There are many things an interviewer can ask a job applicant. But, you do need to be careful about some questions. Here are some things to consider.

1. How old are you? Be very careful about asking this question. There are very few jobs where someone can ask you your age and the question itself not serve as evidence of age bias. It is best to not go there unless you are hiring for jobs with clearly appropriate age requirements, such as the US Army.

2. Are you married? If you ask this only of female applicants, then this question could cause you problems. Why would this question be helpful? Unless this is a ruse to discover whether a female applicant might quit when she wants to have a baby. This question serves little purpose.

3. Are you a US citizen? It would be best to not ask this question until a job is offered. This question could conflict with the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. It could also serve as evidence in an ethnic origin case, if the question is only asked of Hispanic or Hispanic-appearing applicants.

4. Do you have a disability? Do not ask this specific question. But, an employer can ask something similar if an applicant has any limitations that would keep him/her from performing essential functions of the job. How else would a fire department make sure an applicant can carry someone out of a burning building? So, yes you can ask about physical or mental limitations that would impair the performance of the essential functions of the job. But, do not ask about disabilities or diagnoses until a job offer has been made.

5. Do you take drugs, smoke or drink? An employer can ask about drinking, smoking or illicit drug use. An employer should not ask about legal or prescription drug use, since that might involve issues of a possible disability.

6. What religion do you practice? An employer cannot ask about religious practices. Since, that could be used as evidence later of religious discrimination.

7. What is your race? No, of course, this would be an inappropriate question. See No. 6 above.  Don’t we all know not to ask this by now?

8. Are you pregnant? This question could be used as evidence of female stereotyping and, therefore, as evidence of gender bias. So, it is better not to ask this question. And, as the article mentions, refusing to hire a woman based on pregnancy or possible pregnancy would violate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

All of these warnings only matter if some adverse personnel action occurs later for which there is no otherwise reasonable explanation. If an employer asks about pregnancy and then later fires the applicant for some trivial transgression, only then would questions asked in an interview have any relevance. A discrimination lawsuit requires first and foremost a negative personnel action with no otherwise reasonable explanation. The lack of an otherwise rational explanation for an adverse personnel action is what makes prior discussions possibly relevant. The best defense for any employer is to simply issue written warnings whenever a transgression occurs. Emphasizing written discipline, applied consistently will serve the employer very well.


The American Bar Association hs been reviewing proposed judges’ qualifications for decades. The President nominates a federal judge, and the ABA reviews and assigns a rating. For the first time since 2006, it has publicly rated a judge “not qualified.” It found Leonard Steven Grasz, a Nebraska lawyer, unqualified for the the position of judge on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. The ABA’s standing committee found that it did not believe Mr. Grasz could set aside a “passionately held social agenda” to respect precedent, including Roe v. Wade. See ABA Bar Journal report here and here.

Some senators, such as Ted Cruz, respond that the ABA is a liberal advocacy organization. Cough Cough. No, not quite. The ABA is composed of hundreds of volunteer lawyers who’s serve in various capacities. The ABA is composed of dozens of various volunteer committees and organizations. Yes, some activities or committees of the ABA are more liberal than others. But, the standing committee on judicial nominations is not and never has been. It is a nonpartisan committee. It is unfortunately a reflection of these very partisan times that the President has been nominating some extremist judges.

The standing committee on judicial nominations has assigned four not qualified ratios so far this year out of 53 nominations. The ABA standing committee has found other judges not qualified in years past, but sometimes, those nominations were withdrawn and the “not qualified” rating was not made public.This is the first time since 2006 that the “not qualified” rating has been made public, not just with Mr. Grasz but with three other nominations. Ultimately, it will be the American public who will suffer when they have to appear in front of marginal judges.

Among Pres. Trump’s recent nominations for a judgeship is Brett Talley, Harvard graduate, and conservative blogger. He is rated as “not qualified” by the American Bar Association standing committee on judicial nominations. The committee’s vote to rate him not qualified was unanimous. He is also a paranormal investigator, a ghost hunter. He is young for a judge at 36 years old. He has only practiced law for three years. He has never appeared in court for trial. See BBC news report. He has never tried a case. If he is confirmed, as seems likely, he will go from being an intern to performing brain surgery.

Mr. Talley is a member of the Tuscaloosa Paranormal Research Group. That apparently means he and others will go sit in spooky houses all night and observe activity. They apparently seek rational explanations for strange events. So, we can expect they apply some science to things that go bump in the night.

Still, I do not know whether to laugh or to cry. A judge who has never tried a case, but who has searched extensively for ghosts. Is a law degree necessary anymore? Is Jethro Bodine available? After all, Jethro “done gradee-ated” from 6th grade and moved to Beverly Hills with his Uncle Jed Clampett.

In criminal law, a suspect has the right to request a lawyer. Everyone who watches any of the CSI shows would know that. But, what happens when the request for lawyer is not clear? In Demesme v. State of Louisiana, the suspect was being interrogated. At some point, he said, “. . . so why don’t you just give me a lawyer dog?” Or, did he say, ” . . . so why don’t you just give me a lawyer, dawg?” The Louisiana Supreme Court was confused. It found the request was ambiguous.

Mr. Demesme said, “If y’all, this is how I feel, if y’all think I did it, I know that I didn’t do it so why don’t you just give me a lawyer dog cause this is not what’s up.” The defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence acquired after he made his request for a lawyer. He argued that any evidence obtained pursuant to this interrogation should not be used at trial. The Louisiana Supreme Court found that the defendant’s motion to suppress should be denied. The court explained that referring to a “lawyer dog” is not an unequivocal request for a lawyer. See ABA Bar Journal report.

Of course, the problem with that reasoning is that whether he said “give me a lawyer, dawg,” or he said “give me a lawyer dog,” he is still asking for a lawyer.

The thing about Bowe Bergdahl is why was he even in the Army in the first place? It is near suicide to walk off a FOB with no weapon and no protective gear. Yet, that is exactly what he did before he was captured by the Taliban. He had washed out of Coast Guard basic training after only three weeks. Coast Guard training is not as easy as some think it is, or so says Task & Purpose. But, being rejected from any of the services’ basic training suggests he was not ready for the Army and deployment. The Coast Guard psychiatrist who saw him recommended that he be evaluated first before any of the military services choose to accept him. That ought to have served as a major red flag. The Coast Guard diagnosed him with “adjustment disorder with depression.” In layman’s language, that means he did not adjust well to changing circumstances. Nothing changes more often or more quickly than a war zone.

He had an episode in the Coast Guard basic training in which he simply broke down. In the middle of the night, it appeared that he had gone into the latrine and smashed his face into the mirror. There was a lot of blood. When the trainees found  him, he was balled up and crying.

In 2008, the Army was struggling to meet its annual quota of recruits. They waived many entry requirements. According to Task & Purpose, the Army granted waivers to 20% of the new recruits that year. That was way above the normal 4-5%. Waivers are typically given for everything from convictions to excessive weight to psychological issues. See Task & Purpose report. Some of the waiver recruits actually do very well. But, studies have shown that many of the recruits who enter with a waiver are later problem soldiers. Certainly, Bowe Bergdahl was.

And, now it turns out the judge gave SGT Bergdahl no time in prison for his offense, apparently viewing his 5 years as a POW prison enough. He will lose his stripes, which is a big deal to most NCO’s. He will have to pay $10,000 out of his pay. See CBS News report. I know he did not intend anyone to get hurt looking for him. With his mental state, perhaps he did not realize soldiers would be looking for him. But, sure, for months no one knew what happened to him. Of course, they would move mountains to find him. Shame on him for bringing that on all the soldiers in his area of operations. I do not know what to think. He certainly suffered as a POW. But, he caused a great deal of suffering for his fellow soldiers.

 

There are reasons why Presidents never comment on pending criminal prosecutions. Anything they say will be amplified across the country and could undermine the prosecution. But, precedent never hinders Pres. Trump. Two days after the attack in New York City, Pres. Trump called for the attacker to be given the death penalty. He called for “strong” justice. Certainly, if anyone deserves “strong” justice, it is Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov. He killed eight people with a rental truck. But, in making those comments, Pres. Trump actually makes it more difficult to achieve those aims. Defense lawyers will not hesitate to ask for a change in venue if the local jury pool is tainted. But, since the publicity about the attacker and the President’s comments are national, there may not be a jury pool that is not tainted.

As one former federal prosecutor said, “Mr. President, your tweet takes it harder for DOJ to impose the death penalty, not easier.” See CNN news report.

But, this is what happens when you have a President who is anxious to change the topic of the news day.

The judge in SGT Bowe Bergdahl’s case will not limit or dismiss the court-martial because of Pres. Trump’s comments about the young sergeant. The judge found Trump’s comments, while inappropriate, would not affect Col. Nance. Col. Nance is the judge. He can judge whether the comments about Bergdahl will affect him. But, he is also implicitly saying he does not believe denial of the motion will provide basis for an appeal for SGT Bergdahl. See Task & Purpose report.

As I mentioned here and here, Pres. Trump has loudly condemned Bergdahl. SGT Bergdahl’s lawyer has claimed those remarks constitute unlawful command influence. COL. nance is set to retire in 2018 and is not eligible for promotion. Yes, that would make him unlikely to be influenced by what the President says or by what others might think of the President’s comments.

Of course, it should not be necessary to say that Pres. Trump and Candidate Trump should not make comments like that. There is no reason to create possible issues for an appeal.

Bowe Bergdahl was supposed to be sentenced on Oct. 23. But, instead, his lawyer renewed a motion he had filed before. Eugene Fidell re-argued a motion alleging there has been unlawful command influence (UCI). Pres. Trump talked about SGT Bergdahl last week, saying he cannot say anything, but he said things earlier. The President, in effect, affirmed his prior comments about that “traitor,” Bergdahl. The judge, Col. Nance, was not impressed by the prosecutor’s argument that Pres. Trump was simply responding to the reporter’s question. He had a “hard time” with that explanation.

So, Col. Nance postponed the hearing for a couple of days, so he can review cases about UCI. The challenge is this UCI is unprecedented. Never before has a president gone after one particular soldier. Pres. Nixon once referred to the My Lai massacre as a “travesty,” But, he did not focus on one specific soldier. Pres. Trump brought up SGT Bergdahl often during his campaign, referring to him as “dirty rotten traitor,” “horrible traitor,” “dirty no-good traitor,” and more. In the military, the President is always spoken of as the top person in the chain of command. Yet, in some ways, the President is removed from the military. So, the judge is being careful with this issue. As he should.

See San Antonio Express News report.

Bowe Bergdahl is expected to plea guilty to a charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. SGT Bergdahl’s lawyer has refused comment. But, a former U.S. Air Force JAG officer explained that pleading guilty makes sense. The evidence against the former Taliban POW is rather clear, he said. See San Antonio Express News report. I previously wrote about SGT Bergdahl here and here.

Many veterans think SGT Bergdahl is a plain coward and that he deserted. But, I think most of us just think what he did was strange and stupid. I have heard stories about other service members doing things that were just odd. One soldier, I was told, tried to walk off the FOB in Kirkuk in civilian clothes with no weapon. He apparently just lost his senses. Serving in a war zone is incredibly stressful. People react differently.

We all suffer from some biases. That is part of human nature. There is, these days much discussion about the Confederate statues and what they represent. Here in San Antonio, we have one Confederate monument in Travis Park. County Commissioner Tommy Calvert, a fine person, insisted last week that that statue represents racism. He stressed that the Secession Declaration from 1861 mentions slavery as the motive for Texas’ secession. He did not explain how the how the secession declaration is related to the Travis Park Monument. In reality, the connection is tenuous.

The statue depicts one Confederate soldier with his finger pointed skyward and his rifle at rest. The statue does not represent Gen. Lee or any of the Southern leaders. It represents the average Confederate soldier. In today’s Army, we refer to the lowest soldier as Joe Snuffy or Private Snuffy. Pvt. Snuffy gives no one orders. He has to take orders from everyone. Pvt. Snuffy is the average soldier. Joe Snuffy is the soldier who stepped up when his state and what he believed to be his country called. We may disagree today with Pvt. Snuffy’s choice, but we cannot disagree about the sincerity of his beliefs.

Commissioner Calvert and others insist that the soldier in Travis Park represents racism and Jim Crow laws. I cannot say, and I think no historian can state categorically what all motives lead to the erection of that monument. But, if we look closely, the statue does not represent the things it has been accused of.

The statue was designed by Virginia Montgomery. We know from newspaper articles of the time period that Virginia was the daughter of Julia Montgomery, a former member of the Daughters of the Confederacy here in San Antonio. The statue’s critics have assumed that because of the connection to the Daughters of the Confederacy, there must become hate-filled motive behind the erection of that statue. But, beware of assumptions. Every discrimination lawsuit is based on someone’s false assumption.

Virginia Montgomery was an artist living in New Orleans. How did her mother end up in San Antonio? Mrs. Julia Montgomery was simply trying to make ends meet. Her husband was John Alfonso Montgomery, a captain in the Confederate army. He enlisted in April, 1862. He enlisted a year after the big rush to join. The more patriotic Southerners tended to join in April-May, 1861, when the war first started. Joining in May, 1862 suggests Capt. Montgomery was not among the more patriotic or devout Southerners. Two years later, he was dropped from the rolls of active soldiers in June, 1864, indicating he was probably wounded and could no longer perform his duty.

Capt. Montgomery was a Quartermaster for the 32nd Alabama Infantry regiment. Prior to the war, he was a “cotton merchant” in Mobile, Alabama. “Cotton merchant” is a generic term that probably means he was a cotton broker. Cotton brokers accepted crops of cotton from a planter or farmer and then took the risk of selling it to overseas or New York markets. Cotton brokers generally lived well. They were solidly in the middle class. It was an occupation, for example, that was generally not open to the Irish and German immigrants of the time. So, John Montgomery was doing well. That was good, because he and his wife, Julia, had seven children. The youngest child was Blocker Montgomery, born 1861-62. Blocker was Julia’s maiden name.

It was said that John came back from the war “broken in body and fortune.” He returned to Mobile after the war. The family suffered. John was listed with no occupation in the 1870 census. That means he was not working. In the 1871 Mobile City Directory, his occupation is simply listed as “merchant.” A description that means nothing for that time period. It is equivalent to describing someone in 2017 as a “businessman.”

A year later, John is a policeman. A year later, he has no occupation. The next year, he is listed as a “cigar dealer.” The next year, he is a clerk. At the age of 50 years old, he is employed as a clerk. The next year, he is not listed in the Mobile City Directory, at all. Like many returning veterans, he could not hold a job. Even worse, every year, the address for the family of nine persons changed. Capt. Montgomery could not even hold onto the family home.

In 1873, Mrs. Julia Montgomery appears in the New Orleans City Directory. That appearance suggests she left Mobile looking for work as a teacher.

The next year, 1877, John, the former captain does not appear. Instead, his son, John A. Montgomery, Jr. is listed. That likely means John, Sr. died or moved away. Since we know Julia will later be described as a widow, it is likely he passed away. And, now surprisingly, his son, 25 years old, is the head of the household. Normally, the widow would be listed as the head of the home and she would be described as the widow. But, Julia does not appear in the 1877 Mobile City Directory. We can only surmise that she was living elsewhere, perhaps in New Orleans trying to earn a few dollars.

Julia was surely in San Antonio by 1899 because in that year she is described in San Antonio papers as a member of the Daughters of the Confederacy here in San Antonio. She is described as someone who lived in San Antonio for many years. That sort of movement means she was moving for work. Year later, she will be described as an educator for some 50 years. It is likely, she was moving to San Antonio or New Orleans or both for work.

And, where was Virginia during this time? Virginia appears in the 1880 census living with her sister Faith. Faith Montgomery married a farmer, David Dunlap, in upstate Alabama. They were not wealthy. They listed a net worth of $350 in 1880, which was normal for a working class family.

By 1878, John A. Montgomery disappears from Mobile records. Apparently, he too passed away. The whole family was scattering to the four winds.

By 1887, Virginia is living in new Orleans on her own. Shock. Take a breath. It was very unusual for a single woman to live on her own, not with family. We know she was alone, because other family members who were working would have been listed in the City Directory for the same address. But, no other Montgomery’s appear.

Virginia was listed as an artist. This was a time when female artists were very unusual. When she designed the Travis Park monument in 1899, she was described as the first woman to ever design a monument. That could very well be true. In 1899, Virginia designed the Confederate monument for free. So, she was still in touch with her mother in San Antonio.

Julia attained some notoriety. She died in 1922. Her lengthy obituary explained she was very active in clubs, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Daughters of the Confederacy, the Woman’s Club and others. She was one of the leaders of the suffragette movement in New Orleans. She voted for the first time in her life just two years before – in the 1920 presidential election. She was said to be the oldest voting woman in New Orleans the 1920 election. When she passed away, her age was given as 99. The 1870 census indicates she was born in 1830.  Regardless, her age was advanced, but he was still very active up to her death.

Virginia acquired some local fame as an artist. In 1930, she wrote a lengthy article for the New Orleans Times Picayune about “Bachelor Girl, A World Leader.” In the article, she explains that a single woman is not “unnatural” and that she can be a “world leader.” Virginia never married. But, she lead a full life. In one year, she is mentioned teaching Bible Study to students in Lower Algiers, a working class neighborhood across the river from New Orleans. In another lengthy Times Picayune article, her artistic approach is described. She favors, she said, three watercolors about “Negroes.” Doubtless, Virginia shocked readers again by suggesting African-Americans were appropriate subjects for serious art.

Julia passed away while living with Virginia. The home was and still is located at 7924 South Claiborne. It is a humble home. Nearby is a small park known as Palmer Park. The DAR planted a tree there in honor of Julia.

It is said in a 1911 San Antonio Light article that Julia came up with the concept for the Travis Park monument. That likely means she suggested that it represent a typical soldier, not a general. If Julia developed the concept and Virginia designed it, they are not what we expected from the Daughters of the Confederacy. I think most of us would expect the Daughters to be more like Gone with the Wind if we were to meet them. Perhaps, Commissioner Calvert and Councilperson Trevino expected the same.

The two Montgomery ladies were not Gone with The Wind. Julia struggled, having to move from city to city to work. She had to leave her family to make things work. Her children were scattered or dead. Yet, through all that, she maintained her love and affection for her veteran husband. Capt. Montgomery was a failure by some standards. But, to those who knew him best, he was apparently much more. To his family, he was Pvt. Snuffy of the CSA.