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The Many Sides of Harry Lee Coe

June 23, 2017 by pgd1

Judge Morison Buck wrote the “Chips Off the Old Bench” column in the Hillsborough County Bar Association’s publication, Lawyer.  Judge Buck passed away in 2014; however his biographies of 58 Hillsborough County judges are preserved.  They make fascinating reading.1

Perhaps the most interesting is the biography of Harry Lee Coe.  The local daily newspapers, The Tampa Tribune and St. Petersburg Times, the morning of July 14, 2000 reported:  Hillsborough County State Attorney Harry Lee Coe III was dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the left temple.  The life of a well-known, successful, and popular (with most people) figure whose public life spanned three decades was over; but questions remained: Why would a man in seemingly robust health at 68 whose political future appeared secure sacrifice his life?

Judge Coe attended High School in Lakeland, FL.  Recognition beyond Lakeland of his talent as a gifted athlete came when he received a combination baseball/basketball scholarship to the University of Florida.  His pitching record at University of Florida stood for many years, and he was the first pitcher to be inducted into the UF Sports Hall of Fame.  He signed a contract with the Detroit Tigers—the first individual from Lakeland to sign a major league contract; Boog Powell became the second Lakelander to be picked when he signed with the Baltimore Orioles. He pitched in the Detroit Tigers farm system for three years during the spring and summer seasons during the windup of his schooling at Gainesville.

In the late 1950s, while still attending law school at Stetson University, Harry Coe helped pay his way through that program by pitching baseball for the Tampa Tarpons of the Florida State League.

Judge Coe ran the court over which he presided with firm determination to do what he felt was right and just.  Contrary to the tag “Hanging Harry” seized upon and played up by the press, he was considered to be fair, particularly dealing with young persons having no significant criminal history.  He believed in the familiar doctrine of “a second chance.”

Only Harry knew what prompted him to give up the prestige and security of his judgeship.  But he did that in 1992 when, as a Democrat, he challenged the incumbent, widely respected Republican, Bill James.  Harry Lee Coe was elected State Attorney.

Harry personally tried the case against Christopher Wilson.  After the verdict of guilty in the case, one of the news services released a photo of State Attorney Coe embracing the victim of the crime and his mother.  This was one of the most sensational criminal trials in Tampa’s history.  Harry made a masterful closing argument, and both defendants were convicted of all charges.  Shortly afterward, Judge Coe received a cherished letter from Gregory Peck.   In the letter, Peck compares Harry to the famous lawyer from To Kill A Mockingbird:

When I saw this photo in the N.Y. Times, I could not help identifying with you, and thinking that in this case, you have played the role of Atticus Finch in real life, taken on the challenge, and won an important victory for all of us.

Harry Coe’s obsession with gambling in greyhound racing became such a dominate force in his life that in his waning years it is undisputed that he caged money from his subordinate associates to support his pathological problem.

The National Council on Problem Gambling based in Washington, D.C., which maintains a 24-hour toll-free helpline for those needing help or information, reports there is a strong link between suicide and pathological gambling.  Las Vegas’ suicide rate is one of the highest in the world.

We will never understand fully why Harry Lee Coe took his life, but we can be grateful that such a fascinating and talented man walked this earth among us.

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney


1 This blog, with some editorial changes, was taken from:  Buck, Morrison. “Harry Lee Coe 1932-2000.”  Retrieved from:  http://digital.lib.usf.edu.

Who Can You Trust?

June 15, 2017 by pgd1

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
– Leo Tolstoy, Ann Karenina (1878)

Although technology allows people to stay connected over long distances, it can interfere with family bonding.

The pressure to stay connected online is intense, with the workday encroaching on downtime.  The social pressure and FOMO (fear of missing out) drive people to check Facebook and other social media throughout the day.  It is inevitable that the demands of staying connected to the outside world affects what goes on inside the family home.

Research shows that adults spend over 12 hours a day staying connected via various media.  The tech-addicted family is a real phenomenon.  And the fact is the human brain is only equipped to focus on one thing at a time, even with technology forcing us to multi-task.1

With focus being divided, the result is increased isolation and disconnection.  Social media at best results in a superficial connection to a large number of people.  As human beings, this type of social interaction is not sufficient.  We have a need for deep social connections to people we trust and with whom we form a community.  To be healthy, the emphasis should not be on the number of “friends” we have, but on the quality of our relationships.

Facebook can never provide what we truly need.  In certain instances it fosters families and friends that are superficial, lacking the trust and connectedness that such relationships have traditionally entailed.

There is no problem with having superficial relationships.  After all, there are only so many meaningful relationships that we can handle.  Therefore, there is a place for Facebook.  The point is to be aware of the difference between Facebook family and friends and true family and friends.

One will be there for you when you need them, and you will be there for them; the other will only be there when you turn on the computer or phone.  It serves our best interests to know the difference between the two, and to never confuse them.

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney


1 The first portion of this blog is taken from: “Netsanity: Are Connected Families Becoming Disconnected?”.  Retrieved from: https://netsanity.net/are-connected-families-becoming-disconnected  The remainder of the blog contains my personal reflections.  The drawing that accompanies this blog is my interpretation of a work by Rupert Bathurst.

Removing Prison Tattoos: An Investment in Change

June 8, 2017 by pgd1

For all 100,000 prisoners in their system, Florida has published data including their age, race, sex, what crimes they’ve committed, and — most intriguingly — what tattoos they have.  The most obvious thing this data shows is just how common tattoos are.

Kevin Waters, a criminologist at Northern Michigan University and former Drug Enforcement Administration agent, notes that understanding which tattoos are purely aesthetic and which are signals can be a lot of help to law enforcement, distinguishing truly hardened criminals from posers—gang members do not take kindly to outsiders adopting their imagery.

A study by Kaitlyn Harger, now of Florida Gulf Coast University, found that upon release, ex-cons with tattoos could be expected to last just 2.4 years outside prison before being re-incarcerated, compared with 5.8 years for those without.  The effect was especially pronounced for those with tattoos on the hands and face.

In the mid 1990’s, Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest in Los Angeles, set up a bakery to provide jobs to people trying to go straight.  The bakery was the first business in what is now Homeboy Industries, a non-profit which has since grown to be America’s largest gang-rehabilitation center, offering employment and other services to hundreds of former gang members.  Its free tattoo-removal service has become the organization’s biggest claim to fame.

Such programs are spreading all across America.  Half a mile from Homeboy, at the Twin Towers correctional facility, a Los Angeles County jail, inmates on good behavior are eligible to have their tattoos removed free of charge while still incarcerated.

Tattoo removal can change how others see a person.  When those others are judges, or prospective employers, that can be good; when they are gang-mates, it can carry risks.  Perhaps most important, removing tattoos can also change how someone sees them self.

Predictive as they may be, it would be hard and probably foolish to argue that the tattoos cause recidivism.  Similarly, tattoo-removal programs seem unlikely in and of themselves to make anyone an intrinsically better person.  But they can reflect a genuine investment in change and they may also help reduce the amount of discrimination reformed ex-cons face.1

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney


1 This blog contains excerpts from “Crime, ink an analysis of the art on Convicts’ bodies.  The Economist.  December 24th, 2016.  Retrieved from:  www.economist.com.

The Truth About Lies

June 1, 2017 by pgd1

Lying, it turns out, is something that most of us are very adept at. We lie with ease, in ways big and small, to strangers, co-workers, friends, and loved ones. Our capacity for dishonesty is as fundamental to us as our need to trust others, which ironically makes us terrible at detecting lies. Being deceitful is woven into our very fabric, so much so that it would be truthful to say that to lie is human.

The ubiquity of lying was first documented systematically by Bella DePaulo, a social psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The researchers found that the subjects lied on average one or two times a day.

“Lying is so easy compared to other ways of gaining power,” notes Sissela Bok, an ethicist at Harvard University who’s one of the most prominent thinkers on the subject. “It’s much easier to lie in order to get somebody’s money or wealth than to hit them over the head or rob a bank.”

There appears to be no agreement among psychiatrists about the relationship between mental health and lying, even though people with certain psychiatric disorders seem to exhibit specific lying behaviors. Sociopathic individuals—those diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder—tend to tell manipulative lies, while narcissists may tell falsehoods to boost their image.

Researchers have shown that we are especially prone to accepting lies that affirm our worldview. Debunking them does not demolish their power, because people assess the evidence presented to them through a framework of preexisting beliefs and prejudices, says George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist at the University of California, Berkeley. “If a fact comes in that doesn’t fit into your frame, you’ll either not notice it, or ignore it, or ridicule it, or be puzzled by it—or attack it if it’s threatening.”

Technology has opened up a new frontier for deceit, adding a 21st-century twist to the age-old conflict between our lying and trusting selves.1

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney


1This blog contains excerpts from Bhattacharjee, Yudhijit,  Why We Lie: The Science Behind Our Deceptive Ways, June 2017 National Geographic  retrieved from www.nationalgeographic.com

Dual Diagnosis

May 25, 2017 by pgd1

Dual diagnosis is a term for when someone experiences a mental illness and a substance abuse problem simultaneously.  A person experiencing a mental health condition may turn to drugs and alcohol as a form of self-medication to improve the troubling mental health symptoms they experience.  Research shows though that drugs and alcohol only make the symptoms of mental health conditions worse.

About a third of all people experiencing mental illnesses and about half of people living with severe mental illnesses also experience substance abuse.  These statistics are mirrored in the substance abuse community, where about a third of all alcohol abusers and more than half of all drug abusers report experiencing a mental illness.

The most common method of treatment for dual diagnosis today is integrated intervention, where a person receives care for both a specific mental illness and substance abuse.

A person experiencing a serious mental illness and dangerous or dependent patterns of abuse may benefit most from an inpatient rehabilitation center where he/she can receive concentrated medical and mental health care 24/7. Supportive housing, like group homes or sober houses, is another type of residential treatment center that is most helpful for people who are newly sober or trying to avoid relapse. These treatment centers allow for more freedom while still providing round-the-clock care.

Medication is a useful tool for treating a variety of mental illnesses.

Psychotherapy is almost always a large part of an effective dual diagnosis treatment plan. Education on a person’s illness and how their beliefs and behaviors influence their thoughts has been shown in countless studies to improve the symptoms of both mental illness and substance abuse.  Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in particular is effective in helping people with dual diagnosis learn how to cope and to change ineffective patterns of thinking.

In over thirty years of practicing law, I have encountered many individuals who suffer from a dual diagnosis.  It is not unusual to see these people when they are off their medications and not functioning well.  The point I make here is that there is help and hope for them.1

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney


1 This blog contains excerpts from “Dual Diagnosis”. Retrieved from:  https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Related-Conditions/Dual-Diagnosis#sthash.LmQx3HHd.dpuf

How to Help a Mentally Ill Person Who Stops Taking Medication

May 18, 2017 by pgd1

One recurring problem that I observe in the practice of family law is when a person who suffers from mental illness stops taking medication.  With this problem in mind, I began to search for solutions.  This is what I found:

  1. About one-third of people with schizophrenia say that they stay on medicine primarily because other people think it’s important.  For them, the influence of other people, rather than believing the medication is needed, is the key factor that promotes compliance.
  2. Persuasion is better than coercion.  Forcing someone to take medication by threats is, at best, a temporary solution that is best left for acute (emergency) situations.  It is better to try to find a way to persuade a person to take medication.
  3. Families should be genuinely sympathetic about the side effect problems and the distress they can cause.  Ignoring the side effect complaints won’t make them go away; indifference may make a person feel neglected or misunderstood.
  4. Prescribing clinicians frequently do not often detect or ask about noncompliance and are not always good at recognizing when patients stop their medication.  They may not recognize noncompliance until the person becomes psychotic and starts reacting to hallucinations.  Therefore, you cannot rely solely on a doctor’s assessment of the situation.  Nonetheless, if possible, it is important to maintain routine contact with the doctor to discuss, among other things, compliance issues.
  5. When someone relapses, it may be very hard to tell whether the biggest problem is that the medicine doesn’t work well enough (nonresponse) or the person is not taking the medication (noncompliance). It is very important to clarify the true cause of relapse because nonresponse to medicine would be handled very differently than noncompliance.1

The failure of individuals with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder to take prescribed medications can often leads to relapse of symptoms, re-hospitalizations, and homelessness.  It is important to have an awareness of the problem of mentally ill people who tend to stop taking medication.  We should apply these strategies to help these valued members of our society.

by Patrick Gafney

by Patrick Gafney


1 Weiden, Dr. Peter. “How to help someone who stops taking their medicines”.  Retrieved from:  http://schizophrenia.com/.

Secrets and Their Implications

May 4, 2017 by pgd1

Keeping a secret is hard.  As a matter of professional ethics, lawyers are required to keep a client’s confidences.  These confidential communications can be understood as secrets.

In a recent study, Michael Slepian of Columbia University, addressed the question of just how much of a burden it is to possess a secret.

The researchers discovered that people reported pondering their secrets privately about twice as often as they chose to conceal them from others.

It was this private pondering, rather the actual possession of a secret, that seemed crucial to health and well being.

Those who thought little about their secrets had well being scores higher than those who thought about their secrets a lot.1

From this research one might conclude that keeping secrets is not so hard–but thinking about them is.  As lawyers, we might pause to ponder what we think about.

It is important to remember that happiness does not depend on who we are or what we have.  It solely depends on what we think.2

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney


1 This blog contains excerpts from “Weighing on the Soul”. The Economist. April 22, 2017.

2 Siddhartha Gautama, aka The Buddha.

It’s Not About the Money

April 27, 2017 by pgd1

For decades, Stephen Bright has worked to provide the quality of legal representation to the powerless and impoverished that only the wealthiest clients could afford.  All the while, he has done so on a shoestring, forsaking the riches his profession could bring.

Bright is one of only a few lawyers who can say they’ve won all their arguments before the nation’s highest court.  In his three prior cases, justices overturned death sentences because of racial discrimination in the jury selection process.

Bright embodies the best the legal system has to offer, Atlanta lawyer Ed Garland said.

“He represents unselfishness, humility and deep personal love and caring for the least of those in our society,” Garland said.  “I’ve been with him in courtrooms where he was courageous and magnificently effective.  I’ve been with him in jails where he showed individual defendants the greatest of human compassion.”

Bright said he’s never regretted missing out on the lavish income he could command, given his credentials and expertise.  “I’ve never had any interest in making a lot of money,” he said.

There was never much to earn at the Southern Center.  Fifteen years ago, Bright and every other lawyer there made $30,000 a year.  Two years ago, Bright took in $38,000.  He also teaches at some of this country’s most prestigious law schools.  His pay for teaching at law schools?  It went to the Southern Center, not into his pockets.

In 1998, the American Bar Association presented its prestigious Thurgood Marshall Award to Bright.  Attending the gala were high-profile lawyers in tailored wool, designer dresses and splashy jewelry.  Bright showed up in a bargain-rack suit he’d bought in Pascagoula, Miss.

And this week, Bright will argue his fourth case before the U.S. Supreme Court, this time on behalf of Alabama death-row inmate James McWilliams.

Stephen Bright is a unique individual, who’s example stands in sharp contrast to prevailing views regarding lawyers.1

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney


1 This blog was taken from:  Rankin, Bill.  April 20, 2017.  “This low-paid Atlanta lawyer is one of the best”.  Atlanta Journal Constitution.

The Remarkable Aaron Burr

April 13, 2017 by pgd1

“Law is whatever is boldly asserted and plausibly maintained.”
- Aaron Burr

Aaron Burr was the third vice president of the United States, serving under President Thomas Jefferson.  Burr fatally shot his rival, Alexander Hamilton, during a duel.

As a revolutionary soldier, Burr joined Benedict Arnold’s men in their expedition to Quebec.  By the spring of 1776, Burr had achieved the rank of major, and was appointed to serve under George Washington at his home in New York.

In 1800, Burr ran for the U.S. presidency with Thomas Jefferson.  Because they each received the same amount of electoral votes, members of the House of Representatives were left to determine the winner.  When the House met to discuss the election, Burr’s rival, Hamilton, vocalized his support for Jefferson and his disapproval of Burr.  In the end, Jefferson secured the presidency and Burr became vice president.  Burr was incensed, believing that Hamilton had manipulated the vote in Jefferson’s favor.

Nearing the end of his term as vice president, Burr ran for the governorship of New York, but lost.   Again, he blamed Hamilton for besmirching him as a candidate, and, eager to defend his honor, challenged Hamilton to a duel.  Hamilton accepted, and the face-off took place on the morning of July 11, 1804; it ended when Burr shot Hamilton to death.  The public was outraged. Burr fled New York and New Jersey but eventually returned to Washington, DC where he completed his term safe from prosecution.  The indictments in the case never reached trial.

In 1807, Burr was brought to trial on charges of conspiracy and high misdemeanor, for leading a military charge against Spanish territory and for trying to separate territories from the United States.  Chief Justice John Marshall acquitted Burr on the treason charge and eventually revoked his misdemeanor indictment, but the conspiracy scandal left Burr’s political career in ruins.

Burr spent the four years following his trial traveling throughout Europe, attempting unsuccessfully to garner support for revolutionizing Mexico and freeing the Spanish colonies.  He died under the care of his cousin on September 14, 1836, on Staten Island, New York.1

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney


1 This blog is taken from Aaron Burr Biography.  Retrieved from:  http://www.biography.com.

Buck v. Bell: An Embarrassment in American Jurisprudence

April 6, 2017 by pgd1

“Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”
- Oliver Wendell Holmes

One of the worst Supreme Court decisions in history, according to journalist Adam Cohen, was the 1927 decision upholding a state’s right to forcibly sterilize a person considered unfit to procreate – unfit because they were deemed to be mentally deficient.  That decision is part of a larger chapter of American history in which the eugenics movement was behind preventing so-called mentally deficient people from procreating through not allowing them to marry, sterilizing them and segregating them in special colonies.

The Nazis borrowed some ideas from American eugenicists.  The eugenics movement also influenced the 1924 Immigration Act, which was designed in part to keep out Italians and Eastern European Jews.  Adam Cohen’s book titled Imbeciles is about the eugenics movement in the early 20th century and the Supreme Court case legalizing sterilization.

The word eugenics was actually coined by Francis Galton, who was a half-cousin of Charles Darwin, and it derived from Darwinian ideas.  The eugenicists looked at evolution and survival of the fittest as Darwin was describing it. They believed they could help nature along if they could just plan who reproduces and who doesn’t reproduce.

In Buck v. Bell, the Supreme Court upheld Virginia’s right to sterilize.  Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the decision upholding forced sterilization.  In this one case, Holmes wrote not only that Carrie Buck should be sterilized, that the Virginia law was constitutional, but he urged America to do more eugenic sterilization.  As outrageous as this may sound, this case has never been overturned, and is still being used.

The court had an opportunity to overturn it in a 1942 case challenging the Oklahoma sterilization law and they specifically chose not to.  They struck down the Oklahoma law but on very narrow grounds.  In 2001, a sterilization was upheld by a U.S. Court of Appeals – one step below the Supreme Court – citing Buck v. Bell.1

According to Adam Cohen, even 3500 years ago, humanity understood that the highest goal of law should be to make sure that the strong do not harm the weak.  It is remarkable that Buck v. Bell could happen in a civilized society.

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney


1 This blog has been taken from the transcript of “Fresh Air”.  March 24, 2017.  Retrieved from: http://www.npr.org.

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