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Akin Gump Partner Strays Off Reservation

Vivia Chen

January 26, 2011

Postscript: As of January 28, 2011--two days after the Careerist's post on this matter--Paul Mirengoff announced that he's quitting his blog on Powerline.

Lone-ranger-and-tontoAs an unrepentant, sometimes politically incorrect blogger, I'm generally all in favor of people shooting off their mouths. I instinctively cringe when I hear about how firms or companies try to curb their employees' right of free speech.

But the latest rants by Akin Gump partner Paul Mirengoff on the conservative blog Powerline are making me rethink my position. From the law firm's point of view, I can see how uncontrolled blogging lawyers could cost firms big bucks.

Here's what happened: Mirengoff, an employment law partner in the D.C. office, blogged about the memorial service for the victims of the recent Arizona shootings. In particular, reports Indianz.com (a Native American site), he mocked the prayer delivered by Carlos Gonzales, a member of  an Arizona tribe. (Hat tip: ABA Journal blog.) Here's what he wrote:

It was apparently some sort of Yaqui Indian tribal thing, with lots of references to "the creator" but no mention of God. Several of the victims were, as I understand it, quite religious in that quaint Christian kind of way (none, to my knowledge, was a Yaqui). They (and their families) likely would have appreciated a prayer more closely aligned with their religious beliefs.

Most firms wouldn't give a hoot about the personal rants of their lawyers except for one sticky fact: Akin Gump happens to have a thriving Native American tribes practice. Oops.

But to give the firm credit, it acted quickly. Three apologies were fired off almost immediately--though it's unclear in what order they were sent. James Meggesto, a partner in the Native American practice at the firm, posted the following on Akin Gump's Web site:

As an enrolled member of the Onondaga Nation; as an attorney who has dedicated his life and law practice to the representation of Indian tribes, tribal organizations, and tribal interests; and as a partner in the American Indian law and policy practice at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, I was shocked, appalled and embarrassed by a recent Web posting by another Akin Gump partner, Paul Mirengoff. . . . As soon as I and the firm became aware of this posting, the firm took immediate action to deal firmly with this unfortunate situation. Accordingly, Bruce McLean, chairman of the firm, issued the following statement: “We sincerely apologize for the blog entry posted by Akin Gump partner Paul Mirengoff on his personal blog, powerlineblog.com. Akin Gump is neither affiliated with, nor a supporter of, the blog. We found his remarks to be insensitive and wholly inconsistent with Akin Gump’s values. . . .

Mirengoff  also fell on his sword, and issued the following apology (which is both on his blog and the firm Web site):

In a post last night, I criticized the use of a Yaqui prayer as the invocation to the memorial service in Tucson. In doing so, I failed to give the prayer the respect it deserves. Although I did not intend this as a slight to the religion or to the Yaqui tribe, it can clearly be interpreted as one. For this, I sincerely apologize to my readers, to the Yaqui tribe, to all tribal leaders and Indian people and, specifically, to Carlos Gonzales, who delivered the prayer. I regret my poor choice of words, and I have removed the post.

The big question, of course, is whether firms should have a social media policy. And if so, how far should firms go in monitoring what lawyers say? Do lawyers have to clear what they say in articles, blogs, tweets, or even on Facebook? (Akin Gump spokeswoman Kathryn Holmes Johnson told the ABA Journal blog that the firm's social media policy is now under review.)

Despite his contrition, Mirengoff probably voiced what he honestly felt about the Yaqui prayer--and then he had to take it all back. Which makes him a you-know-what kind of giver.

 

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Several months ago I and thousands of others attended an evening ceremony honoring the men and women of our Armed Forces throughout the ages up to today, at an event called Skyball, in the D/FW area.

Three Native American Indians were on stage and gave an invocation, a prayer, in their tribal language. One was a WWII "Code Talker" without whose skill, courage and native language the war would have been more costly.

I am neither a Native American nor a Christian but for me and many others it was an honor and a learning experience to hear someone else pray to G-d and it didn't bother me that he prayed "in Jesus name", though I felt a tiny bit excluded.

I am not offended when anyone prays however they pray, so long as they don't pray for my or my children's death and destruction. I believe there is likely only one G-d and he forgives all of us for all the things we do wrong, but I just bet the one thing he is most forgiving about is what language we use, what different belief we have as to his "proper" name, so long as we live our lives by those teachings that are more or less shared by most religions today. Love and respect G-d and your fellow man. Help others who are not as fortunate as you are to become more self reliant if they can, but help them in some way. Self defense and defense of others is ok in the bibles I have read. Hurting or killing or penalizing others because they have a different belief structure is criminal, in some cases, its an act of war, and should never be permitted. 10 Commandments are a real good starting place... work it from there.

Sevral months ago I and thousands of others attended an evening ceremony honoring the men and women of our Armed Forces throughout the ages up to today, at an event called Skyball, in the D/FW area. Three Native American Indians were on stage and gave an invocation, a prayer, in their tribal language. One was a WWII "Ciode Talker" without whose skill, courage and native language the war would have been more costly. I am neither a Native American nor a Christian but for me and many others it was an honor and a learning experience to hear someone else pray to G-d and it didn't bother me that he prayed "in Jesus name", though I felt a tiny bit excluded. I am not offended when anyone prays however they pray, so long as they don't pray for my or my children's death and destruction. I believe there is likely only one G-d and he forgives all of us for all the things we do wrong, but I just bet the one thing he is most forgiving about is what language we use, what different belief we have as to his "proper" name, so long as we live our lives by those teachings that are more or less shared by most religions today. Love and respect G-d and your fellow man. Help others who are not as fortunate as you are to become more self reliant if they can, but help them in some way. Self defense and defense of others is ok in the bibles I have read. Hurting or killing or penalizing others because they have a different belief structure is criminal and should not be permitted. 10 Commandmants are a real good starting place... work it from there.

Speaking of "dodgy" -- in the sense of not being reliable -- the snarky conclusion from this post is certainly well qualified in that regard:

"Despite his contrition, Mirengoff probably voiced what he honestly felt about the Yaqui prayer--and then he had to take it all back. Which makes him a you-know-what kind of giver."

I'll just pose the basic question often asked of people who pretend to "know" what someone else was thinking:

How do you know that?

Paul quickly and fully apologized, and he also withdrew the post, saying that he clearly understood how it had been interpreted by some in the way it was. What did you want in addition . . . a hair shirt?

Anyone who has followed Paul Mirengoff at Powerline blog, as I have for several years, would know that your snide conclusion was aimed at someone about whom you obviously know absolutely nothing.

Tell me . . . should I congratulate you for joining the ranks of those who have so perversely decided to turn the horribly tragic shooting in Arizona into a free-fire zone for personally attacking conservatives?

No. I wouldn't do that because I can't get into your head . . . just like you can't get into Paul Mirengoff's head.

@Mindi E: "Mirengaffe" called it "ugly", first off; what was quoted in this blog post was his explanation of why it was ugly. If I called you ugly and explained it, you wouldn't be offended?
And calling Mirengoff's smackdown "PC gone wild"? What do you think Mirengoff was engaged in, if not the Conservatribe's PC? He was mad because a Yaqui religionist didn't say the right word, i.e., "God" with a goddam capital G in his voice, when doing his "Yaqui thing." "Horoing the victims," indeed.

The Silver Lining writes:
The blogger didn't say anything offensive about the tribe.
What Mirengoff wrote:
As for the "ugly," I'm afraid I must cite the opening "prayer" by Native American Carlos Gonzales. It was apparently was some sort of Yaqui Indian tribal thing, with lots of references to "the creator" but no mention of God.

I think the The Silver Lining has a little reading comprehension problem.

I think its hysterical tht people like "The silver lining" totally fail to grasp the issue here. Mr. Mirengoff's right to have incredibly stupid opinions is not at issue. His law firm's desire not to insult and humiliate valued clients is. That's just capitalism at work: don't piss on your meal ticket and then hope to tell them its raining. If Mr. Mirengoff valued his own opinion more than his paycheck he would have resigned from his job and chosen to blog for a living. Then he could have said what he wanted and continued to insult native american people and the dreaded liberals as much as he wanted.

Frankly, if I'd been his law firm I'd have fired him for being incredibly rude, insensitive, and bad mannered to all Americans mourning the attacks and deaths in Tucson. the attack on Tucson's version of a mourning/prayer ceremony was both stupid and rude. A) Not all the victims were Christian--most notably Rep. Giffords. B) not all the mourners were Christian. In fact, the point of having the ceremony in AZ and beginning with a native American blessing was that the mourners *in addition to being Christian and other mainline religions* also identify as Arizonans and have an adopted heritage. To criticze that is to criticize the mourning ceremony for having the AZ flag present, or any references to AZ landscape or values.

aimai

While as a Native man I was initially upset by the negative remarks made by Mr.Mirengoff and others (ie. Fox News). I was not surprised, I remember during the Abramoff scandal and subsequent hearings when Native clients were referred to as "greedy", "stupid' and "monkeys," by Natives and Non-Natives. This just reinforces my personal belief that to many we Native People are neither truly equal or even human in the minds of many Americans. That negative, ignorant, and hateful things will continue to be said about us with the offenders never more than receiving a slap on the wrist. Unfortunately tribes will continue to give this firm their money and their Native employees will not resign in protest and it will be forgotten until the next it occurs.

Although he could have used "prayer" instead of "tribal", I do not find this blog a "mock" of a prayer. It isn't offensive and points out that many, if not all, of the victims were Christians. I personally wondered why Mr. Gonzales spent the first part of his time talking about his heritage rather than simply honoring the dead. In the PC phobic world, what gets lost here is actually horoing the victims.

@The Silver Lining - First, if you actually read Mirengoff's post, it is written in an offensive manner -- referencing the prayer as a "thing", and pointing out that although "the creator" was used, "God" was never mentioned. There is an implication in his post that Christianity is somehow the superior religion. Second, even if Mirengoff was unfamiliar with the Yaqui ceremony, rather than criticize it, he could have appreciated the fact that he was exposed to something new and different, and respect the Yaqui (and their traditions) for their differences. Just because something is different from what you are accustomed to, does not mean that thing is somehow inferior to your beliefs.

I think this is a show of how the world is now being too careful. The blogger didn't say anything offensive about the tribe. The statement he was making is that it might have be more appropriate and fitting to offer a prayer in the actual religion of the victims. Why is everyone afraid to acknowledge that the US generally a Judeo-Christian nation?

Candidly, I think it to be more offensive to hold a ceremony in someone's honor and deny them their religious preference. We are still free to choose and practice those, right?

Great post. I recently blogged on the expression "off the reservation."

(Here's my post: http://bit.ly/eBn1u2)

I like your tongue-in-cheek, table-turning use of it as a headline, but otherwise it's a bit dodgy.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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