Archive for December, 2014

Seeing Jim Wirken’s personal life and his career as a lawyer spiral downhill has unsettled and disappointed me.

On Wednesday, the 70-year-old former lawyer was sentenced to 13 months in federal prison for money laundering.

He had pleaded guilty in May to one felony count, admitting that he took more than $116,000 from a client and used it to pay off a loan. Two years ago he was disbarred after the Missouri Supreme Court determined that he had improperly “borrowed” about $800,00 from seven clients.

Wirken photo

Jim Wirken

I’ve known Jim a long time, perhaps since I covered the Jackson County Courthouse for The Star in the 1970s, although I don’t specifically remember him from those years. In the late ’80s or early ’90s, I used to see him at the Rockhill Tennis Club, where I played numerous times as a guest, and later when his son Matt and our son Charlie were in the same class at Visitation Grade School and played football together.

In more recent years, I’d see him occasionally at the Grand Street Cafe, where he went for drinks almost every night and dined frequently. One time when Patty and I ran into him there, he and his family were celebrating some special occasion. We chatted with them for a few minutes before taking a table, and later we discovered that Jim had arranged for the waiter to give our bill to him.

My impression of Jim was always that he had an ego as big as his personality but that he was a decent fellow. I remember one time when he was doing some heavy-duty landscaping work at the Rockhill Club, and I thought, “Wow, that’s some serious volunteer service for your club.” I remember a day when a kid suffered a broken arm during a Visitation football game and Jim used a magazine to fashion a temporary splint to stabilize the boy’s arm.

Jim was definitely a self-promoter, however. He loved the limelight and loved being in the news. For a few years, he had a Sunday morning show called “Wirken on the Law” on KMBZ radio. More recently, he represented Mayor Mark Funkhouser and his wife Gloria Squitiro at the height of their unpopularity, when they were fighting a racial discrimination suit stemming from mistreatment of a mayor’s office employee. (The case was settled in the employee’s favor.)


Jim apparently began stealing from clients in 2007 and for the first few years thereafter was able to maintain the image of a successful, go-to lawyer. He was as bombastic as ever and still hung out at Grand Street Cafe.

The first inkling I had that something was askew was when I ran into him one day, asked how his wife was doing, and he replied, “She left me. Just up and left!” He said that in a way designed to impart the impression that was still just as surprised and perplexed as the day she moved out. I probed a bit further but quickly saw that he was holding fast to his story that he’d been unceremoniously dumped for no good reason.

That could have been around 2007, but I don’t recall.

The next thing I knew he was charged with money laundering a few years ago. As recently as a year or so ago, he rented space in the Plaza office building where my dentist had her practice. According to a story that went up on The Star’s website today, he now lives in a recreational vehicle that he also uses as an office for a legal consulting business he operates.

It will be interesting to see if Jim can make a comeback once he gets out of prison. It wouldn’t surprise me. If he lives long enough, he may well get his law license back some day. He’s not the kind of guy to yield the spotlight easily or to let ignominy prevail.

I do feel quite sure that, assuming he survives his prison stint, he’ll be back at the Grand Street Cafe…It might be quite a while, though, before he’s able to pick up other people’s dinner tabs. He’s got a lot of money to pay back to clients he “borrowed” from.



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Pictured below is a woman who is a menace to area streets and residents.



She is Sinead T. Lynch. She is 38 and lives in Overland Park.

Sinead (probably pronounced shi-nade) is decidedly bad news. Her “thing” is stealing cars and driving wild and crazy, regardless of the consequences. Instead of being hooked on crack (which is also a possibility), she is hooked on wild rides.

Fortunately, she apparently has killed no one yet, but she recently did several hundred thousand dollars worth of damage to a building at 18th and Oak after crashing a stolen SUV into the building at — as they say — a “high rate of speed,” while trying to elude police.

On Monday, Sinead was charged with tampering with a motor vehicle, fleeing from a lawful police stop and careless and imprudent driving in connection with the Nov. 20 incident.

But that incident wasn’t her first. Oh, no. In a story on The Star’s website today, Tony Rizzo reports that Lynch recently got out of prison after serving four months for crimes related to a chase earlier this year — a chase in which she nearly struck several other drivers and pedestrians.

She hasn’t limited her cowgirl vehicular antics to Kansas City, either. Rizzo reports the following:

“…according to court and prison records in Florida, Lynch amassed a lengthy record of charges there involving stolen vehicles, driving without a license and fleeing from police, including an incident in 2007 in which police officers nearly were struck and several houses were damaged.”

Rizzo reports that Sinead was driving a Nissan SUV that was reported stolen from a motel in Kansas City, North, early the morning of Nov. 20.

I wondered what was going on at that motel, but Rizzo’s story — written for a family audience — didn’t get into the seamy details.

But Fox 4 News, never shy about getting into the messier stuff, pretty much told the rest of the story. It said:

“According to a probable cause statement, a man reported his 2005 Nissan Armada stolen from a Days Inn located at 7100 N.E. Parvin Road at about 2:30 a.m. on November 20. The man told police he had given a ride to a woman he didn’t know, and later gave her his keys so she could retrieve her purse from the SUV. Instead of returning his keys, the man told police the woman drove away.”

My guess as to what happened is that Sinead picked the man up in a bar somewhere — or quickly succumbed to his overtures — and took him up on his offer to go to a motel to continue the “date.”

The guy must have been quite surprised and confused when Sinead asked for the car keys and never came back.

It wasn’t until about eight hours later — 10 a.m. — that officers saw the stolen SUV being driven fast near 12th and Benton. After seeing the driver run two red lights, police gave chase, and, between that point and 18th and Oak, she drove on the wrong side of the road at times and even drove up onto sidewalks, sending pedestrians scattering.

The “bait-and-steal” trick is probably Sinead’s m.o. It would appear that she is more interested in stealing cars and driving them recklessly than she is in dispensing sexual favors to “lucky” pursuers…and I’m not talking about the cops here.

I’m glad no one was hurt in this incident, and, for the sake of all area residents, I hope she spends a lot more time in prison this time — and then goes back to Florida.

Editor’s note: At the request of people with good taste, this story has been “cleaned up” from its original version.

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Translation, please?

Well, enough of this serious stuff…Time to move to the lighter side.

Roger Cohen, a New York Times Op-Ed columnist had an entertaining piece on The Times’ website today about some of the differences between American English and English English.

It was titled “From Oops to Whoops.”

Cohen, a native Englishman, became an American citizen many years ago, and when he returned to his homeland for a visit a few years ago, he was a bit taken aback — after the intervening years — by the contrasting usages.

He wrote:

“My kids, New York raised, started on me from the moment we touched down. ‘Baggage REclaim?’ they asked at Heathrow…And then, driving into London and passing a petrol (gas) station, the incredulity of my son: ‘They don’t actually spell tires with a “y” do they?’ “

Cohen went on to point out some other differences, such as:

— You “pop” a dish into the oven; you don’t “put” it in the oven.

— Our “nice” equals their “lovely.”

— If you call someone on your “cell” in the U.S., over there you’re doing it on a “mobile.”

— “Two weeks” is a “fortnight.”

— When you set the table, you put out (pop out?) the “cutlery,” not “silverware.”

Cohen also informs us that “the flat that costs two million quid (three million bucks) with no lift is an overpriced London apartment with no elevator.”


The column struck a chord with many readers, generating more than 170 comments. Here are a few that I found particularly interesting or entertaining.

JRM from Athens, Georgia — “My daughter and I particularly love the signs in the Underground: Mind the Gap.”

Bill M from California — “The English people have a long history of interesting usages within the language they passed along to us but despite the creative idioms they are one of the few peoples on earth that form q’s (queues) and take their turns at bus stops and air terminals — a not widely shared civilized quality in much of the dog-eat-dog world of staying alive.”

MJRI from North Carolina — “One thing I noticed in England’s parking lots, no, ‘car parks,’ was that, while there were signs that said ‘Enter,’ there were no signs that said ‘Exit.’ Instead, those signs said ‘Way Out.’ It brought back memories of the hippie years.

(What MJRI was really thinking about was “Far out.”)

Sue from Queens — ” ‘Pop’ is one of my pet peeves; aha, so it comes from Britain. Too many of the principals on the cooking shows pop dishes everywhere. They can barely go two sentences without ‘pop this into the refrigerator,’ ‘pop it into the oven,’ ‘pop it in the sink,’ not just once per show but for every dish they make…pop, pop, pop. At least the ugly ‘hunker down’ is overused only during snow storms. A question, why do people in the theater insist on ‘theatre?’ ”

Socrates from Verona, New Jersey — “At least they speak English in England. In the United States…they speak…sort of…I dunno…kind of…like…English.”

S.G. from Brooklyn — “I was under the impression Mr. Cohen had traveled outside the U.S. before. It is never too late to realize that people speak differently in different countries. I was in Texas once.”

Jolly good, I say!




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Now that most of the facts of the Michael Brown shooting have become relatively clear, the focus of the case has begun to shift to finding ways to reduce and defuse deadly confrontations between police and unarmed men, mostly young.

On “Meet the Press” yesterday, one of the guests, Sherrilyn Ifill, head of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, talked about the need for more sophisticated training of law enforcement officers.

She said in part:

“You’re watching these encounters in which the police arrive on the scene, and they’re unable, it seems, to de-escalate…And so police officers need real training…And the only way we can deal with (those types of volatile situations) is to slow things down.”

That is an excellent, succinct assessment, and I hope that kind of thinking sets in and helps propel us toward an era of vastly improved police training. As it is now, it seems to me, law enforcement training puts a premium on being prepared to overcome resistance rather than calmly assessing difficult situations and trying to figure out how to “de-escalate” them.

I’m convinced Darren Wilson’s mindset was “winning” his confrontation with Michael Brown and Dorian Johnson.

After he spoke rudely, and very likely profanely, to them and they refused to comply with his demand that they get out of the street, I think he decided then and there that, by God, regardless of what ensued, they were going to do as he directed.

Predictably, the situation spun wildly out of control, culminating with Wilson chasing after Brown and Brown turning back toward Wilson, giving Wilson the rationale he needed to shoot and kill the “target,” as they say in police speak.

If Wilson had been thinking instead of acting on impulse, and if he had not barked at Brown and Johnson, violence probably would not have erupted.

But even with the encounter getting off on terribly bad footing, Wilson had several other opportunities to defuse the situation, including remaining in his vehicle — window rolled up, if necessary — and waiting for back-up to arrive.

He had radioed for help, and it arrived within seconds after the fatal shots were fired. Brown would have been apprehended in minutes.


On the subject of de-escalation, police and other law enforcement trainers would do well to follow the lead of experts in teacher training.

For at least the last 20 to 30 years, educators have devoted an incredible amount of time to developing classroom-management techniques designed to minimize disruptions and defuse confrontations.

As many of you know, I am a substitute teacher in the Shawnee Mission School District. I have had plenty of opportunities to see how veteran teachers and administrators keep the peace.

Two key elements to classroom control and keeping situations from boiling over are 1) staying calm and 2) reacting slowly and thoughtfully.

I particularly remember a situation that occurred in the Turner School District in 2006 or 2007. A male high school student was in an almost-empty hallway boiling over with frustration and anger. He was nearly disconnected from reality. An administrator — an assistant principal, I believe — stood on the other side of the hall, about 15 feet from the student. In a calm and steady voice, she told him to accompany her to the office where he could cool down.

I watched transfixed, waiting to see what the boy would do. About every 10 seconds, the administrator would say, “Come on, let’s go to the office. It’s going to be alright.” After about 60 seconds of spewing his frustrations and striking his fist on the concrete wall, he collected himself enough to start walking down the hall. Continuing to give him a wide berth, the administrator accompanied him.


On his Smart Classroom Management website, Michael Linsin, a teacher with about 25 years of experience, has a section called “how to handle an angry, verbally aggressive student.”

Here are a couple of points he makes:

Stay calm…Keeping your emotions in check is the first step to gaining control of any situation.

Take your time…You can’t go wrong taking your time in response to verbal aggression, tantrums, acting out in anger, and the like. Waiting and observing allows you to accurately assess the behavior, keeps you from losing your cool, and clearly establishes you as the leader in control of the classroom.

I suggest, in those two paragraphs, substituting Officer Wilson for the generic “you” that Linsin uses. If he had been trained to stay calm and take his time, Michael Brown would almost certainly be alive today. And if police cadets throughout the country were trained to do the same, we would have a lot fewer unarmed men, particularly black men, getting shot and killed in police encounters.

Let me leave you with this paragraph on “defensive behavior management” from the Intervention Central website.

“When students show non-compliant, defiant, and disruptive behaviors in the classroom, the situation can quickly spin out of control. In attempting to maintain authority, the teacher may instead fall into a power struggle with the student, often culminating in the student being removed from the classroom. The numerous negative consequences of chronic student misbehavior include class wide lost instructional time, the acting-out student’s frequent exclusion from instruction, and significant teacher stress. Defensive management can prevent these negative outcomes.”

Too often, the “negative outcome” from encounters between police officers and aggressive young men is death for the young men because police fall into the power-struggle trap.

Doesn’t have to be that way. Shouldn’t be that way. Maybe Ferguson will open some eyes.

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