Denise Howell

Wednesday, June 05, 2024

Interview with the Barrister…

Thanks for the kind comments on the
kalilily interview.Maybe you’d let me do you sometime? heheh… but maybe if you’d have time some week for an intense email exchange, your Bag and Baggage fans might find it interesting. You would have to put up with b.s. questions like “What’s your favorite lawyer joke?” Just so you know…

Regarding “doing me…” I think I could get it by my spouse without too much trouble (he’s used to sharing me with the computer, and you’re “in there” – ok you’re “out there” – after all), but talk about a tough act to follow! The pressure must be getting to me already because right now I can conjure nary a good lawyer joke, much less any formative influence more substantial than Keith Partridge. And I think the notion of a Bag and Baggage fan is either (1) a myth or (2) you, so if you don’t mind writing for yourself (none of us must mind that too much, or we’d have given this up long ago), then ok -

Wow, from down here that was really more of a precipice than a ledge. Ah

Denise, Thank you very much for consenting to do one of the infamous Sandhill Trek interviews (the second actually). Okay, I just got some spam with “Make Perfect Pancakes Every Time, Just Like on TV!” as the subject and it brought up the food as art question in my tiny brain… namely, do you cook? What do you cook? As a married woman, do trad roles govern the chores at your house or how have you come to terms with that? As a woman who grew up in the seventies and eighties, the feminist movement of your early childhood must have had some impact, but how do you assess that? As a girl geek, do you ever identify with the grrls on the web? Maybe blogsisters fits in this category…


Frank, I love to cook, never have time. When I do plan far enough ahead – such that the fridge contains more than its usual complement of wilted lettuce and Condiments On Parade – my favorite things to make are homemade pizza, pasta and herb roasted chicken. My parents are much better and more ardent chefs than I, and constantly suggest new culinary exploits. They invariably underestimate my lack of motivation and time. The tendency to not cook in my household knows no gender disparity – we tend not to cook in almost equal measure. I cook marginally more often than my husband because I actually enjoy it. That goes for the balance of the household responsibilities – to the extent anyone does them, it’s the party who is (1) home and (2) least reluctant to get off the couch.

The feminist movement of the seventies and eighties affected me by osmosis, mostly. By that I mean it was always a given, in my mind anyway, that I would figure out something I was interested in and potentially good at and give it a try. Women of my generation and younger owe a huge debt to those who struggled to give us that mind set and option.

Grrls: I more admire than identify. I think the moniker implies that you know more code than a couple of html tags, and that you also not be, as you might say, old as dirt. I’ve been interested, but not involved, in Women In Technology International (WITI), and active in Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) from when I was practicing law in Orange County. Blog Sisters is more diverse and more fun – a great cross-disciplinary, cross-cultural, cross-generational blend.


Commercial Real Estate Women of Orange County… that reminds me of the time maybe 15 years ago when we still were wearing our California bodies, since traded for midwest potato people costumes, and we were on the good side of middle age – that Beth and I were skinny dipping in a little lake in the Point Reyes National Recreation Area… beautiful weeekday afternoon, total solitude, like a five mile hike to get near the lake. Imagine our surprice to be joined by 15 or 20 of the Orange County Sierra Club Singles on their annual outing to THEIR favorite skinny dipping place in Marin County.

But you seem like a sensitive person Denise. Did you ever have mixed feelings about your work in Southern California real estate, or was it more just a job? People are nice all over (and of course there are some jerk-balls too) but this would be another one of those what was a nice girl like you doing in a place like that questions.


Naked Orange County Sierra Club Singles descending on a weekday tryst??? Now just how do you expect me to sleep tonight after that terrifying apparition?

I have had the good luck to represent all kinds of people and businesses in my practice, but when I first came to Orange County it was 1990 and real estate had been driving the economy for six years or more. I worked for real estate types because their legal entanglements were legion. The personalities involved were maybe not what you’d expect. They were smart, self-made, creative, determined, fiercely independent people who disliked the legal system because it made life and business difficult and expensive for them. And guess what? That description turns out to fit most of the clients I’ve had over the years, from all different fields and backgrounds, on both the plaintiff and defense side of the equation. (This looks ahead to your Magna Carta question.) I have never had a problem representing such people. You explain the law as it applies to their situation. Help them gauge alternatives and make sensible choices. Help them get their work done and disputes resolved with the least amount of friction and legal fees. Explain the benefits of taking the high road – in business and in litigation – and how disastrous it can be if they don’t. Walk away if they’d prefer not to listen.

With that philosophy I do ok, sleepwise. Or did, until the Naked Sierra Clubbers came along…

Denise, you are a quintessential Northern California girl but now you call Newport Beach home. You like goose down and rushing rivers and the drizzly coast of Mendocino. Los Angeles is a room temperature kind of place… yet earlier in real time and later in this interview you will say “my time at UCLA undid the brainwashing a Northern California upbringing imparts about Southern California being the devil’s testicle.” That seems like kind of a throw-away line. Can you tell me a little bit about the differences you experienced between Northern California and Southern California besides that you need a wetsuit if you intend to surf anywhere north of Monterey Bay? I really need help here since I am such an unabashedly biased San Franciscan by nature and by adoption.

(Where did you live in Northern California? Where’d you go to high school? Are you going back for the 20th reunion? What will your classmates think about your defection to the South?)


Room temperature? I like my ambient air about body temperature. Wetsuit? To get in the water anywhere north of Morro Bay requires materials engineered by NASA.

The piece is funny – and can be readily pointed in the other direction, with apologies to Heather. (Note: I do this only in hope of getting a laugh out of you. The single biggest difference between the two halves of the Golden State is the flood of animosity pouring south, and the absence of it headed north).

Just A Few Of The Several Reasons Living In San Francisco, California Totally Kicks Ass

1. An acute case of self-importance actually comes in quite handy.

2. There is at least one trendy restaurant within .2 miles of any point in this city, and each and every employee behind the reception desk is good-looking enough to bone, but does not prefer your gender.

3. Homeless people on Market smell like Dungeness crab – well aged Dungeness crab.**

4. Newscasters are required to have no tits.

5. No one cares what time you show up for work, what you wear to work, or if you call your boss “Rover.”

6. You get to walk everywhere.

7. Access to the largest collection of linalool-sensitive noses on the planet (see The Aroma Wheel).

8. Summers consist of restaurant heat lamp residue, with the occasional shower of bike messenger sweat.

9. The neighbor across the hall who calls himself a “serious incentivzer of viral metrics” is going to be unemployed much, much longer than you.

10. Charlie Manson lives here.

And a bonus reason:

11. Foreigner 4 tracks always playing somewhere on the radio.

I appreciate warm weather, palm trees, mid-century modern architecture, the Hollywood Bowl, the Getty Museum, Laguna Beach (and Newport, Huntington and Sunset), and strappy dresses and footwear in the middle of February. (I’ve been to Madison in the middle of February, by the way. While you folks are busy ice boating – ice boating!! – I am on the beach with my iPod, a smattering of work, and now Ken Kesey and Thomas Pynchon.) Northern California is breathtaking – my gut seizes up with “I AM HOME” feelings whenever I see the Bay Bridge, the Claremont, or any part of the wine country or north coast. I enjoy visiting. I’m trusting them not to go anywhere.

I grew up in Alamo, near where Eugene O’Neill wrote Long Day’s Journey Into Night. When I went back to the Bay Area for law school, I lived in Montclair, then right behind Oakland Tech High School (near the Pussycat Theater – gone now, – and the Kingfish – still there), then the Cow Hollow district of San Francisco (Franklin, between Vallejo and Green, a block off Union, four blocks from I Fratelli). I went to San Ramon Valley H.S. (on Love Lane). I doubt I’ll make my 20-year reunion, but ?? One of my dearest friends in life was a high school classmate, so who knows – we might do it, but against my better judgment, as these events strike me as capital-double-u Weird.

My northerly oriented friends and family put me through just this sort of inquisition when I switched to the South-of-Bakersfield team, so don’t feel bad. Now that they’ve spent some time here, I get less of it.


**Great Declan McCullagh photo.


Your public persona is that of a sophisticated, professional Californienne. You’re interested in Clyde Scott’s oils and California Plein Air painting. Many of us potato people in the midwest can’t appreciate the selectivity and taste that your interests bespeak, but… who are your favorite California impressionists? Do you collect this stuff or mostly appreciate it in the galleries? If a couple of Wisconsinites happened to find themselves in SoCal, are there some specific galleries you’d recommend? And do you think the California impressionists are expressing an authentic vision, or are they more imitative of the French, sort of Monets in the Manzanitas? You might want to reflect on beauty and compositional order and authenticity of experience for us and what’s a nice English major like you doing in Southern California practicing law anyway?


Tricky, Frank! Get ‘em talking about what they enjoy, then close in for the kill. You were a lawyer in another life, admit it. “Interview with the Barrister” indeed. LeStat is a personal favorite, and he also enjoyed large helpings of art with his mayhem, so here we go.

Like most people I am drawn to art that speaks to me on a personal level. I love California Impressionists and Plein Air paintings for the same reason I love Wallace Stegner and Angle of Repose (Madison connection there, Crossing to Safety): they capture places that are as surely encoded in me as my dna.

Stegner said California’s hills were bright as lion’s hides, and observed in his Wilderness Letter, “We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reasssuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.”

Certain California Impressionist works are a visual translation of these sentiments. Clyde Scott is practically unknown compared to the rest of the artists commonly considered in this group. While others were winning awards and acclaim, Scott was painting backgrounds for movie sets and moving back and forth between Northern and Southern California. Here are some of his works, and more about him,

The bio mentions an “arts and crafts subtlety,” which is accurate. He also had range. He liked to depict hills receding into a hazy distance with multi-layered depth. He was fascinated with eucalyptus trees, clouds and fog. He also had a Fauvist touch with the color palette (possibly picked up in Hollywood?), and used vivid purple and orange where his peers might have used green or gold.

The more usual suspects in the group are Franz Bischoff, William Wendt, Guy Rose, Elmer Wachtel, and others, but for some reason Scott captures what I find compelling about California better than the rest.

It’s easy to see European influences in these artists (Rose is a good example), and some were less successful at offering a unique vision than at applying existing styles to a new locale. In other cases like Scott, I think they were shaped more by what they saw than what they’d seen, if that makes sense. They get me on a visceral level with their style and subject in a way their forerunners do not. And, they influenced many artists painting today who are distinctly Californian (check out Randall Sexton, for example.)

If a couple of Wisconsinites were to find themselves in SoCal and like this sort of thing, the Irvine Museum specializes in these works, and the LA County Museum has a good collection.

Before you go anywhere else though, go to the Getty. Extensive, exhausting, breathtaking. Best museum I’ve been to since Europe. Big words. Come see.

Unfortunately, I’m not sitting on a collection of California art. (My last name’s Howell, not Getty or Irvine; hubby’s not Thurston, and he doesn’t call me Lovey – just Dean, or sometimes, with less than flattering intent, Stopwatch…) Most of my viewing is online, or in the many excellent books on this subject, or at the museums mentioned above. The Karges gallery in L.A. and Carmel is sweet torture, and there’s a Plein Air festival on Catalina Island each fall.

California Impressionists share space on my list of visual favorites with a random bunch of others. I go in big for a local guy named Shag, and recently discovered the strange pull of vintage Disney attraction posters.

I think that’s it for my reflections on beauty, compositional order (huh? it’s been a long time since Art History 12b) and authenticity for the day.

A nice English major like me is in Los Angeles practicing law because my time at UCLA undid the brainwashing a Northern California upbringing imparts about Southern California being the devil’s testicle. As for practicing law – are you beginning to discern an ability to embrace what others might find an acquired taste? Kidding aside, this is a great job and I work with people who legitimately qualify as brilliant. We get to analyze and help courts understand difficult legal problems, so they can do their best to make law that makes sense. It might sound sappy, but it’s rewarding.

And actually, there’s this brief I have to read – and at some point a deluge of emails from you (ok, two; advocacy habits die hard) to respond to – so bye for now.



Denise, This is a whole ‘nother thread from the previous question, which was all like totally artsy. This is a question about blogging and The Law. Your Bag and Baggage post today starts to address the issues from the Professional Responsibility and Conduct perspective, but goodness! Is it possible for the self-important legal profession to lighten up a little? Is everything that a member of the bar publishes subjected to such rigid scrutiny? What about Grisham’s novels? Public Blogs are more art/lit spaces then they are professional platforms… otherwise how could you compare your legs to Rupaul’s and get away with it? Are lawyers held to stricter standards than the rest of us when it comes to freedom of speech and freedom of expression?

What restrictions would there be on a nice two dimensional op ed piece with national distribution in a print vehicle, say “The New Yorker,” and how would those restrictions differ from the same article blogged with the addition of some hypertext links to make it deeper and richer?


I’m hoping that the self-important legal profession will indeed lighten up a little and recognize that some new things are happening that bend the notions of what is and is not “advertising,” but, as things stand now, folks like me are left without a lot of guidance on this front. I blame this on the fact that long ago, before my time of course, some lawyers and judges did Bad Things (I know, this is shocking: some still do). Gave the profession a shoddy reputation. Caused the new sheriffs to want to clean up Dodge City. Now there are a whole host of generally beneficial, but sometimes less than commonsensical, rules of ethics and professional conduct by which we must abide. In California anyway, no one has gone out of their way to specify that individuals who are lawyers are not subject to those rules whenever they might publish on the Web. Instead, if you have a Web site (and let’s just wonder for a minute whether keeping a blog even qualifies as “having a Web site” – yeah, sure, technically, ok…) and your availability for employment as an attorney is apparent from your Web site, you may well be engaging in communication and advertising that is controlled by the rather draconian rules I mentioned in that legal ethics post.

The two ends of the spectrum are pretty easy to figure out. Grisham’s fiction does not discuss, even obliquely, his availability to provide legal services (I doubt he’s still practicing or even a member of the bar?). Law firms, on the other hand, put up Web sites just to help them get or service clients. Now let’s look at what instant, easy electronic publishing means to individual practicing attorneys like me who will – do – have sites, on which they write non-fiction, law-related things.

Have you seen Chuck Hartley’s comment on my ethics post? (“I just hope no one I know becomes their test case sometime down the road when they realize good websites don’t fit their model.” I share his hope quite fervently.) He and I have exchanged emails about this before. Under the current California rules I can see where my writing about, for example, how genes are patentable, could be viewed by some as triggering the standards controlling legal communications and advertising. I think they’d be wrong, because the rules try to target communications “concerning the availability for professional employment of a member or a law firm,” and I’m talking about other things. But here’s the rub: would I be upset if you sent me a piece of business? About as upset as Locke, Searls or Weinberger would be if you bought their books or hired them as speakers. Am I asking you to? ‘Course not, but if you did ring me up in a professional capacity, the blog would be the catalyst. (This, by the way, is exactly why traditional law firm sites blow. Why on earth would someone go there unless they were looking for the number or bio of an attorney they already knew? They provide so little actual information. I imagine the servers most law firm sites call home warehoused among cobwebs and dust, maybe not even plugged in, while blog hosting servers are full of kinetic energy, bouncing up and down like Eddie Murphy’s donkey in Shrek – “Pick me, pick me!”)

I fear the legal ethics rules in California (those are the ones I’m familiar with; ymmv) are far behind what is actually happening on the Web. They see Web site, they think advertising. They see talk about law, they think practice of law. They worry the public is in danger of being misled. I’d like to see some formal recognition that personal attorney sites are different from business ones, but that’s probably going to take some time. And, it’s complicated by the fact we’re all busy blurring the distinctions between the commercial and the personal.

To answer your question about writing for the New Yorker – hey, can you set that up? – the moment the article becomes part of a CA firm Web site , which makes no bones about the fact it hopes to get your business, the rules kick in. Copies must be kept, it can’t be false or misleading, etc. If a blog could likewise be construed as “concerning the availability for professional employment of a member,” it might not be treated any differently.

Sounds pretty exhausting, right? All I know is if this is bad, what judges have to endure is worse. Sure, it’s tragic if the judiciary is perceived as corrupt or undignified. But the desire to preserve the sanctity of the bench has imposed on judges a code of conduct and standards so strict (again, CA is all I can really speak to), I don’t know how they step out of the house every morning. Imagine having to go through life avoiding even “the appearance of impropriety.” I recently read a series of lawyer-written letters to the editor, taking judges to task who write opinions in verse (example: Wheat v. Fraker). The critics said these should be avoided because they show disrespect for the process and the (losing) litigants. Are they right, or is this just another example of political correctness stealing all the fun? (Imagine your surprise – I happen to like verse.) When a judge is clever, witty and/or a fierce individual in public, he or she deserves great respect because it is so frequently discouraged – and often flatly prohibited – in their line of work.

Friday, 5:35 – must get life –



We know your dad’s a writer and that you, like many of us, started blogging because “Rageboy made you do it.” And I suppose the dog ate your homework at one time or another too. Anyway, a review of the B&B archives shows a modest output of light, literate, and humorous blog posts from shortly after Thanksgiving to February 12. You posted once or twice a week and even took some time off arount the solstice. (Sidebar question – you weren’t out in the hills with Elaine and Jeneane conjuring up feminist mischief?)

Anyway, on February 12 you were off and running with your first deep-linking post, and you haven’t looked back. Since that cyberlaw item was posted, you have kicked up your blog-put to daily postings, many of them lengthy, all of them well written, and focussing more and more on technology and the law.

On the 25th of February your spouse noted that blogging had become a time sink, and you dutifully blogged that observation. What I want to know now is, do you think you can blame it all on the iMac? And what do you love about blogging?


I am always, in spirit, out in the hills with Elaine and Jeneane conjuring up feminist mischief. I’m hoping this evening they can make it to the beach to ring in summer with a midnight swim and storytelling til dawn.

Regarding the shift in my blog postings from mid-February onward, I can’t blame it on the iMac as much as I can blame it on you. And Jeneane and Kevin’s questions about legal issues on Gonzo Engaged. And the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

It went something like this: I sat down with RageBoy’s “procedures” (“We got work to do — the end result of which will put you on my list of bloggers. Maybe we need to get procedural about this. Yeah, good idea. So here’s whatcha do…”) in late November. That EGR send went out early in the month, but it had been a crazy one for me. I was swamped with work. After being in our own house for a year we were finally getting settled. I’d heard a little about weblogs around the edges, but really didn’t have an inkling what this was about or what I was getting into.

So there it was, this pretty blue blog. What an unfriggingbelievable contraption. Like a frisky little beagle pup – “You want I should put that on the Web? — pant, pant — Ho-kay!” I’ve been writing prose for some twenty-five years, but haven’t been able to keep a journal since I was a moony teen. Hate writing on paper anymore, and it seems so dry and pathetic to have your innermost thoughts socked away on your hard drive in a Word document. “It’ll help your writing,” I told myself. “It’ll be fun.” And it has. And it is.

One thing I learned in the first couple of months: it takes a particular disposition to get keyed up about blogging. I’ve got it. Others don’t. A small depth charge of blogs fanned out from my Blogger account right away. One for a bunch of far-flung friends – hey, we can write, keep in touch, plot insurrection, etc. Strike one; those who figured out how to post rarely did. Death by disinterest. The next was for the “mentor group” I was coordinating within the firm, a cross-section of attorneys of all seniority levels, various practice groups. Strike two; those who figured out how to post were, reticent to do so. You want me to spout off, and you want to keep written records, huh? Fohgettaboutit. Death by disinterest again, mixed with a little dread. A third was for a friend’s husband, an expatriate brit with wicked humor and profound wisdom, especially about wine and winemaking. Strike three; got me, thought this one would take. Death by “D’oh!”

But while these efforts fizzled, Bag and Baggage chugged along, and I was stunned by the wealth of good reading coming my way from other people’s blogs. News was starting to be interesting. Literature was starting to be free. The Kelly v. Arriba case came down from the Ninth Circuit, involving the Ditto search engine and using and linking to images, and I began writing it up for the firm’s Web site as I do whenever an interesting new appellate or digital rights case comes out. Then it dawned on me to put it on the blog because it dealt directly with things bloggers do – incorporate and link to images. I also realized I’d been “blogging” without knowing it for a long time, both with the material I’d been writing for the law firm, and going back to when my former firm first pointed its ISDN line toward an ISP.

I’ve been one of the Web’s great audience members since it first flickered up on my screen. From then to now, I’ve sent emails to colleagues rounding up interesting sites and explaining why they were particularly useful to what we do – which, as I understand from Ms. Blood, is kind of how this whole blog thing got going in the first place.

An experiment ensued, and you took part. I posted about Kelly v. Arriba, instantly of course, to the blog. I also submitted it for the firm site, and waited, and waited, as news about the case came out from other sources.

I noticed Bag and Baggage was getting Google hits from searches about the decision. Hmm. The same piece finally made it up on the firm site maybe three weeks later. In the meantime, you asked me about gene patents. Jeneane and Kevin were interested in copyright issues on Gonzo Engaged.

Discussing why genes are patentable and how copyright works isn’t practicing law (it’s like a doctor talking about “cancer” vs. “your cancer”), so I was free to oblige. The gene patent piece also got edited and submitted for the firm site. Again, I watched as time ticked by until it got posted there.

Again, I watched people interested in the issue finding it much more quickly on the weblog. You can almost hear the gears turning and clicking into place in my head, I assume. I used these and other experiences with Bag and Baggage to do a proposal about adding blogs to our firm site. People are interested, and I’m cautiously optimistic. (It’s more complicated than it sounds; there are 76 pages within the site that require conversion to this format if we do it.) During all this I also was researching, then writing, an article about blogs in the legal field. Found a handful of other legal types who were blogging. They told me about others. Links to others came my way serendipitously. My list of “blawgs” went from about three to close to fifty. The diversity in this group is impressive. Some are “Just the Law, Ma’am.” Some are, um, distinctly more unhinged. Others occupy a middle ground. I love ‘em all.

What I enjoy about blogging, then, is it lets me write what I know in a more relaxed manner than the persuasive writing I do for a living. It helps open up my buttoned-down profession. It puts me a link’s-breadth away from phenomenal writers, thinkers, humorists, designers and individuals. It helps me remember things. It helps me buy Father’s Day gifts (both “Kill It And Grill It” recommended – ha – by RageBoy and “Gould’s Book Of Fish” recommended by Mark Woods; yeah, Dad’s got eclectic taste). It opens my eyes to what the hell is going on – it’s odd now to read the paper or watch the evening news and realize how little of this is actually “news” to me anymore. It frequently leaves me in a giggling heap on the floor. It shrinks the world, and expands it. It keeps me coming back for more.

Oops, getting close to midnight. Must go light the fire on the beach and prepare for visitors…



Denise, let’s return to the ethical concerns you mentioned earlier. I have no doubt regarding the validity of your ethical concerns, and the way that you voice them makes it clear you are not an ambulance chasing blogging lawyer. But the nugget of this topic seems to be that if you advertise on your website, you have some records related administrivia to deal with, which should be managed nicely by your back-up process. (I’m sure you do frequent back-ups since you are so well organized.) What I need to know is this: does the guy who advertises his services via painted bus stop benches have to keep a physical copy of the bench for the two year retention period?

Actually, I scanned the ABA material and Mr. Hartley’s blog and couldn’t pinpoint a retention requirement. I did notice that Mr. Hartley’s terrier bears a striking resemblance to his wetsuit. Fang thought it looked more like hors d’ouevre.


You keep Fang away from Pongo, he’s cute! And actually just went through that kind of nightmare, poor thing.

I do enjoy your sense of humor, since I scarcely know when you’re kidding. I’ve never advertised on a bus-stop bench or bus, or wanted to be involved with an outfit that did, I haven’t the foggiest what sort of records one must keep – probably put the thing out back for a couple years, call it a planter. I assume they have to keep not-to-scale copies of the ads. “Solicitations” – ads and other annoyances – are covered by different rules than Web sites (thankfully!). The record retention requirement is part of the California Rules of Professional Conduct, and doesn’t apply nationwide. Dunno what other states do. The CA ethics opinion that got us off on this tangent is here:

Regarding Web sites, records and content are governed. False, misleading, deceptive = not permitted. If my blog were governed by the ethical rules in CA, I couldn’t pull an Orson Welles (and you know how I yearn to).


Denise, your response to an earlier question was freighted with literary content, from Anne Rice (Interview with the Barrister) to Wallace Stegner. The basic “hickey” or “monkey bite” is as far as I have gotten into vampirism, and that was long long ago in a high school far far away. As for Stegner, your appreciation for his work speaks volumes about your ability to appreciate fine literature. I ran into references to Stegner in the sixties because he was mentor for a rare group of writers at Stanford (Edward Abbey, Larry McMurtry, Ken Kesey, Wendell Berry among others) and I wanted to be just like them. Okay, just like Kesey…. I’m talking about Kesey the novelist here, who may or may not be separable from Kesey the pop cultural icon. And Abbey. Okay – and McMurtry, well lately like Wendell Berry too. But here’s my confession: I didn’t actually READ any Stegner. I bought Angle of Repose when I was living in the Richmond district, so that would be 71-72, but I couldn’t get into it. I’ll pick up Crossing to Safety (and thank you for the tip) and see if it appeals to me now that I am old and harmless.

So here are a few questions that come out of all that: 1) Where do you stand on the neck as an erogenous zone and how do you think Anne Rice appeals to those feelings? 2) Do you ever feel conflicted about California water projects and what they do to the back country that Stegner et al. held so dear? 3) Do you think Rageboy is what Kesey might have become if Kesey had gotten into several 12 step programs? Do you ever read cowboy stories? 4) Have you ever bought art through eBay and how did it go, or why haven’t you done it? Have you ever been high and read that passage from Eliot about bats with baby faces…

“A woman drew her long black hair out tight

And fiddled whisper music on those strings

And bats with baby faces in the violet light

Whistled, and beat their wings

And crawled head downward down a blackened wall

And upside down in air were towers

Tolling reminiscent bells, that kept the hours

And voices singing out of empty cisterns and exhausted wells.”

… before you were an officer of the court I mean.


Well, now that I know you wanted to be just like Kesey I’ll have to pick up more of his books (besides Cuckoo’s Nest). Never read Great Notion, but understand it’s aptly titled. Did you read Sailor Song and like it? Others you’d recommend? I told Jeneane recently there are two kinds of books in the house. Vertical ones (on shelves, read) and horizontal ones (on every spare bit of table space, unread). The horizontals are winning…

With all the wintry imagery on people’s blogs this June day (Shelley by the Bay; Doc bound for Vancouver; RB questing like a salmon for certain peaks, valleys and streams), I should mention one of the verticals, several times over, is Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale: “There was a white horse, on a quiet winter morning when snow covered the streets gently and was not deep, and the sky was swept with vibrant stars, except in the east, where dawn was beginning in a light blue flood.” Hmmm, gonna have to lay that one flat again for sure. Your questions. My answers.

1) Regarding the neck as an erogenous zone, I stand, lie and genuflect before it. All hail the neck. Ann Rice goes straight at it of course, and that probably has something to do with why I liked her when she swept in, black cape flying. (Since then, she’s gone dry for me. Too much, too soon, too same.) But actually, what got me about Rice was what got me about Helprin and Winter’s Tale, come to think of it: stories that dare you to doubt that unlooked for mysticism, power, evil, grace are all around us, all the time. And, what I really dig about Rice? Husband-poet Stan:

Tell it

In rhythmic


Detail by detail

the living creatures.

Tell it

as must, the rhythm

solid in the shape.

Woman. Arms lifted. Shadow eater.

[From Elegy, in Singing Yet]


2) California’s water woes. Whoo, you hit a nerve there for me and my kin. Dad fly fishes. We’ve backpacked since I could scarcely back a pack. Mom studies California history and Native American culture. Dad (who was a lawyer before he was a writer) took August off each year to guide river trips on the Middle Fork of the Salmon in Idaho. We’d join him one of the weeks. Happiest. Best. So, we are very much about keeping rivers and streams flowing in their natural, undammed state in my family, as much as the needs of a thirsty populace can possibly permit. Letters are written. Law makers are taken fishing and gin and tonicked to within an inch of their ability to draw breath. If there’s a way to get the water without disturbing the trout, bear, eagles, mountain lions, herons, elephant ears – and there usually is – we’re hollering about it.

3) RageBoy is utterly unique. I can assure you I never read “business books” until he came along. I hope against hope he will not spontaneously combust. (And, since I’m no Kesey aficionado, it’s tough to compare.)

I don’t read cowboy stories (except Cormac McCarthy’s) but know most of the verses to “Streets of Laredo.” Have read some cowboy poetry. Love K.D. Lang and Tom Robbins – only marginally related to cow-folk through my not most favorite book and a disappointing movie, but have you read Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates? No? Do.

4) I have not bought art through eBay (never found a piece I’d buy), but have given NextMonet a whirl and have been very, very pleased. (Check Tom Killion out:) I also buy “art” (framed prints) from I haven’t read that Eliot passage in an altered state, but think coupled with Dark Side of the Moon it could be transcendent in the right hands, probably not mine. My outings with the dread weed taught me it simply sends me off to dreamy-dreamy land with none of the usual fireworks or fun.

You realize Elaine and I get to take the cross-examiner’s chair before you get much further down this road. Don’t you?




Thanks for the tip on Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale. I’ll have to check it out.

Now, can we get a close-up of the pretty girl sitting on the rock I wonder? Nothing like cold nights in the mountains sharing a tent with a pretty girl. Down bags are sexier than anything from Victoria’s Secret.

I read Sailor Song and liked it, but not a lot. Maybe I better read it again, now that the nineties are past. I was very pleased that it was written, but in a way I thought that Kesey had lost his voice, or given it up to an absurdist, but not all that funny perspective. You as a Tom Robbins fan should know that Tom Robbins does it better (Sailor Song reminds me of a Robbins novel with a bitter edge). As for “Fierce Invalids…” Yup, that was actually a biography of me, but we couldn’t let my identity be revealed because I was having trouble getting “grounded” at that time, and there was this guy with a pyramidal head that was giving me trouble also. Fortunately, the blog-sisters gave me a place to hide out somewhere in the desert or maybe the Owens Valley, I can’t rightly recall. Seriously, I LOVED “Fierce Invalids…” I think my boy Ben (who’s a white water guide on the American River) has my copy.

“Sometimes a Great Notion” was and is the great American novel. Faulkner, Melville, Twain, Hawthorne… lots of folks wrote good American novels, (and Hemingway of course wrote good European and Cuban novels) and Mailer made money writing macho and Germaine Greer hated him for it and by the way, do you know how many feminists it takes to change a light bulb? “That’s not funny!” my wife Beth said when I asked her that question, and of course that’s the punch-line.

Why do I think it’s the great American novel, you may ask. Easy. Kesey mastered authenticity, voice and point of view. He has several different male characters, each of whom behaves and talks like he should. Several different female characters, equally authentic and well differentiated. Hell, his dog point of view is as well done as his various people points of view. The book is great. Get through the first fifty pages and it will carry you. The irony here is that Notion is very filmic. It cuts through time and from location to location like a complex movie. When they made the movie, they turned it into a linear narrative which is why the movie suckt. And it showcases American values, heroic struggles, American family life and Nature with a capital EN.

We haven’t talked about Thomas Pynchon and we better not get started, unless you have an opinion on V or Gravity’s Rainbow you’d like to share? Actually I’m a “Crying of Lot 49″ fan. That may have been the great funny American novel.

But all that is beside the point really. The question we’re drilling down to is this:

As a woman who respects truth and justice, do you have a sense of paradox as regards the English/American adversarial practice of the law? Isn’t there a better way to do things than hiring big guns to fight it out when we find ourselves in disagreement with somebody else? Is it possible that the feudal dudes who came up with the Magna Charta didn’t have the best interests of us peasants in mind?



I thought that was you in the back of the convent, trying to make time with the Mothers Superior. ;^)

Judging by this graphic and your endorsements, Pynchon will join Kesey and illustrious others in the important task of lying around my house.

On to The English/American adversarial practice of law. I suppose it’s like much science – generally beneficial to the human condition but dangerous in the wrong hands. As I mentioned before, the one thing I have learned from my clients over the years is this: people either hate the system you describe, or are a little off balance to begin with. If they have been wronged or wrongly accused (and no one ever begins the process thinking they occupy a middle ground), they must wait sometimes years, and spend sometimes fortunes, to get redress. Even then nothing is guaranteed. We could and should address these problems by making at least the following priorities:

(1) We need the best possible minds on the bench. Like teachers, these positions should be well compensated to attract good people in the first place and keep them from moving on.

(2) We need to streamline court and litigation processes. Software and knowledge management are playing big, critical roles in this. Things are so much better now than they were ten years ago. The positive trends will continue, but nothing happens overnight.

(3) We need to find more ways of discouraging abuses in the litigation process; that is, tactics calculated not to get to the truth but to wear the other side down. The good news is the courts are as sick of it as the litigants, and are less reticent than ever about imposing fines on parties and lawyers who play games.

With these goals in mind, I actually am a fan of the adversarial approach for a couple of reasons. First, more often than not there is not one right, clear answer in a dispute. There are shades of gray. There are policies and interests to be balanced. If you don’t make a case for both sides before a knowledgeable decision maker, you sacrifice the development of legal guidelines that help the next people who face similar issues. Second, if the alternative is to do away with courts and juries altogether and force everyone into binding arbitration or mediation, I don’t like where that leaves us. Those types of solutions are effective, helpful and desired by parties in certain cases. But I’d hate to make them the only way to go. Mediators can strong-arm parties into settling when they should not. If an arbitrator makes a mistake – and we all make mistakes – there is little or no opportunity to fix it.

I enjoy practicing before appellate courts in particular because the judges are the cream of the crop and focused on just one thing – getting it right. Also, the process already is efficient and getting more so, as paper records of trial court proceedings give way to searchable, organizeable digital ones.

You ask a difficult question because the system clearly aggravates most who become entangled in it. That acknowledged, I think it provides a framework better than the alternatives of chaos, anarchy or dictatorialism. Can we do away with the “big guns?” If by that you mean high-priced intimidators who are not all that competent in the first place, sure. If you mean people who spend years studying the law and improving their ability to apply it intelligently in writing and orally before a court, I don’t think so. If my livelihood or future were on the line over a dispute, I would want such a person pressing my case, just as you would want to entrust your health to a competent surgeon. As in the medical field, the Internet is a tool that lowers barriers, improves access to knowledge about rights, and provides a means for fighting to protect or improve them the likes of which the world has never seen. The more people participate in these discussions, the better the system will function.



Denise, the preceding was terribly thoughtful, enormously professional, and the clarity and focus you brought to the issues demonstrates why readers have been email bombing me with requests to get this interview published. But Sandhill readers want more than substance, they want an expression of that ephemeral quality that colors your feminity. In short, prurience.

With that in mind let me ask… what makes you laugh? Is your funny bone in any way connected to your G spot? Are you an earnest lover or a playful one? When you were a girl and just exploring the world of love and pleasure, were you more likely to be heartbroken or to break hearts? Is there any way to relate this kind of question to the world of law and iMacs, or are you hopelessly schizophrenic? Would you rather make love on the beach or in the mountains?


These final few emails are what’s known in my profession as “late filed briefs” – in after the deadline and considered solely at the judge’s discretion. The trip’s been fun, but my baggage has been unpacked and packed again. I’m due to depart soon.

If something makes me laugh, I’m almost guaranteed to put it on the blog. Today, it was tikis and Batgirl’s questionable identity in the buff. Couple of days ago, elves. Tomorrow, who knows? But I’m looking forward to it.

Laughter and chemistry have a direct feed to one another where I’m concerned. The first night I met my husband, he played a joke on me that still makes me laugh. I have generally had to consider someone at least a little nuts before entertaining the thought of sleeping with them. Earnest or playful? Yes.

I’ve been the breaker and the breakee. Sometimes hard to draw the distinction, bad either way. Breakage and parting consistently have been what has made me cry. Jeneane wrote an agonizing piece about a loss flattening you years later, out of the blue. I am well traveled in this space.

Everything relates, cause and effect. But, I have a hard time getting too worked up in the sense you mean over legal texts or hardware…

The beach/mountain question is a Sophie’s Choice, tragic to even attempt. When I really need to regroup, southern latitudes beckon first.



Thank you. I have this nagging feeling that there are questions left unasked and I know there are questions left unanswered! Some twisted clannishness or professionalism or whatever has prevented you from stepping up and facing the lawyer joke issue squarely and forthrightly. I’m fine with that. The readers will draw their own conclusions and they’ve heard plenty of lawyer jokes anyway. We never did get around to a thoroughgoing discussion of Keith Partridge and just what it was about the lad that made you go weak in the knees.

I am glad that you were able to participate and I’ll pop you a draft of what I’m going to blog later today. If it raises any red flags, let me know and we can work it out.

So once again, my hearty thanks! You’ve honored me with your willingness to sit still for this silliness as long as you did.


Hey, wait, stop the presses! I still plan to respond to the lawyer joke/Keith Partridge email. I’ve been taking these one at a time, and I promise I’ll send that one today. I feel bad I have had to squeeze this in between so many other demands on my time this week, but if I didn’t break it up into discrete chunks I’d never manage it. So indulge me, the final one will come this afternoon. Hope that’s ok!


Well you are a goddess and the one heartbreak of my life is that we are each married and in love with another and I am old and pudged out and we will never get to play the soulful duet that we were created out of time to play. If you can send me the Cassidy scoop and the lawyer joke, there will be a place for them in what otherwise is a fine interview. I really do feel guilty about using so much of your time on this. It’s coming together nicely though and I’ll send you a clear text draft soon (with or without the Partridge piece and lawyer joke). I was re-reading and I sound like such a goof and you sound so professional, and like you probably never sweat and only occasionally even glow.


No goddess, just stretched so thin you can see through to the wall behind my desk! I have enjoyed our conversation hugely – I don’t know if it comes through, but your questions have caused me to reflect on how inordinately fortunate and happy I am in my life and those around me, and they’ve also pulled the scabs off some old wounds that are aching now but will get better. I’ve been trying to give you quick turnaround, but those with retainer checks in the firm’s accounts have had to take precedence. It also has been comical to have my secretary buzz in with, for example, a phone call from the court about an urgent filing, ask, “Are you busy?,” and have me almost blurt out, “Well, I’m trying to decide what to tell someone I don’t really *know* – and all his many online readers – about my preferences concerning low or high altitude sex. Tell Justice __’s office to hold.”

My commute is a joy as well, so I’m off to finish getting ready and get my morning hour of Audible on the road. After I get a little actual work done this morning, I’ll get my “final final” in. Thanks for being insightful, courteous, erudite and fun, and I have no problem with your making this part of the final product.


Wait! Did I say we were done? Quickies can be fun, so here are a few:

1) Partridge Family or Brady Bunch or both. What kind of fan are you really?

2) Do you have a favorite lawyer joke, and if so – what is it? If not, what is your least favorite lawyer joke? If I am to wear the Baba Wawa mantle in Blogaria, I must have answers to the questions I’ve asked!

Also, I feel constrained to comment on the North/South California controversy (if there still is one). I agree with you that I seldom see bad stuff from the south about the north except for the kind of canards you included in your response to the “dooce” bit. But the North isn’t sucking the mountains dry, and while the population explosion up north is hideous, it’s nothing like the drain on the planet from south of Big Sur. But for my money, the urban qualities of San Francisco (I was trained up by Herb Caen never to call it Frisco) will always trump the mile after mile of one and two story stucco, strip malls, and air pollution that is the LA basin. Just my opinion, I could be wrong.

I do have a Morro Bay retirement fantasy. Somewhere out of the drift of the reactor steam and out of site of the huge smokestack and not too far from the beach…. Also, number four on your list (see above) is wrong. Carol Doda was long a staple on San Jose’s channel 36 (geddit – “the perfect 36″ had to hire Carol), anyway you see my point – or her points.

How are we doing Denise? I’m more than a little shy about offending a future Supreme Court Justesse, so maybe I haven’t gotten as deep into your sex life as I should have. I think you turned my rude question about our adversarial legal system in a nice direction, even though I don’t agree. I would love to actually get on a jury sometime, but every time I’ve been called I’ve answered the questions in such a way that one lawyer or the other could tell that I wasn’t ever going to be his/her buddy. “Zap, you’re outa here!”

Have we been prurient enough? Do you think we’re going to get nude California girl sunbather google hits off this interview? I’m sure you were a sexy college coed, but we haven’t talked much about it. Do you have any young Asian girls as friends? I used to, but they’ve aged right along with me. Funny how that happens. Let me know what else I may have left out that’s crying for inclusion. Otherwise, I think we’ll call it a wrap.


Ah, the final-final. (Which implies it’s never really time to call it quits and go home.) You’re ready with additional hard drive space for Golby? And a fire extinguisher for Jeneane’s sizzling prose? And for when all your subjects cry “turnabout’s fair play,” and divvy up portions of “-fp’s-” vast and varied intellect to probe and post across their multiple blogs? Thought so -

1) Partridge Family all the way. The neighborhood kids used to stage full scale, poolside air band production numbers with “Point Me In The Direction Of Albuquerque,” etc., blasting from the outdoor speakers, and EVERYone wanted to be Keith. If you have not treated yourself to The Partridge Family body of work for awhile, why are you denying yourself this pleasure? A friend loaned us a “Greatest Hits” cd at a holiday party two years ago. We still have it, and my husband and I fight over who gets it in the car. The Bradys’ musical and other talents never quite measured up to the high bar the Partridges set. Also, you remind me that David Cassidy has a new cd out where he reprises old favorites, and I’ve been meaning to take the plunge. (Hey, look: Amazon has taken down its “What’s Your Advice” feature to block the “commercial abuse” people were engaging in to drive buyers to their works. So much for more “Amazing Amazon Hacks” in the RB/Norlin tradition – on this front, anyway.)

2) Lawyer jokes: out of such a wealth of material, a few gems rise to the top.


Two lawyers are sitting at a table in a restaurant and they see a very attractive woman walk by.

The first lawyer turns to the second and says, ” Boy, would I like to screw her!”

The other lawyer pauses for a second, and responds, “Oh Yeah? Out of What?”


A surgeon, an architect an a lawyer are having a heated barroom discussion concerning which of their professions is actually the oldest profession.

The surgeon says: “Surgery IS the oldest profession. God took a rib from Adam to create Eve and you can’t go back further than that.”

The architect says: “Hold on! In fact, God was the first architect when he created the world out of chaos in 7 days, and you can’t go back any further than THAT!”

The lawyer puffs his cigar and says: “Gentlemen, Gentlemen…who do you think created the CHAOS??!!”


Many years ago, a junior partner in a firm was sent to a far-away state to represent a long-term client accused of robbery. After days of trial, the case was won, the client acquitted and released. Excited about his success, the attorney telegraphed the firm: “Justice prevailed.” The senior partner replied in haste: “Appeal immediately.”


(Thanks to these sites for jogging my memory: and

I remember Carol Doda and “Big Al’s” fondly from childhood. You may draw from that whatever conclusions about my upbringing you would like. I’m glad to hear she finally achieved recognition for her less apparent assets.

I’m wondering when you were last in the Bay Area…sadly, it’s giving the southland strong competition on the traffic, smog, strip mall and housing tract fronts. It’s still one of the finest destinations on the planet, but I have a harder time telling San Ramon from Irvine with each passing day.

Please know that none of your questions have caused offense, as I hope none of my answers have, especially if I have held back more than you would have hoped. As Marek blogged recently, it’s past time for businesses and those within them to “Play Passion.” I wholeheartedly agree, but that does not mean someone like me should not be conscious of the potential harm to client interests, or my own or my firm’s reputation, if a judge, colleague or client representative were to write me off as a bimbette with absurd judgment as the result of something “prurient” I may have written on the Web. Names have not been changed to protect the candid. It would be wrong for me not to act accordingly.

That said, I have a few young Asian friends I wouldn’t mind introducing you to…

Thanks for all the free therapy!


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