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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Wayne Sinclair didn’t intend to spend most of his professional life as a medical-malpractice lawyer.

Born and raised in Leechburg, Pa., the Palm Springs resident, now 72, started higher education at West Virginia University.

“I wanted to go to Pitt (the University of Pittsburgh), but the tuition was too high,” he said. “I had originally thought of being a minister, until I was about 21, and explored the seminary twice—once in high school, and once in college. I finally figured out it wouldn’t be a good thing for me. I ended up majoring in political science and minored in history and Russian.

“There were six grad-school slots open when I graduated, so I went into the law school. I was fortunate that a leading national firm, Steptoe and Johnson, had an opening. I started in accident claims, and I remember my first case was a $1,000 accident. I won the thing. We were also required to take court-appointed criminal cases, pro bono. I wasn’t enamored of that type of law. I had about 150 to 200 cases, and almost everyone I represented was guilty.

“I only tried two of those cases in court, one a murder that even made True Detective magazine. Someone once came up to me in a store and said, ‘I was on your first case, and we thought you were so cute that you should win.’

“I moved on to insurance defense and medical malpractice. I represented hospitals and doctors. There’s a need for such a thing as malpractice insurance. Although most doctors are good, there is such a thing as negligence. It becomes a battle of expert witnesses. I learned that when people say, ‘It’s not about the money,’ it is.”

Sinclair’s 42 years of practicing law include being a senior officer and principal with MMI Companies, Inc., an international health-care and professional liability insurance company, which he helped take public. After leaving MMI, Sinclair, along with other principals, formed R2H Herrington, dedicated to medical-malpractice reinsurance audits. He was also general counsel for the Clarity Group, a Chicago-based health-care insurance company, and presently does independent consulting work.

About 26 years ago, while in Chicago, Sinclair met John Di Napoli, 55.

“We met in a bar on a Saturday,” recalls Sinclair. “The next day, I had a Presbyterian lesbian and gay caucus. John came to the picnic with me, and it went from there. When I moved to Washington, D.C., he followed me. He has a degree in community organizing, and once made peace among 12 Wiccan groups! John was on the pride commission that held the first trans pride event in the country, and he won their Engendered Spirit Award.”

Wayne and John have been married for the past 9 years.

Sinclair says he knew he was gay when he was in junior high school.

“Boy, from the Tarzan movies, was my first crush! I was trying to figure it out, but it was all a mess,” he said. “I did a lot of things while I was in college, including drinking too much. I was always asked why I had no girlfriend, and I always said I was too busy. I finally came out at 31, after my father had passed away. I told my mom, and her response was, ‘Why didn’t you tell me earlier so I could have helped you?’

“I’ve worked with gay homeless youth for a long time, and my advice is it’s great to come out when you can, but if you’re going to get thrown out, it’s better to wait. If you’re questioning and have problems, find someone to talk to. Schools have counselors, and there are resources available. But everybody has to do it at their own pace.”

Wayne and John have been in Palm Springs for six years, and Sinclair has brought his expertise to the board of JFK Memorial Hospital in Indio.

“I’ve found out that in the past, they didn’t have the greatest reputation around here. The new CEO has made big changes, including knowing how to hire really good people,” Sinclair said. “All their evaluation scores are now up to A’s, and they’ve put incredible emphasis on patient safety.”

Sinclair is now also serving on the board of the local affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“I got involved primarily because of Elaine Meyerhoffer, the president,” he said. “She and I go to the same church. She knew I was a screaming liberal, so she asked me to join the board.

“In Chicago, I was on the board of The Night Ministry, working with homeless gay youth, which at that time were about 40 percent of those on the streets. I have a real interest in protecting gay youth, and John has been very involved with the trans community. The ACLU here focuses on both of those issues, so I’m pleased to be able to serve.”

An avid traveler, Sinclair has visited 35 countries. Among his favorite places are the Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia; the island of Palau; and Istanbul, Turkey, with a particular focus on an area in central Turkey, Cappadocia, where a volcano erupted 15 million years ago.

“We went down 1,500 feet and stayed in an underground cave where a city of 25,000 people hid from the Hittites,” he said. “They have about a thousand sandstones that look like upside-down conical hats. And one of the frescoes is of a man praying, wanting to become a woman, and in the next panel, he is a woman. We try to take a trip every year. It’s amazing what you can find.”

Sinclair’s advice for others? “Be comfortable with yourself. Be kind to yourself. I learned from my law firm to be ethical. My main thing is to be honest and have integrity. As RuPaul says, ‘If you can’t love yourself, who can you love?’”

Wayne Sinclair has had a life full of work, discovery and service. What’s not to love?

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

I knew something was going on when I walked into the community room at the Palm Desert Library for a meeting sponsored by the Desert Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California—and there were more than 140 people, hauling in chairs and standing along the side and back walls.

I’ve attended ACLU gatherings locally from time to time, and there are usually about 15 to 20 attendees. A week after the election results, something different was happening.

The speaker was James Gilliam, deputy executive director of the ACLU of Southern California. He talked about how the Los Angeles-based organization was going to need to hire more people just to process the thousands of inquiries and volunteer applications it had received over the past few weeks.

The ACLU was founded in 1920, and the cases the group has had its hand in are the stuff of American history: the Scopes trial challenging prohibitions on teaching evolution; the ban on James Joyce’s Ulysses, considered by some to be a profane and pornographic book; and perhaps its most controversial case, defending the right of American Nazis to publicly march in Skokie, Ill.—in a neighborhood containing many Holocaust survivors. The ACLU has consistently demonstrated a commitment to constitutional principles regardless of whose feathers might be ruffled.

The Los Angeles chapter was founded in 1923 by author Upton Sinclair at a time when striking longshoremen were banned from holding public meetings by the Los Angeles Police Department. Sinclair and friends marched in opposition to the force used by police, and were arrested and charged with threatening to overthrow the government.

Other issues championed by ACLU have included fighting government abuse of power and invasion of privacy, promoting economic justice to ensure that no one is disenfranchised, women’s equality, LGBT rights and prisoners’ rights.

The president of the Desert Chapter of ACLU is Elaine Wang Meyerhoffer, a Palm Springs resident for more than a decade. Of Chinese heritage, Elaine was born in West Virginia but educated at the American School in Taiwan. Her parents had fled China, and her father attained American citizenship after enlisting in the U.S. Army.

Elaine’s mother was also educated in the United States. “My mother’s family was full of girls, with a very traditional father who would ordinarily not have educated his daughters,” says Elaine. “But I had an aunt who wanted to be an architect, and my grandfather was a very fair man: If he was going to educate one daughter, he would educate them all.”

Elaine’s education includes a bachelor’s degree in English literature and political science from Stanford, and a graduate degree in sociology from Stanford. She is currently enrolled in a bachelor’s degree program in music at the University of Redlands.

“I’m a classical singer, although I don’t think it’s a great voice,” laughs Elaine. “I started singing when I was about 10, and I love it!” She currently sings regularly at Bloom in the Desert Church.

She came from a family with first-person stories about repression and a lack of rights in China. “I’m always interested when people complain about this country (United States),” she says. “They have no idea how lucky they are to have the freedom to say what they want. The government can’t take people off the street or come into their homes without due process.”

Elaine, a registered Republican, says she became president of the local ACLU almost by default. “I didn’t really know that much about the ACLU, but I volunteered to join the board because I wanted to understand what was happening in the local community regarding civil rights. Brad Oliver had been president, and when he stepped down, they asked if I was willing to do it. I had never done activism before, but what I care about in life is fairness. I chose the ACLU because it is nonpartisan and focused on human rights and justice.

“I think we’re in our divided situation as a country because there’s been so little reaching across partisan lines. I see my role as pulling people toward the center, because that’s where civilization will have the ability to continue.”

The ACLU has at various times been lauded, vilified, feared, dismissed and exalted. It is a legal organization whose purpose is to defend and secure the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, particularly those related to the First Amendment—the protection of free speech, free association and assembly, and freedom of the press. It also fights for the separation of church and state, equal protection against discrimination, the right to due process, the right to be treated equally under the law, and the right to privacy—specifically intrusion by the government.

“Bad behavior should not be allowed to be gotten away with,” says Elaine, “whether it’s personal or on a societal level. The threat of ‘tit for tat’ is a valuable tool to inject into our cultural DNA so that people and the government think about the consequences before they say or do things that are violating the rights of others.”

The local group’s goals include continuing regular meetings to educate the community about immigration rights and voting rights, as well as women’s and LGBT issues. It works closely with the rest of the Southern California organization to bring people together. The chapter also sponsors a scholarship program for local high school students based on essays about civil liberties and civil rights.

In the words of Hector Villagra, the executive director of the ACLU of Southern California: “If the ACLU had not existed before the election, we would be starting it today!”

For more information, to volunteer or to donate, visit www.aclusocal.org/local-chapters/desert-cities-chapter.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors