Annie Conley: 2012-2020

  “Nobody can fully understand the meaning of love unless he’s owned a dog. A dog can show you more honest affection with a flick of his tail than a man can gather through a lifetime of handshakes.” – Gene Hill

I last wrote about my life with dogs eight years ago.  It was shortly after the passing of our beloved beagle, Kramer, who was the third dog in our married life (at that time nearly 35 years).  As I wrote then, we had been for some time a two-dog family, an older and a younger.  So, after Kramer, we still had Nellie, then a six-year-old lab mix.  I said at the time it was a tribute to the others that I continued to search for a dog number two to supplement Nellie.

That was before Annie, and I return to the subject for the first time in eight years.  Annie, another beagle, descended on us a few months after my last piece, like a hurricane in October.  She was one of triplets from a pet rescue, and upon her arrival the peace we had, nearly empty nesters with one mature dog, was lost forever.  She darted this way and that, at first menacing Nellie, and then, discovering Nellie was somewhat aggressive to other animals, to stay out of her way.


In due course she and Nellie became fast friends, even sleeping (in our bed of course) cheek to cheek, and one inviting the other, in the way dogs do, to a seeming canine version of rope-a-dope.

Annie, for her part, became part of our regular brigade — helping to cook (although really looking for something to drop), helping to grill outdoors — it was impossible to tend the grill without one or both dogs following (I called them the assistants), acting as sentries to warn us of any passing stranger (waking their dogs in particular, taking a leisurely stroll, or similar threatening activity).  And of course, if we dared to leave the house for a period as long as 10 minutes or more, she was the first to greet us — having seen a familiar car coming down the street or hearing the garage door open.

Maybe because she came to us after our kids were mostly grown and mostly out of the house, maybe because she was a small beagle, maybe because she never lost the energy of a puppy, she became the baby of the house. And in the process, stole our hearts.

We expected Nellie, at age 14, to be the next in line to pass the mantle of senior dog to Annie. A medium size lab mix begins to push things at that age, and Nellie has had her share of minor medical problems (after an initial serious bout of pneumonia in her first month).  And Annie, it seemed, at eight years old, was in a relative peak of health, with no chronic medical conditions, no regular medicines, and for a beagle (as a breed they eat about anything) not too overweight.

So, it was particularly hard when, a few weeks ago, we noticed unusually labored and rapid breathing – more noticeable when she was at rest.  Although we thought it was a benign condition, after a course of medication with little relief and worsened conditions, we came to accept she probably was experience heart failure.  After a particularly difficult evening of rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, and trying without success to get comfortable, she passed away in her sleep in the middle of the night. In the end, she gave us too much of her heart, and there was too little left for herself.

I have lost two parents and two brothers at relatively young ages, and now four dogs. Annie seems almost the hardest to accept. She was my companion when I worked at home, laying at my feet, stealing paper from the trash can, and more lately snoring or barking during a business phone call. And if not that, helping Carol, my wife, sew and quilt.

Like all beagles, apparently, she was stubborn and independent, but like the others, extremely loving and loyal. I struggle now trying to remember all the joy she brought us and not the last couple of days or the way she died.  Remembering her is painful, but I want to remember her.

A school friend told me many years ago that, in a less than sober condition, he told his dog he was truth and beauty.  So that helps.  Annie was truth and beauty, and unconditional love. We loved her back, and now, perhaps because of that, we miss her terribly.

— Joe Conley



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Thomas D. Conley: 1963-2019

 Only the good die young.

–Billy Joel, 1977

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!

— Hunter Thompson, date unknown

Tom (3)

We lost our little brother, Tom, last week.  I didn’t know he read Hunter Thompson, father of “Gonzo Journalism,” but he must have, or assimilated his philosophy along the way, because Tom did not leave much of it on the field.

He was a comedian, a prankster, and a raconteur.  And in the end, friend to dozens — high school friends, adult friends, co-workers, and others.  By last count, no fewer that 70 or so paid their respect on social media. Most names I had never heard. Many remembered him similarly — a wonderful guy, terrific friend, buddy, positive impact on everyone, the kindest soul.

To the two of us who remain from Tom’s nuclear family of six, our sister Pat and me, he was simply our little brother. In fact part brother and, because he was nearly a half generation younger, part son. It seems we helped raise him for parents worn out from three before him and, after our parents’ early death, looking after him in his adulthood.

But Tom was his own free spirit — single to the end and without kids. His gift in life,  I suppose, is that that freed him to give himself to a wider audience.  Friends from every corner.  He seemed to live life to be with them, worked jobs to be with them, pursued hobbies to be with them.

He no doubt was wounded by the early death of our mother — a few days before Tom’s 21st birthday, and a couple of years later, by the early death of our father (who had become Tom’s best friend in their shared bachelorhood). But he found comfort, it seemed, in a wide swath of friendships.  And, while Tom made time for family events, he was always anxious to take his leave and end the day at wherever the real party was.

Along the way though, he managed to be a great son and brother, a doting uncle to seven nieces and nephews, and godfather to a half dozens or so canine nieces and nephews.  Dogs have a way of seeing the good in us, and his latest charges — Nellie and Annie (he was our go-to dog sitter) — loved Tom.

Tom left all of us too soon — at age 56.  But if he had been given the choice of lasting longer, but at a tamer speed, I think I know how he would have chosen. He went out with a smile on his face, living large and enjoying it all. Along the way, he touched us all, and made life a little bit kinder, a little bit friendlier, and a little bit  more enjoyable for all of us.

— Joe Conley, brother and friend.

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My Most Memorable Character — E.J. Walbourn

1975 was a glorious year. Captain and Tennille topped the charts, Jaws dominated the theaters, the war in Vietnam finally ended, and I was the latest recruit to a den of iniquity in Lexington, Ky., sometimes known as the apartment of E.J. Walbourn.

Our Irresponsible Years

E.J. was my classmate at the University of Kentucky Law School. We had just survived our first year and both remained in Lexington for the Summer,working part-time in different capacities at the Law School. A bad combination – idle hands are the devil’s workshop.

He became my roommate for two years, my friend for the next 40, and a roommate again in mid-life (more of that later). He was, undoubtedly, anyone’s best candidate for Reader’s Digest’s “Most Memorable Character.” He passed away last week after years of heath problems – two failed kidneys, heart problems, vascular problems, back surgery, and others.

I first met E.J. In the Fall of 1974, our first semester, in a Criminal Law class – a primordial twang from near the back of the room. I assumed it was how all Kansans spoke. I learned later that was not the case. That the only other human that spoke with such an accent was his son Jacob, who never lived in Kansas. The apple and the tree … you know.

I actually met E.J. through his other first year roommate, Gene Smallwood, whom I shared a small class with. Although E.J., Gene, and, later, I, shared rent equally, it was clearly E.J.’s apartment. It became the center of Law School social life in those years, with a party, it seemed, every weekend – not just law students but other residents of the complex. Like E.J., none seemed normal people.

In our first Summer – 1975 – E.J. recruited (more like kidnapped) me to join him in his semi-annual pilgrimage to his hometown, El Dorado, Kansas. To a city boy, it seemed like Mayberry – a Summer band concert, performed by a community band (of which E.J. surprisingly was once a member). Side trips were sponsored by E.J.’s father, Ed Walbourn, an enigma in his own right – college professor, community college president, and later education lobbyist. Ed could party any 23 or 24 year-olds under the table – and we gave him opportunities to do so. Ed was an Eisenhower Republican from upstate New York. E.J. was a yellow dog Democrat. He took after his mother Fran on that, I guess.

Of course, on the trip to Kansas, which started it midnight for some reason, we had to stop in St. Louis for E.J.’s personally conducted tour of the Budweiser brewery. Problem was, we arrived in St. Louis at about 6 a.m. The brewery opened at 7. We slept under the arch for an hour, before trying freshly brewed beer for breakfast. The highlight of the return trip was bootlegging 24 cases of Coors from Kansas (it was not available east of the Mississippi then). I hope the statute of limitations has expired on that one.

The following Summer I had a clerkship in California and E.J. reciprocated by accompanying me on that drive, with our Law School friend Jack Collins. But, of course, E.J. took charge of the itinerary – a side trip to the Coors brewery in Golden, Colo. (strangely like the Bud brewery) and another one to Las Vegas, where we arrived not so safely at 4 a.m. after a night-time trip through the Utah mountains.

[More after pics]

E.J. and friends – Peach Bowl 1976

E.J. with my girlfriend (now wife of 40 years) Carol at 1976 Peach Bowl

My mother – Erma (l.) and Fran Walbourn (r.), E.J.’s mother, with his beloved Milwaukee (c.) (the dog, not the human  — my sister); Law School graduation, 1977.



Law School graduation, May, 1977. with Jack and Peg Collins

E.J. (second from right) in my wedding party

The Middle Years

During our time together, in addition to our Jack Kerouac experiences, we joined with each other for the Carter-Ford election results, the Academy Awards in 1977 (E.J. entertaining everyone with a new hairdo during every commercial break), News Years Eves, Derby Days, Super Bowls, and the Christian Leitner shot heard round the world, sinking U.K. in the 1992 Regional Finals.

E.J. took to Criminal Law in Law School. It is all he ever wanted to do. He fell into a job upon graduation as a Federal Public Defender, allowing him to start trying cases the day after he took the oath of office, admitting him to the bar. Although I always thought his heart was on the defense side, in 1990 he was hired as a federal prosecutor – an Assistant U.S. Attorney. That job was fortuitous for several reason – mostly for him – but a little bit for me.

For him, it provided a job with gold plate benefits when his health started failing in the early 2000s. I’m not sure he could have survived the last decade without that support. More important, it led to his long term association with Federal Magistrate Judge Greg Wehrman. When other potential donors (including his wife Jan) didn’t match, Judge Wehrman donated a kidney to E.J. They became great friends, the best E.J. had in that last years of his life, and a tag team – speaking to transplant survivors and advising potential transplant donors and patients. Judge Wehrman spent time with E.J. In his final weeks and visited him the night before he died. When he called me to report E.J.’s death, he expressed genuine remorse for the loss of his friend, but having witnessed a decade of suffering, admitted that for E.J., “it was time.” If there is a heaven, Judge Wehrman no doubt will be there – no small feat for a federal judge.

For me, E.J.’s new job – requiring a move to my home town – allowed us to reconnect after many years of living in different cities, and seeing each other only infrequently. In fact, as I hinted above, we became roommates again. E.J.’s move came near the end of his wife Jan’s pregnancy with their second child – Joe. Jan stayed behind in Ashland for her final pre-natal care and E.J. needed a place to stay before they found a new place. We had two kids double up and E.J. became a boarder for about a month. One of our neighbor’s kids told the neighborhood that the Conleys had a homeless man living with them.

In fact, E.J. was not homeless – but there was a problem. E.J. dressed and had coffee with us every morning. We had a very large labrador who took to E.J. and, after taking a big slurp of water, firmly planted her snout in the crotch of E.J.’s newly laundered and pressed prosecutor’s suit every morning. Although it was very funny, the biggest laugh came from E.J.

The Later Years

Although our proximity in later life did not lead to as much contact as it should have, a matter I will regret forever, we continued to see each other periodically.

E.J. was a member of the Inns of Court (for the uninitiated, a social-professional group of Judges, lawyers, and law students, who meet monthly for dinner, collegiality and education programs). He invited me to join and I did so, mostly to have a regular dinner date with my friend.

I was also one of his invitees to attend Cincinnati Reds games (he shared season tickets with some colleagues). His emails inviting me usually demonstrated some of his self-deprecating humor:

  • 4/15/13: “I have an extra ticket for tonight’s Reds game. Come and go with me. We can swap lies.”
  • 4/17/13: “How about the Reds tomorrow? You never answered. Great seats and a parking pass. We could discuss issues of grave constitutional significance.”

I am sure we did the former but not the latter. There are many more of these, but I have to protect the innocent (and myself).

With E.J. at my 60th birthday party


In our sojourns, when E.J. redeposited me to my car at his office, we sat – and talked about life, careers, kids, mid-life crises, medical problems, and, yes, death. He knew what was coming. After suffering through dialysis in his early health crisis, and anticipating the prospects of being again tethered to a dialysis machine, he wanted none of it. He said he had a good run and had no regrets.

At the end, if he were asked to “make a ledger of his life, to provide an account of what he had been, and done, and meant to the world,” E.J. had plenty of ammunition. He fought the good fight, he finished the race, in the words of St. Paul.

I am not sad that E.J.’s pain is done. I am sad for myself, his family, his many friends, and his colleagues. We will miss him and think of him often. When we do, we will think of the many memories he made with us and that he left us with. We will smile. We will laugh. And we will remember how he lived — fully, with gusto, and with no regrets.

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Ode to Marjorie

It is a sad commentary on human intelligence that as late as the earliest 21st century, we have not yet learned how to prolong life indefinitely. So, for all of us, even those with the greatest capacity to contribute to the welfare of humanity, life is finite, indefinite, and, it seems, far too short. So it was for Marjorie Mills, wife, mother of three, grandmother of eight, and, at last count, great-grandmother of 10. She also was my mother-in-law for just short of 40 years.

Marjorie was perhaps typical of most middle class wives (like my mother) during the middle third of the last century — stay at home moms, supporting their husband’s careers, raising their their families, and only then, when the kids were mostly raised, entering the workforce to help pay the bills for college — sacrificing everything for others.

In her case, in her final years, she was nurse to her husband Fred — a legitimate war hero who took her as a child bride after V-J day. And then, babysitter and car pooler for great-grandchildren.

I first met her nearly 40 years ago, shortly after starting dating one of her daughters — later my wife. I always thought, in looks and energy, she was 10 to 15 years younger than her age. That was so until the last few weeks, when a bad flu and weak heart aged her greatly in a few weeks, and took her at age 88.

But before then, she packed a full life into those years. After her husband died and she was free to travel, she made up for years of staying at home — vacations to the beach, to Disney World, and to the Northeast, with some or all of her daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren, and family weddings.

She saw it all and did it all before the end. And, if the measure of one’s life is the sentiment of those she left behind — family, extended family, and friends — she left us all better for having known her.

In the words of St Paul, she has fought the good fight; she has finished the race. Hers was a life well lived. We should all be so lucky.

For me, for the woman who offered to serve as my mother after my own died, it is only “adieu; et au revoir.” God speed.

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Final Four Preview

Louisville in the NCAA Final Four. Now that brings back memories. I’ve watched every final four since 1963. That year, as a 10-year-old, I watched the University of Cincinnati, my home town team and later alma mater, miss being the first team to win three back-to-back championships. A few years later UCLA, giving new definition to “fait accompli,” made that feat a silly aspiration.

But it’s Louisville in the Final Four that has the most meaning for me, and provides the greatest memories. I measure my coming of age as a adult by those appearances:

1975 — the last Wooden championship, and oh yea, the middle of a five year run without worries, living on beer money in college and law school.

1982 — actually attending the semis at the Superdome with my brother Chuck and his then girlfriend — later wife — Sue. Not yet mature I suppose, leaving my wife back home in Baton Rouge with our six month old while she was three months pregnant with a second. We did have dog to keep her company. We walked — in New Orleans no less — from parking in some deserted area to the French Quarter to the game back to the French Quarter back to parking — the final leg at about midnight. I wondered why there were no other humans on the way to and fro. My law faculty colleagues at LSU later told me we should have been mugged and killed several times over.

1983 — semis a week after our mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. Louisville beating Kentucky in the regional final in overtime to make it to the Final Four the day after she left the hospital.

1986 — A second national championship for Louisville. I watched with my father, who always loved these things, but didn’t seem to be feeling well for several weeks and, I thought, didn’t really enjoy the game.

I thought of Chuck last weekend. He and Sue always had the inside scoop on Louisville basketball. He would know, I thought, everything there would be to know about Kevin Ware’s injury. How bad was it? Did they set it well so he would heal fully? Would the team miss him in the game? Would Ware attend the game and be an inspiration, ala Willis Reed? Sadly, I couldn’t call Chuck. The other reason I was thinking of him this past week was that he died of bone cancer two years ago last week, a couple of hours before the 2011 championship game. He was in my office pool that year and watched, as he always did, until about the regions. I haven’t found a replacement to talk about The Road to the Final Four with as much enthusiasm. I don’t expect to.

A couple of weeks after the 1983 tournament, mother’s cancer was found to be metastatic. She died a year and a half later.

About two weeks after the ’86 game, dad was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, the reason he hadn’t been feeling well. The ’86 championship game, Louisville’s last championship, was the last college game I watched with him. He died four months later.

I suppose I grew up during that decade. I’ve raised three kids and five dogs since then (although the fifth is a work in progress). I will watch the games tonight — and probably cheer for Louisville, an exception to my rule to always support the underdog. If my mind wanders a little during the analysis of the 2-3 and 1-3-1 zones, the transition offenses, and the three-point averages, it will not be my typical adult ADD daydream. It will be my time at the Final Four with Louisville basketball. And some pretty special memories.

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New Year’s Day — past and present

New Year’s Day — 2013 — 4th quarter of Rose Bowl

Somewhere along the line, the big money of sponsorship and the BCS screwed up a good thing on New Year’s Day. It used to be much simpler: Cotton Bowl and Sugar Bowl in early afternoon, Rose Bowl in late afternoon, and Orange Bowl in the evening. I have to engage in significant post-graduate style research now to find if these even exist, and if they do, when they are played, and if they don’t, what are their successors. I am overwhelmed by the volume of games.

I think I watched football a lot — I mean a lot, seven hours every Sunday, most Saturdays, and about 11 hours on New Years Day — because it was quality time with my dad — now dead for 26 years. I don’t think of him as much as I’d Ike — I have raised three sons of my own, all adults now, and have a busy professional life. But I found myself thinking of him in the last hours or so. It was about this time on New Years Day that even we started to tire of football. But not as much as my mother. It was about now — just before the beginning of the Orange Bowl — that she would kick us out of the family room and relegate us to a black and white 13 inch in the living room at the other end of the house.

Before that we started in the family room — an addition to our house that suffered from inadequate heat. The Bloody Mary’s and wine compensated. Snacks, and a late afternoon dinner, also helped. It was an age of conference rivalrys, Notre Dame prominence (dad was a full-blooded Irish Catholic), and speculation — not BCS polls — about the best team in the land.

We watched those games late into the night — apprehensive about the start of another year. In due course, the thief called time took him and mother from us. It gave us adulthood and responsibility, sometimes disappointment, but more often pride in our own kids’ accomplishments.

I still watch the New Years Day games — sometimes with my own sons. Occasionally I think of those years through the 50s and 60s. Damn the BCS. I miss the old way, and New Years Day with the old man.

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On Dogs

I have had four dogs in my adult life. I measure my life by this fact. About 12 to 15 years each (with some overlap), so I am about 60 years old (in a few months).

I also have three sons. They are all adults now too. And while they are fine gentlemen and, I’m sure, love me very much, we had our moments, as do all parents and kids. But I never had “moments” with any of my dogs. They were all loyal, loving, and, while not always obedient, at least faithful.

For most of our lives, my wife and I have had two dogs. The first — Mac, a West Highland terrier — we got about six months after we were married, and nearly four years before our first son was born.

We both knew a couple of westies during our dating and young married life, so getting Mac was a natural choice. I remember today — nearly 35 years later — my wife calling me at my office on a Saturday afternoon and telling me she saw a westie at a local mall’s pets store — probably not a great place to get a dog — and saying she wanted to bring her home. It was during the first year of our marriage — when the guy still always says yes — so Mac became our first child.

Three and a half years later, and again 14 months after that, Mac didn’t seem to ever accept the intrusion of our kids into the family. And, although I took a good measure of responsibility for feeding and grooming her — and paying for some very expensive medical care — she was always my wife’s dog, and just tolerated me. It’s good training for a husband.

Mac went everywhere with us. We moved to Louisiana for me to take a teaching job, and she traveled willingly on the long trips home for visits. When we fed our first son baby cereal in a baby seat in our bed in the early hours of the morning, Mac got her bowl too.

Mac’s love-hate relationship with me continued for many years. When she developed a number of medical problems at about 12 years of age, my wife was heartbroken. Someone told her we needed a second dog for her to hug when Mac died, so Sawyer — a big female lab — came into our lives. And Mac — well when we spent about a thousand dollars at a time on her vet care, she rose like Lazarus each time and lived about four more years — to the ripe age of 16 (or about 112 in dogs years as Loren Green used to say). She died in her sleep on the day before Thanksgiving.

Sawyer was our only dog for a few years. We were still a couple with careers on the ascendency (or so we liked to pretend), and with three young kids at home, so we were busy. Sawyer and I attended obedience classes together. We both took some pride in getting an award for most improved — her not me — but it was no doubt because there was vast room for improvement. But still, every time we went somewhere for a party we found our youngest son Sam, now 25, sitting in corner with his arm around a beagle. Kramer was an inevitable acquisition.

As Sawyer loved Mac, but Mac couldn’t tolerate Sawyer, so it was Kramer loved Sawyer, but, despite her disposition, Sawyer could have done without Kramer. But Kramer was indefatigable. He was the king of hunters– having notched about a dozen moles on his belt — and having never given up on our suburban wildlife — squirrels, chipmunks, birds, and cats.

Sawyer — as labs go — had a pretty long run. She lived 13 years, no doubt from her leisurely life sleeping in bed with us, lounging on our sofas, and having the comfort of two indulging adults and three loving kids. Hip dysplasia and incontinence (and age) finally took its toll. She was the first dog I ever had to take to be euthanized — a very difficult process if you’ve never had the experience.

We waited again for a few years — with Kramer carrying the load by himself — before we went in search for a dog number 2. I always wondered what our single dogs thought when they saw us acquire another dog. Did they start a death watch?

So along came Nellie — the laziest dog I’ve ever met. We started this adventure by exploring a lab rescue after Hurricane Katrina. But after a criminal background check — seriously — and several false starts on appointments for family interviews — seriously again– we went to a local pound. Nellie was a cute “lab mix” laying on her bother’s hip. Kramer went with us to see if he would bond with a new dog, but he couldn’t be bothered.

Nellie was a great bargain — so it seemed — $75, shots and all. Of course, when she came home with kennel cough and pneumonia and then spent a week on iv’s at the emergency vet clinic, it was not so clear. By then she was part of the family and — hey — it’s just money. If you have kids you’ll understand.

Nellie, it turned out, was part Italian greyhound, the breed that kept Egyptian pharaohs warm and, apparently, accompanied then to the afterlife. Nellie’s breed was well equipped for that. Although greyhounds are said to be the fastest species on earth for 35 yards, after that they like soft pillows, beds, and a lot of comfort. Her sleek greyhound physique has turned into a middle age lab spread. Must be menopause.

But there must be something to the pharaoh thing. Weren’t they the guys who Moses was running from. Nellie frequently confused play with aggression, so Kramer needed several ear, neck , and lip studs to plug the holes Nellie left from “playful” activity.

In time, Kramer slowed down, and the hunter who could catch moles, chipmunks, mice, and other varments, was finally dragged down by father time. What was once his capacity to do figure-eights in our back yard became difficulty taking more than one step at a time or jumping into our bed. Kidney failure was the one challenge he couldn’t conquer. At age 15, over one-third of our married life, we said goodbye to him on a pleasant winter day. With apologies to Little Big Man, it was a good day to die.

Four months later, I still miss him. I miss him in the winter — dragging snow and mud through the house. I miss him this Spring — standing in the way of the lawn mower. I miss him begging for food, howling at the moon at midnight, and even hiking his leg on my dress shirts hanging on the door knob. As our oldest son Ryan said on Facebook, “He did it his way.”

So, for now, like Kramer, Sawyer, and Mac before her, Nellie is on her own. I hope it is some tribute to the others that I look regularly for dog number two. I don’t know if Nellie needs the company. But I know I do. If I lived on a farm, I’d have about eight dogs — ten seems a little much. In a conventional suburb three is probably too many. Two seems about right.

Besides, we got a king size bed about two years ago. It seems pretty empty right now.

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Dr. Charles Conley

Dr. Charles Conley:  February 19, 1956 – April 4, 2011.

The first anniversary of the death of my brother Chuck caused me to think about life, death, and grief.  I lost my parents at the relatively young ages of 58 and 64.  Although I miss them and think of them often, I don’t go to them cemetery and don’t offer any special remembrances on the anniversary of their death or their birthdays.  I do acknowledge how much I’ve missed of them, how much my own kids would have benefited from greater influences from their lives, and how much more they would have contributed to their families and communities.  Having had two great in-laws for several decades, I know how much richer my life would have been with my parents.

But when my folks died I was a young parent, with two kids (soon three) of my own, and a busy professional.  Like another professional told me about herself, I went back to work the day after their funerals, immersing myself in my work.  That was a good thing.  But over the years I felt a little guilty I didn’t grieve a little more.  I always felt a little guilty I accepted their deaths as part of the natural order of things.  We experience the catharsis of the funeral, we celebrate their lives at a wake or memorial, and we get on with life.  Maybe it’s realizing that others will have the same limited grief for us, that makes us a little uneasy.  No one even  talks about the famous for long — Teddy Kennedy is part of the history books.

So, on this anniversary of my brother’s death, I am reflecting a little more on his life.  I still miss his occasional phone calls, his corny jokes, his common sense of humor, his courageous and optimistic acceptance of his own fate during a two year battle with an awful cancer.  I spoke at his memorial service nearly a year ago of his good and decent character.  Like others have said of Lincoln, he never had an unkind word for anyone (well, nearly). Because he was a better athlete he made up for my advantage of a few years. He had more friends, more girlfriends, and, I always thought, more fun.

We shared a bedroom for years, with another brother — Tom.  We shared dreams, a wholesome family, a life.  I regret we did not see more of each other in our adult lives.  But, as Mike Barnicle recently wrote, a thief called time — and the obligations of adulthood and parenthood —  took much of that from us.

He was a good and decent brother, friend, husband, father, and uncle.  I miss him and think of him often.

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Made Up Stuff

Justice Scalia spoke at the University of Chicago law School a couple of weeks ago. Inevitably for a former faculty member at that scho0ol, he got around to talking about what makes a good law school curriculum:

I took nothing but bread-and-butter classes, not “Law and Poverty,” or other made-up stuff …. Take serious classes. There’s so much law to learn. Don’t waste your time.

This advice was particularly timely. I received an invitation a few weeks ago to a program on what legal employers expect law schools to teach to equip their graduates to practice law. Reports appear daily in the legal newspapers, blogs, and seminar invitations from either employers, graduates, or both, about how law schools are doing to train their graduates to practice in the current environment.

I have two observations about these criticisms. First, from employers, they come from those now running law firms, all of whom, I suspect, were trained in the classical fashion — described by Justice Scalia above. I doubt they would concede their training makes them ill-equipped to service their modern clients.

Second, from recent graduates, I doubt they really know what they need. Younger lawyers I listen to offer advice I would not take if a were fashioning a curriculum. One recently told me law schools should train law students how to get to courthouses and to file papers. I suggested a GPS and a call to a clerk would be more productive and much cheaper than the current law school tuition.

Another suggested law schools should teach how to write a demand letter. I suggested: “Please pay your bill or we will be forced to sue you.”

Justice Scalia was right. There is so little time. I wish I had time to take a few things I did not have time for — and like him I really didn’t take “made up stuff.” I took — and later taught on a law school faculty — Antitrust. I don’t practice much Antitrust law, but I understand it when people talk about it, or threaten to add a count in some routine commercial case, or just chit chat about it at lunch with business clients, other professionals, or economics professors at holiday parties. Same with Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, or Land Use.

Clients want, and need, lawyers who are smart. Generally “made up stuff” doesn’t contribute to that goal. We have enough problems achieving that goal with deficiencies in the pre-law educational system. If we were to tinker with anything, it would be to increase the facility of our graduates to read, and write, and think. Too few of us do that well.

And, as for the practical skills, that’s what early law firm employment should be for. If we’re not doing that well as employers, we should think about some formal system of internship, or other systems of post-graduate mentoring. Law schools can’t do that because — for good or bad — law professors don’t generally have much practical experience. They should do what they’ve always done well — the “bread and butter courses” — and leave the “made up stuff” to others.

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Hence the Title

It is the standard mantra, unexceptionally weak as an introduction and devoid of meaning: “Comes the plaintiff [or defendant] by and through counsel and herewith submits its Memorandum in Opposition to the [other party’s] motion. Of course, this immediately follows a caption which proclaims that it is the “[Plaintiff’s] Memorandum in Opposition to the [Defendant’s] Motion.”

Thus the second clause of the sentence simply repeats the Caption: what my legal writing hero Bryan Garner calls “Hence The Title.” The first clause is more interesting: Where is the plaintiff coming from? Where is he going? Of course he is “coming by and through counsel,” we know, because his pleading is signed by a lawyer and because nearly all pleadings are “through counsel.” It would be more forgivable if, in the rare case where the party is appearing without counsel, to announce that he “comes pro se.” Thus, the second phrase, too, provides no useful information, except to tell us this lawyer, too, is a sheep, following some formulaic expression he’s read somewhere and afraid to deviate from the archaic formula, afraid to exercise original judgment, afraid, alas, to write well.

Let’s try something different:

  • “The Defendant hereby moves for summary judgment on the ground that 1. … and 2. … and 3. …” or
  • “This matter is before the Court on the Defendant’s motion for summary judgment. We oppose the motion because 1. …., and 2. …, and 3. ….”

With this, we might actually send a signal to a Judge that what follows might actually be worth reading.

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