Maggie Baumer was a recent graduate of my own alma mater, Cardozo Law, in 2012 when she made a mistake that altered her life irrevocably. At the time, the young lawyer was fiercely ridiculed for her tragic error and resulting devastating injury by the press. The story of how she returned home to her Manhattan apartment after a night out and attempted to gain entry to her locked apartment through a trash chute resulting in her arm being caught in a trash compactor was widely reported as the result of drunkenness and mocked by news media, including such blogs as ‘Above the Law’ which routinely hits below the belt with their stories. I was always surprised at the vitriol directed towards her and the lack of empathy by commentators towards her and her story.
I was so pleased then to come across this https://womensvoicesworldwideblog.wordpress.com/2013/10/04/a-call-for-privacy-tending-your-secret-garden/ intelligent and thoughtful account from Ms. Baumer herself, written a year after her accident and demonstrating a spirit and character worthy not of condemnation but rather respect and admiration. To me, she personifies that wise adage that guides many defense attorneys: that we are not the worst thing we have done in our lives; or perhaps in her case, the most foolish thing we have done. She demonstrates what humanism in law means to me.
I am not religious but another wise, old adage that I also apply to my life and law practice has always struck me as imbued with humanist meaning regardless of personal beliefs…so, with that disclaimer, I will repeat it here, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” To be guided by that principle as a lawyer and a layperson means looking for the humanity in others always; even when it seems easy to judge them. Maggie Baumer was harshly criticized by people who chose to devalue her entire life and career as a young attorney based on what was ultimately a terrible accident; she had to deal with not only a lengthy physical and emotional recovery but the indignities of being judged by others in a very public and harsh forum. She emerged with grace and humanity and now works to serve others, not despite her mistake; but because of it.
We are not better for having not fallen; we are better for falling and getting back up.