Showing posts with label Donald Trump. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Donald Trump. Show all posts

Sunday, January 10, 2021

What goes around comes around: U.S. election cycle, Capitol riot draw 'banana republic' gibes

Seth Doane has an excellent piece out today (Facebook, YouTube, and embed below) on foreign perspectives on the Capitol riot, insurrection, whatever: rebellion to be named later.  The story mentions the Kenyan headline, "Who's the banana republic now?"  I wish only to add that it's not the first time for such cheekiness, recalling Colombia's Publimetro cover from November 6 (Guardian).  I've no doubt that there are plenty of "s***hole" gibes going on in Africa, too.

Publimetro, Nov. 6, 2020, via Pressreader (Colombia); Nation, Jan. 8, 2021, via Internet Archive (Kenya).



 

"What They See," CBS Sunday Morning, Jan. 10, 2021, via YouTube.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Law students ponder litigant Trump

(Cross-posted at Trump Litigation Seminar and The Savory Tort.) In the fall semester, I had the privilege of exploring Trump litigation in depth with a team of law students in my Trump Litigation Seminar.  These students are to be commended for plowing through more than 27,000 pages of court records, which are compiled and publicly available at our course blogsite, a project of The Savory Tort.  In addition to our case reviews and discussions, students completed skills exercises in discovery, pleading, public relations, negotiation, and statutory interpretation, and rounded out the semester with research and writing.  From the final papers, with author permission, here are selected abstracts.

Screenshot of PAC ad, via WNYC

Jessi Dusenberry, Anti-SLAPP Law and Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. v. Northland Television, LLC.  President Donald Trump filed a lawsuit against a small news organization in Wisconsin for defamation.  The news organization, WJFW-TV, ran an advertisement that showed President Trump calling COVID-19 a “hoax,” as a graph tracking the rate of infections showed an upward track on the screen.  Many news stations ran the same ad, but the Trump campaign chose to sue only WJFW-TV, which is owned by a small company that has only two other local TV stations.  The political organization that produced the ad later joined the case as a defendant.  The lawsuit was initially filed in Circuit Court, but later was removed to federal court.  The lawsuit against WJFW-TV follows President Trump’s legal strategy of filing frivolous lawsuits to force the defendant to spend money in legal fees to get the case dismissed.

Unlike many other states, Wisconsin doesn’t have an anti-SLAPP law to prevent the use of the courts to intimidate people who are exercising their First Amendment rights.  This paper provides general background on strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) and the need for anti-SLAPP legislation, as well as the jurisdictional differences in drafting anti-SLAPP legislation.  The paper goes into further detail on California’s anti-SLAPP legislation, beginning with the types of speech covered by the statute.  The paper also analyzes significant judicial interpretations of the anti-SLAPP legislation in California.  Finally, the paper explores the applicability of California’s anti-SLAPP protections to media defendants.

From Pixabay by Gerd Altmann

Richard Grace, The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Everything but the Truth: Tort Reform and Social Media.  The tort of defamation has been changed irreconcilably by the advent of social media, which have provided famous or notorious plaintiffs additional means to combat and remedy alleged damage to their reputations, regardless of the merits, leaving plaintiffs of more ordinary means no alternative but to rely on a system that is heavily defendant-favored and cost-prohibitive.  In the “Twitter Age,” a period of revolutionary growth in connectivity and ability to spread information globally via social media, the ultimate affirmative defense to defamation, truth, seems almost to have become subjective, with division and polarization increasing at an alarming rate.  Reasoned conclusions have been replaced by echo chambers.  Whether it is “alternative facts,” or the notion that being “morally right” is more important than being “precisely, factually, and semantically correct,” the rapid growth in ability to editorialize and disseminate "truth" has wider implications for the “search for the truth” of modern litigation.

This paper first aims to discuss several theories of reform to the tort of defamation.  The paper explores the actions of a serial defamation litigant, Donald Trump, specifically in the matters of Trump v. O’Brien and Miss Universe L.P. v. Monnin, the latter involving an entity owned by Trump, which were selected to demonstrate the ability of a defamation plaintiff to leverage the public sphere as an extra-judicial remedy.  These cases were chosen to represent pre- and post-Twitter outcomes.  O’Brien was decided prior to Twitter becoming a social media mainstay, whereas Miss Universe was more recent.  Finally, the paper considers the external issues this gap in tort remedy for reputational damage has caused, particularly with regard to § 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which has provided social media companies, service providers for purposes of the act, with statutory immunity from tort actions for defamation.  Ultimately, the jurisprudence of defamation law has enabled a two-tiered system of remedies: for those who must bear the cost and burden of litigation, and for those who can litigate the matter outside of the courtroom, in the court of public opinion.

Pa. electoral map from 2012 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Alyssa McCartney, The President Who Cries Voter Fraud: A Recurring Theme of Baseless Allegations.  In 2019, Pennsylvania enacted its first update to the Election Code in nearly eighty years. On a bipartisan vote, the General Assembly passed a measure to allow “no reason” mail-in ballots. Act 77 allows any registered voter to request a ballot by mail, fill it out in the time framed outlined, and send it back to be processed. In the wake of a global pandemic that left Americans unable to leave their homes, this necessary update would cause quite the controversy in months to come. Explaining a new process comes with challenges, but tack on a President purposely fanning the flames of doubt, mail-in ballots have been tough to sell. The primary election used the updated process for the first time on June 2, 2020. Receiving nothing but praises and positive feedback, the measures enacted seemed to keep tensions at ease. That is, until the sitting President’s re-election campaign filed suit against Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar and the Commonwealth’s sixty-seven counties. As President Donald J. Trump continued to allege baseless voter fraud accusations, the American people grew more restless in a year that’s already full of uncertainty. As a key swing state in presidential elections, Pennsylvania took center stage in Trump’s war on the election “rigged by Democrats.”

This article aims to address Trump’s relentless allegations of voter fraud—something that is not new for him. By analyzing Pennsylvania and offering an insight into Centre County election protocols, this article will squash the baseless accusations to show the election results are fair, free, and not riddled with fraud. Although President Trump refuses to concede in hopes of the United States Supreme Court intervening, he lacks any standing and cannot offer substantial evidence to support his claims. In short, these frivolous lawsuits are an attempt to undermine our democratic process by a man who has no shame spinning the narrative to suit his needs.

From Flickr by Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Natalie Newsom, Make America Great Again.  In 2015, Donald Trump announced that he was running for President of the United States in a controversial statement outside his towering building in New York City. What ensued in the months following was a campaign that shattered presidential norms with Trump having a scattered history of sexual misconduct allegations, zero experience in elected office, and a tendency to make offensive and derogatory comments. These comments caused Rafael Oliveras López de Victoria to file a lawsuit on September 24, 2015, to ban Donald Trump from becoming President. Oliveras López argued, albeit unsuccessfully, that there is a particular caliber of moral solvency expected of U.S. Presidents, and that the court should intervene in situations in which a presidential candidate fails to meet that criterion.

The most interest facet of the Oliveras López lawsuit is what it reveals about American politics and morality. As it stands now, making offensive comments aimed at protected classes in the United States will not stop you from becoming President, the most highly regarded public-servant position in our nation. That fact seems to run afoul of another phenomenon that exists in the United States today, in which people may be fired from their government jobs for social media posts featuring alcohol or expletives. This leaves the question of why a double-standard exists. This paper aims to address the problem of that gap between the law and morality and discusses what the case filed by Mr. Oliveras López teaches us about restoring faith in American decency.

E. Jean Carroll in 2006 by Julieannesmo (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Pedro Raposo, Trump, Sexual Assault, and Defamation.  Defamation has proven a useful tool to survivors who have been keeping their accusations to themselves for fear of coming forward, and have since managed the strength to come forward against their abusers. Notably, many individuals who have been abused in the past may have concealed their stories for too long, and the statute of limitations for sexual assault have run. With a defamation suit, survivors are able to reopen the issue of their sexual assaults by addressing the accused's statements.  President Donald Trump has not been able to escape this recent wave of sexual misconduct allegations ushered in by the #metoo movement. To date, there have been nineteen women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct. The three cases focused on here were brought by former “Apprentice” contestant Summer Zervos, adult film star Stephanie Clifford, and author E. Jean Carroll.  Two of these cases have reached variable results, with the court ruling the allegation in the Zervos case to be actionable against Trump, while the defamation claim in Clifford’s case was defeated by Trump’s legal team. 

Snapshot of Trump deposition in CZ-National

Spencer K. Schneider, Paying for Privacy.  As public opinion of the courts diminishes, it is important to consider the role that public access to the courts, or lack thereof, plays in this public opinion. In the United States, courts have a long history of public access to both proceedings and documents, much of which is grounded in the First Amendment. However, this access is not absolute, and the wealthy and powerful often seek to keep court documents under seal and out of the public’s view. One of these wealthy and power individuals is Donald Trump, a frequent litigator to say the least. This paper analyzes court decisions in Trump Old Post Office LLC v. CZ-National and Low v. Trump University, respectively, to make public and seal the video depositions of Donald Trump taken during each case’s discovery, and the effect that allowing wealthy parties to seal court documents can have on the public perception of the courts.

José Andrés on Flickr by Adam Fagen (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Ricardo J. Serrano Rodriguez, Trump Old Post Office LLC v. Topo Atrio LLC and the Court of Public Opinion.  This paper attempts an exploratory study of the plausibility of public opinion influence in the case of Topo Atrio through media outlets such as newspapers, television, radio, and social media platforms. The ways that public opinion is formed have changed throughout our history. Since the times of the public square, public opinion influences the way that individuals conduct themselves in society. This influence changes the dynamics of social interaction in a deep manner and polarizes the judgment of the public. The internet and social media have expanded the reach of the public sphere to a point of near immediate dissemination of information. Now, newspapers are not only physical, as the name suggest, but digital also, which multiplies the publisher’s reach. Donald Trump is a public figure who also has made a brand out of his name and relied on this brand in his quest for political approval. In the case of Topo Atrio, ... José Andrés and Donald Trump, through their corporations, entered into an agreement in which Andrés would run a restaurant in Trump’s Old Post Office Hotel. The controversial comments about immigration made by Donald Trump when he announced his candidacy created a bustle of publicity that followed him to the end of his presidential term. But could it really influence the court of law?

Pixabay by Christian Dorn

Matthew R. Stevens, The Art of the SLAPP.  This paper dives into two cases, Makaeff v. Trump University and Clifford v. Trump, and dissects the anti-SLAPP issues and motions made in the cases. More specifically, the paper views the anti-SLAPP issues in these cases through the broader scope of anti-SLAPP legislation’s underlying policy goals. While extremely important and inextricably connected to the legal results of each case, the application of substantive law is not the primary focus of this paper. There is a plethora of variables that distinguish the two cases, but the key point of divergence on which this paper focuses is Trump being a defamation plaintiff in one case, and a defamation defendant in the other. It is also important to narrow the scope of SLAPP suits themselves. SLAPP suits can apply to far more than just free speech, but this paper focuses the scope of SLAPP suits through the lens of defamation claims. The paper’s ultimate goal is to use these two cases as examples to see whether anti-SLAPP legislation is operating as intended within the context of the greater policy goals of the legislation.

O'Brien's book (Amazon)
Judson Watt, Press Protections in Civil Discovery: Trump v. O'Brien.  Donald Trump is a well-known public figure who is famous for his litigious nature. In 2006, he filed a defamation lawsuit against a well-known reporter and author in the New Jersey courts. This lawsuit survived a motion to dismiss and was allowed to move into the pre-trial discovery phase. Donald Trump was allowed to pepper the defendant with requests for document production and interrogatories concerning his confidential sources. This paper addresses the decision of the trial court to allow pretrial discovery to proceed even though Trump failed to meet his burden to establish actual malice by the defendant, as required by the Supreme Court since New York Times v. Sullivan. This paper shows that the trial court disregarded statutes and case law by allowing the case to continue into the discovery phase.

This paper gives a basic overview of the hurdles faced by public figures in filing a defamation case. It examines and explains journalistic privileges in reporting on public figures and how these privileges were applied by the trial court. It examines various statutes and case law binding in New Jersey and New York at the time of the suit. This paper shows that this case was wrongly decided from the beginning and that it never should have moved into pretrial discovery. The trial court failed properly to apply the precedents of New Jersey or New York, and, as a result of this failing, a reporter was subjected to an endless stream of interrogatories, discovery, and legal harassment by a wealthy public figure. Indeed, this story is the embodiment of the motivations for press shield laws, and the importance of these laws in a democratic society.

Monday, November 9, 2020

All politics is local

This Ayrshire Daily News, Scotland, headline refers to the Trump Turnberry Golf Courses.  The headline caught the attention of BBC's Andrew Marr Show and was shared with me by BBC viewer and friend of the blog, Siobhan Lavery.

Trump Golf operates two properties in Scotland and one in Ireland.  The club at Aberdeen lost a fight against a nearby windfarm in the UK Supreme Court in 2015.  The New York Times Trump tax revelation caused Business Insider to mark the clubs among Trump's "most failed businesses," while seeming over-valuation of the clubs figures in New York prosecutors' ongoing investigations of Trump financial disclosures (Politico).  The Scotland properties also garnered unwanted news coverage this year for their receipt of coronavirus government bailouts (Guardian).  Nevertheless, Aberdeen recently authorized construction of a second club (BoingBoing).

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Court: 'Hyperbole,' not slander, in Fox News monolog about Cohen 'catch and kill' payment to protect Trump

McDougal in 2007
(Sam Posten III CC BY-SA 2.0)
A defamation lawsuit by Karen McDougal, former Playboy model and alleged extra-marital consort of President Donald Trump, against Fox News was dismissed last week in federal court in the Southern District of New York.

The case arose in connection with allegations that Trump and lawyer Michael Cohen cooperated with the National Enquirer to "catch and kill," that is pay for and suppress, potentially damaging stories about Trump's personal life.  Relying on allegations in the complaint (citations and notes here omitted), the court summarized the background as favorable to the plaintiff:

Ms. McDougal ... became the subject of front-page stories following the 2016 United States Presidential Election based on allegations that she had engaged in a year-long affair (from 2006-2007) with now-President Trump.

The allegations of an affair arose during the 2018 investigation and guilty plea of Mr. Trump’s lawyer and aide Michael Cohen on charges that he violated federal campaign finance laws. Specifically, law enforcement investigators and the media revealed that in the months leading up to the 2016 election, American Media, Inc. (“AMI”)—the company behind National Enquirer and whose CEO, David Pecker, allegedly is close with the President—had paid Ms. McDougal $150,000 in exchange for the rights to her story about the affair with Mr. Trump. AMI then assigned the rights to the story to a corporate shell entity formed by Mr. Cohen allegedly at Mr. Trump’s direction, and in exchange for the assignment Mr. Cohen paid AMI $125,000.

During the Government’s investigation of these payments, Mr. Cohen and Mr. Pecker both revealed that Mr. Trump had directed the AMI payment to Ms. McDougal in the first place, and then personally reimbursed the payments himself, all as part of an effort to avoid having the allegations affect the 2016 election. Mr. Trump initially had denied knowledge of any payments to McDougal, but by December 2018, had admitted to the payments, arguing that they were made on the advice of Mr. Cohen and that any illegality was Cohen’s fault. Mr. Cohen ultimately was charged with and pleaded guilty to violations of campaign finance laws.

Carlson in 2018 (Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 2.0)
On Tucker Carlson Tonight, on Fox News, December 10, 2018, Carlson said, as quoted in the court opinion:

"Remember the facts of the story. These are undisputed. Two women approached Donald Trump and threatened to ruin his career and humiliate his family if he doesn’t give them money. Now, that sounds like a classic case of extortion.

"Yet, for whatever reason, Trump caves to it, and he directs Michael Cohen to pay the ransom. Now, more than two years later, Trump is a felon for doing this. It doesn’t seem to make any sense.

"Oh, but you're not a federal prosecutor on a political mission. If you were a federal prosecutor on a political mission, you would construe those extortion payments as campaign contributions."
McDougal sued for slander per se over the accusation of extortion.  The court dismissed the case on Thursday on two grounds.  First, the court ruled that Carlson's statements were protected by the First Amendment as hyperbolic comment on politics.  Second, the court ruled that McDougal had failed to plead a case that could meet the high bar of actual malice, i.e., that Carlson knew the assertions to be false or spoke in reckless disregard of truth or falsity.

The case seems soundly decided, though has curious implications for what passes as journalism today.  As Slate observed, the former holding accepts the argument of Fox News that reasonable viewers of Carlson's show are "in on the gag[:] ... [that] Carlson is not 'stating actual facts' but simply engaging in 'non-literal commentary'[;] ... that given Mr. Carlson’s reputation, any reasonable viewer 'arrive[s] with an appropriate amount of skepticism' about the statements he makes."  The court concluded, "Whether the Court frames Mr. Carlson’s statements as 'exaggeration,' 'non-literal commentary,' or simply bloviating for his audience, the conclusion remains the same—the statements are not actionable."

The case is McDougal v. Fox News Network, LLC, No. 1:19-cv-11161 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 24, 2020).  The case was decided by U.S. District Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil, a New York City corporate litigator whom President Trump appointed to the bench.  For the related subject of "catch and kill," I added links to McDougal under the Clifford cases at the Trump Litigation SeminarRead more about Tucker Carlson in the Columbia Journalism Review (Sept. 5, 2018).

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Mary Trump sues President, family, alleges three decades' fraud in oversight of her father's estate

Author of Too Much and Never Enough (2020), Mary L. Trump on Thursday sued her uncle, the President, and her aunt, retired federal judge Maryanne Trump Barry, for ongoing fraud and breach of fiduciary duty in oversight of the estate of Mary's father, Fred Trump, Jr., since his death in 1981.

The case comes just two months after a failed bid by presidential brother Robert S. Trump to enjoin publication of Mary's book, and one month after Mary's release of audio recordings in which her aunt condemned the President. Considering the First Amendment and the futility of last-minute injunction, the court in the earlier case refused to enforce the confidentiality provisions of a family agreement that settled litigation arising from the deaths of Robert, Maryanne, and the President's parents, Mary's grandparents, Fred and Mary Anne, in 1999 and 2000. Robert S. Trump died on August 15, 2020. Try to keep up.

To navigate the statute of limitations, Mary Trump alleges that she only became aware of the fraud upon the publication of investigative journalism by The New York Times in 2018 (pay wall; about).  Links to the dockets, the complaint in the latest Mary L. Trump case, and the court decision denying injunction in the Robert S. Trump case are now posted at the Trump Litigation Seminar blogsite, a project of The Savory Tort. HT @ TLS students Spencer K. Schneider and Richard Grace

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Defamation case against Trump fits woeful pattern, while DOJ defense is defensible, if disconcerting

Notice of Removal in Carroll v. Trump
The recent news (e.g., N.Y. Times) that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will defend the President in the defamation suit arising from sexual-assault allegations by E. Jean Carroll has caught the interest of both my Torts I class and my Trump Litigation Seminar (TLS).  The DOJ's announcement manifests on the docket in removal of the case from the New York Supreme Court to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.  Links and key court documents are now posted atop The Savory Tort's TLS blogsite.

The strategy of using a sexual-assault denial and accompanying charge that the accuser is a "liar" as the basis for a defamation suit against the alleged perpetrator, i.e., Carroll v. Trump, is now, unfortunately, a familiar feature of our high-profile tort-litigation landscape.  It might have been Bill Cosby who committed the pattern to popular culture's long-term memory.  The Cosby case came complete with counterclaims, making the defamation dispute the dueling ground for truth and falsity.

It's unfortunate, because the tort of defamation was not designed to be a truth-finding mechanism.  Historically, truth wasn't even a defense; that's a modern artifact inferred by the freedom of speech.  The flaws in our defamation law are legion and one of my favorite subjects; one that matters here is that defamation is rarely capable of delivering exoneration, much less satisfying any of a plaintiff's legitimate aims.

Among reforms of defamation that have been proposed over the years are mechanisms to ferret out and publicize truth, rather than focusing on the plaintiff's alleged injury or the defendant's asserted rights.  Though not always well crafted, laws that incentivize correction or settlement over protracted litigation at least aim in the right direction.  Regrettably, reform of defamation has been hamstrung for decades by the Supreme Court's well intentioned but ultimately improvident constitutionalization of defamation in the 1960s and 1970s.  I hope one day, we'll wade our way out of that morass.

Anyway, on the question of the DOJ's intervention, there's a curious conundrum about Carroll v. Trump.  The DOJ position is that Trump was acting in the scope of the office of the President when he denied Carroll's sexual-assault allegations.  We would, after all, hope that any President would deny such allegations, and we would have to admit that the truth of the allegations bears on his fitness for office.  Thus, the DOJ reasons, it must represent the position of the President.  The bitter pill for Trump opponents to swallow is that that's probably right.

The kicker comes in that Trump's denial is only presidential if he's telling the truth.  If he did what Carroll alleged, then the operative facts of the case occurred before Trump was elected.  His later denial then feels more like the mere pleading of a private defendant in an ordinary civil suit.  You know, one in which we might debate what the meaning of is is.  So the rationale for defense by DOJ is predicated on the very question at issue in the litigation.  For DOJ to take the President's denial as true, for now, is a fair, if uncomfortable, choice.  If one day the court rules in Carroll's favor, though, maybe we can send the legal bill to the former President.

Thanks to TLS student Ricardo Serrano and Torts student Paul McAlarney for helping me think about this one.

[UPDATE Oct. 27, 2020.]  The court denied the government's motion to substitute party on Oct. 27, 2020.  See Special Coverage at the Trump Litigation Seminar.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Trump litigation in legal education: Come for the car wreck, stay for the seminar

Coinciding with the U.S. presidential election in the fall semester of 2020, August to November, I'll be teaching a 15-student seminar in "Trump Litigation."

Donald J. Trump is a phenomenon in U.S. litigation, principally litigation over obligations (contract and tort).  He and his enterprises are infamously litigious; perhaps the most comprehensive analysis of Trump litigation is USA Today's remarkable compilation of data from more than 4,000 cases, by investigative journalist Nick Penzenstadler and team.  This vast body of litigation offers at once a deep sea in which one can dive into the doctrine of torts, contracts, and civil procedure, and an opportunity to ask the big questions I relentlessly press on first-year law students, such as whether the common law litigation system represents a pinnacle in human achievement in dispute resolution, or a disastrous failure.

No one knows now whether Donald Trump will be "a thing" after January 2021.  So I thought this fall would be an optimal time to capitalize on the Trump phenomenon as a teaching opportunity.  Here is the short course description:
Trump Litigation Seminar.  Investigation of civil court cases involving Donald Trump, and his family and businesses, in personal rather than public capacities. In tandem with the 2020 election cycle, this seminar invites students to examine public litigation files to study advanced doctrine in obligations law, to witness litigation skills and strategy, and to analyze public policy in American civil dispute resolution. Final paper.
As described, this seminar is calculated to be something of a capstone experience for third-years, comprising threads of doctrinal study, litigation skills, and discussion of theory and policy.

As I previewed to co-panelists at the Law and Society Association and the Southeastern Association of Law Schools conferences in 2019, my plan was to create an open-source course module that would be ready in summer 2020 for adoption, in part or in whole, by faculty in law, political science, mass communication, or other areas, exploiting the same fall time frame to explore Trump litigation with students.

Unfortunately, that summer project won't happen.  The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth found itself in a budget crisis after refunding student fees for room and board amid the coronavirus lockdown.  To help fill the hole, UMass Law canceled faculty compensation for summer 2020.

I plan still in the fall to use a blog page, ancillary to The Savory Tort and in conjunction with Dropbox cloud storage, to furnish resources for my seminar students.  To the extent that there might be any utility in those materials for anyone else, I am making the page public.  I will adapt and populate the page as I prepare the materials.  I have invested considerable effort in amassing and organizing litigation files on a range of key Trump cases, and it seems a shame to hoard them for my class, when they might be useful to others, whether for teaching, research, reporting, or just civic interest.

My focus here, again, will be to support my seminar, not, as originally planned, to support an open-source course module.  So I reserve the latitude to post what I want when I want to, and to make changes as it suits the needs of my class.  The page probably will undergo a lot of changes between now and when class starts in the second half of August, and more yet as the class develops in the fall.  That said, if you are a teacher, researcher, or journalist in need of something it looks like I might have but have not posted, or you have questions about what I've posted, please do reach out, and I'll help if I can—my availability being spotty while away from my desk until August 17.

Welcome to the Trump Litigation Seminar.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Teaching Trump: Four Thoughts for Faculty

Saturday morning, at the annual meeting of the Law and Society Association (LSA) in Washington, D.C., I served on a panel about "Teaching Law in the Trump Era."  My thanks to panel chair John Bliss, University of Denver Sturm College of Law, Swethaa S. Ballakrishnen, UC Irvine School of Law, and other founders and leaders of the new LSA Collaborative Research Network #19 on legal education, for organizing this program.  Here is the panel abstract:

The Trump presidency has reportedly attracted a new wave of law school applicants who are motivated by issues ranging from sexual assault, to racial justice, to the rights of immigrants, to the basic foundations of the rule of law. In this context, how do U.S. law teachers address legal and political headlines that many faculty and students find disconcerting? This session offers diverse perspectives on this question from accomplished law faculty who teach a wide range of legal curriculum.
Trump in the classroom.  Literally.  White House photo.
For my bit, I focused on President Trump-related materials I used to teach defamation in Torts II in March 2019.  In class, I assigned as reading the complaint in Zervos v. Trumpbefore the New York Appellate Division at the time—alongside Justice Thomas's opinion on cert. denial in McKee v. Cosby.  The pairing of a pleading and a scholarly judicial opinion allowed a study first of tort doctrine, and then of constitutional and policy dimensions, all the while with a running contemporary thread of "#MeToo," which ran back to our fall 2018 study of intentional torts.  Outside of class, in review sessions, I used Melania Trump's 2017-settled complaint against blogger Webster Tarpley (Variety).  These "Trump cases" afford ample opportunity to explore skills and practice collateral to the law of torts, such as litigation strategy, legal professionalism, and client counseling.

Professor Bliss suggested that we fashion our presentations around student feedback and reactions to Trump-related materials.  To that end, I solicited input from my class (and from colleagues in academic support).  Five students generously took time from their after-exams pursuits to oblige with deeply thoughtful, sometimes moving, and thoroughly informative feedback.  I am grateful to them.  I extracted their words, anonymized, for use in my panel time.  I won't reiterate them here as to further protect their anonymity. But I'll share four conclusions about "teaching Trump," drawn from this feedback. 

(1) Plan well and stay on course.  Because this content tends to evoke strong emotions, it is important for the teacher to map out an agenda about where the class discussion should go, in consonance with what the materials offer.  Then the class must be kept on task.  This might require more involved moderation of class discussion than is the norm for some teachers.  Students will sometimes make observations driven by emotion and supposition, and that's OK.  But those observations need to be responded to with channeling into constructive analysis.  If for example a student says that the plaintiff is grubbing for money, that's a great springboard for legitimate questions, without having to challenge or verify the premise: How does tort doctrine safeguard, or not, against disingenuous claims?  What are the incentives or impediments for plaintiffs and their lawyers, born of transaction costs?  How does a lawyer counsel a client about uncertainty of recovery?

(2) Avoid assumptions and keep an open mind.  The teacher should not suppose that she or he knows what the students are thinking, whether as a group or to an individual.  Someone in the class is a Trump voter and believes he is America's only way forward.  Someone else regards Trump as a source of post-traumatic stress.  They're not always showing you these reactions, for various reasons.  And they're not necessarily who you think they are. Take care not to make assumptions about where people stand.  One student who wrote to me really forced me to turn over the immigration "wall" issue in my own mind, and I learned a great deal from her different perspective.  Isn't the great thing about being a professor that continuing education is part of our job?

(3) Model professional skills.  When a teacher leads a law school class, students are learning doctrine, but they're also "meta-learning" lawyering skills such as leadership and dispute resolution.  How a teacher manages conflict in the class and moderates discussion will be as important and memorable a lesson for some students than the subject matter being taught.  For this reason, teachers need to be deliberate in and thoughtful about pedagogical methodology.

(4) Lighten up.  Yes, our content in law school can be heavy.  We have to talk about things in the classroom that reveal the absurdity of "trigger warnings," because life doesn't come with a warning label, and law is about life.  But it is possible—if hard—to engage with heavy issues and to do so with a light heart.  Guidance can be drawn from some recent developments in comedy—think Hannah Gadsby and Ellen DeGeneres—to show that humor can be accomplished without it being at anyone's expense.  Don't get me wrong; I love a good insult comic.  Just not at the front of the classroom.  One student who wrote surprised me with the observation that a light joke I made diffused tension over the fraught subject and made students feel comfortable participating.  Now if only I could remember what I said.

These conclusions entail work for any teacher, no matter how experienced.  I am far, far from excellent in realizing these lessons.  But feedback from my students has given me goals.

Thanks also to excellent co-panelists at LSA, and to all the teachers and scholars who contributed to the roundtable discussion.  I have appropriated many of their insights and ideas for further exploration and experimentation.  Co-panelists were Scott Cummings, University of California, Los Angeles; Rashmi Goel, University of Denver Sturm College of Law; and Gwendolyn Leachman, University of Wisconsin Law School.




Attention faculty!

 Dean Peltz-Steele and I are collaborating to produce an open-source resource for faculty in law and related fields to teach law and policy through "Trump case" materials.

Stay tuned for more information about "Trump Law."



Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Remembering 'very unique,' 'extremely historic,' pre- post-literate politics

Comedic media have recently lampooned with delight the President's sing-song description of litigation over the "national emergency" at the border.  (My favorites are Trevor Noah's "Guitar Hero" take and Stephen Colbert's "Torah reading."  Jake Tapper told Colbert aptly that Trump's description might actually prove correct.)  Then Bernie Sanders entered the race and admonished media that if his ideas were once fringe, they are no more.  Access to higher education always has been a key part of his platform.

This confluence of events made me nostalgic for the quixotic character of the savant President Bartlett of The West Wing (1999-2006).  To be clear, this is not a political statement: I'm not condemning Trump, nor endorsing Bernie, nor, least of all, saying anything about the politics of Martin Sheen, Rob Lowe, and Allison Janney.  I just wanted for a moment to set politics aside and revel in the appeal of a President who appreciates good writing and the power of language.  So I looked up this video introduction to West Wing season 2, episode 9, "Galileo V," aired November 29, 2000—ten months before September 11.  O simpler times and innocent idealism.


Hat tip to Kayla Venckauskas, UMass Law '19—editor-in-chief of the UMass Law Review, 2018 Rappaport Fellow, ALDF scholarship winner, and survivor extraordinaire of my 1L Torts class—for reminding me of this gem.  (If any of my media law colleagues still want to jump into this year's Law and Media Symposium on March 28, get in touch ASAP, and I'll do my best to hook you up.)