Welcome to another blog. I am a retired Senior Executive (GSA) and the author of a recently published book, Confessions of a Government Man: How to Succeed in Any Bureaucracy.
This post is another book excerpt, abbreviated and cleaned up for family entertainment. It deals with attorneys. It is not my intention to bash the legal profession, but the incident I describe really happened.
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I always felt personal satisfaction when a pompous attorney becomes humbled.
It started as an ordinary spring day but before long all hell broke loose, once again triggered by the uninvolved.
The new courthouse at Foley Square (Manhattan) was nearing completion. The builder was in the process of constructing a tunnel for prisoner movement between the new building and the Metropolitan Correction Center (“MCC”) across the street.
Aside from the engineering complications involving utilities under the street, maintaining traffic flow and allowing access to the MCC for the secure transport of prisoners, we had to deal with the usual gang of attorneys and other obstructionists who thought we might disturb a buried 200 year old cistern (This was the site of the notorious Five Points neighborhood, depicted in the movie The Gangs of New York.) or deprive someone of their First Amendment rights by moving their protest across the street.
The scene was set for a large gathering of suits on the driveway which accesses the MCC.
One of our contracted archeology gurus noticed what to her appeared to be a segment of a human bone in the excavated earth, which she sifted with a strainer. This is just what an archeologist lives for. Stop the project!
Instead of notifying the project director whom she knew would be unsympathetic towards this historic discovery, she chose instead to first call the GSA head archaeology guru in the region, Bart “Bigfoot” Lofton, who took it upon himself to walk to the site and direct the job superintendent to cease all excavation.
I became aware of this expensive calamity in the making when I received an urgent call from the developer’s project manager, Mike Anderson, who skipped the usual salutations. “Who the (bleep) is this Lofton character – the new job supe!”
At this point, Cardinal Hayes Place had already been blocked by the contractor, preventing the U.S. Marshal from securely moving prisoners into the MCC. The marshal and the warden were already bonkers over this because that very afternoon an alleged hit man for South American drug lord Pablo Escobar was being delivered for trial.
The lineup of suits included the developer’s project director, the government project team, and representatives of the contractor, the U.S. Marshals Service and the MCC warden. Rounding out this group was a team of crack government attorneys to make sure the government’s interests were protected at all costs.
Ms. Caroline, our chief attorney was there. She supplied a lot of words about the National Historic Preservation Act that nobody wanted to hear. Hartwyck was a voice of reason. The legal team was rounded out with Zachariah Goldschmidt, an idealistic liberal who didn’t believe in prisons anyway. His claim to fame was to make rambling speeches and to prepare contracts and agreements which were so lengthy and incomprehensible that nobody would ever sign them.
There were about fifteen people all jabbering at once at the vehicle entrance to the MCC, blocking access. Anderson and Lofton almost came to blows; the attorneys were citing the United States Code; the marshal claimed we were obstructing justice and the warden said if we didn’t open Cardinal Hayes Place for vehicles soon he was going to have to move prisoners in shackles through the street.
Meanwhile, the archeologist, the only non-suit there, said if we didn’t stop the construction we would be in violation of New York City Landmarks Commission regulations (as if these construction and law enforcement people could really care). For every minute of delay on the job the cash registers were ka-chinging.
I’ve always had the utmost respect for the U.S. Marshals Service. They have a tough job which they do with professionalism. All of us at GSA normally tried to accommodate their needs. The last thing anyone needed would be to have a prisoner escape or a judge shot because the marshal had a lapse.
Our attorneys huddled in a corner of the pack, discussing strategy. Just then we got the word that the caravan escorting Escobar’s man was approaching the area. A uniformed marshal politely asked the group to move to the side, away from the approach to the underground entrance to the MCC. Everyone complied except the three attorneys who continued to stay immobile on the site like discarded trash. When the uniformed marshal approached and again suggested they move away, Mr. Goldschmidt said something like, “We are government attorneys. You can’t tell a group of lawyers where to stand. It’s a free country.”
There was no further discussion. A dozen armed marshals exited the vehicles with M-16 and 9mm rifles, wearing bullet proof vests, shouting “Hut-hut!” and assumed their positions for the prisoner movement. A construction worker was ordered at gunpoint to get his head away from the fence and the attorneys were prodded with the business end of semi-automatic rifles to change their opinion about where they chose to stand. Goldschmidt forgot about the U.S. Code and his First Amendment rights and headed for the sanctity of his office to write some more incomprehensible contracts. Caroline claimed the entire episode was staged.
By the time the day ended, Charley Fraser, the GSA project manager, Hartwyck the sensible attorney and Howard Morton, the neighborhood liaison for the developer had quietly contacted our preservation consultant who made the determination that the uncovered bone fragment was canine and of no historical significance. Caper over.
Howard told me that he was very nervous over what transpired. “The kids with the guns were tense. One wrong move by your lawyers and we could have had a shootout right on the site.”
It was nice to see an opinion of counsel abruptly changed, even though it was at gunpoint.
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