Category: Sociology of Law

3

Solum on the Need for Opinions

opinion.jpgLarry Solum recently posted a kind response to my post on the need for judicial reasoning. Here is a taste of his analysis:

An obligation to offer justification has obvious accuracy-enhancing effects: it forces the decision maker to engage in an internal process of deliberation about explicit reasons for an action and to consider whether the reasons to be offered are “reasonable” and whether they are likely to be sustained in the event of appeal. Balancing approaches, which consider the costs of procedural rules as well as their accuracy benefits, point us in the direction of the costs associated with requiring justifications on too many occasions and of the costs of requiring justificatory effort that is disproportionate to the benefits to be obtained. Requiring reasons facilitates a right of meaningful participation as well: when a judge gives reasons, then the parties affected by the action can respond–offering counter reasons, objecting to their legal basis, and so forth. Moreover, the offering of reasons provides “legitimacy” for the decision.

Very helpful. Clearly, the procedural justice literature has much to say on whether it is illegitimate for judges to rule without explanation. It seems to me that much of Larry’s discussion would seem to foreclose the legitimacy of what our commentators have suggested as the backstop for expressed opinions: back-pocket explanations, i.e., reasons produced by litigant demands.

But I still think that much of our thinking on the problem of “why and when reasons” is driven by biases built into our legal-DNA by the law school experience. I’ll ramble a bit more on this problem below the jump.

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13

Must District Judges Give Reasons?

gavel.jpgJonathan Adler highlights this astonishing Ninth Circuit opinion on the alleged misconduct of now-embattled District Judge Manuel Real. Some interesting facets of the case (previously blogged about here, here, and elsewhere). First, dissents matter. It is more than tempting to attribute the current push to impeach Judge Real to Judge Kozinski’s harsh dissent from the panel’s order exonerating him on the misconduct charge. Second, the case raises a neat issue which relates to what I’ve been writing this summer. While the overall facts of the case are well worth reading in the original, if you’ve ten or twenty minutes, I want to focus briefly on part of Judge Kozinski’s charge against Real: that he failed to explain the reasoning for a controversial order.

The basic story is that Judge Real withdrew the petition in a pending bankruptcy case and stayed a state-court judgement evicting a woman who was appearing before his court in a criminal matter. Both orders were entered apparently sua sponte, or at least without hearing the evicting party’s arguments. According to Kozinski, Judge Real “gave no reasons, cited no authority, made no reference to a motion or other petition, imposed no bond, balanced no equities. The two orders [the withdraw and stay] were a raw exercise of judicial power…” In a subsequent hearing, Kozinski continued, “we find the following unilluminating exchange”:

The Court: Defendants’ motion to dismiss is denied, and the motion for lifting of the stay is denied . . .”

Attorney for Evicting Party: May I ask the reasons, your Honor?

The Court: Just because I said it, Counsel.

Kozinski wrote:

I could stop right here and have no trouble concluding that the judge committed misconduct. [Not only was there a failure of the adversary process . . . but also] a statement of reasons for the decision, reliance on legal authority. These niceties of orderly procedure are not designed merely to ensure fairness to the litigants and a correct application of the law . . . they lend legitimacy to the judicial process by ensuring that judicial action is-and is seen to be-based on law, not the judge’s caprice . . . [And later, Kozinski exclaims] Throughout these lengthy proceedings, the judge has offered nothing at all to justify his actions-not a case, not a statute, not a bankruptcy treatise, not a law review article, not a student note, not even a blawg. [DH: Check out the order of authority!]

So here’s the issue: in the ordinary case, to what extent are judges required to explain themselves?

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27

Who’s Your Daddy?

The New York Court of Appeals has held that:

[A] man who has mistakenly represented himself as a child’s father may be estopped from denying paternity, and made to pay child support, when the child justifiably relied on the man’s representation of paternity, to the child’s detriment. We reach this conclusion based on the best interests of the child as set forth by the Legislature.

paternity.jpg

The case is Matter of Shondel J. v. Mark D.

The opinion indicates that under New York law the doctrine of estoppel in paternity matters focuses on the child and as such is gender neutral. The court demonstrated this neutrality by citing to a case where a wife was not allowed to challenge paternity when she had treated and accepted the husband as the father for two and half years before challenging his paternity and “permitted her husband and child to form strong ties together.”

The court also noted that when a man “acquiesced in the establishment of a strong parent-child bond between the child and another man” he would be precluded from asserting paternity because “the child would be harmed by a determination that someone else is the biological father.”

This case reminded me of Jared Diamond’s, The Third Chimpanzee. In that book he noted that one study indicated that 10% of babies in the study were not biologically related to the legal father. One blog has dug into the mistaken paternity numbers issue and lists several studies before concluding that the rate may be closer to 2-4%.

By the way one study seems to show that when a father is pretty certain about paternity the rate of finding non-paternity is low (median 1.7%) but when the father has questions about paternity the rate is high (median 29.8%). The full paper is How well does paternity confidence match actual paternity? Evidence from worldwide nonpaternity rates by Kermyt G. Anderson.

Which bring us to the dissent in the case. Judge Smith argues forcefully that the evidence shows that the mother lied and committed fraud (she swore she did not have sexual relations with any other man) and that the ostensible father did not commit a fraud of any sort and as such should not be subject to the doctrine. The argument denies the majority’s position that the child is the one upon whom the fraud is committed.

The majority opinion countered the dissent by putting the problem this way:

Given the statute recognizing paternity by estoppel, a man who harbors doubts about his biological paternity of a child has a choice to make. He may either put the doubts aside and initiate a parental relationship with the child, or insist on a scientific test of paternity before initiating a parental relationship. A possible result of the first option is paternity by estoppel; the other course creates the risk of damage to the relationship with the woman. It is not an easy choice, but at times, the law intersects with the province of personal relationships and some strain is inevitable. This should not be allowed to distract the Family Court from its principal purpose in paternity and support proceedings — to serve the best interests of the child.

Thus it seems that if someone is in that high doubt range that Anderson documents, he should ask for a paternity test and risk his relationship with his wife.

I do not claim to have an answer here. I am merely teeing this one up to see what comments if any can enlighten me on the issue of when paternity should be found despite a lack of biological connection between the father and child.

5

Benjamin Nelson and “Good Faith”

Benjamin Nelson (who appears to be a lawyer *and* philosopher) from Law & Society Blog fortuitously took an interest in my “not in good faith” theory and my “good faith” debate with others. (**In a great addition to Mr. Nelson’s comments, law professor Steven L. Winter from Wayne State sent Mr. Nelson an e-mail, with permission to post the e-mail on lawsocietyblog.com. See here.) Before I say anything about “not in good faith,” let me thank Mr. Nelson and everyone else who has commented on my posts here, on truthonthemarket, and on theconglomerateblog. Commenting on posts (posting in general) takes time, and I appreciate the generosity folks have shown me in commenting. Those comments and criticisms allow me to look for new ways to bolster my arguments, modify my arguments, or consider disgarding them.

Luckily, Mr. Nelson was able to support my “not in good faith argument.” He does it, however, with a super diagram that is different from the one that I would have drawn. Upon reading his post and seeing his incredible color diagram, I undertook to draft a responsive diagram with my new “Visio” software. Easier said than done. When I finally completed my pathetic diagram (after days of effort, while on vacation, nonetheless), I could not upload the diagram as a pdf. So I am trying now to upload it below as a text document. Hopefully this will work.

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4

Why Is There a Shortage of Organ Donations?

organ-donation1.jpgI was watching a show on CNN about people in need of organ transplants going to China for organ donation tourism. China harvests organs from prisoners it executes, sometimes without their consent, and then offers them to “tourists” who come in need of transplants.

The show focused on the immorality of China’s practices, but I kept thinking about how needless all of this would be if we didn’t have such silly organ donation policies in the United States. The Department of Health’s website for organ donation provides the following statistic: “Each day, about 74 people receive organ transplants. However, 18 people die each day waiting for transplants that can’t take place because of the shortage of donated organs.” That’s about 6500 people who die every year in the United States waiting for an organ donation — two times the number dead in the 9-11 attacks. Why aren’t we doing anything about it?

About 2.4 million people die each year in the United States. Only a fraction are organ donors. Why are so many life-saving organs being thrown away?

One solution is to switch the default rule — to have the presumption be that people consent to donating their organs upon death unless they indicate otherwise. In other words, we could change organ donation from opt-in to opt-out. This might strike some as unfair, as there may be people who are uniformed who don’t realize their rights to opt-out. On the other hand, the value of saving thousands of lives each year is quite high. Those who have strong moral objections to organ donation will likely be informed about their opt-out rights because it is an issue that matters a lot to them.

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2

Is “Gay” Over?

The most recent edition of The Advocate features an interesting article by Adam B. Vary entitled, “Is gay over?” The thesis of the article is that, “gay in all its meanings — personal, communal, cultural, political — seems to be going through its own identity crisis.” In the piece, one commentator suggests that “gay as an identity . . . may be pretty much at an end,” and that “people are thinking of their sexuality in a much more diffuse way.” The article notes that this is particularly true with respect to young people. Vary observes that, “along with feeling more free to come out in high school or sooner, many people in their teens and early 20’s are also free to reject gay as an identity. Instead, they’re defining their sexuality as queer or open or opting for no label at all.”

One response to the article might be to argue that it could only have been written by someone living on one of the two coasts — the magazine identifies Vary as a “Los Angeles-based writer” — where life as a gay person is often quite different than in many other areas of the United States. Thus, one argument is that the article reflects more than a little bit of geographic elitism. But my response to the piece is somewhat different.

In the article, Vary pinpoints April 1997 as the moment when gay as an identity started to evolve and become more fluid. It was during that month that Ellen DeGeneres came out on the cover of Time Magazine and famously proclaimed “Yep, I’m Gay.” According to Vary, that moment was a “major cultural touchstone,” ushering in an era of unprecedented LGBT visibility. But from my perspective, there is another more recent moment that was perhaps even more significant in forming a post-gay identity: the Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas. Simply put, it is really only possible to question the nature and basis of one’s sexuality once the most basic expression of the sexuality has been de-criminalized.

8

Setting the Bar, and the Limits of Empirical Research

Larry Ribstein and Jonathan Wilson are debating the merits of a strong, exclusionary, state bar.

Wilson’s position is pro-Bar:

Deregulating lawyers as punishment or retribution for a profession that has lost its way would be a recipe for disaster. Deregulating the practice of law would open the floodgates to fraud of every conceivable variety and would only compound the problems that the readers of these pages see in our civil justice system.

Ribstein, naturally, is pro-market:

Big law firms provide a strong reputational “bond” . . . Lawyers can be certified by private organizations, including existing bar associations, which can compete with each other by earning reputations for reliability. . . .We could have stricter pleading rules, or require losers to pay winners’ fees. Or how about this: let anybody into court, but adopt a loser pays rule for parties that come into court represented by anything less than a lawyer with the highest possible trial certificate . . . Even if only licensing would effectively deal with this problem, the licensing scheme should be designed specifically to protect the courts. Instead of requiring the same all-purpose license to handle a real estate transaction and to prosecute a billion-dollar class action, we could have a special licensing law for courtroom practice, backed by tight regulation of trial lawyers’ conduct – something like the traditional barrister/solicitor distinction in the UK.

Josh Wright has picked up the thread of the discussion at TOTM, and suggests that empirical evidence would inform this debate. Unfortunately, as both Larry and he note, there is a paucity of useful studies on point:

If I recall, the Federal Trade Commission has recently been involved in some advocacy efforts in favor of limiting the scope of unauthorized practice of law statutes. My sense is that a number of states must have relaxed unauthorized practice of law restrictions (I think Arizona is one), or similarly relaxed restrictions on lawyer licensing, such that one could directly test the impact of these restrictions on consumers in terms of prices and quality of service. There must be work on this somewhere.

Solove and I have gone around on this question before (see here for the powerful pro-licensing position, and here and here for Solove’s “response”).

Generally, I like Josh’s intuition. It would be quite useful to look to Arizona, or other natural experiments, to help us to answer the problem of the utility of the Bar Exam and other licensing barriers. Surely, there is no reason in the abstract to preserve an ancient system that keeps lawyer fees artificially high, diverts millions of dollars from law students to Barbri, and causes no end of mental anguish simply because it provides a new jurisprudential lens!

But I’m quite skeptical that this is an answerable question, at least in the short term. My thinking is informed somewhat by the new Malcolm Gladwell New Yorker essay about basketball. Although Gladwell extols the virtues of statistical analysis (instead of anecdote, judgment, and valuing the joy of watching Allen Iverson triumph despite his height), the lesson I took from the piece was that:

Most tasks that professionals perform . . . are surprisingly hard to evaluate. Suppose that we wanted to measure something in the real world, like the relative skill of New York City’s heart surgeons. One obvious way would be to compare the mortality rates of the patients on whom they operate—except that substandard care isn’t necessarily fatal, so a more accurate measure might be how quickly patients get better or how few complications they have after surgery. But recovery time is a function as well of how a patient is treated in the intensive-care unit, which reflects the capabilities not just of the doctor but of the nurses in the I.C.U. So now we have to adjust for nurse quality in our assessment of surgeon quality. We’d also better adjust for how sick the patients were in the first place, and since well-regarded surgeons often treat the most difficult cases, the best surgeons might well have the poorest patient recovery rates. In order to measure something you thought was fairly straightforward, you really have to take into account a series of things that aren’t so straightforward.

I know how I would test the direct cost of legal service in Pennsylvania, and I’ve no doubt that it would go down if I (by fiat) abolished the state bar. But I have no good idea of how we can measure lawyer “quality”. To take something as obvious as criminal defense, some really good public defenders will lose every case for a year, but take comfort in having not lost on the top count of a single indictment. Saying that a public defender who went 0 for 50 in 2005 was a less “good” attorney than a prosecutor who went 50-0 would be a real problem. Facts drive litigation, and make empirical investigation of lawyer quality as a quantitative matter hard. And that is for attorneys who perform in public. How do you evaluate the relative strength of deal counsel on a gross level? Count the typos in the document? Talk with the business folks, and ask who got in the way less? [Obviously, deal counsel can be very good and very bad: the point is we need metrics that are easily coded by, say, research assistants.]

So here is the question for our readers. Can you design an empirical project that measures both litigation and transactional practice quality as a function of licensing?

5

Nominally Empirical Evidence of Unraveling in the Law Review Market

book21a.jpgIn a previous post, I observed that “the time for submitting law review articles is creeping backwards.” I then hypothesized that “we are experiencing what Alvin Roth called the ‘unraveling’ of a sorting market.” This is bad news:

Authors may not be able to get any sense at all of the “market value” of their article (loosely reflected, the myth goes, by multiple offers at a variety of journals). Conversely, journals feeling pressure to move quickly will increasingly resort to proxies for quality like letterhead, prior publication, and the eminences listed in the article’s first footnote (which tell you who an author’s friends and professional contacts are).

At the end of that post, I promised to “explore empirical evidence that this is in fact an unraveling market problem (as opposed to anecdote, to the extent possible).” As it turns out, this was a hard promise to deliver on. There simply isn’t data out there – at least that I’ve been able to find, that collects historical information about the submission processes to law reviews. This is somewhat surprising. Law professors are insular, interested in navel gazing, and well-motivated to do anything other than grading. Moreover, the process of submission is an economically consequential activity. But only recently, in two works-in-progress, has there have been any attempt made to systematically get at this problem. See here, and here.

I thought I’d make a modest contribution to the field by contributing some data from Temple in this recent submission season, and ask our readers to contribute with their experience as well. The sample size is tiny; the respondents self-selecting. This is, therefore, Co-Op’s second “very non-scientific survey” this week. It’s a trend! The data is not meant to suggest any definite conclusions, but rather help researchers with hypothesis formation. But I’ll offer some grand thoughts at the end of this post anyway.

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2

We Can All Say We Knew Him When

Todd Kim, my former co-clerk, has just been appointed to be the first ever Solicitor General of the District of Columbia, and he’s part of a notable trend in state SG personnel. Two Jones Day appellate lawyers have left that firm’s schmancy appellate practice to become state SGs, as have a number of other ambitious Washingtonian types eager for Supreme Court arguments. The job offers interesting exit options as well: Greg Coleman left Texas’ post to become a commerical litigator with a Supreme Court practice at Weil Gotshal; Jeffrey Sutton went from being the Ohio SG to being a judge on the Sixth Circuit. So while everyone’s bursting with pride about Todd, we’re all wondering what’s in his future. Will Todd decide to be a judge or a millionaire? It’s something of a catch-22, and so I hope we can all sympathize with him during this no-doubt difficult time.

3

More On Serendipitous Research

I’ve been giving more thought to my earlier post describing my alter ego as a stack rat. I noted that one downside to the digitization of libraries is that researchers will have fewer serendipitous moments. When one searches out a book with a given call number, he or she almost inevitably confronts related (or simply interesting) volumes that live nearby. I can think of many times when this process led me to useful books that I’d never heard of before. As more and more research is done online in our offices (or perhaps in our den/guest room – you know, the rooms where Barbies and My Little Ponies inexplicably like to congregate despite instructions to the contrary), we no longer happen upon these accidental wonders.

But things are bound to improve. With digitization comes the potential for new serendipities. It’s all in the hypertext. Think about Lexis and Westlaw. When I research a case, a large portion of an opinion’s references can be found with a click. Most commonly, these links take us to cases and articles. But what if their materials also included weblinks?

Of course, a large portion of scholarship outside of law (particularly articles) is also available digitally through JSTOR, Academic Search Premier, and the like. The problem is that, for now, these materals don’t contain hyperlinks. These PDF documents look nice, but they are digital dead ends. But what if these documents also included hypertext links? And what if all the new digital books did as well?

Imagine the fun! Every time I came upon an interesting citation, I could charge off into a fresh diversion. One curious quote, one odd source, and with a single mouse click – BAM – I am back in the deepest corner of the stacks exploring unexpected treasures. We’re not there yet. We’re actually in an unfortunate middle period. Increasingly we abandon the physical library, doing our research at our computer. Yet this wonderful technology has not advanced quite far enough to provide us with new serendipitous moments. But for those people who dream of the day that they can do all their research without ever moving their sedentary buttocks, buck up! Serendipity awaits.