So, in the midst of the tropical storm, Los Angeles got a 5.1 earthquake on Sunday afternoon.
In case you were concerned, no, there were no reports of frogs, locusts and boils, and first-born children are all okay.
At the moment, things are actually beautiful here in Los Angeles, where I've made the decision to tough it out. No hurricane will keep me from standing strong with all the people here!! As proof, this is a photo I took from my balcony. As you can see, it's sunny and calm. We're all in this together!
After coming across this story earlier this week, which was largely a Los Angeles matter, I wasn’t planning to write an article about it, but just post something perhaps on social media. However, I came across a quote that added another perspective.
The background is that a couple of Los Angeles lawyers, John Barber and Jeffrey Ranen, had recently left their high-end law firm, Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith (which has 1,600 attorneys and 55 offices across the U.S.), and took almost 140 lawyers with them to start their own firm last month with the two men being the name managing partners – Barber Ranen.
They claimed at the time that this was the largest law firm start-up in U.S. history, and proudly asserted didn’t leave behind “any baggage’ when departing the company they’d been at for two decades. Their reason for leaving, they noted, was to “build something that’s reflective of our values and our beliefs.”
But now, after only one month into operation, Barber and Ranen are out of their own law firm, which will be shutting down and reorganizing as a different entity. All because of a barrage of virulently anti-Semitic, misogynistic, racist and homophobic emails between the two that have thus far been discovered at their old Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith firm. The story isn’t over yet, though, since the old firm is now conducting a full investigation.
The few emails that have been released are pretty awful, although because – as I said – it was mainly a Los Angeles story, I didn’t know if it was something to write about. Besides which, the two men had already left their firm, and it was being shut down, with the remaining attorneys creating a new structure.
But each news report I read only had a few details, and so I kept checking out other articles, trying to get more details, And in the third one, I read across the quote that convinced me to write about it all.
The quote came in what John Barber wrote as a (for lack of a better term) joint apology statement, though was really more of a self-serving explanation. The men said that they resigned in order "to allow our friends and colleagues to continue on without the cloud of our conduct hanging over them."
That was admittedly oh-so-thoughtful of the men, most-especially given how the concept of being thoughtful to others does not seem to have been a high priority for them in their lives. He added that for the two partners, "The last 72 hours have been the most difficult of our lives, as we have had to acknowledge and reckon with those emails.
I can only imagine how difficult those 72 hours have been, never having had to deal with personally writing on ongoing stream of anti-Semitic, misogynistic, racist and homophobic emails, and then having them released publicly -- and to make matters worse, they "had" to acknowledge that the emails were real and reckon with that.
None of which was the quote that galled me, and made me decide to write this. It was the next sentence, one that explained about the emails:
"They are not, in any way, reflections of the contents of our hearts, or our true values."
In fact, no, they are in every conceivable way reflections of the contents of their hearts, and of their true values.
I know that in many attempts at “apologizing,” people say that a quip or off-handed comment they made do not reflect their values. And sometimes, on occasion, that’s true. But when true, that’s for something that was indeed a truly misguided slip, followed by a detailed, understanding apology. However, this was not that. I don’t think this even qualifies for consideration as an apology for the Apology Institute of America that Nell Minow and I created in our whimsy a few years back. Because the story here is not about the lack of actual apology, but rather what was said at length over a long period of time. And which was then followed by trying to flim-flam others that it wasn’t a reflection of the contents of their hearts, and of their true values.
I really didn’t want to repeat what Barber and Ranen continually wrote to one another, but to make clear the point here, it’s necessary. Which, in turns, addresses a larger issue.
So, as just a small smattering of examples of some of their exchanges, the two mean wrote to one another over the course of at least a decade such things as –
In a June, 2012, when discussing a new hire at the company, Ranen referred to Barber as a “Jew” for owing him money.
That same month, Ranen complained about an employee working overtime who they’d have to pay more to, to which Barber responded, "Kill her," including a description of a violent sex act.
Also that year, after getting an invoice that had been submitted to the firm, Ramen told one of the then-partners at Lewis Brisbois, “This is the reason why people don’t like Jews.”
In a March 2014 email Ranen wrote to Barber, "This Jew is cracking me up," adding that when he has work questions, “I almost ONLY write to him on Saturday mornings,” the Jewish Sabbath. To which Barber responded, “Jew hater.” who quipped back, "Jew hater."
For a July 2014 email, Barber called Ranen a “Jew cunt” after Ranen had mentioned buying some bagels and cream cheese from Sam’s Bagels and bringing them to the office.
When writing to a colleague in May, 2016, Ranen said he thought he’d be able able to get a lower price for a hotel room or office space. “I might be able to Jew them down,” he said. (Ranen also complained about not being able to make fun of Jews. “Since when can we not make Jew jokes?”)
All the way back to March, 2008, Barber and Ranen had an email exchange that not only ridiculed a lawyer at the Mintz law firm who had served in the Israeli Defense Forces, but did so using a slur for gay men.
In a March 2022 email provided by Lewis Brisbois, Barber — who led the firm's employment practice — said one Los Angeles County Superior Court judge likes being called "sugar tits."
And throughout the range of emails, Ranen and Barber used racial, sexist and homophobic slurs.
But I’ve saved the most telling for last. That was when, in a Sept. 13, 2012 email, after Barber had brought up a person to bring into the company, Ranen sent back an addendum: “I forgot to write that we will not hire Jews.”
These are just a handful of the emails about which John Barber and Jeffrey Ranen say, "They are not, in any way, reflections of the contents of our hearts, or our true values."
There is no way that, over the course of at least 15 years, and probably 20, these emails can be anything but reflections of the contents of their hearts and their true values. Not just mere reflections, either, but full-blown 3-D reproductions.
And these are just a few of the emails that the old Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith law firm released, as the result of an audit they made from a formal complaint. As I noted, they are now doing a full investigation.
Given that when starting their new firm last month, Barber and Ranen said they didn’t leave “any baggage” behind and that they wanted “build something that’s reflective of our values and our beliefs.” Now seeing those values and beliefs in black-and-white, one can understand why they wanted to go, although it adds creepy new meaning to it all.
One other oddity in all this is how the two were able to keep this from the Powers That Be at Lewis Brisbois for so long -- 15 to 20 years. But I guess if it almost exclusively transpired in their private emails between themselves and like minds, things can be hidden for years. Perhaps it spilled over in a rare public comment or business email that got rebuked without knowing the extent. Sort of like the captain of Titanic seeing a little bit of ice on the surface and saying, "Oh, we can avoid that..." Or maybe some people knew, but felt it was containable, until it wasn't. After all, the firm was massive -- 1,600 lawyers alone and 55 offices around the country -- and a lot of things are able to hide in the cracks.
By the way, an additionally odd thing related to this story which broke on Monday is that although I found articles on it in publications around the country – from Reuters, Bloomberg Law, the Daily Beast, RawStory, Forward, New York Post, ABA Journal and more – I can’t yet find any story about it in the Los Angeles Times, as I write in on Tuesday.
(UPDATE: The L.A. Times finally did write about it on Wednesday, two days after it became national news.
"They are not, in any way, reflections of the contents of our hearts, or our true values."
That’s the line. That’s what leaps out above all this hate and stands for so much racism, attacks on LGBTQ, smears on women and anti-Semitism. That to this extreme right segment of the country -- far beyond just John Barber and Jeffrey Rosen -- it’s normal. This isn't who we really are. We may say these horrible things about these people, but it’s not who we believe. (Yes, in fairness, many do believe it and say so, though they nonetheless insist they’re not racist or anti-Semitic or homophobic or misogynist.) It doesn’t really reflect us. We have good hearts. It’s just a joke. We didn’t really mean it. It’s your fault because you’re “woke.”
And so, it enables such people to turn a blind eye and ban books. And ban abortion. And eliminate teaching black history. And refuse healthcare for transgender children. And more and more and more.
Because it’s not in any way, reflections of the contents of what they want to believe is in their hearts, and their true values.
Except their hearts are overflowing with it. And their values border on non-existent.
This will be of interest to members of the Writers Guild in Los Angeles. Sorry to all others.
Gino’s East is one of the more popular deep dish restaurants in Chicago. A few years ago, they opened a branch in Sherman Oaks, which is owned and operated by longtIme WGAW member Tod Himmel and SAG/AFTRA member Dan Michaels.
They sent an email today with a bunch of new specials, but then wrote (and the bold-face is all theirs) --
"We would not have been able to open our business if not for the wages, benefits, residuals and pensions we earned thanks to our guilds’ collective bargaining.
"We support our WGAW comrades in the fight for a living wage. Bring in your WGA/SAG card and receive 25% off any pizza during the work stoppage."
Well, good on them.
They're located at 12924 Riverside Drive,, Sherman Oaks. (818) 788-5050.
This is a link to their website. Their Facebook page here has more information about the restaurant.
The California Senate race to replace the retiring Dianne Feinstein is a good news-bad news situation. The good news is that I think Democrats will have an abundance of great choices, any one of whom the state would be lucky to represent them. At the moment, the terrific Katie Porter and Adam Schiff have declared their candidacies. I’ve read discussion that two other members of Congress from Northern California might join the race – Barbara Lee and Ro Khanna. Both are excellent, as well. And there are others at the periphery of possibilities. (Eric Swalwell for one, but I think he’s suggested he’ll be sticking with the House.)
That leads to the bad news. Thus far, all these likely candidates are members of the House of Representatives. Which means if they run for the Senate, only one can win the seat – and the rest will be out of politics. And I would hate to lose any one of this group, let alone three.
(One downside, as well, with them giving up their House seats is losing those seats in Congress. However, for every one of them but Katie Porter, they represent solid Democratic districts, so those should remain Blue. Porter’s district in very Purple. The one positive is that there is a good Democratic candidate who has declared for what will be her empty seat, State Senator Dave Min. He currently represents pretty much the same House district in the California State Senate (which overlaps the House district by 80%). That said, his state race he won was very close -- but then, so was Katie Porter's.)
There is some positive hope in this log jam. It’s that if a Senate candidate sees they’re far behind in the polls and equally far behind in fund-raising, they have until late March of next year to drop out and declare again for their current House seat. And I suspect that several could do that – and will. But – I think that both Adam Schiff and Katie Porter will be in the race to the end. Which means they’ll both be giving up their House seat, and one of them will be out. Which would be a deep shame.
(Side note: California has a weird, open election system. The two leading vote-getters in the primary run in the General Election, if no one gets 50% of the vote. So, conceivably both Democrats could run against each other. But even at that, only one will win, of course. And if it turns out that Democrats split the vote, and a Republican gets in the final, General Election, the Democrat should still handily win in the state. And because the primary happens after the deadline to declare, any House Democrats still running at that point will, as noted, lose their seat.)
I suppose any Senate candidates who stay in the race past the deadline for declaring to run again for the House and then lose in the primary could run as write-in candidates. But that seems like it risks being very divisive and could knock out all Democratic candidates out of the General Election.
So, while I’m extremely encouraged by all the great Democratic candidates who’ve announced or will be running for the Senate seat, I’m very wary about the truly-excellent House Representatives the state risks losing.
All this leads to another point, one of personal privilege of sorts.
I’ve written here about a wonderful fellow named Nick Melvoin, who’s the son of my very good friends Jeff and Martha Melvoin. As readers of these pages likely recall, Nick was elected to the Los Angeles School Board a couple years ago, and just won re-election. In fact, he was the only sitting School Board member who won re-election in 2022 with over 50% of the vote (almost hitting 60%), and didn’t have to run again in the General Election.
As it happens, Nick lives in the area of Los Angeles that sits in the 30th Congressional District. And that’s the district currently represented by Adam Schiff – who, as a candidate for the Senate now, will be vacating the seat. And so, it will be an open primary in 2024. And a couple weeks ago, Nick Melvoin declared his candidacy to run.
Now, yes, of course, I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t know Nick. And I am not remotely objective about it. But just because my thoughts about his candidacy is subjective, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t come with solid reasoning to support it. Indeed, I not only know Nick and like him a lot, I think he’s hugely qualified, especially for someone so young. As I’ve noted in the past --
Nick is a graduate of Harvard, and got his MBA in Urban Education from Loyola Marymount -- and he put his money where his mouth is when he went to teach seventh and eighth grade at an inner-city school in Watts as an English teacher...also coaching the soccer and baseball teams, while helping start the school newspaper.
But further, Nick also has a law degree from NYU -- and worked in the Obama White Administration with the Domestic Policy Council...as well as the US Attorney’s office as a legal clerk, getting involved in civil rights investigations. And has now been elected twice to the Los Angeles School Board (defeating the then-sitting president). I should also mention that for the past 21 years he's worked at Camp Harmony for kids experiencing poverty. He began as a counselor, and now is the director in charge.
So, while I can be accused of bias for supporting the son of a friend, I think it's fair to say that my bias is highly justified. The CA-30 Congressional District will be losing a gem in Adam Schiff, but if Nick Melvoin wins the open seat, they will getting someone of high quality to carry it forward.
I have no idea who else will declare for the seat. Perhaps a sitting state official who also represents the district. Or another high-profile figure. Or not. I assume it will be a tough race, because it’s a notable district. And I don’t know what will happen. The only thing I do know is Nick Melvoin is wonderful, has been a strong School Board member, and the CA-30 would be incredibly lucky to have him represent him. And conceivably for a long time.
In his favor, he uses technology like Heifetz uses a violin, and since first elected has stayed in touch with his constituents through emails, information updates and yearly reports not only more regularly than any school board representative I’ve had had in all my years in Los Angeles, but had he only sent one, single update that would have been more than all others combined. He’s been profoundly responsive to the public he represents. And yes, again, I’m biased. But that’s basic reality.
If for any reason someone here is interested in reading about the guy – and if he wins a seat in Congress, I think he’s someone to keep an eye on (sorry, I mean "both eyes," because he's that good) – you can find more about him here.
Yours in biased, personal privilege. But I'm right.
It's that time of year, and Mark Evanier has posted his game of an annual story about crossing paths with Mel Tormé. What I like to annually add is that my mother and Mel Tormé went to high school together at Hyde Park High School in Chicago, and I had a chance to cross paths with him, as well, and talk with him about it when we both worked on the movie Naked Gun 2-1/2. (Fun fact II -- Steve Allen went to the school at the same time.)
But back to Mark and his utterly wonderful story. You can read it here. And should. Even if you've read it before.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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