It is wonderful how there is so much to look forward to as the years roll by and one hopefully becomes wiser. You can become wiser and still enjoy as much as you like/can afford. The pleasure and excitement remain throughout the stages of development notwithstanding the required adjustments.
Many years ago, beyond the recall or even existence of most of the world’s population, it was my distinct pleasure to consume my every free moment in an Irish pub. The food was tolerable. The drinks were generous and not that expensive. But the conversation and the company were exquisite. Detroit’s finest trial lawyers all hung out in the same one or two saloons, and the stories and banter, as well as serious commentary regarding the actual manner of how the law really works were off the charts fantastic. Young lawyers learned more about the realities of law practice in those pubs than they ever learned in law school.
At this point I must talk about probably the best criminal trial lawyer I met in Detroit, Elbert Hatchett. Elbert Hatchett was, God rest his dear soul, a black, flamboyant criminal lawyer in the greater Detroit metropolitan area. He represented some very high profile black defendants and made a great name for his skill and trial presence. He was incredibly effective. He was the kind of lawyer that I most respected, a trial lawyer from a single lawyer or small office practice that, like the rest of us, ate what we could kill. There is a world of difference between the solo and small firm trial lawyer and the fraternity, from a great university, country club lawyers that inhabit the large silk stocking firms and who think they are trial lawyers. These big firm snoots have no idea how to handle a case from start to finish and really know the case intimately, because they have many people downstream in their firms who do the work for them, handing the “boss” a canned case to present. Everything in the big firms is templated, pigeon holed. The ability to react to the unexpected or deal with non linear trial tactics simply is not there.
Elbert did not handle the big firm business cases that were the domain of the large silk stocking law firms. I met him in an antitrust case, something he had never had any experience with and had no education in. It was the matter of the Houston Gamblers football team trying to get super star Billy Sims away from the Detroit Lions. One of the owners of the Gamblers was also Billy Sims’ agent and had a conflict of interest advising Sims where his best options might lie. That “conspiracy” and conflicts lawsuit, with antitrust claims thrown in for God only knows what reason, was not an easy case to try.
Elbert Hatchett came to court with an almost encyclopedic knowledge of antitrust law and theory, the scope of the claims and the evidence required to carry his burden of proof, and also with trial presentation capabilities that outmatched all the big firm lawyers representing the Lions and the Gamblers. He beat them all like step children, and was my hero ever since. That is what real trial lawyers can do.
In addition to the colorful trial lawyers there were others who enjoyed being in our company, so many of whom were themselves in businesses that called upon them to be very competent conversationalists. The most conversant of course were the heads of their companies’ sales and marketing resources and the advertising industry execs whose entire lives were utterly consumed by gin and scotch. My two favorites in those days were Galligans and the Buhl Bar. A television show using just the conversations in those bars, beginning about four o’clock every day, would still be in reruns with astoundingly high ratings. Unfortunately, of course, political correctness would require bleeping out the best dialogue.
I travelled all over the country in those days, trying cases in all but about five states, and finding the similar pubs in each city. I went for six years with only one vacation (one of my honeymoons) when I was first starting up my own boutique law firm because I was having such enjoyable times in America’s grand Irish pubs. Actually, it wasn’t a boutique anything in the beginning. It was the customary configuration of a law office in which a solo practitioner simply hung out his shingle and hoped not to starve to death. Fortune brought me some profoundly lucrative corporate litigation, and it morphed into the unusual corporate litigation boutique that it has continued to be for the last 45 years. Prior to that I spent nine years working for others in America’s largest companies, unhappy because I could never force myself to fit into their templated pigeon holes and dealing with the complaints about nonconformity no matter the positive results from my initiatives.
My first private practice client was a large competitor of my former employer wishing to learn how I had managed to keep my company free of enforcement proceedings during my eight year tenure while they on the other hand were knee deep in government investigations and enforcement proceedings. Our methods of conducting business were substantially the same, but when the government showed up the manner of my handling the investigations was such that we never became an enforcement target. To others, that seemed either like magic or bribery. There were two enforcement events having to do with one merger and one cartel practice in the context of a tight oligopoly, but I won both of those. The merger case was the government’s very first loss attacking mergers under Section 7 of the Clayton Antitrust Act. It was a particularly sweet victory for the additional reason that the very large Wall Street law firm with a partner on our board that hogged all our legal business they could, had sent us a letter advising us to agree to divestiture because they could not win the case.
I also managed to keep them out of the oligopoly case, the fees from which were really substantial. They didn’t have an inkling about oligopoly theory or how conduct would be viewed in an oligopoly setting as opposed to a more competitive environment. They had no clue of how to gather, prepare or present such evidence. There ensued a holy war between us over their not getting that case. The partner who was on our board of directors used every threat and tactic he could think of. They could not understand how someone like me could have the audacity to criticize their capabilities. It was a grand fight and I loved it. But it was time to move on, because the fight was consuming too much opprobrium and my boss’ position in the company was being threatened for allowing me to do what I had done.
I had a grand time throughout my tenure at that company, but my manner of travel upset the small minded martinets of corporate governance. Eventually it became intolerable for us both, a milestone of great good fortune in my life, and I moved on to set up my own practice. What a blessing!
I remember in that initial period of hanging out my shingle, that I would gladly accept any matter of commercial conflict, no matter the rectitude of my client, in order to pay the rent. For months I would go downtown to the office and pretend I was a busy lawyer, and then go to a restaurant and be a line cook in the evening dinner shift, helping to make ends meet. I really knew the meaning of tired. There was almost no partying for that very early start up period. But Arbeit macht frei! Work eventually enabled joyous celebrations.
A case walked in the door in the mid 70s the winning of which transformed my practice into a national litigating resource for many national and international franchising companies. I was opposed by a huge, aggressive Detroit law firm, the opposing party’s usual law firm in Pennsylvania, plus the lawyers on the company’s in house legal staff. The large Detroit firm went around town talking about its role in the case, soon coming up for trial, making braggadocio statements at bar association meetings and elsewhere, at every opportunity, that they intended to mop the floor with me at trial. To make a long but delicious story short, I won everything but one claim – that for past due royalties, which was less than their legal expenses and tax deductible for my clients for being breach of contract damages. It was taxable income to the franchisor. It cost my clients about $10,000 each, after tax, and their businesses were very profitable.
My co-counsel in that case was an incredibly able, just out of law school lawyer by the name of David Mason. David aced the antitrust exam at Wayne State University Law School, taught by a law school classmate of mine who assumed that black students would never be able to comprehend antitrust law. That pompous ass, when he saw that David had blown the exam away, assumed that David had cheated and called him on it. When he found out that David was in my law firm the sonofabitch was flabbergasted. I miss David a lot. He was terrific.
I have Dee Daniels to thank for David. Dee was one of the Buhl Bar group, a criminal defense trial lawyer with a great track record and a great sense of humor. Anyone would happily pay for a ticket to sit on a nearby bar stool at the Buhl and listen to Dee’s stories. One day Dee chided me for not having any black lawyers in my firm. At the time it was a three person law firm. I told him that if I saw one with smarts and snap I would certainly hire him. Dee sent three young law students to see me. David was one of them. I then got to chide Dee by saying that I had the highest percentage of black lawyers of any “white” law firm in Michigan.
The big firm people were rather scarce around town when word of that victory got around. Many lawyers who had been told how badly I would be trounced came around to buy me drinks. The opposing firm was noted for being a bunch of horses’ asses, loathed by many.
There ensued many years of constant productivity at a very high level, enabling a more luxuriant approach to gourmandise. That case turned out to be a landmark franchising case. The judge wrote a 70 page opinion with elaborate findings of fact testifying to the many ways the braggarts had failed utterly even to come close. Tons of business and speaking engagements followed that victory.
Loving to cook, I have always been interested in how really good food is prepared. There were few food shows in those days, and those were mostly addressed to “housewives” seeking easy recipes for casseroles. There was the occasional two or three day class in something or other. In three days I learned how to make great pates and terrines, which I stopped making after about the fifth one because it was getting to be boring. Of course, it is impossible to cook without enjoying some wine as you work. I started learning about that too. I don’t know whether I cooked to enjoy the wine or whether I was honest enough to acknowledge that I would be drinking the wine no matter what else I might be doing.
In that stage of gastronomic engagement one subscribes to Gourmet magazine and a few others, rhapsodizing each time an issue arrived with some recipe that any fool could execute if there were only sufficient interest to justify the work. I think that what drove my own interest in gastronomy was sheer ego. I enjoyed having a reputation as a food “expert” and a damn fine cook.
The magazines also had their list of restaurants of the month, with really great food photography and formulaic articles praising the way Chef Van Snoot could melt butter or beak an egg as he prepared his original recipe for stuffed green peas. In his restaurant you could enjoy a very small, thinly sliced undercooked duck breast on a paint streak of sauce bigarade, with a teaspoon of the stuffed green peas and a very small salad for only $ 75.00 ($ 200 by today’s standards) a serving. Wine is always three to four hundred percent market up in such places, and often misrepresented on the wine list. Wine lists do not get reprinted when you run out of the vintage year for a particular item. You order a ‘59 and you get a ’63, a very big difference in flavor and value in many instances. It was in just such a stupid place full of phony connoisseurs that it struck me that I was just being a stupid ass and allowing myself to be victimized by crafty restaurants, thinking foolishly that rare poultry was something special. Bullshit! Thank you Freddie Girardet for so exploiting my stupidity that even I had to recognize it.
Since then I confine my “gourmet” restaurant excursions to events of entertaining clients. Otherwise I look for a Lebanese restaurant or a good Latino restaurant, because that food is so incredibly good. They have great beer and reasonable and drinkable wine lists. But the highlight of my gastronomic adventures remains the Irish pub. BJ’s brew pub here have the absolute most fantastic IPA I ever tasted. It is called Piranha. I wish I could install a Piranha tap in my home. What a great way to die!
Entertaining clients in expensive restaurants is a trip into victimization. They easily recognize what the evening is all about and are great at overselling the most exotic and expensive food and wine. When a waiter tells your guests that a particular dish will be the best restaurant experience of their lives, you can’t suggest some lesser item on the menu. The same approach pertains to their wine list, except that there one can put limits in place if he really does know good wines. One in Houston had become my “lucky place” because every time I took clients there the relationship was very positively affected. But the owner got greedy and pissed me off. He knew my very favorite wine in his inventory and he simply jacked its price up by $ 50 a bottle. That would add about $200 to $ 300 to my tab. I checked the price of that wine at my favorite wine shop and it had not changed at all. I stopped going there and he eventually asked me if something was wrong. Not being addicted to tact, I told the sonofabitch that I knew what he did and resented being taken advantage of. Of course the asshole claimed that it must have been a mistake, but I saw to it that he knew that I knew there had been no mistake.
There are over 15,000 restaurants in Houston, most of them quite good, and many first rate top of the mark places to entertain clients. I am known in many of those. Clients always have a grand evening. But when not entertaining clients, I enjoy the incredibly marvelous array of ethnic restaurants in this most diverse city in America, plus the Irish pubs.
Trial lawyers in Texas have to be careful about which pubs they frequent. There is no pub on earth large enough to handle the egos of two or more Texas trial lawyers. So each of us has his “scent marked” drinking territory. My very favorite became Muldoon’s, as if you couldn’t guess. There were untold fantastic celebrations at Muldoon’s. See EVENING AT MULDOON’S. I spend less time partying till I drop due to age these days, but the memories were fortunately all recorded in various articles like the one noted above, and I may revisit them at my leisure. Chuck Mullen and I still keep in touch and he has showed up at all my join replacement and plate and screw insert surgeries to hold Belinda’s hand while I am being sliced and diced. He has two absolutely gorgeous children.
Belinda keeps a tight rein on my partying, wanting me to continue living to a ripe old age. I am having to simply live on my reputation for hard partying. But those are such wonderful memories – especially the night Belinda took her new birthday present AK-47 into Muldoon’s and scared the living shit out of everybody. She is my perfect soul mate. I love her with all my heart. My whole life turned around for the better the day I met her, 26 years ago. She is my personal commander in chief. See Aunt Belinda Restrains Grandpa From Outrageous Behavior - Sometimes.
I have had a mad love affair, an obsession with spicy Popeye’s fried chicken. When I die, I want to die right after having eaten a whole 10 piece box of Popeye’s spicy fried chicken and copious amounts of cold beer. With that aroma on my soul, God will easily recognize me. Belinda keeps a lid on that too. God bless her. A friend who is a Popeye’s franchisee, one day when we were all having lunch at one of his places, and I was going for a world record, said “I eat a lot of Popeye’s chicken too, but I don’t eat it all at one sitting.”
I have a similarly illicit relationship with bacon cheeseburgers. I have to eat them out of town, and when I do it is called “Cheating on Belinda”. I have learned to adulterate catsup with sriracha and other similar adulterants. What an adventure!
We no longer hold large dinner parties, mainly because of my back issues. I used to cook all sorts of incredibly delicious things for the delectation of our friends. I would cook all day and clean up for hours with Belinda’s supervising assistance. I no longer get to cook enormous quantities of sauces and braises like I did back in those days. I could recreate heaven with a few pounds of spicy Italian sausage, onions, garlic, peppers, carrots, herbs, cracked red pepper, some rich stock and tomatoes. Similarly divine salads and whore’s ovaries - hors d’oeuvres -graced every meal. Dessert was always Sacher Torte and Veuve Cliquot Brut.
This is getting a tad long. But at least you get the sense of what a fabulous life of fun I have led.
By Seamus Muldoon, Himself
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