Thursday, October 17, 2019

In re Marriage of Ahadzadah (Cal. Ct. App. - Oct. 15, 2019)

It's sometimes simultaneously easy and hard to resolve appeals by pro se litigants.  

It's hard because their briefs are occasionally rambling, unclear, and (in places) incoherent, so it's difficult to figure out what exactly they're saying.  And you want -- and are required -- to try your best to ascertain and then analyze the legal point they (obtusely and imperfectly) make.

On the other hand, it's easy for precisely the same reason.  Because when you can't understand a brief, even after trying, you can simply affirm.  As Justice Butz does here.  She resolves the present appeal in an opinion that basically consists of only a single double-spaced page, saying:

"Appellant filed an 11-page opening brief that is difficult to understand and a short supplemental opening brief that is similarly flawed. Unfamiliar with the principles of law governing the trial court’s ruling and the limited scope of appellate review, appellant does little more in her briefs than express frustration with the trial court and the judicial process. . . . Appellants must “present their cause systematically and so arranged that those upon whom the duty devolves of ascertaining the rule of law to apply may be advised . . . of the exact question under consideration, instead of being compelled to extricate it from the mass.” [Citation] Appellant’s opening brief, and supplemental opening brief, both fail on all these grounds. Under the circumstances, appellant has forfeited her claims of error. The judgment is affirmed."

Fair enough. 

I mention this opinion not because it establishes great law.  It definitely does not.  (Which is why it's unpublished.)  I mention it, in part, merely as an example of a type of case (and briefing) that's far from unusual in the Court of Appeal.

But, to the honest, the primary reason I mention this opinion is because I wanted to apologize.  Not for anything huge, but to apologize nonetheless.

But I'll begin with a long digression.  That's relevant in ways a reader may or may not immediately perceive, but which I'll explain at the end regardless.

My story begins way back in 1971.  That's the year still-popular President named Richard Nixon appointed a fresh-faced former Dean of Agriculture at Purdue University to be the new Secretary of Agriculture.  The name of that new cabinet member?  Earl Butz.

Now, the Secretary of Agriculture does not typically get much press.  But this guy did some pretty revolutionary stuff, and was also fairly controversial.  He massively favored corporate farms over smaller, traditional family farms.  And in 1972, the Soviet Union had a disastrous harvests, and we gave our Cold War enemy -- under Earl Butz's leadership -- massive grain sales.  Stuff like that made the news.  So you heard the guy's name on things like the evening news or on the radio, which was the media at the time, much more than you might otherwise think for someone in his position.

And then there was his personality.  Which was, let's say, unusual.  The guy could not keep his mouth shut.  And had zero filter.  I mean:  Zero.  To say that he was "inappropriate" at times is a massive understatement.  To take but one example:  at a World Food Conference in 1974, Earl Butz publicly mocked Pope Paul VI's opposition to birth control.  By -- and it still stuns me that he thought this would be just fine -- putting on a mock Italian accent and saying:  "He no playa da game, he no maka da rules."

Yeah.  That kind of guy.  In short, the kind of guy who makes the news.  A lot.

Now, in 1974, I'm an eight-year old kid living in Virginia, alongside my 7-year old brother, my 4-year old brother, and my 3-year old sister.  For a group like that -- or at least for my group of immature kids in particular -- the pantheon of humor in the universe consisted of jokes about farts and the like. So when we'd be driving with our parents in the car and a name like "Earl Butz" was read over the radio, you can imagine the resulting smirks and giggles and childlike laughter in the back seats over the mere mention of the name.  "Butz"  Hilarious!  And, to a degree, even slightly scandalous:  they are saying "Butts" on the radio.  Nothing could possibly be funnier.  Or so our pea-like brains thought at the time.

And I vividly remember those years, and Earl Butz's role in them, to this day. (Plus, his name was "Earl," and as a kid in Virginia, every "Earl" I knew at the time could accurately be characterized as a backward, Confederate-flag-waving, cousin-marrying redneck.)

And Earl Butz made the news a lot.  So lots of giggles for me and my siblings.  I remember even as a kid his ultimate downfall and when he was forced to resign.  Though, given my youth, I didn't at the time knew precisely what it was he said that ultimately forced him out.

(Parenthetically, neither did a lot of other people, including many adults.  The newspapers and radio reported that Butz had said something "patently offensive," and that it involved something about "the Blacks," but most of the media basically left it at that.  They didn't report what exactly he had said that made him resign, saying only that it was profane and racist.  Or they shorthanded it and filled in the actual words he said with other words that were close synonyms.  Several newspapers said they were not reporting the actual words he said but that readers could stop by the newspaper's main office if they wanted to read the actual quote.  In my current town, for example, the San Diego Evening Tribune did just that -- and over 3,000 readers in fact make the trek!

When you read what he actually said, you totally understand why he had to resign.  And, to be honest, it's stunning that anyone, anywhere, at any time would say (or even think) what he said; much less that this would come from someone in the Cabinet of the United States.  So skip to the next paragraph if you don't want to know the exact words of what he said.  Because here they come.  The utterly racist thing he said was . . . 'I'll tell you what the coloreds want.  It's three things: tight pussy, loose shoes, and a warm place to shit.'  Yeah.  Amazing.  And he said this right after he told a dirty joke about a dog having sex with a skunk.  Saying all this on a flight after the 1976 Republican Convention to a group that included Sonny Bono, Pat Boone, and John Dean.  Yeah, that was the mid-70s.  In a nutshell.)

Anyway, the point is, (1) the name "Earl Butz" was repeatedly in the news, and (2) it was a name that sparked much attention when it was uttered during my formative preteen years in Virginia.

Fast forward to 2019.  I've said some occasional nice things about Justice M. Kathleen Butz and her opinions in the past. And earlier this week, I discussed yet another one of her opinions.  But in the midst of that post, I accidentally called her "he".

Sorry about that.  Not a typo.  Just a total temporary brainfart.  One of my readers sent me an e-mail about it, and I (of course) went back and changed the post.  Totally my bad.

But it also made me wonder:  Why'd I make that mistake?  Sometimes things I post are just typos.  Sometimes they're things I just pound out with (in retrospect) insufficient thought.  But one this one, it was a mistake that was a weird one to make.  Because I know who Justice Butz is. And on those rare occasions when I'm talking about a particular justice who I don't know, I routinely look them up.

So why'd I make that mistake.

But then it came to me.  Earl Butz.  I honestly think that my subconscious was the one typing that sentence.  And that, in the inner recesses of my brain, when I was thinking about Justice Butz, the picture that subconsciously came to my mind was not the actual Justice Butz, but rather the Earl Butz of my formative youth.  The latter of whom was definitely a guy.

So the post reads the right way now.  And I'm sure it won't be the last one I ever make; or even the last one about gender.

But sorry about that.  Trust me:  I've thought about it a lot.  As you can probably tell.  And will try my best not to make the same mistake again.

Or at least not make it much.