Monday, November 19, 2007


Déjà Vu All Over Again at FBI Lab

I expected to find the blawgosphere abuzz this morning over yesterday's joint investigative report by 60 Minutes and The Washington Post revealing that hundreds of defendants remain incarcerated even though their convictions came about with the help of a discredited FBI forensic tool known as comparative bullet-lead analysis. Even though the FBI discarded the test two years ago as having no scientific validity, it never notified the affected defendants or courts. As I write this, response so far among legal bloggers has been muted, but it is still early the morning after the 60 Minutes broadcast.

One blogger who has commented is Andrew Cohen, author of the Washington Post blog Bench Conference. It is déjà vu all over again, Cohen suggests, conjuring up the memory of FBI whistleblower Frederick Whitehurst, who a decade ago identified systemic problems within the FBI crime lab and helped expose the agency's cover-up when cornered. "Somewhere, Frederick Whitehurst is saying: See? I told you so," Cohen writes. And he could not be more prescient, because Whitehurst's Forensic Justice Project put out a statement this morning saying, in so many words, We told you so. The statement indicates -- and the Washington Post report confirms -- that the work of the project and of the affiliated National Whistleblower Center helped expose the weaknesses in bullet-lead analysis. For Cohen, there is a lesson in all this that Whitehurst might well agree with:

Remember this story -- and the ones like Whitehurst's that have preceded it -- the next time government lawyers stand up in court and vouch for the accuracy and reliability of federal 'experts' offering conclusions about the import of evidence. Remember it, too, when a Justice Department lawyer tells a federal judge that the executive branch is worthy of trust and deference in the legal war on terrorism because law enforcement officials have deemed someone to be a terror suspect.

Another blogger to comment on the report is Mark Obbie at LawBeat. Obbie dons his journalism-professor hat to find fault with the over-hyping of the Washington Post piece written by reporter John Solomon. The story, says Obbie, "suffers from excessive hype" and left him "feeling I was hoodwinked." The trouble comes, in part, from the FBI's preemptive strike: It released a statement on Friday promising to do everything the report on Sunday would criticize it for failing to do. "Solomon's revelation of this 'problem-solved' turn in his story comes too late, in the 13th graf, after 12 grafs that seem to say the problem persists and is being addressed for the first time publicly in this story," Obbie complains. Another problem: It is not until the 21st paragraph that the piece mentions the role of the Forensic Justice Project in exposing this injustice. "The chest-thumping tone of the report suggests a level of originality that, it turns out, is lacking," he says.

One footnote to the story, on this very day that The American Lawyer publishes its Summer Associates Survey, is that four summer associates at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in New York played a central role in helping compile this report. The Post and 60 Minutes conducted a nationwide review of cases in which this tainted evidence played a role. As part of that review, the four associates picked through electronic court filings in search of cases.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on November 19, 2007 at 10:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Summers are a Happy Lot

Summer associates gave their firms overall good reviews in The American Lawyer's 2007 Summer Associates Survey, and why shouldn't they? After all, what's not to like? Some found exotic adventures abroad, with one traveling four-and-a-half hours by horseback across the Egyptian desert and another put up in a fancy apartment in Paris. Others were treated to skyboxes at baseball games, cooking classes, musicals, symphony concerts, whitewater rafting trips and scavenger hunts. In New York, there was Kobe beef and Picasso at the Museum of Modern Art, while in San Francisco there was helicoptering under the Golden Gate Bridge and debauchery at Half Moon Bay. All that and a paycheck of nearly $3,000 a week.

Not bad work if you can get it. And of the 10,000 law students who did get it, 7,300 responded to the AmLaw survey. Those at smaller firms were generally happier than those at larger firms, but almost all the firms scored at least a four on a scale of one to five, with the average score for all firms 4.513. The top-scoring firm was Boston's 155-lawyer Nutter McClennen & Fish, which earned perfect scores in eight of nine categories. The second-ranked firm, Philadelphia's Fox Rothschild, jumped from a rank of 110 the year before.

What made the difference in firms? "Students craved juicy assignments, friendly offices and lots of attention, and the firms that best satisfied these needs tended to be medium-size shops with relatively small summer programs," writes reporter Paul Jaskunas. One summer associate at Nutter summed up the experience this way: "They go out of their way to make you feel like a part of the family from day one." By contrast, firms that ranked lower on the survey got there because their associates felt neglected. All but one of the 10 lowest-ranked firms scored below 4.0 in training and guidance. "Give the summer associates more real work! I want to write motions, not just research motions," pleaded one associate. Just don't let up on the Kobe and debauchery.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on November 19, 2007 at 10:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Equal Opportunity Blawg Review

In 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaimed Nov. 19 to be Equal Opportunity Day, urging every American to join "in the effort to abolish all artificial discrimination." These 50 years later, what is Eisenhower's legacy in promoting equal opportunity? For Blawg Review #135, Jillian Todd Weiss takes the measure of that question by turning to the blawgosphere. Weiss, author of the blog Transgender Workplace Diversity and associate professor of law and society at Ramapo College, finds that equal opportunity in the U.S. remains elusive. The racial divide remains strong and debate over how to bridge it remains inconclusive, she writes, while the movement for equal opportunity has expanded beyond race, as is illustrated by recent attempts to expand civil rights to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Two weeks ago, the House took up the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which was introduced to prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. ... Some Democrats, just like those of Eisenhower's day, complained that they were not prepared to support the reference to 'gender identity,' which would have protected transgender Americans, and the bill was passed without it. This move was controversial in the gay community because many gay advocates felt that transgender people are not part of the gay community. ... On the other hand, about 300 organizations protested the removal of 'gender identity' from the bill because it undermined the fairness message of ENDA.

In her survey of the blawgosphere, Weiss found plenty of discussion of other issues related to equal opportunity, including age discrimination, disability discrimination, sex discrimination and veterans' rights. A second part of Blawg Review is slated to continue tomorrow, the 9th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, at the Rainbow Law Center Blog of Denise Brogan-Kator.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on November 19, 2007 at 10:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Delhi Abolishes Lawyer Age Cap

Until this month, lawyers over age 45 could not be newly enrolled to practice as advocates in the Indian state of Delhi. The policy existed, one member of the Delhi Bar Council explained, because, "We have often seen that lawyers above 45 just get into the profession for time pass. They don't contribute anything, engage in malpractice and crowd in." Some post-45 "senior citizen" lawyers disagreed with that policy. Six months ago, a half dozen of them appealed to the Delhi High Court. Earlier this month, before the court could rule, the Delhi Bar Council reversed itself and abolished the age restriction.

As NDTV reports, this is welcome news for lawyers Prem Chand Kashyap, 60, and Sudhi Kumar Bharadwaj, 61. Kashyap, a 1975 law graduate, retired this year after 35 years in banking and hoped to spend his "golden years" as a lawyer. Bharadwaj had earned his law degree in 1979 and retired last year as chief income tax commissioner of Mumbai, likewise wanting to practice law. The Bar Council had turned down both men because of their age.

Read more on this from The Hindu or watch this video of NDTV's report. Meanwhile, I'll ponder the demise of the belief that with age comes wisdom.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on November 19, 2007 at 10:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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