BASICS: "Hummingbirds.....where is the person, I ask, who, on observing this glittering fragment of the rainbow, would not pause, admire, and turn his mind with reverence..." (J. J. Audubon).
This is a blog about my summer life at the Baiting Hollow Hummingbird Sanctuary, at my winter garden, Calypso, in the Bahamas, and aspects of life in general.
This private sanctuary is now permanently closed to the general public, as a result of a lawsuit brought by a neighbor. Only my friends and personal guests may visit (

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Reggie retiring; I will represent myself

I mentioned in my last post that there had been another important development in the lawsuit against me, which seeks to close down the sanctuary, and also $3 million in damages. Shortly before I left Eleuthera, my lawyer Regina Seltzer informed me that she would be retiring and would not be able to represent me beyond the may 27 Preliminary Conference, although she would continue to offer legal advice and assistance. I have delayed announcing this because I wanted to fully reflect on the implications. Reggie has performed wonderful work for me (and so many others in the past) and it has been a pleasure and honor to get to know her. She prepared an initial formal Answer to this ridiculous suit, laying out grounds for an effective defense. She has guided me through the subsequent process, including the abortive "PC" and the paperwork required to notify the change in representation. I have decided, after careful reflection, some soul searching, and consulting other lawyers, to represent myself,  acting "pro se" as the jargon goes. A ton more jargon and paperwork ahead, and additional stress, and in many ways a complete waste of time and energy that could be poured instead into science and teaching.

But while I still have important science left in me, I have to recognize that my best work there is probably behind me, and that I should rise to the presented occasion. I have an opportunity now to contribute to society in a different way: to throw some light on a sometimes rather sleazy area of public life from which so far I've been mercifully insulated: the law and its practitioners, local government, the press etc etc, and of course to fight for a small chip of natural beauty literally in my own backyard. Of course not all lawyers and politicians are bad apples, and I look forward to meeting the better ones. For a penetrating analysis of rot at even the loftiest levels of the legal system, see Linda Greenhouse's excellent article about the Supreme Court in today's NY Times (

I feel I understand the main points of law involved, and am capable of grasping most of the rather arcane procedures involved. Hopefully I will discover that these laws and procedures have evolved based on a core of fairness and efficiency, and not just to line lawyers' pockets, as it at first seems.

The lawsuit revolves around a petty dispute between a handful of neighbors, but it also raises important issues about the legality of backyard birding (one of America's most popular outdoor activities), and I hope that it will throw some light on needed changes in the way New York handles pro-se defendants and court procedures generally. In some ways scientists and lawyers do the same thing: they are highly trained professionals who deal in evidence and logical analysis and argument. Facts and theories about them. Of course their criteria are somewhat different: truth versus money; understanding versus power; generality versus particularity. However, each profession can perhaps learn something from the other.

Reggie was initially enthusiastic about my representing myself, but changed her mind after Tohill's (= plaintiffs' lawyer)  behavior at the PC. She fears I am a lamb going to the slaughter. Perhaps, but the slaughter is likely going to be prolonged, public and revelatory. But possibly even at this late hour the plaintiffs will agree to a direct negotiation to attempt to resolve our dispute, with compromise on both sides.

The picture is from last year, by Jeevenan Gopikrishna, and shows the willowy bloom of bog sage, Salvia uliginosa (I'm planting lots of these right at this moment).


  1. I represented myself once in a legal case and I actually found that the judge was favorably impressed with my ability to argue on my own behalf against a very large law firm in Manhattan of all things ... and I won!! I hope you will too ... I think lawyers in general don't put much passion into their work ... they can argue either side of the case and this communicates itself to mediators/juries/judges ...

  2. Emily - thanks for your encouragement. Perhaps one cannot really generalize about lawyers, and I know some really nice ones (for example, Reggie Seltzer). What I question are aspects of the system itself, which tend to get exploited by the bad apples. One simple example - how "costs' are awarded in the USA versus the UK (which otherwise have very similar legal systems). In the UK, if A brings a suit against B and the suit fails, typically B's legal costs must be paid by A. This tends to discourage litigiousness: if one's suit fails, not only does one have to pay one's own legal costs, but also those of the defendant. One thinks twice before launching a lawsuit. But in the US each side ˙as bear its own costs. (The only exception is when the lawsuit was completely frivolous and intended to harass). Of course this
    encourages litigiousness, but it also lines lawyers' pockets.