MD Lt. Gov. Rutherford Under Fire for Remarks about Hate Speech

Baltimore Sun, December 2, 2016:

Amid an uptick in hate speech following the divisive presidential election, Republican Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford said this week that he’d rather people “show their real colors than hide.”

Rutherford was tweeting in response to state Sen. Cheryl Kagan, a Montgomery County Democrat, who had tweeted that she was “shocked” by Rutherford’s lack of awareness about the root of recent anti-Semitic vandalism.

“You act as though hate is new,” Rutherford tweeted at the state senator. “It was always there. I’d rather people show their real colors than hide.”

The article goes on to discuss how Sen. Kagan characterized the Jewish community in and near her Montgomery County district as “mystified” by Lt. Gov. Rutherford’s remarks.

The divergence in perspective between the Lieutenant Governor, who is African-American, and Senator Cheryl Kagan, long a community pillar in greater Washington’s Jewish community both in office and out of office over the decades, should surprise no one.

It is quite common (though not universal) for African-Americans to prefer sunlight and openness regarding racism and for American Jews (and perhaps Jewish citizens of other nations) to find the same sunlight and openness more alarming.  More social commentators have noted this.  I will defer to others more learned than I as to the possible sociological and historical sources of this frequent divergence in response/coping strategy.

As for me, neither Jewish nor African-American and lacking actual chips on the table in dealing with either problem, I would hesitate to comment, other than to hope that our society improves such that racism and anti-Semitism are in the history books and not in the newspapers.  Doubt I will live that long.

A Few Practice Tips for Maryland Attorneys re Unemployment Appeals

This checklist is aimed primarily at attorneys practicing in unemployment appeals litigation at any level (Lower Appeals, Board of Appeals, Judicial Review).  Most of my remarks are aimed at workers’ attorneys, but some will apply to management attorneys as well.

All references to the “Act” below pertain to Title 8 of the Maryland Annotated Code, Labor and Employment Article.

1.  Circuit Court Clerks Don’t Know About Unemployment Appeals.

Specifically, the clerks of court are frequently unaware that there are no filing fees, including fees for voluntary dismissals, for unemployment appeals (technically, petitions for judicial review) filed by claimants under section 8-5A-12 of the Act.

I don’t want to make any enemies anywhere, but one large Circuit Court has been particularly slow in handling UI Petitions for Judicial Review, to my frustration and that of opposing counsel at times.  Both opposing counsel and I had to file documents multiple times just to get an entry of appearance or other documents properly processed.  When I filed a dismissal citing clearly the statute that exempted my client from filing fees, I got a copy of my filing back demanding a filing fee.  It took a nasty letter to get the Clerk’s office to read a one-page filing.  Similarly, the Clerk took many months to issue the Rule 7-206 and 7-207 notice of the filing of the record and the running of the 30-day clock.  In another case, the Clerk actually threatened me with collection proceedings for the waived filing fee in flagrant violation of Maryland law, until I got the elected clerk on the phone to make it stop.

In short, you should expect to have to do the Clerk’s job for them in these cases, and be grateful if you don’t have to do so.  You should not expect the Clerk to know that the filing fees don’t apply, that they have to file your entry of appearance and that they have to send out notice of the record.  If they do it correctly, excellent; but set your expectations level to “Taco Bell.”

2. Calendars and Deadlines Are On You (As Always) – Verify, Do Not Trust

This is aimed at attorneys who represent either management or workers. You should treat your client as unreliable regarding basic housekeeping information regarding unemployment appeals until you see it with your own eyes.  There are a number of reasons for this: client learned helplessness, wishful thinking, low American literacy rates, etc.

If a client tells you in writing that the deadline for filing a UI appeal is such and such date, you should assume that the client is high, blind, dyslexic, illiterate or afflicted with borderline personality disorder and is giving you a malpractice trap until you see the data with your own eyes.  Do not trust clients to read and report the content of a 9-point Benefits Determination or a 12-point hearing date notice or Lower Appeals Decision. Don’t trust them; make them show it to you and insist in writing that they show it to you.  Of course if you have an appeal number or social security number you can usually confirm the status of a UI appeal online.

3.  Subpoenas

In general, a subpoena request in a UI Lower Appeals hearing must be fax-filed 5 full business days (i.e. more than one week, sometimes longer) before a hearing.  A hearing notice goes out in theory at least 15 calendar days before the hearing.  In order to get the subpoena request ready, you may wish to consider drafting them before you get the notice with everything except the location, date and time, then filling in the date and time upon notice and sending it out rapidly.

Of course, whether to send a subpoena request is a tricky tactical question in its own right but if the decision is to send one, you need to do so timely.  It is particularly tricky for attorneys representing workers who are accused of misconduct, as management bears the proof burden and to send a subpoena in essence may help management prepare its file better in order to comply with your subpoena.  Just as it’s not smart practice to interrupt your opponent when she’s making a mistake, it’s not good practice to send a helpful to-do list of useful documents to your opponent. On the other hand, sometimes a management document will be exculpatory for your worker client or damaging to management itself.

If you need a subpoena and you are too late to get one, you may not be too late for a postponement request (see below).

4.  Postponement Requests

A postponement request needs to arrive at least three full business days before the hearing.  A first and only postponement is usually granted without problems if filed promptly and with half-way reasonable stated grounds for the postponement.

After the postponement request, usually about 2-3 weeks after, a representative of the Lower Appeals Division will call requesting a faxed list of block-out dates for about a month from each party and counsel, and will set a date in harmony with those lists.

5.  TALX and Other Non-Attorney Representatives

You should be aware that TALX consultants who occasionally represent management are generally not attorneys, though I have encountered one attorney through TALX.  That attorney underwhelmed me with her late arrival to the hearing, her poor direct and cross examination and her embarrassing gaffe in attempting to admit, then withdrawing, an exhibit that severely damaged her own client’s case.  I requested that the exhibit be admitted and then used it without mercy to prevail in the hearing.

Among the non-attorneys, the TALX representatives have ranged from pretty weak to exceptionally strong and prepared.  I would like to commend Mr. Robert Sauer, who often represents the City of Baltimore for TALX; he has been consistently well-organized, professional and focused, such that I thought he was actually from the City Solicitor’s office and not TALX at first.

Outside of TALX, there are paralegals who represent management in UI hearings as well.  Some of them have impressed me.  Some need a mentor to tell them to take the chewing gum out of their mouth when addressing a Hearing Examiner on the clock.  Some have had excellent, smooth hearing-room style and some sound like obnoxious, condescending hacks.  I prefer the latter as my opponents’ representatives, obviously.

6.  Waivers of UI Benefits Are Void and Criminal

This is a friendly CYA notice to friends who represent management.  Under section 1303 of the Act (Code, LE § 8-1303) it is a crime, replete with a potential for jail, for an employer to accept or require from any worker a waiver of any benefit under the Act.  The definition of “employer” includes any agent of an employer, including presumably legal counsel.

While I think that the likelihood of a prosecution of a management-side attorney for some sloppy but good faith violation of this section is pretty low, it carries more jail time than driving while impaired by alcohol and people do occasionally go to jail for that.  The bigger concern is the professional embarrassment and, I suppose, Bar disciplinary consequences of this criminal act if it occurred in, say, the context of a negotiation for an employment settlement.

This is not precisely an unemployment appeals issue but one can easily imagine a scenario where management, knowing that a worker is seeking unemployment after a resignation under pressure (i.e. a quit but one with dubious “voluntariness” under the case law), might offer severance in consideration of dropping a UI appeal.  No, this is dangerous.  Severance does disqualify the worker from benefits during the pendency of the benefits, but asking for a waiver of UI benefits is arguably a “requirement” and receiving that illegal waiver back signed constitutes an “acceptance.”  Crime completed, gotcha.  Don’t do it.

7.   What the Board Needs and Wants on an Appeal Request

Under the COMAR and statutes, the Board has the jurisdiction to do five things upon an appeal request: to decline it, to affirm the prior decision, to reverse the decision (in part or in whole), to remand the matter to Lower Appeals (generally due to technical problems with the electronic recording or, much more rarely, a radical failure of the Hearing Examiner to conduct a fair and impartial hearing) or to rehear the matter on the facts, on the law, or both.

My sisters and brothers in the Bar, do the math.  The Board of Appeals has three members, two of whom must sit to hear a case in quorum.  There are for state workers a little fewer than 250 working days a year (52 weeks minus vacation and holidays); we solos may be workaholics but state workers don’t have our particular form of brain damage.  There are roughly 40,000 UI appeals a year, most of which have at least one “non-prevailing party” procedurally.  What are the odds that your appeal will appear on their live docket?  Not good, especially if you don’t make the case as to why your appeal merits their time.

The discretion of the Board to turn down any appeal is essentially unlimited.  I suppose that if the Board failed radically to handle a year’s worth of appellate review in a working year, the General Assembly or the Secretary of DLLR might start thinking about firing some people or cutting budgets, but beyond nonsense scenarios like that there’s essentially nothing to force the Board to take your case.  So if you file with the Board, the first thing you need to do is to convince the Board that your case represents something that fulfills their mission perfectly.

What will get the Board’s attention?  Well I don’t have stats, but think it through.  If the case presents novel legal or factual issues, represents a chance to clarify an ambiguous part of the corpus of precedent from the Board, involves major policy questions, involves more than one worker or is likely to be repeated in the future, involves a demonstrable and serious error by a Hearing Examiner or involves other “heavyweight” issues or concerns, it’s more worth the Board’s time.

Accordingly, when you file your appeal request, you should consider answering three questions:

  • Why your case deserves the Board’s limited time
  • Why you believe you are right
  • Why you believe you didn’t get a more just (i.e. better for you) result below

As of today, I have only participated in one live hearing before the Board; in that case, the issue was a dispute of law, not of fact.  Oral argument was swift and efficient and, as it happened, the Board saw fit to reverse the Lower Appeals decision and grant benefits to my client.  I have not participated in a fact hearing before the Board to date.

8.  Motions to Reopen

Several years ago, the Legal Aid Bureau in Baltimore and the Public Justice Center co-signed a letter to the Chief Hearing Examiner for the Unemployment Appeals Division, Judy G. Smylie, Esquire, citing alleged inequities between how employers and how claimants received treatment on Maryland unemployment procedural issues such as motions to reopen after a party fails to appear.

I have not perceived an inequity between how workers and how management get treated on motions to reopen.  While I have not been pleased with every disposition of such matters in my practice, I haven’t seen a pattern of inequity.  Generally, someone seeking to reopen a hearing needs to show reasonably robust cause as to why it should be reopened.

I do not have statistics but in general I have perceived that appellees fare a little better upon a motion to reopen, whether filing or opposing one.  This would seem fair, since someone who has filed an appeal is on unambiguous notice that an appeal will take place, while an appellee may not find out in time or even at all, especially if the appellee is out of state or there is a “hiccup” with an address.

In my view, the URL of the appeals database search page deserves wide publication from the beginning of the UI benefits determination process, such that everyone is advised to check the database twice a week with the worker’s Social Security Number.  While that may not be as easy for lower-wage workers who may not have a computer at home, it would reduce the total number of missed hearings.  An email notice or text message or auto-voice mail message should alert workers and management of an appeal filing.  While this might involve extra costs, reopening appeals is also expensive for the Lower Appeals Division in terms of admin and Examiner time on the clock.

9.  The Gray Zone Between Quit and Fire

I have seen the following scenario many times in my practice.  Worker is hourly, working irregular shifts.  Management fails to put worker on the schedule.  Worker concludes that she has no job and files for unemployment.  Management treats the worker’s failure to keep checking in as a “walk off” quit or, in the alternative, as misconduct.

I do not like these scenarios.  They seem not to end well in the hearing room.

10.  Telephone Hearings

Three points on telephone hearings.

a) it is not ethical or permissible to communicate with your witness while he or she is testifying, without getting permission from the Hearing Examiner and giving your counterparties an opportunity to object.  In general, you may not ethically communicate with your client regarding the subject matter of the testimony at that time anyway except perhaps to warn the client not to commit perjury. While the foregoing applies to telephone hearings as well as live hearings, in a telephone hearing you have to be your own ethics police in your own office.

b)  you must get your documents in to the Lower Appeals Division ahead of time by fax if you are having an telephone hearing, at least one full week or as indicated on the hearing notice.  You must send a copy to counterparty as well.  I suggest faxing such documents at the same time to both the UI Division and to counterparty, and following up with a letter to each confirming that each got the documents.

c)  the UI Division hasn’t found an elegant way to subpoena witnesses to a telephone hearing, and has proven bitterly resistant to converting a telephone hearing into a live hearing when live witness testimony by subpoena is requested.  So far this has not caused any client of mine actual prejudice, but that’s by dumb luck.  I hope that the next update of the rules provides for testimony by Skype for remote witnesses or even all witnesses under some conditions; Skype is free or cheap and allows for voice and video recording natively. On the other hand, the lack of access to computers among low-wage workers poses serious access-to-justice and due process concerns, for which I cannot foresee an elegant solution.

“Messiah” prohibited by Tennessee judge as name for baby

ABC News, August 12, 2013:

Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew ordered the name change last week, according to WBIR-TV (http://on.wbir.com/1cDOeTY). The boy’s parents were in court because they could not agree on the child’s last name, but when the judge heard the boy’s first name, she ordered it changed, too.

* * * *

Ballew said the name Messiah could cause problems if the child grows up in Cocke County, which has a large Christian population.

“The word Messiah is a title and it’s a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ,” the judge said.

Several points.

No court in the United States has any business making a proclamation about who “The Messiah” allegedly is or is not. Most Christians believe that Jesus of Nazareth was “the Messiah” as Christians understand that term; Christos/Χριστός in Greek and moshiach in Hebrew both mean “anointed” or smeared with oil, a common symbolic practice in the Levant and the Mediterranean world for designating a monarch. There have been many nominees or claimants to the title of the anointed person identified in the Jewish scriptures over the centuries; mainstream rabbinic Judaism holds that none of those nominees or claimants has fit the job description or surrounding circumstances identified by the Jewish prophets.

Christos is a reasonably common given names or surname in Greek; certainly many derivations of that name form the roots of given names and surnames among cultures that have had contact with Christianity. Meshach from moshiach is not a common name but it is the given name of television actor Meshach Taylor and Maryland’s famed woodsman and hunting figure Meshach Browning.  Jesus/Jesús is a very common name in much of the Spanish-speaking world.  All of these names might, by logic, be struck down on the grounds that there is only one Messiah, named Jesus Christ.

In fairness to the judge, she had to make a decision in a contested case to keep or alter the child’s given name.  It is not clear that the record contained evidence of a specific risk of “problems” from this name if the child had the misfortune to grow up around “Christians” in Cooke County, Tennessee.  I believe that Christianity, in its many forms, is in fact the majority religion in every county in the United States.  Rockland County, New York has a very large Jewish population but Christians make up the slight majority there; the highly secular urbanized Pacific Northwest is still mostly Christian.  What makes Cooke County different from Kings County (Brooklyn), New York or Salt Lake County, Utah, isn’t clear.  Even if the name might subject a child to some criticism or even ridicule, does it follow that the first name “Bruce” is to be stricken on the grounds that some third grader might cause “problems” by singing “Bruce the Moose” off-key in the lunch line eight years later And does the prospect of growing up in that county constitute a sufficiently reasonable basis for a lifetime decision striking a name, when many a family succeeds in escaping rural Tennessee, children in tow?

By this logic, a Jewish (or, logically, non-Jewish) judge in Rockland County, New York could strike the name “Christian” (Christina, Christopher, Kris, Chris, etc.) from a newborn’s birth certificate on the grounds that, from a traditional Jewish perspective, the most forms of Christianity blaspheme the name of G-d by claiming divinity for a human being, and that the name would be highly offensive theologically for many residents of Rockland County, which has a very substantial Orthodox Jewish community.  Dearborn, Michigan has a very substantial Muslim population; could names of children fall stricken by a local magistrate’s pen there on the grounds that the names perhaps offended Islam and/or some Muslims (e.g. Constantine, Charles for Charles Martel, Trinity for a girl as offending Islamic teaching of tawheed or absolute divine unity, George both for St. George and for the controversial eponymous U.S. president, etc.)  These scenarios seem unlikely for many reasons, but are logically justified if Messiah is a legally prohibited name for a child.

More troubling is the very declaration by a court of a decree on a theological controversy itself.  Once courts assert the jurisdiction to enumerate and identify the number and names of messiahs, they will begin to opine on transubstantiation, apostolic succession, and the divine or non-divine origins of the Talmud as well.  When this happens, it will annoy secular-minded people like me but damage the civic life of devoutly religious American citizens more concretely; religious people have more “skin in the game” regarding religious freedom than secular-minded people do not because being non-religious is inferior to religiosity, but because it simply matters more to the religious.

Query: can you formulate a rule that keeps the judge from striking the name “Messiah” but would deal acceptably with Nazis naming their child for a Nazi historical figure, as occurred in New Jersey in a recent case?

Upcoming E-Book: How to Survive The Legal System – 20 Tips to Save Money, Your Freedom and Maybe Your Life

I am roughly midway, give or take, through the draft of a long-planned e-book surveying 20 areas where the legal system can trap the unwary, either through bad legal consequences, bad financial consequences or much worse.  I have entitled it tentatively “How to Survive the Legal System.”

I won’t go through all 20 chapters here but among them will be the following:

  • READ THIS FIRST – How to Get Legal Advice Affordably
  • Surviving the Police
  • The Law of Sex
  • The Law of Weed
  • The Law of Work
  • Incorporation: The Limits of Limited Liability
  • Self-Defense: After George Killed Trayvon
  • Unemployment Appeals: A Survey
  • Timeshares: Satan’s Beautiful Half-Acre
  • When Your Lawyer Has Done You Wrong

The book is aimed towards getting the reader to make herself or himself a client of an attorney in his/her area, i.e. NOT a substitute for legal advice but a framework for asking a local lawyer real questions in an attorney-client consultation.  The emphasis will be on how different law, practice and procedure are in different parts of the country, necessitating local and competent legal advice.

The material is pulled from work I have done over the last 18 years with clients and to some extent in articles and blog posts I have written elsewhere. It will not give “legal advice” but will offer a framework, some questions and some checklists to take into a lawyer’s office.  The book will be very irreverent in tone, but conservative in content.

Can they fire me for complaining about working conditions or wages?

Under Maryland’s jurisprudence of at-will employment, any employer or employee can in general end the employment without notice, excuse, severance, cause or explanation.  In most cases, it is perfectly lawful in Maryland for an employer to fire a worker and instruct the worker to leave the premises under pain of arrest, just as it is perfectly lawful in most cases for a maitre’d at a most expensive restaurant in town to quit his or her job on a Friday night Valentine’s Day with a crowded restaurant and the mayor and half a dozen television cameras walking in.  Both are “jerk moves”; both are in general lawful in Maryland.

Under Maryland law only, there would be no apparent impediment against firing a worker for violating a company rule against discussing salaries, wages or other working conditions with other workers.

However….

The U.S. National Labor Relations Act prohibits in many cases (not all) retaliation against workers for discussing or complaining to other workers about wages and working conditions.  While most of the provisions of the NLRA govern primarily formal collective bargaining units and employers, the Act is broad enough to cover some communications between co-workers about work conditions even if a union or other bargaining unit does not exist or is not part of the discussion.  The National Labor Relations Board has reviewed cases involving discussions on Facebook, for example, between employees of pay and working conditions, and has in some cases (not all) found those discussions to be protected under the NLRA.

Not all employers and not all employees are covered under the NLRA.  Employers who operate in federal enclaves (notably the District of Columbia) and employers about certain gross revenue figures per year in most industries are covered; law firms and legal assistance agencies, for example, are covered if their gross revenue is over $250,000 per annum.  Some employees are not covered such as management and supervisory employees and some others.

If you have been fired for talking about your pay with other workers you may (or may not) have a remedy before the NLRB – even if your shop is not a union shop.  You should consult legal counsel.

Congratulations to the Daily Record Innovators of the Year 2013

The Daily Record has published its 2013 list of top innovators in their fields for metropolitan Baltimore.  I was surprised but quite pleased to see that Robert Santoni of Santoni’s was listed; I tend to think of Santoni’s Market in Glyndon as a great tradition rather than as a great innovator, but apparently it is indeed both.

I cannot pretend to be surprised that there are no law firms in the list, though perhaps there have been in prior years.  Law is, for many reasons, conservative institutionally and ethically; many creative ideas for law practice finance, marketing, corporate structure, service delivery, promotion, tie-ins, etc., that are perfectly lawful and ethical outside of law practice are very difficult, practically impossible or ethically prohibited due to the regulation of the practice of law.  This is not a criticism of the practice of law or its regulatory apparatus; innovation is not necessarily a good thing in all cases and there are paramount equities higher than innovation in the duties that attorneys owe their clients.

10 things to do if you get fired in Maryland

Some of the following items may, or may not, be useful for workers outside of Maryland but this list is specifically intended for Maryland workers.

1.  KEEP CALM.

There is no advantage to you legally in losing your mind, your cool or your wits when you get the news that management has fired you.  (By “fired” I am including all forms of the termination of your employment – “lay off”, “RIF”, “RIP”. “discharge”, “downsize”, “let you go”, etc.)  Keep your wits – you will need them.  While it is not always easy to maintain your control over your emotions when facing a major stressor like a firing, particularly if unexpected, it’s easier to maintain your cool then if you decide now that if you are ever fired, you will maintain your cool for 90 minutes thereafter.

If first graders can be taught to “stop, drop and roll” if they are literally set on fire, you can decide and follow through on keeping calm and cool if you get the bad news of a firing.  Keeping cool is important for a great many reasons, including better decision-making and record-keeping, more successful interactions with your lawyer, better negotiations for severance if applicable and for making you not look like a fruit loop basket case in front of jury if it gets to that point (I don’t use that terminology professionally to describe emotional or mental illnesses but a jury of your peers might.)  Be like Fonzie and keep cool.

2.  WRITE IT HAPPENED AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

When you get the news of the firing, write down in ink on dead-tree paper at your first safe, private and orderly chance all events that you can recall leading up to the firing, including:

  • everything said by everyone in the conference where you got the news (if applicable)
  • every fact and every disputed fact leading up to the firing decision
  • the name of everyone you can think of in the company with their job titles and what they know about your situation
  • the name of everyone present when you got the news
  • a list of every document – paper, electronic document, video, Tweet, Facebook, you name it – that has something to do with this case

I strongly urge getting from a dollar store a hard-bound composition book – the ones with the untearable covers – such as those sold to parents of 3rd graders.  The books are resistant to tearing and somewhat resistant to spills or splashes.  You will need this book for a long time if you have a case, and it’s a great place to put evidence of your efforts to get new employment going forward.

3.  IF THEY TELL YOU TO LEAVE, LEAVE

You do have the right to get your belongings in a general sense, and can conceivably sue your employer in “replevin” or “detinue” if it persists in refusing you access to your personal items at some reasonable occasion.  But if management tells you to leave the premises, politely request to remove your personal items first.  If they refuse, respectfully note your objection (I suggest using an indoor voice and using the adverb “respectfully”) and cooperate with their supervisor’s or security officer’s instruction to vacate the premises.  You do not want to earn a disorderly conduct or trespassing charge before you speak with your lawyer; if they tell you to leave, leave – even if (especially if) it’s unfair.

4.  SIGN NOTHING WITHOUT CONSULTING WITH LEGAL COUNSEL

Do not sign any piece of paper without your attorney looking at it or discussing it with you, unless your attorney otherwise advises you.  While some post-employment agreements are void or voidable for some cancellation or “think it over” period after signature, you would need to have legal counsel in order to interpret the enforceability of those clauses so it’s a Catch-22.  I would not recommend even signing an endorsement on one’s last paycheck or timesheet without consulting with legal counsel.

5.  CONSULT WITH AND FOLLOW THE ADVICE OF LEGAL COUNSEL

If you get fired, it’s time to talk with a lawyer, at least briefly.  You will need to discuss a number of things with your attorney, including access to unemployment benefits, possible wrongful termination, discrimination or breach of contract claims, covenants not to compete, solicit, disclose or use employer’s intangible assets, severance benefits or negotiations for the same and the possibility of an agreed reference.  If you don’t have an attorney already, my office can assist you in Maryland at 410-561-6061 but if you don’t call me, fine; get another attorney immediately.  I recommend making the call from the parking lot on the date that you get the bad news, before you drive away.

If your attorney tells you to do something, do it.  If your attorney asks you a question, answer it and answer that question.  Your attorney initially will likely not want to hear a once-upon-a-time story; employment legal consultations often turn on a fairly short number of factors and we need to get that information and little else before we can help you.

6. UNLESS OTHERWISE DIRECTED BY LEGAL COUNSEL, FILE FOR UNEMPLOYMENT IMMEDIATELY

In Maryland, do this, do this exactly and do not deviate right or left from this instruction – unless a lawyer with valid and up-to-date malpractice insurance tells you not to file for UI benefits.  While you may or may not be entitled to benefits for some or all of the period of unemployment, you should file immediately unless an attorney with malpractice insurance is willing to stick his or her law license on the line and tell you not to file.  Make the lawyer prove he or she has malpractice insurance, and call his or her carrier to make sure that the policy is real and paid up to date.

7.  DISCUSS THE CASE WITH NO ONE BUT YOUR LAWYER, YOUR RELIGIOUS MINISTER AND YOUR MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL

There is a privilege for confidential marital communications in Maryland courts, but I don’t recommend that you discuss the merits of your case with your wife or husband.  Why? Because I don’t trust your spouse or his or her 15 closest friends.  Sorry if that’s rude.

I generally trust the professionalism of attorneys and mental health professionals and the vocational commitments of clergy to keep confidential matters confidential.  Most such communications are also privileged under Maryland law, such that they may not be compelled to testify in your case without your permission.  Again, if your lawyer armed with malpractice insurance tells you to discuss your case with other people, follow that lawyer’s advice.

For employment law cases involving significant emotional trauma, there may be more than one mental health professional in the case; there may be several (one who counsels you or prescribes medicine, a Plaintiff’s expert, an “independent” i.e. management expert, etc.)  I strongly encourage my clients who have endured emotional trauma to consult with mental health professionals and have declined legal work for prospective clients when they have refused.  I urge this for three reasons: a) I want my client to heal; b) I want someone qualified to provide a record of the emotional harm; and c) I have absolutely no interest in trying to be a mental health support system myself when law practice, not counseling, is my wheelhouse.

8.  UNLESS OTHERWISE DIRECTED BY LEGAL COUNSEL, SEEK NEW EMPLOYMENT IMMEDIATELY.

Maryland law and most of the federal statutes providing remedies for wrongful termination (defined broadly here) require a fired worker to seek alternative employment promptly.  Unemployment benefits in Maryland require weekly employment attempts as a condition for eligibility.  The duty to seek alternative employment is part of the general duty of an injured person to mitigate damages.  Not only do damage mitigation efforts constitute a legal requirement but they can have a powerful effect on more conservative jurors to “bring them around” and on the analyses by management counsel of the settlement value of the case.

I usually advise my clients to apply for temporary work through temp agencies even if that work is outside their regular field of endeavor; I do so because

  • I want them to re-earn into the unemployment benefits system as soon as possible through wage credits;
  • I want their unemployment benefits to stretch as long as possible and
  • I want a robust, solid record of employment in case DLLR decides to run a check on the “able, available and actively seeking work” requirement or a penalty for a work refusal.

If your attorney tells you not to look for work, ask her or him why, but in the end you should follow your attorney’s advice.

9. COMPILE YOUR DOCUMENTS

Here are some of the documents you may wish to have ready for your employment law case, compiled and securely scanned.

  • Tax returns state and federal for the last 4 years
  • All employment manuals, memoranda, policies and procedures
  • All employment letters, agreements, reprimands, counselings, warnings, commendations, promotions, etc.
  • All emails from, to or with any other employee – peer, supervisor or subordinate
  • All documents reflecting efforts by you to discuss, dispute or resolve any problem with or at the employer
  • All documents reflecting harm to you and efforts by you to mitigate harm (some of which may be in your hard-backed composition book noted above) – financial, career advancement, back pay, front pay, emotional damages, etc.

I suggest consulting with legal counsel regarding the best mode for the storing those documents (dead tree paper, electronic storage on a thumb drive, cloud storage, etc.) and exactly what documents and folders you should set up for collection and maintenance for your case.

10. CONSIDER GETTING A SUPPORT GROUP (UNLESS YOUR LAWYER SAYS OTHERWISE)

I recommend thinking about getting a support group to assist you with the career transition that comes with unemployment. I do NOT recommend that you discuss the circumstances of your firing with a support group, but do recommend that you consider discussing your efforts to find new work and to adjust to strained financial and career circumstances in the aftermath of a firing, particularly if you have been in the same career path or job for a long time.

Seeking out support might help you to maintain perspective, connect to community resources and possible job leads and enable you to outlast psychologically the blow that a job loss can be for many workers. We in America tend to identify ourselves with our jobs more so than some other cultures; in other cultures, tribe, religion, family, geography, ethnicity, ideology or other sociological affiliations might matter proportionately more than work does in America for many workers. “What is he?” “He’s a plumber/lawyer/salesman.” sounds like a natural conversation in America; it might sound less natural in other cultures where work certainly has a role, but a less critical one in terms of a person’s identity.

I am not telling you to go to a support group, but to think about going.  Discuss support groups for workers in career transitions/disruptions with your attorney.  If your attorney tells you not to do this, don’t do it. Follow your lawyer’s directives.

Required Automobile Security – Transportation Article 17-104

Under Maryland law (specifically Md. Code Ann. TA § 17-104), an owner of a vehicle must maintain required security (almost always insurance, in rare cases a self-insured bond substitute) during the registration period for the vehicle.

Three trial issues present themselves regarding any prosecution of this charge. While it’s non-jailable, defense counsel who face this charge along with others at trial should keep this in mind.

Article 20 of the Md. Declaration of Rights holds that the trial of facts where they arise is one of the “greatest securities” of the people. This provision has been interpreted to require the trial of criminal charges, including non-jailable traffic misdemeanors, in the county/Baltimore City where they arose. If a motorist receives this citation in July 2013 for a lapse that occurred in another Maryland jurisdiction previously, the citation may lack proper venue which in this case may be fatal. At a minimum, the government may have a hard time proving the geographical nexus during the alleged lapse.

The second involves the proof of the violation itself. Certified records from the MVA are admissible but the registration record at hand will not always be certified, not will there likely be a proper chain of custody for a non-certified record. Further, the defendant retains his constitutional confrontation rights and that may get the MVA paperwork thrown out.

Finally, there is a 1-year statute of limitations for most misdemeanors in Maryland. A violation charged more than a year after an alleged failure to maintain security may fail due to that statute.

Licensing of Private Process Servers

Maryland Senate Bill 554, sponsored by Senator Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery) – would enact a licensing system for private process servers in Maryland, titled the Maryland Private Process Servers Act.

My first thought about this proposal was “Excellent.” My practice and those of my friends have been plagued by unreliable, even fraudulent, process service issues at moments. Most working lawyers have a story about bad process servers. Under Maryland Rules of Procedure, pretty much anyone over 18 can serve process, including persons convicted of heinous crimes.

My favorite such story is one process server who swore under penalty of perjury that he served the resident agent of the holding corporation for Hammerjacks, which used to be located in what’s now Tailgate City next to M & T Bank Stadium, at 900 S. Howard Street. Not shocking, except that the business had moved from that location a decade or so before; 900 S. Howard Street isn’t a bar but a paved parking lot for the Ravens. As is turns out, the resident agent was not only not at the old stadium parking lot mourning the relocation of Hammerjacks 15 blocks away downtown some years before, but had confirmed proof of travel to an out of state fishing trip including hotel reservations, flights, etc., on the date that this process server swore he served him. In a parking lot, where the bar once, you know, rocked on when I was in high school. Needless to say, service was justifiably vacated.

The proposal would make the State Police the arbiter of process service licenses, would exempt law firms and employees of law firms acting within a law firm’s regular practice in Maryland, and would establish insurance/bonding requirements.

The Mid-Atlantic Association of Professional Process Servers has urged a number of changes to the proposed legislation, including making DLLR the supervising agency as it is for many other occupational and business licenses.

Licensure would increase the cost to the customer, but would also get rid of some, maybe most, of the sorts of dirtbags who lie about their services of process as did the process server above in the Hammerjacks case. It would increase the overall access to civil justice by getting rid of some of the court-clogging follow-up procedures after bad service, such as some motions to vacate service. It would take away an “attractive nuisance” for the scamtastic. On the other hand, some of the tweaks suggested by MAAPPS seem to have merit too. This may be an example of a mostly good bill that through modest amendments can be improved.