The most common example of puffery besides sales is in resumes and job applications. There was an attorney who left our firm and, applying for other jobs, billed himself as experienced in ERISA transactions. Technically true, but the experience consisted of getting COBRA notices after being canned.
Among resumes and job applications, the worst subset has to be political biographies. These magnify every kid with a lemonade stand into a "job-creating small business owner" and anyone who flips off a light switch into a "green energy activist."
With the 2010 election season beginning to form like a high pressure system over the Rockies, we're going to hear a lot of biographical puffery from candidates.
Gretchen Whitmer? No exception.
Whitmer, the attorney general wannabe, describes her background in part as follows:
Prior to her election to the Michigan House of Representatives, Whitmer was a corporate litigator specializing in administrative and regulatory law with the firm Dickinson Wright in Lansing, Michigan. She practiced administrative law before the Ingham County Circuit Court and the Michigan Public Service Commission.
Sounds pretty good, right? When you look at the facts, not so much.
Whitmer was licensed in November of 1998. She was elected to the House of Representatives in 2000. So, she practiced law for about two years, although much of that time she was campaigning for the House seat.
Whitmer was employed as a lawyer by Dickinson Wright, a large, well-respected, politically heady firm with an office in Lansing. During her first two years out of law school, however, Whitmer was undoubtedly squirreled away in an office somewhere, drafting discovery responses or writing motions and briefs for the attorney who actually went to court and argued. Of course, to figure out how many cases Whitmer appeared on for her clients is a difficult task, since trial court dockets are not searchable by attorney. But we can search a surrogate database -- the Court of Appeals.
A busy attorney ends up in the Court of Appeals, either trying to get a ruling overturned, or trying to keep a judgment intact. The Court of Appeals' records are searchable by attorney, and a search for Whitmer's involvement results in zero -- as in ZEE-ROH -- cases. For contrast purposes, your humble Wizard has had 42 cases in the Court of Appeals, more than most, but far fewer than some. For someone running for attorney general, 42 is a respectable number, but zero is a joke.
Michigan law describes the duties of the attorney general. Primarily:
The attorney general shall prosecute and defend all actions in the supreme court, in which the state shall be interested, or a party; he may, in his discretion, designate one of the assistant attorneys general to be known as the solicitor general, who, under his direction, shall have charge of such causes in the supreme court and shall perform such other duties as may be assigned to him; and the attorney general shall also, when requested by the governor, or either branch of the legislature, and may, when in his own judgment the interests of the state require it, intervene in and appear for the people of this state in any other court or tribunal, in any cause or matter, civil or criminal, in which the people of this state may be a party or interested.
Clearly, these are significant and important responsibilities. Am I alone in thinking that maybe, just maybe, it's a good idea to have an attorney general who knows where the courthouse is and has actually tried a case or argued one in the Court of Appeals?
When you're selling a car or trying to impress that special someone, puffery is an old and time-honored strategy. Isn't it about time, though, that we demanded more from our elected officials?