Changing It Up

You may have noticed that I’m posting with much less frequency than I have in the past.  Part of that is because the stuff I’d love to blog about and could shoot off thoughts on a daily basis (primarily politics) is not necessarily a wise idea given my current work.  Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of other things I’m happy to write about.  I just need to process other topics more.  So with the help of my friend Travis you’ll see some changes to the blog soon.  More likely shifting to a magazine style blog with maybe a publication once a month with multiple posts and hopefully different contributors.

You can get a good flavor of my political world by following me on Twitter: @rossearmstrong or specifically my Nevada news feed.  If you are interested in becoming a contributor for the new blog, contact me and we’ll see what we can do.  The same goes if you want to let me know the types of things you want to see.

A Lack of Leadership

On Tuesday President Obama will deliver the State of the Union and his Press Secretary indicates that 2014 may be a year of bypassing inaction in Congress. Given that last year Congress was the least effective Congress in just about ever, this doesn’t seem like necessarily a bad idea.

The idea got me thinking about a topic that none of the numerous leadership trainings and seminars I’ve gone to really touches on; what do you do when you are in an organization and the leaders won’t lead?

I’ve recently been in an organization like this, where there is a lack of action among the leadership and not real organizationally acceptable way to fix it.  The answer?  I’m not entirely sure.  The President is in the unique situation where he can bypass those who refuse to lead but there has to be way to create change from the bottom when there is a vacuum at the top.  Some obvious options include giving up and just keeping your head down or doing your own thing and hope no one gets mad or leaving the organization.  I don’t have the answer now, but I’ll be thinking about it.  If you have any thoughts, post them below.

Nevada’s Rural Courthouses

I haven’t seen them all but now that I’m about 8 months into my new job, I’ve seen quite a few of Nevada’s rural courthouses by now.  In style and gravitas they are about diverse as you can get.  The basics of course are all there.  A bench, counsel tables, seats for the audience but beyond that they all have their unique take on how the arena of justice should look.  They can split into a few different categories.

The Institutional: There are some buildings that seem to draw there inspiration right out of our Cold War characterization of the USSR (the Mackay Social Sciences building at Nevada).  Plain, minimal and damn right uninspiring.  These courthouses lack the gravitas might expect with the “American Justice System”.  The most redeeming quality is their functionality.  They don’t take your breath away as your approach, you have rely on the content of what goes on to capture your spirit.  Which courthouses fall into this category? Nye County is the biggest culprit with their courthouses both in Pahrump and Tonopah (the Beatty Justice Court goes in a different category) looking like regular old government buildings from the outside.  The inside of the courtrooms don’t get much better.  With the exception of a large elk head oddly mounted in Tonopah, the rooms of void of character.  Another casualty of the drab is Douglas County.  Although the building itself gives off more of a courthouse appearance, its still difficult to figure out until you actually get in the courtroom and then it has the same issue as Nye County.  Mineral County has a similar style but is unusually sad with laminate quality wood and a feeling that comes right out of 1970s nostalgia.  Yikes.  I also put Churchill County in this category also with some hesitation.  The building has the best exterior of this category but the interior still focuses on functionality as opposed to inspiration.

The Modern: Inspiring courthouse design didn’t die in 1900 as you might expect from the institutional ones.  There are two major courthouses that fit into this category and one justice courthouse.  The king of this category is Carson City.  As you approach the building you see the different floors of the courthouse through huge windows.  You can see parties waiting to be called.  Once you get to your floor, you can look out and see the city and mountains.  Once inside, the bench is high enough to demand attention, the woodwork is well done, and the general feel is that you come to expect from a courthouse.  I also put the new Lyon County courthouse in Yerington in this category.  From the exterior the damn thing looks like a giant barn (which is appropriate for the area) but what they did really nicely in Yerington is the courtroom itself.  Beautiful white painted wood gives the room a clean yet old-timey feel and the bench sits against the back in a way again that commands attention.  The Beatty Justice Court also fits in this category.  As you travel up the barely paved road past the high school you can see the courthouse up on the hill, its modern in its lines and design but the front design just screams “I’m a courthouse”.  Inside, the highlight is a wooden Great Seal of the State of Nevada.

The Historic: The last category is the historic; the courthouses that haven’t changed much since the early 1900s.  Goldfield’s courthouse looks like a castle from afar.  As you approach, you clearly arrive at the center of attention (now that the Goldfield hotel is closed).  I can remember gingerly walking through the front doors my first time.  The first door you see is the DA’s office.  Then in the back is the justice court (a room similar in size to my apartment’s living room with the judges office in one corner and the bench along the other wall, there are two or three short rows of wooden chairs and counsel share a table).  The district courtroom is literally upstairs and has a huge section for the peanut gallery with the original wood chairs, the jury box in unchanged (cowboy hat holders and all) and the massive counsel desks are leather topped.  It’s just beautiful.  Elko County has the great classic front that you imagine when hear about a courthouse complete with columns and steps up to the front door.  A center staircase  that curves either directions leads you up to the two courtrooms.  I also put Humboldt County’s courthouse in Winnemucca in this category although its a bit weird.  They have build an institutional building that attaches to the old courthouse.  So from one entry your get the traditional courthouse look and another similar to Douglas County.  Inside there is a grand staircase that spirals up to courts that are down institutional hallways.  It’s an add mishmash but the preservation of the staircase pushes it into this category.  The crown jewel of Nevada’s rural courthouses (of the ones I’ve been to so far) is the Pershing County courthouse in Lovelock.  It is circular, yes, circular.  A long series of steps leads you to the front door, then in your go to the center of the building.  The dome ceiling is painted like the sky and a huge western mural backs the judge’s bench.  The jury box is in the center of the room and the two counsel tables face each other (a little intense).  It’s odd and beautiful at the same time.  Photos of it are prominently featured through this year’s Supreme Court report.

I still some courthouses to see but if you happen to be traveling through rural Nevada, know that at least some of the courthouses are worth a stop to see.  The two I wouldn’t miss if you’re passing by? Goldfield and Lovelock.

Showing the Parents Midtown

My folks came into town last weekend and my new apartment made it perfect to check out Midtown with them.  I picked my mom up first and we headed to the Reno Public House before heading to my place (my dad was coming in separately from California).  My mom remembered the building as a doctor’s office and thinks she even had an appointment there back in the day.  We had some old fashioned medicine and headed to my place.

The next morning we went to the Deluxe for breakfast. It was good as always (including the ultra-sexy waiter that is always there on the weekends).  We then went to Sippies for some new shoes and sticker (STICKERS!!!!) book for my niece.  A quick stop in Happy Happy Joy Joy to browse and we were set to do some grandparent rounds.

After visiting my grandma, my dad and I stopped by Craft to get a beer to celebrate his new job.  While there we decided rather than go out to a party, to hang at home.  We grabbed a few sick packs and headed for home.  Wild Garlic made some delicious pizzas for us and we watch Django while my little niece slept like a rock.  I haven’t really asked what they thought about the weekend but certainly not your standard “weekend in Reno” as most Californians think of it.  It’s just more evidence than Reno is growing up and beyond it’s gambling and divorce past.

The Reno Mayor Legal Rumble

The battle to be the next Mayor of Reno has become entangled in a legal battle that seeks to get some definition around the State’s term limits laws.  One party is arguing that someone who has been on the Reno City Council prior to running for Mayor must count those years toward the twelve year limit.  So, for instance, if a Councilwoman served her full 12 years on the City Council, she would be ineligible to run for Mayor; her 12 years are already up.  The Nevada Supreme Court having received the briefing has scheduled oral argument for later this month and key facts include definitions in state statutes, the fact Reno doesn’t have ward voting, the duties and powers of the Mayor, etc.  Now I could certainly go on and on about what I think of the law, etc. (in fact I did that for a few hours with some friends about two weeks ago) but that is pretty boring and nerdy stuff.  What is less legalistic and boring (or more depending on your view) is to look as the briefs for their writing style and quality.

During your first year of law school, the professors try to get you to all write the same way in a formulaic way…state the issue, then the rule, then analyze and conclude.  Deviate from this formula? You will lose.  Using two syllables when three works? You will lose.  It is basically no fun.  What you find in the Reno Mayor legal rumble of 2014 is a variety of style that I think (substance aside) are interesting to contrast.  Ready to nerd out with me?

Here are the documents:

Original Petition

Sferrazza’s Reply

Dortch’s Reply

Petitioner’s Combined Reply

My thoughts?  I find the voice of the Petitioner’s attorney to be the easiest to read.  It strikes a good balance of substance and style that makes the documents engaging.  I find Sferrazza’s reply to be quite a bit caustic, distractingly so to the point where I can see the passion and clearly an opinion but the legal argument behind the brief gets lost.  Finally, Dortch’s reply is a bit dry (perhaps they anticipated the flame likely to be thrown by the other Respondent) and a bit formulaic but good overall.

Can the style of legal writing change a judge’s decision on the law?  I think sometimes yes and so if I’m writing a particularly aggressive brief I ask the reviewing secretary to “make sure I’m not too bitchy”.  In the end the law is the law but if the writing is such that it engages the judge and brings him or her along your with your side of the story, I certainly think writing style can have an impact especially in close calls.  Whether or not it matters in this case, the three parties have very different voices and even for the non legal nerds I think this case presents that interesting contrast.