but not much seeing as we live about a mile down the main road from each other and the kids are all pretty much adults (quasi-young adults -- disgustingly young adults, if you ask me) and my step-children, to boot, so there are no real issues there. (By issues, I mean the nasty child support/visitation stuff which can really screw up Christmas -- mostly because we worked it all out ourselves, we’re both nice people, and because the kid’s “real” dad has been so uninvolved for so long, he doesn’t really enter the picture at all, either support or visitation-wise. Really uninvolved, like invisible. At one family gathering, a few years ago, my sister-in-law was on a soap box about some diet plan that was based on your ABO Rh blood type. When my wife pointed out that this could cause some real meal planning problems as she and I were O and the kids were B, her sister announced that she must be wrong because two type Os couldn’t have anything but type O offspring. When we all just stared at her, it still took her about 30 seconds to get it. ) But I digress yet again.

We celebrate all the holidays and birthdays and things at the family homestead where she and the boys (when they are around) live. Our daughter has decamped, temporarily, to an Eastern seaboard state while her significant other goes to school. It’s an all day drive for them to get back here, so the timing depends on work and school schedules and, at this time of the year, weather.

Because her SO’s family live about 120 miles north of here, as does “real” dad, the plan was to spend Christmas Eve with us, drive up to his folks that evening,  spend Christmas  with them, the 26th with “real” dad and his new family, and return here on the 27th to spend a day with us, recharging for the trip home.

Now, I have to note that this is a major change for our family. My wife and I both come from families that make Christmas morning the big, nuclear family event with Christmas afternoon and evening devoted to the extended family (over-the-river-and-through-the-woods stuff.) Christmas Eve is for last minute gift wrapping, flying visits to and from friends and neighbors, and Midnight Mass. Christmas day is for opening gifts and eating huge meals. And that is how we have celebrated right along, for 15 years. Until this year.

I was OK with the change in plans. My wife and I are grown ups, and the kids are pretty much on their way, so it’s not like they still expect to put out milk and cookies for Santa and we hide all the presents until they’ve gone to bed Christmas Eve. I can get my head around a Christmas Eve Christmas once in a while. But I kind of expect it to be during the real eve portion of the day. I’m not sure when our 2005 schedule changed, but it did.

I was out Christmas Eve morning. No, not shopping. I was doing in-custody warrants at the County Jail. (See previous post) and spent a couple of hours cooling my heels while the on-call secretary and the County IT boffins battled with the new network printer installation. We finally got the warrants done and I decided to hit the local breakfast buffet for a pre-Holiday gorge on pork products, eggs and hash browns. I was happily contemplating the addition of Polish sausage to said buffet when my cell phone went off. It was my wife with the change of plans.

Number two son’s girlfriend had shown up with the Sun and advised that she had to be home (a 30 minute or so drive) by noon for some family thing that she couldn’t avoid and would last all day so she couldn’t join us for dinner. Sigh. So we were going to do the gift exchange now rather than after dinner. Sigh. So I cut short my breakfast and went home and cleaned up (hanging around the Sheriff’s squad room, swilling bad coffee doesn’t really demand a lot in terms of shaving and stuff) and retrieved the kid’s gift envelopes (they are at the easy to shop for age - just find the crispest bills the bank has) and headed out.

I got there just about the time Daughter managed to pry potential future son-in-law out of bed. When they arrived the night before, the poor guy looked like a zombie. Between school and work and Daughter’s ideas of packing and panning, he’d been going about 20 hours on one two hour nap. He’d tried valiantly to stay awake and be sociable until my wife just about ordered number one son and his buddy to carry him upstairs and put him to bed. Eleven hours later, he still didn’t look fully human, but closer. Much closer.

So, after a pot of coffee, some sticky buns and like stuff, I fired up the camcorder, made sure there were new batteries in the still camera, and we did the gift thing. At 11:00 a.m. on December 24th. By 1:00 p.m. the kids were off doing last minute shopping for SO’s folks, girlfriend was back in the bosom of her family, Wife was watching the Food Network and I was back at my place, correcting online class papers so my students would have their grades on time.

Dinner was fine, glazed spiral cut ham and the usual sides. The boys were less gross than usual, inspired in large part by the excellent manners of Daughter’s SO, a guy they both like and who is just enough older to exert the maximum “good example” influence on them. When it was over, Daughter and SO engaged in the usual Christmas Eve gift wrapping and such. The rest of us wandered about aimlessly, watching TV and eating way too many Christmas cookies. I was home and in bed by 11:00 p.m.

Christmas day, nothing. Daughter, SO and number one son headed North to see SO’s folks and “real” dad. Number two son was scheduled to spend the day with girlfriend and her family (pretty serious stuff going on there) and I spent the day watching the Battlestar Galectica Season 2.0 DVDs, Country Western Christmas videos, and talking to my wife on the phone. I did manage to go out for a loaf of bread from one of the never-close convenience stores, but that was about it. Oh, and it rained. Not freezing, thank God, but rain on Christmas. Maybe there’s something to this global warming stuff, after all.

A brown and sere Christmas, indeed.

I did warn you.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

It's, It's -- It's ALIVE!

Well, Here I Am, Again

Wow! It’s been a long damn’ time since I added anything to this effort. Way too long, I’m afraid. What was it John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when you have other plans.” No kidding.

Things have been a little, hummm, hectic around the office the last few months. As I may have noted in some past post or other, we rely on law student interns to eke out staff, both trial staff and me, the appeals department. We usually have a couple all the time, either academic (i.e. they pay their law school for the privilege of working for us and they get credit for the experience), or regular part-time employee interns (i.e. we pay them and they work their butts off). Well, welcome to the wonderful world of County budget games!

Like most government entities in my State, the County runs on a fiscal year that tracks the actual calendar year. Used to not, but a few decades back, the State said this fiscal year starting in July (or October) is silly and we’re not going to do it any more. So. . . from about June to November the County board puts their pointy little heads together with the County Controller and the County Administrator and start to hammer out the budget for the following year. This year, no big surprise to anyone who was paying attention, they discovered there was going to be about a 1.4 million shortfall for 2006. Even better, our Controller came from the private sector and is pretty much clueless about how government agencies work.

I know a fair number of the readers of this enterprise work for government or quasi-government entities, so you know what I’m talking about. You go into December with Department budgets that look pretty healthy, heck, you may even have some surpluses! Then everyone starts submitting accounts payable items immediately, on receipt of the invoice. Something that may 30 or more days the rest of the year gets submitted Right Now! Sometimes on the same day.

Why, you may ask, those of you who work in rational worlds. Well, because in my world, about a week into January, the County comes along and cleans out all the Department accounts (i.e. sets their balances to zero and transfers the amounts to the County General Fund) in preparation for setting up the next year’s (now the current year’s) accounts. That is to say, if there is still money in a Department’s budget at the end of the year, the Department will never see that money again. In government circles this is fondly known as the ‘use it or lose it’ rule. This has been true from my first unit assignment as an eager young 2LT in 1972, through my days with the Army Reserve, to my time with our intermediate appellate court, right down to last year with the County. There is nothing to be gained by giving back unused funds. Because in the next budget season, people are going to remember that you didn’t need all that money you asked for.

But I digress. We got into a budget bind for this year (2005) when the County decided we couldn’t use the funds tagged in the line item for ‘contract services” (e. g. a special APA to fill in for someone on family leave) to pay interns in the months of November and December. After all, our interns are, technically, contractors if you squint at the IRS code real head and hold your head just so. . .

Actually, this is kind of a big issue, masquerading as a little one. There is a fairly substantial argument (in this State, anyway) that a County Board (legislative branch) imposing a rigid line item budget on, for example, the Prosecuting Attorney (executive branch) is a clear violation of the separation of powers. In plain words, the Board can tell us how much money we get (and some specific items that are clearly spelled out in the statutes) but not how to spend it. Alas, the boss didn’t think this was the issue to draw the line in the sand over. He’s pretty sure one is going to come along, but this just wasn’t it.

So, we have one intern doing what two or three were doing through September. Add to this a change in staff that returned the termination of parental rights appeals to my desk for the foreseeable future, and I’ve been writing just about non-stop since I last posted.

I know I have mentioned that the kind of writing appellate attorneys do is exhausting work. Finicky procedural rules, everything is on deadline, in many cases the issues are boring but still need to be given the full treatment -- for the thousandth time! Yes, you can recycle your gems of advocacy for some of the recurring issues. But many appellate issues are issues of fact. That is, the law is pretty much settled. But how it is applied depends on the facts of the case. I can cut and paste the law on consent searches in about 30 seconds, but applying that law to the facts of the case in front of me, and reducing it all to a clear statement that fairly address the questions raised may take several hours.

So that’s what I’ve been doing. Along with all the other stuff I get to do as a APA, like on call warrant duty (due to a freak alignment of the regular on call schedule and the Holiday on call schedule, the APA who follows me in our more of less alphabetically duty roster and I have pretty much been the only people on call for the month of December. I had a regular week, she had a regular week, then I had Christmas week, now she has New Year’s week -- and the fun thing about on call duty is it just isn’t the weekend warrants, it’s all the in custody warrants for the week. When you are arrested, you have a right to be presented to a magistrate for, among other things, a bond determination, within 48 hours. This means some assistant prosecutor has to review a warrant request before a police officer and swear out the warrant and present it, and you, to the magistrate. Lots of fun.

The upshot of all this fun is that I just put the whole appeals thing (except for questions, court appearances, and phone calls from opposing counsel) on hold from the 23rd to the 3rd. Amazingly enough, my batteries have been recharged to the extent I actually installed the Blogger toolbar in Word (this is a big deal, ‘cause I really don’t like Word) and am using it to prepare this post. Now it’s time to see if I can publish from here.

More over the next few days.