Dec
07

Mopery In New Haven

            Just why anyone would want to be a police officer in this day and age is beyond me. And why any current officer would want to lead a police department is an even greater mystery. 
            Consider the case of Assistant Chief Luiz Casanova, who was the target of a snarky press release this week by the New Haven Police Department. Casanova, it turns out, was given a two-day paid leave while the department investigates a “verbal interaction.’
            First, some context. 
            The police chief’s position is currently vacant, after this year’s resignation of former chief Dean Esserman. The power to appoint a new police chief belongs to Mayor Toni Harp. 
            The mayor is known for her sharp elbows. My office has from time to time represented the New Haven Board of Alders in disputes with the mayor. When entering City Hall, I always feel as if I need a bodyguard, or should be wearing a bulletproof vest. 
            Harp plays for keeps, and her hand-picked corporation counsel, John Rose, was known for playing hardball every chance he got while serving as the top lawyer for the City of Hartford years ago. When I heard Rose was coming to New Haven, I felt vaguely as though the Spanish Armada was on the horizon.
            Wags in City Hall report that Mayor Harp wants to tap Interim Police Chief Anthony Campbell for the permanent position of chief. But Casanova has support throughout the city. How best to neutralize Casanova? Character assassination.      
            So this week, the New Haven Police Department issued a press release targeting Casanova.
            What is the purpose of such a memo? To bloody Casanova in the public eye, and to signal to his supporters that he is not the stuff of which good chiefs are made.
            But merely signaling that Casanova is being investigated is only half an assassination. The public will want to know just what is being investigated. No police official will comment on that publicly, however. That could get the official sued for defamation.
            So the whispering campaign began.
            The press relies on “sources” for information. If no one spoke to a reporter, there’d be little or no news. When sources speak for attribution “on the record” they permit their words to be used and their names to be recited as the source of those words.
            But suppose you want to speak to the press, but not have your name printed. Can the press do that? The answer, obviously, is yes. It happens all the time. A reporter can agree to print your words but to keep your identity confidential.
            It’s a semi-scandalous practice: permitting people to say things and escape accountability if what they say is flat-out wrong. 
            Good reporters won’t print just anything a source insisting on confidentiality says. One job of a good editor is to grill his or her reporters to make sure the sources are reliable.
            I know Paul Bass, who heads up the New Haven Independent, to be a good editor. His newspaper reports that “people familiar” with the incident report what Casanova said. I take that to mean two or more people repeated the same thing.
            Casanova is alleged to have called a subordinate a “[bleep]ing mope” for wearing a departmental issued knit cap. (Okay, okay, they didn’t report that Casanova said “bleeping.” But you get the clucking point, right?”)
            I spoke to Casanova about this report on Wednesday evening. He’s outraged. He didn’t say what was reported. One or more of the people who reported his having said this have good reason to remain anonymous now; they might face suit for defaming him.
            I say might face suit because although what they reported is false, it is really not that big a deal.
            In the hothouse environment of the politically correct, one utters expressive speech at one’s peril these days. To be sure, some words are racially charged – while a white guy can be a “thug,” the word more often carries a racial connotation. 
            But what about the word “mope?”  
            I’ve heard that word applied to all races of people, and regularly. It’s almost a term of art in the criminal courts. I’ve heard judges, defense lawyers, prosecutors use the word. I’ve even used the word myself.
            What is a mope?
            A mope is a person who just doesn’t get it, a perpetual ne’er do well with a rap sheet longer that a good kid’s Christmas list. And the “f-bomb” used to modify mope? The word is as common in the police station as it is in the courthouse.
            If Casanova did call a subordinate a “clucking mope,” I am sure the target would be unhappy. Supervisors ought not to speak to their employees this way. But do you really sit a senior administrator down for two days and malign him in the press for such an utterance? 
            You do so, only if there is a broader agenda, that agenda being to hobble a good man.
            Ironically, Casanova is the official who ordered the knit caps in questions for the department. They are issued to men to wear on cold days, to keep their ears and heads warm. Casanova reports that he told a man wearing one inside the department to adjust it because, as he reports it, the man looked like a mope.
            Oh. My. Goodness.
            I’ve represented police officers throughout the state in employment-related disputes. And, truth be told, I may well represent Casanova in this matter. A sobering truth I’ve learned along the way is the following: Police officers treat one another savagely. Only public school teachers display a similar degree of pettiness.
            Here’s my hunch on this melodrama: Mayor Harp backs Campbell for chief. That means Casanova needs to be neutralized. So any old excuse will be used to attack Casanova, even the half-truths of cronies who don’t have the integrity to put their names next to their allegations.
            What a shameful mess. Just why Casanova would want to lead the department is a mystery to me. Swimming with the sharks in City Hall doesn’t sound like my idea of career advancement. The mayor, you see, can be a real mope.

Nov
23

Happy Thanksgiving, Maslow Said

By the time you read this, you will most likely have done all the shopping and planning you need to do to celebrate Thanksgiving. Comes now the assembling of family and friends around a table to share the holiday meal. Today is a day we come together to give thanks.

For what?, you ask, in this most bruising of electoral seasons.

All votes have yet to be counted nationwide, but this much seems obvious: Hillary Clinton won the popular vote; Donald Trump won the electoral vote. Next month, electors will assemble to cast their ballot. Donald Trump is all but certain to become the next president of the United States.

His ascension is, depending on your vote, either a welcome sign or a portent of the apocalypse. Many a holiday meal will grow tense as family members rehearse political arguments.

A word to the winners: Don’t gloat.

A word to the losers: Don’t whine.

For the first time in a long time, join hands in simple acts of thanks and, as corny as it sounds, be grateful for the relative peace and harmony we share. 

Come January, there will be a peaceful transition from one administration to another. Our institutions are strong. And while economic inequality grips the land, there is still abundance enough to make us the envy of most of the world.

I’ve been scratching my head over this year’s election. What accounts for the popularity of outsiders, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump? How is it that woman with a resume tailor-made for the job was not elected president?

Discontent is in the wind. We’ve lost the ability to speak to one another.

How to address this whirling cacophony?

Perhaps Abraham Maslow can teach a thing or two. You may recall hearing of his hierarchy of needs, a pyramid that ranks human need from most basic to most sublime. It takes the form of a pyramid.

Maslow was one of the 20th century’s most influential psychologists. In 1943, he published a paper that has come to be one of the most famous scholarly publications of all time. It portrayed his hierarchy of human needs.

The most basic need, and therefore the need at the base of the pyramid, is what we share with other animals: the needs for food, water, sleep, protection from nature’s most severe privations. Satisfy these, and a person can aspire for more.

Safety is the next tier in the pyramid. By safety Maslow meant security for one’s family, employment, health and property. Stay alive first, and then worry about quality of life.

A person enjoying satisfaction of physiological and safety needs is then free to seek the consolations of love and belonging. Once freed from the tyranny of necessity, we can chose friends, cherish family, and nurture bonds of intimacy.

There’s more, Maslow says, a fourth level of higher order needs, as in the need for esteem or respect from others, and from one self. We are such stuff as our associations with others make us, all of us mirrors, reflecting what we see back upon ourselves and on to others.

At the apex of Maslow’s hierarchy is what he called self-actualization. I suspect he meant more than what advertisers market. Maslow was no vulgarian seeking to have each live lives of self-satisfaction, regardless of what satisfies. He sought healthy people, people capable of setting realistic goals, of engaging in purposeful conduct, of living together in communities of mutual self-respect.

I’m not sure the lines separating the five tiers of this pyramid are all that firmly drawn. It is difficult to distinguish the need for esteem from that of self-actualization.

But Maslow’s point is simple enough. No matter how the lines in his pyramid are parsed, some needs are more basic than others. It makes no sense to tell a starving man his life will be more complete if he learns to appreciate operatic performances. 

What has this to do with Thanksgiving in this contentious year?

Maslow just might solve the paradox of this year’s election results. From where I sit, the two campaigns pitched their messages to different levels on Maslow’s hierarchy.

Clinton and Democrats aimed high: Under the umbrella that is America, all are entitled to esteem, self-actualization. We’re a republic of differences, and by respecting the goals of all, each of us is enriched.

That works in a community of affluence, where more basic needs are met. Affluent communities can afford to be cosmopolitan.

Trump and the Republicans focused lower on the hierarchy. Their message was pitched to a working class that feels that affluence has passed them by. By tapping this resentment and fear, Trump shocked the world.

The results shocked only those living in a bubble of privilege.

Need a concrete example? Politicizing whether folks can use the restroom of their choice is an appeal to self-realization; building roads and securing employment is a far more basic need. Don’t tell a struggling working class it needs to welcome strangers into the land because it is part of our heritage. Eat first; self-actualize later.

Abundance yields visions of inclusion; scarcity breeds a politics of fear.

So how do we move forward from here?

The Roman orator Cicero offers guidance. A republic, he taught, is not just any collection of people. No, a republic is a group of people bound together by common conceptions of right and common interests. Let’s consider our common interests.

An experiment in community building: Locate yourself on one of the five tiers. Give thanks for what you have accomplished. Then, rather that looking up to the next tier, asking yourself how to get there, look one step below you, to a person less affluent.

Offer one person at a time a helping hand.

Odds are we’re all seeking more or less the same thing — we have common interests. Some of us are just more fortunate than others.

Let’s give thanks for what we have, but not forget those who have less. We’re all pilgrims in need of grace.

Have a grace-filled holiday, everyone.

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About Norm Pattis

Norm Pattis is a Connecticut based trial lawyer focused on high stakes criminal cases and civil right violations. He is a veteran of more than 100 jury trials, many resulting in acquittals for people charged with serious crimes, multi-million dollar civil rights and discrimination verdicts, and scores of cases favorably settled.

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I believe that the state is a necessary fiction and that failing to combat it is the first step toward tyranny.
– Norm Pattis

Disclaimer:

Nothing in this blog should be considered legal advice about your case. You need a lawyer who understands the context of your life and situation. What are offered here are merely suggested lines of inquiry you may explore with your lawyer.

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