My early years as a child were spent in post war Brooklyn in New York City. As I recall although I was part of a working class family living in what was then a typical railroad flat tenement those were very happy days. By the way for those of you who do not know what a railroad flat is, it is an apartment where one room is positioned directly behind the other as in the cars of a train, hence the name.
Getting back to the happy part of life in Brooklyn in those days…my recollection is that it was happy because as kids back then every day was filled with outdoor activities from the time we would get home from school and oftentimes until 9:00 pm in the evening taking a break only for dinner. This may seem unusual to some because of the fact that this was an outdoor lifestyle taking place in the midst of the largest city in the country…but I think its that very fact that spurred the creativity necessary to create the activities that occupied our almost every waking hour. Because we didn’t have any greenery or local parks to go to we were required to improvise and improvise we did, inventing such famous games as “Johnny on the Pony”, “Ring O Levio”, “Kick the Can”, “Stoop Ball” and “Stick Ball” to name just a few. I would be very surprised should any of these games exist today.
Although I never engaged in this activity, another very popular hobby that existed amongst my fellow young Brooklynites was raising pidgeons on the roofs of the tenements. This was a pretty widespread hobby throughout the City…I guess it may have had something to do with trying to import a bit of nature into our lives…in that regard fish tanks and reptillion pets were also the rage. Many an alligator were rumored to live in the New York City sewer system.
Of course, not all was happiness and light, as I said, I was born into a working class family and I guess to a great extent it was my observations of life for the working person in those days, my parents in particular, which played a large role in shaping my values and opinions in later years.
For instance, I can recall that my father would return from work in the heat and humidity of a New York Summer unable to put his arms down due to severe rashes under his arms caused by having worked as a presser in the garment district all day. I also recall the fact that my mother worked all of her life (up until her 80’s) and often as kids we would come home from school to an empty house. This was the norm in those days, at least in my neighborhood.
Of course, over the years I would hear my mom and dad talk about the difficulties experienced at work and in particular what they considered to be the inequality of leverage that existed between employer and employee oftentimes resulting in extremely unfair working conditions. For instance, in those days it wasn’t at all that unusual for workers to be forced to work very long hours for very low pay and with no provision for the payment of overtime or if there were, very lax enforcement which would ensure that the required compensation was in fact paid. Breaks often were few and far between and also subject to very lax enforcement. In those days safety issues were paramount and lax enforcement of those laws resulted as some of you may recall in instances of numerous injuries and deaths.
As I grew older, especially entering my teenage years, admittedly, as with most teenagers the plight of the working person was not first and foremost on my mind, however, I believe those thoughts continued to ruminate in my subconscious to emerge later in my adult years.
After leaving high school under not the best of circumstances, and having no particular path in mind, although I was even back then an excellent debater, I decided to eliminate and fulfill my obligation to the country (that is how we looked at it in those days) and joined the U.S. Navy.
Interestingly, not having been successful academically speaking, well, let’s be honest, I was an abject failure in that regard, having been asked to leave high school, and fortunately in those days the armed services would accept you without a high school diploma, so that also shaped my decision to join the Navy. I was a bit of a rebellious youngster as a teenager, but I guess that’s part of the definition of “teenager”.
Not until joining the Navy did I become aware, surprisingly, of the fact that indeed I was pretty well equipped mentally for academic pursuits having succeeded in placing in the top ten percent of those taking a battery of tests required by the services in those days. As a result I was provided the opportunity to choose from a number of schools and paths that were offered in the Navy at that time.
It was at that time, that my interest in the law began to take shape, having read a number of books written by famous lawyers of the day, and it was then that I started my long trek to achieve that goal and in that regard chose to go to the Navy’s Yeoman school which taught me how to type and deal with paperwork, both skills I believed would be necessary if I were to become a lawyer, furthermore, that was the only rating then opened to an enlisted person that could lead to working within the legal field while in the Navy.
My first duty station after having completed school in the Navy was an assignment to a ship which was home ported at Port Canaveral, Florida. Our port was adjacent to Cape Canaveral. It turned out that the ship I was assigned to was a one of a kind ship whose job it was to provide telemetry (data tracking) for the submarines being trained to fire Polaris Missiles. Parenthetically, my parents had, at the same time, decided to move to Los Angeles and so they dropped me off at my ship on the way.
While stationed on the USS Observation Island EAG 154, (which we variously and lovingly referred to as either building 154 or eggs and grits 154) I was privileged to be at Cape Canaveral during history making events and had a front row seat to them. It was at a point in time when our first crew of astronauts like Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom and John Glenn among others were at the Cape. In fact Alan Shepard, who I had witnessed as the first American going into space, picked me up one night when I was hitchhiking back to the ship.
They were an interesting lot, unlike the astronauts of today, that bunch initially were jet jockeys and it was not uncommon for us to run into them from time to time when we were on liberty at the various watering holes then located at Cocoa Beach, most of which were named after missiles. Heady times for a teenager in the service at that time and at that place.
As an aside, I also had the dubious opportunity to ride out a hurricane while on board that ship but fortunately, still being a teenager, and of course feeling immortal as teenagers do, I viewed that experience more as exciting than frightening or life threatening. I doubt I would view it in the same way today should I have a similar experience.
Despite my best efforts to be transferred to a duty station overseas, it seems that the Navy at that time was intent on sending only married people overseas, my next duty station turned out to be not too far from my first, the Naval Air Station at Key West, Florida. Unbeknownst to me at the time my experience at that duty station would likewise be heady and a bit scary. You see I was transferred to Key West in around April 1962. That year, as some may recall and others may have learned from studying history was a momentous one, not only for the United States but also for the world, for in October of that year we experienced the Cuban Missile Crises.
You may recall that Cuba was a mere 90 miles from Key West, Florida. My introduction to that event occurred while I was on liberty in Key West. In those days most of the servicemen who went on liberty in town had changed into their civilian clothes and I was no exception that day.
While on liberty our first notice that something was up occurred when a sound truck drove through town ordering all military personnel to return to base and change into uniform. Upon my return to base I reported to my office where I had been assigned to support the legal officer and in that capacity part of my responsibility was receiving faxes from Washington D.C. and it was then, upon reading those faxes (can’t tell you what they said..classified) that I became aware of the seriousness of the situation which was to become known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. We all know what happened so I wont go into that but suffice it to say those were extremely exciting and scary times for a teenager.
One other experience that will forever remain in my memory during my time in Key West, Florida, I had the privilege (among many others) to stand honor guard for our Commander in Chief at the time, President John F. Kennedy, I will never forget that.
Well, as with all things in life, all things come to an end as did my enlistment in the Navy. Prior to my leaving the Navy offered me a choice of two schools if I were to reenlist, one of which was Naval Justice School but being a wise twenty one year old (an oxymoron) at the time I turned it down, determined to do it on my own.
Doing it on your own sounds good but I didn’t realize at the time how hard that would be. Fortunately, while in the Navy I and one other person, a Commander had taken and passed a one year college equivalency test and I had also obtained my GED so that when I did leave the service I was able to begin my college education by enrolling in Los Angeles Community College in order to complete my first two years of general education courses which I did in 1964. It was while I was attending class at that school that I had learned of the death of President Kennedy, something that none of us alive at that time will forget.
After having completed my course work at Los Angeles City Community College I transferred to California State University at Los Angeles, majoring in Political Science which I felt would give me a good understanding of government and the legal process in preparation for attending law school. I completed my course work and earned my Bachelor’s Degree at Cal State LA in 1968.
I entered Loyola Law School’s evening program in September 1968 where during my tenure I represented indigent people as part of the school’s law clinic program. Also, having excelled in legal writing and moot court competition, finishing as a semi finalist, I was, in my last year as a student given a Teaching Fellowship where I was privileged to teach first year law students the basics of legal writing and prepare them for moot court competition. While in law school I was employed full time by the American Arbitration Association as Assistant to the Regional Director where I was able to witness the law in action so to speak. It was my primary responsibility to oversee the administration of all arbitration hearings held at our office, to advise parties and attorneys on the arbitration process and to speak publicly to groups concerning the use and advantages of the arbitration process.
After graduating from Loyola Law School in June 1972, I attended UCLA’s Institute of Industrial Relations where I was, under the auspices of and a grant from the U.S. Labor Department, selected to be trained as a public sector labor arbitrator. I completed that program in 1973 and was admitted to the California Bar in 1974.
While in school and aside from my position at the American Arbitration Association I was also employed as an employee representative for the California State Employee’s Association where I was privileged to represent the Chief Judge of the California Workers Compensation Appeals Board after he had been disciplined and demoted for his requiring that all Workers Compensation cases be made public. He based his decision on the fact that the Board in his opinion was a quasi judicial entity and that the public had a right to know of its decisions. After a hearing before the State Personnel Board I was successful in obtaining a positive result and he was reinstated to his former position.
I also did a stint as an in house corporate counsel for a public corporation for a time and had been approved for hire to that position by the company’s outside counsel, Richard Riordan, who later was to become Mayor of Los Angeles. Suffice it to say although I was very good at my job, I was not enamored with working on behalf of an entity whose sole reason for being was earning a profit.
Unfortunately, in those days I had young people getting injured and even killed on the production line and, as a result, after having quit about four times and being given a raise each time, I finally informed my employer that there just wasn’t enough money for me to remain in that position. An idealistic lawyer? Weird isn’t it? Anyway, I showed them and began my own practice working exclusively on behalf of employees with some exceptions in representing small employers who could not afford the extraordinary expense of the large downtown law firms but deserved a decent defense. I would ordinarily represent an employer under these circumstances only after being convinced that the claim being made against them was totally without merit.
I have been fortunate in my career as an attorney primarily representing people and to have had the experience of being able to affect their lives in a positive manner and for that I have been thankful.
In summary, the thing that I recall the most during those days in Brooklyn was the fact that even though things may have been difficult and times tough, unlike today, there seemed to be a pervasive sense of optimism that if you worked hard those hard times could be left behind. Unfortunately, I don’t perceive that to be the case today based I think on the fact that in days past there was, in this country a social compact between employer and employee which provided that so long as an employee worked hard and did a good job their job would be secure. Those days unfortunately are long gone and employers seem to have only an allegiance to profit which often results in very high levels of insecurity and risk among today’s workers. In fact demonstrative of that change is my recollection of saying to one of my very first employee clients many years ago, “Who would have thought the day would come when an employee would have to retain an attorney to deal with their employer?” Unfortunately, that has become the norm today.
Under these circumstances I tend to view my role as a leveler, one where my efforts are directed at leveling the playing field so to speak, between employer and employee either by counseling employees experiencing on the job problems or using the law to rectify wrongs suffered by them in the work place without justification.
My firm today handles virtually all types of workplace issues with the exception of workers compensation and ERISA cases. We emphasize representation in cases of sexual harassment, employment discrimination (state and federal) these issues usually relate to age, disability, sex, gender preference and all matters with respect to discrimination against those within a legally protected class, whistle blower issues, public employee issues, professional licensing issues, security clearance issues in connection with employment, Title IX matters, wage and hour issues and violations of the California Labor Code in a myriad of matters.
I am fortunate in being able to do something on behalf of others that at the same time coincides with my values and sense of fairness while helping others in need. I am indeed blessed and as a result will probably expire sitting behind my desk or in mid sentence in the courtroom. How does that old saying go?, Old Lawyers Never Die, They Just Fade Away…..