Monday, June 28, 2010

Howard on Prosecutors' Peremptory Challenges

Professor Maureen A. Howard tackles the use of peremptory challenges in criminal cases. Taking the High Road: Why Prosecutors Should Voluntarily Waive Peremptory Challenges, 23 Geo. J. Legal Ethics 369 (2010), available on LexisNexis, Westlaw.

Using published studies and her own trial experience, Professor Howard questions the usefulness of peremptory challenges.

She moves on to explore the costs of their use: limiting the breadth of community participation and increasing the public's perception that lawyers are manipulating the system. She argues that prosecutors should voluntarily waive their right to use peremptory challenges.

Responding to potential concerns that giving up peremptory challenges would allow biased jurors to serve, Professor Howard says that the solution would be "a broader definition and application of a challenge for cause, not necessarily retention of the current peremptory challenge practice." (p. 415)

She concludes:

The use of peremptory challneges has questionable value and risks violating the constitutional rights of both defendants and prospective jurors. . . . Instead of waiting for judges and legislators to respond to the decades of criticism levied at the use of peremptory challenges and the narrow definition and application of for-cause challenges, the prosecutor should 'take the high road' and waive peremptories.

Can We Improve Judicial Selection in Washington?

Unlike federal judges, who are appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate, our state judges are elected by the people. But in practice, most of them are first appointed by the governor to fill mid-term vacancies and only face election if they are opposed at the end of their terms. There is very little public scrutiny of the appointment process, and when elections roll around, many voters don't have good tools for evaluating candidates. Professor William R. Andersen turns his attention to these issues in Judicial Selection in Washington -- Taking Elections Seriously, 33 Seattle U. L. Rev. 605 (2010), available on HeinOnline, LexisNexis, Westlaw.

Professor Andersen suggests that some problems cannot be fixed within the framework of our election system, but some can.

Some may decry big-money campaigns for judgeships, but Supreme Court precedent limits what can be done. And if there are to be elections, then judges will have to participate in campaigning -- raising money, giving speeches, and so on. To address problems resulting from this aspect of electing judges, Professor Andersen recommends revising the rules for recusal, and he says that "serious work is going on in professional bodies to make necessary revisions." (p. 609)

To make selection of judges more informed and transparent, Andersen urges "a borad-based and intentionally diverse citizen's commission charged with evaluating judicial candidates." (p. 614)

He also suggests regular, objective performance evaluations of judges, and he reports that systems for evaluating judges are being tried around the country (p. 612), citing the National Center for State Courts page on Judicial Performance Evaluation, which links to information from 18 states, including Washington. (By the way, the NCSC link is broken for Washington State's Walsh Commission Report, The People Shall Judge: Restoring Citizen Control to Judicial Selection (1996), but this link works. Prof. Andersen was a member of the Walsh Commission.)

Farewell to Stuart Scheingold, Scholar of Cause Lawyering

Stuart Scheingold, professor emeritus of political science and a leading scholar of law and politics, has died. Obituary: UW professor renowned for work on law, politics, Seattle Times, June 28, 2010.

"He was quite simply one of the world's leading commentators on law and politics," said Amherst College's Austin Sarat, a professor of jurisprudence and political science with whom Professor Scheingold directed the multivolume, internationally oriented Cause Lawyering Project.

Scheingold's works include:

For more -- including many works on European integration -- see this list on WorldCat.

Prof. Scheingold's faculty profile is here. In his honor, the Department of Political Science has the Stuart A. Scheingold Professorship of Social Justice (now held by Christopher Parker).
Photo from Seattle Times.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Decision Making in Settlement and Litigation

When attorneys and their clients decide whether to settle and for how much, they try to predict how things will turn out if they go to trial, hoping, of course, to do better. In a study of thousands of civil cases, researchers found that attorneys were very often wrong. Three-fifths of plaintiffs and a quarter of defendants got a result at trial that was worse than the settlement they could have had. The cost of the error was much greater for defendants: plaintiffs' average error was $43,100, but defendants' average error was $1,140,000. Randall L. Kiser, Martin A. Asher, and Blakeley B. McShane, Let’s Not Make a Deal: An Empirical Study of Decision Making in Unsuccessful Settlement Negotiations, 5 J. Empirical Legal Studies 551, 566 ((2008).

Now the lead author of that study -- a consultant and former litigator -- has written a book aimed at lawyers and law students to help them see the problem of bad decision making and learn ways to improve it. Randall Kiser, Beyond Right and Wrong: The Power of Effective Decision Making for Attorneys and Clients, K126.K57 2010 at Classified Stacks. The book presents research studies to support its recommendations. As the author puts it:

This book differs from other books and articles on settlement negotiations in that it places greater weight on scientific evidence than the war stories of attorneys, mediators and judges; it assumes that empirical studies are more instructive than anecdotes and statistics are more dependable than surmise.
p. 5. But Kiser goes easy on his audience by presenting the social science without "probability theory, regression analysis, game theory," and so on "for a simple reason: attorneys generally don't like them, don't understand them and won't use them." So the book is a practical, how-to work backed by scholarship (but not weighed down by it).

It should be of interest for professional responsibility as well as trial practice and alternative dispute resolution.

Monday, June 21, 2010

People of Color Still Excluded from Southern Juries

The Equal Justice Initiative has released a study of eight southern states showing stark disparities in the representation of African Americans and Latinos on juries. Illegal Racial Discrimination in Jury Selection: A Continuing Legacy (June 2010). Take a look at least at the executive summary and recommendations -- you'll want to keep going to see more, including both statistical analysis and the the stories of the people excluded from serving and the people convicted by all-white juries.

One striking example (p. 28): An African American woman who had lived in a county for 10 years and worked in the same job for 6 years was excluded because she "had no ties to the community." Instead of shrugging and walking away, she returned to the courthouse daily to observe the trial, including the naps of some white jurors during testimony. After the black defendant was convicted, she visited him in prison and helped him with his successful appeal.

Bryan Stevenson, EJI's executive director, was interviewed on All Things Considered yesterday. Listen to the story (or read a summary) here.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Can Arbitration Clause Block Consumer Class Action?

Cell phone companies -- and others -- often try to prevent consumer class actions by including provisions in contracts that the consumer will resolve any disputes individually in arbitration. But is there still a role for the consumer class action, pooling many consumers' small damages to get to a case that's worth litigating and will get the company's attention? See Alexander J. Casey, Arbitration Nation: Wireless Services Providers and Class Action Waivers, 6 Wash. J.L. Tech. & Arts 15 (2010).

The Washington Journal of Law, Technology & Arts is a new journal, replacing the Shidler Journal of Law, Commerce + Technology as part of a merger with the Law, Technology & Arts Group (LTA) a new interdisciplinary research unit at the UW law school. The Journal publishes concise legal analysis aimed at practicing attorneys. Do you have something to say about law and technology or the arts? The Journal accepts submissions from students, professors, and practicing attorneys.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Moot Court for Afghan Students

Despite the huge challenges posed by war, poverty, and disruption, law students in Afghanistan participated in this year's Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition, supported by UW Prof. Jonathan Eddy and UW alumnus Mark Hough. Julie Case, Trials by Fire, Columns, June 2010.

King County judge charged over Knox letters

King County judge charged over Knox letters,, June 8, 2010.

Michael Heavey, a Superior Court judge who lives in West Seattle, is accused of violating the state's Code of Judicial Conduct by sending letters to three Italian judicial officials on Knox's behalf before her conviction in the murder of a fellow exchange student living with her in Perugia, Italy.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Divorce attorneys catching cheaters on Facebook -

Divorce attorneys catching cheaters on Facebook -
, June 1, 2010:

At least 80 percent of attorneys surveyed by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers cited a growth in the number of cases that used social media over the last five years.
It's not just infidelity, which isn't the big deal in divorce that it was a generation ago. It's also a variety of other lies -- "No, honey, I haven't started drinking again!" or "I can't pay child support because I'm broke" -- that can be skewered by a Facebook status or snapshot.

CSI New York -- in the 1920s and 1930s!

In The Poisoner's Handbook, Deborah Blum tells the human and scientific stories of poison and investigation in the 1920s and 1930s, focusing on New York City and two crusading scientists: Charles Norris, the city's first medical examiner, and Alexander Gettler, the head chemist in the ME's office.

This work mixes a couple of nonfiction genres: true crime and popular science. A couple is found dead: accident or murder? Several family members die: all victims of disease or were they poisoned? It takes pretty sophisticated science to tell -- science that Norris and Gettler had to develop as they went along.

There's also some interesting social history. In addition to working on individual crimes, the scientists advocated (not always successfully) for public health measures -- workplace safety, a stronger FDA (able to ban, for instance, "medicines" with radium), and an end to Prohibition-era poisoning of alcohol (see Blum's account in Slate).

Deborah Blum, The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York (HV6555.U62 N373 2010 at Good Reads). Publisher's page.