Monday, May 31, 2010

A Meditation on Corruption in Our Counties

I've talked a lot about Andrew Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County, at this point, probably ad nauseum. In Maricopa County we have a modern American county-wide government so dysfunctional that the State of Arizona was moved to enact and enable oversight by a retired Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice.  This, after Arpaio and County Attorney Thomas criminally indicted and civilly sued all other county officials who dared question their notorious terrorist governing practices and more importantly, their self-seeking budget expenditures.  These elected County clowns have spent millions of dollars for BigLaw representation in lawsuits that defy logic. You can read my prior posts on Maricopa County meltdown at the link.  Better yet the ABAJournal and the Arizona New Times have brilliant summary discussions.  The games go on, with contempt proceedings this last week and the County shutting down the Sheriff's credit card accounts.

While Maricopa County represents one extreme, Cuyahoga County, Ohio encompassing Cleveland probably better represents what goes on more traditionallyy here, there and elsewhere.  Cuyahoga County on Lake Erie is a huge metropolitan area surrounding a rust bucket town that has not been able to get traction.  Like Detroit, Cleveland has many attractive natural attributes, i.e. an enormous fresh body of relatively clean and attractive (in a recreational sense) water and shorelines.  At one time, Cleveland--which is believe it or not very beautiful and temperate-- home to international headquarters to many of the largest corporations in the world, including British Petroleum. 

But like Detroit, Cleveland suffers from some of the worst local governments in the United States.   As I reported in my 6 AM post the longtime, Irish-named Cuyahoga CountySheriff has been criminally charged with a few representative counts of theft in office after nearly a half century of collecting a paycheck and benefits from the citizens of Cleveland and the local County.  So it was surprising that over the weekend, my pal Chuck sent me a link to another reporter, Mark Puente article on that wanna-be-president of the United States, Cuyahoga County prosecutor, Bill Mason (pic) who you may remember from an earlier post on Bad Lawyer that talked about Mason's ambitions and the free pass he and a drunk driving buddy got from the local constabulary.

The link from Chuck was to the weekend article which as I said was reported by Mark Puente about how Prosecutor Mason put the taxpayers on the hook for a part time law job to politically-connected Michael Climaco (pic: happy, he should be!), brother of the famous Ohio lawyer John Climaco (one of the tobacco-litigation big hitters), to enable the younger Climaco to collect not only a paycheck, but a lifetime sinecure in the form of a tax payer-funded pension and gold-plated health insurance.  It is one thing to hire a first-rate lawyer to do first rate law stuff for you and the community, it is quite another to hire a non-specialist, political hack to provide legal services in an area of law requiring expertise--while letting the taxpayers foot the bill for a lifetime of financial obligation which is what Mason did.  You see, Michael Climaco, who needed public employment like Gerry Spence needs more cowboy hats--was hired part time to represent the County in the defense of workeres' compensation matters.  This area of law involves a great deal of specialization and knowledge, which Climaco most assuredly did not have, so when he failed to provide the anticipated expertise the taxpayers got the added exposure to liabilities related to added premium costs.  Mr. Climaco's qualifications to be the prosecutor's workers' compensation attorney stemmed from Mr. Climaco's tenure as a former City of Cleveland councilman and of course his relationship to John Climaco, a local political powerhouse.  John Climaco is so powerful that Vice President Biden went to Climaco's downtown Cleveland office for a little elite fundraiser for the sitting Governor of Ohio.

As I observed the other day, all roads are toll roads, this being both a personal injunction and a larger observation.  One part of our government is busily investigating and indicting another part of our government.  The Feds are investigating the local governments with whole armies of big and little fish marched into federal custody.  Corruption is not new, or particularly shocking although there sure seems to be a level of prosecutions that I don't recall from prior periods in history.  Still, those of you as old as the Bad Lawyer can look back to Spiro Agnew, the former Vice President and nolo contendre, ex-Governor of Maryland. Then there are all of our mayors, city council men and women, county commissioners and public servants of all stripes being prosecuted in stings and bribery.  There are towns like East Chicago, Indiana, Birmingham, Alabama, Detroit, Michigan, well, then there is almost all of Illinois.

So why is this happening? 

Part of what is going on it seems to me is a product of nepotism, part of the corruption is the attitude of entitlement that overwhelms rational and ethical thought.  But really, do you think these people, our public servants come into power thinking to themselves:  I'm going to rip off the public?  Aside from Blago, I doubt it. 

We pride ourselves on the notion of wheeling and dealing, entrepreneurial smarts--make it happen.  We honor the risk takers, the innovators, the people who can "network." We structure our tax laws to incentivize and enable perverse movements of money. 

Here's a for instance: who gets the best stadium and concert and event tickets?  Who eats in the expensive restaurants? Of course, the operators and owners of our large local corporation, BigLaw firms, wealthy contractors, and filthy rich bankers and insurance companies.  Who do they treat to these seats?  Take a wild guess?  Did you guess, those of us who can help them in their businesses: the Commissioner Italian Name, Councilwoman Irish Name? Guess what--these big corporate fish want nothing from local government, and local government offers them nothing in exchange for the munificence.  Just kidding.

From petty favors, larger and dicier corruption flow. 

Should we do away with these little toll roads?  Yes.  But the dining and entertainment venues and service employers and employees will argue that the tax codes and rules create employment.  These restaurateurs and entertainment folks and their lobbyists will argue that we should not reform away jobs and health insurance for servers, cooks, farmers, ushers, carpenters, electricians and so forth.  Every road is a toll road. 

My employer is a wonderful guy, a real decent and generous guy.  The blond super lawyer and I were fortunate to be included in an invitation to attend a lecture by a local Orthodox Rabbi on the subject of adversity (a particularly apt subject), at my employer's beautiful east side home.   After the formal portion of the talk, I spoke to an old friend of mine who objectively dealt with adversity--her charismatic husband of many years having killed himself over unmanageable tax liabilities stemming from the operation of one of OurTown's most popular diners.  She and I talked about the notion of "peace." My friend, Ruthie is an Israeli-born American.  Ruthie said she feared that there would never be peace between Israelis and Palestinians, implying that the vision laid out by the Rabbi who spoke was Utopian.  My take away from the Rabbi's talk was that absolutely nothing in this life is free, or right, or the way it should be, and ultimately the only place we can effect change is on the inside.  Inside me, inside you, inside our families and friends. 

I am sad for corruption and violence and suffering in the world.  If I think too much about it I become overwhelmed and crazy with stress.  But there is much that is right and hopeful, and miraculous.  I'd like to be around to see my daughter get married and have children, my son to graduate from high school and maybe college.  I'd like to see what they become.  I'd like to contribute more.  But my days of freedom may not last, and my options may turn out to be pretty limited.  Still, I see only a little, I have a limited view of the world, and of time, and certainly of space.  Corruption is something I obsess about, corruption in the police, the courts, government, corporations, employers, and especially the church.  While I can point to certain solutions, the only place I can change is in my own heart.  I can root it out.  I can confess it and try day by day to be a better person.  That is my only purpose.

Bill Mason, the Climacos, Arpaio, Thomas, Blago, Pope Benedict, the Israeli-Palestinian violence and the rest are compelling distractions from what really matters.  Which is, what do I do to exemplify for my children a willingness to reform my own angry and corrupt heart?

Note:  Most of my posts are typed and scheduled for posting at a latter date or time, unfortunately my Cat loves me so much she was not able to stay away as I worked on this post, Isabelle stepped on a key that posted this item a day earlier and out of sequence.  There is a reference to a Sheriff that will not make sense until that item runs at its regularly-scheduled moment.  Oh, well.



  1. Andrew Thomas and Bill Mason, a couple of white punks with law licenses and not a whit of sense. How long is Mason going to be able to hang on after his buddies Russon and Dimoron go to jail ?

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