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News ::
fight local control
07 Jul 2002
Modified: 04:43:02 PM
nashua telegraph

Sunday, July 07, 2002
Man, town on outs over outhouse
By TRUDY TYNAN, The Associated Press

LEYDEN, Mass. – Stef Laing was perfectly happy without electricity or running water or indoor plumbing on the isolated four acres where he has spent the past eight summers.
All the gardener sought was a simple life in his isolated cabin in the woods.
But life hasn’t been simple for Laing or this rural mountain town on the Vermont border since a former town official spotted his outhouse two summers ago.
The locally elected Board of Health invoked the laws of the state of Massachusetts and ordered Laing to install a septic system and hot and cold running water in his immaculate two-room cabin.
Residents didn’t see the need for outrage over the outhouse – and some even voted out of office health board members who opposed Laing’s privy.
Many in this community of 700 people supported Laing in his rustic lifestyle.
And over the past two years the political dispute that began with the privy – and persisted even after he spent $6,500 installing a self-composting toilet – has sharply divided the community.
“He isn’t a health danger to himself or anyone else,” said resident Trish Crapo. “The political process was just askew.”
At one point Laing said he was told he couldn’t legally use either the privy or the composting toilet. “It left me in a rather difficult situation,” said Laing, who spends his winters in Key West, Fla.
And, toilet aside, he was told he still needed a septic system to filter his wash water.
In two annual elections, two members of the health board who had supported the crackdown were ousted by write-in candidates who backed Laing.
“Leyden is an independent town with a lot of old Yankee farmers and libertarian ex-hippies and they were just not happy with what was happening,” said Paula Sayword, who took office last week after ousting the physician who chaired the board by a 2-to-1 margin.
The election of Sayword, who works for the Amherst public housing authority, and that of school teacher Robert Risser-Sperry last spring gave Laing supporters a majority on the three-member board.
At their first meeting Tuesday they voted to withdraw a criminal complaint the outgoing board had filed against Laing in Housing Court.
Dr. Sarah Kemble, the former chairwoman, said she saw the complaint as the final thing she could do to fulfill her responsibilities.
“I didn’t have any more time left on the board,” she said. “And I wanted to do everything that I could. I believe that was the job I was elected to do.”
She said she saw the dispute over Laing’s lack of amenities as one of prevention of potential health problems. It wasn’t a popular stance.
All three selectmen sent a letter to the Housing Court judge on Laing’s behalf. The dispute, she said, illustrated the difficulty of having elected health boards.
“I believe in democracy and local control, but I am not sure it really works in this kind of situation,” Kemble said.
Risser-Sperry, the board’s new chairman, said the board would now review everything that has transpired in Laing’s case.
Still, Sayword said, the dispute raised questions about how other communities handle hunting cabins, fishing camps and other seasonal rustic camps on private land.
“We have regulations for public campgrounds and migrant housing, but nothing for this kind of situation,” she said. “It just became an issue in Leyden, because Leyden went after this camp, but there are hundreds out there.”
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, about 11,300 dwellings in Massachusetts lack complete plumbing.
Howard Wensley, head of sanitation control for the state Department of Public Health, said he could not recall a dispute as contentious over an outhouse, but he said current state law makes no exception for seasonal cabins. It’s a matter of preventing the spread of disease, he said.
Only a portable shelter, such as a tent, that isn’t left at a single location for more than 30 days, would not be required to have hot and cold running water, a septic or other filtering system for wash water and a toilet, he said.
Laing said the past two years have been a nightmare, but he was overwhelmed by the support he has received from the community.
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Kill the Lawyers?
07 Jul 2002
A Modest Proposal: Separation of Lawyers and Politics

"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."
- William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part II

When someone passes the Bar exam and is admitted to
the Bar to practice law in a State, they become an
Officer of the Court. This makes them part of the
Judicial branch of government. If they then run for
public office and are elected to the legislature or to
an executive office, it means that they simultaneously
serve in two branches of government. This violates the
principle of the Separation of Powers.

The effect of this, at least with respect to lawyer
legislators, is also an obvious Conflict of Interest.
Certain people write laws as legislators and then find
that in private life their services are needed to
negotiate the same laws for the public.

James Madison wrote in Federalist #62

It will be of little avail to the people that the laws
are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so
voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent
that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or
revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such
incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law
is today, can guess what it will be tomorrow. Law is
defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a
rule, which is little known, and less fixed?

There is no doubt that today the laws are so
voluminous that they cannot be read and so incoherent
(or obscure) that they cannot be understood. But it is
precisely in the interest of lawyer legislators that
this be the case. It becomes their livelihood to read,
explain, and manipulate the laws for the sake of their
paying clients. Indeed, since lawyers will be hired by
both sides of a legal dispute, it is in their interest
that the laws be positively self-contradictory, for
they will then be able to make just as good a case,
and stand just as good a chance of winning, whichever
side hires them.

The remedy for this clear Conflict of Interest and
breach of the Separation of Powers is obvious:

Members of the Bar should be ineligible for elective
office, with the only exception being offices
specifically for attorneys (e.g. District Attorney or
a State Attorney General).

Lawyers could still become politicians, just by
resigning from the Bar, with the proviso that they
cannot be readmitted. If they are then subject to Term
Limits, they will either have to count on being
elected to various public offices or they will have to
prepare for getting into a different line of work once
their political career is over. Or they can move to a
different State, where they could be admitted to the
Bar again. There they would not be dealing with laws
they may have been instrumental in passing back in
their home State.

The rule for federal offices will necessarily be
somewhat different. Members of Congress need not
resign from the Bar back in their home States, but
they would be disqualified from appearing for any
cause in Federal Court.

It may be objected that this rule violates the
principal of Voluntary Association: Why shouldn't the
people have the right to elect practicing lawyers if
they want to? I agree. But this principle has already
been violated by lawyers, for they have seen to it
that only persons admitted to the Bar can be hired to
practice law.

I would say that either lawyers surrender their legal
monopoly of the practice of law, or they pay the cost
of that monopoly with a legal disability to run for
elective office. I would be willing to endure the
hazard of violating the Separation of Powers or of a
Conflict of Interest if indeed the principal of
voluntary association be generalized against the
monopoly of the lawyers.

Another possibility, as a compromise, is simply that a
supermajority vote could be required for lawyers. If
the People really want a candidate who is a lawyer,
this would mean that a large majority would want him;
and so a large majority could reasonably be required
for his election, 60% or more. This would preserve
Voluntary Association, but add an appropriate, but
limited, legal disability.

The same device might be used for term limits: Every
six years, for instance, a Congressional
Representative might be required to earn an extra 5%
of the vote. A truly popular and celebrated
Congessman, consequently, would be able to continue
serving. After 24 years, a long enough time in
Congress for anyone, the majority would be up to 70%,
which a truly popular and celebrated Congressman could
even still win. Lawyers would be on the same track,
but starting at a higher level. Resigning from the Bar
after election, or after several elections, could
still remove all, or part, of the disability for
lawyers, though it would still be a wise provision
that lawyers could not participate in cases involving
laws that they themselves were instrumental in

Kelley Ross for California State Assembly, 40th District

Copyright (c) 1997 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

See also: