Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Snake story


As part of my mis-spent youth I did radio and a little bit of television before I got an honest (?) job.  At age 16 I had my own radio show – naturally it was ‘The Ross Hart Show’ on WPXI radio 910 AM dial in Roanoke. I also worked other stations.

But this story isn’t about radio.  It’s about the 3 months in the Summer of ’72 when I worked at a Roanoke TV station. The TV was WRFT channel 27, in Roanoke.  It was put together on a shoestring, which kept fraying as it struggled to survive. All the equipment was ‘used’ when we got it.  Well used. And our studio cameras were black and white, not color – that’s a shoestring.

My job was primarily as ‘switcher’ meaning I was responsible for pushing the buttons to get what you were supposed to see on the air at the right second. Secondary was to point a camera at the ‘talent’ when we actually taped or broadcast something from our studio.  And the studio was on the top of “Little Brushy Mountain” west of Salem.  The good news is there were a lot of berry bushes to snack on; the bad news is that snakes liked the berries also. 

One FCC requirement to keep a broadcast license in those days was to broadcast ‘public affairs’ stuff ‘to inform the public’. So our version of public affairs was an incarnation of an old Roanoke Area show called the “Eb and Andy” show.  The original show was bluegrass; ours wasn’t. 

What we did was have a host and his sidekick discuss stuff, have guests to discuss stuff, and when all else failed they’d introduce some public service film and then discuss it. The host/straight man was a great guy named Jeff Hunt (I also worked with Jeff at a radio station).  The sidekick was Tom Hughes who dressed up as a hillbilly named ‘Uncle Looney” – red beard, confederate cap, overalls, sat in a rocking chair and affected a hillbilly drawl.

Our air conditioning system in the studio was broken and the station couldn’t afford to repair it. But we still had to produce the Eb and Andy show every day. In July.  A hot July.  

One day it was real nice outside – a little cooler, blue skies, gentle breeze.  So the show producer decided to set up the show in the parking lot next to the studio doors.  Everything was set up.  Microphones were connected and tested; the cameras were ready and adjusted to the lighting. The show just before our live broadcast was ending so it was maybe 2 minutes before air time.  Davis and I are chatting with the ‘talent’ and Davis mentioned that he killed a copperhead that Looney had seen a week earlier.  Looney was already in character and expressed his appreciation about killing that ‘nasty ole' snake’ when another snake came out from under the studio building, slithered between Jeff and Looney and on down the side of the mountain.  

There wasn’t time to move the set. So we had to open the show as is.  Except Jeff and Looney had their feet on the table – soles of their shoes facing the cameras. Their introduction included comments about their mothers teaching them to keep their feet off the table, but they had a good excuse:  the snake. 

Then into the show. 

After 10 minutes a loud round of laughter came over the headsets from the control room.  Apparently, that very day a member of the crew had gone to Woolworth’s department store and bought their novelty of the summer:  the rubber snake.  The kind of rubber that jiggles when you touch it.  Woolworths sold two sizes:  the $1.95 (18 inch) size and the $3.95 (3 foot) size.  Yep, he went whole hawg and got the big one.  The director told him to ‘do it’ so I saw him sneak into the studio and toss the rubber snake smack dab in the middle of the table where it jiggled as if alive. 

The Talent moved quickly. Very quickly.  Would you believe instantaneously? Jeff was at the end of his microphone cord off one side of the set.  And Uncle Looney?  That’s the only time in my life I’ve seen anyone do a back flip out of a rocking chair. And he ended up at the end of his microphone cord off the other side of the set. 

The amazing thing is that they – especially Looney - kept in character and nothing had to be bleeped (not that we could given the shoestring). Imagine an excited hillbilly drawl “Goodness gracious, what in Tarnation were Dat Thang?"

We went to commercial, came back live and the rest of the show was pretty much watching two guys laugh.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Lawyers Pro-Bono obligation.

I just had a discussion that reminded me of an award I earned ten years ago, and my thoughts when I received it.  This is a slightly modified version of my letter to the Virginia State Bar magazine about the award. It's even more relevant with the current attacks by the party-in-power on anything to help the less fortunate.  I'm pleased that more and more lawyers are stepping up to take on a case or two (Legal Aid won't flood anyone with cases, they try to hold it to one or two a year per lawyer)


I was honored to receive one of the “Pro Bono” awards given by the Virginia State Bar for volunteering my time and expertise to those who could not afford a lawyer.  It was a total surprise – at the time I didn’t even know the award existed. I appreciate the recognition and receiving the award.

When I learned of the award, I thought, “What’s the big deal?  I was just doing my job”.  My guess is my three colleagues who also won the award feel the same way. We’re just doing our job.

And that’s it.  That’s the Key:  “Doing my – OUR – job.”

I am a third generation lawyer – my grandfather, his brother (at one time a Roanoke Hustings—now Circuit—Court judge), my father, my uncle, and now my cousin and I, were and are all lawyers. Our family has always worked to help others with their legal problems even if they couldn’t afford the fee.

Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, I remember my father talking about getting a Legal Aid service started in the Roanoke area.  Trying for funding, trying to get other lawyers to take on cases “pro bono” and the frustration of not enough money or lawyers to meet the demand. Through this, my father, Col. James P. Hart, Jr., taught me that it’s the duty of all lawyers to take pro bono cases in areas where we have the knowledge and skills to help.

So when legal aid makes a referral, and it’s an area I can handle competently, I’m going to take it. Given my upbringing, my job – my duty – is to accept it. Most of the time the cases aren’t hard and I know I’ve helped someone, which is a good feeling. Occasionally one gets a little wild, but that’s life as a lawyer whether or not there’s a fee.

My plea is to all lawyers: call your local legal aid office and tell them you want to help.  Talk to them about the areas you can handle or are willing to learn.  Agree to take two cases a year; Agree to do “Hotline” telephone advice for an hour every other month. Many legal aid agencies have “how to do it” guides for the routine matters such as a no-fault divorce.  Their staff attorneys will answer questions and help if you get an unfamiliar rough spot.

Poor people usually don’t have complicated problems – they just have problems that need a little bit of a lawyer’s time. Give that bit of time.

It’s our job. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Stupid Wells Fargo Story of the Day . . .

(or is it just the story of the hour?)
Represent a client who owns a 1/2 interest in some property - she got it by will from her father who got it by will from his wife who, with her ex husband, got the property by deed.  Sent them a copy of all documentation and title search so my client would be listed as a co-owner of the property.  Of course, wills operate to transfer an interest in property.
Today I get a letter from Wells saying client "as potential successor in interest who can receive limited account information . . "
and "We understand that [client] is 1/2 owner of this property.  In order for us to update the account with this information, please provide us a copy of the recorded deed".
My response: 

In your letter you ask for “a copy of the recorded deed”.  There is no ‘recorded deed’.  The documentation you have – which includes the Recorded Wills of the prior owners – is all that has ever been required under the statutory and common laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia since it was first colonized in 1607 to fully vest title in [client].
Reminds me of the fabled 'letter from a Louisiana Lawyer" . . .
A New Orleans lawyer sought a FHA (Federal Housing Administration) loan for a client. He was told the loan would be granted if he could prove satisfactory title to a parcel of property being offered as collateral. The title to the property dated back to 1803, which took the lawyer three months to track down.

After sending the information to the FHA, he received the following reply:
Upon review of your letter adjoining your client's loan application, we note that the request is supported by an Abstract of Title. While we compliment the able manner in which you have prepared and presented the application, we must point out that you have only cleared title to the proposed collateral back to 1803. Before final approval can be accorded, it will be necessary to clear the title back to its origin.
Annoyed, the lawyer responded as follows:
Your letter regarding title in Case No. 189156 has been received. I note that you wish to have title extended further than the 194 years covered by the present application. I was unaware that any educated person in this country, particularly those working in the property area, would not know that Louisiana was purchased by the U.S. from France in 1803, the year of origin identified in our application. For the edification of uninformed FHA bureaucrats, the title to the land prior to U.S. ownership was obtained from France, which had acquired it by Right of Conquest from Spain. The land came into possession of Spain by Right of Discovery made in the year 1492 by a sea captain named Christopher Columbus, who had been granted the privilege of seeking a new route to India by the then reigning monarch, Isabelle. The good queen, being a pious woman and careful about titles, almost as much as the FHA, took the precaution of securing the blessing of the Pope before she sold her jewels to fund Columbus' expedition. Now the Pope, as I'm sure you know, is the emissary of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And God, it is commonly accepted, created this world. Therefore, I believe it is safe to presume that He also made that part of the world called Louisiana. He, therefore, would be the owner of origin. I hope to hell you find His original claim to be satisfactory. Now, may we have our damn loan?
They got it.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Raise Hell for our Veterans.

Incompetent delay by the Veterans Administration

As noted before, I have been appointed as guardian (in charge of the physical person) and conservator (in charge of their money) for a number of people.  I usually cringe when one of them receives Veterans Administration benefits because (a) in my opinion the VA is the most inefficient agency of the entire Federal Government (one helluva feat) and (b) – probably related to (a) – is that the VA bureaucracy is a pain in the ass to deal with on a good day because the proper form is more important than the proper care. (An exception is the field officers – those who actually visit and work with the Veterans – are dedicated professionals who actually care for their veterans and I have total respect for them)

However, over five years to handle a Veteran’s claim is grossly incompetent and shows a callous disregard for the needs of those who put their lives on the line for our freedoms.
I recently got appointed as guardian and conservator for a 92-year-old WW2 Combat Veteran. Going through his papers I found a recent Board of Veterans Appeals decision related to his service disability benefits that, simply, pissed me off.

The Veteran had a 30% PTSD related service disability rating.  He applied for an increase sometime prior to 2010, the regional office denied it October 2010 and an appeal was requested. In April 2012 the Veteran asked to be allowed to testify at the hearing. That hearing was held THREE YEARS LATER in March, 2015. The Veteran, at the young age of 92, wasn’t able to appear.

The good news is the Board of Veterans Appeals ruled in his favor (only 5 months later in August, 2015) and said he should have, at least, a 50% disability rating. They remanded it to the regional office to see if it should be greater; that remand is probably pending since the Veteran – with combination of PTSD, age, and dementia – apparently hasn’t responded to requests for more information.

This much time to process a claim is inexcusable. It harms our veterans.  The hell of it is, Congress is well aware of the issues and problems facing the VA and is too damn incompetent to do anything about it.

And this ‘hold your nose and vote’ election coming up? I haven’t heard anything from either candidate or those running for Congress about what they’d do to address the VA’s incompetence. And I seriously doubt they really care.

Raise Hell for our Veterans with all politicians you encounter and vote for those who get results.

Government Logic . . .

A heading like that is an oxymoron - contradictory terms within the phrase.  And in this instance, I don't mean it in any sort of flattering manner. (for classic oxymorons, look at these
As any regular reader knows, I'm court appointed guardian for a number of people, most of whom have dementia and no clue as to the current century, much less anything else around them. And just about all of them get "Medicaid" long term care benefits. Medicaid is notified that I'm the guardian and as such I am to get all notices that affect their benefits; there's an appropriate place in the Medicaid database for my contact information and, to my knowledge, I'm in there for all my wards.
Virginia has embarked on a test project for health care called Commonwealth Coordinated Care ("CCC").  The ins and outs of the program are beyond the scope of this blog entry, but frankly it sounds good IN CONCEPT.  The roll out rivals the ACA Website roll out in incompetency, in my opinion, and from what I've seen I have refused to allow my wards to join it. Again, that's not the point here.
Health care is a paramount concern for anyone, especially the vulnerable elderly Medicaid population. Virginia is spending great dollars mailing information to people about the 'benefits' of CCC.  So, logically, as guardian I should be getting a bunch of letters about CCC for my wards.
DMAS (the agency that runs Medicaid in Virginia) sends it to the individual in the nursing home.  The same individual a court has declared legally incompetent. The same individual who is reliving the 1950's in their mind. The same individual who is in diapers.  A year ago I complained about this to Virginia's Governor; Dr. William Hazel, Secretary of Virginia's Department of Health and Human Resources, wrote back saying that the fault was a "limitation of our system and mailing processes . . . "
That's Bullshit. And by profession I'm a bullshitter so I know it when I, uh, smell it/hear it/see it..  Dr. Hazel was trying to bullshit a bullshitter.
The data is in the system.  People control what data is retrieved for which purpose. I see absolutely no reason the system data could not be used to send the legal representative - with sole authority to decide on care for an individual - the information about CCC or any other program.
I had to write the Governor, again, about DMAS' idiocy and asked that he tell them to show common sense and fix it so the right people get the notice. And I got another bureaucratic bullshit response.
Nah, I won't turn it loose - I'll continue to give them hell.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

More #WellsFargo nonsense

Another reason NOT to bank at ‪#‎WellsFargo‬.

Just had another client have bad experience with #WellsFargo - client is a successor under Virginia Law to a decedent. Decedent's estate is only $2000 in #WellsFargo account. Account absolutely qualifies for small estate treatment (which in Virginia is anything under $50,000.00, and the law holds the bank harmless). Client goes to bank and is told that "Wells Fargo policy does not accept the Small Estate Act and you will have to go to the courthouse and get a letter of qualification" 

So, the idiots at #WellsFargo want the client to spend hundreds of dollars and a lot of time and hassle for a measly $2000. I ask everyone to remember that when choosing a bank. It is crap such as this that have caused me to either remove or advise clients to remove (in aggregate) a couple of million dollars of deposits from that bank and go to one with more sense. And a lawyer friend in Richmond claims to have done the same with over $20 Million in deposits at #WellsFargo.

I first posted this on Facebook - in 30 minutes there are already 5 shares.  Tells you what people think about #WellsFargo.  Roanoke USED to have Bank of America (probably the only national bank harder to deal with than #WellsFargo) here , but somehow we ran them away and they sold out.

Friday, May 22, 2015

ID Overkill . . .

Last night my wife and I went to the local Applebees(tm) for dinner. As is my custom I ordered a beer with dinner. Imagine my surprise when the waitress - young enough to be my grand-daughter - asked for my ID.

She immediately shattered any illusion she was trying to flatter my grey, fat, 64-year old physique, but explained that in Tennessee another Applebees lost their license because they provided a beverage to someone who was of sufficient age but their ID HAD EXPIRED.

The patent stupidity and lack of logic is ridiculous.  Not Applebees for protecting itself (I hope Virginia's ABC Board, untrained as a lot of its agents may be - especially in Charlottesville - would go that far). But Tennessee for requiring a "Valid" ID for proof of age.  As an identification, even an expired drivers license should identify the holder.  As a license to drive (or do whatever) the expiration should only mean that the person can no longer do that function legally. 

Do we cease to exist when our ID expires? Should the Right To Life faction of our society be told of this problem and take action? 

So as I was fuming (Rossiferous scale of 1) my wife pointed out that there is a notary she deals with who will refuse to notarize a document if the person signing has an 'expired' ID.

And DMV, which is one of the most hated agencies in the Commonwealth of Virginia (and probably a lot of other states) will not accept an expired driver's license as identification of the individual when they show up two days after it expired to get it renewed. That means the individual has to get their birth certificate or passport or some other 'acceptable' documents to start the licensing process all over again. 

This is not an earth-shattering problem but still a major inconvenience to us.  We need to get our legislators to define 'Valid' ID as one issued by a recognized agency which identifies the holder by whatever criteria required; whether or not expired for the purpose of licensing the holder to perform some function (e.g. driving), is nevertheless valid for purposes of identifying the individual or their age.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Fax Blast

I will freely admit that at times I am slow completing assignments and I try to consider that trait when working with others.  There are times, however, when all involved must move quickly to protect or promote rights of clients and delay hurts.  About once a year I get someone who has a reputation of not responding and -- true to form -- they don't do what they say they will anywhere near timely.
Enter the Fax Blast.  I learned about it the hard way (see first sentence above)
It consists of:
  • FAXBLAST cover sheet (simply a cover sheet with a line stating "REMINDER NUMBER and a series of numbers 1 thru 25 or so, spaced so they can be circled easily)
  • Confirmation sheets (note plural) printed by my fax machine.
  • Whatever memo/document the recipient should act upon.
First day, I send the fax, circling "1".   If I don't get a response, on the second day I send the fax again, this time circling "2" and INCLUDE the confirmation sheet from the first day. If no response then each day the memo is sent again, circling the appropriate number, and including ALL previous confirmation sheets.

After a few days I'm using more and more of the recipient's fax paper and ink/toner.

After a week it goes to twice a day.

After two weeks, HOURLY. I've only had to threaten this level once.

It's a dirty job but someone's gotta do it

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

lowlife SCAM ALERT

I just got a call from a client -- a wonderful, elderly retired nurse, "Ross I'm in Trouble".  Seems she got a call 'from the sheriff' that she had missed reporting for jury duty and there was a warrant for her arrest. They told her the fine was $950, and she needed to go to Kroger and get a money-order to pay it.


I called the sheriff to advise it was happening and he told me that one of his deputies was handling REAL jury notices and one of those summonsed had PAID the fine two weeks earlier. (and they had a lawyer living in the household!)

If you get this call, simply hang up and then call the police or the REAL sheriff.  The only person who can impose a fine is a judge; they only do this when you show up in front of the judge and if you don't have an excuse then they may fine you.

Warn your friends and elderly relatives.  And if you get this kind of call tell them I said it was BS and call me about it. The low-life SOB will get a blast of Rossiferous.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Satisfied clients


Normally I don't like to 'toot my own horn', but this one I've got to.  

I just got one of the best ‘thank you’s’ ever from a client. Background:  son (in his late 40’s, no children or wife) died broke with a large amount of debt and no will, leaving only very elderly but spry parents. I decided that they should forego any formal administration as it was only work with absolutely no benefit to them. Also, the apartment where their son was living changed the locks after his death and—working with the apartment’s lawyer—I was able to get my clients back in to retrieve the property and memories he left behind. Their letter:

Mr. Hart:
Thank you and your dedicated staff for all you have done for us. Losing our fine son has been very traumatic for us and the legal ramifications were overwhelming to us.

Yet you established a plan that both provided dignity for our son, and isolated us from the harassing phone calls and direct contacts that we could have been subjected to.

Mr. Hart, your legal knowledge, expertise and positive directions assured us that our son’s best interest and ours was always at the forefront of each decision.  . .  .  .  

Our gratitude again for the ‘extra mile’ you went to help us during the ‘lockout’ of [our son’s] apartment.

                                                           Respectfully yours,


             These clients are wonderful to work with and they followed my suggestions. Days like this are why I love my job and career.