Pittsburgh Legal Back Talk

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

1560 Posts and Counting

Shooting in the Court

Posted by Cliff Tuttle| September 20, 2018 | © 2018

No. 1,560

The shooting at the Magisterial District Judge’s Office in Masontown underlines the exceptional vulnerability of these venues.  Typically, an entire morning or afternoon of cases will be scheduled for one time and twenty or more people will be crowded into a small waiting room.  A shooter who plans to do so could easily kill all or most of them, since everyone would be at close range.

I’ve been to a few Magisterial Offices where the litigants are checked for weapons by a constable with a wand.  Most offices don’t, at least not until now.  It would not surprise me to see that situation changing abruptly. One or more constables are usually on hand when the court is in session.  It probably would not increase the operating cost of the court very much.

Some of the offices that currently do screening let people enter the waiting room freely and check them as they enter the court room.  That is not good enough.  As we saw at Masontown, the waiting room and even the corridor can be dangerous.  Screening should be performed at the front door.  Even that procedure is not foolproof, since the shooter could enter the building with a gun held under his coat and surprise the guard. If necessary, a higher level of security might be afforded by the glass enclosure installed in the doorway by some banks where each person is briefly locked inside until cleared to proceed.

Our experience since 2001 has proven that there are would-be terrorists who look for such opportunities and will plan a killing spree carefully.  We cannot afford to continue to provide such an attractive target, especially after its vulnerability has been demonstrated so clearly.

I am assuming that a full-sized screening station, complete with an x-ray to examine briefcases and bags, as they have at the County courthouses and the City Courts downtown, would be too expensive to provide and to staff in neighborhood magistrate offices.  But an armed constable with a wand and a panic button would be a step in the right direction.


Story Telling

Posted by Cliff Tuttle| September 20, 2018 | © 2018

No. 1,559

I’m reading (actually listening to) a new book by one of my favorite biographers, Doris Kearns Goodwin. It is titled “Leadership in Turbulent Times”.  Goodwin has been writing books about Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson for fifty years. This one draws upon a lifetime of study to focus on the components of great leadership.

All of them were great communicators.  One characteristic they all shared was that they were all superb storytellers.  The stories they told from the podium fascinated listeners.  They were remembered, repeated in the newspaper, quoted in books.  They were often funny, disarmingly so.  They were usually instructive.  They didn’t require much education of the listener. And they came naturally.

We lawyers are in the business of persuasion.  Unfortunately, our audience is sometimes predisposed to reject the message we are trying to communicate.  They can also be already bored and tune you out before you even start.

And so you have to wake ’em up and, if appropriate, get ’em laughing.  At least, you must be interesting.  Your presentation should be conversational, not oratorical.  As LBJ instructed the high school debaters he coached, you look one of them in the eye, talk to that person for a little while and then look somebody else in the eye.

When you are discussing the facts of your case, tell them in the form of a story.  When you are discussing a another case in your brief that you want to rely upon as precedent, tell the facts in the form of a story, too.

A well-told story can be disarming.  When Lincoln had removed his Secretary of War for profiteering, he was besieged by demands to fire other members of the cabinet.  He responded with a story about an Illinois farmer who discovered a pack of skunks in the hen house.  “I shot one”, the farmer said.  “But the stench was so bad, that I figured that one was enough.”



On Blogging.

Posted by Cliff Tuttle| September 14, 2018 | © 2018

No. 1,558

JACK SEZ: Writing a blog post is like sending a message out to sea in a bottle.  You never know if anybody will ever read it or who the reader might be.

Job Shaming for Lawyers

Posted by Cliff Tuttle| September 14, 2018 | © 2018

No. 1,557

Image: freedomringsnews

The former TV actor who played the son on the Cosby Show, Geoffrey Owen, was photographed bagging groceries at Trader Joe’s and publicly humiliated in the world media. But he courageously turned the situation around when he was interviewed on the national news.  Any job is a good job, he stated. He turned the shame onto the shamers — exposed them for the mean, petty people that they are.  In his case,  this unsought publicity resulted in an acting job on NCIS New Orleans. An apparent calamity can sometimes turn into an opportunity. When called for a TV interview, he was ready and grabbed that brass ring.

Once in a while, I encounter a credentialed lawyer who is struggling after a year or more to enter the profession.  It is always an embarrassment for both of us.  I feel their fear and frustration and humiliation by proxy, but only for a short while. They feel it all of the time, especially during sleepless nights and during social events that cannot be avoided.

Graduation from law school is a daunting task.  It is a strenuous intellectual exercise spanning at least three years and it costs a lot of money.  After that, there is admission to the bar.

Just accomplishing all of that is something to be proud of, no matter what the future holds. But, for a long time our law schools have been producing a surplus of new lawyers compared to the ability of the marketplace to absorb them.

To you, my brother and sister lawyers who are still looking for a real job, be aware that you have more friends than you think.  Stop believing that its your own fault.  You were good enough to get this far and with a bit of luck and persistence you can make the next step.  I know you’ve heard this before.  Maybe you’ve even told it to yourself. But do you truly believe it?

Don’t hide.  Do what other lawyers have to do to get clients. Do it all day, every day. Join church and community organizations.  Volunteer. Go to every bar association event you can.  After a short while, the fear will go away.

Practice your elevator speech. Be interesting.  Be proud of who you are.  When the opportunity comes, and it will, shine.


In Case You Don’t Read the Newspaper Anymore . . .

Posted by Cliff Tuttle| September 12, 2018 | © 2018

No. 1,556

Landlord & Tenant: Enhanced Voucher Rental Assistance and the Perpetual Lease.

Posted by Cliff Tuttle| September 10, 2018 | © 2018

No. 1,555


“The Hayes family receives enhanced voucher rental assistance from the federal government, and a federal statute provides that enhanced voucher holders “may elect to remain” in their housing developments, even after their landlord has opted out of the federal housing assistance program. 42 U.S.C. § 1437f(t)(1)(B). But the Hayes family’s landlord, Appellee Philip Harvey, contends that this statutory right to “elect to remain” does not apply at the end of a lease term. Thus, according to Harvey, he is permitted to evict the Hayes family without cause once their lease has expired. The District Court agreed and granted Harvey’s motion for summary judgment. We will reverse, however, because the statute’s plain language and history make evident that enhanced voucher holders may not be evicted absent good cause, even at the end of a lease term.”

Click the link on the case name above to read why a landlord with a tenant in the enhanced voucher rental assistance program cannot be evicted, except for good cause.  You might want to look at Judge Michael Fisher’s dissent in which he claims that the “clear language” of the statute isn’t so clear.  This case was decided after reargument before the court en banc. If you are a Pennsylvania landlord or tenant in the enhanced voucher program, its the law — unless the US Supreme Court says otherwise.


What Is Wrong with this Picture?

Posted by Cliff Tuttle| September 6, 2018 | © 2018

No. 1,554

From the Junk Mail Bin: Don’t Deal With Those Other Scammers . . .

Posted by Cliff Tuttle| September 5, 2018 | © 2018

No. 1,553

I found the following classic in the junk mail.


I am Mrs. Anna Joy, I am a US citizen, 48 years Old. I reside here in New Braunfels Texas. My residential address is as follows.108 Crockett Court.Apt 303, New Braunfels Texas, United States, am thinking of relocating since I am now rich. I am one of those that took part in the Compensation in Nigeria many years ago and they refused to pay me,I had paid over $20,000 while in the US, trying to get my payment all to no avail.

So I decided to travel down to Nigeria with all my compensation documents, And I was directed to meet Reverend.Anderson ,who is the member of COMPENSATION AWARD COMMITTEE, and I contacted him and he explained everything to me. He said whoever is contacting us through emails are fake.

He took me to the paying bank for the claim of my Compensation payment.Right now I am the most happiest woman on earth because I have received my compensation funds of $800,000.00 Moreover, Reverend.Anderson, showed me the full information of those that are yet to receive their payments and I saw your name as one of the beneficiaries, and your email address, that is why I decided to email you to stop dealing with those people, they are not with your fund, they are only making money out of you.I will advise you to contact Reverend. Anderson. You have to contact him directly on this information below.

Name : Reverend.Anderson

Email:  [email link has been deleted to protect the innocent or absent-minded]

Telephone: [ditto]

You really have to stop dealing with those people that are contacting you and telling you that your fund is with them, it is not in anyway with them, they are only taking advantage of you and they will dry you up until you have nothing.

The only money I paid after I meet Reverend. Anderson was just $355 Usd for the paper works, take note of that. Once again stop contacting those people, I will advise you to contact Reverend. Anderson so that he can help you to Transfer your Fund into your account, instead of dealing with those liars that will be turning you around asking for different kind of money to complete your transaction.

Thank You and Be Blessed.

Mrs. Anna Joy

One Hundred Years Ago: Leonard Bernstein Was Born.

Posted by Cliff Tuttle| August 25, 2018 | © 2018

No. 1,552

Image: leonardbernstein.com

One of the greatest American composers.  He not only wrote classical music, but Broadway and Movie Music.  West Side Story changed the Broadway stage forever and the movie became a great American classic.

Of course, he was a great conductor, performer and one of the most famous personalities of the 20th Century.  Time Magazine published a story today about how he conducted performances by an orchestra comprised of holocaust survivors.  There are a million Bernstein stories. Here’s one by Tom Wolfe about Bernstein’s 48th birthday.


Lawyer Marketing Idea: It’s a Keeper!

Posted by Cliff Tuttle| August 25, 2018 | © 2018

No. 1,551

Lawyers usually aren’t very creative about marketing their law practices.  But there are plenty exceptions.

My friend Sam Zets sends me a wallet size tri-fold card every year around now, the beginning of football season.  On one side, he places his vital info., surrounded by the Steeler schedule and other National  TV pro football broadcasts.  On the other side he has local college and one high school schedule.

Of course, lots of us will tuck it in our wallet for future reference.  Then, when we take it out, we are reminded that Sam Zets provided this useful information, together with his address, phone number and areas of practice.

And of course, once your the wallet, it will probably stay there until next August, when we will replace it with the 2019 schedule.

Its a great form of low budget advertising for a lawyer.

keep looking »


CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 40 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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