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By Dave Hoffman

What Did They Put in the Water of PA’s Prosecutors?

Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court Justice receiving hard-core pornographic emails? Check.  Another Justice using that fact as an opportunity to call for his long-term rival’s resignation? Check. My friends: the problems of Pennsylvania’s legal culture, in one nicely-wrapped, festering, package. And now, the made-for-Above-the-Law story is getting worse:

“Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane’s unprecedented move to expose the swapping of pornographic e-mails on state time has so far cost four men their jobs, put another at risk of being stripped of his state post, and left three others deeply embarrassed.

All of them may be collateral damage.

So far, Kane has not landed a major blow on the man who sources say has long been her main target: former state prosecutor Frank Fina.

In fact, she’s been muzzled from doing so …

Fina is a career prosecutor known for high-profile public-corruption cases at the Attorney General’s Office. He now works for Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams.

Numerous people with knowledge of their quarrel – including sources close to both – have said Fina participated in the exchange of X-rated e-mails.

According to the same sources, Kane was intent on making that fact public.

She wanted to expose what she believed was an entrenched misogynistic culture in the Attorney General’s Office when Fina was a ranking prosecutor and before she took charge, people close to her say.”

According to the story, Fina obtained a gag order preventing the Attorney general from evening mentioning his name by going to a suburban judge overseeing a grand jury, on the theory that “Kane’s office was using the threat of tying him to the sexually explicit e-mails to intimidate and silence him and others.” But today’s story (seemingly by sources close to the Attorney General) would appear to sap the vitality of that gag order, which may now be extinguished. And enterprising journalists might fairly ask Philadelphia’s District Attorney what he thinks of Fina’s conduct, and whether the DA has asked his employee if Fina indeed sent and received hard-core pornographic emails to colleagues and to Justices on Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court. This scandal, already so damaging for the reputation of Pennsylvania’s bench and bar, may get worse.

 

 

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“If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.”

At high holiday services in my conservative Jewish synagogue, I reflected on the omnipresence of narratives of decline in my professional and religious life. Apparently, the approved sermon topic at many conservative pulpits this year was how to rescue the shrinking conservative movement.  The Pew Report’s stark figures on that decline, illustrated to the right, suggested the theme of the sermon (at least in my congregation): reaching out to new revenue sources applicants potential converts congregants.  As the rabbi stated, unless we find more congregants (and soon!) by opening the doors & working to engage new audiences, we will wither on the vine.

This sermon was explicitly delivered as a recruiting pitch, and I found it familiar.  Doesn’t the claim — “we’ve learned our lesson, we’re now going to innovate” — sound exactly like a thousand Law Dean speeches?   Here’s a summary of one, by an especially skillful and media-savvy Dean:

“[UC Hastings Dean] Wu is the first to acknowledge that he cannot change the market. But with a little ingenuity, he can change the law school model, making it more interdisciplinary and more pragmatically job-oriented, even if that means slashing enrollment or acknowledging that some students might have to reinvent themselves as small-businesspeople. Lawyering might be an old, feudal business, but law schools won’t survive if they don’t adapt to the new economy, Wu says. That’s the only way to keep Hastings, or any of its peers, afloat.”

Change or die.  A cliche difficult to gainsay, at least in the abstract. So law schools (and congregations) seek to evolve without losing some core component of their identity. For synagogues, the question boils down to how – and how much – to welcome non-jews to the pews. Law Schools, similarly, now ask “who do we want to teach.”

Some – like Penn State – increasingly make foreign LLMs a key constituency, rather than a tolerated budgetary crutch. Other schools compete in the increasing crowded online education/certification market for domestic lawyers, or paralegals.  And all over the country, law professors teach increasing numbers of undergrads. I’m guessing here, but I’d bet that while 10 years ago, 95% of law professor instruction time was spent on JDs, it’s more like 75% today, and could be 50% in 10 years.  You do have to wonder about the trend.  Just as conservative synagogues built on the rejection of Reform Judaism’s open-door orientation may be unable to effectively recruit and service different members, it’s fair to ask if law schools are or could be generally good at teaching non-JD students.

And let’s say that law schools actually are good at teaching their new students — or at least better than the alternatives, which is highly probable. There’s still something faintly defensive and catastrophic about the enterprise. If law schools say: “we have to teach new skills to new people,” they in effect admit “the old skills are no longer particularly valuable.” But that position is profoundly stupid, not to mention self-defeating. It reinforces a prevailing narrative about law schools – they are broke, and need fixing. The reason that law schools are in trouble today is that...

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An Important New Paper on Veil Piercing Procedure

Sam Halabi (Tulsa) has written an important and interesting new paper on veil piercing, titled Veil-Piercing’s Procedure.

“With the lines between shareholders and corporations blurring over constitutional rights like free exercise of religion and political speech, questions as to how and under what circumstances the law respects or disregards the separation between shareholders and their corporations have never been more urgent. In the corporate law literature, these inquiries have overwhelmingly focused on the doctrine of piercing the corporate veil, a judicial mechanism normally applied to hold shareholders responsible for the obligations of corporations. The last twenty years of veil-piercing scholarship has been largely devoted to empirical analyses of veil-piercing cases collected from Lexis and Westlaw searches. Since 1991, scholars have been trying to mine cases for ever more variables that might predict when and under what circumstances judges disregard the separation between shareholders and their corporations. This Article argues that these scholars have focused on the substance of veil-piercing law to the detriment of another factor: civil procedure. This Article is the first to survey civil procedure and evidentiary rules that affect existing veil-piercing studies including pleading standards, threshold presumptions, burdens of proof, jury access and waiver. The Article ultimately argues that phenomena scholars now ascribe to the “incoherence” of veil-piercing law are explicable in the context of veil-piercing’s procedural fluidity.” The paper breaks new ground on a very, very well trodden field.  (Full disclosure: Sam critiques my work with Christy Boyd on this topic, and we’re mostly guilty as charged.)  I continue to think that veil piercing is a vastly over-written topic, but this paper makes a real contribution and is worth reading. Check it out.

 

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Three Ideas to Improve Law Reviews (as Institutions)

This year, I’ve been tapped to be one of Temple Law Review’s faculty advisors.  I’m excited – the position will give me a platform to blather on to an even-more-captive audience on paramount importance  of avoiding use of et al.

Quite apart from that Cato-ian quest, the advising position has caused me to think a bit harder about some advice I’ve written on this blog to law review editors. While I once believed that law review editors could successfully strategize to maximize their W&L impact factors, I no longer think this is possible. I never was convinced it was a good idea on its merits.  Most law reviews–i.e., those outside of the top 20, variously defined–lack market power to reliably choose articles very likely to be cited. Therefore, strategies directed at W&L Impact, or citations otherwise measured, are unlikely to bear fruit. Neither the article-selection nor the article-citation markets are efficient: no one board can move the needle sufficiently to make it worthwhile. Worse, article selection strategies are going to make the people on boards feel terrible, because they are generally only tactical–reading only expedited submissions, looking at letterhead as a proxy for quality, applying short fuses on offers, focusing on random areas of law in an attempt to be counter-trend. But everyone is doing that now.  It’s like law review glossy publications seeking to bump USNWR reputation scores. The game is rigged. The only alternative is not to play.

So what should you do? I’ve already suggested how boards can escape the citation rat race by opening up the fire hose and closing their eyes.  Now I’ll go further – what can the board to do improve the law review as an institution, not merely as an article selection and publication machine.  Here are three concrete ideas:

1.  Improve the student experience:  Since it’s often terrible, there’s tons of low-hanging fruit. Start by surveying staff and ask them the three worse things about being on law review. Fix one of things things.  For many, that’s going to be the process of writing mini-law review articles (often called “comments,”sometimes called “notes.”)  Stop encouraging students to write this overfootnoted, circuit-split-obsessed, dreck and mandate, instead, short pieces that summarize recent developments.  For other students, it going to be interactions with managing editors. You should train people how to deliver criticism, and how to take it. Most incoming law review editors haven’t yet learned how to be a good boss. Many never will unless you intervene.

2. Create Institutional Memory:  I’ll let you in on a secret: most law schools are out of touch with their intellectual pasts – they have little record of the work of professors who’ve left the faculty, they don’t know their own history or past purposes, and they have an even vaguer idea of what alumni are up to, outside of those who contribute heavily to the school.  Law Reviews can, but rarely do, serve the purpose of being an institutional memory, for at least the intellectual work of the school.  Today, they can do so online, bringing the past to life and...

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