What’s great about being a lawyer? Find out as Abrams takes us on a ride up College Ave and onto the Florida State University campus while he discusses the joy of being a lawyer, the secrets they keep, and the duty to keep a client’s secrets.
Month: April 2016
Let My People Pee…aka the American Public Restroom Wars
A friend on Facebook recently asked me for my thoughts on the issue of transgendered people in public restrooms and laws forcing them to use the bathroom of their birth gender. My personal feelings are that this is much ado about nothing, and that bigots are using the same sort of fear-mongering we saw in past equality struggles by other oppressed groups.
The premise for these bathroom laws is that transgendered people may really be just men who are faking it in order to gain access to public women’s restrooms where they can molest children. Thus, in order to protect the children from child molesters, we must force people to use the restroom associated with their birth gender. This is a stupid argument that fails on many levels and is harmful to all involved, including children.
First and foremost, this is a xenophobic argument. It equates transgendered people, and men in general, with child molesters. It harkens back to the days when people justified discrimination against homosexuals being employed as teachers on the basis that it would expose school children to sexual abuse with the implication that gay men are all secretly pedophiles. When all else fails, the last refuge of bigots and hatemongers is always the cry of “What about the children?”
Of course, like all laws arising from bigotry, these laws are rooted ignorance. Politicians such as Ted Cruz and supporters of bathroom gender laws sometimes claim that their fear is that crossdressing men would use the women’s room in order to gain access to children. However, this is not an issue of crossdressers. The distinction between crossdressing and transgender is important in this debate. Crossdressers are people who wear the clothing of the opposite gender, but do not see themselves as being that gender. Transgendered people prefer to wear the clothing of the gender with which they identify. There are also people who are born intersexed, that is, with anatomy that is neither male or female (all fetuses start out as female, but development can go awry). Gender and sexual orientation are also distinct characteristics, but we tend to try to lump them together, which is a mistake that I suspect is probably rooted in the fact that the majority of the population is heterosexual and assumes that boys like girls and vice versa.
We currently have very strong laws in place that can be used to prosecute child molesters in all areas of our society, not just bathrooms. Short of implementing an army of bathroom police to check the birth-gender of people entering bathrooms, the bathroom gender laws currently being discussed are pretty useless to stop people who would seek to disguise their genders in order to access children in public restrooms. From a public policy perspective, these laws are just plain foolish.
The gender bathroom laws are rooted in a hatred and mistrust of male sexuality that we seem all too tolerant of in our society. Ted Cruz says it plainly when he states “I can tell you it doesn’t make any sense to allow adult grown men strangers to be alone in a bathroom with little girls”. Yes, some men abuse others sexually and act as predators. We tend to assume that such behavior is limited to men, but women make up 12% of those who are convicted of molesting children under the age of 6. More importantly, such abusers are not the overwhelming majority of men or women. Yet consider that many airlines have adopted policies that forbid seating unaccompanied minors next to men on airplanes. Male homosexuality remains much less socially accepted than lesbianism. There is a stereotype that male bisexuals are unsuitable as partners because they incapable of committing. We justify the laws that ban women from going topless on beaches by the claim that men who are exposed to a female breast will instantly lose control of themselves and become rapists. In other words, inside every man is a sexual predator just waiting to be released. Utter nonsense maybe, but the messages are clear and repetitive. What is communicated by these stereotypes, laws, and policies to our male children about themselves and about the adults they are growing into?
However foolish I see them, bathroom laws may or may not be unconstitutional. Laws that make gender-based distinctions are not automatically unconstitutional under current American law. Such laws when reviewed by the Courts are subject to what is known as “intermediate scrutiny”. To pass constitutional review under the intermediate scrutiny test, a law must show that it furthers a legitimate governmental interest in a way that is substantially related to that interest. I suspect that there will be little debate over whether or not the protection of children from sexual abuse is a legitimate government interest. The focus of review for these laws is going to be whether or not restricting bathroom use to birth gender is substantially related to the protection of children. If this winds up before the Supreme Court, I think the outcome is going to be greatly influenced by whether or not the government can show that there has been a pattern of people using bathrooms designed for the gender that’s other than their birth gender who have also been found to molest and abuse children. ABC News just published a story in which it reported that more than 200 organizations that work with sexual assault and domestic violence survivors have come out in opposition to laws restricting bathroom use to birth gender, calling the claim of the transgendered predator a “myth”.
In closing, I want to say that my thoughts on this matter actually go back to the text of the Torah and the most repeated commandment in the Hebrew Bible; “You shall welcome and not oppress the stranger in your midst.” From my perspective, these laws are nothing more than an attempt to make life more difficult for people who already are facing difficulties that I can only imagine. If we want to protect our children from molestation in public bathrooms we can easily do so in a variety of ways that don’t involve creating hardships for other people. We don’t need to further oppress a group of people who have already known more rejection and abuse than one should ever have to experience in this life.
Scootin’ Around and Talking about Legal Issues in Dog Ownership
Join me for the ride home after an exciting day practicing law. Inspired by a guest speaker on exotic animal trafficking, I talk about the joys and legal issues that can come up in dog ownership.
A Ride Through Waverly Hills and “What does it mean to own Property?
A beautiful Spring day is a perfect time for a scooter ride and Tallahassee’s Waverly Hills is a wonderful neighborhood to ride through. Join David as he takes you on a journey underneath canopy oaks and discusses some of the interesting questions arising from, and misconceptions regarding, real property law.
Pain Medication Usage In Black and White Patients: Biased treatment or Addiction Epidemic?
Recently, the Washington Post and other media outlets ran a story about a research study at the University of Virginia with the headline “The disturbing reason some African American patients may be undertreated for pain”. The study at issue involved asking a group of approximately 200 white medical students a series of true-false questions about biological differences between white and black people and measuring how many times the students answered incorrectly. The researchers then presented the medical students with a treatment scenario and found that the students who answered the true-false questions incorrectly (which they termed “endorsing the false beliefs”) were more likely to make inappropriate treatment recommendations. The researchers suggest that this is evidence that it is due to bias that prior studies have shown that black patients are less likely to receive pain medication than white patients.
I haven’t been able to locate the actual published study, so I haven’t been able to look at the actual data from the study. However, the snippets of data that are contained in the news reports were very interesting to me. The data clearly showed that while some medical students did incorrectly answer some of the questions, the number of incorrect answers decreased dramatically as they moved from 1st year medical students to becoming residents. For example, as 1st year students, 29 percent incorrectly responded to the statement that “Black people’s blood coagulates more quickly than white’s”. Yet, by the time they were 3rd year students only 3 percent answered that question incorrectly.
The researchers noted that the subjects who responded incorrectly to the questions were more likely to select inappropriate treatment options to proposed scenarios and then concluded that this was due to bias that explains the existing differences in pain treatment between black and white patients. I think it could just as easily be due to the fact that the subjects who answered incorrectly were more likely to be early in their medical education, so it makes sense that they might select the incorrect treatment choice. It is important to understand that 1st year medical students have little to no clinical training and legally cannot even prescribe a Tylenol to a patient.
I have no doubt that racism exists in healthcare, nor do I dispute for a moment that we should do all we can to identify and remedy racially discriminatory practices in our healthcare system. However, I think we also need to be cautious about concluding that differences in healthcare treatments and outcomes are necessarily the product or racial discrimination. It is very possible that black patients receive less pain medication than white patients due to racial bias in the minds of healthcare providers, but this study didn’t prove that. In fact, other than demonstrating that medical students got fewer answers wrong as they progressed in their education, it didn’t really prove anything useful.
I think we have to consider that it’s very possible that factors other than racial bias are at play when it comes to the issue of the differences between pain medication use in Black and White patients. I may well be that Black patients are being appropriately medicated while White patients are more inclined to be drug seeking and as a result receive more medication. That something very significant is happening in the White American population with regard to opiate use is evident from data in other research. For example, the CDC recently reported that “The rate of past-year heroin use among non-Hispanic whites increased 114.3% from 1.4 per 1,000 in 2002–2004 to 3.0 per 1,000 in 2011–2013.” There is a well-established link between prescription drug abuse and heroin use where many addicts start with prescription pain medication and then move onto heroin use when they are unable to obtain legal access to or afford opiate drugs.
I also think that it’s also important to examine whether cultural factors exist that may inhibit black patients from requesting pain medication and if that possible inhibition results in under treatment of pain for Black patients.
I think we have to be very cautious to conclude that differences in medical treatment or outcome are the result of bias rather than another factor. For too long many healthcare treatments and theories have lacked the requisite scientific validation. Granted, identifying and calling-out racism gives one the moral high ground, but it may not always be the truth, and in healthcare it is scientific truth that saves lives and preserves health.
For example, life expectancy data collected by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that white Americans have a life expectancy of 78.9 years whereas black Americans have a shorter life expectancy of 74.6 years. It is very tempting to conclude that this is solely because white Americans hold greater political and economic power and as a result black patients get inferior care. However, this doesn’t hold up when you look at the data for life expectancy across all ethnic groups. According to the data, white Americans have a shorter life expectancy than Latinos (82.8 years) and Asian- Americans (86.5 years) and are only slightly ahead of Native Americans (76.9 years). Neither Latinos nor Asian-Americans currently have greater political or economic power in the United States than do white Americans. Race may be a factor, but that doesn’t mean racism or bias is the driving force behind the differences.
I think it’s also important to remember, before we declare black pain undertreated, that we recognize that the current practices regarding the use of pain medication in American healthcare is an anomaly worldwide. Consider that the New York Times reported that American “Patients here consumed 99 percent of the world’s hydrocodone, the opioid in Vicodin. They also consumed 80 percent of the world’s oxycodone, present in Percocet and OxyContin, and 65 percent of the world’s hydromorphone, the key ingredient in Dilaudid, in 2010.” According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the number of deaths in the United States due to prescription pain relievers has quadrupled since 1999.
Given these numbers, I have to question whether the data on the use of pain medication isn’t coming from the under treatment of black pain, but is more indicative of a larger epidemic of prescription pain medication abuse in white American patients. Consider another article from the Washington Post that examined other research which reported that “Non-Hispanic white Americans take prescription drugs at roughly twice the rate of Mexican Americans. Researchers offered no clear explanation but said the disparity “was not entirely attributable” to differences in insurance status.”
This may not be better healthcare for white Americans, but indications of a serious untreated healthcare problem. I won’t pretend that I have all the answers to the many questions and challenges we face as we seek to create a healthcare system to provide appropriate care to all Americans. However, I do know that we have examine the issues very closely and seek truth above all else.
A Lawyer’s Duty to Protect Clients From Identity Theft
I was honored today to present a talk for the Big Bend Chapter of the Florida Paralegal Association on the topic of “Protecting Our Clients From Identity Theft” at their annual conference. The Big Bend Chapter of the Florida Paralegal Association is a great group and I always enjoy the opportunity to be guest speaker for them. The presentation I gave is below:
What’s Up With All Those Hats?
A woman at a conference I was attending recently commented to me that she always looks forwarding to seeing me and seeing what kind of hat I’m going to be wearing. She told me that she always finds my hats to be handsome looking and wished more men would wear them. I smiled and thanked her for the compliment, delighted that my fashion peccadillo brings happiness to her. I was pleased that in a world full of people she found me interesting enough to remember and look forward to seeing again.
Simply put, I love hats. I like wearing hats, shopping for new hats, finding good deals on new hats, receiving them as gifts, and sharing my love of hats with others who are similarly afflicted with “hat head fever”. Of course, what’s not to love? Hats are stylish, they protect my balding head from sunburn, and they can be worn with just about any sort of outfit. Oh, and you can never have too many.
Lately, I’ve been playing around a lot with video and trying to learn the basics of filming and editing video. Beyond hats, I’ve long been addicted to YouTube and am fascinated by the glimpses this medium provides us of other places and the lives of other people. As part of this learning process I made a video when I visited the Goorin Brothers Hat Shop located in the Georgetown section of Washington, DC.
I specifically went into this hat shop because I am always on the prowl for another hat. I’ve order from them online and I visited their store in New York City last year, so I know that they have a wide selection of men’s hats, and such places are rare in the world. This puzzles me given my love hats and the fact that I never leave the house without one of many hats perched atop my head. Unfortunately, I seem to be in a very small hat-wearing minority.
If you go to the mall in Tallahassee you will find a small selection of fedoras, maybe a driver’s cap or two, in stores like Dillard’s and Macy’s but the selection will be very limited. The only store in the mall that even pretends to be any form of a haberdashery is a place called “Lids” that doesn’t really sell hats all, but sells high-end ball caps. Please understand, in my world a ball cap is not a gentlemen’s hat. I don’t begrudge anyone who wants to wear them to a sporting event or on a fishing trip (although you get much better sun coverage from a proper sportsmen’s hat), but if you show up wearing one for Court or at a dinner party, you’re screaming “I’m a doofus” at the top of your lungs.
If you look at old photographs of men outdoors taken pre-1960’s, you’ll quickly notice that almost all the men wore hats. Often these photos display a sea of gray fedoras. Until very recent time a hat was an indispensable part of a man’s wardrobe. I recall an old lawyer whom I met in a rural courthouse one day commented on my hat and said to me “In my day, a man didn’t leave home without his hat…” he paused, and then added “…and a ball cap isn’t a hat” as he smiled at me.
If you’re guy who regularly wears real men’s hats, then you’ll also notice that there are some stupid leftover customs regarding hat wearing. The custom that a man takes off his hat in a building, whereas ladies don’t, is stupid and unrealistic in my opinion. Maybe in the old days when they had hat racks, but the problem in the modern world is that once you take it off, there’s no place to put it unless you want to carry your hat around in your hand all day. When you do find a place to leave your hat there’s always a good chance you’ll never see it again. A couple years ago I took off a prized brown fedora at a Rotary meeting and set it on the table to never see it again. In other instances, I’ve had to return to places to retrieve hats I’ve left behind.
There are a number of reasons I can give you in support of the benefits of men wearing hats. Certainly, there is the protection against sunburn and skin cancer for those of us who no longer have a thick head of hair. But I think the greatest advantage is the aesthetic value. With the exception of sportswear, men’s clothing is generally boring and uninspired. Our dress suits tend to be pretty much the same design and the colors rarely depart from grays, blues, black, and browns. Even business casual styles tend to be some sort of kaki or blue pants with a checkered or plaid shirt of some sort.
Unless we embrace the hat, men looking to distinguish themselves with a fashion statement are pretty much limited to trying to find a stylish tie, which will inevitably be cut in the length and width as all the other ties of the current fashion season. Hats give us a great platform for self-expression and uniqueness. I’ve found that my hats have become a trade-mark of sorts and that, for better or worse, I’ve become known as the guy who wears the hats. Hats can be customized with an almost endless variety of bands, pins, and feathers. They can be steamed to drop or curl a brim. A good hat will help people remember you and set you apart in the often infinite pool of humanity clothed in the conforming boredom of mass produced textiles.
So, that’s part of the deal for me with all these hats. I hope you’ll consider sporting your own unique chapeau next time you venture out into the world. I’m sure that, like me, you’ll find that your hats create opportunities for conversations and smiles with the people we meet. Remember, people are drawn to our authenticity, and by creating a bit of artistic self-expression with a good hat, you’ll find them drawn to you too.
One Judge Short of a Full Court?
What’s up with the Supreme Court and finding a successor to Justice Scalia? What impact does this have on the Court and it’s ability to decide cases? Find out as David rides through downtown Tallahassee on his way to the FSU Alumni center and a meeting of the Tallahassee Rotary Club.
Moral Wrongs, Law, and Downtown Tallahassee
Join David as he rides down Monroe Street and into downtown Tallahassee. See Hotel Duval, the Aloft Hotel, Florida Capitol, City Hall, and the historic Bankruptcy Courthouse while David talks about the differences between legal wrongs, moral wrongs, common law and statutory law.