Sunday, January 29, 2017


I'm doing a little research in contemplation of writing a book about lawyer-generals in the Civil War. When the war broke out, there were only four generals in the U.S. Army, but there were hundreds of generals on both sides by the time it was over. Where did they come from? The largest number of generals came from a military background. By one historian's count, there were 194 professional soldiers serving as generals for the Union and 125 for the Confederacy. That left a lot of amateurs to fill out the number needed. The second largest number of generals came from the ranks of practicing lawyers. There were 126 "attorney generals" serving Union and 129 serving the Confederacy. 

As I was researching to determine how the "attorney generals" performed in combat, I came across dual account of the Battle of Olustee written by two generals, one Confederate and one Union. Since the Battle of Olustee Festival is drawing near, I thought I would share the story of the battle. This account comes from  Volume 4 of the 1888 work, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, pages 78-80. First, the account of Major-General Samuel Jones, C.S.A,:

And now for the version of Joseph R. Hawley, Brevet Major-General, U.S.V.:

Tuesday, January 24, 2017


According to the conventional wisdom, there are two types of chess players who like to play so-called chess variants (games of chess in which the normal rules have been altered in some way)—those who are very good at chess, like world champion Jose Raul Capablanca (who invented a chess variant), and those who are not very good at chess, like me (who invented several chess variants). There are thousands of chess variants, and most of them are very bad. Some, however, are very good. Shogi, or Japanese Chess, is an excellent game in its own right, and it is very different from Western Chess, with its flat, pointed pieces which can be parachuted back onto the board if they are captured. The pieces look like little boats or little arrowheads, and although the sides are called black and white as in Western Chess, the pieces are all the same color. You can tell which player has a piece by which way the piece is pointing.

One of my favorite chess variants is a game which is known by several different names—Neo-Chess, Drop Chess, Mad Mate, Reinforcement Chess, Turnabout Chess, Schizo Chess, and Chessgi. The game has been invented and re-invented several times, with the earliest incarnation of the game appearing in 1827 and the latest (Neo-Chess) being invented by Alex Randolph in 1972. It was supposedly re-invented under the name of Chessgi in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s by a group of college students who wanted to play Shogi but couldn’t find a Shogi set.

The name Chessgi is the most descriptive of all the names that the game has gone under. If you know the rules of Chess, the rules of Chessgi are simple. Chessgi is played exactly like Chess with the addition of the following rules: (1) A captured piece becomes the property of the player capturing it and may be parachuted back onto the board in a subsequent move. (2) If a captured piece is parachuted onto the board, no piece on the board can be moved. (3) A pawn cannot be parachuted onto the back row where it cannot move. (4) If a piece which has promoted from a pawn is captured, it does not lose its promoted rank.

Playing the game is cumbersome. You need at least two sets so that a captured piece can be replace it with a piece of the captor’s color before being parachuted back onto the board. You need a flow chart to keep up with what’s been captured and who has captured it. Neo-Chess, which is a proprietary game, solved the problem by replacing the pieces with cylinders. On one end of the cylinders would be the symbols for the pieces in one color and on the other end would be the symbols for the pieces in the other color. When a piece was captured, the captor could simply turn it over. Neo-Chess is no longer on the market, but you can occasionally find a used set on ebay.

I don’t know when I first became aware of Chessgi. I think it was shortly after I joined The Knights of the Square Table (NOST), a now-defunct postal chess club. When I read about the game in the pages of the NOST newsletter, I wanted to play it, but I didn’t want to fool around with two chess sets  and I had never heard of Neo-Chess. I had already made myself a Shogi set, so I decided to make a Chessgi set.

I had previously made a Shogi set using directions I found in a library book, so I decided to make my Chessgi set exactly as I had made my first Shogi set. Cutting out the little pointed pieces was easy. The hard part was figuring out how to put the symbols on them. When I made my Shogi set, I used a stencil to put the initials of the pieces on the wooden shapes, but I wanted real Chess symbols on the Chessgi pieces. Having no Chess stencil and no artistic talent, I decided to photocopy drawings of the pieces and glue them on the wooden arrowheads. I had black symbols on one side and white symbols on the other so that the pieces could be flipped over as in Neo-Chess, but I soon discovered that I only needed one color because it was easy to distinguish the sides by the way the pieces pointed. We’ve moved twice since I made that Chessgi set, and I have no idea where it is. 

Recently I got in the mood to play some Chessgi, so I made another set. This time I used a chess figurine stencil from to put the symbols on the pieces. Although it wasn’t necessary, I put black symbols on one side of the pieces and red symbols on the other. The set looks like this:

Now if I can just find someone to play against.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


My friend Ron Clark, with whom I co-authored Cross-Examination Handbook: Persuasion, Strategies, and Techniques, maintains a blog on cross-examination. He recently posted a nice review of my book The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case to his blog. You can access the post with the following hyperlink or simply read the text which I have reproduced below.

Talbot Publishing recently released my co-author Bob Dekle’s book entitled The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case: A Critical Analysis of the Trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann.  Although the Lindbergh kidnapping case has been written about innumerable times, never before has the trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann been meticulously researched and analyzed. Bob and his co-author Jim Dedman have done just that.           

The book is somewhat reminiscent of Vincent Bugliosi’s book Outrage:The Five Reasons O. J. Simpson Got Away With Murder. In Outrage, Bugliosi, who had prosecuted Charles Manson, explains how he would have prosecuted Simpson, along with providing examples of what he would have done, such as what he would have said in closing argument.

The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case is instructive on how to conduct a cross-examination. For instance, one of the prosecution witnesses at the Hauptman trial was John Condon, an interloper who was involved in the negotiations over the ransom. This is how the book assesses defense counsel’s strategy in cross-examining Condon:

Reilly adopted the wrong strategy for the examination of Condon. Instead of attacking the implausibility of Condon’s testimony, he attacked Condon personally. What Reilly succeeded in doing by aggressive verbal sparring with Condon was to highlight Condon’s wit in repartee, which in turn masked the implausibility of his testimony. . .

Rather than merely criticizing the strategy, the book recommends effective techniques that could be utilized as follows:

Reilly should have attacked the plausibility of the testimony, not the personality of the testifier. Snide remarks and personal assaults proved counterproductive and resulted in this portion of the cross-examination being diverted down a rabbit trail of arguing over the meaning of words. He would have done better by asking a line of tight and controlling single-fact questions. Such a line of questioning might have gone thus:

Q: You attended a lineup at the Greenwich Street police station in New York? 
A: Yes.

Reilly should expect Condon to append a verbal barrage to his affirmation, but he should not take the bait. Rather he must relentlessly pursue the non-identification.

Q: The police asked you if anyone appearing in the lineup was the John whom you met in the cemetery? 
A: Yes.

Q: Bruno Richard Hauptmann was in the lineup? 
A: Yes.

Q: At that time you did not identify Mr. Hauptmann as John?  
A: I identified Mr. Hauptmann at that time but I made no declaration of identification.

The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case is the perfect read for anyone interested in the Lindbergh case, an insightful telling of the story of the Hauptman trial, and a superb tutorial on trial strategies and techniques with illustrations from this famous case.

Sunday, January 8, 2017


The BBC described the recent shooting in the Fort Lauderdale airport as “the latest in a series of mass shootings in the US in recent years,carried out by people who had easy access to weapons under US gun laws,”  demonstrating that they completely missed the real issue, which is not gun control but people control.

Esteban Santiago had mental problems. He was hearing voices and thought he was the subject of mind control by a US intelligence agency. He went to the FBI for help. They took his gun away and sent him for mental health evaluation. He got a “clean bill of [mental] health,” was released from custody, and was given his gun back. CNN senior law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes explains this mind-boggling series of events by saying "He hadn't been adjudicated a felon and he hadn't been adjudicated mentally ill." Santiago’s family says his “mind was not right.” I’m going to go with Santiago’s family on this call.

Ironically, on the issue of whether someone should be confined in a mental institution, the courts of our land are not concerned about whether a person is merely "mentally ill." Before someone can be confined, that person has to be "mentally ill" AND dangerous; and in this area the courts have a very restrictive definition of what is dangerous.

Based on the few known facts, Santiago was mentally ill, but he was not mentally ill to the point that he could be confined in a mental health facility. How could this happen? I wrote about this issue some years ago in a blog post which discussed O'Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563, 95 S.Ct. 2486 (U.S.Fla. 1975), in which the US Supreme Court ruled that you couldn’t confine a mentally ill person in a treatment facility unless the person was likely to harm himself or others. This led to a vicious cycle that I saw repeated time and again when I was a prosecutor—(1) a mentally ill person would get off his medication, decompensate, and act out violently; (2) he would be briefly confined and gotten back on his meds; (3) the doctors would proclaim that he was no longer likely to harm himself or others, and he would be let out; (4) the three-step cycle would repeat again and again.

We once had an arsonist who kept setting buildings on fire. He would get arrested and jailed. The psychiatrists would proclaim him incompetent, and the charges would go away. The psychiatrists would say he was unlikely to harm himself or others, and the judge would be unable to confine him in a mental health facility. He would set something else on fire. The process would repeat itself.  

The US Supreme Court needs to revisit the issue of confining the mentally ill. They need to adopt a more expansive interpretation of “likely to harm himself or others”—one which at a bare minimum includes “likely to harm himself or others if he gets off his medication.” If they think confinement is too severe, then perhaps they would approve some sort of supervision similar to probation or community control for people who are “not likely to harm themselves or others so long as they stay on their medication.” If, when Santiago went to the FBI, he had been committed to a mental health facility for an extended stay, then the Fort Lauderdale tragedy would not have happened. If Santiago had been on some sort of outpatient supervision similar to community control or probation, the Fort Lauderdale tragedy might very well have been averted.