For SFPD-sponsored suicide baiting, the appellant’s opening brief is a set of nesting dolls
Moses has finally coaxed me outside. We both pick our way carefully like tightrope walkers over the precarious surface of the glossy back patio, iced over these many past days. I juggle my glass of wine and simultaneously drag my Adirondack chair across the treacherous slick to the only clear corner where the sun has worked all morning to melt this giant slurpee. It’s a wonder I have not broken my neck in this crossing, but Moses has already leaped into my lap, purring like a contented hedonist. There is nothing quite like the silky texture of cat fur made this much more pleasant to touch by the warming sun. I am bundled in my old pink robe that I have worn more days this winter than any other of my clothes and the trouser hems of my flannel pajamas are wet from sloshing through this soggy mess. My wine is clearly out of context in this slushy setting, but delicious.
Soon after he is dry, Moses uncurls himself luxuriously and steps silently up onto the wide right arm of the Adirondack to stretch himself familiarly along its worn wooden surface. He settles into his pyramid interpretation-act of the Great Sphinx at Giza plus cat ears. Golden-eyed, whiskered and wise, the inscrutable pharaoh suns himself while I, his Egyptologist, am expected to worship him.
And I do. He is a solace like no other in these darkest final years of my life. We are both orphaned and have no living children. We are the closest family member each other has.
We hear the first fly of this early unexpected spring afternoon buzzing past us and turn idly in unison to watch it settle unsteadily on the left arm of our chair. This small newcomer seems about as startled as we are by the good fortune of this weather. The little fly is so wobbly and inexperienced, either one of us could have nailed him without a proper swatter. Instead, we watch him groggily fly away.
Moses turns to me. “Uuummppff?” he politely queries.
“I’m good,” I respond agreeably.
It is the third day I have had this newest court document in my possession. It is all I can think about. I have never thought about good writing in relation to legal documents.
Even though I am having only wine and the crackers I fish out of my pocket, I think of how good these taste outside as we watch our back yard slowly thawing out. It is as if Moses and I are sitting inside a giant glass filled with too many ice cubes, but we tough it out to feel the sun.
Moses crunches on his cat treats, and I think of Hemingway’s thinly-disguised version of himself, his protagonist Nick Adams, and remember how he enjoyed preparing and eating his camp food outdoors in the deep and deceptively dangerous Michigan woods. Nature as a great regenerative healer had always been one of my favorite American literature themes to teach. My students and I had loved discussing the Hemingway Code –”grace under pressure” – as Nick struggled after coming back from the war. Surely, I taught this story another lifetime ago?
Now, I only understand the Nick Adams character in terms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, what the experts are beginning to call PTSInjury. Of course, we had always talked about the Hemingway family suicide curse, especially if students asked – four generations, seven terrible suicide deaths. Now, though, it is Hemingway’s granddaughter Mariel and her Running from Crazy that holds my attention more closely than her granddad’s Big Two-Hearted River ever will again.
How odd that she and I advocate for the same cause, I think. I can no longer bear to read fiction, but I still think with fondness about the literary minds and works I once loved. My students and I enjoyed not only Hemingway, but Faulkner, Steinbeck, Vonnegut – scores more of favorite writers, poets, playwrights, their best stories, our favorite characters, plots, themes, devices, philosophies, writing models.
Yet in all the years I ever taught, I never once considered that any important writing could exist outside this wonderful literary world and certainly not in the field of law. I had never thought of a “legal mind” or a “law brain” or of an attorney using authentic voice.
Like most, I regarded legal documents as dry, stiff and pedestrian matters, usually convoluted and peppered with cumbersome Latin phrases. Like most, my personal experience with legal writing extended no further than a cursory look at divorce papers, a house sale, a deed of trust, loan papers, the flotsam and jetsam of everyday life. Whoever read all that fine print, anyway?
I was such a clod.
Legal writing is the most important writing in all of human civilization and legal writers alone have the power to restore equilibrium to the social universe. Litigation and legislation turn on language.
In fact, attorneys and judges are the only people who can turn back the dial from crazy when things have gone as off-kilter as they did on February 16, 2010, in Hallidie Plaza, San Francisco, as twenty-four police officers forsook their sworn duty and watched the suicide baiting death of Dylan Yount in view of a thousand witnesses.
That death was so tragic and egregiously unnecessary that those who saw it continue to write about their trauma five years later. Since so many of them were teenagers at the time, the documentation of Dylan Yount’s death will continue to grow exponentially during the next seventy to eighty years of their lifetimes — unless, of course, suicide baiting becomes so routine that nobody minds. The city attorneys seem to be working hard to make sure that will happen, I think, for they maintain that if their police show up at the suicide scene, they are only required to watch! They will fight you – hard and dirty – if you believe otherwise!
Dylan’s death has changed the direction of so many lives besides the witnesses who experienced it first-hand. I do not know which category to put my attorney and me into, since we have both watched the movie files of Dylan’s death.
What I do know, though, is that the Appellant’s Opening Brief for Kathie Yount v. City and County of San Francisco, written by Gregory Scott Walston of Walston and Associates, will certainly not disappoint those who study law or any other interested parties, for that matter.
The opening brief is so bold that even laypersons like myself will instinctively recognize how avant-garde it is. It is also the best and most direct response written to date to refute the shameful – and quite personal – harangues written and churned out regularly against my son and me by the city attorneys in their ridiculous defense arguments championing the city police whose lawyers maintain have no duty to act when they respond to the suicide-attempt scene.
My attorney’s daring brief can only be described as minimalist by design. He has stripped down our case to the essentials with an aggressive style predicated on the principle of omission, the Theory of the Iceberg – for every one-eighth of the iceberg tip that shows above water, seven-eighths of the iceberg is hidden underwater as support.
I am pleased with this unorthodox approach and know Dylan would have approved. The document is symbolism-rich and the language is deliberately precise. It is simple and profound and has brought me an unexpected sense of peace and a new clarity as tangible as if I were physically opening a set of Nesting Dolls.
As each doll is opened in a traditional nesting doll set, another smaller doll is revealed nestled inside the larger one and so on, decreasing in size all the way down to the tiniest one. Yet, paradoxically, when the dolls are actually carved from a single piece of wood by turning them on a lathe, it is the smallest doll that is shaped first.
The tiniest doll is the only one made from a single piece of uninterrupted wood and its shape will dictate the size and shape of all other dolls that are formed. Each doll is turned on the lathe many times during its manufacture just as I have mentally turned and opened – many times – every doll that separates into two halves.
The design paradigm of my attorney has been just the opposite. His focus does not deviate from the tiniest doll in the Hallidie Plaza Suicide Baiting Nesting Dolls set.
While I have always known that the tiniest doll bears the iconic photo from Mooncricket Films – the vulnerable man on his narrow ledge – I had never thought about this doll as being the entire focus. I had always thought the relevant question in relation to Dylan’s death was the biblical imperative, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
I was wrong. The Appellant’s Opening Brief has turned my thinking upside down.
It is not the crowd that asks the question. It is the tiniest doll who asks it. He is sick and in trouble. Dylan poignantly asks, “Brothers, are you my keeper?”
“YOU FOOL!” was – and still is, I suppose – the official SFPD answer as they waited for him to acquiesce.
Many have spoken to me in comforting words about “my purpose” and “Dylan’s purpose” and “their purpose.” The filmmaker has said the open window to Dylan’s right is what bothers him the most. His eye for composition never errs. He says it means that Dylan left it open to signal that he wanted help. Thank God this filmmaker has helped me see there were many more good people inside the crowd that day than bad. Even so, all who were there in the plaza shared the same expectation. They all expected twenty-four SFPD officers to act and based on that assumption, they did not intervene or interfere.
I weep in sympathy with the turning earth and the melting snow, for injustice and the wanton sacrifice of life. Moses and I will be here – waiting – on this very patio when the City and County of San Francisco Respondent’s Brief is filed April 3. We are still expecting justice and are not deviating from this course.