TagAbove the Law

Hopeful Beginnings

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Today, my novel, Gideon’s Children, is being released, for which I am both extremely excited and equally grateful. My excitement is on high, because finally G.C. now has the opportunity to contribute to the growing discussion about the need to improve the workings of our Criminal Justice System, and thereby protect the individual constitutional rights that are the cornerstone of America’s democracy. And I feel so tremendously grateful, due to my gigantic good fortune in having such an oceanic body of family and friends who have enthusiastically supported my endeavor and continue to cheer me on. To those of you who have shared life with me for many years, heartfelt thanks are warmly flowing your way. And to new friends who I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting in person, individuals such as the renowned litigator and legal scholar, Michael Tigar, and the brilliant young columnist Renwei Chung for the highly regarded website Above The Law, who gifted G.C. with such favorable reviews, heartfelt thanks are also flowing to you.

The second hopeful beginning that I wish to share with you today also engenders both excitement and gratitude. Since I began my blog, its theme has been the vital importance of the judicial branch of our government, and the crucial need to improve the workings of our Criminal Justice System so as to protect individual constitutional rights and maintain the Rule of Law which founds American Society.

We all know that a problem cannot be solved unless we first admit that it exists. But until recent tragic events occurred in Ferguson, New York City, Cleveland, and Los Angeles, relatively little attention has been paid to improving the numerous facets of our Criminal Justice System by elected officials and organizations with the power to influence.

However, as reported by Carl Hulse in the New York Times on February 18th, an extremely important development seeking to change this lack of  focus has occurred. “Koch Industries, the conglomerate owned by the conservative Koch brothers, and the center (Center for American Progress), a Washington-based liberal issues group…usually bitter adversaries have found at least one thing they can agree on: The nation’s criminal justice system is broken.” And to fix it, they have come together to back a new organization: The Coalition for Public Safety.

Joining the Coalition in an unusual bipartisan approach, from the political spectrum’s left and right are the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Tax Reform, and the Tea Party–oriented Freedom Works, and the Coalition plans a multi-million-dollar campaign on behalf of emerging proposals to “reduce prison populations, overhaul sentencing, reduce recidivism, and take on other similar initiatives.”

A second goal of the Coalition is “to show lawmakers in gridlocked Washington that factions with widely divergent views can find ways to work together and arrive at consensus policy  solutions.”

I hope that those of you who are reading this are breaking into smiles that steadily widen as the possibilities for real progress sink in, accompanied by a grateful, prayerfully toned, “Wow!” And our prayers are indeed needed, for the problems are numerous and complex, and the viewpoints within the Coalition widely divergent. And in recognition of the extremely difficult task they have assumed, the leaders of Coalition have agreed to a three-year time period to determine whether they can achieve success.

Obviously it won’t be easy, and progress most likely won’t come quickly. However, I’d like to suggest that in a day and age when the principal activity of our two major political parties, at all levels of government, is hurling the word “NO!” at each other, followed by a barrage of name-calling, this endeavor by the Coalition for Public Safety is the very best news reported since I can’t remember when.

A hopeful beginning, indeed. To be celebrated and supported by all of us. In fact, because we very much NEED for the Coalition to reach its goals, in an age of information overwhelm and shrinking attention spans, each of us needs to take a vow not to allow the Coalition and its work to fade from view, and to instead follow its progress towards its goals and support it whenever possible by contacting our elected representatives in support of its bipartisan solutions.

As always, thank you for listening. And please share this good and hopeful news with your friends.

Supreme Ambitions: A Novel Look Inside The World Of Appellate Courts

On Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, I deviated from my examination of the Criminal Justice System to pay tribute to the great Civil Rights leader in a timely fashion. Intending to return to this subject in my next blog-post, and explore the subject of prosecutors, I have decided that a further deviation is necessary due to the recent release of an important book, Supreme Ambitions, a novel by David Lat, the creator of the well-respected and heavily visited website, Above The Law.

I identify this novel as important, because while most Americans have some knowledge of criminal trials from books, movies, and television, very few have any idea of how the appeals process works, and little insight into the role of appellate judges, their clerks, and the lawyers who constitute the working blocks of this facet of our Judicial System. And by illustrating this more esoteric arena via a novel that entertains while it educates, Lat makes a highly valuable contribution to our understanding of this critical component of the Judicial System, and I highly recommend it as a must read.

Supreme Ambitions’ angle of entry inside this world is to provide the reader with a fascinating glimpse into the day-to-day lives and motivations of the young, super-competitive law clerks who win highly coveted positions with federal appeals judges, by focusing, in a fast-paced and contemporary style, on one young Harvard undergrad/Yale Law School grad as she comes to terms with the “little monstrous,” “tough, strident, and manipulative” behavior required to be successful.

From the beginning, it is clear that most of these clerks (who play a vital role in providing appellate judges with mountains of research and recommendations on important legal issues) are there as a stepping-stone to a U.S. Supreme Court clerkship, which in turn is a ticket to a $300,000 signing bonus (goodbye student loans!) at a prestigious New York law firm. Artfully, Lat provides the reader with an insight into the long hours, the minutiae, and the complete lack of credit that are part and parcel of the clerks’ job, and allows the reader to repeatedly face the ethical questions that haunt the novel’s young protagonist Audrey.

In the end, while being entertained, the reader is presented with a clear view of the personal and career consequences both of going along to get along, as well as the contentious issue of (relative) whistle-blowing, and comes away perhaps more cynical about the human workings of the Judicial System, but with at least a trace of idealism extant.

Congratulations to David Lat for authoring such a valuable and must-read book!

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