Saturday, November 11, 2006

Guest Blogger: Shawn Wood

Shawn Wood is a commercial litigator and partner with the national law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP. Shawn is also a monthly columnist for Chicago Lawyer magazine and a recipient of its Annual Writing Award. Most recently, he was honored by the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin as one of its "40 under 40 Attorneys To Watch" in 2005.

He has guest blogged here three times before (Shawn Wood 3, Shawn Wood 2, Shawn Wood 1), and they were all so well received, I asked him to do it one more time.

The following piece is his column from the October issue of "Chicago Lawyer." He's graciously allowing me to reprint it here.


By Shawn Wood

The plaintiff's name is Robert Plants.

Despite the name similarity, he was never the lead singer of Led Zeppelin.

But he is hoping a Cook County jury shows him a Whole Lotta Love.

Mr. Plants recently filed a slip and fall case in the Circuit Court of Cook County. But this ain't your grandpa’s slip and fall case.

This was no slip on in icy parking lot or the broken jar of Ragu in Aisle 10 of your local Super Mercado.

Mr. Plants slipped and fell... in a porn shop. More specifically, he claims he fell at the back exit of the Adult Fantasy bookstore. He complains, among other things, that the stairs were not properly lit.

I'm no expert on structural design, but I do have a sense for why the back exit of this type of establishment might not be brightly illuminated. In fact, I'm chancing a guess that's why most patrons would be ducking out that back exit in the first place.

I do like picturing the smile on the face of the lawyer engaged to defend this case.

Imagine you're part of the beleaguered breed of defense lawyers who handle slip and fall cases (or as the marketing folks would prefer, “premises liability” cases) on a regular basis. While your colleagues are knee-deep in large dollar med mal cases, your dance card is filled with claims brought by folks who have trouble walking and chewing gum.

Then this case comes along. Too many affirmative defenses flood your brain. Contributory negligence from walking while distracted. Assumption of the risk of using that back exit. Unclean hands. Who wouldn’t want to give that closing argument?

By contrast, any plaintiff’s lawyer in this type of case would face a tough sell. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my client was minding his own business, innocently shopping for porn, when ‘BAM,’ he fell on a poorly lit stairwell at the back exit of an adult bookstore. If we don’t send a strong message to this defendant, what’s next? Strip clubs, brothels, all with improper lighting. We all might as well hang up our trenchcoats right now. Nowhere is safe.”

All kidding aside, I suppose if litigation addresses an injury or safety issue -- wherever it may happen—that’s never a bad thing.

And if it leads to remedial measures to the back stairway of the Adult Fantasies bookstore, all the better.

Maybe they’ll eveb rename the newly improved establishment. I’d suggest calling it, “Stairway to Heaven.”

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Half Empty: Thinking of the less fortunate this holiday season

They say that when you hit your 40s, your life is half over. We prefer to think of it as HALF EMPTY. Our age has finally caught up with our outlook on life. Remember, it is possible to turn that frown upside down...but you might pull a muscle.

Thinking of the Less Fortunate this Holiday Season

By Rick Kaempfer & Dave Stern

It’s seems like every columnist on the planet feels compelled to write a piece on helping the less fortunate this time of year. Since we don’t want to be labeled as insensitive and uncaring, here’s our obligatory sappy holiday column on helping mankind.

With all the worthwhile charities out there, it wasn’t easy picking the one we were going to support. Cancer, diabetes, heart disease, neglected children and abused women are all worthy of our attention. Nevertheless, we decided to go in a different direction than the traditional causes. The disease we chose is rarely talked about. There are no Walkathons or celebrity spokespersons to raise money for the unfortunate afflicted. It’s time for us to step up.

We are talking about those poor souls that suffer from ATMDS (ATM Deficiency Syndrome). It’s very sad to watch these simple people trying to navigate the complex protocols that today’s ATM’s demand, especially when you’re waiting patiently behind them. If you haven't witnessed this heartbreaking malady, here a few things to consider.

1) There are two types of ATM machines: "Insert & Suck" and "Swipe." Sadly, sufferers of ATMDS have problems with both types. For the “insert and suck” machines, ATMDS sufferers panic if they can't find the slot. It's even worse with "Swipe" machines. ATMDS sufferers become paralyzed with fear at the mere sight of one.

(Hint to Sufferers: For the "insert and suck" machines, the slot is usually right around the big sign that says INSERT CARD HERE. Some machines will even have a little picture that looks remarkably like your card. Those nice signs will also tell you which way the card should be facing. If you come across a “swipe” machine, just get in your car and find an “insert and suck” machine. You will never ever ever ever ever ever master the quick in and out motion required.)

2) ATMDS sufferers simply cannot remember PIN numbers.

(Hint to sufferers: Tattoo your PIN number right on your freakin arm. Please. In fact, we will pay for the tattoo. If you don’t want the tattoo thing, or you want to choose your number, please pick a number that you have a snowball's chance in hell of say, your hourly wage.)

3) ATMDS sufferers have great difficulty planning ahead.

(Hint to sufferers: If you’re going to make a deposit, fill out the little envelope and endorse the checks BEFORE YOU GO TO THE MACHINE. Also, assume that the little pen at the bank is either going to be stolen or out of ink. And no, we don’t have a pen you can borrow. You see, we filled out all the appropriate paper work before we even went to the machine. Crazy huh?)

4) ATMDS sufferers are overwhelmed by the interactive options.

(Hint to Sufferers: There are usually only two language options…English and Spanish. If you only speak Polish or Klingon you’re out of luck. Hide your Euros and Darseks under your mattresses for our sake, OK?)

5) ATMDS sufferers have overactive finger smudge glands, creating horribly smudged finger-mosaics all over the screen.

(Hint to Sufferers: Use the key pad. If you don’t, we will personally lift your prints using techniques from CSI, and plant those grubby little piggy’s on a murder weapon.)

6) ATMDS sufferers cannot remember to take their card after use.

(Hint to Sufferers: On second thought, don’t tattoo your pin number on your arm, just write it on your card. We’ll make sure you get it back.)

There is something about the holidays that brings out the best in most of us. If you suffer from ATMDS, or know someone who does, please send us a check or money order. Until an actual charity is founded for these pour souls, we'll keep that money in an interest-bearing account.

Plus, we'll make you a promise. If you’re standing behind us at the ATM while we’re depositing your generous contributions, we won't make you wait.

If you missed any previous Half Empty columns, click here:

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Suburban Man: Election Day

By Rick Kaempfer

When you’re a little kid, there’s really nobody in the world more impressive than the President of the United States. It doesn’t matter what your parent’s political affiliations are, the President is in charge of this whole country. If you aren’t impressed by that, you aren’t easily impressed. I guess my oldest son Tommy isn’t easily impressed.

I’ll let you judge for yourself if he is a fan of the current President. When I took him into the voting booth with me (as part of his Cub Scout requirement) in November of 2004, he was aghast when he thought I had voted for him. He screamed it—“Dad, I think you accidentally voted for George Bush!”

I smiled weakly at the old people voting alongside me in my staunchly Republican district. Tommy wouldn’t let it go. “Dad, you better ask for another ballot.”

I said “Don’t worry, Tommy.”

I’m not going to tell you if Tommy saw it correctly or not, because that’s why we have secret ballots. My Dad hammered that into my head every election day. I would ask him who he voted for, and he would say; “None of your business.” (All part of the touchy-feely German love we shared at my house). In this case, though, I think he was right. Don’t insist on your son believing in certain politics, let him find his own way in the world. If your party of choice can’t convince him, they don’t deserve his vote.

I’ve tried to follow the same model with my kids. As a humor writer, I’m admittedly always going to be poking more fun at people in power than those not in power, but other than the occasional joke—I try very hard not to get into “I’m right, you’re wrong” politics with my kids. There is no reason to make this into one of those “if you don’t believe what I believe, you can’t live under my roof” kind of homes. I learned my lesson about the effectiveness of that strategy when my rabid Cubs-love inadvertently turned my baby brother into a White Sox fan.

Which brings me to my middle son, Johnny. Johnny is a traditional kid. He respects authority. He loves the President. In fact, he thinks the President is just about the most impressive person in the world. I’ve actually seen him clap when Bush appeared on television. It’s kind of cute.

The morning after the last presidential election, the first thing Johnny asked me was: “Who won, Dad?”

I said; “George Bush”

He clapped, then raised his hands in the air triumphantly, screaming “Yeah!”

Tommy hung his head. He asked: “Was it legitimate this time?”

I said: “Looks like it.”

Johnny clapped again and said; “I can’t wait until I’m an eagle scout.”

Tommy and I looked at each with confused expressions. “Why is that Johnny?” I asked.

“Because then I can write a letter to the President!”

Someone along the way had obviously told Johnny that writing a letter to the President was among the perks of being an Eagle. When I mentioned to him that he didn’t have to wait until becoming an Eagle, he was so excited he went downstairs and wrote it immediately. Keep in mind that he was in 1st grade at the time, and was just beginning to learn how to write. This is what he wrote:

“Dear Mr. President: My name is Johnny. I’m 6 ½ years old. I have 2 brothers. Their names are Tommy and Sean. I like your job a lot. I’m only a Tiger Cub Scout. Well, that’s not all, Mr. President. I hope you have a nice day today. You’re my fav! From Johnny Kaempfer”

I love that letter.

I got the address to the White House and made him address the letter himself, figuring there was a better chance of getting a response if the envelope was clearly addressed by a little kid. For the next few weeks, every day after school Johnny would ask me if the President had written him back yet. I could see the disappointment in his eyes when I told him he hadn’t. I told him that the President receives millions of letters, and he can’t possibly answer all of them.

A few months later a big manila envelope arrived with the return address: THE WHITE HOUSE. I must admit, I was shocked. Johnny set his own personal vertical jump record (about three inches—Kaempfers can’t jump) when I showed it to him.

“Oh boy!”

I helped him open it. It was picture of George and Laura Bush, and a letter addressed to Johnny. Here’s a scanned copy of the letter...

I know, I know. It's way too hard to read at this size. Here is what the letter says:

“Dear Johnny,

Thank you for writing. I always enjoy hearing from young Americans. During this important time in our history, you can help America by setting high goals, working hard in school, and helping others in your community. Our country needs your idealism, hope, and energy.

I also encourage you to strive to learn something new every day. You can read more about issues that interest you, current events, and the history of our country by visiting your library or by logging onto the White House websites, and By understanding the events of today and learning more about our past, you can become a responsible citizen and help make the world a better place.

Mrs. Bush and I send our best wishes for your future success.


George W. Bush”

Johnny will savor that letter for the rest of his life. Tommy wasn't impressed in the slightest.

As you can see, my two oldest children have slightly different political points of view. I agree with one of them more than the other, but is there a reason to pick sides? It’s not like it’s important. This isn’t like the Cubs-White Sox issue. One side isn’t always right, and the other side isn’t always wrong.

The only certainty is that both of them are wrong sometimes. To think otherwise kills your sense of humor. Look at what it’s done to Dennis Miller and Al Franken. Those guys used to be funny.

Raising a Democrat (Tommy), a Republican (Johnny), and an Independent (Sean) is just fine with me, because they'll realize there is more than one perspective in the world.

Raising a humorless kid?

I don't think I could ever forgive myself.

If you missed any previous Suburban Man columns, click here:

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Happy Birthday Mom

Mom's birthday is this week. That young 20-year-old bride is becoming a senior citizen later this week. I thought it was a good excuse to bring back the only column I've ever written about her.

“Why don’t you ever write about your mom?”

I’ve probably gotten that question a dozen times since I started this blog five months ago. The answer is a little complicated, but let me see if I can explain. First and foremost, Mom wouldn’t appreciate it. She doesn’t like the spotlight. I’ve known this for twenty three years.

In fact, I can remember the exact moment I found out. It was April 1, 1983—somewhere between 6 and 10 a.m. I was on the air on WPGU in Champaign-Urbana, doing the morning show with a girl named Karen. We thought it would be hilarious if I called my mom. I was twenty years old at the time. The call went like this...

Rick: Hi Mom.
Mom: Richard!
Rick: How are things at home?
Mom: Ach, fine.
Rick: Mom, I’m afraid I’ve got some news for you.
Mom: What is it?
Rick: I got married.
Mom: What????
Rick: And she’s on the line. Say hi Karen.
Karen: Hi, Mrs. Kaempfer.
Mom: Hi.
Rick: And we’re expecting.
(Long Silence)
Rick: You still there?
Mom: Mmm. Hmmm.
Rick: Are you OK?
(Even longer silence)
Rick: Mom?
Mom: Mmm. Hmmm.
(Even longer silence)
Mom: You better talk to your father.
Rick: Mom, before you give him the phone, there’s one more thing I need to tell you.
Mom: Oh no.
Rick: April Fools.
Mom: What?
Rick: April Fools. I’m not really getting married. Karen’s not my wife...she’s not even my girlfriend...and we’re not expecting. We’re on the air right now.

She really said that.

After that, for some reason, she didn’t want to come on the air with me anymore. She never came on the Steve and Garry show during the nearly five years I produced the show, despite repeated requests from Steve. And she was adamant about it. He pushed especially hard on the day the Berlin Wall came down, but Mom wouldn’t talk to him. My sister eventually did, but she refused his request to get a piece of the wall for him. My mom’s mom (Oma) eventually did talk to him too, but she told him off and hung up on him when he told a Nazi joke.

What can I say? The women in my family are tough. I’ve learned not to mess with them.

I hosted my own show on the Loop in the early ‘90s, and Mom wouldn’t come on. I produced the John Landecker show for ten years, where my German heritage was a regular bit--and Mom wouldn’t come on the show.

When I say she doesn’t like the spotlight, I know what I’m talking about.

Still wondering why I haven’t written about her on the blog?

Mom and I aren’t huggy/kissy/”I love you” close. That’s not the German way. But we are about as close as Germans can be.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for her. When I look at my mom I see a woman who has overcome an enormous amount of adversity—moving to a new country as a teenager, not speaking the language, being forced to work in an abusive old folks home, widowed in her forties, alone for nearly twenty years—and I marvel at her strength.

To be honest with you, I don’t think I could have accomplished a thing in life without my mom. She may not understand me, but she has always been there to back me up, to pick me up off the floor, to push me toward my next destination. When I needed help, there was nobody in the world more reliable. She gave me the one quality that has done more for me than any other—inner strength.

Without Mom, I never would have had the toughness to make it in the cutthroat radio business. Without Mom, I never would have been able to write my book, or my novel, or my blog. Without Mom, I never would have been able to stay at home to raise my kids. I ask for her help and advice literally every day.

She is always there for me. Always helping me in whatever way she can. Always rock-solid. More dependable than any other person on the planet. She’s got my back.

To me, that’s real love.

Mom and I don’t need to say the words...even on her birthday. When I see her, I’ll give her the present she told me to give her, I’ll wish her Happy Birthday, and I’ll show her that I love her in the same way I always do.

I’ve got her back too.

And she knows it.