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Summer and my Goldilocks problem…

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jul 15, 2010 in The 2L Life

Summer hasn’t exactly turned out quite like I expected.

The first half of it was entirely too fast for my liking, with summer session classes taking the concept of “intensity” to a whole different level as professors crammed 15 weeks of lectures into 5 weeks of classes. It turned out for the best — the single-minded focus helped me earn my first two bona fide A’s of my tenure at NCCU Law — but I’m a fan of being able to occasionally breathe every now and then without feeling like I’m wasting time doing so ;)

The second half, on the other hand, is going entirely too sllloooooooowwwwww for me. I’ve only got mediation work with the ADR clinic on Mondays and Fridays keeping me busy, and the days in between are completely structureless. Normally during the academic year that’s great because it means I have a free day to dedicate to a typically lengthy to-do list.

Having that degree of freedom 5 days a week, though, is having the exact opposite effect: since I know I’ll also be free tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that, I keep putting off doing anything productive and have a growing backlog of stuff to finish in a shrinking window of time :beatup:

Case in point: I’ve got 4 draft blog entries still to proofread (2 from last week and 2 from this week) along with updating y’all on the Spring final exams I got back and the GPA cutoffs I extracted from the registrar’s office for Monday’s entry on class ranks. Not to mention posting the URLs to Twitter and Facebook so I can continue the shameless attention-whoring I started last month ;)

And that’s just the blog. I’ve got a laundry list of projects I need to work on for UNCASG and SBA before 1L Orientation kicks off, and at some point I really need to clean up the kitchen before things start growing in there.1 :sick:

Still in search of a summer structure that’s “just right”. If any of y’all find it, let me know. Until then have a great night! :D

  1. Of course instead of doing it now, I’m writing this blog entry and then heading to bed so I can get up for mediation in Raleigh in the morning ;) []

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Things I will not be doing with my law degree #1

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jul 13, 2010 in The 2L Life

Mediating hearings involving Medicaid and the NC Office of Administrative Hearings :beatup:

Yes, I do realize it’s probably not the best idea in the world to swear off potential employment options during one of the worst legal economies ever.

But… ugh.

Earlier today I headed down to Raleigh to join the good folks over at Carolina Dispute Settlement Services, to help mediate a pair of cases as part of my volunteer work with the ADR clinic at the North Carolina Central University School of Law. The cases for today were both from the NCOAH, which basically deals with just about any kind of dispute or claim involving the state government — including reductions in allowed Medicaid services.

Essentially the state has hired a contractor to evaluate Medicaid services on a person-by-person basis each quarter, and to determine during that quarter the number of “units” (15-minute increments of service) a given patient is allowed to receive. The patient and his/her physician(s) are notified and given the chance to appeal if they don’t like the number of units authorized. In appealing a determination, the patient or his/her physican(s) (dubbed the “Qualified Professional” or Q.P. in the hearing) have to prove the services reach the threshold of “medical necessity”; fail to do so and the appeal gets dismissed.

The first case was so flagrantly absurd that alarm bells kept going off in my mind that this had to be Medicaid fraud. The patient was only going to therapy once a month. The “Qualified Professional” who was representing her in the hearing didn’t know some of the most basic medical terminology1 and clearly had no clue about her treatment history.2 The argument against the reduction in allowable service hours kept focusing on “the team” — the group of physicians administering treatment — and whether “the team” would have enough money to operate without the added units… not on whether the patient needed or would benefit from the treatment.

And during the questioning back and forth it came out that some of the “treatment” involved things like a physician’s assistant going to the patient’s home and driving her to the grocery store and back. In other words, not actual treatment :crack:

The lady representing the State of North Carolina (justifiably) refused to budge, and the hearing was over 15 minutes after it started with the appeal essentially withdrawn… and me wondering why we even have Medicaid if it can’t be properly administered.

Then we have another hearing a few hours later, and my mental pendulum ends up swinging to the opposite extreme…

The patient was an adult male with mild retardation, who was sexually molested by his mother regularly up until he got married, and hasn’t been able to successfully keep any kind of regular employment since because he talks to anyone who will listen (including co-workers) about his sexual trauma. He has since married a woman 20 years his senior, who has 4 kids of her own (3 of whom are also mildly retarded), and they’ve moved in with one of the daughters-in-law in what is charitably described as a non-conducive environment for developing normal familial relationships. Meanwhile the mother keeps pleading with the patient to divorce the wife so the mother can have him back, the patient is depressed and insists on having sex with his wife at least 3x a day to keep him happy, one of the daughters is also depressed and has gained so much weight from eating that she’s on the verge of death, etc etc etc.

The story goes on, but you get the picture.

The rep for the State tried to make the argument that physicians can’t rehabilitate someone who was never habilitated, basically saying it wasn’t Medicaid’s job to help this particular individual and he needed to look elsewhere for treatment. Fortunately the patient’s representatives in this case were the polar opposite of the QP in the earlier hearing, with two physicians, the treating psychiatrist, and a manager of the medical firm all at the hearing and responding with boatloads of data and medical information pretty thoroughly detailing the medical necessity of continued treatment.

Even though I was there as a “neutral” third party, while the parties were talking back and forth I could feel myself getting angry that the government was even considering cutting treatment for this guy, when they allowed any treatment at all (even if it was a reduced quantity) for the first case :mad:

The hearing for that one took over an hour, but eventually the representative for the State acquiesced and agreed that the patient would get the extra units of treatment per week requested in the appeal… at least for the next 90 days, when the case comes back up for another review :beatup:

It was an interesting learning experience, but I don’t see me being able to do this type of stuff professionally. I’m already not a fan of doctors or government so I end up hating both sides. And honestly sitting through a long detailed analysis of the travesties facing some folks receiving indigent care (like the 2nd hearing) really crushes the spirit.

I’m not trying to be Pollyanna-ish and pretending like those travesties don’t exist, I’m just saying I’ll let someone with the emotional stamina to deal with it every day handle these cases while I devote my time to locking up people who do things like molest their developmentally-challenged children into their 20s…

Hopefully the rest of you had a more cheerful day than I did :) Have a great night y’all! :D

  1. For example, the different between a delusion, a hallucination, and an intrusive memory. I’m not medical expert, but I know enough to know these are 3 different things. The “QP” did not :crack: []
  2. Pausing the hearing multiple times to turn to the patient and ask information about her treatment, but not letting the patient speak herself. []

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Best Day Ever?

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jun 30, 2010 in The 2L Life

I’ve had some pretty good weeks before, but can’t recall the last time so much good news happened in the same 24 hour timespan:

  • Got up on time for a scheduled visit to the federal courthouse down in Raleigh (I’m thankful for small miracles :beatup: )
  • On the drive down, checked my bank account to see if I had money for breakfast and discovered Summer Session II refunds hit our bank accounts today — over a week ahead of schedule, and right in time for my upcoming mini-vacation :D
  • Spent the morning observing criminal proceedings in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina,1 had lunch with judicial staff in the afternoon, and in the process got to see some of my favorite Legal Eagle colleagues who I hadn’t seen all summer
  • As I left the courthouse, found out that grades for my ADR Practices class had been posted… and I earned my very first, bona fide, no-minus-after-it A grade in my time at NCCU Law! :spin:
  • Knocked out compiling a comprehensive inventory of every piece of paraphernalia the SBA has in stock so I can get an accurate bead on our finances as we start the new fiscal year… and got it done in far less time than I expected
  • And the state legislature gave final approval to their 2010-11 budget, solidifying the repeal of the 8% student tax that I’ve worked on with other student leaders for the past 2 years :D

I decided to treat myself to a celebratory dinner afterward ;) Hoping y’all had a great day too! :D

  1. Where I learned the Feds don’t play around: 25-year sentences were getting handed out like Skittles… []

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America: Land of the… Guilty?

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jun 25, 2010 in The 2L Life

Good evening y’all! :)

While most folks are out enjoying their Friday nights, I’m dutifully poring over my laptop analyzing data I’ve gathered for tomorrow’s class presentation on plea bargaining. And I’m actually kind of enjoying it :beatup:

One of my research findings that’s really blowing my mind right now is the sheer volume of criminal cases that were filed in my adopted home state of North Carolina just during the 2008-09 fiscal year:  2,594,634 — roughly 1 for every 4 North Carolina residents :eek: About half of these are for criminal motor vehicle offenses (1,048,447) and for quasi-criminal “infractions” (768,922), but that still means roughly 1 in 8 North Carolinians are being charged with a non-traffic criminal offense every year.

Now the Old North State hasn’t exactly been known as a low-crime area, at least in the 12 years I’ve lived here. But it’s not exactly a high-crime state either: according to the FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Reports, North Carolina was 18th in the nation in terms of crimes per 100,000 residents in 2008-09. That effectively puts us right in the middle of the country’s bell curve, since there’s a thicket of about a half-dozen states with very close per-capita crime rates occupying the median.

And if we’re essentially at the national median it means, assuming there’s a good correlation between crimes committed and criminal charges filed, that a huge proportion of this country is getting charged with a criminal offense each and every year (and if NC’s data is any guide, about 97% will be resolved without a trial).

Sometimes I’m amazed our judicial system is able to function effectively with that caseload. Can you imagine the mess it would cause if we didn’t have plea bargains at all?? :crack:

Those are my random musings for the night, I’m heading back to presentation prep :) Have a great night y’all! :D

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It’s like Spring finals. But worse.

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jun 24, 2010 in The 2L Life

Last night’s mini-rant on exam essays was just part of my general discontent with the end of my first summer session here at the N.C. Central University School of Law. I knew going into it that things would be fast-paced — after all we’re compressing 15 weeks’ worth of material into just 5 — but given the fewer credit hours I’m taking (7 now vs 15 in the Spring) my expectation was that things couldn’t be quite that bad.

And for the past month they haven’t been. Until now. When everything wants to happen in the span of 5ish days. :mad:

The Race & the Law final was due today; 2 essays with 3 issues apiece on constitutional law-related issues (bear in mind I don’t take ConLaw until the Fall).  Tomorrow at noon I’m mediating a case for my ADR Clinic requirements. Saturday I have class from 9am-3pm, in which I’ll be giving a 10-minute research presentation on plea bargaining — most of the “in-person” research for which hasn’t been done because the folks I hoped to interview haven’t been available except when I was in class. Once that’s wrapped I need to knock out my final exam for ADR Processes & Practices (another 2 essays) that’s due Monday at noon, so I can pivot and complete a portfolio project for the ADR Clinic later the same day.

I don’t mind hard work at all; it’s the best way to keep me out of trouble :beatup: But it would have been nice if this intensity was spread out throughout the summer session instead of compressed into only a few days…

Sorry for the griping y’all, just need to get it off my chest — thank you for indulging me :)  Heading to bed so I can get back on the grind tomorrow. Have a good night! :D

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Fastest. Mediation. Evah.

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jun 21, 2010 in The 2L Life

If you want to see a mediation go quickly, sit in on one where a Plaintiff’s demands are orders of magnitude less costly than what the Defendant expects ;)

That happened earlier today. On one side was counsel for the Plaintiff, a 76-year-old retired elementary school teacher. On the other was counsel for the Defendant, a research hospital.

The Plaintiff is the epitome of a “sweet old lady” who does a lot of civic and charitable work in her retirement, and she agreed to participate in a medical study administered by the Defendant on depression among the elderly. The nurse who saw her to administer an MRI was incompetent, didn’t situate the ear plugs correctly despite Plaintiff telling her repeatedly that they weren’t blocking out any sound, and due to the loud noise of the MRI the Plaintiff ended up with permanent chronic tinnitus.1

The Plaintiff has 10.6 years to live based on a standard mortality table, and was in otherwise perfect health for her age. The initial letter from Plaintiff’s counsel to the Defendant essentially laid out all of the details but apparently didn’t make a demand, instead suggesting mediation to resolve the case without a lawsuit being filed.

Now even though no litigation had started yet, as I’m sitting there I’m figuring the initial demand will be well in excess of a million dollars and this mediation is destined for an impasse.

Assuming the Plaintiff’s got 10.6 years to live — roughly ~3,869 days — and she’s awake 16 hours a day, that’s 61,904 hours of having to deal with a constant ringing in her ears. The university paid her $100 for a 4-hour test, so they considered her time worth $25/hr. To me that calculates out to an initial demand of $1,547,600.00 without any further justification.

Apparently the Defendant’s attorneys were expecting the same thing, because they looked like deer caught in the headlights after what happened next.

The lead attorney for the Plaintiff provides an opening statement detailing the facts of the case, offers the rationale for the Plaintiff’s impending demands, then starts rattling those demands off: disciplining the nurse responsible, notifying the NIH of the incident to ensure an independent review of hospital procedure is conducted, providing a training workshop for all nursing personnel, contacting all the previous patients placed under this nurse’s care to ensure they’re OK medically, providing written verification to the Plaintiff that procedural changes have been made to ensure this doesn’t happen again, and a cash settlement of…

…wait for it…

…only $50,000 :surprised:

That was it. Medical expenses. Pain and suffering. Attorney’s fees. All of it.

Defendant’s counsel were so caught off-guard that the 3 of them were talking amongst themselves for a solid minute before giving an opening statement of their own. And that statement wasn’t even really a typical opening in a mediation: they started by apologizing for the incident, then accepted all of the demands in exchange for a release and a nondisclosure agreement.

Fifteen minutes later everything was done. It’s actually taken longer for me to write this entry than the mediation itself :beatup:

Given how many people see lawsuits as a way to get rich nowadays, it was refreshing to have a Plaintiff who was really just ticked off and put a higher value on non-monetary demands to make sure procedural deficiencies were fixed. And it was entertaining to see a demand catch people off-guard because it was so *low*.

All in all it was a fun experience :) That’s it from me tonight y’all, have a great evening! :D

  1. Tinnitus is a persistent ringing / whistling / humming sound in the ears. []

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O Motivation, Where Art Thou?

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jun 19, 2010 in The 2L Life

Last Friday I mentioned looming Saturday classes from 9am-3pm every weekend until the end of June, as part of our ADR Clinic at the NC Central University School of Law. Today was supposed to be spent volunteering as a mediator in a mock MSC for our Mediation Advocacy class, where my colleagues are learning the advocate side of the mediation process.

Mine got cancelled so no class for me B-)

And what did I do with my unexpected free time? Hit the pool? Hit the gym? Hit the road?

None of the above :beatup:

Maybe it’s just a recurring experience at the end of a semester — final exam week starts Monday! — but lately I’ve had roughly -0- motivation to do anything even remotely productive. Today I woke up on time (for a change) and cooked breakfast, spent the morning reading the news and catching up on the law blogs, ate lunch with Q.T., then came home and did everything possible to avoid doing something useful. Played Wii. Watched Lockup reruns on TV. Upgraded my BlackBerry’s OS. Randomly started cooking food around 10pm. Etc.

Meanwhile I’ve got clothes strewn around the bedroom in need of laundering, dishes around the kitchen in need of washing… and the law school stuff in need of reading/writing that I’ve been avoiding like the plague :beatup:

I’m gonna try to will myself into productivity tomorrow though :) Fingers crossed. Hopefully all of you are having a bit more success in that endeavor than I am ;)

Have a great night y’all! :D

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Unsolicited commentary on the legal clusterf*ck facing homosexuals

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jun 11, 2010 in Unsolicited Commentary

For the next few weeks I’ll be spending my Saturdays in 7-hour-long classes for our ADR Clinic at the N.C. Central University School of Law. Our topic for tomorrow’s class is the complexity involved in mediating disputes across a wide range of cultural differences.

I got a taste of those challenges back on my very first day dealing with real disputes, where we had an older white guy and a younger white guy (me) mediating a dispute between a middle-aged black lady and a middle-aged Indian lady. Needless to say all 4 of us had widely divergent cultural backgrounds ;)

In reading through the ~65ish pages we’re supposed to have digested by 9am tomorrow, one section details the unique challenges facing same-sex couples who find themselves in a dispute needing mediation — and a whole litany of complications mediators need to navigate.

And as I’m reading through this all I keep thinking is “What a clusterf*ck” :crack:

It’s not that I was oblivious to the legal issues facing homosexuals per se. I had already learned quite a bit just through general education and reading the news, enough to get me booted from the Wake County GOP (see 2004-05 in that entry). Then a couple years later I got a more-detailed briefing when a trio of us in N.C. State‘s Student Senate shepherded through a resolution supporting the creation of the University’s LGBT Center. And not surprisingly the topic has occasionally come up in conversations with my gay friends, particularly whenever something Prop 8-related is in the news.

But it’s a whole different wheel of cheese when you’re having an ideological discussion with college-aged peers — none of whom have even the slightest intention of potentially entertaining the thought of maybe considering possibly getting married any time soon — versus when you’re in a courthouse with a real dispute being resolved in a legal framework with so many holes it’d make a slice of Swiss envious.

Now I’ll concede I haven’t supported gay marriage myself, though in my case it’s due to a relatively small and personal issue of me not knowing how it would affect case law on family rights1 and not having an opportunity to have an informed discussion with someone who could give me some insight into it. Beyond that minor point I say go for it; clearly it’s not like we heterosexuals care about marriage vows all that much given our 50%+ divorce rate… :beatup:

But even if I woke up tomorrow as the most vociferous anti-gay marriage advocate on the planet, our current legal structure just makes no d*mn sense. Consider this example from the reading:

“The lack of uniformity across state lines also has worsened the legal complexities, as partners may marry in one location (i.e. Canada), register in California, and then end up in New York -– which may not recognize either of these “marriages.” Some states are even refusing to dissolve same-sex marriages or partnerships created elsewhere, seeing such adjudication as a form of legal recognition, and thus leaving many couples in a terrible state of legal limbo.”

Can anyone explain to me how that setup is good for the legal system? “We won’t recognize what you have, but we won’t say you don’t have it because that would be recognizing it.” :crack:

I realize Congress adopted DOMA out of political cowardice, because (let’s be honest with each other) that’s what Congressmen do in election years. But the mess it’s created vis-à-vis the Full Faith and Credit Clause alone is really mind-boggling in its application.

And that’s just on the issue of marital status!

Think of all the other almost-contractual issues that come up in any given relationship: child custody, adoption, purchasing real property, distribution of assets, pension proceeds, insurance policies, inheritance, the list goes on and on and on (and on). And at least based on this reading there seems to be exceedingly little legal framework in place at all for same-sex couples, and what little exists is essentially completely inconsistent across state lines.

I wish I had the time to go into this in a bit more detail, but unfortunately I’ve gotta get to bed so I can be up on time for class. I’d like to hear from you, dear readers, about your thoughts on the issue — not so much the impassioned human rights arguments (those are important too but this is a law-oriented blog :P ) but whether the legal structure we’ve currently got in this country is tenable in the long-run or if/how it should change. My personal $.02 is that something’s gotta give, and fairly soon.

But I’m just a 2L so what do I know ;)

Have a great night y’all! :D

  1. I learned the hard way when I was younger that the statutes and case law in several states heavily favor the mother in child custody cases. I’m not a fan of the favoritism, but assuming the laws on it don’t change how would that translate to same-sex couples? For example, where one lesbian partner donates an egg and the other partner carries the pregnancy via IVF? Or for same-sex males who use a surrogate, where one partner is the sperm donor and the other takes on the primary caregiver role of the child? []

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Summer 2010 Class Schedule!

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on May 26, 2010 in The 2L Life

So I’ve been talking with y’all about my summer classes, but just realized I never got around to actually telling y’all what they were :beatup:

The Summer Class Schedule -- Nights and Weekends :beatup:

This is the first time I’ve taken night classes at the NCCU School of Law, and it’s also the first time I’ve had regular classes on the weekend. Both of them require some mental adjustment — reminding myself to get work done during the day Tuesday-Thursday that I’d normally save for the weekend — but being able to squeeze all this into just 5 weeks is worth it.

The Superior Court Mediation class isn’t pictured because it’s already done :spin:  That was a 5-day, 40-hour beast that seemed ridiculously long at the time but taught me quite a bit of info.

The ADR Clinic tied in with the Mediation class will continue all summer long, where I’ll be in court on Mondays helping to mediate cases in District Criminal Court and on Fridays get to observe other ADR programs like Wake County’s Drug Treatment Court.

I’m also taking a course titled ADR Processes and Practice, which covers the same basic types of Alternative Dispute Resolution methods but focused specifically on the role of the attorney (as opposed to the mediator). After having these 3 courses knocked out, I’m now thinking about going ahead and getting the law school’s Certificate in Dispute Resolution — but we’ll have to see what happens over the next few semesters first :)

Then the last class I’m taking is Race and the Law, which essentially looks at how American jurisprudence has developed vis-à-vis the various ethnic groups in the country (e.g. things like property law and American Indians, or the entire legal apparatus developed to sustain slavery and later segregation). The professor has a reputation as an excellent instructor that extends well beyond NCCU Law, and the topic itself is fascinating — especially compared to the watered-down history we learn in K-12, coupled with folks’ general aversion to talking about race at all.

But that’s something for a later post ;) It should be a fun semester :D

That’s it for tonight — hope all of you have a great evening!

—===—

From the archives:

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Well that was unexpected…

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on May 24, 2010 in The 2L Life

Sorry for not posting yesterday y’all, I actually fell asleep accidentally while reading for today’s classes1 :beatup:

The upside is that I was awake hours ahead of when I needed to leave for the Courthouse and my first day observing cases in mediation. I got through observing 1… then ended up having to actually mediate myself :surprised:

Yep, you read that correctly :)

The dispute was between two middle-aged women who had gotten into an altercation at work, and when the regular mediator and I first started talking to the parties it seemed like the case wasn’t the type that we could resolve through mediation.  The complainant said she was determined to have the criminal charges against the defendant heard in court and wouldn’t dismiss the case (which of course happens when a negotiated settlement takes place).

For reasons unknown to me, the complaining witness in the case didn’t like the regular mediator — at all. I noticed about 2 minutes into the mediation session that she started directing all of her comments and questions to me, even when I made it clear I was just a not-quite-2L who didn’t know the answers to many of her questions. About 15 minutes in (when we’ve essentially been conducting a mediation) she formally agrees to mediation, the mediator notices she doesn’t like him a couple minutes after that, then looks at me and says “You’ve got the training. Have at it.” :beatup:

The sudden and unexpected pressure of having to perform for srs was intense. I really wanted to :sick: and apparently my face went pale for a couple minutes before I snapped out of it.

But about 2ish loooooong hours later, we had an agreement in the case that both parties liked so it was officially a success! :D

Not sure I could replicate that with many other cases but it’s good to start on a high note. We’ll see what the rest of the Clinic work holds this summer.

Heading to bed so I can sleep in tomorrow morning :) Have a great night y’all! :D

  1. Which reminds me at some point I need to write an entry for TDot’s Tips #6: sleep! []

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