For 4 years, my law firm has offered employees a $50/month bonus if they choose to take the training to obtain their permit to carry, lawfully obtain that permit, and lawfully carry at the office. I mentioned that bonus in passing a couple years ago. On March 17, 2015, a boyfriend of a (still unidentified) former employee apparently mentioned that to a morning talk radio show that was discussing things employees could do to earn some extra money while at work. I returned from the courthouse that morning to find my staff smiling and telling me to check my voicemail, as they knew about that statement on the radio and a subsequent call from a news station. Some of my staff and I sat down for interviews with some very nice reporters from WQAD and KWQC, and the stories ran on the local tv and internet news on March 17 and 18, 2015. I was quite honored that people in the Quad Cities cared about our carry bonus, and thought that was the end of it. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that things were just getting started. A variety of news outlets around the country picked up the story, including the Chicago Tribune and Headline News, and I also was interviewed for radio and internet stories, including my favorite podcast. Particularly satisfying from a professional standpoint was the ABA Journal (an excellent legal system news outlet) picking up the story. Dozens of emails came in from people who liked the policy, and I received not a single negative email. All in all, it was a fun week and I feel great knowing that millions of people were thinking about and talking about lawful concealed carry in the workplace. My staff really got a kick out of it too, and we hope we have done our small part to help advance lawful gun ownership.
It should go without saying, but as an attorney, I believe I have a responsibility to respect the law and encourage others to do so too. I also know that I have an ethical duty to obey the law, and it is hard to think of a place where that duty is stronger than inside the courthouse itself. In the news interviews, I went to great lengths to talk about the fact that we support safe and lawful gun ownership. Nothing in the news articles remotely suggested that I or any employee of my firm carried a gun in the courthouse (as that would be quite unlawful). Indeed, the final words in the ABA Journal article were a quote from me, where I made our respect for the law crystal clear. I said “It’s not a matter of just carrying a gun,” he told WQAD.” It’s a matter of carrying a gun safely and lawfully, and we emphasize that here.” That ABA Journal quote, was itself a quote from the local news.
Then on March 24, 2015, the fun associated with our carry bonus came to an abrupt end. I received a voicemail on behalf of the Honorable Chief Judge Marlita Greve, of the 7th Judicial District of Iowa (the trial court for the area where my office is located and about half of my firm’s work takes place). The voicemail requested that I call the Chief Judge. I assumed that call was about a scheduling change or some other mundane matter in a pending case, as that is why judges tend to call the office. Instead, Chief Judge Greve inquired as to whether I or my employee in the recent news articles carried a firearm in the courthouse, and expressed how she wished to hear the answer to those questions from me personally. I have never before been so surprised while speaking to any judge. I respectfully assured Judge Greve that neither I nor my employee would so violate the law. When the conversation was concluded, I was left with the most intense feeling of personal and professional offense that I have felt in a great many years, if not my entire life.
On the morning of March 25, 2015 I sent the following email to Chief Judge Greve (roughly 16 hours after our phone conversation):
Dear Honorable Chief Judge Greve of the 7th Judicial District of Iowa:
I am emailing you to follow-up on our telephone conversation on March 24, 2015, in which you inquired as to whether I or my employee in the recent news articles carried a firearm in the courthouse, and expressed how you wished to hear the answer to those questions from me personally. As I respectfully stated during our phone conversation, the answer to both questions is an emphatic “no.” While I believe I am relatively quick at thinking on my feet when in court and providing responses to unexpected questions during legal arguments, that is likely due to having been prepared for court and all the possible things that might be discussed. Our discussion was one that I did not anticipate in the slightest, which is why I am writing to respectfully say more.
To be sure, I believe strongly in the Second Amendment and the benefits of lawful and responsible firearm ownership. I have known many clients who were the victims of crimes that may have been prevented if only they had been lawfully armed for self defense. I also know clients who have had tragedy in their lives as a result of actions taken by a person who was not trained in safe and lawful firearm use, where I believe that such safety training could have prevented the tragedy. Accordingly, as stated in the news reports that you mentioned seeing, for the last four years I have paid my employees a $50 bonus each month if they choose to undergo firearms training, lawfully obtain a permit to carry, and exercise that right at my firm’s office. I have neither said nor done anything that would even remotely suggest that I either violate or tolerate violations of firearms laws, or that such carrying of firearms is in any way connected to the courthouse or any other prohibited places. Instead, my comments to the news reporters emphasized lawful and safe firearm ownership, which is what I advocate. Indeed, such advocacy (and speaking to the news about it) is the polar opposite of unlawful firearm possession or use, as a person who unlawfully carries or uses a firearm logically won’t speak to the news about it and draw scrutiny upon themselves.
As an attorney who is licensed in both Iowa and Illinois, as well as the Federal courts of each State, I am an officer of the court. As someone whose practice includes many firearm-related cases, I am acutely aware of the firearms laws in each State. I have taken multiple firearms-related cases to jury and bench trials in both Iowa and Illinois. Currently, I am representing at least two clients in pending felony firearms cases in the 7th Judicial District of Iowa, and at least 3 similarly situated clients in the 14th Judicial Circuit of Illinois, not to mention a variety of other firearms-related matters that do not involve pending criminal charges. I am an NRA-Certified firearms instructor as well. For those reasons and more, I take seriously my moral, ethical, and legal duty to conform my behavior to the law, especially as to firearms.
Elizabeth Payne, the employee of my firm featured in the news article about whom you inquired, is a law abiding woman who has worked at my firm for over two years. I have provided her with firearms training on multiple occasions, to include discussions about the relevant State and Federal laws as to the carrying of firearms. In her time at my firm, she has shown a law-abiding character and good judgement. I would (and did, during our conversation) personally vouch for Ms. Payne’s good character and strict observance of firearms laws. Were I to think otherwise of any employee, then that employee would not be employed by my firm.
For those reasons, I am at a total loss as to why you would find it necessary to ask me if I routinely (or ever) commit a crime by carrying a firearm into the courthouse. I have never before had a judge ask me if I committed crimes in the courthouse, and am still in shock as I send this email. I cannot help but feel the way I imagine any attorney would feel if the Chief Judge of the county in which they live and work called to inquire whether that attorney commits a string of crimes and also condones such unlawful conduct upon the part of a law firm employee. Indeed, being asked if I committed and condoned such crimes brings to mind a traffic stop from when I was in college and was asked by a police officer whether I “had anything illegal in the car” as part of writing me a minor speeding ticket. I found that question to be demeaning, as I was a law-abiding college student who also worked, and the officer had no reason to believe I was doing anything other than driving a bit too fast on the highway. However, that feeling was tempered by the fact that the police officer had never met me before and possibly asked that of many people he ticketed without having any real suspicion. So, I told the officer that I was not breaking any other laws, took my speeding ticket, and went on with my day. Your Honor, however, has known me for nearly five years and has presided over countless trials and other court appearances where I appeared before you. Prior to our conversation today, I truly believed that I had shown you respect and earned respect from you such that the very thought of me committing a crime by carrying a firearm in court would be something you would brush off as absurd. It truly pains me, personally and professionally, that I was mistaken as to that belief. It similarly causes me to worry about future court appearances where Your Honor would be the presiding judge.
I would respectfully request to know more about why it is that you raised this issue with me. If there is anyone who has said anything to you that made you reach out to me on this issue, and you choose to provide me with their contact information, I will gladly discuss the matter with those individuals so that any concerns they have are alleviated. To be clear, I have no quarrel here. Instead, I have only the desire to clear my name as to whatever caused you to contact me, and to ensure that whatever concerns you have do not cause problems for my clients as I appear before you (and the other Judges) in the the future. I want to make clear that I have nothing but respect for you, the office you hold, our judicial system, the oaths I took to become an attorney, and the form of government that both provides permits to carry and restricts carrying in the courthouse. Founding my law firm and watching it grow from just myself five years ago to a firm that now employs four attorneys and five non-attorneys has represented the American dream for me, and only further reinforces my respect for all of that, to include the legal system that made it all possible. It is because of that same respect that I can think of nothing more demeaning than to have it suggested that I am committing crimes as I go about my work in that very legal system.
I hope that this email has cleared up any lingering concerns you may have had as to myself and any of the other people by my firm, and that you do not believe me to be someone who commits crimes in your courthouse. If there is anything further that you wish to discuss regarding this matter, please feel free to email me.
I have CC’ed District Court Administrator Cathy Gaylord, as she was also involved in the call yesterday.
Eric D. Puryear
Attorney at Law
Puryear Law P.C.
3719 Bridge Ave # 6
Davenport, IA 52807
In particular, I’m unpleasantly surprised that the only grief I got in relation to the news stories came from within the judicial system – which is where I would expect knowledge of the law and trust in attorneys would at its highest. I am also disappointed that this came from a Judge who I have known for years and spoken with hundreds of times.
I was on the fence for some time about what, if anything, to publicly say about this situation. After more than two days passed with no response from Judge Greve, and much thought on my part, I decided to post this article. My motivation in doing so is several fold:
Firstly, I believe that transparency is important anytime that either the legal system or our constitutional rights are involved, and here both are involved. As to the legal system aspect, the connection is obvious due to the nature of the Chief Judge’s position, my work as an attorney, and the substance of the phone conversation. The chilling effect upon free speech about an important constitutional and political issue are readily apparent as well. Property rights are also implicated, as the policy that I have at my firm deals with my employees’ option to exercise their lawful right to carry at our office, which is on private property, and in no way involves gun possession on the property of any other person (or the government), or the commission of any crime.
Secondly, I firmly believe that I am an ordinary person who lives in ordinary times – meaning that if I experience a situation (good or bad), I start with the presumption that it is something other people have experienced in the past and will experience in the future. For that reason, I presume that I am not the first attorney to have a judge essentially ask them if they are a criminal after that judge learns that the attorney supports the 2nd Amendment. Hopefully, this article may be of use to judges in the future who choose to do some Google due-diligence when considering how to react upon learning that an attorney in their area is a supporter of the 2nd Amendment. This article similarly be of use to an attorney who finds themselves in my shoes.
Finally, I have met many law-abiding gun owners over the years who were reluctant to have it known that they owned guns. That has ranged from coworkers keeping any gun-related statements to whispers, to friends who politely insist that I never utter their name and “gun” in the same breath if another person could possibly overhear. The only solution to many gun-owners’ completely legitimate concern that their exercise of a constitutional right could cause them serious employment problems is to fix the underlying anti-gun bias, and I hope this article helps ever so slightly.
Regardless of the unpleasantness that resulted, I remain thrilled that my colleagues and I had the opportunity to get people thinking and talking about concealed carry. The positive reaction really brightened our days at the office, and one negative situation didn’t undo that.
UPDATE March 27, 2015:
About 6 hours after I posted this article, I received the following email reply from the Honorable Chief Judge Greve:
As we discussed, concerns were raised to me because of the recent television spot concerning your office and firearms. When concerns are raised to me, it is my responsibility and obligation as chief judge to follow up on those concerns.
Marlita A. Greve
Chief Judge, 7th Jud. Dist.
Scott County Courthouse
400 W. Fourth Street
Davenport, IA 52801
I appreciate the Chief Judge taking the time to reply to my email. However, I am also respectfully disappointed that the Chief Judge declined to provide anything other than the very brief statement that “concerns were raised.”
If there actually is someone raising a “concern” based upon the news reports, that person is either being dishonest or lacks the ability to understand the language (English) in which the interviews were conducted. I say that because, as discussed more fully above, I said absolutely nothing that could remotely be taken to suggest that I or my staff carry guns in the courthouse. Instead, I went to great lengths to discuss that fact that we emphasize safe and lawful carry, and that the $50/month bonus was for lawfully carrying at the office. Moreover, given the existence of the Internet, anyone can easily find and view the news reports and see for themselves exactly what my employees and I said.