Friday, January 30, 2009

Contracts - Yellow Pages & others

It’s phonebook season. That time of the year when we are flooded with phonebooks from everyone who can suck advertisers into paying for the yellow page ads. I think I’ve received three or four, so far; generally I throw them away or recycle them. These ‘wannabe’ phone books try to beat the ‘official’ (i.e., Verizon in this area) phone book to the punch by being a month or two earlier.

As a business, I’m a Yellow Pages advertiser. I’ll advertise, some, in the ‘official’ version and it’s time to do the renewal. No changes, except 2 or 3 years ago the “phone company” spun off its telephone directory (Yellow Page) business into another company. And they sent a two page contract, with 22 numbered paragraphs in 8 point type for me to sign blindly – NOT!.

I’m a lawyer. (duh!) I read contracts before I sign them. My (then) wife was in the delivery room in hard labor hatching one of my kids, and I’m reading the fine print in the admission agreement. I’m in kidney-stone-induced-pain at the hospital (Read “Ballast”) and I’m reading the freaking contract. And editing it. And don’t get me started on Nursing Home Admission contracts (if you're not careful you could sign your personal life away to admit Mom!)

So, no surprise, I read the 22 paragraphs. And tinkered with it, striking out or changing stuff like.
  • ‘automatic renewal’ – if I want to renew for another year, I’ll let you know. Struck.
  • ‘late charges’ – general principals. Struck.
  • Collection costs and attorneys fees: Nah.
  • Waiver of Jury Trial – Hell no.
  • Compulsory Arbitration – Hell Hell No!
  • Governing Law is Texas: HELLO!! I’m in Virginia. The phone book is distributed in Virginia. They’re DOING BUSINESS in Virginia. (The irony is that Virginia law probably favors the fools more than Texas law.)

I left in a bunch of stuff that protects them and makes any claim I could dream up worthless. They’re gonna get a paltry $2400.00 for my year of advertising (at $200.00 per month) so it’s not a big deal to me and certainly not to them. Of course the rep called about the ‘changes to the agreement’ and wants me to call her back.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

You know you're getting old when . . .

Susan and I decided to make Chili and Cornbread, sit by the fire and watch TV today. Great Sunday activity.

My chili recipe includes beer and frozen cut okra. We needed some ingredients and so off to the store we went.

At checkout, with the beer, the clerk was running them through and of course there was the extra beep when the beer went across the scanner. The running total sign asked "Customer over 40?". Usually at this point cashiers are supposed to ask for an ID. I'm at the point of being flattered to be thought of that young. I've been known to respond "Bless you, child" or sometimes "Bless you, GrandChild".

Not today. The cashier didn't even blink but punched 'yes'.


Sunday, January 11, 2009


The word "Tidy" has never been part of descriptors used of me. Never.

I can hear the guffaws now.

George Carlin called it "Stuff". I've got a lot of Stuff. And I don't put my stuff where it should be all the time.

I like to think I'm better than I used to be - about putting stuff away, that is. I think it's an age defense thing; it's getting harder to remember where I left stuff so in self defense for the future it gets closer to where it belongs.

Sunday I was looking for something in my workshop (talk about the opposite of tidy!) and I KNOW it's in there. Somewhere.

Growing up, I marveled at my father's collection of stuff in his workshop. Stuff he had no use for, but might need it someday. And my (then) wife's grandfather died and we were going through his workshop and a lot of the same type of stuff was there. You know, old parts from electric fixtures; old plumbing faucets and so forth, parts from things broken that "might be useful someday".

Now that I'm in the middle-age 'plus' group I'm afraid I've got both of them beat.

And have a hard time finding any of it.

Friday, January 9, 2009

I'd rather be his Friend

Yesterday I attended the graveside service of a gentleman (I’ll call him “Jim”) for whom I’ve been guardian – and conservator – for several years. It was chilly and windy, and like a fool I left my overcoat at the office.

But the service was one of the nicest I’ve been to for years. The minister spoke and did his thing, then several of his friends spoke. I learned a lot about Jim I had never known. I wish I'd gotten to know him 'in the day'.

I do a lot of guardianship work – I act as a ‘guardian of last resort’ in many instances and currently am guardian for a number of elder people who have no one to watch out for them. Many of these people have Alzheimer’s type dementia; some have been in an accident and suffer brain injury; Jim drank and pickled his brain, and could no longer care for himself. Someone had to help and take action Jim would not like and to which he would object.

But Jim was very lucky and blessed – he had friends. Friends who visited him regularly in the nursing home. Friends who took him to lunch. Friends who brought him cigarettes. Friends who cared and remembered the good days.
At the hearing when I was appointed Guardian for Jim, one of his his longtime friends and his attorney appeared and testified about why he thought Jim needed a guardian. The judge asked “Would you like to be the Guardian?”

“No sir, I’d rather be his friend”.

May we all be blessed with friends who care as much as Jim’s did.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


A week before Thanksgiving I awoke around 5 AM to a pain. I thought it was indigestion or something.

But it got worse. Around 7 or so Allyson wanted to know where I was; I told her I felt bad – something hurt. Allyson called Shannon; Shannon later came over and ended up taking me to the Carilion ER.

After a bunch of poking and prodding, and a few x-ray pictures, we figured out it was a kidney stone.

It wasn’t my first kidney stone – I’d had one “two wives ago” as I told the ER Doc. Um, make that about 25 years ago. That first one was excruciating. Incredible. This one, on the other hand, was merely painful as hell. It went away – partly with simple Tylenol™

So the ‘imaging’ showed I’ve got kidney stones. Enough for a small parking lot. It also showed Gallstones. Ouch.

I went on home, made appointment with my urologist, primary doc, and started reading up on the durn things.

One Sunday evening about ten days later I told Allyson I felt another stone coming on and helped her get to bed early, just in case. It came; was painful but I toughed it out, and it dissipated about 2 so I could get some sleep. At 3 AM it’s brother decided to come out. Susan came over and took me to the ER this time and Shannon came to help Allyson. I ended up having Lithotripsy about 10 days after that to break up the stone hanging in my ureter (the tube between kidney and bladder). The remaining stones will have to be taken out a hard way (there are several methods) as they’re too big to ‘pass’.

At church Sunday I was talking to a friend (with whom I share initials) who had his gallbladder taken out a few weeks ago. We were discussing respective ailments, and were joined by other midlife-plus folks. After a few minutes I commented, to universal agreement, “Hey, we’re getting to be old farts. We aren’t discussing girls, sports, cars, children or grandchildren. We’re discussing ailments and the doctors we see. This is ridiculous!”

Let’s see now: Kidney Stones. Gallstones. Rocks in my head. I feel like Ballast.

Gee, being ‘stoned’ has taken on a different meaning than in my youth.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Public Service

[Note: the following is a letter I sent to the Virginia Bar News and was published July, 2008]

Last year I received one of four “Pro Bono” awards given by the Virginia State Bar for volunteering 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.