Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The inaccessible Roanoke Law Library

Over 75 years ago the Roanoke Bar Association was formed for the then primary purpose of maintaining a cooperative law library. (Law books are expensive).  In the 1970's the library was given to the City of Roanoke with the understanding it would maintain the library for the benefit of the public and for the lawyers (who represented that same public).  11 years ago Roanoke City cut hours of the Law Library and now the current operating schedule for the Roanoke Law Library is beyond ridiculous.  The hours are generally 8 am to noon all days except one when it is open until, I think, 4 -- this is applicable to lawyers and the general public. 
This puts the usefulness of the Law Library on nearly the same level as screen doors on a submarine. A joke.
I've toyed with the idea of some action against the city for the reduced hours, but would rather make a few suggestions and comments that may improve the present situation.
The heck of it is, Roanoke's not alone.  I just learned that the Alexandria, VA, proposed budget cuts all funding (except what comes from court fees) from its law library.
Short of restoring the Roanoke Law Library hours to something resembling common sense, a solution would be to move the Law Library over to the main library so the public at large and their lawyers could have access on a more human schedule. Having the resources available is -- these days -- more important to the public than for lawyers (we've got our computers with Fastcase, Westlaw, Lexis).  That would free up significant room in the courthouse for something else.  (However, if this is adopted I'd urge the continuation of the "Lawyers' Lounge" for a place we could work between appearances, meet clients, take a nap, etc.).  
An alternative, which would apply to lawyers only, is to reinstate a version of the 'key club' (a privilege lawyers had for access years ago).  The Courthouse security checkpoint is mere feet from the door to the Law Library.  Have a key with the deputies and a sign-in/out book.  A lawyer needing to go in to the library could do so upon presenting his bar card and signing the book. (a modification of the old magistrate system)  Frankly this could be instituted immediately while the main branch consolidation idea is studied to death in typical Roanoke fashion.
For a number of years I was a member and chair of the Roanoke Bar's library committee and worked with the late Clayne Calhoun to make it a premier law library for a community of our size. It is disheartening to see it as a stepchild of the library system and virtually inaccessible to anyone who might want to use its resources.
I want to see it fixed.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Voice to text . . .

I've installed voice-to-text software -- the one advertised on TV.  I had tried it in the past but computer power and the software both left a lot to be desired. 

Given my new computer (I had an XP machine that is now obsolete, so got a Windows 7 thing) I thought I'd try it again.  It does do a lot better and it is fairly fast.

However, the accuracy rate is still at 95% -- that means one in twenty words is wrong and you have to take the time to correct it.  Given that lawyers use a LOT of words, that's a lot of corrections.

I just looked at something I 'dictated' into the computer.  Visions of instructions for electronic devices from Asia, written by a non-English-as-first-language person came to mind.  I'll have to be careful.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Home fire safety tip . . .

(originally posted 1/27/2014)

My wife and I learned something Friday night,  After we went to bed. And were half asleep.

Smoke/Fire alarms 'wear out'. And get noisy when they die. And they like to die in the middle of the night. (one Lowe's consumer review mentioned the "Midnight Fire Alarm Club").

Our house has 'hard-wired' fire/smoke alarms. This means there's a dedicated circuit connecting all the fire alarms in the house, and if one goes off, they ALL go off.  That's a good thing -- if there's a fire downstairs we might not hear the alarm down there; Allyson (whose apartment is downstairs) might not hear a fire alarm going off upstairs.

According to the firemen who 'visited' us Friday, the alarms have a useful life of about 10 years. Ours had a manufacture date-stamp of 2001. And, per the nice firemen, when one 'hard-wired' alarm dies, it sends a signal to all the others and they all shriek. The US Fire Administration (part of FEMA) also says replace after 10 years.

In our case, all EIGHT of the alarms.

And there's no way to shut them off -- no 'breaker' on the electrical box says 'fire alarms' (which is also a good thing because there are dummies who would switch them off) but even if there were one, the battery back up in each would keep it shrieking.

So after 14 1/2 minutes of shrieking (we couldn't find any fire, smoke, gas, etc.) we called the fire department and they kindly responded, getting to our house about 2 minutes after we called.

And 90 seconds after the 15-minute 'automatic reset' in the alarms shut them off.

Saturday I went to Lowes and bought 8 replacement BRK/First Alert (tm) alarms (and there's a 20% discount if you buy 6 or more, so I paid $15 for each $19 alarm); it took only 30 minutes to switch all of them out because they had matching 'plugs' to connect them to the house.  The alarms 'twist' in and out of the retaining/trim ring, while the new alarm had a different ring, all I did was loosen two screws holding it in, jiggled it out and jiggled in the new ring, tightened it, plugged in the new alarm and twisted it into the new ring.  The hardest part was moving the ladder from alarm to alarm.

So, folks, the bottom line is look at your alarms - if they were made before 2004 you need to replace them.  And consider doing it anyhow if they were made in 2005 or before.You'll sleep better (literally and figuratively)

FOLLOWUP - 4/7/2014. 

Today I got the following email from a friend: 


Yesterday afternoon while my husband and I were enjoying a quiet and relaxation time, all of a sudden the smoke/fire alarms started sounding off all throughout the house.  We both bounded up and went dashing through the house and I was feeling of walls and sniffing.  We have a nice staircase to the attic and I ran up there and there was nothing anywhere.  Well, of course, what did I think but the conversation that we had about something similar happening to you.  I hardwired alarms have been in service about ten and one-half years.  I went to the electrical box and there was a breaker that said “fire alarms”.  I tripped it off and the alarms were still sounding.  I thought good grief what will we do?   My husband is not the least bit mechanically inclined!  AND then it stopped.  I said to him, this is not the end of it.  He got the step ladder and proceeded to tell me we should replace the batteries.  Hummmmmm….not a fix I thought, but I went along with it.

The long and short of it is that they sounded again, and then again.  I determined that the breaker did turn off the electricity to all of them, but the batteries made them still sound off.  Then we removed the newly inserted fresh batteries.   AND then we had silence, but no protection.   We made a quick trip to Lowe’s and bought the six pack you described.  NOW like I said my husband is not the least bit mechanically inclined and certainly not trained in electric matters.  He wouldn’t touch them and he dared me to.  I googled it and I know that it is matter of turning off the juice and connecting the black wire, the white wire, and the red wire and reattaching them – but I was under orders not to touch them. 

FOR NOW, we have the circuit breaker off and the batteries removed.  I have one sole alarm/carbon monoxide unit in the middle of my one-story house and am praying for nothing to happen until we have someone in the house later this week that I think will replace them for us.



Friday, January 24, 2014

(another) Stupid Rule

This is an excerpt from a letter that went to four members of the Virginia General Assembly from my area. The Auxiliary Grant program (which I've commented on before) is a stepchild of "Virginia Hates the Poor and We're Doing it Only Because the Feds Make Us" funding, which means it gets nothing.

I’m court appointed guardian for an individual in assisted living who receives the cruel joke Virginia calls Auxiliary Grant.  This isn’t about the stupidity of the niggardly funding of Auxiliary Grant although, as you can imagine, I am more than willing to discuss that at another time.  Instead I have another problem related to a quirk in the rules.

Auxiliary Grant (AG) funds are to help with Assisted Living Facilities (ALF) charges. A significant percentage of ALF residents are there because they’re disabled – mentally (including drug/alcohol abuse/addiction) or physically (age or other impediment). Many of them have a guardian/conservator appointed for them.  In short, many if not most of the individuals are unable to handle money.

So imagine my surprise when I learned, recently, that Virginia Department of Social Services, Auxiliary Grant Manual, (Volume II, Part III, Chapter J, page 12) states

AG payments are issued by check directly to the individual unless an authorized payee has been designated. If an authorized payee has been designated, the check shall be issued to the authorized payee. An authorized payee may be the individual's court appointed conservator or guardian or the person with a valid power of attorney with the authority to accept funds on behalf of the individual. It is the individual’s or the individual’s payee’s responsibility to use the money to pay the ALF/AFCH. The check cannot be issued in the name of the facility or home.
While I’ve acted as guardian for many people for many years, this is the first I knew that AG payments could NOT be payable to the ALF.  I find no logic for it.

My specific problem is that “Jane” for whom I act as guardian lives in an ALF. Her income totals 741.00/month (2014) between Social Security and SSI benefits; because she receives SSI she also automatically receives Medicaid and AG.  The Roanoke City DSS (through the Department of Finance) routinely sends AG payments, BUT THEY ARE PAYABLE DIRECTLY TO JANE who has been declared incompetent. Somehow, at the ALF, because the checks were addressed and mailed to her, she got the checks, cashed them and spent the money – she doesn’t know any better – and her rent is unpaid.

Now the ALF is demanding $2420.00 because (a) they didn’t intercept the checks (which they have done in the past) and (b) the checks invited the abuse by how they were written.

I have asked that the legislators from my area contact Commissioner Shultze at Virginia DSS and ask her to fix the abject stupidity of the manual and let AG funds for an ALF be paid to the ALF directly. At least require AG funds be paid to the Guardian/Conservator where one is appointed, although why we would have to ‘launder’ the funds is beyond me. (however if that’s the way it is, I’ll take a 5% fee as fiduciary for doing so!)


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Embarrassing Disgrace - update

Sometimes being obstinate pays off.

I just got a call from Catawba -- they found some 'discharge assistance money' and a facility with a good track record working with the patients.  No, it's not assisted living, it's a nursing home with stable and trained staff.  I've had other residents there (and an elderly relative who was there many years ago) and have a lot of respect for the owner and staff.

Unfortunately the underlying problem still exists:  Auxiliary Grant is still a cruel joke.  The result I got is in part because I had the power of a court order granting me authority. Many people don't, and don't know how to argue.

Friday, August 16, 2013

An embarrassing disgrace

Embarrassing because I'm a citizen of the Commonwealth of Virginia which perpetuates the disgrace.

A disgrace because of the cruelty Virginia inflicts on its impoverished aged and vulnerable residents.

Everyone is familiar with Nursing Homes - at least the concept of them.  To be in a nursing home you must need assistance and meet the criteria as measured on a "Uniform Assessment Instrument" which you can find here:‎.

But there are people who need help but do not meet the criteria for nursing home level of care. There's an intermediate step called Assisted Living  (AL). People who have money can go to a private pay facility and those are very nice.  And expensive (about 60% of the private pay nursing home rate by my observation).

If you don't have money but only 'qualify' for AL?  Well, Virginia says it'll help, and if $1196.00 per month (eff. 7/1/2013) is "help" then, maybe, it does. For 1197 compensation per month (1375/month in planning district 8 -- 'occupied Virginia' next to DC), an AL agrees to house, supervise, feed, entertain, insure, take to doctor appointments, develop a 'plan of care' individualized to each resident and put it in place, have trained and licensed staff (24/7) to do so, and so on.

It cannot be done. Those properties that have almost only "Aux Grant" residents are horrible - not their fault as they can't afford to do any better. The problem is statewide -- see this Daily Press (Hampton VA) article from October 2012, --here--

I am guardian for a number of individuals. About a year or so ago I began refusing to consent to Assisted Living placement if the individual was in a better place.  Two of the people I am now guardian for are at Catawba Hospital - a psychiatric facility owned and operated by Virginia which charges over $1000.00 a day - more if the room is padded. If the people can't afford to pay (the usual course) the state eats it. So the goal is to get them out as soon as possible. And if they have a guardian, the guardian has to consent to placement.  My two people are ready for discharge - to Assisted Living with Auxiliary Grant.  They're in a better place at Catawba than in ANY AL/AG facility, so I'm not consenting.

Yes, I'm costing Virginia $1000 a day (per person!) because the General Assembly is too damned stupid to recognize the need and increase the Auxiliary Grant to a reasonable level. The Auxiliary Grant has not kept up with the costs of care - especially considering that more and more regulations are piled on the AL facility without any funds to pay for it.  According to the Daily Press article linked above, there were 166 patients in Virginia Mental Health Hospitals with this problem as of October, 2012.

I just got off the phone with someone trying to place one of my Catawba patients.  That person is very competent and very good at her job. I told her my position and I don't care who knows it (thus this blog). I told her she's welcome to tell the upper food chain my position and my pleasure at getting back at Virginia for its disgraceful "Aux Grant" program by costing the state many times what they should pay each month by refusing placement. I dare them to call me.  I dare the Governor to call me.

As a guardian I have to advocate for what's best for my wards.  In my opinion the Auxiliary Grant program is the worst for them - it is instead a Cruel Joke (to borrow a phrase from former Gov. Mills Godwin) and won't happen on my watch. The two individuals are safer and better cared for where they are now than in Assisted Living, and unless Virginia comes up with reasonable money for their care, they're gonna stay there.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Lusting . . .

This story goes back nearly 40 years - when Jimmy Carter was running for President of the US.  (as an aside, in my opinion he was probably one of the most honest modern presidents we've had but also one of the most ineffective).  Jimmy had done a "Playboy" interview which was widely discussed.

"Playboy" magazine actually had good cultural content and for a time the "Playboy Interview" enjoyed a remarkably strong reputation. 

Anyhow, in 1976 I was at a lunch table with a bunch of lawyers, judges, business folks, etc. and Jimmy's interview was the animated topic.  In it Jimmy admitted to having "Lusted in his heart" a few times. Just as we were discussing the "Lust" line, a blonde bombshell walked past our table - red dress (short, of course), cleavage, heels, etc. and the talk died down while male eyes watched the spectacle. 

After a few moments of silence, one of the group drawled, "Speaking of Lust:  put me down for two regular and one un-natural".

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Talkative Worms

Years ago I served as the first citizen member of the Virginia Board of Medicine. (lawyers got citizenship rights that year!) and we had a crazy trying to get his license back.

As part of his "evidence" of what he'd been doing while not practicing his craft he submitted essays (these days they would be blogs) he'd written about various subjects. One of the essays referred to lawyers as "Pedantic Nematodes".

 To the amusement of the rest of the Board and staff, (and going way over the head of the still-unlicensed individual) I immediately put the initials "PN" at the end of my nameplate.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Appendicits (2001 replay)

Twelve years ago I got hit with major appendicitis and had to have it removed.  After it was over, I decided to "sue" the weasly thing, and got my good friend Hoot-N-Owl to represent me.  In going through stuff I found a copy of the complaint and here it is. I've edited it to disguise somewhat the real names of  a bunch of individuals who chipped in to help.  Those that recognize yourselves, thank you again!


V I R G I N I A:





COMES NOW Ross C. Hart, by Hoot N. Owl, counsel, and represents as follows:

1) On, about, or within nine months of MMDDYY, Ross C. Hart and his appendix were joined together, and remained together in apparently harmonious relationship for over 50 years.
2) During the early years of the relationship Ross C. Hart did the usual thing for his age: attended school, went to the principals' office, annoyed his parents, and so forth. The appendix, as a vestigial organ of undetermined value did nothing to interfere with those functions.
3) During Ross' second decade, as he discovered the fairer half of the species and made crude attempts to impress them, the appendix continued to stand by.
4) The appendix similarly kept to itself during the next three decades not even getting involved at the time Ross' right kidney, in an inexcusable fit of rage, stoned Ross.
5) At no time during this relationship did Ross abuse, coerce, hinder, constrain or interfere with the appendix in any way; in fact Ross went to great effort to ensure that it was well fed and enjoyed various beverages supplied in appropriate (by Ross’ standards) moderation.
6) The foregoing relationship ended abruptly in the City of Salem, Virginia, on the morning of April 18, 2001, when the aforesaid appendix, with malice aforethought, intentionally began interfering with the normal functions of the remaining organs of Ross C. Hart. More specifically, the appendix:
a) Began causing pain around 4:00 AM, but disguised the pain as a pulled muscle
b) Increased the amount of pain such that at 6:30 AM Ross C. Hart was forced to awaken his sleeping wife (the pain of awakening her then being less severe than the pain then being caused by the appendix)
7) The aforesaid wife having excellent medical skills honed as an Emergency Medical Technician, began an examination of Ross C. Hart, which examination, as loving and gentle as it could be, caused increased pain.
8) Said wife then called Dr. K, Ross' primary care physician (being formerly known as "Dr. Quinn") who immediately scheduled an office visit for later that same morning.
9) During said office visit, Medicine Woman performed various tests, some causing additional pain, and announced that a blood test had an extremely high white cell count of 17000, and (realizing Ross hadn't cracked a single joke in over 45 minutes) stated that Ross "had all the 'good' signs of appendicitis" ('good' later changed to 'classic' as there are no 'good' signs of appendicitis)
10) Ross was immediately dispatched to the emergency room, and Dr. K called ahead so that they would be expecting him. Unfortunately, Dr. K called Roanoke Memorial, and his wife thought the doctor had said Lewis Gale.
11) Ross and his wife then arrived at the Lewis Gale ER which was not expecting them, and they looked up with blank stares when the supposed call was referred to.
12) Nevertheless, upon being given a summary of the office visit, the Lewis Gale ER accepted Ross as a patient, made him put on the too small uniform patients are required to endure, and which have too much air hitting the posterior. Ross was then placed in a cold room to wait. And Wait.
13) A surgeon was contacted and a Dr. Al appeared and described himself to be the 'quack on call'.
14) At some time during this, Trigon Blue Cross BS (ever notice the last two initials of Blue Cross is “BS”?) was contacted and did confirm appropriate insurance coverage.
15) Dr. Al and the nice, kind, anesthesiologist (with those drugs, the name is forgotten!) discussed the various ways Ross could die during the "routine" operation, and then obtained his consent for the operation.
16) The next thing Ross remembers is awakening several hours later without the pain experienced earlier in the day, but with other pains and some interesting scars on his belly (interesting only if you're a Steven King fan)
17) Dr. Al later advised that the surgery was laproscopic, in which neat little tubes are inserted through several incisions in the belly, air is pumped into the wall, and the tubes moved to the appendix. The appendix was found to be gangrenous and really nasty, and was therefore removed immediately. Upon closing the various incisions, an incidental repair was made to a hernia in the area of the 'belly button'.
18) During the night after the operation nurses kept entering the room Ross was given to give medicine to help him sleep, to control his pain, and to take temperature and blood pressure every half hour. Therefore Ross did not sleep well that night.
19) At breakfast time Ross was greeted with bullion and a popsicle (isn't ice cream for tonsils?) but fortunately the meals got better as the day progressed.
20) Ross was then discharged from the hospital around noon, April 20, 2001, and after a short rest at home with some abdominal discomfort (similar to doing about 1000 sit-ups at one time), low grade fever, and some pretty good drugs, he returned to his office to continue whatever the hell he does.
WHEREFORE, Ross C. Hart, by counsel, moves that this Court--
A. Condemn the appendix t an eternity in the theological place of eternal punishment with all other bad appendices;
B. Thank all those who helped out, visited, or otherwise expressed their concern, to wit:
1 A& J and then DF for keeping the kids the first day, PQ for picking them up and bringing them to the hospital and A and H for taking time from their spring break to watch them the second day.
2 Donna Jarrells, Ross' legal assistant, who rose to the occasion and made various arrangements to deal with Ross' schedule and generally ran the office more efficiently than if Ross were there.
3 The Rev. T.V. who, being informed of the situation (and having some other folks from the parish in the hospital) gave up a vacation day and showed up at the hospital in his uniform. Also MO, St. Paul's Parish missioner, who visited and called.
4 PQ, again, for jumping in to a rezoning hearing not having done one before, and obtaining a unanimous vote in favor of the rezoning, then visiting to describe how it went.
5 JM for covering those matters on Friday that could not be put off, and in particular for helping Donna deal with the payees.
6 Dr. Al for doing a wonderful job, having an excellent bedside manner and sense of humor, and being able to put the patient at ease and explain things so even a lawyer could understand them.
7 The nurses and staff at Lewis Gale Hospital for their excellent care.
8 The Business Office at Lewis Gale Hospital AND Lewis Gale Clinic for NOT messing up the bill.
9 The kids for behaving incredibly well with those who watched over them during the ordeal.
C. Take such other action as appropriate.

Ross C. Hart
By: Hoot N. Owl, Esquire pq (Mill Mtn Bar # 3)
Third Cage on the Left
Mill Mountain Zoo
Roanoke, Virginia

Monday, February 18, 2013

How to Help the Post Ofice

Just received more junk mail.  Actually I get a LOT of junk mail given my estate/guardianship work and the fact that I have a lot of decedents'/wards' mail forwarded to my office. Usually we just toss it.

However one caught my eye, even more so given that they had a 'postage paid business reply thing' enclosed. 

As I understand it, the post office charges more for Business Reply mail than usual because of their extra handling.

And the Post Office has serious financial problems, due in part to the stupid Congress. (Aren't "Stupid" and "Congress" are redundant terms?) and due in part to a lot more email instead of snail mail. 

So to help the Post Office we need to send more snail mail.

And business reply envelopes are snail mail.

So I helped the Post Office revenues.  And even put a note on the envelope thanking the sender for helping the Post Office in it's fiscal difficulties.

If we all did this . . . .

Sunday, January 20, 2013

More Borg fun

Ya gotta be a StarTrek - The Next Generation fan to understand this one . . .

I'm a member of a group of lawyers who use a "Listserv" which is an email blast to others who choose to subscribe. I am - probably - overactive on the listserv.

I used the term "Borg" to refer to WellsFargo and Bank of America (who have an unfortunately large presence in Virginia).

It seems to have caught on. 

It started with my question:
I've got to go get info from one of the Borg and am anticipating the usual crap. 
and I continued with a suggestion of how I might annoy and try to get the attention of the Borg and invited comments. [I'm not including the suggestion here as it involves lawyer-client privilege]
One of the founders of our group said:
Since we’re using ST TNG vernacular, I say “make it so!"   to my suggestion. 

Another member chimed in with 
I don't know Ross, you might need to start with President and CEO of Borg Bank, N.A. and then require that the Bank provide you with appropriate organizational documents verifying which Borg officers in Virginia have authority to speak on the collective's behalf.  Until they provide you with that information, you can tell them that only the President and CEO can talk to you.
which I think is a good tactic . . .

Another member -- responding to the seriousness of the problem -- mentioned a fairly high up contact or two she has at WellsBorgo (did I just coin another phrase?  is that like "Borg of America"? ) and suggested a meeting with the state chapter to discuss communication problems with that collective. 

There were a number of comments very supportive of a meeting and one is in the process of being organized. We've even picked a spokesperson/moderator for the meeting; and one of the comments about picking an  emissary was: 

I think [Irving] would be a great representative for the Federation, if he's willing . 

Irving is willing.  With that news, our group's leader said:

Thanks Irving -- I guess that makes you the leader of the landing party into the BORG hive.  The rest of us will back you up with our phasers set to stun.   Unfortunately, if you remember the actual landing parties that entered a BORG hive ship, they were completely ignored by the Collective as irrelevant unless and until a member of the landing party started vaporizing the BORG drones.  I am afraid that we will be treated the same – ignored unless and until we start doing some real damage to the bank.

I still think, as I thought years ago, that the only way to get the attention of the BORG is to organize and publicize a formal boycott of the bank, where every member of [our group] advised every one of our respective clients to avoid using the BORG bank and we put out a press release to this effect and actually try to get some real publicity (such as TV and radio coverage around the state) of how bad the BORG is.  Only then, I think, is there any chance that they will actually care about what we say.

My response to the group's leader:
You're a real Trekkie!  Perfect analogy and I agree totally.     
(doing Picard's finger thing . . . ) "Engage!"
Of course, for years I've been discouraging my clients and friends and readers from opening or keeping an account at WellsBorgo [and Borg of America]. And withdrawn every penny I could.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Big Bank Borg

Just got a list-serv email from a colleague who had a headache with Wells Fargo.  (It, along with Bank of America is among the worst financial institutions to deal with) And "Headache" and "Wells Fargo" are kinda redundant terms.

In my colleague's words:

A sister qualified to administer her brother’s estate.  Then she went to Wells Fargo, his bank, and was told that she would need a court order to access his funds.  She successfully opened an estate account at Wells and attempted to deposit several checks, including his final paycheck.  Wells refused to accept the deposit until she had obtained a court order. 

Inspired by the creativity coming out of Salem, I sought and followed Ross’ suggestion – sue a bank and it will come calling.  I filed a Warrant in Debt and listed the claim as “Failure to permit court-appointed Administrator access to decedent's property, including, but not limited to, bank accounts, safe deposit boxes, credit cards, etc.  See attached Certificate of Qualification and death certificate.”  Lo and behold, I got a call from the legal department at Wells Fargo today.

That post inspired a few comments, one being that with the flies at that bank, honey doesn't work and you gotta use vinegar. I then observed that their Borg Assimilated Mentality chokes getting things done. Star Trek - Next Gen. fans will understand the reference, if you don't, click the link.

But this inspired an idea:   Maybe "Borg"  could be a good code word for 'too big for their britches and incapable of dealing intelligently with . . . (whatever)'  AS IN:  "had to deal with the Borg at WF"   Yeah, you gotta be a (old) trekkie to appreciate it.

.olleague then posted on a group list-serv that "Creative Salem 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Attaboy for Verizon

We fuss and moan about the lack of service from big corporations.  Y’all certainly have seen me fuss and complain about banks. (No, they’re not any better).  I’ve always felt that if you complain when things go wrong, when something is done ‘beyond’ what you expect, you should give credit.

I know a lot of people have problems with Verizon.  I haven’t exactly had smooth sailing. But today I had a Verizon experience that was great.

I went into the office today – Sunday – to do some work.  My internet connection was down – DSL through my Fax line.  I checked further and found that there wasn’t a dial tone on the line either. I did a little trouble shooting on this end to make sure nothing in the building caused the problem. After eliminating that, I called and got the computer. 

Verizon’s computer response system has a lot of limitations, but in the instance of ‘no dial tone’ it walked me through the steps (which I had already done, so I responded accordingly) and then scheduled an appointment for Monday “between 8 AM and 7 PM”.  I can live with next day.

But I didn’t have to wait!

About 45 minutes later someone banged on my back door. I looked and saw a Verizon truck in my parking lot.  It was the repair guy (who had been here before) who saw the repair order and my car in the parking lot.

He checked the line inside; went out and checked the pole and found that my line was cut – accidentally – by someone else who went up the pole to fix someone else’s problem.  He repaired the cut and did a few other things to enhance the DSL signal to the office.

The fax and DSL line now works – even better than before. And on a Sunday.

Thank you, Verizon.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Government stupidity

Government stupidity. 

Yeah, those two words are redundant.  But here’s a TRUE story.

Many years ago Puffuffnick owned property, went belly up in a spectacular way, both financially and personally. His executor was left trying to clean up the mess.

One of his properties was needed for a local government project, and the local government offered a very good premium price for the property.  Unfortunately Puffuffnick had some IRS problems – they had put a lien on his real estate and that had to be paid off as part of the closing.

Simple:  ask the IRS for a payoff or their agreement to release the subject property on payment of all proceeds, right? 

Nah.  For two months a bunch of lawyers tried to get the IRS to simply acknowledge the request. No luck.

So Puffuffnick’s estate sued, in US District Court:   Estate of Puffuffnick vs IRS.  The suit said, simply, “Judge: we own this property and the IRS has a lien on it.  We’ve sold it and we want to either pay them off or have them agree that they get all the money and will release the lien. Make them answer us”.  

This sets in motion the typical government response:  “Motion to dismiss because you can’t sue the government”.  And they fly a lawyer to Roanoke from DC to appear before the Hon. James Turk to get the thing dismissed.  The hearing went sorta like this:

JUDGE:  Mr. Government, it seems that the Puffuffnick Estate wants to pay money to the IRS.
GOVERNMENT:  Judge, you can’t sue the government.  We want the money, but you can’t sue the government and this case needs to be dismissed.
JUDGE:  Well, why don’t you simply agree to release the lien and they send you the money.
GOVERNMENT:  That has to go through channels.
JUDGE:  They’ve tried that for months and no one’s giving them any answer.  They need to get this deal closed.
GOVERNMENT:  You can’t sue the government.
JUDGE:  Well, isn’t the sale for a fair price?
GOVERNMENT:  Yes it is for a very good price, but you can’t sue the government.
JUDGE:  So if the Government sued and this purchaser offered this money, the government would take the money and agree to it?
GOVERNMENT:  Yes, but you can’t sue the government.
JUDGE: So you can’t sue the government but the government can sue Puffuffnick’s Estate?
GOVERNMENT:  That’s correct, sir.
JUDGE:  Fine.  Take this complaint and go to the US Attorney’s office on the next floor; they’ve got white out and typewriters.  Put IRS as plaintiff where it has Puffuffnick as plaintiff, and Puffuffnick as defendant instead of IRS.  I’ll then enter the order approving the sale, release of the lien and payment of proceeds to the IRS.
GOVERNMENT:   But . . . um . . . sir . . . um . . .
JUDGE:  I suggest you git up there now.
GOVERNMENT:  yes sir.

And so it was done.  And the next day the Roanoke Times headline read:  “Government gets judgment against Puffuffnick Estate”.

You can’t make it up, can you?

Thursday, July 19, 2012


We all get 'em.  The messages from sonovabitch's in Africa (or elsewhere) that they've got a thousand million dollars unclaimed and want our help in getting it out of the country.  Got one today in my spamfilter, purporting to be from Spain.  It's below, between the =$=$ lines;  I'll point out the 'FAIL' part afterwards:


Dear Friend,
My name is Mr. Aaron Bradley, the financial controller at Caixa Bank (Main Branch) in Madrid, Spain, and I am getting in touch with you regarding a business deal worth €92,000,000.00 Million Euro in my control which will be executed under a legitimate arrangement.
I am contacting you independently and will intimate you more about myself and details of the project if and when I receive your response. Kindly get back to me if you are interested in partnering with me on this project with your mobile number.
Mr. Aaron Bradley
This message has been scanned for viruses and dangerous content by MailScanner, and is believed to be clean.
The University of Nairobi is committed to providing quality services to all its clients. The University will monitor and review its quality performance from time to time through an effective implementation of the Quality Management System based on ISO 9001:2008 standard.
University of Nairobi Website:


FAIL:  Since when does the Ciaxa Bank in Madrid Spain use email through the University of Nairobi  (Kenya) servers? Too transparent.


Saturday, June 9, 2012

Learning from mistakes

As part of my elder-law practice, I subscribe to several 'list-serv' groups and learn from experiences of others.  On one recently was a question about whether someone was competent to grant a power of attorney.  It brought back a painful memory, which I related to the list-serv and copy here.  The more that can learn from my experience, the better.  The post:

Sometimes we learn the hard way. A personal experience.

Years ago in the early days of my career a couple came to see me with their daughter. There was discussion of a power of attorney and the growing disability of the parents to cope with their day to day needs. I 'helped' the daughter talk the parents into granting her agency through a power of attorney.

Six months later I got drafted by the Court (on petition of Social Services) to become guardian for these same parents as the daughter had fairly well cleaned them out. All money was gone, there was an equity line mortgage on their -- previously -- paid for house, that money spent also. She had let a drug dealer 'borrow' their car and he refused to voluntarily give it back. I had to place the people in an Assisted Living Facility and sell the house. (The Court also entered a $65,000.00 judgment against her for defalcation)

The husband -- by now in full blown dementia -- was aware enough that he knew he was going to lose the home he had worked very hard to buy and pay for. He stopped eating. He stopped drinking any fluid. He actually willed himself to die and did. The mother lived on for another few years in Assisted Living.

I never want to repeat that experience or lose sleep that way again.

If it's marginal, then I don't do it.

When I draft a power of attorney, it must be signed in my office and I must meet with both the principal and agent(s). I go over the rules governing POA's and was the first lawyer in my area to give the agents 'rules' to govern their actions under a POA. You can find them here. In my opinion, drafting a power of attorney and NOT giving instructions/rules is malpractice.

Frequently a doctor sees and evaluates individuals for a brief interval, some don't even do a 'mini mental' test. To really evaluate takes a specialized approach - in the Roanoke area we have the Center for Healthy Aging, part of Carilion Clinic. Doctors also do not understand the legal standards and implications of 'competency' unless it's for purpose of consenting to treatment (and even that can be dicey). When I started practice, a doctor's evaluation was a one-sentence letter that said "Irving Puffuffnick has been examined by me and needs a guardian". Now we have a checklist of things the doctor must address in his report.

We are part of the checks-and-balances in the system trying to protect feeble senior citizens.

Trust your gut.

If you suspect someone's taking advantage of a disabled individual, let Adult Protective Services know; contact (other) family members, call the police, contact a lawyer.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

An Attaboy

Last fall my daughter had a procedure done at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital. It went fine, but that's not what I'm writing about.

While I was there I was impressed by the courtesy and friendliness of every staff member I met.  They truly wanted to make my 'experience' in the hospital (even as a visitor) good.  Even the orderlies (or whatever they're called these days) had a friendly demeanor and bantered nicely with the patients and their families.

I can't recall any time this wasn't the case -- when I was having trouble with various pebbles in my kidneys, or visiting clients, I've found the staff to be helpful and friendly.

It starts from the top.  In my years I've learned that the front line folks reflect the way management and top echelon approach their work and those who work for them.  It seems that the top management of Carilion gets it, and my hat's off to them.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Could you explain . . . ?

I heard this story from another Councilman who was there.
Around 40 years ago Roanoke City was in an annexation battle with Roanoke County. One day Roanoke City Council decided to appropriate something for pensions.  The City's (then) director of finance told Council "You shouldn't have done this; you have bankrupt the City".  A week later he testified in the annexation trial and as to the City's finances said "Roanoke City is in wonderful financial condition. Revenues are strong and expenditures are under control.  There are not any financial problems".
Next meeting a Councilman put on the agenda a "personnel matter" and council went into closed session.  In that session the Councilman reminded the Director of Finance of both statements, and asked "All I want to know is,  Which time were you lying".
Probably a good question for today's politicians. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Another Wells Fargo story . . .

As if there weren’t enough reasons to stay away from Wells Fargo Bank, here’s another.

There was a brief article in the Thursday, March 15, 2012, edition of The Roanoke Times about some guy getting sentenced for identity theft. It seems that in 2010, Wachovia Bank (then owned by Wells Fargo; now actually called Wells Fargo) sent someone else’s social security number to the criminal who used it to open a bunch of accounts and charged at least $11,000.00. The Roanoke Times article

Excerpts from the story:

[The Victim] had a terrible time straightening out the credit history and Social Security information, but that is under way,” [the prosecuting attorney] said of the victim during the hearing.

[The Judge] asked [the prosecutor] whether [Wells Fargo] had been approached about the mistake, and whether the bank was willing to “step up to the plate” and help with a resolution to the matter.

“We suggested that but were soundly rebuffed,” [the prosecutor] said.

We all make mistakes;  I certainly have and probably more than my share. But when you make a mistake, you help fix it. If you’re honorable. If you care about people and your customers. If you’re NOT Wells Fargo.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Citizenship qualifications

The Christian Science Monitor has an on line Citizenship test which those immigrants who wish to become citizens must pass (58 out of 96 questions). You can find it here:  Citizenship Test

Yeah, I passed with 94 of 96 (over-thought two questions).

This reminded me of when I taught a night course in Government at a local proprietary business school. On the first night I wanted to know the base line of the students, a mix of just-graduated from high school to been in the real world for a while.

The results were abysmal.  (That's worse than horrible). As I recall the highest score was 85% (naming elected folks was the toughest question). The lowest was one correct answer.  Mr. Porterfield (my High School Government teacher at PH) would have been horrified.

Here's that test:

Your name is optional:                        

US Government    Instructor:  Ross C. Hart, JD
September 14, 1998

The purpose of this quiz is to see how much you know about the government so I can better plan the course materials.  It will not count against you, however those students who are brave enough to put their name on it and who answer all questions perfectly will not have to take the first test.

1. Name the three constitutional branches of the Federal Government.
2. What are the two halves of Congress?  How many members in each half?
3. How many years do members of each half of Congress serve before re-election?  How many terms can they serve?
4. Where in the Constitution is the “Bill of Rights” found?
5. Which amendment protects private property from being taken by the Government without due process?
6. Which amendment protects the right to petition the government?
7. What part of the Federal Government “has the sole power of impeachment”.  What part of the Federal Government can try an impeachment?[NOTE:  this was around the time Clinton got a "Lewinsky" so impeachment was in the news]
8. Are you registered to vote?  If not, why not?
9. What City or County do you live in?  Who is your Congressional Representative?
10. Name all the Virginia members of the U.S. Senate.
11. How many justices are on the highest Court in the United States?  How long is their term of office?