The notorious case of the lip biting marine

At a law alumni activity, I once had the pleasure of talking to an attorney who worked in the Navy JAG core. JAG is Judge Advocates General, and is the judicial branch of the navy. It has been sensationalized in popular culture with the phrase “You can’t handle the truth!” and an eponymus tv drama.

This officer, who we will call Lieutenant Commander (LTC) Doe, recounted to me the story of perhaps her most famous client, a marine who had been dubbed the “Lip Biter”.

The facts of the case were not in dispute. One evening some marines were in a bar drinking, dancing with their girlfriends or wives, and socializing. At some point, one of them got liquored up and imprudently made remarks which assailed the virtue of another marine’s date. Defending her honor, the aggreived marine returned fire, and in the course of the fistfight, threw the indiscreet marine down on a pool table, bent down, bit off his lip, spit it out on the floor, and stomped on it.

LTC Doe was assigned the role of criminal defense attorney for the lip biter (as he was universally referred to on base). After reading the arrest report, she was a bit nervous about meeting him. She took every precaution available, arranging to have the defendant chained hand and foot and to the table, with two marines to guard him. During the discussion, she was surprised to find the lip biter soft spoken and unfailingly polite.  He remained so throughout pendancy of the case, and attended subsequent meetings unchained.

This case quickly became the talk of the base. One day an admiral entered her office. She shot up and snapped off her best salute. She had never had someone of that high rank in her office before. Nervously inquiring how she could help him, he asked “So, you have the lip biter case?” This increased her trepidation, wondering what she had done wrong to warrant this visit. She responded “Yes, Sir!” He then inquired “Can I see the pictures?” Greatly relieved, she accomodated his request.

In the fullness of time, the case was resolved in a courts martial. The lip biter was facing perhaps 10 to 20 years in military prison, but was sentenced to something like 18 months. There was some sense that his actions, while violative of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, were not quite as violative of the unspoken Marine Code of Chivalry.

The case of the well armed FBI agent

One option for a graduating law student was to join the FBI. It was a surprisingly competitive opportunity. In fact, word was that in those halcyon days in the early 1980s, the FBI was only hiring law graduates who were women, minorities, or those with single digit class ranks from ivy league schools–as a means of curing certain demographic imbalances in their ranks. But in any case, those of us who were interested were able to see a presentation from an FBI agent in the usual 90 seat amphitheater room.

So, things were going pretty well until he showed a video made by agent candidates who were attending FBI basic training, or whatever it was called. One of the candidates exclaimed that the school was academically difficult and that the candidates studied as much as three hours a night! There was some twittering from those of us in the audience. During my first year, I studied from 6 to midnight 5 days a week, and I was by no means the most diligent student. The agent noted the giggles and snorts and commented that law students must study more than that.

After the video there were questions and answers. I can’t recall the details, but I vaguely recall a police hater type student grinding his axe with commentary and pointed qeustions. At some point the agent apparently felt he lost the upper hand psychologically, so he pointed to his gun and stated, apropos of nothing, that “If any of you were to make a move on me, I could K-6 you right in the heart.” I presumed that K-6 was a target range metric indicating tightness of pattern.

Well, those of us sitting relaxed in our chairs, having never given the slightest thought to “making a move” on anybody in the amphitheater, gave each other some subtle eyebrow raised looks to the effect of “What kind of a clown are we dealing with here?” Fortunately, the presentation completed without any shots fired, and the agent closed by explaining the demographic targets of their recruiting as I noted above.

Having said all that, the fact remained that the FBI represented a great career opportunity for those with the right disposition and demographics to get hired there.

[I believe the reason they were called ‘special’ agents arose from agency law. A general agent is presumed to have unlimited authority on behalf of the organization they represent, while a special agent designation puts counter parties on notice that the agent does not have unlimited authority and they need to ascertain what authority said agent has. For instance, a special agent has the authority to arrest a suspect, but typically not the authority to enter into a million dollar building purchase agreement on behalf of the FBI.]

The case of the friday night studier

As I mentioned, many of us liked to let go a bit on friday (as well as saturday) nights. When gathering the gang and trying to figure out what to do, we often tried to recruit a certain classmate whom we will call Jack for the purposes of this anecdote. Now Jack was  quite personable and was an enjoyable and humorous guy to party with. Then I started to notice that he frequently didn’t come along with us, but rather took a stack of books to the law library on friday nights. We would try and convince him to go and he would say stuff along the lines of “Listen guys, I’m not as smart as you are. I’m just not getting the material, I gotta work on it more.”

So, this goes on and after grades come out at some point we find he is like third in the class. Well, live and learn…. Jack gave us much to admire and envy.


Night of the living Real Estate Transactions students

While I don’t know what things were like at Ivy League law schools such as Harvard and Stanford, at Hamline, for many–myself not the least among them–the end of the last class on friday triggered an alcohol fueled release of tension and revelry that went on until the wee hours of saturday morning.

This worked well in theory, but it turned out that Hamline scheduled a Real Estate Transactions class from 9 to noon saturday morning. The class was taught by a prominent and seasoned practicing real estate lawyer who didn’t want to take off work while he generously donated his time to the school.

The attorney, who’s name escapes me, was a wonderful character who made the minutiae of complex commercial real estate transactions seem as interesting as anybody could. On one occasion he described the potential for a one-inch boundary dispute between two large and contiguous commercial buildings downtown as something that would make him bolt upright in the middle of the night, covered with sweat. In fact, he described and I saw a brass monument with a boundry line indicator placed in the sidewalk in front of Dayton’s back in the day for the very purpose of preventing such a lawsuit.

But I digress. Due to his past experience with the wayward nature of law students on friday night, the class had a strict two absence/late rule. More than two, and you received a three credit F. A few weeks into class, when all the absences had been used up, I was once again on the left side of the 90 seat amphitheater and gazed upon some hung-over classmates. Pasty faces with a fine patina of sweat, baseball hats with stray hairs pointing out in all directions, unblinking stares, faces radiating pain waves… It occurred to me that one could to to the morgue and secure a group of three day old corpses and populate the room with a more enthusiastic audience.

I admired this professor who diligently shouldered on, discussing the intricacies of eminent domain and sales contracts, in front of a class with many who didn’t want to be there, or were barely capable of being there.

The case of the estate planning class discussion of a murder-suicide

One of the wonderful things about attending Hamline Law School in the early 1980s was the presence of professor M. Arnold Lyons, formerly a founding partner of the Robins, Lyons, and Davis law firm–which has evolved into a world-famous litigation firm which I believe is now called Robins, Kaplan, Miller, and Ciresi.

Arnie was an elderly man, his head and shoulders bent forward due to some affliction of age. He taught a very popular estate planning course in one of the 90 seat amphitheaters. For some reason (I heard about this second hand from a number of those present), the course discussion lead him to describe a famous murder case where a prominent dentist living in the wealthy community of North Oaks, for inexplicable reasons, killed his family with a hammer and then killed himself.

Arnie drew a floor plan of the dentist’s house on the whiteboard, stick figures indicating where the bodies were found, and squiggly red lines to indicate blood trails. Well at some point, this became too much for one of the students and he passed out. The student was described as falling out of his chair such that his feet were sticking up in the air and his head down on the ground.

Hearing the commotion, Arnie turned and asked what had happened. Once the unconscious student was explained, he peered above his glasses at the class and matter of factly asked “Shall I continue?” The students said yes, and he returned to the board to finish his drawing and story.

A couple more notes on Arnie. I would visit his office from time to time to chat. One on occasion he told me that one of his partners (I can’t remember if it was Mr. Robins or Mr. Davis) was such a good rainmaker that when this man was being inducted into the military and standing nude in a line of nude men waiting to get their immunization shots, he signed up the doctor, who was giving the shots, as a client.

Another time, Arnie was sad that his barber of 30 years had died. At that time I found this sort of thing hard to fathom and exclaimed that I hadn’t done anything for 30 years. Now I envy a man who can have the same barber for 30 years.

Arnie was much beloved by the student body, and won professor of the year perhaps twice during my three years at Hamline.

Beware the Utopian Scheme

For me, perhaps the most dismissive thing I can say about a mode of thinking is to characterize it as a utopian scheme. To my thinking, its nothing short of an intellectual slap in the face. The sad fact that this is the primary mode of academic thinking in America today is a topic for another occasion. While I always know such a scheme when I see one, I thought it would be interesting to try and create a definition. Its probably a utopian scheme when:

  • The costs of implementation are immediate and concrete and the benefits are futuristic and speculative.
  • The scheme has never been implemented and found to work in a limited setting, or did so with unsustainable subsidization. Such schemes are almost always unleashed untested on the grandest scale possible due to the intellectual beauty of the theory in the minds of its naive and credulous adherents.
  • Whenever the scheme appears to be failing, the advocates can claim that its failure is due to incomplete or imperfect implementation, or perhaps a short-sighted impatience on the part of its critics.