Category Archives: Maurer School of Law

The Pencil Today:


“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” — Robert Frost


The first student from the Maurer School of Law came into the Book Corner with a flyer at about noon.

I looked at the photo of the missing woman and wondered why people would be worried. The flyer indicated she’d been missing for only a few short hours.

Missing At Noon

Another Maurer student came in with flyers at about 4:00pm. I told her someone had been in already. Then I asked her, “What’s the deal here? This woman has only been gone since this morning. How can you call her missing? Hell, I’ve been out of the house since this morning and I’m not missing.”

The student had the lawyer’s poker face down already. She mumbled a few things that I didn’t quite catch and then she shifted gears. The woman, she said, now speaking clearly, was the wife of a well-liked professor.

“Come on, now,” I pressed. “What’s going on?”

The student took a few steps back, toward the door. “It’s really…,” she started. “I can’t….”

I filled in the blanks. “Is it a medical issue?”

She seemed relieved, as if by guessing correctly, I’d taken her off the hook. “I’m sure you understand,” she said, “there are privacy issues here.”

“Hmm,” I said.

I’d left the flyer the first student had brought in on a book cart. In the hours since she’d come in, that flyer’d been buried and reburied by dozens of books.

By 6:00, when I was locking the door and The Loved One was waiting for me with her flashers on outside of Williams Jewelry, I’d forgotten the flyer completely.

We drove home in silence. It’d been a tiring day for both of us. The Loved One turned right off 3rd Street onto SR 446. The sign at the Bruster’s still advised ice cream junkies to visit its downtown location during the winter, but I had my window cracked. It’s been a weird January.

Then we saw the flashing lights. Dozens of the them. Black and white squad cars, fire trucks, ambulances, unmarked police cruisers, they all formed a clot around the entrance to the new housing development that used to be a horse pasture.

The street has been laid, the utility vaults installed, and safety capped power cables poke out of the ground like plastic crocuses, but not one house has been built yet. None has even been started. Some recovery.

“Uh oh,” The Loved One said, “looks like a bad accident.”

Emergency vehicles were parked well into the new road. Some police cars were parked on the fresh sod.

“Well, what are they doing inside the development?” I said.

Then it hit me.

“Aw shit,” I said. “What if it’s that woman?”

“What woman?” The Loved One asked.

As we drove slowly past the scene, I told her about the students and their flyers. “We’ll find out soon enough,” The Loved One said, her voice indicating I shouldn’t let my imagination get the better of me.

“Well, I’m gonna go there and find out,” I said.

“You do that,” she said.

She pulled into our driveway and I jumped out of the car, grabbing the flashlight from the glovebox. The scene was no more than a couple of hundred yards away from our back porch, just over a rise that obscured the flashing lights until I hit its crest.

I saw a group of firefighters milling around an ambulance. Firefighters, I’d learned long ago in Chicago, usually are good sources of initial information at an emergency scene. They’re not as tight-lipped as the cops, as a rule.

“Pardon me, guys. What happened? Was there an accident?” I asked.

They all looked at each other. Finally, one guy spoke up. “No,” he said.

We stared at each other and simultaneously shifted on our feet. I tried again. “Okay. What happened?”

Another uncomfortable silence. After a long moment, the guy responded. “Somebody,” he said, “was injured.”

His pals all averted their eyes.

I knew I wasn’t going to get anything more out of them.

So I loitered a bit. A heavy duty tow truck came by and positioned itself to pull one of the squad cars out of a ditch. Judging by the ruts in the sod, it looked as though the driver had zoomed off 446 and gotten stuck. Maybe, I thought, it was a chase. Maybe another bank robbery. Maybe there was even gunfire.

Suddenly, I was nine years old again. I thought: Jeez, I’m a grown man and here I am getting excited over a police gunfight. I scolded myself: People get hurt in gunfights, my internal voice said. They even get killed.

The tow truck slowly began to tug the squad car out of the ditch, the driver hoping, I supposed, not to rip apart its undercarriage in the process.

A couple of cops ambled over to their cruiser. Things seemed to be winding down. I ran over to them before they could get in.

“Hi,” I said. “I’m a neighbor. Anything we should be worried about here?”

“No,” one of the cops said. Again, there was an uncomfortable silence.

“Well, what happened?”

He looked at his partner. His partner shrugged. The cop looked back at me. “They found somebody down by the creek.”

“Oh, that’s too bad,” I said. And it hit me again. “Aw man,” I said, “was it that missing woman?”

The cop nodded.

“Is she gonna be alright?”

He stared at me, meaningfully. I caught on.

“Is she dead?”

“I’ll let you come to your own conclusion about that,” he said.

And then the two cops drove off.

I thought about those students as I walked back home. I thought about the professor, too. The woman’s husband. Right now, I thought, there’s a person in this town who’s likely suffering through the worst moment of his life.

I didn’t feel so tired anymore. And I remembered that flyer. I never did put it up.

The Pencil Today:


My idol, Mike Royko: “It has been my policy to view the Internet not as an ‘information highway,’ but as an electronic asylum filled with babbling loonies.”



At long last, I can throw my enthusiastic support behind the Occupy Movement.

I’ve been fairly tepid in my backing of the three-month-old grass-roots protest. Staging a Boy Scout Jamboree in People’s Park won’t do the job when the corporate and legislative forces of the mightiest nation in the history of the Earth are aligned against you.

Occupy Bloomington

Yesterday, things changed.

Women’s defense courses teach a few tricks when a person faces a much stronger foe. A man may menace a woman, towering over her, possessing twice her brawn, but if she carefully aims a knee or a toe at those little ovoid organs dangling between his thighs, the contest will suddenly — seemingly magically —  be evened.

Occupiers aimed a swift kick at the balls Monday. Protesters tried to shut down ports in Oakland, Los Angeles, Seattle, Houston, and Portland with varying degrees of success. Others tried to interfere with operations at Walmart distribution centers in Salt Lake City and Denver.

“The Man” isn’t writhing on the ground just yet. He may never. But yesterday was a nice start.

Occupy Protesters Block The Port Of Oakland


So, having spent Sunday night writing up my Top Ten Local Political Stories in 2011 article for the Ryder magazine, I felt awfully smug and snarky.

I chided both parties, wondered when there’d be a funeral for the local Republican party, gave a justifiable raspberry to the entire Indiana General Assembly, guessed that a certain elected official had nightmares about wearing a county correctional center jumpsuit, and repeated unflattering speculation about how an unsuccessful mayoral candidate raised his hefty war chest this past spring.

Heading Out To Pasture

In fact, I fairly bullied that candidate, a harmless fellow named John Hamilton. His wife, it so happens, is a fairly well-known former Washington appointee, Dawn Johnsen.

Johnsen, you may recall, served under Bill Clinton in the Office of Legal Counsel. When Barack Obama took office, he nominated her to be the head of that office. The Republicans dug into her past and discovered that she’d once or twice uttered a sentence about abortion that didn’t conclude with her demanding that women who’d had one ought to be horsewhipped.

Naturally, GOP Senators tripped all over themselves trying to paint her as something akin to a blood-soaked abortionist herself. They held up her appointment in 2009, then adjourned. Obama renominated her in 2010 and, yup, the Republicans held it up again. Finally, after months of sitting around and waiting, Johnsen stuck her tongue out at the whole of Washington, withdrew her name from consideration, and came back home to Bloomington.

She seems happy enough teaching constitutional law here at Indiana University.

Johnsen At Her Nomination Hearing

Hamilton, on the other hand, has led a less headline-worthy life. Were it not for his fortuitous taste in brides, I implied, he might not be given a second thought as a mayoral candidate.

I echoed the oft-repeated whisper that his campaign contribution pot of gold might have been the result of Maurer School of Law faculty members feeling compelled to write generous checks to him as a way of currying favor with their esteemed colleague, his wife.

I even referred to him as Mr. Dawn Johnsen.

It was 21st Century journalism at its finest. I proved myself to be witty, bold, sassy, and ready at the drop of a hat to point and gawk at people in power and those who want to be. And hidden somewhere among all that brilliant verbiage might even have been an atom of truth.

Okay, maybe an electron.

Hell, Bloomington’s a small town, really, and everybody knows everybody else’s gossip. Especially politicians and IU faculty members.

Hamilton might even be the next Congressman from the great state o’Indiana’s 9th District. That’s part of the gossip, too — that his mayoral tilt was really a test run for a bigger prize.

Hamilton’s Real Goal?

One of the hazards of being a professional smart-ass is the fear that one day one of my subjects might walk up and jab me one in the nose. Worry not, though. I figure that John Hamilton is too much of a refined gentleman to flatten my snout. Plus, it’d look bad for a guy trying to run for Congress having to explain why he assaulted and battered a beloved blogger.

Everybody’s happy, right?

I thought so until yesterday afternoon. I was blissfully peddling tomes at the Book Corner at about 2:30 when who walks in but Dawn Johnson herself.

My body froze but my mind raced. Oh sweet Jesus! She’s here to tear my head off. Oh holy god, here she comes!

But Johnsen strode past me. I exhaled. What am I worried about? She’s a big time lawyer. She’s too smart to bloody up some knuckleheaded snark-meister.

Probably Some Journalist

She headed for the back of the store where Margaret, the boss, holds forth.

Oh no. No, no. She’s gonna demand that I be fired. I love this job. I get to hang out among books and readers and meet everybody in town. I even get paid a couple of pennies a week to do it. Oh, what an idiot I am! Why do I have to be such a smart-ass?

I watched as Johnsen conferred earnestly with Margaret. They took an awfully long time, talking about my future. Jeez, I thought, let’s get it over with.

I figured, All you gotta do is tell Margaret that nobody in town’ll ever shop in her store again as long as she keeps that no-good, insulting, smart-aleck, so-called journalist in her employ.

But then I shook my head clear. What the hell am I thinking? The piece hasn’t run yet for pity’s sake! I haven’t turned it in. I haven’t even finished it!

Hahahaha! What a dope I am. I felt like dancing among the stacks.

Johnsen came up to the checkout counter and placed a kid’s book down. “Everything alright?” I asked, my voice cracking the tiniest bit.

Oh sure, she said. She added that she’d ordered another children’s book from Margaret. That’s what had taken so long.

I snorted. Johnsen looked at me, puzzled.

I couldn’t stop myself. “I gotta tell ya…,” I began. I told her the whole story of my little panic attack moments before. Well, not exactly the whole story; I left out the Mr. Dawn Johnsen part.

“And, I swear to god, I thought you were gonna clunk me on the head,” I concluded.

Johnsen laughed. “Oh,” she said, “I’d never do that!”

I handed her the kid’s book in a bag. “Thanks a lot,” I said. “You’re a great sport.”

“I can’t wait to read your piece,” she said. And then she was gone.

I smiled as she went out the door. I watched her walk down Walnut Street, the smile still plastered on my face. For at that moment it occurred to me: Dawn Johnsen and her husband, John Hamilton, are going to read my story.

Sure, she’d never clunk me on the head. But is John Hamilton really all that harmless?

Yeesh. The things you have to worry about when you’re a crusading, smart-assed blogger and so-called journalist.

Does He Pack A Punch?

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