International Conflict Resolution Trip to Israel: Perspectives from a Property Law Professor

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An abandoned home in Lifta

I was fortunate to have gone on the Marquette University international spring break trip to Israel with Professors Schneider and Fleury and students in their Dispute Resolution Seminar. I attended the trip as a faculty guest without the benefit of being an expert in dispute resolution like my two colleagues or studying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict like the students enrolled in the seminar. Rather, my expertise is in the areas of tax and real estate law. Before embarking on the trip, I was excited to embrace the trip’s focus on dispute resolution, but I was also intent on learning as much as possible about my primary areas. I will limit my observations to real estate law.

One of the highlights of the trip was meeting with professors, justices of the Israeli Supreme Court, students, lawyers, historians, and other leaders. We also had two wonderful tour guides who provided us with a wealth of information during the entire trip. During our tour of Lifta, an abandoned Palestinian village in Jerusalem, I learned that the government owned approximately 90% of Israeli land. Therefore, most homeowners build their homes on land that is leased from the government under 99-year ground leases. The leases were executed post-1948; thus, none of them had expired. I asked the professor leading our tour of Lifta what would happen at the end of the lease terms. Her response was that no one really knew. In comparison, many long-term ground leases in the United States are renewable and include options to purchase. With the “bundle of rights” that we place on property in the United States, I find this lack of clarity related to the Israeli leases to be a bit unsettling. Continue reading “International Conflict Resolution Trip to Israel: Perspectives from a Property Law Professor”

People Who Have Shaped the Teaching Careers of Our Faculty—Part 3: Lessons Learned from Professor Jim Colliton

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The editors of the blog asked several law school faculty to write about the people who have been the most formative figures in their careers as legal educators. This submission, the third in the series, is by Professor Vada Waters Lindsey.

When I enrolled in law school, my goal was to become a lobbyist. I majored in Political Science as an undergraduate student, worked for a state senator as a legislative aide and believed that a law degree would help me reach my professional goals. Upon enrolling in law school, my interests immediately shifted. I loved the law school environment. Before the end of my first year, I decided that my future was in the legal academy. Upon reaching the epiphany that altered the course of my professional career, I began to study my professors’ teaching styles so that I could emulate them when I entered the academy.

Several of my law school professors have been formative figures in my career as a legal educator. I learned the importance of consistency from Professor Jeffrey Shaman. I found Professor Wayne Lewis to be the most proficient professor in using the Socratic Method. Professor Jerold Friedland became a lifelong friend and mentor. But, the professor who had the most profound impact on my career as a legal educator was the late Professor James “Jim” Colliton. I followed his footsteps by working at the Chief Counsel’s Office of the Internal Revenue Service upon graduating from law school, earning my LL.M. in Taxation from Georgetown and becoming a tax professor. I took only one class with Professor Colliton – Estate and Gift Taxation. However, Professor Colliton’s impact on my professional life had little to do with the estate and gift tax principles such as the unified credit, marital deduction and Crummey trusts. Undoubtedly, Professor Colliton did an amazing job teaching those principles. What distinguished Professor Colliton from many other professors was his innate ability to connect with students both inside and outside of the classroom. Simply stated, Professor Colliton was one of the most supportive, helpful and caring faculty members that I have ever met. I graduated from law school over 20 years ago, but he remained a mentor and became one of my closest friends until he lost his courageous battle with cancer a few years ago.

As professors, our primary responsibility is to train future lawyers. I learned from Professor Colliton that that responsibility extended beyond the classroom. Excellent instruction is an absolute necessity. Professor Colliton was an outstanding in-class instructor, but he was also a tremendous mentor to students, including mentoring students who had never enrolled in any of his classes. I spent many hours in Professor Colliton’s office discussing careers in tax law. Therefore, I learned that law professors must not neglect the mentoring responsibility to law students. While the demands of scholarship, committee work, class preparation and other responsibilities are daunting at times, students should feel comfortable stopping by a professor’s office not only to discuss coursework but also to seek career advice, particularly during these weak economic times. Finally, I learned from Professor Colliton that the responsibility to our students continues after they graduate. When I decided it was time for me to enter the academy six years after graduating from law school, I sought Professor Colliton’s advice. He encouraged me to pursue my goals and was instrumental in helping me secure a position by guiding me through the whole process.

I have been in academia now for many years, and I know that the lessons I learned from Professor Colliton will last a lifetime.

The IRS’s Hollow Victory in Crane v. Commissioner, 331 U.S. 1 (1947)

Posted on Categories Business Regulation, Public, U.S. Supreme CourtLeave a comment» on The IRS’s Hollow Victory in Crane v. Commissioner, 331 U.S. 1 (1947)

[Editors’ note: This is the fourth in our series, What Is the Most Important U.S. Supreme Court Case in Your Area of the Law? The first three installments are here, here, and here.]

There are many important Supreme Court tax cases.  However, few are identifiable just by reference to a footnote number.  Tax scholars and academics will easily recognize the Supreme Court’s decision in Crane v. Commissioner simply by reference to footnote 37.  In my opinion, Crane is the most important case in tax history, and footnote 37 is the most famous footnote.

The issues presented in Crane arose when the taxpayer inherited an apartment building from her husband.  Continue reading “The IRS’s Hollow Victory in Crane v. Commissioner, 331 U.S. 1 (1947)”

In Defense of To Kill a Mockingbird

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One of my favorite legal movies is To Kill a Mockingbird.  The movie is an adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee.  I disagree with my esteemed colleague Professor Daniel Blinka’s recent blog that he’d “rather leave the planet than read or watch To Kill a Mockingbird – Finch loses the big case and gets his client killed; nice job!”  I just watched the movie again for about the 50th time!  The movie was clearly a fiction, but it symbolized for me a cultural acknowledgement of an ugly chapter in our history where racism interfered with an equitable disbursement of justice.  The movie depicted the era of southern lynchings, Jim Crow laws and the civil rights movement.  Justice, particularly in the south, was not meted out in a colorblind manner.

The movie starred Gregory Peck as attorney Atticus Finch who represented an African American man, Tom Robinson, who was wrongfully accused of raping a White woman in a southern Mississippi town.  The evidence clearly established that Robinson had not committed any crime against the alleged victim.  Rather, the facts indicated that the alleged victim’s father had physically assaulted her after witnessing her kissing Robinson.  Notwithstanding the evidence, the all-White jury convicted Robinson.  Hence, Professor Blinka was correct that Finch lost the case.  However, the movie would have less emblematic of the times if the jury had acquitted Robinson.  Five very high-profile real life murders during this era reflected the impossibility of Finch’s task.  An all-White jury exonerated the suspects of the 1955 murder of Emmett Till in about one hour even though the evidence established their likely involvement in the murder.  Medgar Evers, a civil rights pioneer, was killed in Mississippi during 1963.  The evidence pointed to the guilt of the primary suspect; however, two all-White juries deadlocked on his guilt.  The suspect was finally convicted during 1994.  The civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were brutally murdered in 1964.  No one was charged with these murders until 2005 even though suspects had been implicated shortly after the deaths. 

I was born and raised in an integrated community in upstate New York after these killings.  The movie To Kill a Mockingbird was my first exposure to the tumultuous civil rights period.  I watched the movie for the first time as a child with my parents. The movie had an immediate impact on me.  I experienced a range of emotions – anger, shock, confusion and sadness. The sadness, anger and shock resulted from the conviction and subsequent death of Robinson.  The confusion resulted from the death of the movie’s villain, the alleged victim’s father, at the hands of a meek neighbor, and the sheriff’s decision to cover up the murder.  Irrespective of the flaws in the court system, the sheriff was obligated to arrest the neighbor.  However, I was also inspired after watching the movie.  Finch made a great personal sacrifice to represent Robinson, including placing his children in harm’s way.  This fictitious character inspired me to become an attorney, to help the disadvantaged and to be willing to make personal sacrifices for a cause.  Consequently, while To Kill a Mockingbird was clearly a fictional tale, I will, indeed, watch it for the 51st time when I crave inspiration! 

Priorities for the Next President: Tax Policy

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One of the biggest priorities of the incoming President is to develop an economic plan.  Included in this economic plan will be the next President’s vision of the Internal Revenue Code and tax policy.   As illustrated by the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008, the Internal Revenue Code is frequently relied upon to influence behavior, including stimulation of the economy.  The 2008 Act included tax rebates for low- and middle-income taxpayers and tax benefits for businesses, with a substantial increase in the expensing limits of Internal Revenue Code § 179. Under § 179, taxpayers are allowed to claim a current deduction for the purchase of tangible personal property used in a trade or business instead of recovering the cost over time by claiming a depreciation deduction.  The maximum allowable deduction under § 179 is now $250,000, although that amount will be reduced to $128,000 in 2009.  The 2008 Act also created a new fifty-percent special depreciation allowance for certain property placed in service during 2008.  Unfortunately, the Act has done little to stabilize the economy, and the next President’s economic plan will also need to address the ailing stock and real estate markets and the overall financial crisis. 

In addition, the next President’s economic plan is particularly critical because it must address the fate of the numerous tax provisions that will sunset at the end of 2010.  Continue reading “Priorities for the Next President: Tax Policy”