Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Proposition 6, some information and opinion

The November 2008 election seems certain to have record high turnout and interest, not only for the general Presidential election, but also for California's vote on Proposition 8, which would eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry. However, it seems to me that Proposition 6, or the "Runner Initiative," is getting lost in the shuffle, so to speak. So, I wanted to post some information about Prop 6, and then offer my opinion.

The Basics: Prop 6 has been nicknamed the "Safe Neighborhoods Act," and purports to be a "comprehensive anti-gang and crime reduction measure that will bring more cops and increased safety to our streets and greater efficiency and accountability to public safety programs and agencies that spend taxpayer money." Among the elements of Prop 6 are:
1. Require all defendants 14 and older charged with gang crimes to be deemed unfit for detention in a youth center, and charged as an adult;
2. Impose 10-year penalty increase for "gang-related" crimes and for carrying loaded or concealed firearms in public, and increase penalties for use and possession for sale of methamphetamine to the same level as cocaine penalties;
3. Eliminate bail for undocumented aliens charged with "gang-related" crimes;
4. Require all occupants of public-housing to submit to yearly criminal background checks, and if any family member does not pass the check, all family members are removed from public housing;
5. Allow use of hearsay statements when a witness to a "gang-related" crime is unavailable at trial;
6. Establish a reimbursement program for providing information that leads to an arrest or conviction;
7. Provide funds for GPS tracking of gang-offenders, sex-offenders, and other violent crime offenders

Funding: Prop 6 does not include any new taxes, but instead will divert money from California's "General Fund." The funds would be diverted from K-12 Education, Higher Education, Health and Human Services, Transportation and Housing, and Environmental Protection. There will be an estimated cost of $500 million, annually, for increased funding of criminal justice programs and prison and parole operations, and a one time capital outlay of $500 million to prisons. Prop. 6 would add $365 million dollars, from the General Fund, to the already $600 million allotted to "law enforcement" in the current budget, and prohibit any money from being directly distributed to mental health, drug treatment, and other county programs providing treatment to juveniles. Incidentally, Prop. 6's largest contributor--at $1 million in donations--Henry Nicholas, was indicted for felony drug conspiracy in October 2007. On June 16, 2008, he was arraigned on a number of drug, sex, conspiracy, and securities fraud charges, with investigation revealing a "sex cave," "fully stocked warehouse of drugs," and "a brothel's worth of prostitutes on the payroll."

Opinion: I'll keep my opinion comments brief, because I'd like people to make their own conclusions, and the main impetus for this post was just raising awareness of what Prop. 6 is. The above factors 1-7 are the actual aims of the initiative, absent any partisan presentation or "spin." I think arguments can be made about the efficacy of each of those aims and whether they can be accomplished without more people getting caught up in the net than necessary. The only comments I'll add as a matter of opinion are these:
1. How on earth are we going to fund this? We are already in a complete budget crisis, and now we're going to apply $500 million in capital to our prisons. After that, we're going to spend $500 million a year to institute these programs--with absolutely no focus on deterrence or prevention, but only enforcement and punishment. And let's not forget the $365 from the current budget to be taken from funding for education and health care. The cynic inside me asks, "Won't the money funneled into the prison system go, in part, towards education and health care for prison inmates? So law abiding people in public schools and health clinics get less funding, and instead the money is diverted, by Prop. 6, to people who are put in prison based on Prop. 6. How backwards is that?"
2. While it seems clear that the spending from Prop. 6 will go entirely towards enforcement and punishment, not diversion or prevention, proponents of the initiative will argue that it will have a deterrent effect, and there will be a residual reduction in crime. However, this initiative is aimed, principally, at youthful offenders. Kids with too little supervision at home, too much time on the streets, too little education, and too few after school and community programs. It's no surprise that kids with no supervision and no education turn to gangs and crime. So how, then, do we prevent crime amongst youth gang members by stripping funds from education and after-school programs? How do we reduce crime by throwing the family members of a criminal offender out of their public housing? Isn't it more likely we can prevent crime through more, not less, social support? By funding before and after school programs, youth activities leagues, and making sure the children and family members of offenders have a place to live so they can put their life back in order? The reality is the only way something like Prop. 6 works is if we just keep everyone in prison for the rest of their lives, even for comparatively minor offenses--a proposal I'm not sure reactionary voters would oppose, despite the aim of the penal system being the twin goals of retribution and rehabilitation. But the ironic (or sad, depending on your viewpoint) thing is that we as a society simply wind up draining our economy supporting our already bloated prison system, at the expense of our own education, our own healthcare, and programs truly aimed at crime prevention.

A lawyer I respect greatly was once asked about California's criminal laws, and he labeled California, "The harshest state in the harshest country in the Western world." An initiative like Prop. 6, labeled so enticingly as the impossible-to-vote-against "Safe Neighborhoods Act," is yet another in a long line of examples of the truth in that statement.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Awesome Kickball Game on Friday! But Not Without Controversey...

For those who weren't able to go to the BLA/SELA bbq-kickball game, you missed out on a helluv a time.  Despite being a bit overcast, some folks manned the bbq and the rest of us manned one of the five kegs.  There was a good sized turnout (we went through 4 kegs and half way through the 5th).  The turnout was actually probably a little too good, as evidence by the low scoring kickball game.  There were literally, 30 people per team in the outfield on defense.  It was ridiculous.

But of course, the festivities wasn't the highlight of the game.  A misunderstanding between two students nearly escalated into a full blown tussle thanks to the preventative efforts of some of the other students.  I don't think it's necessary to go into the specific details of what went on, but it prompted some thinking afterwards by some colleagues: if a fight had occurred, would this have been grounds for an expulsion?  And who might get expelled?  Is this even a matter for the school to get involved with?

One take is that no sanctions  should occur because the event happened off campus.  And even then, it was simply a personal dispute between two private parties that had nothing to do with the school.  As such, the school should stay out.

The other side of it argues that the Honor Code mandates the school get involved.  The Honor Code states in Section 2(b) it has jurisdiction to punish for any violation of local, state, or federal law as well as any conduct that occurs on or off the USF campus, if it bears some relation to the school.  Section 2(c) allows punishment for any conviction for a local, state, or federal law, on or off campus, if the action bears upon their fitness to practice law.  As such, Section 2(b) and 2(c) give very broad, thus giving the school pretty wide latitutd  Seeing as it's definetly a violation of law to assualt someone, the school could take jurisdiction and punish any offenders.  

This point taken to it's logical end, a person could be on summer vacation in Wasilla, Alaska, get convicted for public intoxication, and face the possibility of being expelled from law school when he gets back in the fall.  Even though the events in Wasilla have absolutely nothing to do with the school.  Does this seem right?  Anyone have any thoughts?   

ACS USF Event Gets Associated Press Coverage

Just to let readers know, the ACS USF event held the other week- attorney Dennis Edney speaking about his client, Omar Khadr, a Guantanamo Bay detainee- received coverage by the Associated Press and was run by newspapers such as the Washington Post.  Not too shabby for an event put on by a school club. 

Although our specific club, ACS USF, isn't mentioned, USF does get a shout out.  Here's an excerpt:

SAN FRANCISCO -- For six years, and for no pay, Dennis Edney has represented Omar Khadr, the next prisoner at Guantanamo Bay to face trial in a military tribunal system that the lawyer calls a sham.

So he's stepping outside the courtroom, speaking out about his client and hoping to win a victory in another venue. His goal is to sway public opinion and pressure the Canadian government into bringing his Toronto-born client home.

"I realize the only success we're going to have for Omar Khadr is a political one," Edney said in an interview with The Associated Press after addressing aspiring lawyers at the University of San Francisco this week. "So I've moved from being a lawyer to someone who goes on the lecture circuit _ all on my own cost, of course."

Hopefuly we can put on more events that raise the profile of USF Law.  Go Dons!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Treasury Bailout of Wall St. Draft Legislation

The Bush Administration has just released its proposal for Treasury authority to buy up mortgage-related assets.  It's really short, just a few pages in length.  And seems to be fairly broad.  All the Treasury has to do is report to Congress every so often and it gets authority to purchase up to $700,000,000,000 worth of bad Wall St. investments.  [Funny how just a little bit ago folks were suggesting that we should entrust these same Wall St. people to manage actively manage individual social security accounts.  Or even funnier how we can bail out Wall St. but can't bail out Medicare, or educate our children properly, or fix roads, etc...]  This will raise the national debt to $11.3 trillion.  The plan could pass as early as next week.  

For greater comparison, the NY Times stated that "A $700 billion expenditure on distressed mortgage-related assets would be roughly what the country has spent in direct costs on the Iraq war and more than the Pentagon’s total yearly budget appropriation. It represents more than $2,000 for every man, woman and child in the United States."  Sorta scary in the scope of this plan.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What I Learned From OCI.

The Fall On Campus Interview (OCI) season is wrapping up and as Assistant Director of Employer Relations, I have eaten lunch with the interviewers every day since the last week of August. During the course of making conversation, I have gleaned a few pearls of wisdoms from the employers:

1. Dress Like a Lawyer, Not an Architect. One employer commented on how he was very impressed by a male student except for his clothing. The student showed up in a dark suit, very well-tailored but had the “Miami Vice” dark shirt, dark tie, cream colored slip on loafer look going on. The partner told me he could not take the student seriously after seeing the shoes. “He looked like he was interviewing for an architecture firm, not a law firm. Tell your students to err on the side of conservatism. When in doubt, wear a white shirt, dark suit, and dark shoes.” As for the women, you can never go wrong with a skirt suit or pant suit but he begged me to tell the female students “No plunging necklines! You want to be remembered for the content of the interview, not your cleavage.” Lastly, remember you are interviewing for a summer associate position, not a barista position. Take off all piercings, nose rings and other distracting jewelry.

2. When You Are Nervous, Don’t Drink the Interviewer’s Water. Another interviewer told me he asked a student about his Moot Court brief and the student became so nervous that he reached across the table, grabbed a bottle of water and started chugging it. The problem – it was the interviewer’s water and the interviewer had already drank out of it. The lesson? It’s okay to be nervous and you can always pause to think before answering the question BUT if it’s on your resume, it’s fair game. If you cannot discuss an item on your resume in an articulate intelligent manner, then think about dropping it. The best way to prepare is to go through your resume, line by line and think about possible questions and answers to those questions. Then be ready to answer the all-important question to “Why do you want to work for us?” The answer should not be “I want to get really good experience and your firm can offer me that.” Instead, you really need to think about what that firm or employer has to offer, in the way of reputation or practice area, that makes that employer the place for you.

3. Bite the Bullet and Explain Your Grades. I have heard it from multiple large law firms – if there is a C on your transcript, you need to explain it. There have been a number of students that firms have been impressed with who are not in the Top 20% of the class. However, if the student does not address in the on-campus interview why he or she received a C, then no matter how much the interviewer liked the student, the interviewer has no ammunition to go back to the firm with when it comes to vetting the student through the hiring committee. Most employers cannot call back a student with a C on her transcript unless there’s a good explanation for that C. When a student did explain his C, this is what I heard from the partner who interviewed him, “I was so impressed when Mr. B explained his grades. He took it head-on and did not shy away. Now I actually have something to argue on his behalf when I go up in front of the hiring committee. Because Mr. B was a great candidate all around, except for those two C’s on his transcript. I definitely want to call him back.” Other students who I have counseled to bring up their grades have come to my office immediately after their interviews and told me they were surprised by the results. The employers reacted in highly positive ways and one interviewer, who had been aloof throughout, suddenly took great interest, started taking notes, and asked for a writing sample and references. (On a side-note: It's the Big Firm employers that pay attention to grades, but small to mid-sized firms, along with government/public interest employers look at the whole person).

4. Answer Completely and Tell Stories. Interviewers get incredibly bored, hearing the same answer over and over again to “Why did you decide to go to law school?” Typical answer – “I’ve always wanted to go to law school, ever since I was little.” Really, since you were 3 you knew you wanted to be a lawyer? Or was it actually when you were 14 and you were taken to work by your father on “Take your Daughter to Work Day” and you realized that your father, the attorney, made an impact on people’s lives and, inspired you to do the same thing. Tell the whole story, the reason behind your drive, not the surface fluff answer that reveals nothing about you to the employer. Another pet peeve -- just repeating verbatim the job description on your resume when answering the question “Tell me about your job this summer.” If they wanted you to repeat the laundry list of tasks you did, they would have asked you to recite your resume. Instead, tell them a story – what did you learn, what exciting issue did you work on, what problem you had to overcome. Tell a story and the employer will have something to write down on her evaluation form. Entertain them and the interviewers will remember you and your chances for a call-back will increase.

5. Don’t Listen to the Rumor Mill - OCI is a No-Brainer – Apply. All the on campus employers – law firms, government agencies, district attorneys and public defenders offices noticed it: A significant drop in the number of OCI applications this year. “Why is this?” They keep asking us, the Office of Career Planning. Several top firms are so distressed by the drop that they want to come on campus as speakers, to host events or attend mixers, anything that will increase their visibility on campus so they can recruit from a larger pool of talent. Other firms were disappointed and expressed it in such a way that we are afraid the low numbers may mean that firm may not be coming back to USF to recruit next year. So what happened? We took an informal poll of students and found that a number of viable candidates listened to the Rumor Mill. A 2L who is in the Top 10% of the class was not going to apply to OCI because she heard very few people actually get their jobs through OCI. If she hadn’t run into her 3L mentor who screamed bloody murder to make her apply, she would have missed out. As it stands now, she’s an OCI favorite and has a number of call-backs. Another 2L also listened to the Rumor Mill, and despite the fact that she had received a prestigious paid summer position through a competitive scholarship process, did not apply to OCI. I was shocked when I learned this because here’s the deal, if you don’t apply through OCI, then yes, you won’t get your job that way. Don’t take yourself out of the running by being to afraid of rejection to apply. When employers, who specifically come to campus because they want USF students, find that very few have applied, do you think they will want to come back? And how do you think you will find your job when you’ve missed out on one of the easiest opportunities presented in your lifetime? There is NO OCI when you graduate. There are very few opportunities for 3L’s in OCI. Your 2L year is the year when you need to find that summer job to help leverage you for your post-graduate position. You need to use all the venues available to you in your job search. OCI is just one of the ways. But if you don’t do OCI, then the path to finding a job becomes that much harder. Now you have to find the law firms and send each and every single one a cover letter and resume. And guess what, that firm may not be so friendly or accepting of USF students. Thus, when presented with a no-brainer opportunity such as OCI – take it. Even if the only lesson you learn is that you don’t want to work for a big firm that is still a valuable lesson.

It has been an interesting experience this Fall, talking to all the employers. Most interviewers are USF alums. Many are quite candid about their hiring needs and requirements and all are enthusiastic about USF students and want more USF representation at their firms. Let's not let them down -- if you are a 1L even considering working for a law firm, then do OCI next year.

Marina Sarmiento Feehan, JD is the Assistant Director of Employer Relations for the Office of Career Planning at USF School of Law.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

ACS USF Speaker: Dennis Edney

OK, So, I'm a little late on posting this (who can blame me, I ventured off to Clark County, NV for the weekend)... but the USF chapter of the American Constitution Society hosted a speaker on Wednesday, September 10.  ACS USF hosted defense attorney, Dennis Edney.  Mr. Edney is an attorney for one of the youngest Guantanamo Bay detention camp detainees, Omar Khadr.  Mr. Khadr was captured when he was 15 years old and has been held at Gitmo, without trial, for 7 years.  He is, finally, going to trial this October, where Mr. Edney will mount his defense.

As to the event, it was the first event hosted by ACS USF- and it was wildly successful.  Over 100 people showed up (110 by my count), including students and faculty.  Mr. Edney spoke for a little bit over an hour and fielded questions afterwards.  We were stopped only by the fact that a legal writing class started flowing in.  In addition to speaking on his experiences with Mr. Khadr and his personal experiences visiting Guantanamo Bay, Mr. Edney main message was clear: anyone can do what he [Mr. Edney] does.  That is, anyone can fight for justice.  Indeed, by many accounts, Mr. Khadr is being subject to terrible physical and mental abuses at Guantanamo Bay.  The least of which include the violation of fundamental legal rights.  Mr. Edney has taken on this case pro-bono because he feels it is the right thing to do.  He believes that, indeed, while Mr. Khadr should be held accountable for any actions that can be proved, the American government should equally be held accountable for its actions in treating detainees.  

If you missed the talk, we're working on getting a video to post.  It's a talk well worth viewing.  Until then, here are some (mlidly decent) pictures I took of the event.  Enjoy

Friday, September 12, 2008

Burnham v. Superior Court

By the third week of Fall semester, I start getting a lot of search traffic over at my blog Traditional Notions from people searching for Burnham v. Superior Court. It seems that at about this time of year, first year law students across the country start shaking their heads and saying, "What the hell does this mean? Why are the justices so contentious if this is a unanimous decision? I don't get it. Maybe if I ask teh internets I will find an answer." And they arrive at this post, where presumably most of them get confused all the more.

But some of them seem to like it. Now, with McKaskle and Putz gone, I don't know if any of these newfangled civ pro professors are even covering Burnham, or if they are even teaching the FRCP, or if they spend the whole class period talking about fabulous things like the intersection of critical theory and normative jurisprudence. But if the new profs do still cover all the personal jx cases, and if any there are any USF first-years out there reading this blog (which there aren't), and if they have any free time (which they shouldn't), and if they want to spend it learning more about Burnham (which would make them sick in the head... who the hell wants to learn more about Burnham?), they might do so by clicking here.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

SBA Fall 2008 BBQ

Folks, in case you missed it, the SBA had it's Fall BBQ to introduce the 1Ls to USF and for the rest of us...well, to get some decent quality beer and mingle with the folks we already know on the SBA's tab (hence, your fees).  I think most people enjoyed the event.  It featured (decent beer) wine, soda, hot dogs, hamburgers, veggie burgers, and cookies.  Aside from the caterers running out of condiments (how they run out of condiments before food, I know no idea) it was a good time had by all.  Well done to the SBA.  But how about some In N Out next time?  Do for, you know, the out going 3Ls in the Spring.  PS- special thanks to Achal for the above pics.     

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Predator's Ball

Yes, I realize this blog heading is a rip off of a book written about Michael Milken had his junk bond buy outs, but I think it aptly describes the media vetting process of John McCain's VP choice, Sarah Palin. From how it's started, it has been ugly. Picked and announced only a few days ago, not only does Mrs. Palin have no significant political experience to speak of, it's already been disclosed that she fibbed in her first national speech about fighting the "bridge to nowhere," is not even really a Republican, has ethical questions, and now she's been forced to release a statement explaining her family.

Indeed, recently been disclosed that Mrs. Palin's daughter, Bristol Palin is five months pregnant. Unmarried, and 17 years of age, this was, to say the least, shocking. I'm not sure if anyone thought Mrs. Palin would announce this of her daughter. I mean, there's nothing wrong with it. It's just unexpected. What's even more breathtaking, is that this information was only released in an attempt to take any wind out of the sails of an accusation by the Daily Kos suggesting that not only is Ms. Palin five months pregnant, but in fact her younger brother, Trig, is not actually her brother, but her son. Yep. Talk about explosive. Assuming, of course, this rumor is true. The accusation came from the uber-partisan Daily Kos, which has also posted pictures of her pregnant, thus refuting the rumor.

The point of this post however, is merely to point out how savage the press, and especially the blogosphere is (even more alarming, of course, are the journalistic standards that blogs possess). And it is unfair, but part of the game, that Ms. Palin has to suffer this. Even if the rumors are false, Bristol Palin, all 17 years of her time on Earth, is still being brutally bludgeoned by the investigative club of the press and it is an experience she will never forget. Quite frankly I feel sorry for her (yes, I understand the hypocrisy in me posting on this). No woman, and especially no child, should have her pregnancy broadcast all over the globe for this type of scrutiny. And it's an even greater shame that Mrs. Palin chose this path for her daughter. She must have known this was going to happen.

Alas, as bad as I feel for Ms. Palin, given the bloodthirsty nature of presidential elections and the 24 hour news cycle, it will likely only get worse. Mrs. Palin was clearly not properly vetted by McCain's people. The media and the voters (given the conversations I've had already with my friends), for sure, will make sure this is properly taken care of. And, indeed, they will have a ball.

If there is ever a time a daughter needed her mother, this would be it. But at this point, I'm not sure if there is anything her mother can do.