A version of this was published in The Post Register on May 20, 2016.



Jay B Gaskill
Jay B Gaskill


When the Irish poet William Butler Yeats wrote “Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot hear the falconer,” he was writing about our own increasing distance from the moral center. But Yeats’ opening line always reminds me of my early experience as an Idaho lawyer.

I was fresh from Oakland, where I had tried felony cases as an Assistant Public Defender. Then the new client showed up, looking like a falcon, and he was assigned to me. His hair was pulled back in a bun. With his close-set eyes, sharp curving nose, and narrow face, he did look like a bird of prey. In fact the new client was a falconer who cherished his own cast of Peregrines. His hunting partners were the fastest avian predators in the world. Peregrines dive at 200 mph.

Why did he need a lawyer? It seemed that Fish and Game officers had entered his property, roughly pulling his four Peregrine falcons from their cages. Three birds were taken into custody, but a fourth took to the air. My client complained that one or more of his falcons were hurt during the capture.

The Fish and Game officers were enforcing the Endangered Species Act. The US Peregrine population had been decimated by DDT, and Peregrines were listed very soon after the Act was passed by Congress. But our client’s Peregrines were acquired earlier. Arguably they were in my clients’ lawful care – grandfeathered in as it were.

My client wanted his jailbirds returned, and I was to come up with legal solution. I imagined a writ of habeas “falconinae” … or “Give me the birds!”  [Apologies to my Idaho Falls High School Latin teacher.]

As compared with Peregrine falcons, lawyers have never been on the endangered species list. So I hopped to the task. What a lark. Instead of defending knuckle-dragging human predators, the terror of Oakland shopkeepers, I would be defending noble predator birds, the terror of local squirrels. The battle was on.  I drew up a proposed release order, and prepared the supporting legal arguments. A judge was promptly assigned and Justice prevailed.  Three falcons and their falconer were reunited.


My client came by the office the next day. “Thank you,” he said. “My three falcons are now safe…” He paused. “But can you get an order for the fourth one?” He explained that his fugitive falcon was carrying a radio locater (the latest thing in the day), but its batteries were almost dead. The judge quickly came through with a supplementary order. The battery held; my client’s fugitive falcon came in, rejoining its cast.


To be a falconer is to keep alive an ancient and honorable sport, a partnership between the planet’s top predator (humans) and one of the noblest of birds. Our Peregrine population is alive and well thanks to federal and state Fish & Wildlife Services, The Peregrine Fund, Midwestern Peregrine Falcon Restoration Project and others.

After a couple of years, I returned to the county Public Defender’s office in Oakland – there wasn’t enough crime in Idaho Falls! Over the years, I’ve defended a variety of miscreants, from stone cold killers and sneak thieves, but nothing was quite as charming and satisfying as reuniting a falconer with his falcons.

Jay Gaskill is a recovering lawyer who, having abandoned his urban “life of crime,” returned to live in his former home town, Idaho Falls, also known as Lake Woebegone West.

His bad puns can be attributed to the influence of his high school journalism teacher, the late Afton Bitton – pictured here at her Swan Valley homestead.


JAY and AFTIE at Swan Valley



Copyright © 2016, 2017 by Jay B Gaskill

Jay Gaskill writes on The Policy Think Site – & The Outlawyer’s Blog –



JBG head





By now, with president-elect Trump’s inauguration pending, these five articles have an eerie feel to them, as if I had been writing an alternative history novel, instead of chronicling the most disruptive U. S. political upset in modern times.


Neither political party will be the same after this. The soul-searching among the democrats has just begun, while the republicans are walking the policy tightrope of the century.


One of the most revelatory moments in the campaign was little noted. Trump was commenting about British PM Cameron’s plight in light of the Brexit vote. He said that Mr. Cameron was a good man, but that he had misjudged “the mood of the people.” The key to Trump’s astonishing success is that, whatever else one can say, he alone among all the political contenders in 2016 accurately judged “the mood of the people.”


There was another insightful comment by Michael Gerson in the Washington Post, also little noted.


“If this is a normal election — in which the composition of the electorate and the turnout of various groups roughly match recent presidential contests — Clinton’s argument should be enough. If this is an anti-establishment wave election, she has the worst possible political profile — boasting of her royal résumé during the French Revolution.”

The piece (published on July 29th, 2016) ended with – “This is an extraordinary political moment. Any reasonable Republican presidential contender other than Trump probably would be beating Clinton handily. Any reasonable Democratic contender other than Clinton probably would be beating Trump handily. The parties, in their wisdom, have chosen the untrusted against the unstable, the uninspiring against the unfit. Take your pick, and take your chances.”


Of course, this was not a “normal election,” it was a cataclysmic anti-establishment eruption.

For the record, I ended up voting for the Utah national security expert candidate, former CIA anti-terrorist specialist and investment banker, David Evan McMullin, knowing full well that he had no prayer of getting a single electoral college vote.,

As the Trump cabinet and advisor cadre fleshes out, I am only marginally reassured. My problem is not with the predictable conservative bent of the incoming administration. My concern from the beginning was that Trump, the showman, was making it up as he went, in effect that he was to be presiding over a stochastic presidency where policy is made up on the fly by a celebrity who, though shrewd, is not going to be up to the real demands of governance.


That ship has sailed. Note: Very, very few incoming presidents on the day of their inauguration have known a fraction of what the presidency demands of them. As always, the quality of the ensuing presidency has been a product of the quality of the presidential staff, and the willingness of the Chief Executive to listen and modify his or her positions accordingly. Trump’s elusive flexibility may be a virtue. Whether it can overcome his penchant for impulsiveness and risk-taking is the question of the day.


JBG – January 5, 2017



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