Showing posts with label courts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label courts. Show all posts

Sunday, March 10, 2024

U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken holds her own

U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken
Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Today, March 10, is the International Day of Women Judges, and I want to nominate for recognition U.S. Senior District Judge Ann Aiken.

Judge Aiken is the trial judge in the best known American youth climate suit, Juliana v. United States (in Climate Change Litigation Database). She's been a dog with a bone in Juliana, refusing to give short shrift to the complainants despite immense pressure by Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations, and despite increasingly anguished glares of disapproval over the rims of reading glasses at the Ninth Circuit.

Judge Aiken's 2016 district court opinion in Juliana, however many times it's pummeled on appeal, is masterful (which is to take nothing away from the groundwork expertly laid by Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Coffin). Judge Aiken makes the case for climate change litigation upon the seemingly inarguable proposition that the constitutional right to "life, liberty, or property" rather implies a breathable atmosphere as prerequisite.

The wrinkle in Aiken's analysis is the implication of the courts in the policy business of the political branches. That's why Aiken drives everyone from her appellate overseers to American presidents to handwringing paroxysm. But that's what we should want: If judges are to "throw up their hands" and do nothing to avert the extinction of human life, as Ninth Circuit Judge Josephine Staton accused her colleagues on appeal in Juliana in 2020, we should want to be sure that the very best arguments have been tested.

Judge Aiken was appointed to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton in 1998. She previously practiced law in Oregon and served as a state judge. Her willingness to be bold when the situation demands came to national attention in 2007 when she ruled that parts of the USA PATRIOT Act violated the Fourth Amendment for authorizing warrantless surveillance. Also boldly, Aiken has five children.

I've edited Juliana 2016 for the forthcoming chapter 17, on government liability, of my Tortz volume 2, out in revised edition later this year, 2024. That edit emphasizes the tort and civil rights aspects of the opinion. I have prepared a different edit, if any teacher desires, emphasizing points of constitutional law for my Comparative Law class in fall 2024 and a forthcoming curriculum on global law being organized under the auspices of European Legal Practice Integrated Studies, an Erasmus program.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

In parting meditation on pub gossip, Czech judge peels onion on privacy limits, judicial transparency

Does GDPR pertain to pub buzz?, AG Bobek asks.
Earlier this month, Czech judge and legal scholar Michal Bobek rounded out a six-year term as an Advocate General (AG) of the European Court of Justice with a mind-bending meditation on the ultimate futility of enforcing data protection law as written and a confirmation of the essentiality of transparency in the courts.

The case on which Bobek opined hardly required a deep dive.  He said so: "This case is like an onion," he wrote.  "I believe that it would be possible, and in the context of the present case entirely justified, to remain at that outer layer.   No peeling of onions unless expressly asked for."

But the case provided Bobek an optimal diving board, and, on the penultimate day of his term as AG, he plunged and peeled.

Complainants in the case were litigants before the Dutch Council of State (Raad van State).  They asserted that disclosure to a journalist of summary case information, from which they could be identified and details of their personal lives worked out, violated their right of privacy under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) of the European Union, as transposed into Dutch law.

The disclosures are permissible under a GDPR exemption for judicial activities, Bobek concluded.  But en route to that conclusion, he further opined that the potentially unbridled scope of the GDPR must be tamed to accord with social norms and democratic imperatives.

With remarkably plain reasoning, he framed the problem in a comfortable venue:

If I go to a pub one evening, and I share with four of my friends around the table in a public place (thus unlikely to satisfy the private or household activity exception of ... the GDPR) a rather unflattering remark about my neighbour that contains his personal data, which I just received by email (thus by automated means and/or is part of my filing system), do I become the controller of those data, and do all the (rather heavy) obligations of the GDPR suddenly become applicable to me? Since my neighbour never provided consent to that processing (disclosure by transmission), and since gossip is unlikely ever to feature amongst the legitimate grounds listed in ... the GDPR, I am bound to breach a number of provisions of the GDPR by that disclosure, including most rights of the data subject contained in Chapter III.

The pub might not be the only place where the GDPR runs up against a rule of reason.  Consider the more nuanced problem of footballers considering a challenge against the processing of their performance stats.  Goodness; the pub convo will turn inevitably to football.

Let's step back for a second and take stock of the GDPR from the perspective of the American street.

Americans don't get many wins anymore.  We just retreated from a chaotic Afghanistan, despite our fabulously expensive military.  We resist socialized healthcare, but we make cancer patients finance their treatments on Go Fund Me.  We force families into lifelong debt to pay for education, undermining the social mobility it's supposed to provide.  We afford workers zero vacation days and look the other way from the exploitation of gig labor.  Our men's soccer team failed to qualify for the last World Cup and Olympics, while we're not sure why our women are rock stars; it can't be because we pay them fairly.  When it comes to personal privacy, we tend to want it, but our elected representatives seem eager to cede it to our corporate overlords.

Truth be confessed, then, Americans are willing to engage in a smidge of schadenfreude when Europeans—with their peace, their healthcare, their cheap college, their Ryanair Mediterranean vacations, their world-class football, and their g—d— G—D—P—R—get themselves tied up in regulatory knots over something like the sufficient size of a banana.  Ha.  Ha.

Therein lies the appeal, to me, of Judge Bobek's train of thought.  He finds inevitable the conclusion that posting case information is data processing within the purview of the GDPR.  The parties did not even dispute that.  For today, Bobek found an out through the GDPR exemption for the business of the courts in their "judicial capacity."

The out required a stretch to accommodate posting information for journalists, which is not, most strictly speaking, a judicial capacity.  Bobek reasoned by syllogism:  For the courts to do what they do, to act in the judicial capacity, they require judicial independence.  Judicial independence is maintained by ensuring public confidence in the judiciary.  Public confidence in the judiciary is bolstered by transparency in the courts.  Transparency in the courts is facilitated by the provision of case information to journalists.  Therefore, the judicial capacity requires publication of case information to journalists.

The problem, tomorrow, is that there is no answer in the case of pub gossip.  Bobek meditated on the human condition: "Humans are social creatures.  Most of our interactions involve the sharing of some sort of information, often at times with other humans. Should any and virtually every exchange of such information be subject to the GDPR?"

Bobek
Can't be, he concluded.

[I]n my view, I suspect that either the Court, or for that matter the EU legislature, might be obliged to revisit the scope of the GDPR one day. The current approach is gradually transforming the GDPR into one of the most de facto disregarded legislative frameworks under EU law. That state of affairs is not necessarily intentional. It is rather the natural by-product of the GDPR's application overreach, which in turn leads to a number of individuals being simply in blissful ignorance of the fact that their activities are also subject to the GDPR. While it might certainly be possible that such protection of personal data is still able to "serve mankind," I am quite confident that being ignored as a result of being unreasonable does not in fact serve well or even contribute to the authority or legitimacy of any law, including the GDPR.

While we await reassessment of the bounds of data privacy law in modern society, Bobek opined more and mightily on the importance of judicial transparency as a countervailing norm.  He opened the opinion with philosopher-jurist Jeremy Bentham:

"Publicity is the very soul of justice. It is the keenest spur to exertion, and the surest of all guards against impropriety.… It is through publicity alone that justice becomes the mother of security. By publicity, the temple of justice is converted into a school of the first order, where the most important branches of morality are enforced...."

Bobek later picked up the theme:

Judging means individualised detail brought to the public forum....

On the one hand, the basis for judicial legitimacy in an individual case are its facts and details. The judge settles an individual case. His or her job is not to draft abstract, general, and anonymous rules detached from individual facts and situations. That is the job of a legislature. The more a judicial decision departs from or hides the factual background to a public court case, or if it is later reported with significant limitations, the more often it becomes incomprehensible, and the less legitimate it becomes as a judicial decision.

On the other hand, ever since the Roman age, but presumably already earlier, if a claimant asked for the help of the community or later the State to have his claim upheld and enforced by the State, he was obliged to step into the public forum and let his case be heard there. In classical Roman times, the applicant was even entitled to use violence against the respondent who refused to appear in the public (the North Eastern part of the Roman Forum called comitium), before the magistrate (seated on a rolling chair on a tribune higher than the general public—hence indeed tribunal), when called before a court (in ius vocatione).

It is true that, later on, there were other visions of the proper administration of justice and its publicity. They are perhaps best captured by a quote from a judge in the Parlement de Paris writing in 1336 instructions to his junior colleagues, and explaining why they should never disclose either the facts found or the grounds for their decision: "For it is not good that anyone be able to judge concerning the contents of a decree or say 'it is similar or not'; but garrulous strangers should be left in the dark and their mouths closed, so that prejudice should not be caused to others.... For no one should know the secrets of the highest court, which has no superior except God...."

In the modern age, returning to the opening quote of Jeremy Bentham, it is again believed that even garrulous strangers should be allowed to see and understand justice. Certainly, with the arrival of modern technologies, a number of issues must continuously be re-evaluated so that garrulous strangers cannot cause prejudice to others....

Naturally, the publicity of justice is not absolute. There are well-grounded and necessary exceptions. The simple point to keep in mind here is: what is the rule and what is the exception. Publicity and openness must remain the rule, to which naturally exceptions are possible and sometimes necessary. However, unless the GDPR were to be understood as imposing a revival of the best practices of the Parlement de Paris of the 14th century, or other elements of the Ancien Régime or the Star Chamber(s) for that matter, it is rather difficult to explain why, in the name of the protection of personal data, that relationship must now be reversed: secrecy and anonymity were to become the rule, to which openness could perhaps occasionally become the welcome exception.

Bobek seems content with judicial exceptionalism in the GDPR framework.  I'm not so sure.  I rather think the problem of the courts points to the broader problem of GDPR scope.  Will there ultimately be a pub exception, too?  Stubborn American insistence on framing data protection as business regulation, as in California data protection law, suddenly exhibits some appeal.

The case is X v. Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens, No. C-245/20, Opinion of Advocate General Bobek (Oct. 6, 2021).  HT @ Edward Machin, writing in London for Ropes & Gray.

This is not Bobek's first high-profile opinion on the GDPR—even this year.  Read in Fortune about his January opinion in a Facebook case.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

So you wanna teach law school? Good luck with that. Or, 'A Clerkship Story'

pxhere (modified) CC0

Professor Howard M. Wasserman at FIU Law, author of the superb Understanding Civil Rights Litigation, has published in Judicature a thought-provoking study, Academic Feeder Judges: Are Clerkships the Key to Academia? (spring 2021).

Yes is the short answer.  There is clear correlation between clerking and later teaching.  Wasserman explained, "Two or three generations ago, the clerkship was the essential credential, and a call from the judge or justice to the law-school dean was the ticket to the teaching job. Louis Brandeis favored clerks whom he believed would become law teachers."

But the correlation, and probable causation, is diminishing, and "[t]he Great Recession of 2008 appears to have exacerbated the disconnect between clerkship and teaching," Wasserman wrote.  He chalks up the change to a number of factors.  Teaching fellowship programs, "sexy" niche appellate practices, and more programs for advanced degrees in law have generated a pool of promising candidates on alternative tracks to fewer positions.

Though I don't think any of that will change the status quo.  Legal academics remains largely the province of an elite, including too many by inherited opportunity, especially at top schools.  Even these newly minted access tracks only reinforce exclusion.

I didn't clerk.  I've been fortunate to land two jobs in academics at schools where a clerkship was not a sine qua non.  But in my job searches, I know that I was excluded at some schools—once, only about a dozen years ago, I was told so plainly—for lack of a clerkship.  As I don't think I'm too bad at being a law professor, that's a disappointing result.  While Wasserman might purport to describe a preference of "two or three generations ago," people who were hired two generations ago are still doing hiring now.

And there is resistance to change.  For all the bluster about equality of access to opportunity uttered by the nation's overwhelmingly liberal law professors, the vast majority in the end succumb to the beguiling predilection to replicate themselves and their experiences.

Considering why students, me included, don't clerk illustrates the inequality of access to opportunity in the academy, not to mention many other career tracks.

To start with, judges, many of whom also fall prey to the predilection to replicate themselves, tend to recruit only from select law schools.  UMass Law, for example, a "fourth-tier law school," has seen only modest success at placing students in clerkships, then only at the state level, and only through concerted, all-hands-on-deck efforts by students, faculty, and staff.  

Federal judges don't recruit at UMass.  They did recruit at "first tier" Duke Law School when I was a student there in the 1990s.  But they weren't recruiting me.  The career services office groomed students with a 3.5 GPA for interviews, and my 3.4 didn't make the cut.

I think I would have made a good clerk.  Having come to law from journalism, I was a decent writer and editor.  To my observation, my classmates who excelled at law school and attained those top grades with less effort were as often as not children of lawyers and professionals.  I was not.  They seemed to understand the 1L game in a way that was opaque to me.  I figured it out and turned out A+s by the time I graduated, but that was too late to open some doors.  From where I sit today, as a professor, it's no wonder to see that my students who are the first in their families to attempt graduate school, or even university, face the steepest learning curves.

I was determined, though.  Whatever this clerkship thing was about, telling me I could not have something just supercharged my desire for it.  A full-tuition-paying Duke client, I demanded access to clerkships.  Career services pointed me to a binder of judges' names and addresses.  I was welcome to apply on my own, without Duke's help.

I remember the feel of the thin plastic cover of the binder in my hands.  I remember turning the looseleaf pages and copying the information into my notebook with a pen.  I remember feeling ashamed and angry doing this while, feet behind my back, in the career services office, other students sat, sharply dressed, waiting nervously for clerkship interviews to which they had been invited.

I did apply on my own for clerkships: 23 years old and no clue what I was doing.  Unsurprisingly, I had no bites from the federal bench.  Surprisingly, I did score an interview with a state supreme court judge.  I traveled to the state on my own dime, donned my best (only) suit, and interviewed.  The interview seemed to go well.

The judge telephoned me a couple of weeks later.  I was his first choice, he said.  My pulse quickened and face flushed.  But, he said sheepishly, haltingly, he was, unfortunately, obliged to hire his second choice, because she was the daughter of a colleague.  Surely I could understand his predicament.  This is how things are.  He was sorry.  Felt he owed me the explanation.  My heart sank.

Don't feel sorry for me.  I went right into law practice at a large, prestigious firm in a major city.  I didn't have whatever it took to get a clerkship.  But I had an opportunity out of Duke that almost none of my UMass students can get still today.  It's all relative.

The lesson still is, or should be, a painful one.  The changes that Wasserman cited do little to change the reality of access to opportunity in legal academics.  Teaching fellowships are typically reserved for diverse candidates.  Because diversity doesn't refer to socioeconomics, nor family immigration history, most of my students, like me, would not qualify.

A top-end practice experience did give me an advantage in my applications to the academy.  But for even the very best of my students—who, if it matters, might have chosen UMass for reasons of economic, geographic, or other necessity, not a function of choosing the highest ranking school one can get into, which is what I did—a job at a "white shoe" law firm is a pipe dream.

And more advanced education is not feasible for students who, like me, financed legal education wholly through debt.  My wife and I just paid off our own educational debt last year, right after we started borrowing to pay for our daughter's college education.  We were lucky; neither of us had undergrad debt, thanks to scholarships and the military.  I turned down two full scholarships to lower ranked law schools.  Some of my law students have twice the debt we had and will be lucky to have a quarter of the job prospects. 

One of my students graduating now would make a superb teacher, and he is so inclined.  He asked me about it.  What can I say?  He lacks the demographic endowments requisite for a diversity fellowship.  One of my own faculty colleagues said at a hiring meeting just last week that "we don't need more white" at UMass.  She was applauded.  This student will never score a Boston law firm job.  A UMass valedictorian was told at a Boston law firm just a few years ago that his interview was a professional courtesy to the dean, but the firm would never hire from a public school.  And this student is swimming in debt.  Should I tell him to dig deeper and get a "corrective LL.M." at full price from one of the elite law schools he probably should have chosen to begin with?

The change that Wasserman reported is good news, but I don't think will effect improvement in true diversity in the legal academy in my lifetime—taking into account lived experience, more than just boxes checked for skin color, gender identity, and sexual preference.  Even new avenues of access are limited to narrowly defined classes of people and favor the advantaged insiders of the socioeconomic elite.

And the real kicker about clerkships is that you never get a second chance.  Perversely, one is qualified for a clerkship only once, precisely when one is not qualified for a clerkship: as a graduating law student.  My students who cannot, for a variety of reasons beyond their control, clerk after law school will never clerk.  I would love to clerk, still today, but I can never be 23 again.  When I apply to lateral now in academics, the omission of a clerkship a quarter century ago still stains my résumé.

The stains of access denied last for life.  That's how access to opportunity works in many sectors of the American job market: hallways of doors that are closed to ordinary people.  The liberal legal academy is no exception.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Covid court backlog, solved: 'Night Court' returns

I've been reading about how courts are struggling to overcome coronavirus backlogs in their caseload.  To me, the answer is obvious.  I saw it on TV.

Anderson, 1987
(Alan Light CC BY 2.0)
Created by writer Reinhold Weege after his Barney Miller wrapped up, Night Court (wiki) ran for 193 episodes over nine seasons on NBC, from 1984 to 1992, a hit by any measure.  Harry Anderson, who passed away in 2018, managed the underbelly of New York criminal process as Judge Harry T. Stone.

Night Court launched many ships.  If already 10 years into his acting career, John Larroquette became a household name as deadpan prosecutor Dan Fielding.  Selma Diamond is unforgettable as gruff bailiff Selma Hacker, even though she appeared only in the first two seasons, passing away in 1985 at age 64.  (Read more about her at the Encyclopedia of Jewish Women.)  A parade of guest stars passed through Judge Stone's Manhattan courtroom, including some who went on to greater notoriety, such as Michael Richards, Seinfeld's Kramer, and Brent Spiner, Star Trek's Data.

"Night court" is a real thing, here and there, in the United States, not just in Manhattan.  Like in the TV show, night courts specialize in preliminary criminal proceedings, namely arraignment.  The courts don't run through the night, but after hours, Manhattan's wrapping up around 1 a.m.  Many jurisdictions have found night courts efficient to handle arraignments on drug charges or to settle minor matters, such as outstanding misdemeanor warrants, for people whose life challenges will be compounded if they're forced to get to court during the usual workday hours.  How many times have I complained that the retail counter of the post office should be open at night, when people have time to wait in line?  Though for obvious reasons, night court doesn't work as well for American jury trials. 

Rauch, 2013
(Dominick D CC BY-SA 2.0)
Night Court should be one of those sitcoms that doesn't stand the test of time.  Its humor seems to me pretty specific to the cultural moment of the 1980s.  Nevertheless, Night Court stuck around over the years in cable reruns, and, lately, with retro content pouring into streaming services and being discovered by new audiences, the show has earned its own little niche as a cult classic.  The real Manhattan night court has been a real thing since 1907, according to the New York Post, but in recent years, in part thanks to a listing in the Lonely Planet, the Manhattan night court has become a tourist attraction, appealing to visitors from around the world.

Whether real night court might help unjam our covid court backlog, I don't really know.  But TV Night Court might be getting a new lease on life.  According to a Deadline exclusive in December 2020, Melissa Rauch, The Big Bang Theory's Bernadette Rostenkowski, was a fan of the original in her New Jersey childhood and pitched a reboot to NBC.  Rauch is now set to executive produce the new show, which will feature "unapologetic optimist" Judge Abby Stone, daughter of the late Harry.  John Larroquette is lined up to return as an older and wiser Dan Fielding.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Poland scholars explain turmoil in streets over court decision nearly outlawing abortion; what next?

Protesters take to the streets in Kraków on October 25. (Silar CC BY-SA 4.0)
Social stability in Poland has been increasingly shaky since populist politics has threatened the independence of the judiciary in recent years.  Professor Leah Wortham wrote about the issue and kindly spoke to my Comparative Law class one year ago (before Zoom was cool).

Recently tensions have reached a boiling point.  In October, the nation's constitutional court outlawed nearly all abortions (Guardian).  Protestors have taken to the streets in the largest numbers since the fall of communism, The Guardian reported, confronting riot police and right-wing gangs.

Friend and colleague Elizabeth Zechenter, an attorney, visiting scholar at Emory College, and president of the Jagiellonian Law Society, writes: "Poland is in upheaval, after the Constitutional Tribunal restricted even further one of the most strict anti-abortion laws in Europe.  I and several other Polish women academics have gotten together, and we created a webinar, trying to offer an analysis, legal, cultural, sociological, etc."

The scholars' webinar is available free on YouTube.  Below the inset is information about the program.  Please spread the word.

Women Strikes In Poland: What is Happening, and Why?

Since the fateful decision of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal (Trybunał Konstytucyjny or TK) on October 22, 2020—further restricting one of the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in Europe—Poland saw massive, spontaneous demonstrations and civic protests in most cities, small and big, and even villages. Protests have been continuing since the day of TK’s decision and show no signs of abating.

To explain what is happening, we have assembled a panel of academics and lawyers to clarify the current legal situation, to analyze the scope of new anti-abortion restrictions, to explain whether this new law may be challenged under any of the EU laws applicable to Poland, and what might be political implications of doing that, as well as offer a preliminary cultural, linguistic, anthropological, and sociological analysis of the recent events.

Contents

0:00:00-0:03:17 Introduction: Bios of Speakers, Disclaimers

Legal Panel

0:03:17-0:26:00 Elizabeth M. Zechenter, J.D., Ph.D., "October 2020 Abortion Decision by the Constitutional Tribunal: Analysis and Legal Implications"

0:26:00-0:46:00 Agnieszka Kubal, Ph.D., "Human Rights Implication of the Decision by the Polish Constitutional Tribunal from 22 October 2020"

0:46:00-0:59:00 Agnieszka Gaertner, J.D., LLM, "Abortion Under EU Law"

Panel: Culture and Language of Protest

0:59:00-1:31:00 Katarzyna Zechenter, Ph.D., "Uses of Language by the Protesters, the Polish Catholic Church, and the Ruling Political Party 'Law and Justice' (PiS)"

Panel: Sociological and Anthropological

1:31:00-1:49:00 Joanna Regulska, Ph.D., "Struggle for Women's Rights in Poland"

1:49:00-2:12:00 Helena Chmielewska-Szlajfer, Ph.D., "Augmented Reality, Young Adults, and Civic Engagement"

Praise for the Webinar

"Wow! That was, without a doubt, one of the most informative, fascinating, engaging, and powerful webinars I have ever attended."

"All of us in your virtual audience 'voted with our feet' ... i.e., it is generally considered that 90 minutes is an audience's absolute maximum attention span for an online webinar, particularly since everyone these days is simply 'Zoomed-out' (over-Zoomed), in this era of COVID-19. But YOUR audience stayed with you for a marathon 2 hours and 45 minutes (and it felt like a sprint, not a marathon)!"

"A high tribute to you and your sister (not fellow!) panelists."

Disclaimers

The webinar was organized impromptu in response to numerous calls to analyze Poland's ongoing protests. The goal of the webinar was to provide a non-partisan review of the evolving situation and better understand the legal, cultural, and sociological underpinnings of the Constitutional Tribunal’s anti-abortion decision that resulted in such massive country-wide protests.

The opinions expressed in the seminar are those of the speakers alone who are not speaking as representatives of any institution; the main goal has been to advance understanding of the situation.

Given the urgency to offer at least a preliminary analysis (and in light of the continuously evolving situation), most speakers had less than 24 hours to prepare their remarks. We apologize for any imperfections.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Singers revel in federal judges' lifetime appointments

I just discovered The Bar & Grill Singers, an Austin, Texas-based musical revue of attorneys.  My favorite song is "Appointed Forever."

There's more at the group's YouTube channel and on the group's CD, Grilling Me Softly (iTunes, Amazon).

Big thanks to Sai, president of Fiat Fiendum, who first, via FOI-L, pointed me to the also excellent "I'm Billing Time."

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Scharf laments executive disrespect for courts in immigration enforcement

My friend and colleague Irene Scharf has written for the Human Rights At Home blog on "mid-case deportations" by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  Professor Scharf is expert in immigration law, which I know next to nothing about.  But Professor Scharf raises the alarm about worrisome incidents of executive defiance of the courts, implicating the separation of powers and raising questions about the very rule of law in America today.

Responding to a Boston Globe editorial (pay wall) at the end of February, Professor Scharf wrote on March 20:

While I of course deplore the acts these crimes involved [subject of charges against immigration detainees], as an immigration lawyer and advocate I am deeply disturbed by ICE’s systematic and ongoing attacks on the Massachusetts judicial system.  The Globe editors referred to their hope that the federal courts will address and contain these actions. However, given what we’ve seen recently, it is unclear whether the federal government, acting through ICE, would even abide by a federal ruling. To me, that is the most alarming issue behind these ICE moves.

She quoted respected Seventh Circuit Judge Easterbrook in a recent opinion (Justia), "We have never before encountered defiance of a remand order, and we hope never to see it again.... [I]t should not be necessary to remind the Board [of Immigration Appeals], all of whose members are lawyers, that the 'judicial Power' under Article III of the Constitution is one to make conclusive decisions, not subject to disapproval or revision by another branch of government."

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Customary law undergirds justice systems in Africa: A-courting in Harare

Outside the "Harare Civil Court" buildings, a discarded sign reads, "Harare Magistrate's Court / Civil and Customary Law." Other court building in Harare are pictured below. All photos RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0.
The integration of customary law into national legal systems based on post-colonial polities is a challenge, and an opportunity, throughout Africa. I wrote recently about customary legal authority in the Casamance region of Senegal, and Zimbabwe is no exception to the norm.

The Zimbabwe constitution expressly preserves customary law, and federal enactments spell out the scope of customary law in sensitive areas, such as marriage and child care. The constitution creates customary courts and charges other courts, including the Supreme Court, with respecting and developing customary law, just as they do common law. For NYU Law GlobaLex, Saki and Chiware (updated by Pfumorodze and Chitsove, 2017) further explained:
The main reason for the existence of these customary law courts is to provide a justice system to ordinary people in rural areas which is consistent with African custom and values.  It is  realized that most ordinary Zimbabweans regulate their lives in accordance with customary law to the extent that the legal ideas and institutions inherited from the system has  preserved the authority of traditional leaders  to adjudicate in civil disputes by customary law.
In Zimbabwe, customary courts have jurisdiction over civil, but not criminal, matters. Common law controls in the civil sphere, while criminal law is strictly codified in Zimbabwe's mixed system.
Scales of justice adorn a high court building where criminal cases are heard.
Jehovah's Witnesses occupy the walk outside the characteristically modest legal aid office.

Your humble blogger stands before the highest court('s house) in the land.
Constitutional Court.





Friday, November 22, 2019

Expert on Polish judicial crisis speaks to law class

Prof. Wortham
Professor Leah Wortham joined Dean Peltz-Steele and my Comparative Law class on Wednesday to discuss the crisis of judicial independence in Poland (latest).  Professor Emerita of the Columbus School of Law at the Catholic University of America (CUA), Wortham is a recipient of, among other honors, the Plus ratio quam medal of Jagiellonian University (JU) in Krakow.

With JU Professor Fryderyk Zoll, Professor Wortham authored Judicial Independence and Accountability: Withstanding Political Stress, recently published at 42 Fordham International Law Journal 875 (2019).  Here is the abstract.

For democracy and the rule of law to function and flourish, important actors in the justice system need sufficient independence from politicians in power to act under rule of law rather than political pressure. The court system must offer a place where government action can be reviewed, challenged, and, when necessary, limited to protect constitutional and legal bounds, safeguard internationally-recognized human rights, and prevent departures from a fair and impartial system of law enforcement and dispute resolution. Courts also should offer a place where government officials can be held accountable. People within and outside a country need faith that court decisions will be made fairly and under law. Because the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (“GRECO”) deems judicial independence critical to fighting corruption, GRECO makes a detailed analysis of their members’ judicial system part of their member review process. This Article is a case study of the performance of Poland’s mechanisms for judicial independence and accountability since 2015, a time of extreme political stress in that country. Readers will see parallels to comparable historical and current events around the world.

In discussion with the class, Professor Wortham remarked on parallels between the Polish judicial crisis and threats to the legitimacy of the courts in the United States.  She referenced recent remarks by U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman to the American Law Institute, in which Judge Friedman distinguished denigration and personal attacks on the judiciary from disagreement with judicial decisions accompanied by respect for a co-equal branch of government (ALI, CNN).  The class discussion about Poland also treated the recent decision of the Irish Supreme Court to order extradition of a Polish man wanted for drug trafficking offenses, despite concerns about judicial independence in Poland (Irish Times).

CUA offers summer study abroad opportunities for U.S. law students and, in cooperation with JU, an LL.M. program in Comparative and International Law.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Media didn't totally lose in Boston Globe access case over show cause criminal procedure

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today ruled against The Boston Globe in the Spotlight team's bid for access to the court records of a narrow class of show cause criminal hearings.  The case is a loss for access advocates, but not wholly.  The court did not deviate from established analyses for access to the judicial records.  And the court used its superintendence power to require data collection for public scrutiny of what happens in these shadowy hearings going forward.

I wrote about this case and these hearings on The Savory Tort in May.  This particular class of "show cause" hearing is a peculiar creature of Massachusetts law and practice, in which a court clerk, not a judge, gets a chance to second-guess police and refuse to issue a criminal complaint, ending a case.  On the up side, this is a process barrier that protects would-be criminal defendants from harsh consequences in minor matters that don't warrant the expenditure of judicial resources, also encouraging alternative dispute resolution.  On the down side, critics have suspicions about these proceedings being used to protect the powerful, to show favoritism among attorneys, and, willfully or not, to effect race and other forms of discrimination in the criminal justice system.

The Globe sought access specifically to records of the sub-class of these hearings in which clerks found probable cause, yet refused to issue criminal complaints.  Public data about these hearings show big disparities among courts in the prevalence of these outcomes, which occur about 9,000 per year in the commonwealth, fueling speculation as to clerks' motives and rationales.  Making matters worse, there is inconsistency in how well clerks record and track what happens in the hearings, often leaving a scant record for review later, whether by a court, public oversight authority, or investigative journalist.

Photo by tfxc. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.)
The Globe argued for access under common law, the First Amendment, and the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.  In today's ruling, the court rejected access on all three bases.  In doing so, though, the court colored within the lines of existing access doctrine.

Most compelling, first, was the Globe's common law argument: "not without merit," the court conceded.  The court acknowledged that the common law presumption of access to court records is known to attach to three classes of records: criminal cases, search warrants and affidavits after service, and public inquiries.  The court rejected analogy to criminal cases, because the show cause hearing occurs before a criminal case is initiated.  Rather, the proper analogy, the court reasoned, is a grand jury refusal to indict, which is sealed presumptively at common law.  The court also rejected analogy to pre-complaint search warrants, reasoning that the appropriate analogy is to the search warrant denied, or not yet served, when the public interest still weighs in favor of secrecy.

Pressing on the scale in favor of analogy to secret proceedings at common law was the privacy interest of the accused.  Here the broader context of the contemporary internet and technology as a threat to personal privacy overshadowed the court's logic.  The court reasoned that a principal common law rationale for secrecy in grand jury proceedings and in denied search warrants, namely, protection of the reputation of the innocent, is powerfully implicated in today's world, when a public record of a show cause hearing could turn up online.  There it would be accessible to everyone, including landlords and employers, who might discriminate against a person who never suffered a criminal complaint.

For the record, this argument for privacy and reputational integrity pulls at even my skeptical heart strings, as I have advocated for American adoption of the European online erasure concept in precisely this vein, notwithstanding First Amendment objections.  That said, I admit, it's a bit troubling to see this problem of unwarranted discrimination arising in the private misuse of information sneaking in through the back door of common law access and accountability analysis as a justification for government secrets.  Arguably the solution to the misuse of information is to do something about the person who misuses information, rather than redacting the free flow of information itself.  But that's a debate for another day.

Second, the court's First Amendment analysis tracked the common law analysis.  On the up side, the court employed the now long known, if no less opaque and controverted, "experience and logic" test of First Amendment access to the courts.  Building upon the analogy of the show cause hearing to grand jury secrecy, access was bound to fail both prongs of the First Amendment test.  Analogy naturally doomed the experience analysis, because pre-complaint criminal process has never been public.  And the privacy concerns fueled failure of the logic test.  The problem with "experience and logic" always has been that its results are foreordained by how one thinks about the hearing or record to which access is sought. 

Third, the court wrote that it never before has construed the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights more broadly than the First Amendment with regard to judicial access, and it saw no reason to do so today.  That disappoints me mostly just from the broad standpoint of liking creative state judicial construction of state constitutions as an instance of the 50-state-laboratory theory of our federalism.  In an age of paralysis in Washington—think gerrymandering—state constitutional law is a promising way forward.

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
Faithful to access doctrine, the court pointed out that upon its very same grand jury analogy, it remains possible for an intervening movant, say, an investigative journalist, to seek access to a show cause record on a case by case basis.  This is a lesser known, and for my money under-utilized, access strategy, so it's pleasing to see the court stamp its imprimatur.  Common law access and secrecy are both presumptions, and each may be rebutted.  The court explained, "In considering individual records requests, the clerk-magistrate should balance the interests of transparency, accountability, and public confidence that might be served by making the requested records public against the risk that disclosure would unfairly result in adverse collateral consequences to the accused."

Transparency may win out, the court advised, in matters of public interest.  "[W]here the accused is a public official, the interests of transparency, accountability, and public confidence are at their apex if the conduct at issue occurred in the performance of the official's professional duties or materially bears on the official's ability to perform those duties honestly or capably."  That's a key check on clerks who might give the politically powerful a break—as long as watchdogs have an inkling to ask.

How will watchdogs know when something is amiss?  Even the court seemed somewhat concerned about the "wide disparities" in dismissed matters in the Globe's data set, e.g., probable cause with no criminal complaint issuing, one year "from a high of 43.9 percent in the Gloucester Division to a low of 0.2 percent in the Chelsea Division."  Though expressly eschewing any conclusion from the numbers, the court observed that "the magnitude of the apparent differences among courts suggests that different clerk's offices might have very different philosophies regarding the adjudication of these hearings."

To help the watchdog, the court exercised its power of superintendence over lower courts to compel electronic recordings of show cause hearings, preserving the record of judicial reconsideration in appropriate cases, and careful compilation of data about the secret hearings, including the race and gender of persons accused, and the names of attorneys in cases of private complainants.  Courts are expected to come into compliance in a year's time and to report anonymized statistics publicly.

Those measures hardly open the door to secret proceedings the way the Globe wanted, and they do nothing about the problem of clerks appointed through political connections playing an outsized role in the criminal charging process.  But the Globe got better than nothing, and maybe the door is cracked open just enough to deter dubious conduct and to squeeze some accountability out through a shaft of sunshine.

The decision against the Globe's petition for declaratory relief came from a unanimous panel of the Supreme Judicial Court, comprising six of the seven justices, and was authored by Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants.  The case is Boston Globe Media Partners LLC v. Chief Justice of the Trial Court, No. SJC-12681 (Mass. Sept. 9, 2019).

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Boston Globe presses high court for access to secret criminal hearings

In fall 2018, the Spotlight team at The Boston Globethat Spotlight team—published a powerful exposé on "secret courts" (limited free access) in Massachusetts criminal justice.  Now a related case, argued May 7, is pending before the Commonwealth's Supreme Judicial Court.

Julian Assange supporters' sign in front of Ecuador embassy, London, Aug.
22, 2012 (by wl dreamer, CC BY-SA 3.0).
Secret courts are the zombie of First Amendment access in the judiciary. We kill them in constitutional litigation, think they're dead, and suddenly your state courts have been infected and overrun by a whole new horde.  More often than not, new secret court systems blossom to protect the rich and powerful—infamously such as one-time GE CEO Jack Welch whilst in divorce court—from the public scrutiny that attaches to the rest of us dregs, when anyone cares to look. That correlation makes secret courts' resilience a peculiarly American counterweight to our tradition of public justice in open courtrooms.

Yet I put "secret courts" in quotation marks, because it's not clear exactly what are these secret proceedings exposed by the Spotlight team.  They're called "show cause hearings" in Massachusetts law, but even the term "hearing" seems generous.  Under state law, in the absence of an arrest, a criminally accused is entitled to a "hearing" before the court clerk to determine whether charges should issue.  That means the clerk is second-guessing police before the case actually reaches court.

This happens tens of thousands of times per year, the Globe reported.  These "hearings" are not docketed and may leave no paper trail, so if charges are not filed, there is no official record left behind.  The statute that authorizes these hearings pertains principally to misdemeanors, but may be and is used for felony charges, too, in about one in eight hearings, the Globe reported.  The statute itself does not require secrecy, but that's how the process has shaken out.  The Supreme Judicial Court approved secrecy in these hearings, likening them in a 2007 decision to historically secret grand jury proceedings.  But these show cause hearings much more resemble the California preliminary criminal hearings that the U.S. Supreme Court held in 1986 must be open presumptively to the public under the First Amendment.

While the ostensible purpose of this process is to protect the reputation of accused persons while weeding out frivolous claims, it seems many clerks have turned these hearings into an ADR process.  Keeping the accused's name off the records is a bargaining chip to leverage apologies, restitution, or an informal kind of probation.  Outcomes in this vein can be positive for victim and accused; there's no disputing that.  But Spotlight also documented victims of crime and violence who felt their experiences were devalued in secret leniency.  No-charge results have proven problematic especially when emboldened accused persons have gone on to commit violent offenses.

And it's worse than that.  Because as tends to happen in secret justice, persons of privilege—wealth, political clout, social connections, mere representation by a lawyer, which is not required before charges, and maybe mere whiteness, based on disparate-impact statistics, according to Globe research—has a lot to do with what charges get weeded out without a record being made.  Moreover, the Globe reported:

The state’s 68 clerk magistrates at District and Boston Municipal courts operate with enormous discretion to halt criminal proceedings even though many have slender qualifications: About 40 percent of clerks and their assistants ... lack law degrees, one clerk magistrate did not go to college at all, and another has only an associate’s degree.

Often to the frustration of police, some clerks reject charges in big numbers.  "In 2016 and 2017, nearly 82 percent of cases never made it out of a secret hearing in Chelsea," the Globe reported.

Bills pending in the legislature would require a presumption of openness in these proceedings.  But the ACLU of Massachusetts, Greater Boston Legal Services, and the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau all come down on the side of privacy for accused persons.  This is an old story; the ACLU has been torn famously over access and privacy.  I don't mean to be access-absolutist about this, either.  In my view, a big part of the problem stems from our society's overuse of the criminal justice system (read: drug crime) paired with excessive, punitive consequences for criminal-justice involvement (cf. Ban the Box).

1780 Massachusetts Constitution
In the case now pending before the Supreme Judicial Court, the Globe seeks access to records of show-cause hearings in which no charges issued.  The Globe reasons that these court hearings cannot be erased utterly from the public sphere.  That logic is backed up by the Supreme Court's 1986 treatment of California preliminaries, in which media sought records after the fact of closed hearings, as well as clear circuit precedent in the intervening years condemning secret dockets as antithetical to constitutional access to information.  The Commonwealth argued on behalf of trial courts to uphold the grand-jury analogy, reasoning that properly closed hearings yield properly closed records.

I would like to see the SJC take into account that the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights is more expansive than the First Amendment.  Before the First Amendment was even a thing, the 1780 Massachusetts Constitution (my italics) recognized:

Art. XVIII. A frequent recurrence to the fundamental principles of the constitution, and a constant adherence to those of piety, justice, moderation, temperance, industry, and frugality, are absolutely necessary to preserve the advantages of liberty and to maintain a free government. The people ought, consequently, to have a particular attention to all those principles, in the choice of their officers and representatives; and they have a right to require of their lawgivers and magistrates an exact and constant observation of them, in the formation and execution of the laws necessary for the good administration of the commonwealth.

The case is Boston Globe Media Partners LLC v. Chief Justice of the Trial Court, No. SJC-12681.  Watch the oral argument online at Suffolk Law.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Statute of repose bars tort-like consumer claim, Mass. high court rules

Yesterday the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) held that a statute of repose bars a claim under the Commonwealth's key consumer protection statute, chapter 93A.  The case examines the oddly "contort" (contracts-torts) role of 93A and occasions a majority-dissent dispute over judicial construction of statute vs. "usurpation of ... legislative prerogative," i.e., corrective justice vs. distributive justice.

Chapter 93A is important in Massachusetts tort law because it is drawn much more broadly than the usual state consumer protection statute.  In a Massachusetts tort case, chapter 93A often provides a parallel avenue for relief and can afford a plaintiff double or treble damages, as well as fee shifting.  That makes it a powerful accountability tool in areas such as product liability, well beyond the usual consumer protection fare in trade practices.

The SJC, per Justice Cypher, published a sound primer on statutes of limitation and repose:

Statutes of repose and statutes of limitations are different kinds of limitations on actions. A statute of limitations specifies the time limit for commencing an action after the cause of action has accrued, but a statute of repose is an absolute limitation which prevents a cause of action from accruing after a certain period which begins to run upon occurrence of a specified event....  A statute of repose eliminates a cause of action at a specified time, regardless of whether an injury has occurred or a cause of action has accrued as of that date....  Statutes of limitations have been described as a "procedural defense" to a legal claim, whereas statutes of repose have been described as providing a "substantive right to be free from liability after a given period of time has elapsed from a defined event." Bain, Determining the Preemptive Effect of Federal Law on State Statutes of Repose, 43 U. Balt. L. Rev. 119, 125 (2014). The statutes are independent of one another and they do not affect each other directly as they are triggered by entirely distinct events.  [Citations omitted.]

Chapter 93A is covered by a four-year statute of limitations.  A six-year statute of repose covers tort actions arising from deficiencies in improvements to real property: "after the earlier of the dates of: (1) the opening of the improvement to use; or (2) substantial completion of the improvement and the taking of possession for occupancy by the owner."

In the instant case, the plaintiff sought relief for damage resulting from a fire 15 years ago.  The plaintiff attributed the fire to multiple deficiencies in electrical work completed by defendant contractors.  Arguing that the electrical work was not done in compliance with the state code, the plaintiff characterized 93A as "neither wholly tortious nor wholly contractual in nature."  The court, however, found the plaintiff's claim "indistinguishable from a claim of negligence," so barred by the statute.

Three justices dissented.   Chief Justice Gants in dissent pointed out that the general statute of repose does not mention chapter 93A, while the general limitations provision does.  And yet another statute, stating terms of both limitation and repose, purports to govern both contract and tort malpractice actions against doctors.  So the legislature knew how to write what it meant.  The general statute of repose, the chief observed, predated chapter 93A, so could not have anticipated it.  Moreover, statutes of limitation and repose have distinct policy objectives:

In short, as is alleged in this case, the property owner may be barred by the statute of repose from bringing a claim before he or she knows, or reasonably should know, that he or she even has a claim -- even where the defendant has fraudulently concealed the claim from the plaintiff. Consequently, a statute of repose reflects a legislative decision that it is more important to protect certain defendants from old claims than it is to protect the right of plaintiffs to enforce otherwise valid and timely claims.

Thus a statute of repose should not be construed to cover 93A absent plain legislative direction.  The chief concluded: "[T]his is a usurpation of a distinctly legislative prerogative."

The case is Bridgwood v. A.J. Wood Construction, Inc., No. SJC-12352 (Mass. Aug. 29, 2018) (PDF opinion; oral argument via Suffolk Law School).

Friday, February 24, 2017

Lawyers, read carefully: 'Presentment' held defective under state tort claims act



A cautionary tale from the Massachusetts Appeals Court yesterday, per Justice Peter Sacks, reminds lawyers to read statutes carefully.


Plaintiff was among five persons (perhaps family, based on the names of four) injured in a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) bus accident.  Her lawyer filed a claim with the "MBTA Claims Department," the transmittal asking that the claim be referred to the appropriate authority.  The MBTA made settlement offers to the five, and only Plaintiff turned down the offer and opted to pursue litigation instead.

The Massachusetts Tort Claims Act requires presentment of a claim to the "executive officer" of the defendant state entity.  The trial court let the difference slide under a statutory exception allowing for correction of defective presentment upon the executive officer's actual knowledge of the claim.

The appeals court reversed, ruling that the exception must be construed narrowly.  Neither the attorney's request to forward nor logical inference was sufficient.  The court awarded the MBTA summary judgment.

The court acknowledged that the ruling is "a harsh result," especially considering that it probably mattered not at all to the MBTA claims process whether its executive received notice.

The case is Coren-Hall v. MBTA, No. 16-P-300 (Mass. App. Ct. Feb. 23, 2017), here at Mass.gov, here at Mass. Lawyers Weekly, and here at Justia.

[UPDATE, Dec. 17, 2018: In a December 2018 negligence case against the MBTA under the state tort claims act, the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed "that the MBTA had waived the affirmative defense of inadequate presentment by failing to plead it with the required specificity and particularity." The case is Theisz v. MBTA, No. SJC-12559 (Mass. Dec. 12, 2018).]

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Death of Civil Justice: It Was a Good Run, 900 years



Opening panel at Anglia Ruskin University Sports Law 2016: Leonardo Valladares Pacheco de Oliveira, Ian Blackshaw, Tom Serby, Andrew Smith, and Antoine Duval
Last week I was privileged to attend a tremendous one-day Sports Law program at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, UK, focusing on the question, “the future of ‘the legal autonomy’ of sport.”  Experts in the academy and in practice gave timely and informative commentary on contemporary sport governance from perspectives of contract law, politics, and dispute resolution. 

Though justifiably through the lens of sport, the program raised a broader and important question concerning the future of civil justice.  Dispute resolution in international sport today is the province of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), in Lausanne, Switzerland, under the very loose supervision of the Swiss Federal Tribunal.  CAS has a complicated relationship with international sport governance organizations such as the IOC and FIFA.  Certainly the court is not their stooge.  At the same time, through the magic of contract law, the mandatory use of the arbitration system carries down through the echelons of world sport from the IOC to the national sporting federation, and all the way to the athlete.

Transnational sport governing bodies, such as the IOC and FIFA, want their disputes handled in this single channel, because it renders them largely immune to oversight by the democratic instrumentalities of the world’s governments, especially the courts.  The transnationals have legitimate and less legitimate motivations.  They fairly worry about potential liability in multitudinous courts, each national judiciary applying its unique domestic law anchored in local priorities and prejudices.  Bypassing national legal systems, the transnationals can conserve resources for objectives in the public interest, such as sport for development and peace, and the promotion of human health and competitive achievement.  The logic supporting consolidation of international dispute resolution under one supra-national banner is the same by which the U.S. Constitution places interstate commercial disputes in U.S. federal courts, supervening the potential vagaries and favoritisms of the states.

But international arbitration has its dark side—in fact, nearly literally, as CAS operates in the opacity that typically surrounds arbitration.  Observers, including journalists and NGO watchdogs, grow frustrated and skeptical, as secrecy breeds unfairness and unaccountability.  This problem is the same that has generated angst within the United States over the “secret justice” system that has so thoroughly superseded the civil trial—see the excellent work of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in its Secret Justice series, linked from here. 

Further threatening the integrity of these proceedings, the contracts that bind parties to arbitration, and are then construed in arbitration, generally are adhesion contracts: drawn up by the transnationals themselves, weighted to their favor, and presented as fait accompli to young athletes with Olympic gold medals dancing in their dreams.  Barrister Andrew Smith, Matrix Chambers, conceded that these contracts are not meaningfully negotiated.  Their acceptance at the international level apparently marks the same phenomenon that has been documented with alarm, but as yet no serious reform, at the consumer level within the United States in works such as Nancy Kim’s Wrap Contracts and Margaret Jane Radin’s Boilerplate.

Upon my inquiry, Smith pointed out that for many reasons, athletes, given the choice, would themselves prefer arbitration to redress in the courts.  A plaintiff often desires secrecy as much as a defendant.  An expert arbiter might be more likely than a civil court to reach a conclusion that recognizes the nuances of divided merits, rather than erring in favor of dismissal as against the plaintiff’s burden of proof.  Though affordable representation for claimants has been a problem for the CAS system, organized arbitration systems still do a better job looking out for claimant’s access to representation than the usual civil court.  And most important to potential litigants are the time and costs of civil justice, often prohibitive deterrents that make faster and cheaper arbitration more appealing.

Nevertheless, panelists agreed that for the arbitration system to work fairness, stakeholders including athletes must take part in developing the process.  Conference organizer Tom Serby of Anglia Law School emphasized the need for democratization of sport governing bodies.  Smith said that organization of athletes into representative bodies is essential, noting with approval that “the United States is farther along with collective bargaining.”

With disparate levels of enthusiasm for the merits of judicial abstention, three speakers—Serby; Antoine Duval of the Asser Institute,Den Haag; and Simon Boyes of the Centre for Sports Law atNottingham Law School—all opined that national courts have been generously deferential to private dispute resolution in international jurisdiction.  Quotes from the iconic British jurist Lord Denning were offered both for and against the position.  Denning on the one hand bemoaned the courts’ relative lack of expertise in matters of private regulation, respecting the brightly formalist lines of conserved judicial power.  On the other hand, he declared, as quoted in Baker v. Jones, [1954] 1 W.L.R. 1005, “‘If parties should seek, by agreement, to take the law out of the hands of the courts and put it into the hands of a private tribunal, without any recourse at all to the courts in case of error of law, then the agreement is to that extent contrary to public policy and void.’”  Duval and Boyes mapped the ground between, where court intervention seems justified.  Boyes boiled down viable grounds to the protection of natural justice, human rights, and free competition and trade.

Incidentally the same autonomy question was taken up in similar dichotomy by Judge Richard Matsch and then the Tenth Circuit in Hackbart v. Cincinnati Bengals, Inc., 435 F. Supp. 352 (D. Colo. 1977), rev’d & remanded, 601 F.2d 516 (10th Cir. 1979).  Asked to intervene after an on-field altercation, Judge Matsch opined, on the “larger question” of “the business of professional football” and “the business of the courts,” that “the courts are not well suited” to allocate fault or probe causation.  For fear of excessive litigation and inconsistent rulings, any “government involvement” in the “self-regulated industry” of professional football was, in Matsch’s view, “best considered by the legislative branch”—Denning-like formalism.  Instead applying the law of recklessness to the dispute at hand, the Tenth Circuit disagreed.  Persuasive was the oft quoted reasoning of the Illinois Appellate Court in Nabozny v. Barnhill, 334 N.E.2d 258, 260—if a decision about teen athletes playing that other kind of football—that “some of the restraints of civilization must accompany every athlete onto the playing field.”

Well intentioned aspirations for meaningful athlete-as-stakeholder involvement and debate about the selective intervention of courts all gloss over the broader and more troubling trend of public, civil justice eclipsed by the private sphere.  I confess that what troubled me most about the sports lawyers’ commentaries on arbitration and autonomy was a problem beyond the scope of their charge: the disappearance of civil justice in our society at large.

Plenty has been written at the national level about vanishing civil justice and the rise of private dispute resolution.  But as the realities of globalization decree that every dispute becomes an international one—whether a youthful athlete against an international federation, or a homeowner against a floorboard makerit it seems that public civil justice is dying.  Blind deference to adhesion contracts is hastening the trend, and the courts seem plenty eager to stand by and cede power.  They purport to further the laudable aims of deference to experts or freedom of contract.  But courts have always been in the business of second-guessing professed experts, and the contemporary commercial contract is hardly a product of free choices.

Dystopian science fiction in popular culture has in recent years flourished upon an obsession with burgeoning social angst over the corporatization of public life.  In 2013 and 2014, the Canadian TV series Continuum traced the personal struggle of an anti-terrorism agent who came to doubt the virtue of the corporate-dominated future she was sent back in time to protect.  Themes of abusive corporate supremacy and submissive, corrupted government dominate the visions of current hits, such as Killjoys and The Expanse, the latter based on the novels of James S.A. Corey.  The next year will see the premieres of Incorporated, a dark Matt Damon-Ben Affleck project, and the plainly titled Dystopia, which imagines 2037: “Governments are now powerless puppets for the biggest corporations.”

Western democracy has 900 years of experience developing a public system of civil justice to patrol the boundaries of right and wrong among us.  We ought not jettison that system so readily, nor so casually.  We ought not capitulate to the conveniences of globalization, nor certainly to the burdens of transaction costs.  Would that we spend more time and energy trying to fix the public system that we have rather than ushering it into the past and replacing it with the corporatized private justice of our nightmares.