Theft and a Confession


Margo Georgiadis, CEO                                                                                                                               Mattel, Inc.                                                                                                                                                 333 Continental Boulevard
El Segundo, CA 90245-5012

Re: My Guilty Conscience

Ms. Georgiadis,

I stole this Mattel doll 40+ years ago from King’s department store in Plattsburgh, New York.

The store went out of business three decades ago, so I can’t return it there. I don’t want to return it at all, but my sister said I have to.

I swiped it from a package with a mom and dad doll with van and accessories. I just wanted the baby, because I was obsessed with tiny things. But after getting back to my grandma’s apartment, I got a harsh introduction to my guilty conscience and buried the doll in a box in my closet.

I was never able to look at it, let alone touch it. Oh, I thought of it often, but every time I thought about taking it out to play with it, I’d get within a foot of its cardboard grave before feeling dirty and evil and sick.

Then, last week, I was looking for something in my basement and came across the doll, face-down in a corner of a box, reflecting my shame.

I don’t want to give it back. I mean, I stole it because I wanted it. Right? It’s become part of my life. This tug-of-war has gone on in my head since 1973. I want the doll, yet I want it away from me.

Just one day after uncovering the pilfered doll in my basement, I scored a large baby doll at auction to resell and, to identify it, typed in the search terms “porcelain head baby doll bonnet yellow blue felt.” Up came a picture of the thumb-size Sunshine Family Mattel doll I’d stolen when I was barely out of triangle pants.

It was more than coincidence.

So here is the doll. If it means anything – I’m really sorry.


I just got a text from my sister. She said it’s more a civil matter now, and that I don’t have to return the doll, just the 50-cents it was worth back then. [She feels complicit in the theft since she’s the one who walked me to the store that day.]

Please accept these two quarters (enclosed). That should cover settling the debt as well as my conscience.


Susan Ashline



March 29, 2017

Uh oh. I got a letter from Mattel.







They gave me my quarters….






… and a talking-to.




Forgive Me, Mother Nature


[My sister told me about creepypasta, and I wanted to try my hand at one. It’s a very short work of paranormal or horror fiction. The concept came from my son; the writing from me. Disclaimer: This may suck.]


[by Susan Ashline]

As told by my 12-year-old son:

Last spring, we found a baby deer with spots in our yard. They told us the mother would come get her at night after looking for food all day. So we watched over her to make sure she was safe.

My mom has a picture of a whole crap ton of deer standing like mannequins on our property, staring at her, and their eyes are totally glowing. I love the red fox that run through our back yard, and the wild turkeys look funny when they cross the street like soldiers in formation. I’m even cool with the coyotes as long as they stay away from our rabbits.

We get snakes, too. There’s a mom snake that lives in our garden, and we always see a mass of baby snakes that look like a bowl of spaghetti every year around the time the birds come back.

The birds – the turkey hawks are the only ones I don’t like. They hover around our rabbits, plotting and waiting for an opportunity.

Across the street, they put up “for sale” signs by a company that builds houses. They build whole neighborhoods. And they were building one right across the street. But it wasn’t their place to build. It made me angry.

I couldn’t stand to hear the machines. They sounded like big machines, loud. Every time I heard them, I wished horrible things; things I wouldn’t tell anyone. I just wanted them to go away. I wanted them to stop. Every time I heard them, it meant more trees were coming down; fewer places deer could hide and find food.

It used to be all woods. It belonged to nature.

I would sneak onto the property and hide in the bushes and watch the dozers and bucket trucks and trucks I couldn’t name. One was taking down trees; another was chewing them up and spitting them out. Every sound meant one more tree was gone.

It pissed me off. But really, it made me sad.

My mom made me a Halloween costume. I wanted a ghillie suit, so she got some burlap and plastic leaves, and then sewed on the leaves, and we tied the ends. It fit kind of like a sack.

I kept it so I could sneak across the street and spy on the workers. I’d just sit and make like a bush.

I learned the names of the men working over there. I’d hear them call to each other, joking, like they didn’t care that they were destroying nature. Like it was theirs to take.

Vance was a big guy, but he wasn’t very old. He had red hair and a red beard, and his laugh was as big as he was; kind of like Santa Clause, but without the white hair, lot less chubby and a hundred years younger. I think he was in college. He kept talking about this girl he liked, named Phoebe, I think. It was hard to hear over the machines.

There were three guys: Vance, Seth and Campbell.

But, so, one day, I heard this guy, Seth, telling Vance that he would score big with Phoebe if he killed this buck and paid to have it mounted to give to her. He was acting like he’d be some big champion.

And then, I couldn’t believe my eyes when Seth pointed to a huge deer with these gigantic antlers. It was standing, watching them, and its eyes were glowing.

It wasn’t funny. I couldn’t believe they were even joking about killing it. I was so upset, I left.

I told my mom, and she told me to stop going over there. She didn’t want me to get in trouble for going on someone else’s property. She didn’t like what they were doing. She hated it as much as I did. But she didn’t want me to go any more.

I couldn’t stop myself.

I went over again. This time, Seth was shooting off his mouth about what a skilled hunter he is, supposedly. He was young, too, but I’m sure he wasn’t in college. He looked like a redneck. Hair went all around his face, but not like a normal beard. And his hair was cut really bad, like someone put a bowl on his head and cut around it; like it was his girlfriend’s first time with the scissors. But I don’t even think he would have a girlfriend, because he was ugly. And his teeth were brown and all messed up. And he always wore a baseball hat with camouflage on it, and shirts with patches.

Campbell was quiet. I think he was in charge. He was old. He probably had a whole family. He wore a hat, too, but underneath it, his hair stuck out, a lot of gray mixed in with a little black.

So, anyway, I was sitting on the ground in the ghillie suit, watching Seth and Vance eating lunch. Campbell was off somewhere. His truck was gone. That big buck came out of nowhere. I just saw it standing in front of them, like, half-way from me to them, maybe only as far away as our driveway is long. And they froze a minute and looked like they weren’t sure what to do. Then, all of sudden, Seth whispered something to Vance, both of them burst out laughing, and – Vance charged the deer!

I was really horrified. I wanted to run. I was afraid the deer would come my way and trample me, because no one could tell I wasn’t ground cover. I couldn’t catch my breath, I was so scared.

But the deer ran off just to the left of me, and Vance went after it.

He stopped; looked around. He stood there. The deer was gone. And Vance looked like he didn’t know which direction to go, so he kind of stumbled back into a tree and then rested against it.

I don’t know if I can tell this part. I want to cry. I should’ve listened to my mom. I shouldn’t have gone back there.

The tree – it… it came alive. I swear. The branches had no leaves, and like arms, I swear they wrapped around Vance – his whole body. It looked like a boa constrictor squeezing the life out of him. He face started to match the color of his hair.

I did feel bad for him, and scared. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel like he deserved it. I kind of wanted it to happen. And I’ll always feel bad for that, like somehow I made it happen in real life.

I was afraid to move, because I didn’t know if nature would attack me, too. So I sat. And I watched. And they didn’t make any noise – they never do – but I somehow just knew they were there, plotting and waiting for an opportunity. I looked up at the sky.

Vance couldn’t scream. He was being choked by the tree. I watched him prying at the branches with his big, strong arms, and then suddenly – he saw them, too. His eyes got huge. I could almost see blood in them. He stopped moving.

Just his eyes – that’s what I remember most. And then the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen: The turkey hawks came, one after another, flying into his face. They came back again and again, pecking him all over his body. There must’ve been 20 of them.

I couldn’t scream. I couldn’t breathe.

A brigade of red fox appeared and stood like an audience, doing nothing but watch the droppings of fresh pieces of flesh on the ground.

Seth showed up in the far corner of the lot, just walking casually. He had no idea what was going on. I wanted to holler to him to run away, but was too scared.

I heard a rustle – a loud one. And I saw Seth turn around. And then, I saw him running, with his head still turned backward.

A stampede of deer followed, their eyes glowing. The wind got so fierce I had to grab onto my costume at the sides and had all I could do to keep it over me. Piles of leaves whipped up, and they – they formed, like, baseballs, and the baseballs of leaves hit one after the other, pounding Seth in the head.

He fell to the ground. I saw him lie there on his stomach and, for a minute, the baseball leaves stopped. And the herd stopped behind him. He managed to wrench himself up on his elbows, and he looked like some dude who did too many push-ups in boot camp. But when he lifted his head, I saw that terror again – in the eyes. And then I looked where he was looking, and I saw them. The wild turkeys were lined up like an executioner squad.

I swear it’s true. And I wish I could get rid of that in my mind. I don’t want to say what came next.

No, they didn’t peck him like I thought they would. They walked to him, like, hopped, but very quickly, and they used their beaks to grab onto his shirt with patches. They dragged him. It was fast. They pulled him about . . . maybe the length of my neighbor’s ranch house into the swamp. But they didn’t just let him sink. Turtles crawled on top of him, and they pushed him down under the water. He fought it. I saw it. But there were a handful of turtles, then as many as a batch of cookies, and then I swear there were hundreds of turtles, like bees swarming a hive.

Campbell’s truck pulled in. He had a girl with him. She was about my age. His daughter, I guess. She was a little taller than me and had long, brown hair. I’d seen her around school, but didn’t really know her. I never talked to her. She was new.

I was so worried.

They started walking. I heard her telling her dad she needed to get some fall leaves for a project we’re doing at school. She took off from her dad and started coming my way. I had to do something.

“Hey!” I called, but didn’t yell. It was more like a loud whisper.

She didn’t hear me.

The coyotes never come out during daytime. But there they were, hiding in the trees right in front of her dad, who was pretty far away from us by now.

But she was right next to me.

I stood up, and she jumped back. I broke cover to show her my face, and then before she could say anything, I draped the costume over her head and crouched back down, pulling her with me.

Now, we were both under it. I knew she was about to scream, so I put both my hands over her mouth. It was the third look of wild eyes I’d see. But as she turned to look at me, us squatting on the ground under cover of homemade Halloween costume, she saw Vance. And she was quiet, but tears fell onto my hands. I released them.

Her head slumped down as if she felt helpless. It was because we saw her dad that moment. The coyotes – they – well, I don’t want to say what they did. But it was fast. It was fast, because as they gorged on him, tree branches shot down like lightning bolts, pinning each of his arms and legs. Snakes wrapped around his hands and feet, binding him to the ground. There were screams, but they lasted a lot shorter in real life than they do in my head.

The girl was not crying loudly, but whimpering. I was too shocked to make a sound.

And then, as we sat, whimpering and silent, shaking in fear, we heard a moan coming from Vance.

“What is he saying?” I whispered, but not to her. “What is he saying?” I repeated. I turned to her, and she was listening, too.

I heard it. It was clear this time.

“Forgive me, Mother Nature.”

The limbs released Vance. He slumped to the ground, but still alive.

The wind stopped. Something pulled at our cover. We were terrified. It pulled so fiercely, we tried to hang on, but couldn’t. The ghillie suit was dragged right off us. And there was the fourth pair of wide eyes I’d see that day. But they didn’t show fear. I knew those eyes. I knew that deer, but she was bigger. It was the fawn I’d protected in my yard so her mother could go find food.

Her mouth flicked down quickly at me, but I wasn’t afraid. She licked my arm.





The Meaning Behind the “Missed Call”


[by Susan Ashline]

See a “missed call” on your cell phone? It’s an unspoken message to call the person back.

It’s taken years to bring all of society on board, but I think we’re finally there. I might’ve been one of the last holdouts. It took me a while to fall in line, but now if I see a “missed call” notification, I know it’s my cue to return the call.

Let’s look at the evolution of this. Years ago, a friend (we’ll call her Jackie) would get agitated every time someone left a voice message. She’d complain about having to go into her voice mail to listen to a message telling her to call the person back, and then have to delete the message. That’s a lot of work, apparently.

My take was: If someone wanted me to call them back, they’d leave a message. If they didn’t leave a message, it meant they didn’t want me to call them back. I would call Jackie and leave a message, but then she’d give me a tongue lashing for leaving a message. Conversely, if I didn’t leave Jackie a message and she called me back, I would get irritated, because there was a reason I didn’t want her to return the call – I no longer needed to speak to her, or wouldn’t be available to take a call later.

Make sense? It did to me. But I think I was in the minority.

Time went on, and I, too, became frustrated at having to go in and delete voice mails telling me to call back. So now, if the person I call doesn’t answer the phone, I do nothing. It’s easier for me; easier for them. I know if they see the missed call, they’ll call back.

Do you leave voice messages? And which do you do when get a missed call: call back, or do nothing?


Giving Breast Cancer Pink the Middle Finger


Susan Rahn Stickit2Stage4 breast cancer

[by Susan Ashline]

In the thick of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, one woman living with the disease is engaged in hand-to-keyboard combat against the color pink.

I remember when Susan Rahn followed me on Twitter. As with all my new Twitter follows, I checked to make sure her account wasn’t spam, my only barrier to following back. It wasn’t.

But I didn’t want to follow her back.

Her cover photo was skeleton hands with the middle fingers sticking up, pink ribbons wrapped around the bones. Her Twitter handle: @Stickit2Stage4. Susan had metastatic breast cancer, which is cancer that has spread to other organs. And I saw death. My instinct was to distance myself. I wondered, briefly, how I would feel if I’d gotten to know her and she died. I didn’t want to risk feeling hurt. Twitter suggests followers based on who you follow, and I anticipated an onslaught of follows from women who were waging a futile fight for their lives. I foresaw my breath squeezed out by a digital feed full of doom. And most of Susan’s tweets were about metastatic breast cancer. I thought – I have nothing to offer her.

Eventually – hesitatingly – I did follow her back.

Still, I ignored her.

In August, I found myself at the New York State Fair facing a wall of women captured in photo frames with pink matte board, smiling and lively. But most were no longer alive – they were dead. It was a breast cancer victim/survivor display that I stared at unflinchingly, reading the women’s profiles and silently wishing each back to life.

A week later, I saw Susan’s tweet: “Wearing a color does nothing. Try REAL actions. Make a meal, clean – that is support.”Susan Rahn Twiitter breast cancer awareness tweet

That made sense. I could do that. I knew how to clean.

I messaged Susan through Twitter, offering to clean. She replied – swiftly – with a rant against what she called “the pinkification” of breast cancer. “Who does that help?” she wrote. “So I tweet and call out the BS for what it is, in the hopes that I can maybe change the landscape of the public’s perception of breast cancer.” She ended with, “I deeply appreciate your offer. I promise to let you know if I do need help. I’m sure my time is coming.”

The corners of my mouth instantly mirrored the frown-face emoji that punctuated her last sentence.

I had been under the impression a portion of proceeds from sales of pink items went to breast cancer research, and I told her so.

She said that was a myth, “And if money does happen to go to research, less than 2% goes to fund research for metastatic breast cancer; the cancer that kills.” She wrote that 113 women die every day from breast cancer; a projected 40,450 men and women in the U.S. this year. “Those are the same numbers as the height of the AIDS epidemic, but no one puts any urgency on breast cancer research because they focus on awareness.”

I offered to write about Susan’s war on the pinkification of breast cancer. I could do that. I knew how to write.

No sooner did she accept my offer, that I got a message from Jeff Rahn, another of my Twitter followers: “As you probably picked up on, Susan is very passionate about the various ‘pink scams’ out there and is trying so hard to get actual research instead of awareness campaigns. We are all aware.”

She was his wife, he said, and a great mom and step-mom. And he thanked me for reaching out to her. “Just acknowledging a terminally ill person means more than you can imagine. So often they are forgotten.”

When I called Susan for the interview, I confessed my reluctance to follow her on Twitter. I wondered aloud whether my reaction to shut her out was not uncommon, and perhaps the reason her message, of the need for more emphasis on research, wasn’t reaching the general population.

“Which is why I’m so loud and obnoxious,” said Susan, acknowledging my reaction wasn’t a surprise.  Social media users labeled her angry and bitter, she said. “They think I’m angry and bitter because of my diagnosis. But ya know what? Anger and bitterness gets sh*t done.”

Susan said she feels awareness campaigns are partly to blame for the instinct to block out those who are terminal. “The message has been that breast cancer is a treatable and curable disease. If you catch it early, like if you catch a cold, you deal with the symptoms, treat it and go on with your life. But that’s not the case, because 6-10% of women – like me – get diagnosed with stage four from day one. And you don’t necessarily have to have any prior family history.”

Maybe I’d shut the door on Susan’s Twitter page because she represented what I feared – that she could be me.

Lingering rib pain led to Susan’s diagnosis of stage four breast cancer just months after getting a clean read from a routine mammogram. She was a newlywed, not quite a year into her second marriage. She had one son, her only biological child. Genetic testing turned up no markers for breast cancer. She was 43 years old.

She was told she had months to live. It was August 2013.

Susan continues to fight for her life – and the lives of others – by advocating for metastatic breast cancer research. She is the editor of a newly-formed digital magazine, The Underbelly: Illuminating Breast Cancer’s Darker Side (, which launched an October Twitter campaign (#WhyIsThisPink) to make the consumer aware that many merchants collecting money from selling pink items are simply lining their own pockets.

“It’s okay if something’s pink, as long as the money is going to the right place,” said Susan, who hopes The Underbelly will draw an audience well beyond Breast Cancer Awareness Month. “We want to bring the ugliness and the things that people don’t want to talk about into the light. It’s not all pink and fun, and it’s not a sorority. The narrative needs to change.”

Author’s note: I’ve since learned a lot about breast cancer pink. Susan’s opinion doesn’t stand alone – far from it. Voices can be heard all over the internet calling for an end to the “pink” campaign and a focus on dollars for research to find a cure. The pink campaign was successful in raising awareness. Now, it’s time to move it forward. #BreastCancerRealityCheck


What Does Your Front Porch Say About You?


[by Susan Ashline]

We walked door-to-door this week in what is known as a “bad part of town” in the city of Rochester. I’m familiar with the street name from my days as a news reporter. It was always on the scanner for shootings, stabbings, and miscellaneous crimes.

In spots, the patch of lawn separating each house could be measured in inches and not feet. We saw one garage that had a house number. We saw houses with broken steps and broken siding and peeling paint. There were broken windows, broken doors.

But there were fabulous porches; well-kept porches and elaborate porches. And there were amazing gardens in front of them that rivaled any you’d see at an admission-entry conservatory. There were porches adorned with flowering baskets more stunning than those displayed at landscaping businesses. One garden showcased a marvelous variety of colorful flowers, weed-free rows, and an immaculate brick walk-way lined by solar lights.

And one porch had a neighbor on it asking the other neighbor if she could borrow the key to another neighbor’s house to check on it while they away, because she didn’t have the neighbor’s key with her. “It’s that kind of neighborhood,” she told me cheerfully, and smiled as she said it.

Porches had like-new bench swings and patio furniture. One had a hand-designed piece of art stuck into the ground at the base of the front steps; nothing more than twisted metal with blue glass bottles hanging from it, but it was attractive and unique. Most of the porches had polished placards with painted flowers or sayings; or they simply announced “welcome.”

What does that say about a person?

Had I walked onto dirt-covered, unornamented porches with rotting, wooden furniture, it would’ve gone unregistered. But the porches . . . I noticed the porches.


The Little Girl in the Brown Coat


[by Susan Ashline]

I first noticed her flare-leg pants. They were out of style. And they were “high waters.” Was she poor? She was just a kid, maybe 11. And she had on a brown, winter coat, and her hands were in her coat pockets, and she never lifted her head as she walked the bases from home, to third, to second, and around. And around.

And her head was down.

The song on my mp3 player was a fast rhythm, much faster than the girl’s pace, the steps of someone thinking deeply.

As I rounded the outside of the baseball fields in the town park, cooling down from my run, I couldn’t stop watching her.

Was she sad? Lonely? Did she have friends? Was her sister playing softball the next field over? I was sure people were looking at me and wondering why I was looking at her. But if they were, I didn’t notice.

What was she thinking about?

I saw her. I mean – I saw me. A lifetime ago.

A woodpecker started over the music in my mp3 player, but neither song nor tree-tapping drowned out my memory flood. I was riding my skateboard to my friend, Tammy’s house. I was crossing the stinking leather mill pond while someone grabbed my arm from the other side of the water fall so I wouldn’t get swept into the reservoir of floating shopping carts. I was skipping the two blocks to my grandmother’s house, met at the screen door by the comforting smell of chain smoking, a hug from shaking arms and a sloppy kiss. I had my whole life ahead of me. I would never be her. It was a lifetime away.

I had on a shiny, pink pleather jacket with collar. And probably flare leg pants. They might’ve been too short. I’m sure I was out of style. I wasn’t poor.

I thought I was beautiful. I was so awkward. I had a huge honker and hair up to my ears, and people constantly mistook me for a boy.

I was walking the bases of an empty baseball diamond with my head down, but really I was on the starship Enterprise with Captain Kirk, and he’d risk his life to save mine. And it’s a good thing, because there was one disaster after another. He saved me, of course, because he cared so much about me. The crew always teleported me back to earth in time for dinner.

I long passed the girl in the brown coat, but kept turning back to look at her.

Because she was me.

Well, her legs were skinny and mine weren’t. I had these rock-sized calves, the stuff of football players. Yes, even as a little kid. But I, too, had deep conversations with myself at 11. About crushes; mainly Shaun Cassidy. About my parents and fights with my brother and sister. And I had dreams that I was going to be famous.

Did she see me, too? Was she wondering – deeply – if she would be like me when she was older? She was thinking that day would never come. It was a lifetime away.

As I got to my car, she’d changed her rotation – first base to second, to third, to home, her little kid sneakers in a drumbeat kicking up mud from the soaked fields onto socks exposed by her too-short pants.

She would never be me. It was a whole lifetime away.


Cheryl’s Shenanigans (in the Monroe County Executive’s Office)


[by Susan Ashline]

As attacks on Cheryl Dinolfo’s coiffure make way for assaults on her integrity, it’s timely to update my squelched efforts to get public information connected to her husband, a county court judge.

Stories on the Monroe County Executive’s questionable role in the recent I-Square/COMIDA scandal go down like dry toast. I’ll try to make my read more palatable. Come along on this fun (if not troubling) little exercise in the machinations of county politics. Put yourself in the driver’s seat by clicking on the linked text.

I’ve completed a manuscript of my first book, which is currently under review by literary agents. A Jacket off the Gorge is the true story of a criminal case handled by Monroe County Court Judge Vincent Dinolfo. He is married to Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo. The judge has been made aware of the manuscript. He hasn’t read it, of course, but he knows how it reads. He was there.

Here’s a snapshot of one chapter: Judge Dinolfo reverses a decision by a higher court judge (State Supreme Court Judge Alex Renzi) only to rescind it weeks later, after admitting that striking down Renzi’s ruling meant deciding Renzi had acted improperly.

In October 2012, Judge Dinolfo requested – and received – a disc containing recorded jail calls between myself and a defendant (the subject of my book). Without giving a reason publicly, Judge Dinolfo listened to these recordings while the defendant’s case was still pending before him; prior to sentencing.

I want the disc.

According to Robert Freeman, Director of the state’s Committee on Open Government, I am entitled to the recordings. Because I was a party to the phone calls, the county cannot deny my request based on “invasion of privacy.” I cannot invade my own privacy.

This past October, while Cheryl Dinolfo was stumping for county executive, I filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request to get the disc that was in her husband’s hands. It went ignored. After Cheryl Dinolfo took office I tried again, in many different ways, to get a response to my request. It continued to go unanswered.

Eventually, I emailed an appeal on January 15 to William Napier, Dinolfo’s Communications Director who’d previously ignored all of my contacts. I blogged about it within 24 hours. And the blog got shared all over social media by former news colleagues and others. And I tweeted it to Cheryl Dinolfo’s Twitter page and to her staff. My blog got thousands of hits, leaving me rolling in 3¢ per day revenue from Google AdSense.

The following week, I received an envelope in the mail from the county post-marked January 20. Inside was a letter dated January 14, a supposed response to my initial FOIL request from months earlier.

Isn’t that fantastic(al)? It either takes a county employee six days to drop an envelope in the mail, or the letter wasn’t actually written on January 14, but predated.

I had asked for (1) the jail visit log showing the dates of my visits with the defendant during a specific time span, (2) the jail phone log showing only the calls made to me, and (3) the phone recordings (particularly the disc in Judge Dinolfo’s possession). I was sent the visit log, but not the phone log. And though I requested the visit log from October, I was not sent any from October, but was sent several from November. Also included was a bill for the November logs I never requested. I guess that happens when you’re hurriedly photocopying just any “stuff” you can get your hands on in order to get a letter in the mail to stop the flap.

As for the call log and the phone recordings, I was flat out denied. How can I be denied the phone log based on “unwarranted invasion of [my own] personal privacy,” yet sent the visit log (albeit the wrong dates)?

At least I had Napier’s predated reply, so I took the opportunity to write a champion FOIL appeal to Deputy County Executive Thomas Van Strydonck citing all sorts of case law which undeniably proves I am entitled to the information requested. And of course Van Strydonck couldn’t reject it (I foolishly thought). He is, after all, a former judge.

After patting myself on the back, I mailed the appeal (read it here and here, and be equally as proud).

Soon after, I got an envelope from the county post marked February 12 (that it’s torn is testament to how excited I was to finally get my request filled), and inside was a letter from Van Strydonck dated… wait – dated February 12? Unlike Napier, he was able to mail it the same day he sealed the envelope.

To my surprise, it was not only a denial, but worded the same as Napier’s — verbatim — a couple sentences handily dismissing my request, giving the appearance my appeal was never even read. Van Strydonck’s letter even sloppily cited an incorrect date. His letter used vague language, side-stepping the mandate that the office detail reasons for the denial. It used the same ridiculous and inapplicable “invasion of privacy” excuse, yet did not state which records were denied based on this.

At the recommendation of Robert Freeman, director of the Committee on Open Government, I’d included a request for written certification if any of the records I requested no longer existed. That is my legal right. However, I received no certification. Instead, the letter claimed the phone recordings were only available to me through subpoena, citing civil court law (something Freeman said is incorrect, as civil court law is unrelated to FOIL).

Then – something curious happened. My website visitor plug-in showed a visitor was referred to my site by Google using the search terms “Susan Ashline Judge Vincent Dinolfo.” How odd. Who would ever have reason to put those two names together in a search bar? The visitor came from Irondequoit, the town where Cheryl and Vincent Dinolfo reside. It could be anyone. (Thanks to all of you for stopping by, and — smile, you’re on IP surveillance).

After that, something even more peculiar happened. An attorney who Judge Dinolfo knows to be a friend of mine told me the judge pulled him aside one day in the Hall of Justice and said he’d gotten a FOIL request for the disc. This friend, who has no personal relationship with Judge Dinolfo, says the judge told him he no longer has the disc, that he’d gotten rid of it.

Yet, I got no certification the disc was no longer in existence. Instead, I got a denial stating I would need to subpoena it. And how did Judge Dinolfo know about my FOIL request? If I was required to get the recordings by subpoena, why would county staff approach the judge with my request for the disc?

Why should anyone care about my story? Because one day, they might want to exercise their right to obtain public information. I could file legal action to get the information I seek, but I don’t have the money to throw away fighting for that which I am entitled. Rights are only available to those who can afford them. As citizens, we expect – and deserve – better than public officials who cherry pick which individuals’ rights to honor, and which to trample.



Politicians Being Human – Our Political Rally Journey


[by Susan Ashline]

In the end, my vote came down to a missed handshake.

My 11-year-old son got interested watching news reports of the presidential election, then he was watching debates. When I heard Bill Clinton was coming to Rochester to stump for his wife before the New York primary, I thought Reed would like to see a former president.

That’s how it started: simple.

The night I offered up the idea, my son got increasingly spirited, and as I lay in bed with flu, he popped in and out, strategizing on how he was going to get Clinton’s autograph. And he did.

Reed became hell-bent on getting each candidate’s autograph. He fashioned a special election folder from a two-pocket school folder, labeled it and affixed election stickers. He borrowed my leather briefcase and organized it with permanent markers, pens, paper, and various utility inserts he’d made with black-and-white checkered duct tape.

To score an upfront view, we arrived at Hillary Clinton’s rally an hour ahead of the doors opening. I was surprised to find myself shoulder-to-shoulder with 1,300 people. Clinton’s speech done, she walked the perimeter of the podium (the “rope line”) shaking hands. Some members of the democratic party got my son’s duct-taped signing sheet to a Clinton staffer. While we waited for it to come back to us, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren stood near us, talking to someone. She overheard me telling her staffer that my son had been hoping to meet Hillary.

Warren, who doesn’t know me and never met me, said to her staffer, “Take them back.”

But it was too late, Hillary had just left. Back came Hillary’s autograph to Reed. Warren’s ever-so-slight gesture left a big, positive impression on me, and I spent time wondering why. It was impulsive. It was not asked for, but offered. It was . . . human.

We didn’t leave too far in advance for candidate John Kasich’s rally the following day. Who would go? No one was voting for him.

We hit the traffic clog long before the rally site and encountered a line at the door that wound down the sidewalk to the tune of more than 4,000 people. Republican Mark Assini, who’s running for Congress, was shaking hands and talking to folks in line.

Once again, we managed to get in the main room, right at the podium. I liked what Kasich had to say. If I was registered as a Republican, he’d get my primary vote.

We missed the rope line walk at the conclusion, and Reed was so disheartened he didn’t get Kasich’s autograph. He stood forlorn in the main room long after it’d cleared.

Then, I noticed Kasich had returned to speak with reporters. I grabbed a “reserved” sign from the bleachers and we walked up to him. Not only did he write on it, “Reed – live your dreams!” but he also took time to tell my son an anecdote of trying to score an autograph when he was Reed’s age.John Kasich autograph

When we left, Assini was still there, still shaking hands.

Three autographs in fist, our simple venture turned complex. We were on a mission. Donald Trump was in town. A friend dropped us off at the airplane hanger six hours early, in the freezing cold. But it paid off. There was a guy who positioned himself directly in front of Trump’s podium, and we stood right next to him. Behind us were some 10,000 people.

I wasn’t “one of them.” This was a tough one for me. I’m very anti-Trump. However, if he is to be my president, it is not only my right to find out what he’s all about, but my obligation.

No, I don’t like Trump.

But at the end, he walked the rope line. Slowly. Methodically. Calmly. He stayed in one spot until he’d taken each person’s item to sign. No worries about him flying past my son’s outstretched arm.Donald Trump Autographing at Rochester Rally

While it didn’t change my opinion of Trump, it certainly softened it. It was difficult to admit to myself that after all my serious concerns about Trump’s platform, something so seemingly insignificant could matter so much.

Maybe it was that Trump understood the value of marketing himself in such a way. Maybe it was strictly vanity. Maybe he genuinely likes connecting with individuals. Whatever the case – it worked. He shook hands and signed autographs, and it mattered.

Bernie Sanders MCC Iceplex April 12 2016 (1)aReed was 4-for-4 and Bernie Sanders was rallying. I pulled him out of school because some of the best lessons are learned outside the classroom. We got up at 5:19 a.m. We waited in a long line of traffic, then a longer line of pedestrians. It was so cold we brought mylar blankets. After two hours, my body was shutting down, my teeth chattering so hard, I was afraid I would bite off my tongue.

Once we got through the metal detectors, we managed to get right up to the rope line. This meant we were pretty much assured an autograph.

Bernie was the candidate I knew the least about, so I was paying close attention to each word. I liked a lot of what he said. I thought I might vote for him in the primary. I could finally have a candidate to back, though some of what he said was too extreme for me.

He finished to cheers and applause and music, and Reed readied his duct-taped Bernie rally ticket and indelible marker for an autograph.

Bernie flew down the steps of the podium – straight out the door. He did not walk the rope line. He went for the exit. Bernie couldn’t get past the throngs of people on his way out who were reaching out to him, so he grabbed a few hands as he whirred past. One guy held out a sign and marker, and a security guy snatched it as Bernie blew by.Bernie Sanders Rushing out of Rochester Rally

From the rope line, the masses screamed Bernie’s name, trying to get him to come for a handshake. An autograph.

He maybe had to use the bathroom, I reasoned. He had to rush to another rally? He’s old and was too exhausted? But if he those were correct, then he’s not fit to be president. He’s too unskilled with time management to be president.

Is he too out of touch with people to be president?

His message rang “inclusion.” Yet, he’d excluded all the people who stood for hours in the cold, making themselves sick and hurting just for a chance to shake hands. His actions seemed incongruous with his message.

Did we not matter?

Reed Ashline at Ted Cruz Rally

We missed one autograph, but went to the Ted Cruz rally anyway. In line, we again saw Mark Assini. He came over and chatted, and told us he’d shaken so many hands at the Trump rally his hand was sore. I gave him credit – lots – for walking the lines and meeting with people.

Cruz was criticized for the brevity of his speech. But like Trump, he took an inordinate amount of time connecting one-on-one with prospective voters, posing for photos and signing. He patiently signed his name for my son.Ted Cruz Rochester Rally

In the days leading up to the primary, I tried to erase my personal feelings about Bernie not walking the rope line. But in the end, it mattered. I could go into detail about this candidate or that, and I’d like to get into specifics about platforms and agendas and criticisms and rumors. But then I’d be denying the importance of a handshake. For whatever reason – it mattered.

And because Bernie could not give me his time, I could not give him mine.

NY Primary Election Day


An Unhoppy Easter Tale of Letting Go


[by Susan Ashline]

This was an Easter of growing pains – his, not mine.

Saturday evening, I thought my son would be interested in an Easter Egg hunt at the community center. This was a cool one, a flashlight hunt for kids grades five and up. Reed had spent the previous six years in fear of egg hunts, refusing to do them. He was the kid who stood there when the whistle sounded, then cried as all the other kids stampeded and scooped up the eggs in front of him – *snap* gone. But this year, at 11, he decided he wanted to do egg hunts. He just wanted the candy.

I was so excited. All these years, he’d deprived me of taking him to Easter egg hunts.

Reed asked a friend of his to join him at the event. We got there early. The gym was dark but for flashes of disco lights, and there was music playing. A group of girls arrived. They went into the gym alone.

We waited longer, and eventually Reed’s friend showed up. His father said “hello” – then left.

The boys lingered in the entrance waiting for another friend, while I sat in a chair in front of a TV, next to a table with magazines. Another group of kids arrived and went into the gym. As a parent saw them off, I overheard a staffer enthusiastically shout, “You’re welcome to stay if you want!” Nope. She didn’t.

Reluctantly, I told my own son, “I can pick you up later.” He didn’t want me to leave. I was so relieved.

I thought this was going to be a parent-child event. It hit me hard – the kids were old enough to be sans parents. This was it. The end. Or, the beginning. It was the first event (except for birthday parties) the parents weren’t expected to stay with their children and participate, or help them participate.

I wasn’t ready for this. He’s only 11. And he’s a small 11. I mean, he still sleeps with stuffed animals. How can he be old enough to go to an event without me?

It’s not like I hadn’t been through this before. But when my oldest was 11, I had a toddler in tow. It’s been more than 21 years of attending parent-child events. And now, it’s over. I mean – it’s over?

When the friend didn’t show, the boys made their way into the gym. A staffer offered me pizza. I helped her carry boxes. Ya know – made it look as though I was there to be of assistance, rather than because I was afraid to let go.

While they did their middle-school age stuff in the gym, I walked around outside. But I didn’t go far. What if he needed me to cut his meat?


Courthouse Sex Abuse Hushed by Lawyer Committee


[by Susan Ashline]

A friend questioned the sex abuse allegations against Donald Trump. “Why would women wait until now to come forward?”

I know why.

I noticed Lawrence Baker’s name on the Attorney Grievance Committee website when I was doing research for a book I was writing. The committee is charged with fielding complaints of lawyer misconduct.

Baker had been my attorney when I went through Family Court a decade ago. I fired him. He’d been hitting on me relentlessly. I didn’t tell the judge that was the reason (and it wasn’t the only reason). I kept my mouth shut, because no one would believe me. I even questioned myself: What if he wasn’t hitting on me? I’d embarrass myself if I was wrong. I would come across as vain.

Little did I know, I wasn’t the only one.

The committee had suspended Baker from practicing law for two years, beginning in 2012. I fished around and found the report:

In 2010, Baker and opposing counsel were in a pretrial conference in judge’s chambers when the judge left the room. Baker began making sexual comments to the female lawyer, and then touched her on the shoulder. He called it a “love tap” and said the comments were a “bad joke.” But the Referee hearing the complaint stated Baker’s excuses were “disingenuous and calculating.”

It gets worse — unbelievably worse.

The Referee then determined Baker “exposed his genitals” to the lawyer, kissed her neck and shoved both is hands inside her blouse and bra, and fondled her breasts. He chased it down with more sexual comments “which included crude sexual references to opposing counsel’s anatomy,” the report states.

How did it get that far? Did she, at first, question whether it was actually happening? Would she be embarrassed if she was wrong, and come across as vain? Was she hoping he would stop? Was she thinking it would be her word against his? Would she think no one would believe her?

There’s more.

Despite already validating previous complaints against Baker, the committee did not disbar him, but handed out a limited suspension.

In summary, as though justifying a two-year suspension as harsh, the Grievance Committee enumerated their reasons. One — they’d issued Baker a letter of caution in the past for engaging in inappropriate conduct directed toward a client.

Two — the committee gave Baker a “you’ve been a bad boy” letter another time for falsely notarizing his client’s signature when he had never even met with the client (is that not a criminal act?). Bakers “client” complained that not only did he not sign the document, but he had no knowledge of the proceeding.

Baker is back in business, continuing to represent the most vulnerable of women — those going through Family Court. And the unnamed female attorney (his victim) is forced to work with a person whose actions, as outlined in the report, read like a sexual predator.

And the Grievance Committee did nothing to notify the public. Sure, you can find the decisions on their convoluted website if you go hunting for it, clicking around a maze of links, but most people are unaware of the committee and its website.

The Grievance Committee in the Rochester area is led by Greg Huether, a former Monroe County District Attorney with an abysmal record in successfully handling attorney complaints. His committee is chaired by lawyers. It’s lawyers policing lawyers. And in the vast majority of cases, the committee sends citizen complaints of attorney misconduct into the proverbial trash.

The Annual Report for Huether’s district is disgracefully bad. In 2015 (latest stats), the committee handled 1,973 complaints. Of those, 256 lawyers were sent private/confidential “you’ve been naughty” letters, 157 were were referred to the Appellate Division for a disciplinary hearing. The rest — 1,816 — were dumped.

Of course, the Baker case involved another lawyer as a complainant. When Baker’s client complained, the only sanction was a letter telling Baker, Don’t do that again. But he did. And much worse.

And instead of removing him so he can’t ever do it again, he’s back in business. Though the lawyers making up the Grievance Committee could have — should have — made the public aware of what happened, they didn’t tattle on their own kind.

A waste of money, lip service, a complete failure — I would call the Attorney Grievance Committee a joke… except there is nothing funny about this.