I found this wonderful work of art on the Billy Goat Book Club’s short list for Most Creative Dramatic Fiction prize. And to think – it is right out of the imaginations of some of our local Poydras Street talent.
Is it a play, a poem, an opera? Like Wagner, all three. A magnum opus of legal creativity so elegant, so bittersweet, so tragic, yet tragically flawed – an Iliad of the juridical battlefield.
Have you read it?
At first I thought it was to be published as a novella, or dramatized for Fringe Fest. But no! The fearless scribes of Shields Mott and SmithStag are going to take it into an actual courtroom. The Litigating Champions for the Krewe of Coma are going to bring the Wagnerian mode to the old paneled jousting lists!
The lyrical strands of its sentences like the most sublime of Wagner compared to the Chopsticks of SmithStag ordinaire raise Law to an Art Form. Kvetch born on the wings of angels sullies not its pale fingers in the dust of mundane Reality but soars into misty realms of mythology on mule drawn wingéd chariots.
SmithStag cases I have read before seemed a bit . . . scratchy. Shields Mott must be a good influence. I trust the Court will recognize the skill and imagination that went into making this case up. May the Council in its wisdom reinstate 8.1, so we can look forward to future private lawsuits to overturn the work of Council and the Commissions, to impose rule by elected judges who depend on lawyers for campaign funding, to overturn vulgar democracy and popular consent, to empower the Rule of the Holy Resident. How do small cliques that no one likes much any more still have enough clout to push some politicians around? Maybe we are looking at it: expensive legal attacks built on a fictional foundation, and in Council idiom, the threat thereof.
But I digress. No reality now. Let the art of law challenge life!
The curtain opens with a stately introduction of the heroes of the epic:. “NOW INTO COURT come . . . Petitioners . . . “ Four neighbors of Habana Café. Can you see them marching stately from the wings, with swords and shields, spears and capes of fur? So proud.
The villains are City Council, on the one hand, and the City Planning Commission on the other, and the Vieux Carré Commission as another other. Poor innocents, they have stirred the ires of Sirs Shields and Smith, and as Sir Stuart of the Flashing Text promised, they will pay; by legal fees shall they rue the day.
To ensure maximum drama and the best in swordplay we need to find what is whimsically called an Impartial Court in a system of elected judges.
Otherwise it could be too easy. A sober, sensible judge hearing the case before lunch, either straight-up honest or possibly a new fan of Meenan’s, might say, “Lloyd! You always were a kidder. NEXT!”
Or in a paneled Smith-enabled realm the Honorable Elected Judge Blanche says, “Why of course you are right, Mister Smith. These folks are jus’ defilin’ yo’ people’s precious patch. They are triflin’ with y’all. Shall we sentence ‘em to something bad?”
It feels like desecration to quote selections from the text. In one sense, almost any passage would do; all are in an alternative world of legal wizarding. A perfect composition, this case should be seen in its entirety. But we have to.
On March 12, 2015 the City Council of New Orleans . . . voted to deny Petitioners’ appeal of the Vieux Carré Commission’s decision to approve a detrimental and illegal change of use at the two lots of land within the Constitutionally-protected Vieux Carré. [Emphasis by reviewer]
Obviously, in the day-to-day realm, the VCC did not decide to approve an illegal change of use. Do I have the legal mechanism right here? My memory is that the Commission did not approve any change of use. Land use changes are another department’s job. The VCC says that they do not see a reason in the design that would prevent a change of use. Mr Hesdorffer, I believe, emphasized this to council. Am I technically correct in this? Our Warrior Poets know that it would just be boring to address that point. With the simple insertion of detrimental and illegal the bard raises the ordinary to the sublime.
Our FQ Wagners also know that the real VCC down here on earth did not approve anything illegal. VCC staff had been studying the plans and regulations for months. The Committee and the Commission know their work. But the poets of Poydras work on a higher plane. Where would be the art in a lawsuit that accepted dull facts? Bland, like a blues line saying, My woman loves me and the rent is paid. No, the lawyers skillfully sketch an evil Commission deliberately passing illegal plans, twirling moustaches and rubbing bony hands.
And then a master stroke ending the stanza: “the Constitutionally-protected Vieux Carré.” Subtly the authors imply the the Vieux Carré Commission has confused the Petitioners’ Constitutionally-protected FQ with some other one. That alternative world of the dull everyday led them astray. They were working on the wrong Vieux Carré.
“Petitioners aver that the Motion was arbitrary and capricious . . .” Brilliant! “Motion” must refer to the motion by CM Ramsey, Tribune of the Quarter, to deny the appeals of Petitioners and others. How tedious it would be to recognize the reasoning in CM Ramsey’s statement supporting her motion, or the supporting statements by other council members, including the lucid exposition of CM Jason Williams, which cited not only careful thought but field research and discussion with local residents.
Our authors skip all that and just say “capricious.” A lovely, musical word. True artists, they refuse to sacrifice style to the everyday fact.
“With respect to the requested re-subdivision the New Orleans City Planning Commission compounded the Vieux Carré Commission’s erroneous recommendation by approving the requested re-subdivision arbitrarily, capriciously, and without any evidence.”
Listen to the seductive rhythm of “arbitrarily, capriciously and without any evidence.” How plodding it would be for the poet to say that the City Planning Commission based its evaluation on a comprehensive report by its staff, which had referred to the reports and proceedings of the Vieux Carré Commission, which had in turn based its reports on a long series of hearings with evaluation of the existing properties, applicants’ and petitioners’ input, and the benefits and risks of linking the old derelict gas station to the adjacent property. Creative art and the music of language cry out for “arbitrarily” and “capriciously.” The Greater Truth. The Truth beyond the facts.
On the stage, this case will rock. Shields and Smith face down reality. Knights and dragons, smoke and mirrors. They must already be working on the film rights.
In the real-world courtroom, though, what might happen? Enter Chance. The petitioners are immediate neighbors. Will a judge understand as did the City Planning Commission, as did the City Council, that immediate neighbors must not be primary references in a zoning case of this nature? At CPC, Shields said they are, but he was wrong. As CM Williams argued and as a serious urban planner would tell the court, neighbors are an element but not primary. The greater good of the neighborhood and the city comes first. Two Commissions and City Council deliberated and decided the greater good was to allow Habana to repair the old wreck and create a nice place.
If cranky neighbors were the deciding factor, the precedent could lead to some capricious results. If one of the Petitioners wanted to sell up, the resident of the owner’s flat at 1038 could challenge a new purchaser. “Look, another crusty old comatose crank. Let’s preempt complaints. Stop him buying this property. “NOW INTO COURT come petitioners . . .” And so it goes, until the Last Man Standing is People Like Us.
Bunkered in their Poydras Street composing rooms and Rampart club offices, these guys and their clients are like trolls of North Rampart. If you don’t live in the FQ you might think, if it makes them feel okay to sit around meeting tables sharing indignation and wrath, grouchily predicting disaster, let them play their game. But it doesn’t stop there: they come out of their caves to shut people down, to block, obstruct and hinder, making up for their lack of popular support by financing lawsuits. The Scientology approach.
In which of the worlds could the comfort zone of a going-nowhere minority be more important than achieving a crack in the glacier they have imposed on North Rampart?
Whatever the literary merits of this case, they do not represent a superior, better-reasoned minority view. Behind the Valkyries lurkTrolls, trying to force the world into a dry, quiet box.
Enjoy the imaginative story, and let’s hope the court can see the truth through the music and the poetry.