I was extremely lucky to represent Marquette Law School this past Saturday night at the Wisconsin Equal Justice Fund’s Howard B. Eisenberg Lifetime Achievement Award Dinner, and the highlight of the event for me was not only my opportunity to meet and take a picture with Justice Louis Butler, but also to hear him present the Lifetime Achievement Award to Judge James A. Gramling, Jr. However, there were two things about Justice Butler’s speech that caught my attention. First, he began his speech by saying, “I’m Justice Louis Butler, and I’m not under investigation for anything.” Now, granted, this was an audience that had given him a thunderous standing ovation on his way to the podium, so he was certainly in the right crowd to make that joke. Nevertheless, it surprised me how eagerly everyone in the room applauded him; it certainly didn’t feel as though it was merely humoring him. Second, and perhaps more importantly, his tribute to Judge Gramling touched repeatedly on the Judge’s insistence in doing the right thing regardless of its popularity or public perception, both in his personal life and in the law. Continue reading “Spin Doctoring and the Judiciary”
Last Friday, a Brooklyn mother was convicted of manslaughter in an infamous case that has, once again, led to soul-searching and overhaul of New York City’s child welfare system. What is remarkable about this case is that the mother never struck a single blow; rather, her 7-year-old daughter was beaten to death by her stepfather. Seven months ago, the stepfather was similarly convicted, and he is currently serving 26 1/3 to 29 years in prison. Ironically, the mother could end up serving much more time than that, because she was also convicted of assault, unlawful imprisonment, and endangering the welfare of a child.
As any child advocate will tell you, the facts of cases such as this one are horrifyingly familiar: brutal beatings and sadistic tortures by one adult (in this case, the little girl was tied to chairs, held under cold water, and forced to use a litter box instead of a toilet), chilling acquiescence by another adult, and mistake after mistake by whatever public agency is supposed to prevent this kind of thing by early intervention into suspicious circumstances. Nearly two decades ago another notorious New York case, which involved the beating death of another little girl, triggered a national discussion about accountability and responsibility on the part of the “passive” parent. In that case, 6-year-old Lisa Steinberg was beaten unconscious by Joel Steinberg (who had illegally adopted her) while Steinberg’s partner, Hedda Nussbaum (pictured above), was in the next room. Steinberg left the apartment for three hours, leaving the girl unconscious, and Hedda did not call for help until the next morning, when the child stopped breathing. In the Steinberg case, though, Joel was convicted of the killing while all charges were ultimately dropped against Hedda.
Why the difference in outcomes? Continue reading “The Culpability of Passive Abuse”
As you probably already know, yesterday the Wisconsin Supreme Court heard the petition of the Wisconsin Judicial Council to amend Wisconsin Statue section 809.23(3), to permit citation of unpublished Wisconsin Court of Appeals opinions as persuasive authority.
Beth Hanan, managing member of Gass Weber Mullins and Vice Chair of the Wisconsin Judicial Council, kindly offered the following summary of the hearing and the court’s decision to amend the rule. (Please note that these are Beth’s own, individual comments and are not the comments or thoughts of the Judicial Council.)
Taking a cautious step into a national trend, yesterday the Wisconsin Supreme Court voted 6:1 to permit citation of unpublished authored appellate decisions, with several limitations. Amended Wis. Stat. (Rule) s. 809.23(3), like Fed. R. App. P. 32.1, will be prospective only. This means that parties and courts will be able to cite those unpublished authored opinions which are released on or after the planned effective date of the amended rule, July 1, 2009. When parties cite such opinions, they will have to file and serve copies of the opinions. The rule specifically will provide that parties are not required to cite unpublished opinions. Finally, the supreme court has ordered that a committee be formed to plan the roll out of the rule and devise a means of tracking its effectiveness or particular difficulties it may create. Those statistics will be used by the court to review the rule three years after its adoption.
Last week, the Fourth District Court of Appeals in Wisconsin ruled on a case involving a testator (Edward Schunk) who committed suicide and the inheritance rights of the family who survived him. Apparently, Edward was on a one-day pass from a hospital when he was found dead in a cabin which he owned. The death resulted from a single, self-inflicted shotgun blast to his chest. His will left property to his wife, to his daughter from his second marriage, and to some (but not all) of his six older children who were not Linda’s children. Five of those older children challenged the inheritance by the second wife (Linda) and child from that marriage (Megan) on the grounds that they had aided Edward in committing suicide, and thus should be barred from inheriting under a Wisconsin statute that forbids inheritance by persons who unlawfully and intentionally kill the decedent. Linda and Megan denied providing any help to the decedent’s suicidal act, and asserted that Edward had taken his gun and gone to the cabin without their knowledge. Continue reading “Suicide and Inheritance: A New Ruling by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals”
The Sentencing Project has just published a new edition of Reducing Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice System, a manual for policymakers that describes numerous best practices for addressing disparities. This publication should be of particular interest in Milwaukee and Wisconsin, which have some of the worst criminal justice disparities in the nation. As The Sentencing Project described in a May publication, blacks in Milwaukee are seven times more likely than whites to be arrested for a drug offense, the second-highest such disparity among the forty-three major American cities analyzed. Similarly, a state-level analysis by Human Rights Watch determined that blacks in Wisconsin are forty-two times more likely than whites to receive a prison term for a drug conviction, the highest such disparity among the thirty-four states studied.
Of course, to say that there are racial disparities is not to say the disparities are necessarily unwarranted. For instance, if it turned out that blacks committed serious drug crimes more frequently than whites, then at least some of statistical disparities might be warranted. Still, the magnitude of the racial disparities in Milwaukee and Wisconsin is so high, particularly in comparison to national norms, that there is good reason to believe we do indeed have a serious problem.
If you are a member of the Wisconsin State Bar, beginning in November you will have free access to Fastcase. Fastcase is a searchable online database of federal and state law. The product overview at the Fastcase website makes the service look user-friendly. Its coverage is fairly deep too, including state cases back to 1950 or earlier.
I was wondering when a convenient but much lower-cost legal research service like this would become widely available. It seemed inevitable that it would eventually happen. I haven’t tried Fastcase yet, but I am going to do so and will follow up with my thoughts about the interface and more details about the coverage. In the meantime, I would be very interested to hear from anyone who already has experience using the service.
Yesterday’s On the Issues with Mike Gousha featured a conversation with Marquette Law School graduate and Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Maxine Aldridge White. Judge White’s journey from growing up in the Mississippi Delta as the daughter of a sharecropper to her current position on the bench is a compelling and inspiring one. Judge White reflected on her time at the Law School and how her experience here helped shape and influence her career. In particular, she pointed to the support and guidance provided her by Professor Phoebe Williams. Continue reading “Judge White Visits Her Alma Mater”
In a fascinating case decided this week, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed the suppression of a video recording apparently showing a husband having sexual intercourse with his wife, a stroke victim who was unconscious and lived in a nursing home. See State v. Johnson (Appeal No. 2007AP1485-CR, 9/11/2008). The husband was charged with second degree sexual assault, a class C felony, which can result in imprisonment up to 40 years. The offense occurs when a defendant “has sexual contact or sexual intercourse with a person who the defendant knows is unconscious.” Wis. Stat. § 940.225(2)(d). The statute further provides that “A defendant shall not be presumed to be incapable of violating this section because of marriage to the complainant.” Wis. Stat. § 940.225(6). Continue reading “Privacy Interests in Extremis”
My colleague Ralph Anzivino has a helpful new article that explores the fine line between contract law and tort law: The Economic Loss Doctrine: Distinguishing Economic Loss from Non-Economic Loss, 91 Marq. L. Rev. 1081 (2008). As developed by Wisconsin and many other states, the economic loss doctrine indicates that purely economic losses are recoverable in contract, while non-economic losses are recoverable in tort. The difficulty lies in distinguishing economic from non-economic, particularly with respect to property damage resulting from product failure. (Imagine, for instance, a defective garage door opener that causes a garage door to close on the owner’s car.) Continue reading “Economic Loss: Learning From Insurance Law”
This fall the Wisconsin Supreme Court will revisit the issue of whether to permit citation of unpublished Wisconsin Court of Appeals opinions. The issue is scheduled for hearing on October 14, 2008. The current rule forbids citation of unpublished opinions “as precedent or authority, except to support a claim of claim preclusion, issue preclusion, or the law of the case.” Wis. Stat. § 809.23(3). In January, the Wisconsin Judicial Council filed a petition asking the court to amend the rule to permit citation of unpublished opinions “for [their] persuasive value.” Continue reading “Petition to Permit Citation of Unpublished Decisions of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals”