Editor's Note
California Lawyer

by Martin Lasden

April 2013

It seems more than a little shocking to me that the government would ever try very hard to deny military veterans the disability benefits that they so desperately need. After all, this is not a partisan issue. Republicans and Democrats alike pretty much agree that when we send our young men and women into harm's way, the least we can do is help them put their lives back together after they return home. But what politicians say in public and what happens in practice are two different things. And no one understands this better than Gordon Erspamer, who has done more to champion the rights of veterans than just about any other lawyer in the country.

"Even after 30 years of litigating, color literally comes to his cheeks when he talks about this issue," marvels Dashka Slater, who profiled Erspamer for this month's cover story ("Standing Up for Vets"). "He's a true believer," she adds.

Erspamer's passion can, at least in part, be explained by what happened to his own father, who as a young Navy officer was exposed to high doses of radiation while studying the effects of a nuclear test blast in the Pacific - yet never received the disability benefits that he sought from the VA, even after being diagnosed with leukemia.

As a lawyer, Erspamer has been involved in three major class actions on behalf of veterans, the latest of which targets the CIA for subjecting roughly 100,000 men to chemical weapons tests in the United States and abroad. That case is expected to go to trial this summer.

Also in the issue, Tom McNichol looks at the highly specialized work that immigration lawyers do to win asylum for foreign nationals facing persecution in their home countries for their sexual orientation ("A Labor of Love"). "These lawyers are working as counselors in the old-fashioned sense of the word," McNichol observes. "And that's because, in addition to helping these people adjust to a new country, they are also supporting their transition to a culture where sexual issues are dealt with more openly.

"People who come here for political reasons are usually able to adjust pretty quickly," he adds. "But when you're from a repressed society where sexual matters are hidden and families have to be entirely abandoned, it's not nearly so easy."

And finally, as part of our Legally Speaking interview series, we include an excerpt from my recent conversation with Conrad Black ("The Trials and Triumphs of Conrad Black"), who, before serving three years in federal prison for fraud and obstruction of justice, presided over the third-largest newspaper empire in the world.

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