Legal Journalism

There’s a wealth here from the ABA Journal, the American Bar Association’s member magazine, where I was proud to spend nearly six years from 2013 to 2019. Prior to that, you’ll find articles from Slate’s Jurisprudence section, California Lawyer, GC California, The Writer, Inside Counsel, Ward’s Dealer Business and Law Firm, Inc.

  • Strangers in a strange land: ‘Metering’ makes asylum rights meaningless, immigrant advocates say,” July 2019, ABA Journal
    This feature article explains “metering” and “Remain in Mexico,” called the Migrant Protection Protocols by the federal government even though immigrant advocates say it actually endangers their clients.
  • Drug crimes prosecutions could be taking a back seat as the DOJ focuses on unlawful entry,” June 2019, ABA Journal
    This is a data story based on information from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, exploring to what extent the “zero tolerance” policy of former Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III has hampered the efforts of federal prosecutors on the southern border to fight drug trafficking.
  • Failure to Appear: Videoconferencing’s promise of increased access to justice has a disconnect in immigration courts,” June 2019, ABA Journal
    This mid-sized piece is about the contrast between videoconferencing’s promise for certain criminal and civil matters and the criticisms of videoconferencing in immigration court.
  • It’s Unanimous–Almost: Oregon may finally join 49 other states that require unanimous jury decisions in criminal cases,” May 2019, ABA Journal
    Oregon is the last state that permits conviction by a non-unanimous jury. This article is about the debate around that.
  • Dismal Grades: Plaintiffs seeking more school funding are using states’ own performance requirements to win,” April 2019, ABA Journal
    Parents and education groups are using states’ own educational standards to win school funding lawsuits that previously were going nowhere.
  • Whose court is this anyway? Immigration judges accuse executive branch of politicizing their courts,” April 2019, ABA Journal
    This feature article is about the debate over to what extent DOJ should be permitted to interfere in–or even run at all–the immigration courts.
  • Shredded Heat: California relaxes one of the nation’s most restrictive laws on police personnel records,” March 2019, ABA Journal
    Up until January, California had one of the most protective laws in the country about police personnel data–so protective that even prosecutors didn’t know when they might be ambushed by a defense argument that the arresting officer was a “bad cop.” This article is about a new law shining some light into those records.
  • Mueller’s report is in; what happens now?,” March 2019, ABA Journal
    This was an explainer about the potential legal actions related to the Mueller Report.
  • Can Trump legally use emergency powers to build a border wall? Experts weigh in,” February 2019, ABA Journal
    This is an explainer about to what extent the president can legally divert money to build a border wall, as well as some of the likely avenues for a legal challenge.
  • No Summer Soldier: When things go wrong, immigrants serving in the military look to Margaret Stock,” January 2019, ABA Journal
    This is a profile that’s part of the Members Who Inspire series, highlighting ABA members doing interesting and worthwhile work. Stock balanced an Army Reserves career with a legal career, is a MacArthur “genius grant” alum and is now attempting to help the foreign-born soldiers who are suffering because the MAVNI program–which she developed–was canceled.
  • More lawmakers are considering banning gay and trans ‘panic defenses’,” January 2019, ABA Journal
    “Gay panic” and “trans panic” defenses–actually a group of defenses that claim temporary insanity, self-defense or diminished responsibility–are still legal in some states, but it’s fewer and fewer of them.
  • Who is William Barr, Trump’s pick to replace Sessions as AG?,” December 2018, ABA Journal
    All about Attorney General William Barr, written with research shortly after his nomination was announced.
  • A Military Injustice: Legal ethics questions and accusations of spying on the defense have stymied a Guantanamo terrorism trial,” November 2018, ABA Journal
    This feature article is about the extensive legal ethics problems that derailed the prosecution of Abd al-Rahim Hussein Muhammad al-Nashiri, who’s accused of orchestrating the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole.
  • Was Trump’s appointment of acting AG Whitaker within the law?,” November 2018, ABA Journal
    This explainer discusses the Federal Vacancies Reform Act and the extent to which its use to appoint Matthew Whitaker as Acting AG could violate the Constitution’s Appointments Clause.
  • The job is killing them: Family lawyers experience threats, violence,” September 2018, ABA Journal
    This feature story is an attempt at a data story, based on a Utah lawyer’s research into violence against lawyers. We were unable to include all the data visualizations I made, but here is state-by-state data and here is a look at threats for all the states studied.
  • Indian Boundaries: How a rural murder case could return nearly half the state of Oklahoma to tribal control,” September 2018, ABA Journal
    This midsized piece is about the case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court as Carpenter v. Murphy, concerning whether Congress ever officially canceled its treaty giving land to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma. The Supreme Court retained the case for its Fall 2020 session.
  • Legal Prey: Increased enforcement of immigration laws has raised the risk of scams,” May 2018, ABA Journal
    With increased enforcement of immigration laws comes increased chance of notario fraud–nonlawyers preying on immigrants, particularly those from Latin America, by holding themselves out as lawyers. This feature goes into why this is a problem and what lawyer groups and immigrant advocates can do.
  • Storm Troopers: Legal community meets relief challenges after hurricanes Harvey and Irma,” February 2018, ABA Journal
    This magazine cover story focuses on the legal community’s response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and was part of a package of hurricane stories.
  • Rallying for Reform: Criminal justice reform may be languishing at the federal level, but it’s becoming a reality in the states with bipartisan support,” December 2017, ABA Journal
    The federal Department of Justice may be losing its taste for criminal justice reforms, but the states have picked up the mantle–and not just “blue” states. Please also see this sidebar on an activist I encountered when reporting, who is a scientist by trade but discovered a love of legislation through her work on women’s recovery from prison.
  • Forgotten Allies, Broken Promises: Afghan and Iraqi interpreters for the US are caught in a deadly immigration waiting game,” September 2017, ABA Journal
    The Bush administration has ended, but for the Afghan and Iraqi nationals who helped (and are still helping) the United States in those countries, the fallout could be lifelong. This article is about visa difficulties for those former employees (including problems posed by the original Trump administration “travel ban”), and the cadre of service members, lawyers and activists trying to help them.
  • Legal Logjam: Neglect and political interference have created a growing backlog in immigration courts of 540,000-plus cases,” April 2017, ABA Journal
    This feature looks at the immigration court backlog as it was in late 2016 and early 2017. Events since then show that the Trump administration is committed to reducing that backlog, although perhaps not in ways that some immigration judges and respondents would prefer. Please also see this sidebar on the ABA’s role.
  • Age Appropriate: Fueled by new research and bipartisan interest in criminal justice reform, states are raising the age for adult prosecution back to 18,” February 2017, ABA Journal
    For this feature, I had the pleasure of talking to a brain scientist as well as lawyers and criminal justice professionals. A sidebar deals with the practice of shackling juveniles.
  • The Gideon Revolution: Starved of money for too long, public defender offices are suing—and starting to win,” January 2017, ABA Journal
    This story is not just about the horrifying but routine underfunding of indigent defense, which is an open secret in legal circles. It’s also about the evolution of the legal arguments public defenders are using to challenge that underfunding.
  • Generic drugs leave a bad taste for patients filing tort suits,” February 2014, ABA Journal
    After the Supreme Court banned the most common type of prescription drug tort (failure to warn), trial lawyers — and the people they represent, who are sometimes severely disabled — have been looking for creative ways to stay in court. This article talks about an unusual victory for a theory called “innovator liability,” in which the name-brand drug maker, as author of the labeling information on the generic, is held liable for failure to warn about injuries caused by the generic.
  • Callers Need Your Say-So,” January 2014, California Lawyer
    This is a brief for California Lawyer magazine on the new rules for the Telephone Consumer Protection Act that took effect in October of 2013. The FCC’s new rules are generally considered favorable for consumers who don’t want calls, but leave some hot 21st century litigation issues untouched: telemarketing by text message and the definition of an automatic telephone dialing system.
  • California begins to release prisoners after reforming its three-strikes law,” December 2013, ABA Journal
    Here in California, voters adopted a “three strikes and you’re out” law intended to deal with people who repeatedly commit serious or violent crimes. People with two serious or violent prior felonies were eligible for 25 to life after a third felony of any kind. This became less popular after reports started surfacing of people sentenced to prison for life for things like petty theft or drug possession. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an Eighth Amendment challenge to the law, but in the fall of 2012, Californians voted to end life sentences for non-serious, non-violent third felonies. We also voted to let lifers petition for resentencing if they would not now qualify for a life sentence. This article is about the long, slow process of releasing people in LA County, which has by far the most petitioners and a special system set up to handle it.
  • If Corporations Are Christians,” November 2013, Slate
    This article for Slate’s Jurisprudence section is about the contraception mandate for the Affordable Care Act, which has generated a huge amount of lawsuits and split decisions from the federal Courts of Appeal. Some of those courts have found that corporations are entitled to the free exercise of religion because they are “people” within the meaning of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. My piece argues that this would be bad for the religious freedom of their employees, because it would give secular-purpose, for-profit corporations the right to cite freedom of religion when they violate civil rights laws.
  • Victims are taking on ‘revenge porn’ websites for posting photos they didn’t consent to,” November 2013, ABA Journal
    “Revenge porn” or “involuntary porn” is a creature of the Internet age — the practice of posting naughty photos of someone else online without that person’s consent. Sometimes it’s done to hurt a former lover, but other cases may involve hacking or false personal ads, with the goal of driving up traffic to a website — and thus ad revenue — or even extorting money in exchange for having the pictures taken down. Many of its victims are surprised to learn that it’s perfectly legal in most states — and even when it’s not, it’s hard to get police officers interested. And when they turn to the civil courts, there are roadblocks including the financial cost, locating the defendant, and complying with intellectual property and tort laws not designed for this situation.
  • Could a Kansas Grand Jury Really Indict a Sculpture?,” October 2013, Slate
    This is a piece for Slate’s Jurisprudence section, which puts me in some pretty intimidating company author-wise. In it, I argue that citizen-empanelled grand juries are a well-intentioned idea that doesn’t work in contemporary society, tagged to an American Family Association effort to indict a Kansas statute the AFA believes is obscene.
  • And They’re Out,” October 2013, California Lawyer
    This brief article discusses the efforts of public defenders’ offices–the attorneys appointed to defend low-income people accused of crimes–to help former lifers win release from prison under California’s Proposition 36. Prop 36 reformed our three-strikes law, which had been criticized for sending people to prison for life for petty crimes, which were often fueled by drug addiction or mental illness. Public defenders, at the request of the Stanford Three Strikes Project, a law clinic, agreed to represent these clients even though they’re not technically entitled to it.
  • Military lawyers confront changes as sexual assault becomes big news,” September 2013, ABA Journal
    Sexual assault in the military was big news in 2013, thanks to a few high-profile cases, an Oscar-nominated documentary and a Defense Department-mandated series of reports on the subject. As a result, Congress and the DoD have considered and implemented a variety of changes to the military justice system–including some that radically change the jobs of judge advocates, the U.S. military’s lawyer corps. This article is about some of those changes and how it affects JAs’ jobs.
  • Ex-offenders face tens of thousands of legal restrictions, bias and limits on their rights,” June 2013, ABA Journal
    After serving time for a criminal conviction, and even after finishing probation or parole, ex-offenders still face many restrictions on their legal rights and freedoms. These are sometimes called “the collateral consequences of criminal conviction.” This article talks about how many there are, how they affect society at large as well as the ex-offenders, and several efforts to catalogue collateral consequences or mitigate them.
  • The Dream Bar: Some Children Illegally Living in the United States Grow Up to Want to Be Attorneys,” January 2013, ABA Journal
    This feature for the ABA Journal looks at the growing number of young people who were brought to the United States illegally as children, grew up here, and now want to be attorneys. Because the attorney admissions process is different from other state licensing, and because ethics is a part of every bar admission, undocumented status would be an issue even without the highly controversial political climate surrounding it. The story looks at the politics and legal minutiae of bar admissions for such young adults, including past cases, “character” requirements for bar admissions and how immigration law plays in.
  • Pricing Amy: Should Those Who Download Child Pornography Pay the Victims?,” September 2012, ABA Journal
    This feature story for the American Bar Association’s magazine looks at a growing number of cases in which young women whose childhood sexual abuse was photographed or recorded claim financial compensation from people who downloaded those images. The Crime Victims Rights Act authorizes payments to victims — but the article discusses whether these young women are victims of the downloaders, or only of their original abusers, and whether this is a good direction for the law to take us.
    I am honored to say that this article took a silver award (second place) in the Solo Author Feature category of the 2013 Northeast regional awards of the American Society of Business Publication Editors. It was also a finalist for the 2012 Lisagor Awards granted by the Chicago Headline Society.
  • Milking It: Raw Milk Advocates Lose the Battle But Win the War,” July 2012, ABA Journal
    The federal government has strongly advised against unpasteurized “raw” dairy products for nearly a century and banned it in interstate commerce for decades. But states have a patchwork of different regulations, and advocates of raw milk, who believe it has health and taste benefits that outweigh any risks, have taken the issue to court.
  • Profiting for Good: New Corp Structure Helps Nonprofits Deliver Benefits,” January 2012, ABA Journal
    A few states have adopted a new corporate structure that combines the social-good features of a nonprofit with an opportunity to make a profit. Benefit corporations are for-profit corporations just like any other, but their structure allows them to avoid investor lawsuits when they make the less profitable choice in the name of a higher mission.
  • Capping Cap and Trade,” January 2012, California Lawyer
    California passed AB 32, a state bill that called for capping carbon emissions and setting up a venue for trading them like securities, in 2006. Opponents of the law, citing fears that it will hurt the state’s economy and reduce employment by driving up costs to business, were reportedly considering a lawsuit to stop implementation. The claim would be based on 2010’s Proposition 26, which construes many state fees as taxes — and if a court agrees that it applies, some of AB 32’s provisions would be subject to that requirement, slowing or invalidating the law.
  • Law Schools to Report in Detail on Graduates’ Jobs,” November 2011, California Lawyer
    The American Bar Association announced in the summer of 2011 that it would substantially change the way it reports graduates’ employment information. The move came after a great deal of controversy about whether schools are falsely advertising the value of a legal education.
  • Debate Heats Up Over Unpublished Opinions,” May 2008, California Lawyer
    A federal lawsuit alleged that the California Supreme Court kept judicial opinions unpublished out of convenience.
  • Lending Lawyers: Secondments Gaining Popularity,” May 2008, GC California
    A trend story on the practice of seconding, or lending, a firm attorney to work in a client’s office on a long-term basis.
  • It’s a Privilege,” February 2008, GC California (Premium subscribers only)
    A short piece about a court decision that expanded attorney-client privilege slightly for in-house counsel in California.
  • A Freelancer’s Legal Primer,” December 2007, The Writer magazine (Subscription only; available on request.)
    A Freelance Success column with tips for writers on following copyright law and avoiding bad contracts.
  • Fourth Circuit Invalidates FMLA Waivers,” September 2007, Inside Counsel magazine
    The Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in July of 2007 that employees may not waive their rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, unless it’s approved by a court or the U.S. Department of Labor, even if they do it voluntarily, and after their employment is over. This article takes a look at what that means for employers and their in-house attorneys.
  • Illinois Expands Damages in Wrongful Death Suits,” August 2007, Inside Counsel magazine
    This piece explores how in-house attorneys in Illinois could limit their liability under their state’s May 2007 law permitting “pain and suffering” damages.
  • An Age-Old Problem,” June 2007, California Lawyer magazine
    A short front-of-book piece on the ongoing efforts of the nonprofit Bet Tzedek Legal Services to meet the continuing needs of Holocaust survivors.
  • Super-Size That Lawyer,” February 2006, Ward’s Dealer Business
    A business and legal news feature for an automotive industry magazine.
  • Protect Your Network from the Enemy Within,” (PDF format) November 2005, Law Firm, Inc.
    A service article advising information technology staffers at large law firms on how to avoid having their networks compromised from within.