Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Agreeable disagreement

Wednesdays at noon, a bunch of lawyers have lunch at Mac-n-Bob’s restaurant in Salem.  Nothing formal, just lawyers trading stories, talking politics, sports, junk and running theories/cases past each other. It is an opportunity for an informal exchange of ideas and camaraderie. I consider anything of substance discussed at lunch to be off the record. No matter who you are, you’ve got to be able to unwind, speak freely without worrying about someone accusing you of whatever. (Good jokes or one-liners, however, are fair game.)

Attendees are personal injury lawyers, criminal defense lawyers, judges from every level of court that sits in Virginia, niche lawyers (we have an immigration attorney; I do elder-law) and so forth.  I look forward to learning something each week.

Occasionally we get a distinguished visitor:  Appellate judges from out of the area (Chief Justice Hassell, Supreme Court of Virginia for one), members of Congress, Federal judges, and so forth. Today I was surprised to have the Hon. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, II, Attorney General of Virginia, join the table for lunch.

Historically, I’ve been a Democrat, fiscally conservative but a Democrat. It’s been 15 or more years since I was ‘active’ in party politics, and there have been times I’ve been less than happy with the party.  Mr. Cuccinelli is a Republican – and a conservative Republican at that. Naturally, being me, I introduced myself as the “former chair of the Salem Democratic Party”. We had a good laugh at that.

I came away from lunch liking and respecting the guy.  A helluva lot more than I did before I met and talked to him.  Our Attorney General has a wicked sense of humor and takes as good as he gives. The kind of guy you’d enjoy putting your feet up and drinking a beer (or a Mint Julep) with.

Our philosophies are different and I disagree with a number of the actions – or maybe the reasons behind the actions – he’s taking. The Health Reform law that was bludgeoned through Congress last year is one, and I agree that there are dangerous components of it.  The Health Care system is broken – at least as far as paying for care is concerned, and the Health Reform law attempted to fix it. Our Attorney General is trying to get the whole law thrown out, based on dangerous intrusion to constitutional freedoms as much as anything else. I could write volumes on the Health Care issue (remember, I served 9 years as a ‘Citizen’ member of the Virginia Board of Medicine), but that’s not the point here.

Ken’s (yeah, we all got on first name basis) attack is in good faith, and not just because of politics. Strategy was discussed – and while I don’t think anything he said is a big secret, lunch table discussion is off the record – and the strategy has a strong chance of working.  Even more important is that he wanted comments from us – he wanted to listen, especially if someone – respectfully – disagreed with him. The two of us agreed that listening with an open mind to someone with a different point of view forces us to examine our beliefs and test their validity.

I may not agree with him, but I disagree less. If we run into each other at a watering hole, I’ll buy the first round and look forward to an enjoyable conversation.