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February Book of the Month: Becoming

BecomingBecoming
By Michelle Obama
Reviewed by Ruth Geos, Reference Librarian

Even if you don’t remember the fist-bump, begin with the beginning of Becoming and you will hear the vivid voice of a first-class storyteller with a full tale to tell. She is not just the former First Lady here but a narrator with a fascinating perspective of time and place. Michelle LaVaughn Obama describes growing up in a loving family in the South Side of Chicago, with her own evolution from a feisty little girl always ready for the next challenge, to Princeton and then to Harvard Law School, and — skipping ahead, as we already know — eventually to the White House, with her own initiatives and advocacy as First Lady over the two terms of the Obama administration. The Preface is an exceptional essay in itself, with an articulate grace and the kind of direct honesty that every good story needs, and history demands:

…until recently, I was the First Lady of the United States of America—a job that’s not officially a job, but that nonetheless has given me a platform like nothing I could have imagined. It challenged me and humbled me, lifted me up and shrank me down, sometimes all at once. I’m just beginning to process what took place these last years — from the moment in 2006 when my husband first started talking about running for president to the cold morning this winter when I climbed into a limo with Melania Trump, accompanying her to her husband’s inauguration. It’s been quite a ride…

It’s an intriguing story, starting with Becoming Me (the other sections are Becoming Us, and Becoming More) — a personal recounting of growing up in a largely African-American community, beginning to understand her own close family dynamics and community, and seeing how the history of deep discrimination had thwarted dreams and desires in her family and across the South Side. The story she weaves is anything but didactic, but a clear tracing of the cumulative impact of discrimination, such as how one grandfather’s dreams to be an electrician and to get a good union job were blocked, and others in her family circle limited to work in which there was no way to rise and push ahead.

Of course, before the White House lawn becomes a model garden, there are miles to go — piano recitals, marriage and children, campaigns, and many high-level professional positions. Ultimately, Becoming is a narrative of one woman’s intelligence, frustrations, humor, style, and perspicacity, with an inborn jolt of courage and personal daring, across history and her own personal way. Not the least, it also offers a fresh reminder of eight years of a White House not that long ago—and an altogether fascinating read. As Mrs. Obama says: “Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.”

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January Book of the Month: Representing Children in Dependency and Family Court

Representing ChildrenRepresenting Children in Dependency and Family Court: Beyond the Law
By Rebecca M. Stahl and Philip M. Stahl​
Reviewed by Andrea Woods, Reference Librarian

Representing Children in Dependency and Family Court: Beyond the Law is a thoughtful new book from the ABA that guides legal representatives of children in dependency and family court through the professional and emotional challenges they will encounter. As the subtitle indicates, it takes readers “beyond the law” and delves into the complex psychological issues that children experience prior to and during these proceedings that their lawyers must understand. Authors Rebecca and Philip Stahl begin by examining the unique attributes that a child’s representative must have, noting that they need a fundamental curiosity about their child clients and a willingness to understand their motivations, feelings, and experiences. Only with this deeper level understanding of the child’s perspective can a lawyer adequately inform the judge what decisions the court should make, and the authors emphasize that the judge’s entire comprehension of the child will come from the lawyer’s ability to know and communicate the child’s views. In fact, the authors urge a new interpretation of the lawyer’s role, in which the lawyer uses the concept of an imaginary friend to guide their representation. In this model, the child retains a sense of autonomy and is able to use the lawyer to make sense of the adult world. This is especially relevant for children who are enmeshed in high-conflict situations, in which their parents are likely to put their own needs before their children’s.

The authors’ discussion of psychological issues provides the bulk of the book’s content, and it covers in detail trauma, child development, the impact of domestic violence on children, high-conflict separation and divorce, alienated-resistant children, and special circumstances such as neglect, immigration status, oppositional defiant disorder, and sexual abuse. Readers will benefit from the authors’ expertise with these complicated topics. With a thorough understanding of the ways that psychological issues manifest themselves both emotionally and physically, and what conditions are needed for a child to heal and recover, the lawyer can learn the proper way to communicate with their client and provide the best representation possible. The authors note that trauma-sensitive interviewing requires considerable patience and self-regulation on the part of the lawyer, and an awareness of the child’s reaction so that the representative can help the child client release emotion but also move forward. Again, the authors emphasize how critical it is for a child’s representative to understand why a child behaves in a certain way, rather than to focus on what the problematic behavior is.

The last three chapters of the book are devoted to the personal and professional challenges that a child’s representative will experience directly—ethical issues, bias, and personal impact. The authors acknowledge that the ethical issues are bound to be unique because of the tendency for the child’s representative to be the only legally trained person on the case other than the judge, as more and more litigants in these types of proceedings represent themselves. Furthermore, there is an inherent tension between the best interests of the child model and the child client’s personal autonomy that the lawyer must navigate. The authors’ comprehensive discussion of the types of bias that a child’s representative must grapple with is insightful and recognizes the difficulty of this type of work. They observe that children’s lawyers must be so fully trained in understanding bias that they can also recognize the biases of their own clients, unlike other areas of law practice where this is not necessary. Finally, the authors discuss the emotional and physical toll that representing children in dependency and family cases will have on their lawyers. With an understanding of how legal practice differs from healing professions, and the resulting limitations in terms of what children’s representatives can do that they must accept, the authors provide thoughtful advice on how to avoid compassion fatigue and continue to find reward in representing children. The authors do not suggest that there are easy ways to reconcile these personal and professional issues, but their knowledge and the breadth of their experience in representing children provides ample guidance.


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December Book of the Month: Corporations Are Not People

Corporations Are Not PeopleCorporations Are Not People: Reclaiming Democracy from Big Money and Global Corporations
By Jeffrey D. Clements
Reviewed by Aaron Parsons, Reference Librarian

In Corporations Are Not People, author and San Francisco Law Library MCLE speaker Jeffrey Clements argues for and enlists readers’ help in passing a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizens United. This 2010 Supreme Court decision invalidated or weakened campaign finance laws like McCain-Feingold, and has allowed billions of dollars in corporate funded influence and “attack ads” to drown out average citizens’ voices, ideas, and opinions, in favor of narrow and powerful moneyed interests. This corporate influence, Clements argues, produces an anathema to the democratic protections that were written into our Constitution “of the people, for the people, and by the people.”

Clements discusses similar historical upswings of organized corporatism and traces the current tide as the long-term effect of a push back against environmentalists beginning with the first Earth Day in 1970. The corporate response was an organized attempt to curtail environmental and other regulation, and was led by Lewis Powell—a corporate lawyer and tobacco corporation executive, who would take a new wave of corporate activism onto the U.S. Supreme Court where he wrote corporation-favoring precursor cases to Citizens United, such as First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti. Under Powell’s influence, corporations “gained vastly increased political power at the expense of average citizens.”

But what is a corporation, and what are corporate rights, asks Clements? He says that, strangely, the definition of a corporation is left vague and described in “word clouds” in Citizens United and other decisions that Justice John Paul Stevens called “glittering generalities.” These generalities allow corporations, as government created entities, to wear sheep’s clothing at the same table that people enjoy, where they are protected by laws, including the Bill of Rights. Clements provides statistics showing the billions spent on lobbying and on saturation advertising in elections by a handful of corporations. He argues that those efforts promote the interests of a few giant corporations at the expense of both conservative and liberal points of view.

Clements offers many resources and avenues to get involved in changing government to work more effectively for the people instead of for a few massive corporations, including his organization, American Promise, that seeks to enact a 28th Amendment to the Constitution and is backed by an increasing number of states, politicians, and Americans from across the political spectrum.

Corporations Are Not People was generously donated to the Library by Mr. Clements.


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Book Review: The Case of Rose Bird

Rose BirdThe Case of Rose Bird: Gender, Politics, and the California Courts
By Kathleen A. Cairns
Reviewed by Richard Schulke, Reference Librarian

The Case of Rose Bird: Gender, Politics, and the California Courts is a timely look at political activism aimed at members of the Judiciary. It recounts the circumstances that led to the removal of Rose Bird as Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court.

This book begins by looking at Rose Bird’s early triumphs during high school and law school, followed by her milestone achievements as the first female law clerk for the Nevada Supreme Court, the first female deputy public defender in Santa Clara County, and the first woman to hold a cabinet position in California.

The book follows Bird’s appointment to the position of Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court in 1977 by a then forty-year-old Governor Jerry Brown—she was both the Court’s first female justice and its first female Chief Justice—and then a series of three attempts to recall her. The attempts ultimately succeeded, and in November of 1986 she was the first Chief Justice of California to be recalled by the voters.

The author examines the then-current politics that made Bird a lightning rod—her liberalism, gender, and the perception that she was soft on crime. The author also takes an in-depth look at Bird’s political opponents and the take-no-prisoner attitude that ultimately resulted in her downfall through political machinations. It is as chilling now as it was then.

The description of Bird’s final years as a broken person battling unsuccessfully against medical issues and early death is a sad ending to her story.

Current events make clear that the issue of “Judicial Politics” is still a hot potato. We recently witnessed both the removal of Judge Aaron Persky following his controversial decision to impose a sentence of only six months for a Stanford student convicted of rape, and the political maneuvering during the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court. This fascinating exploration of Rose Bird and the turbulent beginning of judicial politics in California is still just as relevant today.

The Case of Rose Bird was generously donated to the Library by John Kelly.


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November Book of the Month: Tax, Estate, and Financial Planning for the Elderly

Tax, Estate, and Financial Planning for the ElderlyTax, Estate, and Financial Planning for the Elderly
By John J. Regan, Rebecca C. Morgan, David M. English & H. Amos Goodall, Jr.
Reviewed by Ruth Geos, Reference Librarian

In June of this year, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg announced that she doesn’t plan to retire for at least another five years, when she will be 90. She is one not defined by her age, but by the force of her being, good health, and personal strength.

For the rest of those who are looking ahead to retirement or facing changes in their way of life, finances, health, and control as they age, no book would be a better start than this one volume. It has no fancy cover, no pictures, and no forms. But it does contain a wealth of information aimed at both individuals looking for answers within the maze of legal and financial issues that arise, and attorneys developing the highly specialized practice of Elder Law with practical techniques and insight into the intertwining of issues and family context. Indeed, the very organization of the book keeps both parts of the practice clearly in sight. Each chapter begins with a short synopsis of the topic, with the kind of basic questions everyone wants to know (such as, how does a ROTH IRA differ from a traditional IRA? See § 2.06), and then expands into a full analysis of the type of asset protection, governmental or private benefit program, along with legal and psychological issues, and citations to statutes, regulations, cases, and other authority for additional research. It is an impressive source for both attorney and client.

Individual chapters address the major areas of law and top areas of concern: Social Security Benefits; Veterans’ Benefits; Private Pensions; Income Tax; Housing Concerns; Property Management during Incapacity; Health Care Rights and Decisions; Nursing Homes; Guardians and Conservators, Estate Planning, and Elder Abuse. Each topic includes a thorough summary of rights, a clear organization and analysis of the distinctions within a complex benefits program, such as Social Security, SSI, or Medicaid, which provides a clarity that is hard to find—not too simplified to be useful, and not just litigation-based to limit the kind of information that a full counseling requires. Tax issues are folded in as an intrinsic aspect of each topic, and a separate chapter on Financial Planning includes an extensive checklist to both assist clients and to aid the attorney in being comprehensive in making suggestions and building a strategy together.

person writing on paper

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The authors consistently emphasize the role of communication and counseling. This defined approach is infused with a depth of empathy and psychological awareness of the fact that the primary goal of most clients is to maintain personal autonomy over their lives, and that the financial and legal issues that come up should be approached with that goal of empowerment. The publication is bookended by a first chapter on counseling the client and an introduction to the special focus required for elder law issues—including the need to create a productive atmosphere in the office to best exchange information—and ends with a last chapter on ethical issues and representation. Throughout, the authors describe building a relationship between attorney and client where the attorney provides information not only on the specific issue brought to the meeting, but also includes other useful information and resources, such as how to organize documents, disaster planning, and information on local community and agency services, senior centers, and other supportive organizations. It sets a high standard for the type and level of competence needed for an elder law practice, including a deep and wide knowledge about private and governmental benefit programs, legal and tax issues, financial planning—all connected to a wider social context, for the fullest representation possible.

For individuals bravely looking ahead on their own, this is also a source to light the way.

Tax, Estate, and Financial Planning for the Elderly is available in print at the San Francisco Law Library. A wide range of other elder law materials, including CA-specific treatises and various model forms can be found on the San Francisco Law Library’s LibGuide to elder law—or ask a Reference Librarian.


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October Book of the Month: To End a Presidency

End PresidencyTo End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment
By Laurence A. Tribe and Joshua Matz
Reviewed by Tony Pelczynski, Reference Assistant

In a recent New York Times book review of an entirely different book, law professor Josh Chafetz identified a nascent literary strain of Constitution-focused popular books that has proliferated since the 2016 presidential election: the “this-book-is-about-timeless-constitutional-truths-not-about-Trump-wink-wink subgenre.” To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment, by Laurence A. Tribe and Joshua Matz, is no such book. Its first line reads: “Impeachment haunts Trumpland,” and from there, pedal is firmly put to metal. There is no winking in To End a Presidency—it is crystal clear whose presidency the book’s title is contemplating.

While the topic of presidential impeachment is almost always politically polarizing, if not politically motivated (at least in contemporary times), Tribe and Matz deftly and skillfully run through impeachment’s Constitutional framework and history with a minimum of partisan fireworks. While impeachment is enshrined in the Constitution, a removal option reserved for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” committed by high-ranking officials, the Framers left the process largely undefined. As the authors point out, this may be chalked up to the usual series of legislative compromises and accommodations that underlie any such attempt to hammer out a foundational legal document. But in large part, this was also by design, as the Framers understood that as the United States grew and evolved, actions that might constitute impeachable offenses in 1789 might not look the same in, say, 2018 (and vice versa).

Tribe and Matz hold lucid opinions regarding the topic of Donald Trump’s impeachability, and they are not hesitant to express them. However, while the book’s pace is quick and the tone urgent, the authors repeatedly remind the reader that even though the threat of impeachment has, in recent decades, been treated as a political tool, no president has ever been directly removed by the impeachment process, and so we simply do not know what the implications of such a removal might be (of course, Richard Nixon likely came the closest to removal, but resigned before the impeachment process could actually run its course). Whatever one thinks of Trump, the authors seem to be saying, and because impeachment is such a grave option, we ought to think long and hard before invoking the process in a fit of partisan pique. As they note, there are other ways of obstructing the President’s agenda (including Congressional action/inaction), short of the “nuclear” option of impeachment.

white house

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Of course, in the modern era, the gravity of the impeachment process has never slowed down Congressional calls for its implementation. Prior to Nixon, presidential impeachment attempts were relatively rare. Post-Nixon, the specter of impeachment has been invoked against every subsequent president, with varying degrees of seriousness and plausibility. From calls to remove Gerald Ford for his pardon of Nixon, to attempts to strip Barack Obama of his presidency for the supposed “birth certificate issue” (Blake Farenholtz) and what the authors term claims of “unspecified ‘thuggery’” (hello, Michele Bachmann!), Tribe and Matz spotlight the seemingly never-ending parade of modern-day partisan calls for impeachment. While such demands have most often functioned as a form of political grandstanding, the impeachment process became truly weaponized during the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton, a weaponization that has taken root in American politics, and from which, the authors fear, the American political process may never fully recover.

With impeachment talk currently permeating any discussion of Trump’s presidency, apparently within even Trump’s own administration (see the New York Times’ recent “I Am Part of the Resistance” anonymous op-ed; or reports of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s attempted recruitment of Trump cabinet members willing to invoke the 25th Amendment), those advocating for, or considering, Trump’s impeachment would be wise to peruse To End a Presidency, before the United States heads down a road from which it may never be able to turn back. If, at some point in the near future, impeachment proceedings become inevitable, due to either partisan tribalism or a genuine presidential threat to the nation and its rule of law, one hopes that the authors’ calls for caution and contemplation will have been heeded. In a time of inflamed political passions, Tribe and Matz have written a sober and well-researched discussion of the history surrounding, and the pitfalls of blithely invoking, a wrenching political process with which the nation has had little actual experience.

To End a Presidency was generously donated to the Library by Suzanne P. Marria.


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Book Review: The Clean Water Act Handbook

Clean Water Act 4thThe Clean Water Act Handbook, 4th
Edited by Mark A. Ryan
Reviewed by Courtney Nguyen, Reference Librarian

With current attacks on clean water protections for rivers, lakes, streams, and other waters still making headlines, the Clean Water Act (CWA) is as relevant today as ever. Learn more about one of our most important environmental law statutes in The Clean Water Act Handbook (4th), edited by Mark A. Ryan. The contributors reflect a thoughtful balance of public and private sector attorneys, all experts in the CWA, and topics range from the broad (enforcement) to the narrow (calculating Total Maximum Daily Loads in accordance with section 303(d)). The handbook begins with the historical background of the CWA, tracing its origins from the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899 (the first federal statute governing water pollutions control) to the 1972 act itself, which was passed in response to a flood of litigation concerning sources discharging pollutants, as well as growing public awareness. Once grounded in the historical context of the act, the book then moves on to tackle the essentials of the various collaborative federal and state programs which have risen up to regulate water pollution.

nature water blue abstract

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The purported goals of the CWA are eliminating pollutant discharges and providing fishable and swimmable waters, and the handbook addresses each item and related issues in turn, including explanations on implementing regulations and guidelines. The threshold (and still contentious) question of what constitutes “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) which the act protects gets its own chapter, as do the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTWs), Section 311 Oil and Hazardous Substances Spills, the types of activities considered “discharges of dredged or fill material,” enforcement, whether civil judicial, civil administrative, criminal, or citizen suits, and how the CWA applies to federal facilities. In the absence of congressional amendments, the scope of the CWA is still being discussed by the courts, and later chapters discuss the powers and limitations of judicial review, as well as the influence exerted by successive administrations in Washington.

Even if you live in an arid, landlocked part of the country, the CWA still matters since the act affects the economy, industry, politics, technology, and much more. This handbook serves as both a practical tool for practitioners as well as a good introduction for the interested citizen to this ever-evolving statute. Though the CWA hasn’t been amended since 1990, the act is still heavily litigated, debated, and reinterpreted, so staying on top of changes is crucial. Come read this and other environmental law titles (such as The Clean Air Act Handbook) at the Library today!


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