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Yesterday was a sad day. I received word that one of my clients, a sweet woman for whom I drafted some documents, passed away. This news should not come as a surprise to me since, as many of you may know, I do estate planning work. I essentially help people plan for exactly this scenario. But still, it did.

I had not seen her in some time prior to her death since our working relationship had been completed and in recent years her health declined, but I cannot help but think about her now and her cameo appearance in my life story. Life is full of these cameo appearances that strangers make– a blip in time in our lives, in some cases — while other strangers make cameo appearances that may play a little longer part in our own stories. Whatever the length of time, these folks with whom we share no close friendship, no familial relation, no real personal ties, still make a mark on our souls.

 

I am grateful that I was able to make a cameo appearance in her very full life also, and meet some of those that were closest to her heart. It is truly a wonderful part of doing this lawyerly stuff, helping folks who were total strangers and who ultimately leave a mark in your own life and become a part of your story.

 

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Be Kind Always

IMG_5539Being a lawyer sometimes feels like an ungrateful job. Depending upon the type of law that you practice and the situation, sometimes clients just aren’t very nice. Sometimes, us lawyers don’t really feel very appreciated. That’s just the way it works. Some days are good days, some days just plain old suck. Everyone is angry at you, either because you gave them bad news, told them accurate information but not what they wanted to hear or they think they could have gotten better advice (what they wanted to hear) elsewhere. It’s not always, but when it happens it’s pretty demoralizing. Don’t get me wrong, I have great clients and I am very appreciative of them. Just like everything else, sometimes the bad tends to overshadow the good, your own personal black cloud if you will.

This morning, first thing, my phone rang. Turns out it was a woman who was in traffic court and needed to speak to an attorney right then to advise her if the plea deal she was being offered for her traffic offenses was reasonable and whether she should accept it. I politely explained to her that I really don’t do traffic court and definitely not up north where she stated she was located. She sounded beside herself and I felt that I could at least look up the statute for her and let her know what the fine and penalties were so she could make an informed decision about the plea deal she was being offered. While she waited on the phone, I took a few minutes to look up the statute that she was charged with, see what the penalties associated with that traffic violation were and gave her my thoughts on her situation. She hung up abruptly while we were still speaking since her name was being called in court. End of story, right? No. A while later, the woman called back, very grateful for the fact that I actually spoke to her, gave her some reassurance allowing her to be able to make a decision on the plea that was offered to her. Turns out, due to her haste in needing a quick answer to a question, we did not speak in much detail. She mentioned the town she was in at court but it turned out that she was actually in a town of the same name in an adjoining state, not in Vermont. The statute I looked up for her didn’t even apply to her situation since she wasn’t even in Vermont. She was very stressed about her situation and the pressure to make what seemed like a very big decision between taking the plea deal and facing much more severe consequences if she didn’t. She needed to talk to someone who could give her a direction.   For me, it was a few minutes of being kind to a stranger on the phone but it meant so much more to this woman, who was able to compose herself and resolve her situation on her own. She called back to thank me and insist that she was going to pay me for my time, a nice gesture on her part, but we we both realized that she wasn’t even in the same state as I was in, or thought she was in, I explained to her that I couldn’t accept her payment since I am not licensed to practice law in her state and in fact, the advice I did give her didn’t even apply to her situation since it was a completely different statute in a completely different state, unknown to both of us at the time.

To me, it was about 3 minutes of my time talking to a stranger, to her it was so much more. I asked her to just do something nice for someone else she came across today, to pay it forward. It was a good start to the day. It made me happy, it made me feel appreciated. It made me happy to be a human.

Lesson learned, be kind, always. You never know when what you do can have a big impact on someone else’s day.

 

Ballot Selfies Prevail

Voting Clipart
Voting Clipart

Yesterday, the First Circuit Court of Appeals said that the New Hampshire law banning a person from displaying a marked ballot reflecting how he or she voted including posting of those images on social media sites violates First Amendment rights of voters. The law carried up to a $1,000 fine. The appellate court determined that the law violates free speech rights protected by the First Amendment. The law was enacted to avoid vote buying and voter intimidation, what it did was spark a controversy in this social media age over the “ballot selfie”. The law, which originated in one form in 1891 was intended to combat voter intimidation and vote buying. It was amended in 1911 to forbid any voter from “allowing his ballot to be seen by any person, with the intention of letting it be known how he is about to vote.” In 2014 New Hampshire amended that statute to read:

No voter shall allow his or her ballot to be seen by any person with the intention of letting it be known how he or she is about to vote or how he or she has voted except as provided in R.S.A. 659:20. This prohibition shall include taking a digital image or photograph of his or her marked ballot and distributing or sharing the image via social media or by any other means. 

The appellate court determined that just applying intermediate scrutiny the statute is unconstitutional. Intermediate scrutiny basically means that the statute has to at least be narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest. There is no proof that vote buying or voter intimidation is an actual problem in New Hampshire and there was definitely no proof that posting how you voted on Facebook or Twitter or Snapchat was going to cause any voter intimidation or vote buying and most definitely none sufficient to outweigh the First Amendment free speech rights that were being affected by the statute.

The appellate court in upholding the district court’s ruling completed its opinion with the simple adage “a picture is worth a thousand words”. You can read more about this here.

In Vermont there is no law against photographing your ballot, but since there is a law still on the books about publishing how you are going to vote, before you cast your ballot, wait to post that selfie until you have already submitted your ballot.

Vermont’s Universal Pre-K goes into effect

act166-1
Photo: VT Department of Education

One of the hardest issues for working parents of young children is finding sufficient care for them while parents are working. In our state that problem has been greatly reduced thanks to a new law that just went into effect.

Vermont is the first state in the country to guarantee pre-kindergarten to all its three and four year old citizens. The law, Act 166 was signed into law in 2014 but became effective as of the first of July. Under the law, each town must provide at least 10 hours of high quality pre-kindergarten education to 3 and 4 year olds for 35 weeks per year. The pre-k can be through public school, communities, Head Start or private early education centers. Many communities in Vermont already provide this service, with about one-quarter of the communities putting the new law into effect one year earlier than required.

This is great news for working parents. Under the law, parents can place their 3 and 4 year olds in pre-k programs closer to their jobs making it easier all around for working parents who may have had to forego a pre-k program due to hours and distance from their jobs.

The ten free hours will be economically beneficial to a lot of young, working parents who could not otherwise afford care for their children for the full work day. Attendance in the 3 and 4 year old program is not mandatory although a lot of parents will most likely take advantage of the program. According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, Vermont has the highest attendance by 4 year olds in pre-school programs.