10 Questions: This comedian and Oregon lawyer stands up against sexual harassment
I’m sure it didn’t hurt that you had a good case. In fact, you’re well-known for providing an incredible level of detail in your initial pleadings. Tell me about your process.
I have never subscribed to the theory that a complaint is just a “sneak peek.” My complaints are like a movie script. They’re 3D. Even though I trust my clients I don’t just take their word for it. We talk to witnesses, gather documents and reconstruct the timeline. I don’t tone down offensive facts.
It takes us months to prepare the case before filing as if it’s ready for trial. I typically first send the employer the draft complaint, exhibits, witness statements and a cover letter, which I call a “love package,” inviting them to attend prelitigation mediation. Majority of my clients settle their cases without the stress of litigation. But if the other side is unreasonable, then hell hath no fury like a woman harassed.
Earlier you said you used humor to empower your clients. How so?
For me, it’s not just about winning money; it’s also about shielding my clients from the horrifying things defense lawyers do to break their spirits. I spend hours and hours making them laugh at the other side. I write them funny poetry about their case and what their harasser’s fate may look like after the verdict. They feel so valued that to this day former clients reach out to me just to say they miss me.
Some have even said, “Because of you, I went back to college or started my own business.” Others have become lawyers. That makes me feel good.
In 2002, you decided to move from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon. Did you have to change your practice to adapt to a smaller legal community?
No, perverts are perverts everywhere you go.
In addition to keynote and motivational speaking you also give presentations to corporate boards. What do you talk about?
Most of them think they understand sexual harassment and retaliation, so they tend to tune out speakers at HR seminars and play Angry Birds instead. My style entertains them enough to look up from their smartphones to learn something. I teach them how to keep their employees happy and productive while keeping me far away from their companies. I also teach executives how to keep it in their pants, which is no easy task.
Have you noticed any improvements in sexual harassment because of the Me Too movement?
Not yet! I’ve only seen more self-promotion and chest pounding on TV by some famous women who don’t deserve the spotlight. If you were a victim but said nothing just to save your career, you are not a hero of the movement. The true heroes are the women who stood up when it was happening and risked their dreams, many of whom were crushed, blackballed and now live in oblivion. We all stand tall on their shoulders and we owe them a great deal of gratitude, more than just a cropped elbow on the cover of the Time magazine.
My former clients are would-be actresses no one knows about because they spoke up. Their names, faces and unrealized dreams still haunt me. Money is entirely inadequate compensation for never being able to pursue your true passion. It can be a cruel and lonely world, so I use humor to help my clients deal with it. We are taught not to get too close to our clients because we can lose our objectivity, but we lose our humanity and sense of justice when we keep our distance.
The finest lawyers feel for their clients, and that passion helps them succeed. That passion is also what will help us stamp out discrimination and sexual harassment for good, at which time I would have to get a real job.
This article was published in the September 2018 ABA Journal magazine with the title "Funny Business: This stand-up comedian and Oregon lawyer stands up against sexual harassment."