Letters from our readers.
March 27 1998 3:30 AM

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Papist Defines Papal Bull

I note the headline in "Today's Papers" (March 17), by Scott Shuger: "Papal Bull." Clearly, this refers to the important Vatican document "We Remember," a reflection on the Shoah. The document expresses repentance for actions of Catholics during the Shoah. Of course, this document is historic and groundbreaking, but it is not a bull.

I quote from The Church Visible: The Ceremonial Life and Protocol of the Roman Catholic Church, by James-Charles Noonan Jr., Page 395:

Apostolic bull: A document that derives its name from the Latin bulla, meaning "leaden seal," which is used to imprint the reigning pope's insignia, or seal, on the document. The most solemn of the papal documents, the bull creates a prelate a cardinal (although the biglietto announces it). Bishops are officially appointed by the papal bull, as are other high-ranking officials. It is also the document that announces beatifications and canonizations.


(I recommend this book for Slate's reference library--it has all manner of interesting facts about the Catholic Church and is quite authoritative.)

I know that many people commonly use the term papal bull to describe almost any document coming from the Holy See, but you are Slate, and thus seek the highest standards. Today's Papers is a helpful service--I'm just trying to make it more helpful.

--The Rev. Vincent J. Rigdon, J.C.L.Director, Office of the MissionsArchdiocese of Washington

Lawyer Says Lawyer Lied About Lying Lawyers


David Feige's comments about "Lying Lawyers" were not far off target--if the target was set up in New York state, in about 1975. But since he appears to be talking about lawyers functioning in the United States generally, and he appears to be talking about 1997 and 1998, he's not even close.

As many of your readers may know--but Lawyer Feige apparently does not--the American Bar Association adopted a new code in 1983, known as the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. The model rules have been adopted (usually with amendments) in more than 40 U.S. jurisdictions (not including New York). The model rules explicitly reject virtually everything Feige said in his "Gist" piece.

I'm the co-author of one the leading treatises on legal ethics--and it's updated annually. But don't take my word for it. Ask any current teacher of legal ethics in any law school in the United States (including a law school in New York).

--W. William HodesProfessor of lawIndiana University School of LawIndianapolis


David Feige replies: The point of my piece was not to examine the minor differences between the Model Rules of Professional Conduct and the Model Code of Professional Responsibility--a subject that I am sure Professor Hodes has examined in a more lengthy tome--but rather to discuss the application of the code (or rules) in the real world.

It is surprising to me that someone as well known and erudite as Hodes can fail to grasp the simple thesis of my piece--that lawyers apply their analytical skills to the rules of professional responsibility much as they do to any other text. That people want zealous advocates to defend their interests, and as a consequence, zealousness tends to gain the upper hand in the battle between aggressive advocacy and restrained, dignified legal conduct. Lawyers will interpret the rules to maximize their ability to do what they believe is in the best interests of their clients, and this is made easier by the porous construction of both the Rules and the Code. Whether this is a good thing is a subject worth discussing; whether it happens is obvious. And not just in the South Bronx, where I practice, but in every jurisdiction from municipal court to federal court, in Code states and Rule states alike.

Weisberg Watcher

I'm going to break with tradition and write about something I've enjoyed recently about Slate rather than something about which I have ants in the pants. Throughout the year and a half that I've been reading his column in Slate, the tone of Jacob Weisberg's columns has consistently been somewhat cynical and worldly about the political process he covers. In recent columns, however, I have greatly enjoyed seeing his intelligent skepticism pointed as much toward the media as toward the politicians. What's most noticeable about his columns on the Clinton scandal is that his viewpoint is unique among all those emanating from Washington. It's not a James Carville-style partisan critique (one could hardly peg Weisberg as a Clinton fan), and it's not a Molly Ivins-style "quit drooling over inconsequential sex" critique. It's a critique that takes on the cultural attitude and assumptions of the press and how those assumptions slant their journalism, and it's refreshing.


The most recent column ("Betty and Monica") makes a much-needed point about the subtly condescending nature of traditional journalism's attitude toward successful blacks (a column in the future might explore the press' similar attitude toward the Southern population of the country). From the article about the Georgetown establishment's distaste for the Clintons through the "Dispatch" entries and the column about why the press feels the need to take Clinton down, I have greatly enjoyed Weisberg's writings. More importantly--and much rarer--I have learned a lot. Keep up the good work.

--Chris ColonSeattle

I'm King of the 14-Year-Old Imagination!

David Plotz does a lovely, lovely job on the absolutely deserving Joe Eszterhas ("Assessment"). I've followed Eszterhas' leaden touch since F.I.S.T., and for my diligence, got written into Burn Hollywood Burn, complete with an invitation to play "myself," Sheila Benson. When calm legal heads of my acquaintance advised him that neither I nor my name were available, he changed it, I see, to "Sheila Maslin." Still and all, I have to say that the title of king of the 14-year-old imagination still unequivocally rests with James Cameron, and Monday night be damned.

--Sheila Benson

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