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30 years

By Arthur Gilbert Ben Armistead | Jul. 2, 2018

Law Practice,
Judges and Judiciary

Jul. 2, 2018

30 years

This column marks the 30th anniversary I have been grinding out, I mean writing, columns for the Daily Journal.

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UNDER SUBMISSION

This column marks the 30th anniversary I have been grinding out, I mean writing, columns for the Daily Journal. My first column was published in the Daily Journal in July of 1988. It wasn't really a column. It was an article, charitably characterized as "peculiar." A sizable number of those who read it were afflicted with a condition known as frozen raised eyebrow. The then-editor of the Daily Journal, an obvious risk taker, asked me, "How about writing a column?" My enthusiastic response, "You think so?" And so began this 30-year odyssey. Whatever benefit readers may have derived from my efforts over the decades, I gained experiential insight into the Myth of Sisyphus. It's not a myth. Compared to writing a "regular" column, rolling a rock up a hill is a cinch. Each month as the first Monday of the next month draws near, I ask myself, "Can I do this gosh darned column again?" Correct, that's a bowdlerized version of what I say...aloud.

Here's a coincidence: I was walking down Montana Avenue, a trendy street in Santa Monica, the other day and passed the Aero Theatre which shows old classic movies. David Lynch's early film "Eraserhead" is scheduled to be shown soon. That film was the inspiration for that first article in July of 1988. Not to worry. I will not do what I have done on past anniversaries under the guise of nostalgia: repeat that first column.

Something just occurred to me. If, in the unlikely event I am still writing my column in the year 2023, I will have been writing columns for as long as Mozart lived. Then, in his honor, will I repeat the first column. I will remind you now, however, that the subject of that first column was about a practice rarely used by our state Supreme Court today, the "depublication" of published opinions. But the theme, the attempt to erase from memory what has happened before, is a disturbing phenomenon occurring with regularity today.

It calls to mind the philosopher Santayana's popular aphorism, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

With apologies to Santayana, I would add a second version: "Those who do not know the past are in even worse shape." You expect me to be as eloquent as Santayana? A different version of my adaptation is not fit for decent company. Not knowing the past has serious consequences. I have mentioned to young lawyers and law students the names of justices such as Justices Traynor, Peters, Tobriner and Richardson, and many ask "Who?"

The other week I was talking about oral argument (did I just write "talking" about oral argument?) to about 25 law students and I mentioned J.D. Salinger. I was surprised. Only a few students knew who he was and what he had written. This is certainly not a poor reflection on the students, all of whom were bright, enthusiastic and intelligent. But it occurred to be that they might be missing something. A recurring question the character Holden Caulfield asks in Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" is "where do the ducks go in winter when the lake in Central Park freezes over?" That could be a relevant question for anyone, including lawyers and judges. How, in our application of the law, do we achieve predictability and certainty in a constantly changing environment?

Whether one agrees or not with this interpretation, my point is that a broad-based liberal arts education makes for a better lawyer, judge, engineer, doctor, journalist, or any person, whatever their profession or lifestyle. It gives us a larger storehouse from which to find solutions to problems and provides joy and pleasure.

Add music to this storehouse, and one is even more enriched with the tools to succeed in other areas. Court of Appeal Justice Helen Bendix sent me an article she had saved from the New York Times five years ago, titled "Is Music the Key to Success?" by Joanne Lipman. Lipman posits that music is often the key to success. Justice Bendix, a talented and widely admired jurist, is an accomplished violist who has had a professional career and now plays with the Los Angeles Lawyers Philharmonic. The article mentions that Condoleezza Rice trained to be a concert pianist; NBC's Andrea Mitchell trained to be a violinist; Steven Spielberg plays the clarinet and is the son of a pianist; Alan Greenspan, the former chairperson of the Federal Reserve, played saxophone and clarinet professionally; hedge fund billionaire Bruce Kovner studied piano at Julliard. And I would add Los Angeles City Councilperson Ernani Bernardi, who, under the name Noni Bernardi, was lead alto sax player for Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Kay Kyser.

So what does this have to do with success? Ms. Lipman writes that these high achievers say that music sharpens "collaboration, creativity, discipline, and the capacity to reconcile conflicting ideas." This reminds me of what attorney and talented jazz drummer Jerry Levene says about how music makes him a better lawyer. "It makes you pay attention to detail, to work collaboratively with others, to listen carefully to what they are playing, and knowing when and how not to get in their way, and in that setting to express your own ideas."

Speaking of music that reminds me that Jerry and other talented attorney musicians will be playing at a special concert at the famous Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood on Sunday, July 8. I mention this only as a columnist and in no other capacity. The concert will feature the great singing group Singers-In-Law, backed by the "Just Us" jazz combo group. And the concert will feature Gary Greene and his award winning Big Band of Barristers.

So I leave you with the notion that literature, art, history and music will help you cope with the dilemma of where the ducks go when the lake freezes over.

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Ben Armistead

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