RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
Everyone in the world, with the possible exception of Ozzie Guillen, self-censors a bit. As I noted a few days ago, there are certain topics I can't discuss. It seems a good idea to spell out the boundaries of my self-censorship on this page.
Because I'm City Attorney, it would be inappropriate to discuss any pending matter of or before the City. The Mayor has recently done something that I really would like to applaud but it would be impossible to sort out the parts of my knowledge that are privileged and the parts that come from being a private citizen. Similarly, there are often things I want to say about pending legislation. It would feel good to use this Board as a support device for creative work the Council wants to do but there is just a chance that would make some Alderman or Department Head worry their conversations with me weren't protected. That's the prime purpose of the Attorney-Client Privilege, to have clients feel completely free to be as candid as possible. So, much as I would like to, can't discuss City Policy, personnel or CIty business. That's an absolute.
Similarly, because I represent a municipality, it is not wise for me to talk about any proposed State Law which would impact munipalities. The city has lobbying capabilities but that is not in my job description. The last thing in the world I would want to do is say something which would be contrary to any strategy the City or its municipal allies would have adopted.
That doesn't mean I can't discuss an overview of some things where I might have some unique knowledge such as Human Rights Law, Homeland Security, Law Enforcement, Environmental Law, Eminent Domain and Baseball (not necessarily in order of importance).
For a number of legal reasons, I can't make referrals or discuss the legal abilities of private lawyers. I may occasionally discuss the ups or downs of public figures who happen to be lawyers (For example, I have a little essay coming up on Elliott Abrams which might surprise my democrat colleagues and our Republican Friends).
The law says I have a 24/7/365 duty not to say or do anything that reflects discredit upon the legal system. In a case where I have no involvement, I am allowed to say that I think the court got it wrong or a certain attorney may have adopted an incorrect or confusing strategy, but I am not allowed, nor do I foresee a situation where I should, suggest a result was reached for any ulterior purpose or as a result of any improper conduct or inducement. Fortunately, here in Western Illinois, we have an excellent judiciary and a diligent practicing bar. There are cases reversed on appeal from time to time but those usually are close calls under existing law or the result of the law being a dynamic and constantly changing set of principles, not because of any improper motives. Again, that doesn't mean that, where a public figure who may also be a lawyer says something incorrect, I am not free to disagree here.
At the risk of underscoring the obvious, I'll add I can't identify private or institutional clients or talk about developments in their cases. Those of you have read my journal for some time know I actually crossed that line once when I wrote of my personal heartbreak over a client closing down its operation. In that case, the activity was already public as a consequence of heavy press coverage. I was not writing about the substance of the activity but about how it all made me feel. Also, I had the client's permission. Still, that won't happen again.
So we have the paradox of a relatively opinionated guy having to operate in the context of rules-based self-censorship. It's a tough trick. The only thing I can promise is that, if readers ask for something and I can't take it up, I'll tell you I can't take address it. I won't temporize. You may ask perfectly valid questions but they may be ones I can't decently take up. I'll be honest about that.
Both my mother and the Illinois Supreme Court have informed me of the importance of civility. My approach in life and in cyberspace is that civility is the default. If the default does not work in a certain cyberexchange, then the possibility of escalating unpleasantness is not off the table. In other words, the general rule is that I'll be as polite as you allow me to be. I probably won't call you a mouth-breathing, gap-toothed, knucklehead, genetic link-drop unless you establish clearly that's what you want your cyberpersonality to be, in which case I'll ultimately assume permission to describe you as such.
Finally, I really cannot be in charge of a site where the comments section might cross any of the lines I mention above or involve me in conduct that would not bring credit upon the legal system. I'm going to write about moderation in a separate section but let me explain briefly how the setup here works. When someone posts a comment, it goes into a holding tank and I'm notified. I review the comment. If the comment doesn't contain any indecent language, is not defamatory and doesn't move the site into any of the above areas, I punch a key and the comment becomes public. Unless the commentor is a registered blogger and chooses to identify, this system is set up so I never know the id of the commentator, even after I approve it. That's an interesting tradeoff, but it made sense to me when I set this up. Simply because a comment disagrees with my opinion or is unflattering to me is no reason for me to reject it. Fair's fair. Please try us.
Your comments will be given the respect they deserve and you might be exposed to some that expand your horizons.