Under Analysis: Grand ISIS Tour 2016

Maybe trial law fosters courage. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to take lots of money from a client; have them pin their hopes, dreams and/or fortunes on you; know that the lawyer or lawyers on the opposite side have experienced the same thing; and then show up in court armed only with your wits, your hard work and hopefully some good law and facts on your side, to battle it all out in front of a bunch of strangers: the jury. Then again, I may have acquired a little courage because when I was a young lawyer, there were a bunch of undeniably crusty old federal judges that seemed fond of belittling neophytes of the bar. There is something about lifetime appointments that build confidence, or perhaps it builds something else.

Additionally, a certain amount of courage is required when a commercial trial lawyer, like me, takes on contingent fee cases. Good money can be made, but with the sort of opponents on the other side – almost always large corporations – it is easy to get into a bind pretty quickly. Commercial contingencies aren’t like the typical contingent fees taken on by personal injury lawyers. Those guys generally know if there is going to be liability; it’s just a case of whether the injury award is worth the effort. In a contingent commercial case, liability is virtually always in doubt. Maybe years of steeling my nerves in front of cantankerous old trial judges, strange jurors and uncertain contingency cases provided a little seasoning when it came to my recent trip.

My wife Cheryl, a few friends, and I had planned our Paris excursion well before the recent attack. A winter trip to Paris was particularly appealing this year since the Euro/dollar exchange rate is highly beneficial to those of us from this side of the pond, and I certainly remember when it wasn’t that way. Furthermore, during the latter part of January, French clothes go on sale. I believe with all my heart that the timing of our visit to coincide with the Parisian sales was a driving force behind our trip to Cheryl, and to the rest of the females, despite the fact that they will tell you I was the one that bought all of the clothes. After all, lawyers have to look good.

On the afternoon of November 13, 2015, I was polishing up an oral argument I planned to make the next day. One of my would-be travel companions called and told me to turn on the news. Seeing footage of the terrorist attacks in Paris makes one ponder the wisdom of a visit. Nevertheless, we determined to forge ahead, because after all, nobody loves a bargain more than my wife.

“Markdowns” make deals irresistible to Cheryl, and in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, Turkish Airlines was having a big sale on flights to France. Further, Cheryl had always wanted to go to Istanbul and Turkish Airlines was offering a no-cost one day layover there. Even though Turkey had gotten a little dicey, bordering Syria and all, she just couldn’t resist the great price, so she booked it. The rest of our friends stuck with more expensive American airlines and avoided Turkey. Our flight was set to leave on Thursday, January 14, 2016. On Tuesday, January 12, 2016, ISIS targeted and killed tourists outside of the famed Blue Mosque.

I had never flown Turkish Airlines, and I was a little apprehensive. It was like appearing before a judge I knew nothing about, in a county court that I was not from. However, unlike some of those judges, Turkish Airlines proved impressive. As we boarded, we were met by a smiling fellow in a chef’s uniform, including a tall chef’s hat. Not only was the food great, but selected items were available during the entire duration of the flight. All you had to do was ask! The best offer I’ve ever received from a county court judge is a cup of old coffee, made by a Joe DiMaggio coffeemaker, and some cheap powdered artificial creamer.

The bomb site was located at one end of a long rectangular square just outside the Blue Mosque. There were some charred branches, clothes with the names of some of the victims and a few flowers haphazardly arranged. The cobblestones, having recently been washed off, were still wet. At the site of the carnage was one small tour group of Japanese visitors, Cheryl and I, and then there was the police. The site was cordoned off with crime scene tape but the police didn’t seem to mind us ignoring it. At first there were two types of “police” at the site: a few that looked like beat policemen and many more who looked like Secret Service agents. The latter had on black suits accompanied by lapel pins and ear pieces.

We took in the peaceful, but now rather melancholy site, in the shadow of the mosque and many beautiful buildings. As we walked towards the other famous Istanbul mosque-turned museum, the Ayasofya, busloads of policemen began arriving. These men and women were dressed in combat gear. They carried large automatic weapons. I remember both a federal district court judge and a state court judge, now passed on, that always kept big guns concealed within their reach when they were on the bench. These Turkish Stormtroopers, or whatever they were, looked both scarier and more efficient than those judges. After a while the thought crossed our minds that just maybe all of these heavily-armed personnel were arriving because they had gotten a “tip” about some further ISIS action. Eventually, Cheryl and I decided that discretion trumped curiosity and the rather eerie experience, so we retreated to the back lines for Turkish coffee and baklava.

When we got to Paris, we found for the most part that the atmosphere in the “City of Lights” was pretty much the same as we had experienced in the past. Nevertheless, throughout the city there were teams of police personnel (usually three per team) adorned with automatic weapons, looking very much like the Turkish paramilitary types. They were just strolling down the streets in areas where they typically would not have been. For the most part, their presence made me feel pretty good, but a little sad as well.

It was cold in Paris, and after a week, my group flew to the warmer environs of Palermo, Sicily, where the clothes were also on sale. Eventually we visited the Sicilian city of Catania (in the shadow of Europe’s only active volcano, Mt. Etna), which purportedly houses the largest migrant community in Europe. However, as was the case when I visited Budapest a few months earlier – amid all the reported turmoil wrecked by immigrants at the train stations, I saw no apparent immigrants at all. Some in our group were hesitant to scale the smoldering Mt. Etna. I convinced them the experience would be worth the “risk.” Of course, while in Sicily, we kept our eyes peeled for the mafia, but we missed them too. At least nobody came up and introduced themselves as Don Corleone or some sort of consigliere welcoming a visiting lawyer.

When it comes to trial work, a tried and true axiom is to expect the unexpected. Maybe travel is no different. Despite our newsworthy destinations, we ran into no trouble with ISIS. One of our group did, however, get his wallet pickpocketed in the Paris Metro, and Cheryl had her purse unceremoniously ripped off her shoulder by two friendly looking Sicilians. They appeared to be approaching to ask for information, when one of them grabbed her purse and coasted off on his Vespa. Like a good tourist, the feisty Cheryl chased them, but could not keep up with their 50cc scooter.

I suppose in the end, whether in court or Caracas, it comes down to risk analysis. Trials and faraway places can be scary. Perception often is more significant than reality. The odds of being bombed in Paris are infinitesimal compared to the odds of being pickpocketed. Despite doing my best, there were a couple of times when I felt like my clients got pickpocketed by juries. Sometimes you just get robbed. Other times you win tens of millions of dollars for a client. Experience can, in fact, build courage, and serenity in the midst of chaos can be useful. ISIS has and will attempt to spread fear, but from Paris and Palermo, the sales are still on.

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Under Analysis is a nationally syndicated column of the Levison Group. Mark Levison is a member of the law firm Lashly & Baer, P.C. Contact Under Analysis by e-mail at comments@levisongroup.com.
©2015 Under Analysis LLC

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