Flash: O is for Options

Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

“So what was your final grade on your project, Monica?” Lindsey asked as the three female seniors made their way into Argumentative Law for the Thursday afternoon session. With the winter holidays and end of the semester only a week out, the group had been pushing hard to get all their projects done. They sat in the second row on the opposite side of the lecture hall from where John and Breanna’s ex Matthew talked with Larry.

“Ninety-two.” Monica ducked her head.

Breanna gave her a hug before they sat. “That is amazing. Great job.”

“I couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you so much for proofreading my work.”

“Any time girlfriend.” Lindsey tucked her bag under the chair. She had learned freshman year how much Dr. Hawkins hated notetaking without purpose. Breanna used her computer like an extra brain, and Monica took notes like she was in a family therapy session rarely filling up a paragraph let alone a page, but Lindsey’s method of verbatim in-the-ears-and-out-the fingers actually was hurting her. Dr. Hawkins had been right about that, though she would never tell the aggressive beach ball he taught her anything good. Toughest teacher she had ever had, but little of it palatable.

Jervin entered and made a beeline for their side of the room while Jacob nodded their way before joining the white boys. Jervin, between his immigrant parents and dark skin didn’t meet team-John sensibilities. Jacob lived in the same county as both John and Lindsey where more than one street was named after the Stroups; Jacob wanted to be a state attorney, and eventually a judge, and needed introductions in the government offices which John’s family and family firm could provide. Lindsey didn’t blame him for brown-nosing. She just hoped he didn’t crawl so far up their butts he lost his way.

Stomping in the room at a fast walk, Dr. Hawkins pulled the door shut behind him, slamming it against the frame. After stuffing his briefcase into the lectern, he counted heads, looked at the clock above the door, and then turned back to the class. “Goard?”

“Here sir,” came a croak as Seth entered the room, his face under a mask. “Sorry I’m late sir, but I—”

“Judges don’t care why you are late and neither do I. Your attendance won’t count today, but participation will. Sit in the back.” The professor frowned as the student struggled for breath while climbing the stairs. “You don’t have Covid, do you?”

Seth turned to the front when he reached the fourth row. “No sir, just flu, like the rest of Stroup dormitory. Someone brought it back from the Thanksgiving holidays. I just tested at the clinic, sir. Clean for Covid, positive for flu.” He collapsed in a chair. “Thank god for the free clinic on campus. Why it isn’t a national thing I have no idea.”

The professor pinched his nose. “I guess that will be today’s topic, why can’t we have national health care? Anyone?”

Breanna answered immediately, “Separation of federal and state powers. Only certain powers were granted by the states to the federal government when they created the Republic, all other powers are retained by the states. Health care didn’t exist two hundred fifty years ago, so it wasn’t considered. Doctors are a local thing.”

“Yet medicine isn’t.” Monica pointed out. “The federal government, through the Food and Drug Administration regulates drugs. Why can’t that be expanded to regulating doctors and hospitals and insurance companies?”

“It would be beneficial to have a nation-wide regulation of health care.” Larry shook his head. “My family has moved a lot and changing our insurance each state is a nightmare even with help from the companies contracting my father. One insurance for all would help with the mobile population.”

“But the companies, neither insurance or the corporations in general will ever agree to that, or their bought and paid-for mouth-pieces in Congress. By keeping the insurance with the job, people are afraid to leave work, held hostage by their health.” Lindsay crossed her arms as she leaned against the wall to face the rest of the group.

“Ms. Mills-Jumper, while I appreciate you are more interested in politics than the law, please stay on topic. What is the legal restriction and how can you address it for your clients in court.”

“State powers keep federal overstep in check.” John inserted. “Health care belongs at the state level. And no state will have a state-wide health insurance since that will mean deadbeats will move to their state to take advantage of it. I look forward to the continuing de-regulation of healthcare getting rid the burden unproductive people put on the rest of us through Medicaid and social security.”

“Are you trolling me? Do you even process what your family feeds you or do you just swallow it whole?” Lindsey stood waving her hands. “About one in eight people are disabled in some way. By seventy-five, half are disabled. One-third will be long-term disabled at some point in their lifetime, and most temporarily disabled. Anyone and everyone is just one accident, one disease—”

Seth sneezed loudly and pulled out a tissue to wipe his nose under his mask. “Sorry.”

“No prob, thanks for the example. See, anyone, even us healthy college kids. To remove—”

The professor clapped. “Again, Ms. Mills-Jumper, stick to legal talk. Same as you Mr. Stroup.”

“Ugh. Yeah, sorry Dr. Hawkins. Could we claim protecting citizenship for health reasons, like keeping lawns shorts to prevent fires and rodents?”

“We do it for some disease like pneumonia and measles. I guess we could expand it.” Monica said from where she sat.

“Complete overreach of power. It’s bad enough schools required unneeded vaccines.” John turned in his chair to face the women and persons of color side of the room.

“You say that without visiting the graveyards where gravesites are mostly three feet long.” Jervin’s face paled in memory. “While in Italy, wow, there are a lot of them. Vaccines are important to society – polio, small pox, measles, mumps.”

“Protecting children as members of society.” Monica tied the conversation back to the legal aspects before the professor started marking the entire class down. A ninety two could end up in B territory if attendance and participation went negative.

“Vaccines requirements are still passed at a state level, aren’t they?” Breanna asked, not bothering the click at her keyboard.

Larry confirmed. “Yes, one state switch meant another round of shots for me and my sisters because we didn’t meet what that school system required.”

“And, like John said, no state is going to do a state-wide health insurance unless all the states do it. They don’t want to go bankrupt.” Breanna tapped at her computer. “Maybe … a time limit before health insurance kicks in, but the kids not getting access immediately…”

“Why not an amendment?” Matthew asked.

“A what now?” John turned his head to guy sitting beside him, looking thoroughly betrayed.

“Sure, if the individual states don’t want to do it on their own, all they got to do is sign over the power to the federal, but that would take an amendment.” Jervin snapped his fingers. “I like that.”

“We could add body autonomy as part of the package.” Lindsey’s face lit up. “Citizenship, because of the ability to cross borders, protection of the nation, especially as diseases don’t recognize borders, blah blah. Health of the individual. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – good health is needed for happiness.”

“That is from the Declaration of Independent and has nothing to do with actual law.”  John pointed out.

Jacob shook his head. “Yeah, but it’s about the vibe of the law. The purpose of rights. It could work.”

“A health care amendment.” Lindsey looked around the room, making eye contact with the professor. “We could write one.”

“Sounds like an interesting project for next semester if people are interested.” Dr. Hawkins lips turned up on one side, the closest they ever had seen him to smiling. “Not a class, but maybe a club?”

“Our senior year, while trying to land internships?” John shook his head. “No thanks. I don’t need to tilt at windmills.”

“I’ll help.” Seth rasped from where he had been banished.

Several heads swiveled to look up at the Intellectual Property expert whose mother had been a singer for a major band until she quit to have children.

“What? I’m not just a pretty face.”

Lindsey cackled and few others snickered. Seth was a very pretty face when it wasn’t dripping all over the place, as well as a great body on a sports scholarship for golf of all things, the combination which got him the lead for most of the university plays since sophomore year, and a beautiful singing voice giving him several solos in the school choir, while being smart enough to hold his own, mostly, in the pre-law courses. But with all his other commitments, he did the least work possible for his actual academic career.

“I’ll take lead.” Monica offered. “It is important for families.”

“Well, Dr. Hawkins, we might just do this.” Jacob waved at the lot of them. “Give us the weekend to a proposal together?”

The professor clapped his hands. “Done. We only have two meetings left and this course does not have a final. The final two classes will be tied to reviewing the possibility of creating an amendment to present to the state assembly when they are in session in January. If you do not want to participate, you do not have to attend next week’s classes unless you still owe me your senior project, which I believe is just Mr. Goard.”

Seth slipped a little down in his seat. “Yeah, I think so. The play is this weekend. I’ll get it done by Wednesday.”

“You have until Friday, but if you want to know your grade before you leave school, I will need it by Wednesday.”

“I know.” Seth coughed in his mask.

“Very good. The only thing left I have tonight is internships which have come in. Mr. Stroup, Mr. Moore, I believe you already worked those out with Dr. Leverett. You may leave.” The two smirked at each other before leaving. Officially everyone on the prelaw track needed to spend a day shadowing a lawyer over the two-week winter break, in preparation for a possible summer internship. Those two were just going to hang out at their family firms.

After they left, Dr. Hawkins pulled out his briefcase and walked around the table in front of the lectern. He pulled out a file from inside. “I have ten possible internships. Whichever ones you don’t want will go to a few of the juniors. Ms. Hargate and Mr. Northern benefited from them last year. First one I think is a good fit for Ms. Crawford, that is if you have decided not to repeat the internship you had last summer with Mr. Moore’s family?”

“Oh god no, they treated me like a slave. I get most internships are unpaid, but there is no need to be rude about it.” The normally pretty researcher lips were pulled back in a snarl.

Dr. Hawkins set the folder aside on his briefcase a moment. “Look, the world isn’t a nice place, and lawyers are some of the most opportunist, ungrateful people you will ever meet. But that doesn’t mean that you should take it laying down. Push back. All of you have some solid potential, even you Mr. Goard. Stand your ground. Demand that they treat you well. Give us a full report when you get back. If they are unsuited as mentors, the university wants to know. We will not send them our students again.”

“Now Ms. Crawford, I have a grant organization looking for a researcher. The organizer is a lawyer with licensing in all three states of the tri-state area. It is located in Riverside. They pulled in a grant to cover an apartment and food for the summer, as well as gas for you to get there and back for the winter interview. The organizer will put you up in a hotel overnight at her expense. No actual pay—”

Breanna jumped out of her seat to grab the sheet. “I’ll take it.” Returning to her seat, the other women looked over her shoulder seeing the name of the non-profit.

“No way,” whispered Monica, who then stared at Dr. Hawkins like he was the Messiah returned to Earth.

“She is an alumn, not of the law school, but did her undergraduate here.” Both sides of the bald man’s lips pushed up his fat wrinkled cheeks for a second before falling into his perpetual frown. “In fact, we were exceptionally blessed this year with alumni willing to work with our students. Mr. Fikes, I understand your long-term career goal is a judgeship?”

“Um, yes?”

“I have something I think you will like. It’s in Lincoln County, which is the third largest county of the state so has extremely high volume, but they are looking someone to help support the summer rush in the criminal and family court systems. We have found a family willing to rent out a room, and the mediocre pay is enough to cover the room and all your incidentals. You won’t come out rich, but you should break even.”

“That is a bit far from my family.” Jacob stood and walked slowly forward.

“If you don’t want it, I have a Junior in mind, but it is the only offering I have working closely with judges.” The professor offered the sheet.

“I’ll need to run it by my family and…” he took the sheet and went back to his seat.

“Remember part of the winter interview is to make sure you are a good fit either way. You may turn things down when you return in January.” The next sheet of paper was a light blue instead of the cream the other two people had received. “Mr. Northern.”

“Yes sir,” Larry replied, standing.

“This is one of my students. One of my best. Do not embarrass me.” Dr. Hawkins handed him the sheet, then pulled the next one out while Larry returned to his seat reading the details of his possible internship. “Mr. Goard, if you will come down. I think you will be pleased with what we pulled out of the dustbin for you.”

“I’ll take anything, but bonus points if you managed an internship in Hollywood with Becky Trellis, class of ’12,” Seth panting slightly after coming down the stairs.

“Read the sheet.”

He looked down, then did a double-take. “You did.” Seth stumbled back and half fell to sit on the bottom step. “How?”

“Her father worked with your mother. You should know how important connections are considering your background and career aspirations. Ms. Hargate?”

Monica came around from her chair to stand by the professor.

“I had found someone local to your hometown, working with a shelter, providing pro bono work with abused women. But…” Dr. Hawkins flipped a few sheets down. “After reading your senior project, and you stepping up to organize an amendment, I believe we both have been letting you slide too much. See how this one looks to you, and, yes, the pay is for real, but living in the state capital is expensive.” He handed her a sheet.

She read it carefully before staring up at him. “Sir!”

“You earned it.” He frowned at her until she moved away.

“Give me, give me, give me.” Lindsey motioned at Monica as she came over, then squealed before passing the sheet to Breanna, with Jervin looking over her shoulder. “You are going to do amazing!” Lindsey hugged Monica around her neck.

“Mr. Santinelli, I do apologize, the best fit internship for you is out of state. We have found a grant to cover transport costs so you can visit your family monthly. The junior member of the law firm has family near your home and will be visiting during Christmas break and will organize a video conference interview with you at his home. The firm is large enough to have a hotel room year-round for people they bring in as expert witnesses. You may get bumped and need to sleep on an office couch when they do a deposition. But they have agreed to provide you a debit card to cover all meals. Again, you won’t come out ahead after a summer’s work, but you won’t go into a hole. A branch of the firm focusses on helping companies bring in specialists on visas.” The professor held onto the paper as Jervin approached, instead of extending it. “They really liked the fact you are fluent in three languages and can read and write in two more. Don’t let them take advantage of you for that. You are not a lawyer and they are not allowed to use your languages to read foreign law documents. We wrote that into the internship contract. You may do verbal translation, helping talk to people from foreign countries, but written translations they must pay you for and law translations are right out. Do you understand me?”

Jervin nodded.

“Words, Mr. Santinelli. You have a lot of them in that skull of yours.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you will call me or Professor Leverett immediately if they try to violate this restriction. This particular alumnus was known for pushing limits, and this is the first time we are using him in a mentorship.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I mean it.” Dr. Hawkins finally handed Jervin the paper. “That goes for all of you. Whether the University has worked with your mentor once or a dozen times, if you have questions, call us. Put us on speed dial. Also, over your final semester here, we will be introducing you to the law school faculty, matching those of you who are staying with the University with an appropriate advisor. Get their numbers too.”

“Ms. Mills-Jumper,” the professor pulled the next sheet out and sighed. “The downside is this internship will start immediately. The senator wants to fly you out to Washington DC, make sure you are a good fit for her and her staff, then return back here once the session breaks and take you on a tour of her offices throughout the state where she meets her constituents. She specifically asked for a firebreather.”

“A senator … oh, my god!” Lindsey exploded out of her chair and snatched the paper. Only one of the two US Senators for the state was female, and it was… “I could kiss you!”

“Please don’t.” Dr. Hawkins said dryly. “Alright everyone. See you Monday. I look forward to your amendment. Dismissed.”

(words 3,117, first published 4/17/2024)

Argumentative Law series

  1. L is for Legality (4/14/2024)
  2. M is for Monday (4/15/2024)
  3. O is for Options (4/17/2024)
  4. Editing Rant: Q is for Quorum (4/19/2024)
  5. Writing Exercise: Y is for Yoke (4/28/2024)

4 thoughts to “Flash: O is for Options”

    1. I would love national health care. As it is, health care is another weapon employers have over employees. But with our separation of federal and state powers, it will take an amendment or a MAJOR court ruling.

  1. This is a really interesting set of arguments. From a literary perspective, I got a little confused at times about who was speaking, and I wished I could experience more of the sensory experience of it. I am guilty of this also, which is why I have learned to see it.

    The second half was the more interesting story-telling, but I think the top half was a great break-down of the health-care conundrum. As long as originalists are dominant in the Supreme Court the only thing that could work would be an amendment, but getting that much support in a social media world is farcical.

    Fun dialog, too!

    1. Having a huge cast in dialogue is hard, especially in a small space, but I wanted the classroom setting which meant lots of people. I really should have made the story about three times the length for the amount of characters I had. Thank you for the feedback.

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