Conference Announcement: New England Regional Junior Faculty Scholarship Workshop

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New England Law | Boston is pleased to host the New England Regional Junior Faculty Scholarship Workshop on Friday, February 2, 2018.

The workshop will bring together junior law school faculty to present works in progress. The workshop is timed to allow participants to incorporate feedback before the spring article submission cycle, but papers and “ideas in progress” are welcome at any stage of completion. New England Law | Boston will provide a light breakfast and lunch to attendees. There is no fee for attending the workshop, but participants will be responsible for their own travel expenses.

The workshop is open to all non-tenured faculty (including fellows and VAPs) at any law school in the United States and Canada. Each participant will be asked to present his or her own paper or project and to serve as a primary discussant on another attendee’s paper or project. To ensure an atmosphere conducive to lively discussion and constructive feedback, space is limited to twenty participants.  Papers are welcome on any law-related topic, and the conference organizers will strive to group related topics together.

To participate in the workshop, please send an e-mail to Jordy Singer ( by Tuesday, January 16, 2018. In the e-mail, please indicate the title of your paper or work in progress, and include a short abstract.  Any questions about the conference can be directed to Jordy Singer at the address above.

The workshop will alternate locations every year in collaboration with the faculty at Albany Law School.


On paying disgraced judges

Roy Moore, the disgraced judge turned disgraceful Senate candidate, received good news recently when the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA) Board approved his $135,000 annual pension, representing 75% of his annual salary before he was suspended from his duties as Alabama Chief Justice in September 2016.  The RSA Board indicated that it has no legal authority to reject or change a judge’s pension.  Moore qualified for the pension under state law due to his previous years of service and age at the time he was suspended.

Meanwhile in Washington, Senator Charles Grassley recalled ex-judge Thomas Porteous’s efforts to fleece taxpayers with his own retirement pension. Porteous was impeached and removed from office in 2010 for taking bribes and engaging in a variety of corrupt acts. Shortly before he was impeached, Porteous tried to claim disability retirement in order to secure a lifetime annual salary of nearly $175,000.

No one could be blamed for wanting to deny retirement payments to judges whose conduct in office was reprehensible, as was the case (in different ways) for Moore and Porteous. The counterargument is that reprehensible conduct cannot be clearly defined, and the ability to remove benefits will become a weapon against judicial independence. Where and how should we draw the line?

Continue reading “On paying disgraced judges”

Convicted war criminal commits suicide in open court

Late last month, Slobodan Praljak arrived in court at the Hague to hear the final outcome of his appeal. It was not what he had hoped for. Praljak, convicted in 2013 of war crimes stemming from his role in the civil war in Bosnia, learned that his conviction and sentence would stand.

As the judgment was read, and with cameras rolling, Praljak produced a small vial of liquid and drank it in full view of the judges.  He then announced, “I just drank poison.  I am not a war criminal.  I oppose this conviction.”  The hearing was immediately postponed and Praljak was rushed to the hospital.  He died shortly thereafter.

Dutch police and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) are now investigating how Praljak smuggled the poison into the courtroom.  The New York Times reports on that question, as well as Praljak’s odd behavior in the days leading up to the hearing:

Defense lawyers at the tribunal say the security arrangements in place for defendants like Mr. Praljak, and the five other men whose sentences were affirmed on Wednesday, were rigorous. They were subjected to body searches when they left their detention center — inside a high-security Dutch prison — and again when they arrived at the tribunal building. But, lawyers acknowledged, body-cavity searches were not part of the routine. And in the months before his final appearance in court, he had seemed to eschew contact with his family and his lawyers.

Nika Pinter, his lead counsel, said in a telephone interview from Zagreb, the Croatian capital, that Mr. Praljak had told his family not to be present at the judgment.

Prajlak had been sentenced to 20 years in prison, and would have been eligible for parole in just two years (accounting for time served).  Perhaps this event will reinforce the need for courthouse security to protect the parties as much as the judges and court staff.

Senate Judiciary Committee advances ten federal judicial nominees

Among the names advanced were Steven Grasz, a nominee for the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, and who received a unanimous “unqualified” rating from the American Bar Association in October.  Two Fifth Circuit nominees, Don Willett and James Ho, each received “well qualified” ratings from the ABA, but only passed the Committee on the same 11-9 party-line vote as Grasz.  Most of the other nominees were far less controversial, sailing throughout the committee by unanimous voice vote.

An interesting side note: disgraced Senator Al Franken, who has stated that he will resign in coming weeks, continues to sit on the Committee and cast his votes by proxy.


Ninth Circuit upholds Montana’s nonpartisan judicial election scheme

In another example of judges ruling on the status of other judges, a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the propriety of Montana’s nonpartisan judicial elections. The nonpartisan scheme was challenged by a judicial candidate who argued that his inability to seek, accept, or use political endorsements in his campaign violated his First Amendment rights. Citing recent Supreme Court precedent, the panel upheld the state’s restrictions on political endorsements.

The full opinion is here.

What just happened? November 2017 roundup

The month in a nutshell: judicial independence under siege in Europe and Latin America, a Ohio judge beclowns himself (twice!), and transition to twenty-first technology continues to pose challenges for courts.

November 2017 highlighted threats to judicial independence across the world. The European Union kept up pressure on the governments of Poland and Romania to halt the erosion of their judiciary’s independent role. And separately, the EU charged Romania and Bulgaria with insufficient progress on judicial reform. Venezuela continued a sad descent into chaos, with one judge seeking asylum with her family in Canada — and sharing harrowing stories of her treatment under the Maduro regime.

Stateside, the good work of most judges nationwide was overshadowed by the remarkably poor judgment of Ohio Supreme Court Justice William O’Neill, who first refused to recuse himself from new cases even after announcing his intention to run for governor, and then made a shocking Facebook post in which he revealed, in detail, his sexual history. Even amid calls for his resignation from his own peers, O’Neill has refused to leave the court until at least February or to call off his gubernatorial run.

Less visibly but with equal significance, two new reports revealed that courts are continuing to struggle with integrating the internet into their daily work. The Cook County (Illinois) courts were sued for allegedly failing to post certain court documents on their website in a timely way, and the federal court system’s primary website was deemed poor in comparison with other federal government sites.

Chicago judge ordered to retire after letting her clerk take the bench

In a sad and bizarre story, the Illinois Courts Commission ordered Chicago judge Valarie Turner to retire on Friday, after an investigation found that Turner had given her judicial robe to her clerk and allowed the clerk to preside over several traffic court cases in August 2016.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times:

Circuit Judge Valarie E. Turner has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and is “mentally unable to perform her duties,” according to a complaint filed Thursday by the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board.

Turner allowed law clerk Rhonda Crawford to take her seat behind the bench and rule on several traffic cases last August after introducing her to a prosecutor as “Judge Crawford,” the board contends.

“We’re going to switch judges,” Turner allegedly said during an afternoon court call, before standing up and giving her judicial robe to Crawford.

It appears that Turner’s current mental condition made her forced retirement a fairly straightforward decision for the Board. But it’s entirely unclear why Crawford would play along with this charade, and she has lost her law license as a result.