Author: Sarah Waldeck

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“Hang Up So I Can Write You A Ticket”

Last week U.S. Transportation Secretary Roy Lahood announced a new program in which states, beginning with Connecticut and New York, will receive federal grants to help enforce laws against driving while using a hand-held cell phone.  The campaign, called “Phone in one hand. Ticket in the other,” includes public service announcements, warnings on highway signs, and an increased likelihood that drivers using hand-held cell phones will be pulled over by the police who spot them.  LaHood said that the program is aimed at getting the kind of compliance states see for seat belt laws, with about 85 percent of drivers regularly buckling up.

The analogy to seat belts is a good one, as I have already written on Co-Op.  This new program seeks to make using a cell phone while driving similar to smoking or driving drunk—that is, behavior that was once socially acceptable but no longer is.  The rub, however, is captured in a comment by Representative Richard Roy, the chief proponent of Connecticut’s ban on hand-held cell phones while driving.  In an interview with the Connecticut Post, Representative Roy explained, “I think the law is working fairly well.  Far more people are using hands-free devices than used to, but there are still far too many people just chatting along, holding the phone to their face.” 

Ample research has demonstrated that driving while talking on a hands-free device is also unsafe.  (You can read about some of the research by following the link in the prior paragraph.)  If Representative Roy’s take on what has happened in Connecticut is correct, the ban on hand-held cell phones has pushed people to substitute one dangerous behavior for another.   

State legislatures and the federal government need to calibrate their message to make clear that talking on the phone while driving is dangerous, period.  I recognize that a ban on hands-free devices poses enormous enforcement problems, because how do the police detect who is talking on a hands-free device and who is not?  Still, at a minimum, why not change the name of this program to something that suggests talking on the phone is the problem, not merely holding the phone?  Or, to ratchet it up several degrees, shouldn’t we at least be discussing whether car manufacturers should be allowed to sell vehicles with built-in hands-free devices?

Right now the takeaway is that a person can feel good about switching to a hands-free device.  This conclusion is absolutely belied by the evidence.

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Introducing Guest Blogger Marc Poirier

I’m happy to introduce Professor Marc Poirier, who will be guest blogging during the month of April.   Marc teaches at Seton Hall and writes in the areas of property theory, environmental and natural resources management, cultural property, and law, gender, and sexuality.  Some of his recent works include:

Name Calling: Identifying Stigma and the “Civil Union”/Marriage” Distinction, 41 Conn. L. Rev. 1425 (2009);

The Cultural Property Claim Within the Same-Sex Marriage Controversy, 17 Columbia J. Gender & L. 343 (2008); and

A Very Clear Blue Line: Behavioral Economics, Public Choice, Public Art and Sea Level Rise, 16 Southeastern Env’tl L.J. 83 (2008).

Welcome Marc!

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Student Voices On Guantanamo

I want to encourage Concurring Opinions readers to listen to today’s edition of NPR’s The Story, which features an interview with two law students who are investigating alleged detainee suicides at Guantanamo.   Their story is a remarkable example of what can be accomplished by scrutinizing government documents, identifying inconsistencies, and asking smart questions.      

You can hear the audiofile here:  http://thestory.org/archive/the_story_973_Gitmo_Documents_.mp3/view

42

Who Should (And Shouldn’t) Go to Law School

Yesterday’s New York Times article about the depreciating value of a law degree is presently number one on the Times’ “most emailed” list.  My fervent hope is that the article is being forwarded not just to lawyers, but also to individuals who are considering whether to join a 1L class in 2010.

Because I am visiting at another law school this semester, I don’t have to attend any admissions events this spring.  Yet I’ve been thinking hard about what advice I would give prospective students and this is where I’ve landed:  Only go to law school next year if (1) you have always dreamed of being a lawyer; or (2) you are accepted by a very prestigious institution; or (3) you are offered a full scholarship.

This is not advice I’ve arrived at easily.  Fifteen years ago, such advice likely would have discouraged me from even considering law school.   But the economics of my decision are likely very different from the economics of the decisions that will be made this spring.  I went to a state university and graduated without a penny of debt.  Partly this was because I worked for three years after college and managed to save money, but mostly it was because my in-state tuition averaged about $5,000 per year.   Today, in-state tuition at the same institution would cost more than $16,000 per year.  If I went to a private school in the metropolitan area where I usually teach, I’d be looking at a yearly tuition of about $45,000.  Read More

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Introducing Mark Edwards

Edwards-MarkMark A. Edwards will be joining us for a repeat visit during the month of December.  Mark is an Associate Professor at William Mitchell College of Law who has taught Property I, Property II, Comparative Property Rights, Natural Resources, and Constitutional Criminal Procedure.  He was voted Faculty Member of the Year by the student body for 2007-2008.

His publications include Nationalization, De-Nationalization, Re-Nationalization: Some Historical and Comparative Perspective, forthcoming, Pace Law Review;  Law and the Parameters of Acceptable Deviance, 97 J. of Crim. Law & Criminology 49 (2006) ; and The Path of the Law Ands, 1997 Wisc. Law R. 375 (1997) (with Marc Galanter).  He is currently writing on the divergence between the legality and social acceptability of behavior with regard to property rights.

Welcome back, Mark! 

1

Email: Fear mongerer or neighborhood policing’s best friend?

644109_38731687Last week I received at least twenty different emails forwarding the same story about a house in my town that was almost burglarized.  A man with a rake who appeared to be looking for work knocked on a front door and realized it was open.  He went to the sidewalk and consulted with his friends.  The owner, who was in the house, locked the door.  After the men returned to the front door and found it locked, they tried to open a back door and then a basement window.  The owner called 911 and the police caught one of the men.  Not exactly high drama, but plenty scary for the owner inside the house.

Each email contained the same information: soliciting is illegal and police want residents to report all solicitors because these individuals might be casing houses.

Almost every email also contained either a subtle or not-so-subtle ratcheting up of the fear.  Some emails lamented that our blocks weren’t safe.  Others warned that criminals need money for the holidays.  One advised that we consider this story as our children start to get older and move around the town without parents.  Another suggested that we watch the movie “Taken” because it would make us rethink letting students travel to Europe.

The upside is that I now know that soliciting is illegal and that the police want me to report it.  I’m also being more careful about locking my doors, a good habit in any event. 

But here’s the downside to this email flurry.   I am discomforted as I move about my town and house in a way that I have never been before.  This is true even though I know about the availability heuristic, i.e., the tendency to think events are more probable if we can recall such an event occurring.  I also know how bad humans are at processing information about low-risk occurrences.   Email  only exacerbates this faulty reasoning.  The Rakeman story is significantly more available to me than it would have been had I heard about it once or twice through old-fashioned word-of-mouth.

Many would argue that discomfort is good.  They are probably right, to a point.  But here is what I would have said if I had allowed myself to respond to all those emails:  Lock your doors.  Be smart.  And relax, because you are a lot safer than you think you are.

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Introducing Michael Zimmer

zimmerI’m so pleased to welcome Michael Zimmer as a Concurring Opinions guest for the month of November.   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 is a professor of law at Loyola University Chicago.  He 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, Mike!

2

Throwback to 2007

On the heels of posts about television legal dramas by Jonathan Siegel and Jon Ip, consider The Good Wife, now airing on CBS.  (I haven’t yet watched this week’s episode, so no spoilers here.)  The show is mostly about a wife dealing with the very public revelation that her elected-official husband frequented prostitutes.  This storyline is good and the reason I’m still watching.  But Alicia is an associate at a Chicago law firm and quite a bit of the show takes place there.

I’d been trying to figure out why The Good Wife feels so dated, even though Alicia’s family is a victim of the 24-hour news cycle and her kids are extremely wired.  Then it hit me—the law firm is way too pre-2008.  The associates are given a stern lecture about needing to increase billable hours.  Where’s the angst about the viability of billable hours and the future of the law firm business model?  Moreover, doesn’t the lecture mean that the firm has excess work and is just lacking someone who will step up and do it?  There’s a passing reference to the firm hiring more associates than it will need over the long term, but where are the rescinded offers and the cancelled summer program?   The writers need to start reading Above the Law and borrowing liberally.

Granted, television rarely provides a realistic look at how law firms really work.  (See Ally McBeal.)  I do hope, however, that The Good Wife doesn’t inspire too many would-be law students.  These attorneys are way, way too comfortable.

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Problem-Oriented Policing in Chicago Public Schools

1102775_cemetery_rosesThe new chief officer of Chicago public schools has a fresh strategy for preventing the killings of public school students.  Such killings occur with alarming regularity; 67 since the start of the 2007 -2008 academic year.  If this doesn’t sound bad enough, the 67 doesn’t include the hundreds of students who were shot or beaten but managed to survive.  Right now Derrion Albert—the football player and honor student who was beaten to death when he got caught between rival gangs—is dominating the headlines.  But anyone who lives in Chicago expects that we’ll soon know another name.  The violence is relentless.

Enter Ron Huberman, the new chief officer of Chicago public schools.  He has a plan to stop the killing, one that is based on an analysis of more than 500 students who were attacked.   The plan might work, provided that Chicago is able to resist its inevitable temptations. Read More

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Moving the Barnes, Illustrated

Alfred Barnes knew that a picture (or at least a painting) was worth a thousand words.

I’ve always had difficulty teaching the Barnes saga because doing so requires that I separate my unbridled enthusiasm for the place from a more scholarly discussion about the appropriate limits of deadhand control.  But it’s also difficult to explain to students what moving the Barnes means when most have never visited the foundation. 

This year, I’ll be helped along considerably by comparing these pictures of the current gallery 

barnes_large_view

barnes inside

with these renderings of the new facility planned for downtown Philadelphia.

 

barnes outside

barnes inside

You can see other representations of the planned gallery here, courtesy of the New York Times.