Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Disaster Law and Policy

Hurricane Sandy is likely to result in more losses than last year’s Hurricane Irene, leaving millions without power, causing widespread flooding and the shutdown of New York City’s subways for days, and the death of dozens of people up and down the U.S. east coast. Insurance estimates indicate that Sandy should outdo the roughly $4.5 billion in insured losses Irene caused after hitting the northeast in August 2011. Sandy is likely to cause anywhere from $5 billion to $10 billion in insured losses and from $10 billion to $20 billion in economic losses. Estimates are that Sandy will rank as the fifth-worst hurricane in history surpassing the 2011 Hurricane Irene, based on inflation-adjusted losses. Losses will likely not surpass those incurred in the wake of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina but may exceed those caused by the 2005 Hurricane Wilma.

Because of Hurricane Sandy, Brooklyn Law School closed on Sunday and continues to face staffing shortages until restoration of public transit. The BLS Library has in its collection a number of items related to environmental disasters including Facing Catastrophe: Environmental Action for a Post-Katrina World by Robert R. M. Verchick (Call # GE180 .V47 2010) where the author argues that, as Hurricane Katrina vividly revealed, disaster policy in the United States is broken and needs reform. The book suggests a new perspective on disaster law that is based on the principles of environmental protection with a prescription that comes down to three simple commands: Go Green, Be Fair, and Keep Safe. “Go Green” means minimizing exposure to hazards by preserving natural buffers and integrating those buffers into artificial systems like levees or seawalls. “Be Fair” means looking after public health, safety, and the environment without increasing personal and social vulnerabilities. “Keep Safe” means a cautionary approach when confronting disaster risks. 
See also Disaster Law and Policy (2d edition) by the same author co-written with Daniel A. Farber, Jim Chen, and Lisa Sun (Call # KF3750 .F37 2010) with chapters Why things go wrong : causes of disaster -- Who's in charge? : federal power to respond to disaster -- Emergency response -- Social vulnerability -- Evaluating and responding to risk -- Compensation and risk spreading -- Recovering from disaster -- International disaster law and policy.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

America Votes

With 10 days to Election Day 2012, Brooklyn Law School Associate Librarian Linda Holmes has assembled in the display case on the first floor of the library an interesting collection of campaign buttons. The historic ones date back to Alf Landon, Wendell Willkie, and Dwight Eisenhower. More recent ones are for women candidates for national office, Geraldine Ferraro, Hillary Clinton, and Sarah Palin.

The display case also has several titles from the BLS Library collection including Voting in America by Morgan E. Felchner (Call # JK1976 .V69 2008) This three volume set is a comprehensive account by a group of academics, including political science and law professors, pollsters, and journalists who take a wide-ranging look at all aspects of voting in America. Chapters cover a wide range of topics such as the Electoral College, prisoner disenfranchisement, obstacles and options for American voters abroad, the rise of ballot initiatives, the elusive youth vote, the battle for the swing vote, local issues trends, Wisconsin voter fraud, waiting in line in Ohio, provisional ballots, and partisanship in voting companies.

The display also includes The Voting Wars: From Florida 2000 to the Next Election Meltdown by noted University of California Professor of Law and Political Science Richard L. Hasen (Call # KF4886 .H39 2012). The book examines the partisan war over election rules that followed the US Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore where election litigation has risen with accusations by political partisans of voter fraud and voter suppression. The effect has been a decline in public confidence in the electoral process as campaigns deploy “armies of lawyers” and the partisan press joins in. The book looks at future election disputes which are likely to be more acrimonious, more distorted by unsubstantiated allegations, and amplified by social media. Hasen argues that election reform is an urgent priority for both citizens and elected officials.

Friday, October 26, 2012

New Homepage Law Library of Congress

The Law Library of Congress has a new homepage which is less text heavy, easier to scan, and includes a highlights carousel. Two of the most used products, and the Guide to Law Online, are prominently displayed.  The @LawLibCongress Twitter stream is now on the homepage in the right column.  The new homepage compliments the enhancements made in June that widened the page layout and improved search by adding metadata and related facets. For more on the June update, see the June 6 post from the official blog of the Library of Congress, In Custodia Legis, Latin for “in the custody of the law,” a nod to the fact that the Law Library of Congress is a custodian of law and legislation for both the nation and the world. See the October 25 blog entry Welcome to Our New Front Door: A Revamped Homepage, for more information on the new homepage.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Housing Finance Fraud Suit

The US Attorney for the Southern District of New York issued a press release about “the first civil fraud suit brought by the Department of Justice concerning mortgage loans sold to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac” which are government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) and financial services corporations created by the United States Congress. The 46 page Complaint in U.S. ex rel. O'Donnell v. Bank of America Corp. and Countrywide Financial Corp. seeks to recover treble damages and penalties under the False Claim Act, 31 U.S.C. §3729 (“FCA”)and civil penalties under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, Enforcement Act, 12 U.S.C. §1833a (“FIRREA”). The Complaint’s allegations center on a “streamlined” loan origination program at Countrywide known as the “Hustle” that removed controls on loan quality. The charges state that “there was widespread falsification” of data entered into an automated system for underwriting loans and that the lender “knowingly originated loans with escalating levels of fraud and other serious defects and sold them to the GSEs” despite these problems. This latest legal challenge for Bank of America could cost it $1billion.

To find out more on the subject of the government's role in the U.S. residential mortgage market, see Brooklyn Law School Library’s copy of The Future of Housing Finance: Restructuring the U.S. Residential Mortgage Market edited by Martin Neil Baily (Call # HG2040.5.U5 F88 2011). The book examines the financial crisis of 2008 and the fundamental flaws in the U.S. housing finance market that contributed to the near collapse of America’s financial system. Given bipartisan agreement that government housing policies need to be reevaluated, this book looks at the Obama administration’s recommendations to reduce the role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in housing finance, with the ultimate goal of replacing these GSEs with a private market that would become the primary source of mortgage credit bearing the burden of risk.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Celebrate Pro Bono Week

Since 2009, the American Bar Association (ABA) Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service has sponsored Celebrate Pro Bono Week. This year it began on Sunday October 21 and runs through Saturday October 27. Pro bono has become an integral part of the US legal culture. Last month, the NY State Bar, following the lead of New York’s top judge, Jonathan Lippman, instituted a rule that applicants who plan to be admitted in 2015 and after must complete fifty hours of pro bono service to qualify. A Thomson-Reuters News & Insight article says New Jersey's top judge, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, has formed a committee to consider requiring prospective attorneys to complete pro bono work before being admitted to the NJ state bar.

Despite these and other efforts, the legal needs of the poor remain underserved. Celebrate Pro Bono Week is a coordinated national effort to address our most vulnerable citizens by encouraging and supporting local efforts to expand the delivery of pro bono legal services. The ABA is celebrating with JUST Stories, a digital video collection of legal advocacy stories highlighting the impact of pro bono work on lawyers and the clients they serve. The “video quilt” is on the home page of the National Pro Bono Celebration site, along with instructions on how to send in your own JUST Story. More information is available on the ABA website.

The Brooklyn Law School Library has a number of resources in its collection on the subject of how law students and newly admitted lawyers can provide pro bono service including an internet resource And Justice for All: Prioritizing Free Legal Assistance During the Great Recession, the summary of which says: “The 2009 recession is increasing the numbers of people needing free legal services as well as creating financial challenges for the organizations that provide these services. This report argues that closing the justice gap and ensuring low-income families can access needed resources will require substantial new commitments. At this point the federal government and the private bar may be best suited to contribute to the solution, but state and local governments, law schools, foundations, and individual donors can also play a role.”

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Reconstructing Marriage

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals  today ruled Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. The ruling upholds the granting of summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff issued by the Southern District Court of New York in Windsor v. United States, 833 F. Supp.2d 394 (2012). There are appeals in several cases currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, which could choose to take up the issue in its current term. Two members of the three-judge panel ruled in favor of Edith Windsor, an 83-year old woman who argued that the 1996 law discriminates against gay couples in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

The American Civil Liberties Union which represented the plaintiff issued a press release about the first federal appeals court decision to decide that government discrimination against gay people gets a more exacting level of judicial review, known as “heightened scrutiny.” For more on the subject, see the Brooklyn Law School Library copy of Reconstructing Marriage: The Legal Status of Relationships in a Changing Society by Caroline Sörgjerd (Call #KKV542 .S67 2012). The book explores what the meaning of marriage today, how has marriage been influenced by the legal recognition of new cohabitation models, and what should be the role of the institution of marriage in the future. With a focus on Sweden, it examines the historical development of marriage - beginning as a "gift from God" and now being a gender-neutral institution - from a legal and political perspective and taking into account the past and present role of the Church of Sweden. The book then makes comparative assessments concerning the legal and political developments leading toward the adoption of gender-neutral marriage concepts in the Netherlands and Spain despite different societal backgrounds.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Prof. Capers Elected Member of ALI

The American Law Institute (ALI), the leading independent organization in the United States producing scholarly work to clarify the law, has announced 68 newly elected members, including Brooklyn Law School Professor of Law I. Bennett Capers. Professor Capers returned this year to the faculty at BLS where he teaches criminal law and criminal procedure. From 2003 to 2005, he served as a BLS Adjunct Associate Professor of Law and taught “Law, Literature, and the Construction of Race”. As a practitioner, he worked nearly 10 years as an Assistant US Attorney in the Southern District of New York and practiced with the firms of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton and Willkie Farr & Gallagher.

ALI was established in 1923 to promote the clarification and simplification of US common law. With more than 4,300 lawyers, judges, and law professors, ALI publishes Restatements of the Law on more than twenty legal topics. The aim of the Restatements is to distill the "black letter law" from cases, to indicate a trend in common law, and sometimes to recommend what a rule of law should be. In essence, they restate existing common law into a series of principles or rules. The BLS Library has in its collection more than sixty Restatements in both print and electronic form. This link provides a complete list. ALI also publishes model statutes, and principles of law that are influential in the courts and legislatures, as well as in legal scholarship and education.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

New Dean Advocates for Legal Jobs

The New York Law Journal has an article about newly appointed Brooklyn Law School Dean Nicholas Allard titled Brooklyn Dean Campaigns for Graduate Employment. The article says that Dean Allard lauds Brooklyn Law's faculty, alumni and student body and says the school is "financially sound." But he still must confront deeper problems faced by all law schools: What changes should be made to curriculum, where will graduates find employment and how to attract the best students from smaller applicant pools? Acknowledging that the legal profession faces tough economic conditions and the challenge of defining legal practice for the future, Dean Allard is prepared to be an advocate for graduating students as they go out into the work force.

Dean Allard, who earned his Juris Doctor from Yale Law School,  has extensive experience in a wide range of legal settings. From 2005 until his appointment as Dean, he was a Partner with Patton Boggs; from 1993-2004, he was a Partner with Latham & Watkins; from 1987-1992, he was a Partner with Fox, Bennett & Turner. He also served as chief of staff to U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan; Minority staff counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, an Associate with Kaye Scholer; and Law clerk to Judge Patricia Wald, U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit and to Chief Judge Robert Peckham, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California. A list of Dean Allard's publications and presentations is available here.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Music and Copyright

The Brooklyn Law School Library New Books List for October 12 is out and among its 49 titles is Music & Copyright in America: Toward the Celestial Jukebox by Kevin Parks (Call # KF3035 .P37 2012). The ABA Section of Intellectual Property Law published the book in August. It is the first book to explore the history of music copyright from the early 19th century (with America’s first superstar of music, songwriter Stephen C. Foster) to the present. The author, an attorney, educator and entrepreneur, highlights the close relationship between new technologies and the evolution of music copyright, examining the historical debates and struggles over copyright that shape the industry today.

At 239 pages, the book’s Table of Contents is divided into seven parts (I - Music as American Commerce; II - The End of the World as We Know It (Part 1 Rolls, Cylinders, and Discs); III - Public Performance for Profit -- From Lüchow's to the La Salle Hotel; IV - Recordings and Recording Artists; V - Revolutions in the Air; VI - The End of the World, (Part 2); VII - Into the Cloud) and 49 chapters. See sample pages from the first four chapters from Part I: Music as Property — The Early Sheet Music Trade; Copyright in “Musical Compositions”; Music Goes to Court; and The First Superstar of American Song. Parks sheds light on how Americans have created and listened to music. Besides being rich in legal history, the book shows how individuals have created and shaped an industry. It is worthwhile reading for lawyers and law students, entrepreneurs and scholars, and anyone interested in the intersection of business, law, and culture.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Judge Block Book Talk

Judge Frederic Block of the Eastern District of New York (which covers Brooklyn and Long Island) has written Disrobed: An Inside Look at the Life and Work of a Federal Trial Judge, a 456 page book that offers a behind-the-bench look at some of the most newsworthy cases of the past 20 years. In the book’s three parts, Judge Block writes in Part I about how, as an outsider born in Brooklyn, he broke through the big-city establishment barrier and become a federal judge. Part II reflects on his early days as a federal court judge. Part III of the book comments on the death penalty, racketeering, gun laws, drug laws, discrimination laws, race riots, terrorism, and foreign affairs. Judge Block’s personal account of his experiences with noted cases from the last 20 years, (including the Kitty Genovese case, the trial of mob boss Peter Gotti, and his connection to the trial of Lemrick Nelson who was convicted of killing Yankel Rosenbaum during the Crown Heights riots) gives the average reader an understanding of the judicial system and the role that judges play.

Judge Block was appointed US District Judge for the Eastern District of New York in 1994. In 2005, he assumed senior status. Before that, he was a partner in a Smithtown, New York law firm and maintained his own general practice on Long Island. Judge Block will give a book talk at Brooklyn Law School’s Geraldo’s Café at Feil Hall at 6pm on Thursday, October 11, 2012. Thomson Reuters, the publisher of Disrobed, interviewed Judge Block about the book. A video of that interview is below.