Pittsburgh Legal Back Talk

Legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus.

1638 Posts and Counting

The Quintessential Trivia Question

Posted by Cliff Tuttle| August 15, 2019 | © 2020

No. 1,638

This farmer and his wife were outstanding in their field, fifty years ago.

Back in the day, when our neighbors used to get together under the stars to play Trivia on a summer night, I remember my neighbor complaining that too many Trivia questions (at least in the early editions) contained answers that weren’t trivial, but the product of a liberal education. For example, who wrote the Lives of Famous Greeks and Romans? The quintessential Trivia Question was, according to her, the name of the farmer who rented the land where Woodstock was held.

It was fifty years ago today. Do you remember? Or did you ever know?

Max Yasgur.

I actually was present when that card was turned, several summers later. I had already forgotten the answer by then. And I forgot it again until Time Magazine reminded me.

But I’ll never forget the name of the great biographer of Alexander, Caesar, Pompey and so many more. The immortal Plutarch. That’s definitely not trivial.


What is the Fastest Growing Type of Household Debt Today?

Posted by Cliff Tuttle| August 12, 2019 | © 2020

No. 1,637

According to J P Morgan, as reported in DS News, a electronic newsletter for the banking industry, the fastest growing category of household debt is CLICK HERE.

Hint: Repayment problems may be the root of the next financial crisis.



Posted by Cliff Tuttle| July 27, 2019 | © 2020

No. 1,636

We obtained real ID’s this month. PennDOT says that they are “optional” but one day, sooner than you think, they are going to be mandatory. Unless you have a passport, they are or will be required in all states for domestic air travel. Also, as a lawyer, I’ll need them to enter any federal building or military base. I visited ICE last week and proudly presented my brand new Real ID.

The PA Real ID’s are almost identical to a standard driver’s license, except that they have a white star inside a gold circle in the upper right hand corner. In case there is any opportunity for confusion, the regular PA license states: “NOT FOR REAL ID PURPOSES.”

Yes, it is a hassle to put together the required evidence. If you lost your Social Security Card, you must order a new one. They helped you lose the last one by warning you not to place it in your wallet. You can’t order it on line, even if you are currently drawing benefits. You must go to the SSA office, take a number and wait. It will arrive in the mail in seven to ten days.

In the case of a married woman who didn’t retain her surname, she must also get a certified copy of her marriage certificate. Discrimination against women — particularly married women? A small price to pay for a safe flight, right?

But the price may not be as small as you think. If you watch carefully during the processing, you can observe the documents you just submitted are being copied before the clerk returns them to you. That means that PennDOT has a file on you that includes, in addition to current information, a copy of your birth certificate. The marriage license application also contains information regarding your parents and your spouses’ parents. And don’t forget, your photo is on the license and in their database.

According to a recent article in the Washington Post, the State Police, FBI and ICE have routine access to these records without a warrant or your consent. Your photograph is available for download into a facial recognition database. Even though you have never been convicted, or even charged, law enforcement has a pretty good starter file on you, available for the taking at the speed of the internet.

But that’s only the beginning. They probably have, or can quickly get, your fingerprints. They can, if they wish, look at your credit report with a few keystrokes. And there is probably a gold mine of other information available on social media.

There is no point in fretting over what has already happened. Moreover, I am told that the only people who care these days about loss of personal privacy are oldsters and illegal aliens. Those who grew up in the information age have accepted it as inevitable. Perhaps. But there are still a few remnants of our private lives known only to ourselves. It is worth reflecting upon ways we can keep these few remaining nuggets out of our government’s database.

Is it still necessary in 2019 for a federal employee to manually look up the PennDOT file and download it? If so, we all know that the technology exists for a machine to access it, when needed, without human intervention. And if it can be done, it will. Perhaps ICE was already checking my Real ID identity information against their list of illegals. I’ll never know unless/until they clap on the cuffs. (Mistakes happen all the time. A US Senator has the same name as someone on the no-fly list.)

Moreover, security guards and police are not the only ones who may ask you to produce identification. Think of all the civilians who regularly want to examine your license. These range from the merchant who accepts your personal check to the closing officer who refinances your home. How long to you think it will take before all of them will demand a Real Id? My guess, one year.

The time is coming –if it hasn’t already — when a guard at the Federal Building will have the dossier on me during the twenty seconds it takes to walk through the magnetic sensor. A computer will review it, of course, since humans can’t read that fast. A silent alarm then will go off and I will be politely asked to step out of line. I will not protest that I will be late for court. That would only make the situation worse.


Ten Things They Won’t Tell You Before You Enroll in Law School.

Posted by Cliff Tuttle| July 22, 2019 | © 2020

No. 1,635


  1. You probably won’t know for sure that you have chosen the wrong profession until you have tried and failed.
  2. Get ready for a lifetime of compromise, populated by second, third and fourth choices.
  3. Unless you are very lucky or very smart, get ready for a long climb out of a deep, deep financial hole.
  4. Get ready to be beaten up and humiliated by bullies, even on good days.
  5. If you are an in-house counsel, get ready to risk losing your only client and having to start all over again.
  6. Get ready to roll the dice on long shot risks because you don’t have a better choice.
  7. Get ready to spend a lot of time with people you really hate.
  8. As you climb the ladder to the top, get ready to be outsmarted by some of the people who are already there.
  9. Get ready to discover that you have fallen into multiple bad habits like alcoholism, addiction, wasting time and picking fights with your spouse.
  10. Get ready for the morning when you just don’t feel like getting out of bed anymore.

As my Tax Prof in Law school used to say: “Tough? Sure its tough!” And why do you think there are so few lawyers who have been canonized?

Lawyering isn’t for everybody. You must be resourceful. You must be persistent. You must be a survivor. The dilemma is that you probably don’t know yourself that well at 22.

But if doing the things lawyers do is so exciting that you cannot stay away, it just might be for you.

When I decided to hold my nose and take the plunge, exactly 50 years ago this month, I asked myself one question over and over:

“Fifty years from now, will I regret that I could have been a lawyer?”


The Nutmeg Lawyer Returns, again.

Posted by Cliff Tuttle| July 21, 2019 | © 2020

No. 1,634

Yes, the Nutmeg Lawyer is back. Click the link and bookmark it. It will save you some trouble getting back, since prior incarnations of the blog (except the first one) are still on line.

What happened to the first one? We bloggers used to have to watch out for claim jumpers, just like in the wild, wild west. If you didn’t renew your URL on time and it is a popular one, somebody can reserve it for themselves. Then, anybody who goes there will be greeted with a screen full of ads to purchase more stuff. They have since changed the rules a bit, I hear. Too bad. The original contained a lot of very funny material, lost forever.


Here’s One For the Nutmeg Lawyer: Serial Toilet Clogging!

Posted by Cliff Tuttle| July 4, 2019 | © 2020

No. 1,633

I miss the Nutmeg Lawyer, the funniest legal blog of all time. Here’s a a plum of a news story from the Nutmeg State (Connecticut) that Adrian Barron would have been all over. Unfortunately, Mr. Baron has been so busy unclogging the court dockets that he hasn’t had the time to post since March 19, 2018. If you are still out there, Adrian, you can post on my blog anytime you want.

Here is a slightly edited story from the Sheboygan Press. Although this one involves a criminal crime spree, the subject of toilet clogs is a major issue in landlord and tenant cases.


What is a Unicorn?

Posted by Cliff Tuttle| July 4, 2019 | © 2020

No. 1,632

Image: avcj.com

I’ve been running across references to unicorns in books, blog posts and even in the funny papers. Sometimes the author assumes we know what she is talking about or explains the term in a cursory fashion.

In her book, Insight, therapist Tasha Urich used the term “unicorns” to discuss people who greatly improve their self awareness and through this insight achieve success in life. But, when reading this, I remembered other references to unicorns and wondered whether there is a common denominator.

We all know about the mythical beast, usually depicted as a white horse, but occasionally as a goat. Even ten year olds know that these are a product of the imagination.

Unicorns are a rare and wonderous phenomenon. In literature and fable it is associated with feminine virtue such as innocence.

Unicorns in fairy tales and other fantasy stories are magical. They are, for example, important figures in the Harry Potter saga. Lord Voldemort was kept alive by drinking unicorn blood, a mystical, silvery substance. Later, it was used in a potion to create a temporary body for Voldemort. But a person who consumed unicorn’s blood thereafter lived a cursed life. Unicorns could be found in the Forbidden Forest near Hogwarts.

In twenty-first century America, unicorns inhabit the forbidden forest of finance.

According to Wikipedia, “a unicorn is a privately held startup company valued at over $1 billion. The term was coined in 2013 by venture capitalist Aileen Lee, choosing the mythical animal to represent the statistical rarity of such successful ventures.” Examples are Juul Labs, Air BNB and SpaceX. Uber, Facebook and Pinterest are successful former unicorns that are now publicly traded. It is strongly associated, although not exclusively, with the Silicon Valley. Outside the US, the largest number, by far, are found in China.

In various street-language sources, a unicorn is a young, single, sexually adventurous, bisexual female who wants desperately to live with and love a male/female couple. This phenomenon is so rare, according to the Urban Dictionary, that most people have never seen one. I’ll bet!

If a lawyers were asked to suggest a legal unicorn, some might suggest “punitive damages.” Litigants are always asking (or praying) for them, but they are so rare that most have never personally had a case involving an actual award of punitive damages.  It requires that the conduct of the defendant be malicious, willful, wanton, outrageous and shocking. You may be aware that an Ohio jury recently awarded punitive damages against Oberlin College in the now-infamous Gibson’s Bakery case.

On November 9, 2016 a student at the College shoplifted three bottles of wine from the Bakery. An employee pursued him on foot. When the police arrived, two students had come to rescue the defendant and when the police arrived they were in the process of beating up the store employee. The thief and his rescuers plead guilty to assault and that should have been the end of the story.

But it wasn’t, a student protest and boycott of the bakery erupted. They alleged (without any convincing evidence) that the bakery was engaged in racial profiling — the thief was black. Again, that should have the end of the story. But Oberlin got involved in supporting the protest and boycott, printing signs, participating in the march and actively endorsing the boycott. When the jury returned a verdict, it awarded a substantial amount of both actual and punitive damages. They thought that the conduct of Oberlin, trying to run the bakery out of business, was outrageous. They awarded millions in 13 million in actual damages and three times that amount in punitive damages. The punitive damages were later substantially reduced because they exceeded the amount allowed by Ohio law. Legal Insurrection, a conservative-leaning legal blog contains a more detailed discussion.

Punitive damages are pretty rare, but there is a way to get the equivalent in a consumer civil suit. The Unfair Trade Practices Consumer Protection Law authorizes exemplary damages up to treble damages plus attorney’s fees. It applies to a host of consumer protection statutes involving home improvement contractors, home inspectors and many others.


What We Can Learn From Instant Replay.

Posted by Cliff Tuttle| June 21, 2019 | © 2020

No. 1,631

Image: bleacher report.com

While watching sports on TV, did you ever notice how often instant replay reveals some critical detail that you hadn’t even noticed the first time? The wide receiver stepped on the chalk line. A flagrant penalty was committed and neither you nor the referee even saw it. It occurs all of the time.

Well, the same thing happens in real life. You read something and then re-read it, discovering that you have missed an important piece of information. If you make a habit of re-reading important passages, you will usually gain insight and possibly correct an error from the first reading.

When someone tells you something important, ask her to repeat. If nothing else, this will reinforce the point in your mind. Or ask a question. Then, repeat the answer yourself or explain it in different words. You can also put it in an email, asking the person who told you to confirm that you have it right.

Writing has the advantage over reliance on memory — yours and theirs. If you have a phone conversation followed by an email, you are placing the burden on the recipient to correct you or accept your version of what was stated.

When you think you have observed something, like a physical landmark or street sign while driving, stop and look again. Make a mental note. You may need this information on the return trip. If you don’t get it right, how can you recall it accurately when you need it?

If you attend a seminar or educational lecture, why not sit down at the keyboard that evening and convert your notes to literate prose? You will be amazed how often you must analyze complex information to get it right. Notes taken in the moment are often just a string of words. They remind you of what you didn’t write down at the time because the pace was too swift. Tonight it is easy to assemble the ideas and express them with insight. A month from now, on the eve of a test, maybe not.

Make instant replay a habit. This is an especially valuable when you are unsure where the story is leading. In the heat of the moment, while you are trying to scribble down buzzwords, you may be fooled by your assumptions. Which, by the way, may be happening even now.


Praise Addiction

Posted by Cliff Tuttle| May 13, 2019 | © 2020

No. 1,630


We all like to be told that we are doing a good job. According to a series of articles I read in Inc. Magazine, when some employees don’t get enough praise, they grow to hate their jobs. They might even quit.

If you suspect that you are one of those people, don’t even consider being a lawyer. The practice of law involves making hard decisions (and sticking to them) based upon the best interest of your client. What people who are not your client think about you cannot be a factor. Nor, in some cases, can you yield to your client when it counts and you know you are right. Don’t live for praise, do the right thing.

If you cannot imagine how such a situation could ever arise, watch a few episodes of Doc Martin, currently re-running on PBS. His patients are always defying his instructions. Later he has to save their lives.

Although they grumble about his gruff manner, in the; long run, the people in the community grow to respect his uncompromising dedication to principle.


Opportunity Knocks — Answer it!

Posted by Cliff Tuttle| April 8, 2019 | © 2020

No. 1,629

I responded to a call from Casa San Jose recently. Two individuals had been picked up by ICE and detained temporarily at their facility on the South Side. I submitted the proper form and sent in my card. They were each given the opportunity to talk to me by cell phone while I was in the waiting room. This contact is only permitted to an attorney, which is the reason why Casa San Jose has volunteer attorneys. I asked each of them for their ICE Identification number, which begins with the letter A. One provided it and the other said he would think about it and if he decided to do so, would call from the Beaver County Jail, where they both would be transported.

By giving me his A number, the first detainee was enabling Casa San Jose to track his location as he moved from place-to-place. Family members would then be able to arrange counsel to represent him and bond to be posted at the location where he was being held.

The second detainee called the next day from the Beaver County Jail. However, as is usual for jail calls, the call is collect. Unlike calls I remember from the past, the recipient of a Beaver County jail call cannot agree at that time to accept charges. There must be a prior arrangement with the phone company. I imagine that attorneys who handle criminal cases have made these arrangements. I haven’t and probably will not.

The purpose of the attorney visits at the ICE detention facility is to facilitate family contact and representation (by a different attorney) through tracking by Casa San Jose to track using the A number. By passing up the chance to do this at the ICE facility, the second detainee lost a valuable opportunity.


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CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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