Thursday, April 07, 2011

Akin Gump: The Mock Execution

I worked as a paralegal at the law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld from March 1988 to October 1991.

As of April 1990 an individual named J.D. Neary was employed at the firm in the capacity of legal assistant coordinator. The legal assistant administrator at that time was an individual named Maggie Sinnott. The legal assistant administrative staff reported to a partner named Earl L. Segal, Esq. Earl Segal reported to a senior management committee member named Malcolm Lassman. Malcolm Lassman reported to the firm's management committee on matters concerning paralegals.

In April 1990 I formed a mental picture of an event about which I had no knowledge. Based on my reading of words and phrases used by employees as well as their affective states, I formed a mental image of the following:

I believe that at some point in about mid-April 1990 J.D. Neary was summoned to the office of a law firm manager. He was told that his employment was being terminated. The transaction was a charade, a mock execution, if you will. I had the belief that firm management wanted to gauge J.D. Neary's reaction. I formed the belief that J.D. Neary went berserk. He totally freaked out!

I found it interesting that when I met with Dennis M. Race and Malcolm Lassman in Mr. Race's office on October 24, 1991 to report incidents of harassment, Malcolm Lassman asked me: "Are you afraid of getting fired?" I thought that was an odd question.

When I was advised by Dennis Race on October 29, 1991 that my employment was being terminated I remained surreally calm and rational. I said nothing. I barely reacted at all. The firm's managers must have compared my reaction to that of J.D. Neary in April 1990; they must have arrived at certain conclusions.

A historical review of contemporaneous events may be useful in putting the above reconstruction in perspective.

1.  It was in about April 1990 that the firm ceased its representation of Eastern Airlines.  I suppose the firm had to contend with the personnel implications of the loss of a major client.  I had been transferred from the legal assistant program to the litigation support group under Chris Robertson about a month earlier, in March 1990.  The firm's loss of Eastern would not have affected my employment.

2.  In mid-April 1990 I sent a letter to the Anti-Defamation League describing what I believed to be anti-Semitic harassment that I was experiencing at the firm.  I did not reveal to the ADL the identity of my employer out of fear the ADL would contact Akin Gump.  I formed the paranoid impression that Akin Gump senior management knew about the letter.  In my paranoid reconstruction, a member of management (probably Malcolm Lassman) had already contacted the ADL about my employment problems to inquire into the possibility that I was a victim of anti-Semitism.  When the ADL received the letter, it recognized my name and contacted Akin Gump about its receipt of the letter, or so I believe.

As part of my document submission to the U.S. Social Security Administration (June 1993), in support of my initial claim for benefits I filed in April 1993, I included a document (a fax to my sister written in 1992) that contained the following observations:

"On Thursday afternoon April 5, 1990, after business hours, I prepared a brief 'creative' piece on the firm’s computer network about a man’s travels in Albania. The next morning there was a bit of carrying on, near my desk by a few employees. The employees were engaged in what appeared to be a kind of histrionic display of their knowledge of a certain scientific subject. I interpreted their behavior as acting out in response to my 'creative' piece -- that they were signaling me symbolically that they thought my piece was overcompensation, that the piece was evidence of my 'showing off' (the piece contained a technical reference to the phenomenon of sympathetic vibration).

That morning I saw Barbara Rufener, Dennis Race’s secretary. She usually didn’t register any reaction when she saw me; this morning she smiled at me. I wondered if Dennis Race was in the office that day; and even if he were his secretary’s expression could have meant anything or nothing.) If Barbara Rufener was expressing Mr. Race’s reaction by proxy, then this incident provides a parallel with the anecdote in paragraph 10 on the issue of the polar opposite reactions to me my co-workers and management."

The document I sent to SSA contained the following additional observations about the firm's senior management's reaction to the letter I had sent to the Anti-Defamation League:

"During this period, following April 16, 1990, probably during that very week, an unusual incident occurred while I was riding on an elevator. The elevator stopped on about the fourth floor (the floor on which the respective offices of Dennis Race and Malcolm Lassman are located). Malcolm Lassman and Dennis Race appeared to be awaiting for an elevator, but saw me and didn’t get on. I don’t know whether they didn’t get on because they saw me, but they both seemed to have a strong, favorable reaction to me. Mr. Race smiled at me broadly, only slowly turning away his gaze; Mr. Lassman smiled while simultaneously ogling my organ, then turned away quickly, as though trying to conceal a secret and deeply-felt satisfaction. (If I were to attach words to Mr. Lassman’s expression, they would be, 'You smart ass, you are clever.') (Were Dennis Race and Malcolm Lassman reacting to my letter to the Anti-Defamation League or to my reference to Dennis Race in my session with Dr. Palombo on Friday April 13, 1991 -- or both -- or neither? I can’t say. But they seemed to be reacting to something more than my mere presence on an elevator). (Can it be that the negative reactions of my coworkers during that period were not related to the favorable reactions of Mr. Race and Mr. Lassman? And, assuming some relation between these polar opposite reactions, do they not encapsulate my difficulties at Akin Gump in their entirety? Compare paragraph 8)."

4.  I formed the paranoid belief that on April 16, 1990 the firm arranged to have J.D. Neary visit my treating psychiatrist, Stanley R. Palombo, M.D.  I saw Dr. Palombo in weekly psychotherapy from late January 1990 to early December 1990.  J.D. Neary's consultation with Dr. Palombo was surreptitious.  I was never told about the consult; I suspect that the firm believed it could keep the visit a secret from me.

It's interesting that in one of my dream interpretations, an interpretation of a dream I titled "The Dream of Milton's Successor," I describe a mock execution.

The pertinent portion of the text of the dream interpretation reads as follows:

Biographical facts about Dostoevsky, not contained in Freud's essay, parallel the manifest dream image of the "discussion group," that is, Dr. Mack's "inventory."

"In 1847 Dostoevsky began to participate in the Petrashevsky Circle, a group of intellectuals who discussed Utopian socialism. He eventually joined a related, secret group devoted to revolution and illegal propaganda. It appears that Dostoevsky did not sympathize (as others did) with egalitarian communism and terrorism but was motivated by his strong disapproval of serfdom. On April 23, 1849, he and the other members of the Petrashevsky Circle were arrested. Dostoevsky spent eight months in prison until, on December 22, the prisoners were led without warning to the Semyonovsky Square. There a sentence of death by firing squad was pronounced, last rites were offered, and three prisoners were led out to be shot first. At the last possible moment, the guns were lowered and a messenger arrived with the information that the tsar had deigned to spare their lives. The mock execution ceremony was in fact part of the punishment.

Dostoevsky passed several minutes in the full conviction that he was about to die, and in his novels characters repeatedly imagine the state of mind of a man approaching execution. The hero of The Idiot, Prince Myshkin, offers several extended descriptions of this sort, which readers knew carried special authority because the author of the novel had gone through the terrible experience." Encyclopaedia Britannica.

For Dostoevsky participation in a secret discussion group led ultimately to near death, terror and humiliation--an outcome that is the polar opposite of, and therefore possibly related to, the idealized affects that surround Dr. Mack in the manifest dream.

(It is interesting that at my job termination by the law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, and Feld in October 1991 I had the following thoughts throughout the termination meeting: "This has to be a joke. At some point they are going to say, 'This is a test. This is only a test. If this had been an actual termination, we would have come up with better reasons for firing you than we did. We just wanted to see how you would react under severe pressure. We are doing this as a prelude to offering you a promotion.'" And again, before the Court of Appeals, in October 1994, when Judge Terry told me that the Court lacked jurisdiction to hear my appeal, my initial thought was: "He can't possibly be serious.")

But there is more. The mock execution to which Dostoyevsky was subjected bears a notable parallel to an aspect of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, at the close of World War II. The following facts about the bombing were detailed in a newspaper account published in The New York Times on August 9, 1995--the fiftieth anniversary of the bombing; these specific facts had an uncanny resonance for me and were a part of the day residue of my dream.

Throughout the war, Nagasaki, though it was a strategically-important site, escaped conventional bombing. The residents of Nagasaki felt that they had been spared by Fortune from the devastation of allied bombing. Unknown to the Japanese at the time, the U.S. military had chosen Nagasaki as a test site for any future atomic bombing. The U.S. military wanted to be able to assess the effects of an atomic bomb on an intact city not damaged by conventional bombing. Thus, for the residents of Nagasaki an extended period of imagined reprieve (experienced as unreal) was shattered by the sudden terror of the atomic blast. This sequence of affects is the polar opposite of that experienced by an individual subjected to a mock execution, in which the individual undergoes an extended sense of imminent death that is relieved by the unexpected announcement of reprieve (experienced as unreal), that the transaction is a charade.

It appears that the idealized affects of the manifest dream are a screen or substitute for highly-charged unconscious affects that have the quality of terror and desperation.

1 comment:

Gary Freedman said...

The biblical tale of the sacrifice of Isaac has the quality of a mock execution. God asks Abraham to prove his obedience by agreeing to give as a blood sacrifice his son Isaac. As soon as Abraham agrees, he is, of course, permitted to sacrifice, instead, an animal. But there are a few tense moments there, to be sure! Isaac is led to believe he is about to die.