Author: Sarah Waldeck


Ira Glass v. Amanda Williams: Knockout Punch

In the event you read this prior post and missed the coverage in the news today, Judge Amanda Williams has agreed to resign from the bench in January and has also promised not to seek another judgeship.  In exchange the Georgia Judicial Qualification Commission dropped the complaints of misconduct against the Judge, who presided over the state’s largest drug court.  On one level, this result is unsurprising because resignation is the usual result when complaints are brought by the Commission.  The resignation, however, is a dramatic fall from grace for a judge who recently won re-election to a sixth term.



Ira Glass v. Amanda Williams

If you missed the story Very Tough Love when it aired last March on This American Life, it put a new spin on that old adage about local politics mattering most.  When you are a drug court defendant, the judicial philosophy and temperament of the judge who manages your case matters a lot, particularly since entering the drug court means waiving many procedural rights.  The story, which focused on a drug court judge who had recently won reelection to a sixth term, was remarkable for its laser focus on judicial discretion and how much can go awry when that discretion is abused.  It was also impossible to listen to the story without speculating about how furious the judge must have been when she heard it.

Furious enough, it turns out, to threaten to sue This American Life and reporter Ira Glass for libel.  She sent her letter,  Glass responded, and for a while all seemed to be quiet.

This past week, however, Georgia’s Judicial Qualifications Committee filed a formal complaint against the judge—Amanda Williams, who presides over the drug court in the Brunswick Judicial Circuit.   Among other allegations, the complaint states that Judge Williams jailed defendants indefinitely, ordered a suicidal defendant into solitary confinement for more than two months, and ordered a defendant jailed when he disputed the results of a drug test.

Judge Williams has the opportunity to respond to the charges in writing.  Unless she and the Committee settle (which usually results in a judge stepping aside), the Commiittee will hold a trial-like proceeding on the charges.

We’ll see what happens next.  But if you haven’t been following this, it’s worth clicking on the links to get up to speed.  Reality radio is way more interesting than reality television.


Photo Credit:  Krista Johansen





Women in Big Law

This week the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) released its Survey on the Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms, which compiles data on the professional progress of women in the nation’s 200 largest firms. Most of the reporting on NAWL’s survey results has focused on the decrease in the number of female first and second year associates.  While the decline is only slight—47 percent of first and second year associates are women, compared to 48 percent a year ago—it is the first decrease since NAWL began reporting survey results in 2006.   NAWL speculates that the decline is attributable to changes in law school enrollments, where there have also been slight decreases in the percentage of female students.

The most interesting part of the report, however, discusses where women find themselves in the hierarchal complexities of today’s law firms.  As the NAWL survey points out, large law firms are no longer comprised of simply partners, associates, and a few of counsel.  Instead, firms are a mix of equity and non-equity partners, associates, staff attorneys, and of counsel.  Read on after the jump for sobering highlights about how women tend to fit into organizationally-complex large law firms. Read More


Introducing Michael Zimmer

I’m pleased to welcome Michael Zimmer back to Concurring Opinions. A professor of law at Loyola University Chicago, Mike is a widely recognized scholar in the areas of employment discrimination law, labor and employment law and constitutional law. He is also co-author of one of the first (and still the leading) employment discrimination casebooks as well as co-author of the first casebook on international and comparative employment law.

Mike received his A.B. and J.D. from Marquette University, where he was Editor in Chief of the Marquette Law Review.  He also holds an LL.M from Columbia University, where he was named a James Kent Fellow. Following law school, he clerked for the Honorable Thomas E. Fairchild of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and then served as an associate at Foley & Lardner in Milwaukee.

He began his law school teaching career at the University of South Carolina and he has taught at a number of law schools, most recently as a visiting professor of law at Northwestern University. He joined the Seton Hall University School of Law in 1978, served as Associate Dean from 1990 to 1994 and was on the faculty until 2008.

Welcome back, Mike!


Feminist Legal Theory Collaborative Research Network at Law and Society

The Feminist Legal Theory Collaborative Research Network (CRN) is a newly-constituted group that seeks to bring together scholars across a range of fields who are interested in feminist legal theory.  This year CRN is hoping to organize a number of panels at Law and Society (LSA), which will take place in Honolulu, Hawaii from June 5-8, 2012. 

All are invited to submit paper proposals for these panels. There is no single topic or theme to which paper submissions must conform: they should simply relate to feminist legal theory in some shape or form. CRN particularly welcomes proposals which would permit it to collaborate with other research networks, which have organized around topics such as Critical Research on Race and the Law, or Gender, Sexuality and the Law. Also, because the LSA meeting attracts scholars from other disciplines, multidisciplinary proposals are welcome. CRN’s goal in organizing these panels is to stimulate focused discussion on papers on which scholars are currently working. Thus, while proposals may reference work which is well on the way to publication, CRN is particularly eager to solicit proposals for works-in-progress which are at an earlier stage, and which will benefit from the discussion that the panels will provide.

Paper proposals are due by November 14, 2011.  Instructions for submitting proposals are after the jump.

Read More


Brooke Shields to Play Suzette Kelo in Lifetime Movie

Really, the headline says it all.  But I am disappointed I didn’t see this one coming.  Anyone who has read Jeff Benedict’s Little Pink House should have seen its made-for-TV-movie potential.

What actually got me thinking about Kelo, however, is the reporting this week in various media outlets that Justice Richard Palmer, one of the four Connecticut justices who found New London’s exercise of eminent domain to be constitutional, apologized to Suzette Kelo after hearing a keynote speech by Benedict.  According to Benedict, Palmer approached Kelo and said, “Had I known all of what [Benedict] just told us I would have voted differently.  I’m sorry.”   

This certainly seems like grist for the Kelo mill, especially since it’s not every day that a judge apologizes to a litigant for having voted against her.  Except that the back story matters a lot here, because that’s not what Justice Palmer says he did.  Rather, as the Justice eventually clarified to Benedict, “Those comments were predicated on certain facts that we did not know (and could not have known) at the time of our decision and of which I was not fully aware until your talk — namely, that the city’s development plan had never materialized and, as a result, years later, the land at issue remains barren and wholly undeveloped.”   The Justice further added the Court could not have known those facts “because they were not yet in existence.”  Moreover, the Justice later responded to a series of written questions from Benedict, one of which was, “Looking back at the Kelo decision (by the Connecticut Supreme Court), how do you see it now? In other words, has it led to good law?”  The Justice responded, “I think that our court ultimately made the right decision insofar as it followed governing U.S. Supreme Court precedent.”  (The fullest account I’ve found of Justice Palmer’s encounter with Kelo and Benedict is here.)

So, not exactly an apology, but perhaps instead a very human expression of regret over what Suzette Kelo went through. 

By the way, readers will note that I chose not to refresh anyone’s recollection about the substance of Suzette Kelo’s case or the eventual ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court.  Instead, you can all just catch the movie. 


Hat Tip to my former student Eric Abes.


Farewell, Barnes and Zoning Matters, Really

In the last week I’ve come across two teaching resources that are worth sharing.  As the headline suggests, the first is about the Barnes Foundation, which closed the doors to its original home in Merion, Pennsylvania at the end of June.  For years I’ve been urging my Estates and Trusts students to visit the Barnes before it is “too late,” by which I meant “before it moves to downtown Philadelphia.”  I did this partly because I thought one needed to see the Barnes to fully understand the ongoing battle over its future, and partly because the Barnes was really, really cool.  Now that it is officially “too late,” I will point them to this 360 degree interactive tour of the Barnes that was put together by the New York Times.  Their effort really gives a flavor of the place, although many of us undoubtedly mourn that we’re left with only a computer program.    

Next up is something for Property professors: an episode of This American Life entitled “Game Changer.” You can access the episode, which is about drilling for natural gas in Pennsylvania, here.  Fast forward to minute 33:30 and soon a reporter will say, “The standoff between [the gas company] and [the town] started with one of the least gripping topics in all of government: zoning.”  While the reporter’s explanation of the difference between conditional and permitted uses isn’t any more interesting than what I say in class, the story she tells is much more engaging than anything I’ve previously used to teach zoning.  Moreover, the story of the small town that tried to write a zoning ordinance after Big Gas arrived does a better job of driving home the economic consequences of zoning than anything I’ve encountered to date.


Introducing Marc Roark

I’m a beat late on this introduction, since Professor Marc Roark has been visiting with us since July 1.  We are very happy to have him aboard!  

Marc has been a professor at University of La Verne since July 2009. A graduate of Loyola University New Orleans (JD 2002) and Duke University (LLM 2006),  Marc teaches Property, Secured Transactions, Payment Systems, Law and Literature, and Law and Religion.  Marc has published articles in the Cincinnati Law Review, Duke Law and Tech Review, Louisiana Law Review,and Loyola Law Review, amongst others.  Marc previously taught at the University of Tulsa College of Law and the University of Missouri-Columbia College of Law.

Marc is currently working on projects involving mobile money transactions under U.S. Payments Systems policy, entitlement shifting in the UCC,  and a qualitative analysis of space allocation in legal and nonlegal settings.  He is interested in the expanding universe of technology and commerce, especially uses for his new iPad. 

Marc’s recent publications include: 

Limited Sales Warranties as an Alternative to Intellectual Property: An Empirical Analysis of the Deterrent impact on consumers of the I-Phone Warranties, Duke L & Tech. Rev. (Fall 2010). 

Groping Along Between Things Real and Things Personal: Defining Fixtures in law and Policy in the UCC, 78 U. Cincinnati L. Rev. 1437 (2010)

 The Real Property Interest in the UCC: Fixtures and Encumbrances, 42 UCC L. J. 197 (2010).   

Loneliness and the Law: Solitude Action and Power in Law and Literature, 55 Loy. L. Rev 45 (2009).


Online CLE

Depending on whom you speak with, CLE is either: (1) a necessary means of ensuring that lawyers remain current on the practice of law or (2) an endeavor primarily designed to generate revenue for state bar associations.  Do proponents of the latter description have more ammunition because most state bars allow attorneys to earn at least some percentage of required CLE via video that streams to a personal computer?  At least one state requires lawyers to click at regular intervals, but in many others lawyers just stream and then print a certificate at the end of the video.  To quote one site that sells online CLE, the format is advantageous because it is “available 24/7,” “eliminates travel and travel-related expenses,” and can be “viewed from the couch.” 

Is it too cynical to suggest that the format also allows attorneys to cook dinner while the video is streaming to an empty room upstairs?  Of course lawyers who are sitting through a live presentation can find plenty of ways to distract themselves, but social conventions usually dictate that they cannot make themselves entirely absent, either actually or metaphorically.  Does the decision to allow online CLE demonstrate the faith that state bars have in their attorneys to do what is right, or is it an indication that providing education is secondary to the bars’ other concerns?


Putting Circumcision on the Ballot

By now, most major media outlets have mentioned that some California municipalities will have proposed bans on male circumcision appearing on their November ballots.  The measures have gotten play on the legal blogs as well, where most of the focus is on whether they could survive a First Amendment challenge.  (The bans would prohibit circumcisions except for those with a “clear, compelling, and immediate medical need with no less-destructive alternative treatment available.”  They further state that in enforcing the measures “no account shall be taken of the effect on the person on whom the operation is to be performed of any belief on the part of that or any other person that the operation is required as a matter of custom or ritual.”)  Just last week, Dave wrote on this blog about how male circumcision reflects value-laden judgments.  What most interests me about the proposed bans is the extent to which they provide an example of the dangers of allowing passion to trump pragmatism.

Let’s start with the First Amendment issue that has attracted so much attention on the legal blogs.  Why not altogether avoid the legal issue and allow an exception for religious circumcisions? I think the primary sponsors of the ballot measures would answer that male circumcision is mutilation and torture.  You don’t partially ban mutilation and torture; instead, you entirely prohibit it.  Without a religious exception, however, the sponsors have (1) lost the votes of those who may prefer that people not circumcise but stop short of the words “mutilation” and “torture” and further believe that religion is a private matter; and (2) ensured that even if the ban is adopted, it will be tied up for years in litigation.

The mistake the sponsors made was to assume that a ban without a religious exception would be ineffectual in reducing the number of religious circumcisions.  As I’ve blogged and written about before, the male circumcision rate is declining because of incremental changes that chip away at the pro-circumcision norm.  Assume for a moment that a series of municipal bans with religious exceptions became law, caused a meaningful drop in the number of circumcisions and sparked reductions in other parts of the country as well, so that eventually no boys were circumcised unless during a religious ceremony.  My bet is that these secular bans would eventually result in fewer and fewer religious circumcisions. 

Many people who consider themselves to be “good” (fill in the blank with any religion you like) deviate from their Church’s teachings, even fundamental ones, in at least some respects.  If male circumcision was decidedly not the norm—because people believed that cutting off part of the penis was cruel or unnecessary or whatever—religious  parents might be influenced by the attitudes of their non-religious neighbors and choose not to circumcise their sons.  There is already some evidence, for example, that the non-circumcision movement is beginning to make inroads in the Jewish faith.  Already a small number of Jewish parents are opting for a brit Shalom, an alternative to the traditional bris that does not involve any cutting. 

Under this slow and steady approach, with the passage of enough time a government could even adopt a ban with no religious exception without fear of a First Amendment challenge.  Instead, the ban would be received much like the current federal law that prohibits all female circumcision, including ritual nicks that are much less altering than male circumcision.  This legislation does not spark any chatter of First Amendment challenges because everyone agrees about the compelling nature of the governmental interest.

Of course, the First Amendment issues are only relevant if the proposed bans are actually adopted by the relevant voters.  Indeed, if the measures were voted into law, there would be lots of interesting questions, such as whether people would just circumvent them by getting circumcisions done elsewhere, and whether officials would enforce the bans.  I haven’t, however, seen a single prediction that the proposed bans will be voted into law. 

With the risk of failure so high, one has to ask about the potential consequences of failure.  Will a parent who is on the fence about whether to circumcise perceive failure of a measure as evidence that circumcision is an appropriate and socially-endorsed choice?  What about the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which is expected to release a new policy statement on male circumcision?  Will a resounding defeat of the proposed ban weaken the hand of people within the AAP who argue that it should at least remain neutral about the procedure?  These are all very real risks that threaten to undermine or reverse the gains that the non-circumcision movement has made.  Passion has its place, but in this instance it threatens to undermine some very hard-earned gains.