Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Growing Up Running for Office

         Deratany family lore actually has it that I was a painfully shy and quiet child until, at the age of 8, I started having to campaign door-to-door for my father as he ran for a seat in the Florida Legislature in 1978. Then again, you could argue that I had already been working on political campaigns since before I was born.

In 1969, my father owned a barbershop in the center of the Town of Indialantic, where he pretty much held court among all the gentlemen in the area, who would come in and linger to gossip and talk politics. I know this not only because my father tells me it is true, but because even now any time I meet a man over the age of 35 from the Melbourne area, he will inevitably mention how he used to get his hair cut by my dad or one of my uncles in the old barbershop and how it used to be a real guy hangout.

At 29 years of age, my father would pontificate with a comb in one hand and a pair of hair scissors in the other about what needed to be fixed in the Town and what should be done to make things right. It wasn’t long before some of his clients egged him on to run for Town Council so that he could put his money where his mouth was. My mother, 25 years old, pregnant with me and caring for a precocious three-year-old boy (my brother, Todd), hustled to campaign for my father.  On the day that I was born in early October of 1969, my mother rushed around delivering campaign materials while chalking up her contractions to Braxton Hicks. Turns out, she was to deliver more than campaign materials that day. One month later, my father held me in his arms as he gave his first victory speech. Over the next eight years my father would serve the Town of Indialantic first as a councilman and by the time I entered kindergarten, Mayor (and then a few years later my Mother would be the Mayor, and then several years after that my brother, and now as I write this my husband is Deputy Mayor, but I’m getting ahead of myself).

            In 1978 my father would run for the Florida legislature, where he would serve for over a dozen years until I was in my senior year of college, first as State Representative and later as Senator. So from birth until my senior year of college my father held or was running for some sort of elected office.

Now, there is no time or opportunity for the daughter of a politician to be quiet and shy. There is no luxury of staying behind the scenes playing alone in your room with your dollhouse and Barbies. Having a family member running for office calls for all hands on deck, and I would not be spared. Although I didn’t feel particularly cute at the time, I am now an adult and realize that all eight-year-olds are precious and probably one of any candidate’s better selling points. So, when I was just my own son’s age now, I remember waving with my family on strategic street corners during morning and evening rush hour traffic. I would smile, wave and hold up a big red and white sign that read, “Vote for My Daddy.” They also had me walking door to door with them and other volunteers in the early evenings and on weekends, knocking, then taking three steps back from the door, handing out a brochure and giving my pitch,

“My daddy is Tim Deratany and he’s running for State Representative District 42. I hope we can count on your vote!”

I might have been shy when I started, but after knocking on literally hundreds of doors over weeks and months, and successfully getting people to take my brochure, I eventually overcame my shyness. I learned to look people in the eye and shake hands. I learned that other people were just as shy as I was and that I could make myself feel less shy by letting people know that I was happy to see them.  I learned that I should always conduct myself as if I were being watched because I was a reflection of my family. Even today, I feel perfectly comfortable walking up to total strangers and introducing myself, at least if I’m on some sort of mission like promoting an event or working as part of a hosting committee. However, if I’m just at a party to be at a party where I don’t know people and am just a random guest, then I’m just as shy and awkward as the next person. But give me a piece of literature to pass out or a job to do, and it’s just like second nature. Like riding a bicycle. I’m Brooke Deratany Goldfarb and I’m pleased to meet you!

People sometimes ask me when am I going to run for public office. Although I’ve been elected to the leadership of various organizations over the years starting with Melbourne High School Student Body President, I haven’t yet tried for true political office. Not that I wouldn’t, just that I haven’t.


You see, the one thing I’ve learned having both parents in politics (after my father, my mother was on the Indialantic Town Council, then the Mayor of Indialantic, then a Brevard County Commissioner), is that politics is not pretty. It takes thick skin and being prepared to have half the people hate you at any time, no matter how nice you are or how hard you try to do a good job and get things accomplished. It means always being a target for angry citizens (and opposing sides) and having ongoing dinner conversations on things like zoning and taxes and other issues of the day. It means always having to worry about saying what you mean exactly the way you mean to say it so that it is not taken out of context and used against you. It means living your life in such a way as to avoid even the slightest appearance of impropriety.

Endearing retired people at political functions used to ask my little school-aged pig-tailed self what I wanted to be when I grew up. They really seemed to get a kick out of it when I said things like “Supreme Court Justice” or “Governor of Florida.”  I always thought I was supposed to run for office when I grew up; that people expected it of me. Except that I don’t always care for the polarizing effect of the two-party system, even though it is the system we have and I don’t see it changing anytime soon. I can’t help but see the other side or that the world is more complicated than divisions of black and white or Red and Blue. The issues have nuances and intricacies. I really want to understand why each person feels the way that they do. I really want to try to make sense of it.  Is anyone really ever completely right? Is anyone really ever completely wrong? There are so many ways of viewing a situation. I first want to listen carefully to all of the offered arguments and then make up my mind.
There is one non-partisan election I would like to pursue: I really would like to be a judge. A judge is supposed to be independent minded. A judge is supposed to remain above and beyond politics. The judge’s robe and iconic blind over the eyes of Lady Justice are meant to symbolize the closing off of the judge from bias, prejudice and political influence. I know it doesn’t always seem that way to people, but that is the way it is meant to be. Judges are supposed to make decisions based solely on the unique facts of the case before them and the applicable law.  They are supposed to do so with honor, dignity, wisdom, and respect for all. A judge should maintain order in the courtroom while promoting an atmosphere in which professionalism, courtesy and civility prevail for all those who come before the bench. A judge should be compassionate, have life experience and be able to see the big picture. She should do her best to make visitors to her courtroom feel comfortable and safe; that rules will be followed; and that people will be dealt with appropriately. She is uniquely placed to require professionalism and respect for humanity.  

          When people go to court, they are naturally nervous, angry, upset or afraid. Much usually hangs in the balance. Cases are almost always complicated and must be resolved as, well, judiciously, as possible. Individuals are rarely all good or all bad or all wrong or all right, but the one thing they all have in common is that they want to be treated fairly. One man’s frivolous case is another man’s dying cause, but what are the facts of the case and what law applies? These are the questions. To me the only true constant (because lawyers and litigants rarely agree on the facts or the law) is that all people before the court—regardless of why they are there or what they have done—are human beings. And as human beings they are worthy of respect. Sometimes a person may think another not so worthy, and although it makes sense that they might feel that way, it remains that all human beings are indeed worthy, regardless of what mess they may have made of things or how badly they have acted. And let's not forget that we can respect all people and still hold them accountable for their actions, by preserving due process and following legal procedure.

It’s what we would want if it were you and I.

            So I hope to become a judge because I want to be that calming courtroom presence. I want to be able to command professionalism and dignity, courtesy and civility. I want people to feel like they have been heard and respected, even if the ruling doesn’t end up going their way. As a lawyer and as a litigant, I’ve seen it from all angles. I’ve felt what it’s like to perform for the judge and jury on behalf of my client. I know the anxiety of the witness on the stand. I’ve seen lawyers be rude and insulting. I’ve seen lawyers conduct themselves with professionalism and respect. I’ve also examined the courtroom from the point of view of the mediator, the arbitrator, the law professor, the mentor of aspiring law students and younger lawyers. I know how challenging it can be to ask the difficult questions and to feel the need to zealously represent your client. I think a good judge should also mentor young attorneys and build them up and encourage them to be the most professional and ethical they can be. Believe it or not, my friends, lawyers are people too. Even they are worthy of human kindness and respect.  Despite what you might see in the movies or on television, most lawyers are just trying to do a good job for their client. Certain judges sometimes forget how hard it is to be in the trenches, to be required to be in front of three judges in three different courtrooms at the same time. 

In the end, it’s all about balance. After all, I think that's what the scales are for. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Why Be A Lawyer?

When I was eleven years old I decided to be a lawyer. Although my parents were in favor of encouraging their daughter to pursue a profession they could point to with pride, there were many naysayers out there, especially among established lawyers.

“Don’t do it! Don’t go to law school!” they would exclaim. “There are already too many lawyers in the world. Besides, we're all unhappy!"

Then there are all the people out there who openly hate lawyers; all the lawyer jokes and the pejorative names like “ambulance chaser,” “shark” and “shyster.” Of course, most people only hate lawyers until they actually need one themselves. And then they like THEIR lawyer, at least until they get the bill for services rendered.

Although I was suspicious of these lawyers' reasons for trying to dissuade me from the practice of law, now that I have been a lawyer for a number of years I can see what they were talking about. The truth is it is not easy to make it as a lawyer. Whether you work for yourself, in a big corporate law firm, for a company, legal aid or the public defender's office, the practice of law can be very demanding and stressful. People usually need a lawyer when they are in crisis or have a distressing or distasteful problem they need help solving. A lot of pressure is put on lawyers to come up with the right answers and to win cases. That requires long and sometimes tedious hours. If you work for a firm, there is the constant pressure to bill the hours. If you work on your own, there is the constant struggle to bring in and manage business and to collect the fees so you can keep your office going. Many demands are put on attorneys by clients, judges, opposing counsel and the Bar itself. A lawyer can really feel the pressure of having the fate of a person’s future on her hands. While some clients are very grateful for all you do, other times no matter what you do, you can't make your client happy. They say that lawyers leave the profession as quickly as they enter it, and that lawyers suffer one of the highest levels of divorce, depression, substance abuse and suicide of any of the professions. So why then would anyone in their right mind want to be a lawyer?

The other day, when driving a carpool, I overheard one of my daughter’s friends telling her that she wanted to be a lawyer some day so that she could be rich.

“Whoa, slow your roll, Chick-a-dee!” I thought to myself.  Although I can certainly understand the “lawyers are rich” perception with the billboards and the publicized huge corporate salaries and the high-profile billion dollar settlements of which the lawyers get their thirty percent cut, the fact of the matter is that the practice of law is like any other profession or job. A few really successful people make a lot of money (paying for it in blood, sweat and tears and putting in 80 hour weeks, mind you), but a larger number of lawyers--at least the ones who are able to get a job or attract clients--are solidly middle class. A starting public defender salary is usually in the range of a starting public school teacher salary (around $35,000 to $40,000 per year). On the other end of the spectrum and depending on the market, those who graduate at the top of their class at top law schools can have a starting salary well into six figures in some big cities like New York, D.C. and Los Angeles. However, the average mid-career lawyer income range is probably more $50,000 to $100,000, which, although I acknowledge is respectable, doesn't go very far when providing for a family and trying to save for the future. For most lawyers, the practice of law is not amazing wealth. While some do very well, others barely eke out a living.

So then why go to all the trouble to be a lawyer if not for the money? This is why: Lawyers can really make a difference in their community and the world. They help people in crisis, like my friend Robert Johnson, who is the Executive Director of Brevard County Legal Aid or my friend, Wendi Adelson, who has worked with victims of human trafficking as an immigration lawyer. There are many lawyers out there doing important work standing up for people’s rights, making sure that everyday people don’t get picked on, bullied and taken advantage of. Being a lawyer means participating meaningfully in the process that keeps America free and provides for checks and balances among the three branches of government. Lawyers make sure rules get followed and that people are held accountable. They make sure their clients get fair treatment and due process under the law.  In short, practicing lawyers manifest the dream of our forefathers who, by the way, were mostly lawyers, and their dream was that our country would be a place where we the people among other things would establish justice and ensure the blessings of liberty.

When those lawyers would pooh-pooh me and say that there were already too many lawyers in the world, my parents, ever my champions, would retort, “There is always room for another GOOD lawyer.” Although we didn’t go into the definition of what constituted a “Good Lawyer,” I took it to mean that there is always room at the Bar for a lawyer who did an excellent job. Now I believe a Good Lawyer is more than that.

After all, what ultimately made me want to become a lawyer by the time I was 11 years old (before realizing this would be acceptable to my parents) is this: At a young age I had personally been picked on and bullied and watched other kids being picked on and bullied and I wanted to pursue a career that would empower me and others to stand up to the bullies of the world. I wanted to solve problems; help people; make a difference. I liked to read and write and speak and from what I could tell, this is what lawyers did. And here we have refined my definition of a Good Lawyer: A lawyer who uses her intelligence and skills to solve problems, help people, and live a life of purpose.

I know this isn't how a lot of people think about what it means to be a lawyer, but I enjoy pointing out that the original job description of a lawyer was to be a healer of societal rifts and advocate for civil order, for preventing "trial by battle" and peaceably resolving disputes. It is said that lawyers actually appeared back when hunters and gatherers started settling in villages. When disputes would arise, the oldest and wisest members of the community were called upon to make decisions regarding the disputes, with others in the community acting as representatives trying to bring peace back to the community. When people think about what it means to be a lawyer, I would like them to envision the many famous lawyers throughout history who have contributed to the advancement of rights and freedoms in our society, such as Marcus Tullius Cicero, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln (and 25 other United States Presidents), Mahatma Ghandhi, Nelson Mandela, Thurgood Marshall (and all of the Supreme Court Justices), More than ½ of the United States Senate, and perhaps most important, 35 out of 55 of the Founding Fathers who took part in the Constitutional Convention in 1787.

People should realize that without lawyers, there are no courts, without courts there are no rights, no third branch of government serving as a check and balance on the executive and legislative branches. Without checks and balances there is no freedom because it has been long established that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Remember Panem in the Hunger Games and the absolute power of President Snow? It's not all that far fetched. In some countries in the world there is no due process and people don't have the right to an attorney or the right to freedom of speech, religion, the press, to peaceably assemble or complain to the people who govern them.

Furthermore, making money and living a life of purpose are not mutually exclusive. There was a time when I made the six figure salary of a mergers and acquisitions associate at a big corporate D.C. law firm helping wealthy clients and corporations. While I didn’t love the overwhelming time commitment expected of me, I learned to find purpose in the building of businesses and helping people and companies succeed. And sometimes when I would rather be with my family than at the office, I would console myself with the thought that the money I was making would help provide for my family, allowing us to save for retirement and our children’s college education, as well as have clothes to wear, food to eat, a car to drive, and a furnished house in a safe neighborhood. 

The American Dream doesn’t come cheap. However, we wouldn’t have the American Dream if it weren’t for the lawyers who wrote our Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights, nor would we be able to keep it if it weren’t for lawyers being prepared to protect it. 

Additionally, I think it is pretty well established that if you pick a career based solely on the amount of money you think you can make pursuing it, then you are setting yourself up for a lot of unhappiness and emptiness in your life. I want bright, young, articulate people to consider becoming lawyers because they believe in truth, justice and the American Way, because they believe in keeping the playing field fair and that the rights granted to every person in the United States of America by our Constitution are worth preserving and fighting for. I want them to become lawyers so that they can live a life of purpose, helping people who need help and solving problems that need to be solved, ensuring that stories get told, justice prevails and freedom continues to ring. I can’t guarantee them financial success. Many of them will indeed find it, but I don’t want young people to become lawyers for the lure of big money. No one can guarantee the money will be there. What is guaranteed is that if they look hard enough for it, they will find a life of purpose. Then they will have untold riches that money would never be able to buy.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My Achy-Breaky Heart

"Making the decision to have a child--It's momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body."
--Elizabeth Stone

The very first time I met her I knew that it would only be a matter of time before she broke my heart.

Perhaps it was the hormones or just the deep cosmic connection with the Universe--The Knowing--that comes with the miracle of creating life.

Or maybe it was the overwhelming and excruciating love that I felt for my first born as they placed her in my arms. The extraordinary, impassioned obsession with this tiny creature entrusted to me by God. Beautiful, perfect, needy. How was I going to keep her from starving? What if she didn't eat enough? What if she wasn't warm enough? How could they just let us leave the hospital with her? How could they possibly trust me to keep this child alive? I intermittently sobbed and beamed at our newborn bundle of joy.

In the first week of post-natal hysteric delirium that followed, it came time to take my daughter in for her first office visit with her pediatrician.  I was still sobbing as I sat in the waiting room with my own mother, having decided that my mother would stay with us the first two weeks of our new daughter's life, so my husband could save his paternity leave for when I had to first go back to the office.

I kept weeping to myself and nobody, "She's going to break my heart. She's going to leave me someday." I felt sorry for the poor newly-minted doctor who had the bad luck of being the only doctor in Gaithersburg, Maryland with room in her practice for us. Had they given her a class in medical school about dealing with crazy new mothers? Apparently I was so pathetic, the nurses decided to remove me from the waiting room and place me in an unoccupied office until the pediatrician was ready to see us, ostensibly to give me some "privacy," but actually because I was scaring all the little children and their parents waiting for their well-child visits.

The pediatrician was valiant in her efforts to comfort me. "Now, now, of course you love your new daughter very much. Of course this is an emotional time for you."

"But she's going to grow up and leave me," I wailed. "She's the love of my life and she is going to break my heart. How will I ever be able to do anything else again other than spend 100% of my time making sure this child lives?"

Add to this the tears you shed as a new mom just from being so very tired all the time and I guess that is why they call it the "Baby Blues."

Luckily, at the time I gave birth, I had been working as a corporate associate at a large law firm with a generous paid maternity leave policy. It was also fortunate that the baby hormones eventually wore off and I was able to pull myself together enough to actually raise this astoundingly breathtaking child, as well as do whatever else it takes to get through life.


I felt like such a disgrace to feminists everywhere. I was a Harvard-educated lawyer with a coveted position at a prestigious D.C. law firm, for goodness sakes. Shake it off and be a real woman. Bring home that bacon and fry it up in the pan, why don't you?

And into the office I went.

When I did return to the firm, I pretty much cried non-stop for my first three weeks back on the job.

In my defense, while on maternity leave, September 11th happened and especially since we were living in the Maryland suburbs of D.C., the world had seemingly changed overnight into an unsafe place for raising a child or even venturing downtown. It only made sense that I should remain home to protect our baby.

Upon surviving several rides on the D.C. Metro Red Line without incident, and after getting back into the swing of things, I eventually reentered the "real" world in order to help provide my offspring all of the advantages in life. After all, it would take both me and my husband to pay the mortgage on and furnish our beautiful suburban 4 bed/2.5 bath colonial with unfinished basement. And let's not forget all those diapers, educational toys and baby gear and clothes from Baby Gap we were going to need or the ballet lessons and the Ivy-League college and graduate school this undeniable baby genius was going to eventually attend.

Of course going back to work wasn't the same. I definitely had the distinct feeling that I had left for maternity leave a star and come back from maternity leave a pariah, which was probably partially my fault due to all the weeping, but also due to the fact that in the three months I was at home (a) we had been attacked by terrorists, People! and (b) the economy had pretty much gone to Hades in a hand basket due to the loud popping of the bubble. When I left on maternity leave there were several part time women associates and of counsel making work-life balance seem completely plausible in Corporate America. When I returned from maternity leave, all the part time attorney-moms were mysteriously (or not so mysteriously) gone. Only the moms who had already made it to partner had survived and perhaps it was my imagination but they all seemed a little more standoffish than before the decimation of the World Trade Center and that gaping hole in one of the five sides of the Pentagon.

But I digress.

The point of all this ranting is that I WAS RIGHT. My heart is already breaking and my daughter is not even 11 years old.

Oh sure, I've felt tiny whispers of this achy-breaky feeling before (I mean since the whole pediatrician waiting room incident), like her first day of preschool when she didn't need me to stay, and the day she was totally fine going to kindergarten and how every day I have dropped her off at school she walks right off after merely asking me to check her face and hair to make sure she looks all right and then I watch her as she walks off confidently and cheerfully to her classroom (unless of course I've embarrassed her by the way I've dressed or shouted hello out the car window to one of her friends), and then she slinks away angrily formulating her lecture that she will give me later on appropriate parent behavior.

But that's just it.

Now she doesn't even need me to drop her off at school. Lately on most days she has started getting her own sufficient self to school, riding off on her bicycle with her other ever-more-independent neighborhood girlfriends. She doesn't need me to help her get dressed in the morning. Actually, she is more likely to help me get dressed these days (lest I embarrass her, and let's face it, she has really good taste) and unlike before if I came into her room in the morning, she has recently told me to please be mindful that she needs her privacy.


She is maturing before my very eyes. I am trying to write a book for my daughter about growing up but apparently I'm not writing it fast enough. She gets herself ready. Puts on her own sunblock and helmet and shouts "Goodbye!" over her shoulder and she races out the door. She's started making her own goal and life-lists.  She goes longer stretches of the day without my seeing her or her needing me. I mean I know that she needs me, but recently it has been things like insisting that I show her how to shave her legs, driving her to three different stores to find the exact shorts she needs for her dance team, or discussing the different cell phone options and plans that she will allegedly pay for herself by doing chores around the house.

I kind of laugh about it with my husband over the breakfast table, because on the one hand this is what we want. We are proud we almost never have to keep after our highly-responsible daughter. We encourage her independence. In fact we sometimes (not-so) secretly long for the freedom that will come when our children are finally off at college and we will start traveling blissfully around the world enjoying life and congratulating ourselves that we raised healthy and well-educated children who will most likely solve world hunger, or cure cancer or discover a new species of fish in the Amazon River.

Honestly, if you do your job right as a parent, you slowly and steadily work your way out of your position. In fact, I heartily believe that the whole point the Universe entrusted this child to me in the first place was so that I would be there to help her find her wings and fly away. This is why her father and I have been sacrificing to sock hundreds of dollars away each month in our children's college accounts. They are supposed to grow up to be self-reliant and productive members of society who don't need their mommies and daddies.

I also realize that this whisper of heart-ache I am hearing now is not going to be anything nearly as loud as the heart-wrenching ROAR I'll hear when that day actually comes only seven years from now when our first child does indeed go off to college to fully be her own person.  And then when our son goes off only three years after his sister, I guess my husband and I will really have to deal with the empty nest heartbreak.

I suppose these little pangs are a reminder for us to cherish what time we have left of their childhood and not take even one little second for granted. It is also a good reminder to not feel guilty about working less than at full capacity right now. I can tell that it isn't going to be long before I'm going to need to go back to work full time to fill the void that will be left when the children launch from the nest into the great wide open sky.

This must be what Billy Joel meant when he wrote, "This is the time to remember, for it will not last forever. These are the times to hold onto. Cause we won't although we'll want to."

I should keep this in mind whenever my children annoy me, or complain that they are bored, or want me to do this or that with them even when I'm tired and I just want to be left alone.

I will have plenty of time to be left alone in just a few short years.

Although I am comforted by the fact that despite going days or even weeks without calling my own mother, I did end up moving back with my husband and children to my home town to be physically near my parents and extended family. My own mother is always a phone call, text or two minute drive away for me to share with her the latest achievement of--or funny story about--her grandchildren.

I am also comforted in the knowledge that we never really stop needing our parents completely, despite the fact that we all do grow up and break our mothers' hearts. And because they love us so much, they accept that we are going to do so, and then they watch us go, happy for every phone call and chance to be needed and even happier when we don't need them because they have successfully raised us to stand on our own two feet, strap on our helmets and ride our bicycles out into the streets of the world.

Because that's what it is to be a mother.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

this is our story, a book review

Wendi Adelson wants you to know that the human slave trade still exists today. She wants you to know that there are women and girls all over the world--even in the United States--who do not possess control and freedom over their lives or their bodies. She wants you to know how such an atrocity of human behavior could still occur in the modern world. Furthermore, she wants you to know that if you are a person of relative privilege who can afford the time and money to get yourself an education, then you should consider going to law school and becoming as she puts it, "an advocate for those whose voices have been taken from them."

It is for these reasons she has written the fictional but very real book entitled, this is our story. And it is for these reasons I would advise you to pull up a chair and start reading.

In a world where people often don't give a lot of credit to all the good that attorneys do, Ms. Adelson's story comes to us as a shining example of something incredibly amazing that can be accomplished with a law degree.

What I like most about this Florida State University law professor and public interest lawyer's novel is that her characters, Mila and Rosa are so alive that they practically walk right off the page. They are not romanticized, flawless, simple dupes; but complex thinking, feeling, erring human beings. Perhaps she is able to make her characters seem so real because they are indeed composites of actual people with whom the author has spent countless hours. I submit, however, that the true reason Ms. Adelson is able to bring these characters to life is because of the clarity, conviction and passion with which she writes. It has been said that the most effective lawyer is able to help her clients by telling their stories in a compelling way.

This is exactly what she has done here.

I also appreciate that through this novel, Ms. Adelson is able to express a little-heard and unconventional point of view of the immigrant, which has been lost in the current American political discourse. She states it succinctly through her quasi-autobiographical character, Attorney Lily, who bristles at the use of the term "illegals" to describe her clients:

I know a lot of people use that word and don't mean anything by it, but people also use the word to dehumanize immigrants, and make them seem like they aren't people, just "illegals" that don't have any right to be here, so we can do to them and dispose of them as we see fit. Really, though, folks, there is no such thing as an "illegal" human being. Yes, there are people in this country who lack the proper papers and who don't have the correct immigration status, but I would never call them "aliens" or "illegals."

Food for thought.

My only complaint is how Ms. Adelson's lawyer character tells her own story while constantly annotating her writing with footnotes. I find the footnotes most distracting, yet I know she has done this because it is one of the idiosincracies of Attorney Lily (and perhaps Ms. Adelson herself?). Although I am not a fan of the footnotes, I have to admit I was compelled to read them anyway and in fact one of my favorite lines in the book comes from the one at the end of Chapter 35 reminding us that the suffering of victims doesn't end just because they have been rescued:

Our story continues just as life continues, for all victims of trafficking who go on living. Sometimes, surviving day to day or even minute to minute is a challenge...Our story could never be tied up in a neat package. Our story keeps going, long after you finish this book.

I also have to take issue just a little bit with the character of Attorney Lily herself. Not because the author has done anything wrong, rather because she has done such a good job bringing her to life.  This character falls into some common wellness traps of attorneys, such as overwork and neglect of her personal relationships. In fact, Attorney Lily is so relatable, I feel like a friend of hers from law school who must sit her down woman to woman to force her to talk things out, if she'd only let me. There has to be a way that attorneys can do meaningful and important work and still lead happy, balanced lives and I want this both for Lily and for myself. I have to assume that this is the one area in which the author's life deviates in reality from that of her character.  In fact, it is her real life husband, with whom she has two small children, that encouraged Ms. Adelson to write this book in the first place. I'm glad he did.

This is our story is a very important book indeed.

It reminds us that there is much work to be done and that we have the power--lawyers and non-lawyers alike--to make a difference in the lives of those who may need a hand up. I personally will recommend that my own law students read and be inspired by Ms. Adelson's book with the hope that it will encourage them to pursue a career, legal or otherwise, helping others. Furthermore, this book has inspired me to join my local chapter of Zonta (, an international organization dedicated to advancing the status of women worldwide that raises awareness and money for the abolishment of human trafficking and other acts of violence against women.

For I have now heard the story of "Rosa," "Mila," and "Lily." And I will continue to listen.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Passing on the People's Choice Crown

A year ago
I was humbled to be voted
Mrs. Florida People's Choice at the
2011 Mrs. Florida America Competition.
I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you
What the People's Choice Award means to me.
The People's Choice Award
Is about service above self.
It is about always adding value
And the realization that
Unless we are committed to making change happen,
Unless we are able to take responsibility,
Be a part of the solution,
Neither we,
Nor our friends,
Nor family, nor community
Will flourish.
It is up to us
To plant the seeds of
Love, and
And to carry on
Even when we doubt ourselves
Or lose faith in others.
The People's Choice Award is about understanding
That our words and actions
Define who we are.
It has been an honor
To be your Mrs. Florida People's Choice for the past year.
It is an even greater honor
To pass the People's Choice Award on
To a special woman who has done
And will continue to do
Her part to make her community proud.
Whether her passions lie with
Improving education,
The environment,
The arts,
Or helping women and children in need,
Your new Mrs. Florida People's Choice will dedicate herself
To making the State of Florida,
And perhaps the world,
A more beautiful and loving place.
Congratulations to all of the amazing ladies competing this year.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What I've Learned From Harry Potter

I love being a mom. Not just because of the miracle of giving life and the overpowering, unconditional and unparalleled love that I feel for my children. Although that's all pretty cool, motherhood rocks because of all the things you get to do, read and learn about when you have kids. When your kids are tiny you enjoy all of what Blue and Dora have to teach you. I bopped to the Wiggles and Barney without worrying about looking ridiculous, because being a parent gives you free license to be as silly and fun as you want. After all, it's for the kids (wink, wink).

As my kids have gotten older, their tastes in books and music have obviously matured with them, so we now dance together to the Black Eyed Peas and LMFAO, and in the last year and a half we finally bought into the Harry Potter hype. When the Harry Potter theme park originally opened at Universal Studios in Orlando, we were probably the only people we knew who didn't care. However, at the start of my son's first grade year, we made our way to Hogwarts and reading in my house hasn't been the same since.

We devoured all of J.K. Rowling's books as a family. We would finish a book, then watch the corresponding movie. We finished the 7th book just in time to catch the last movie at our local theater. I'm not sure who was more enchanted by this fascinating orphaned wizard and his adventures, me or my son.  But after we had finished all seven books, watched all eight movies, and made a point to enjoy a butterbeer in the Wizarding World, I turned around and started reading the books all over again by myself.

It's just that I wanted more time with this wise, brave and relatable little boy who, despite his trials and tribulations, despite being picked on and bullied by many and hunted by He Who Must Not Be Named, never gives up on his fellow man. Harry never leaves anyone to die, be they friend or foe. His actions that leave the greatest impression on me occur in the Second Task of the Triwizard Tournament in Chapter 26 of the 4th book, Goblet of Fire. Here, four hostages are tied up at the bottom of the lake and each of four champions, one of them Harry, is supposed to rescue his or her own hostage and return to the surface as quickly as possible. Although Harry reaches the hostages first, he stays at the bottom of the lake to help free them all, not just Ron Weasley. Harry ends up being the last champion to make it back (with the exception of Fleur, whose little sister Harry rescues since Fleur had been thwarted by the grindylows).  Although technically Harry should get the third lowest marks, he ties for first place, because most of the judges determine that Harry's actions have demonstrated moral fiber.

I'm sure I will be taken to task by more traditional attorneys who believe only in the zealous advocacy of their clients, but I believe in my heart that Harry's actions during the Triwizard Tournament are a parable for how law should be practiced, especially in the family law context.   To me the hostages at the bottom of the lake can be said to represent a family tied up in a divorce or other litigation. Although each of the hostages had a champion, whom we can say are the lawyers, the lawyer with the strongest moral fiber was the one who made sure that everyone survived and made it safely to the surface. Now Harry was chastised by some who said that he should only have worried about his own hostage because The System wouldn't have really let any of the hostages perish. Harry feels like maybe he was stupid not to believe in the security of the system, for no one surely would have been allowed to drown. Or would they? But Harry's gut told him to help other people, even if it technically wasn't his responsibility and you have to love the boy for that.

Other than Harry, the person who inspires me the most at Hogwarts is its headmaster, Albus Dumbledore. Dumbledore never loses his temper or gives up on people. He never yells at anyone no matter how dire the situation. He always keeps his head and maintains a handle on things, with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face. Regardless of the circumstances, even when he knows he is about to meet his death, he doesn't panic. Oh, how I aspire to be as even-keeled and wise as Albus Dumbledore. How I wish I could be as benevolent and forgiving in the face of my detractors.

Yes, I've learned a lot from Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore, and I would never have had the good fortune to meet them, if I hadn't become a mom.