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Killing an Abortion Doctor: Maybe Not So Bad, Judge Rules

January 12th, 2010 1 comment

The judge in the George Tiller homicide case has ruled that, at least for now, the defense may present the jury with the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter. If convicted on this lesser charge, Scott Roeder may end up spending only a few years in prison for what everyone agrees was a deliberate act: Roeder walked up to Tiller in church, put a gun to his head, and calmly pulled the trigger.

Why voluntary manslaughter? That’s the usual conviction where the defendant believes, unreasonably but sincerely, that he needs to take a life in self-defense, or in defense of a third party. Here, though, the claim is quite different. Roeder claims that he believed he was saving the life of unborn children from Tiller, who performed some late-term abortions.

The judge’s decision to allow this theory to proceed beggars belief. Whatever Roeder’s personal, philosophical or religious convictions, the plain fact is that Tiller was performing procedures that are legal and sanctioned by the state. Would the judge allow this lesser-crime argument to be made by a defendant who killed a flag-burner because he thought that was the only way to prevent terrorist attacks? The logic is a bit more attenuated, but the theory is the same: As long as you have a good-faith (if nutso) belief in what you’re doing, let the arguments for  reduced culpability begin.

If this works, expect further violence against abortion providers. We’ve already got a good example of how this ruling will embolden other “baby-saving” killers: The “Rev.” Don Spitz, who runs this astonishing website calling for violence against doctors who perform abortions, pronounced himself “flabbergasted, but in a good way,” at the ruling. The site applauds Scott Roeder. Click over at your own risk.

Were I the prosecutor, I would immediately take whatever steps I could to get this insane decision reversed: stay, mandamus — whatever the local rules allow. This dangerous action can’t go unchallenged.

On the Brink of Hate Crimes Law Protecting the LGBT Community

October 27th, 2009 No comments

Tomorrow, President Obama is expected to sign the hate crimes bill (smuggled into an essential military spending measure) that will, at last, extend the reach of protection to those attacked and seriously wounded or killed because of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.

Before I offer an opinion on the measure, it’s worth pausing for a moment at the imminent passage of the first significant piece of federal legislation enacted on behalf of the LGBT community. Whatever one’s belief about the value of this law as opposed to others in the pipeline (or not) designed to address the community’s needs, it’s appropriate here to pause and offer thanks and respect for the advocates who worked tirelessly for this, including, of course, Judy Shepard. Of course, this had better not be the only thing the Obama Administration does, but I’ll leave that alone for today.

I’ve likely spent more time thinking about the wisdom of hate crimes legislation than is healthy. For a long time, I had trouble with it; to an extent, I still do. There’s something to the argument that violent crimes are just violent crimes; that, by trying to dig more deeply into impermissible motives, the prosecutor runs the risk of punishing conduct the law didn’t intend to target, or, worse, targeting conduct because of its speech content rather than the serious physical consequences it produces.

Sometimes, those offering these arguments aren’t doing so in good faith — they oppose only this hate crimes bill, but not protecting victims of crimes committed because of race, religion, or national origin. Sorry, but given the prevalence of anti-queer (and I’m using the term advisedly here) violence, this is just a specious assertion: If anyone needs hate crimes protection, it’s the most outrageous gender “outlaws.” Even more “mainstream” gays are targeted at a rate that’s high even among despised groups. Worse, the LGBT community is the victim of a great number of the most serious cases.

Some, though, make the principled  conservative case against hate crimes law. Andrew Sullivan is prominent among these. (He’s addressed the issue on many occasions, but particularly persuasively, on what are really philosophical grounds,   here.) But I’m less concerned about the metaphysical basis of “hate” than he is. Instead, I look at the situation this way: What we (collectively) are saying in bumping up the penalty for a crime against a protected group is that: (1) Words can’t be punished in themselves, but when those words are linked to criminal action, they become something else; and (2) That “something else” is sufficiently upsetting to the community that we want to both stand with the victims and send a message to the those who might engage in similar behavior.

The trick, of course, is to use the words to prove a heightened degree of criminality. But the fact that we’re using words instead of some other indicator of intent shouldn’t be dispositive, unless one is willing to cling to the obvious fiction that we can never punish anything related to “words.” We punish fraud, defamation, and “fighting words,” to name a few. And words are routinely used to define crimes, and to establish motive and intent.

Once that’s out of the way, then we’re in familiar territory: Deciding how culpable particular acts are. And these are judgments we make all the time. Here is David Gibson:

“[T]he law is full of degrees of criminality. Premeditated murder is not viewed in the same way as a crime of passion, just as rape is treated as an especially heinous type of physical attack that is meant to degrade a victim, and so is deserving of appropriate penalties….

“[T]hese attacks can inflict [damage] on an entire community. Just as a serial rapist on the loose sows fear among all women (and their families) and curbs their freedom, so too a hate crime “is meant to terrorize a community, not solely to victimize an individual,” as Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard, put it.

“If blacks or Jews or Latinos or Christians — or gays and lesbians — cannot live in a neighborhood or walk the streets without fear of attack, then that climate of fear inhibits the free and full functioning of individuals and society. Laws not only make penalties to inflict on perpetrators who violate societal norms, they also make a statement about what a society values.”

This is pretty good. It’s also, I think, an answer to the charge that hate crimes perpetuate the victimization of the named group. The better argument is that, properly implemented (but will they be?), these laws send the strong message that victimizing Group [N] isn’t tolerated. Over time, this signal can diminish the anti-gay (and other) violence it seeks to address.

I did say earlier that I’m not fully comfortable with hate crimes laws. Although I agree with the Supreme Court that any ‘chilling effect’ on constitutionally protected speech is so minimal as to be of little concern, I do have a concern about prosecutors and jurors becoming overzealous (but this is likelier, I’d bet, with crimes based on almost anything other than sexual orientation or gender identity.) And if there is this tendency to prosecute for political gain, then we can expect the scapegoats to be poor and uneducated people, especially those on the extreme margins, such as transgendered persons of color.

Thus, some radically left groups oppose hate crimes laws, too, and find unexpected common ground with the more conservative voices in the LGBT movement. Here is an especially strong statement of this critical position, expressed by the Sylvia Rivera Law Project in opposition to a proposed New York State bill that included hate crimes protection:

“Hate crime laws are an easy way for the government to act like it is on our communities’ side while continuing to discriminate against us. Liberal politicians and institutions can claim “anti-oppression” legitimacy and win points with communities affected by prejudice, while simultaneously using “sentencing enhancement” to justify building more prisons to lock us up in. Hate crime laws foreground a single accused individual as the “cause” of racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, or any number of other oppressive prejudices.

“Anything that expands the power of a system that damages our communities so severely is against our long-term and short-term interests. Any legal weapon that’s created to make our justice system more harsh and punitive cannot be trusted in the hands of institutions that have shown their prejudices and corruption time and time again.”

Read the full Sullivan article against this letter, and find yourself asking whether the costs are worth whatever benefits might accrue. Reasonable people might disagree.

Despair Over Guns

June 22nd, 2009 1 comment

Consistent majorities of Americans favor sensible gun-control laws. Of course, there’s disagreement as to what counts as “sensible,” but it hardly matters. No gun control of any kind seems to be possible as long as the NRA maintains its inexplicable death grip over federal law-makers.

I’ve sort of given up on the issue. A few years ago, my colleague and friend Jean Eggen and I wrote a series of articles (look for “gun” in title of articles appearing here) arguing that tort and public health law should be used to fill some of the holes that Congress had created. Since then, though, matters have only gotten worse. The nadir was reached in 2005, with the enactment of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which not only removed most theories of liability that might otherwise have prevailed in court, but also dismissed any and all pending suits, if otherwise prohibited by this new law. A shameful bipartisan majority in both chambers handed the gun lobby its greatest victory, and the outcry, except from organizations like the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, was muted. Why bother?

Of course, none of this means that the problem of gun violence has gone away — just that gun control, as least at the federal level, is off the table. Name the outrage, and the gun lobby has an excuse. The ease of obtaining guns in the U.S. is fueling the drug wars in Mexico, and — I just learned — gang wars in Jamaica? The former is blamed on poor border control; I’m sure a similar response to the latter will be forthcoming. Of course, home-grown massacres elicit a collective shuddering, but no real mention of substantial restrictions on gun ownership.

Cities alone seem to understand the need for more legislative control, likely because they face the consequences of violence more routinely. Yet their efforts to do something — anything — are often rebuffed by courts that say, sometimes with legal justification — that regulation of guns is a state, and not a city matter. Pennsylvania is a good case study here. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh need better gun control laws, but the state, dominated by the rural middle, whose hunters and representatives are NRA guys, will have none of it.

Thus, Philly’s effort to stop straw purchases — where someone buys a gun for another not legally entitled to own one, like a felon or a minor — were struck down last week by an appellate court because of state supreme court precedent holding that only the state can regulate guns. (The law also would have limited gun buys to one per month, a number obviously too low to live with.) Now Pittsburgh’s anti-gun trafficking law is being challenged by the NRA, too; the Brady Center is defending the city’s right to pass this needed bill.

At this point, it seems that only a searing epidemic of gun violence beyond any we’ve seen or the rise of a lobbying group equal in money and power to the NRA can begin to bring us towards more sensible gun control; the kind that police departments all over the country routinely call for.

Vigilante Justice, Continued

June 19th, 2009 No comments

According to an article on philly.com (which hosts both the Inquirer and the Daily News), vigilante justice is OK with the prosecutors and the police — sometimes. The story details the prosecution of a man who beat another guy who’d allegedly raped his 14-year-old niece. The uncle who did the beating, Antwione Hough, has been charged with a series of crimes and forced to spend some $10,000 in bail and court costs.

As they used to tell us in Social Studies class: Compare and contrast the case of the Kensington mob who so severely beat up on a rape suspect in a different case that the alleged rapist was sent to the hospital. The mob’s punishment was a reward in excess of $10,000. (Actually, only two of the men received the reward; a shame there wasn’t more to go around, I guess.)

Confronted with this apparent inconsistency, the DA declined to comment. Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said this:

“I think you have to look at what’s reasonable in terms of actions taken by members of the public. If an individual is wanted by the police for a felony, and you restrain him, how much force is too much? Every case is different.”

So we’d decide whether the attackers had acted criminally by  looking at the level of violence used. That statement is in conflict with another official statement on the propriety of citizen violence, made in connection with the case that didn’t result in prosecution:

“They don’t have a use of force continuum out there.”  (Translation: They  can do whatever they think they need to.)

This earlier statement was made by, um, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey.

Thus is the peril of vigilantism laid bare. It seems that the DA and the Police Commissioner respond based on the politics and the community sense of outrage in a particular case. But that’s not how it’s supposed to work. And the fact that a poll taken in connection with this same story showed that almost 2/3 of those responding favored vigilantism only cements the point: Many have the instinctive sense that something much be done. But as I’ve argued, lawlessness breeds more of its kind.  If those charged with enforcing law can’t be trusted to act consistently and neutrally, we shouldn’t be surprised if vigilantes are emboldened. But their actions are judged by the whim of the prosecutor.

Where is Mayor Michael Nutter in all of this? He supported the vigilantes in the Kensington case. I’d be tempted to say that Nutter might have decided differently had he attended law school, but legal training doesn’t appear to have benefited the DA in this case.

The Hierarchy of Lawlessness

June 10th, 2009 No comments

Let’s play a depressing game. Consider these stories, and spot as many cases of lawlessness as you can:

  • As I wrote about a couple of days ago, a Philadelphia mob attacked and severely beat a rape suspect. The actions were condoned, encouraged, and rewarded by city officials. In this piece, Columbia University Professor Marc Lamont Hill attempts to justify the mob’s actions by noting that black women can’t count on the criminal  justice system to vindicate their interests.1
  • In the wake of the killing of Dr. George Tiller, who ran one of only three late-term abortion clinics in the country (now two, as his clinic is closing), Dr.  Susan Hill, a friend of the late Dr. Tiller’s and President of the National Women’s Health Foundation, appears on the Rachel Maddow show and says that the police often do not protect women who seek late-term abortions when they are harassed by anti-choice nuts. Apparently, the Freedom of Access to Clinics Entrances Act (“FACE”), the federal statute that allows both the U.S. Attorney General and any aggrieved person to sue for acts of violence or intimidation, isn’t doing enough to stem this misplaced zealotry, either.  Dr. Hill also states that the level of violence and intimidation has spiked since Dr. Tiller’s death, but also notes that federal marshals are on the ground to safeguard women’s safety. (The linked video is worth your time.)
  • This compelling story from the latest ABA Journal: In 1909, a black man is convicted of raping a white woman despite overwhelming evidence of his innocence. (Stop me if you’ve heard this before.) The judge essentially orders the convicted man’s attorneys not to appeal his death sentence. Other attorneys do step in and appeal, eventually filing a petition for habeas corpus in federal court, challenging the detention on constitutional grounds (including the right to a fair trial). The petition is denied in the lower court, but the court also stays the defendant’s execution pending appeal. When Supreme Court Justice John Harlan allows the appeal, an angry mob — enabled by the local sheriff — lynches the poor man, and shoots him “just in case.” The Supremes then host their one and only (still!)  criminal trial, eventually finding the sheriff, a deputy, and several mob members guilty of contempt of court. All are sentenced to (ridiculously brief) jail time, but are greeted as conquering heroes upon their return to their home town of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Meanwhile, the black lawyers who took the appeal, fearing for their lives, are forced to relocate.
  • The U.S. Government tortures enemy combatants, then protects those who ordered the torture. Congress attempts to strip the detainees of their habeas corpus rights, but the U.S. Supreme Court, in Boumediene v. Bush,  strikes down the law, finding that the procedures in place to challenge their detention were insufficient as a matter of due process.

Lawlessness isn’t limited to angry mobs. But such vigilantes are emboldened, and given example and cover, when those charged with enforcing the law — from renegade juries, prosecutors and law-enforcement officials to elected officials, to judges who forget their  role in the constitutional design, to legislators who pass laws they should know are unconstitutional — fail to do their jobs.

The above stories suggest a scary lattice of lawlessness. Violent anti-abortion protesters who aren’t arrested and prosecuted for breaking the law encourage others, equally or more violent. The stranglehold of Jim Crow racism was almost impossible to break given the lawlessness of public officials; it took the Supreme Court to create (admittedly crummy) accountability.  The Philadelphia mob will spawn others, because the message from the city is clear: “We’ll look the other way.” And only the Supreme Court, by the narrowest of 5-4  margins, stood between Congress and the further erosion of our Constitution when it comes to our treatment of detainees.

Maybe it’s the pervasiveness of this outlaw mentality that explains Marc Lamont Hill’s attempt at justifying the mob’s actions last week. Here’s what he had to say:

“I…have no antipathy toward the ghetto kangaroo court that sentenced him to a thorough ass-whooping. Still, I remain wary of hasty rushes to judgment (and punishment) regardless of the circumstance. After all, it was the ostensible need to quickly avenge rape that led to the physical and juridical lynching of thousands of black men throughout history. Also, if the racial tables were turned, we would surely disapprove of a white mob beating a possible black rapist. Black and white, however, are not two sides of the same racial coin.”

Hill then goes on to cite compelling historical and sociological evidence of the law’s failure to regard the black female body as worthy of protection. He then concludes:

“In a perfect world, law enforcement would be enough. Unfortunately, we live in a world so fractured by racism and sexism that black female bodies are still rendered unimportant. On Tuesday, the neighbors decided to send a different message. Until the broader society gets it, the community’s brand of justice is both appropriate and necessary.”

There’s so much wrong with this argument that I hardly know where to start. First, even if (as we must concede) the criminal justice system is flawed, that does not mean that the mob justice he champions is better. The mob had already attacked the wrong guy before they fingered this one. Is it OK if they’re wrong? If not, how does he know that the guy  they did beat is the right one? Because the very police he doesn’t trust said so?  And how far would he let the mob go? This alleged rapist was hospitalized. What if he’d died? Would that have been OK, assuming the same level of force was used?

None of these pedestrian concerns appear to have occurred to Hill, who practices being provocative on FOX News. Nor does he appear to have thought through the implications of excusing criminal behavior based on the race of the parties involved. Saying that “black and white are not two sides of the same racial coin” is sound-bite ready, but what does it mean? More to the point, what might that statement justify? Lawlessness isn’t so easily cabined, once unleashed and condoned. He’s “wary” of this kind of behavior? So what?

Batman is pretty cool as a comic book character (although I always preferred the less complicated Superman as a kid), but a nation of lawless zealots who “know best” and their academic and official enablers is less appealing.

  1. h/t Kris Kachline for alerting me to this article.

Andrew Sullivan’s “Familiar Feeling” — and a Qualified Defense of Obama

May 14th, 2009 No comments

Well, we’re not even four months into the Obama Administration and already the LGBT community is frustrated at the pace of developments. And, really, who can blame us, after the betrayals of the Clinton Administration and the hostility of his successor who-must-not-be-named? Here’s Andrew Sullivan, in a sobering and angry piece on the Atlantic website (“The Fierce Urgency of Whenever”):

“I have a sickeningly familiar feeling in my stomach, and the feeling deepens with every interaction with the Obama team on these issues. They want them to go away. They want us to go away.

“Here we are, in the summer of 2009, with gay servicemembers still being fired for the fact of their orientation. Here we are, with marriage rights spreading through the country and world and a president who cannot bring himself even to acknowledge these breakthroughs in civil rights, and having no plan in any distant future to do anything about it at a federal level. Here I am, facing a looming deadline to be forced to leave my American husband for good, and relocate abroad because the HIV travel and immigration ban remains in force and I have slowly run out of options (unlike most non-Americans with HIV who have no options at all).

“And what is Obama doing about any of these things? What is he even intending at some point to do about these things? So far as I can read the administration, the answer is: nada. We’re firing Arab linguists? So sorry. We won’t recognize in any way a tiny minority of legally married couples in several states because they’re, ugh, gay? We had no idea. There’s a ban on HIV-positive tourists and immigrants? Really? Thanks for letting us know.”

Steve Sanders over at Sexual Orientation and the Law Blog expands on the point, noting that some of the things Obama’s promised to do might be accomplished without legislative action; arguably, he already has the executive authority to stop the discharges under the completely indefensible “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

These points are fair, and we’re right to be concerned about both the pace of change and, perhaps as important, the weakening or outright disappearance of rhetorical commitment on central issues, such as federal civil unions; the Employment Non-Discrimination Act; and the repeal of  DADT. But the story isn’t this simple.

Sullivan himself is of two minds on this, as are many of us. He prefaces the eviscerating remarks quoted above with the following:

“[I]t’s tedious to whine and jump up and down and complain when a wand isn’t waved and everything is made right by the first candidate who really seemed to get it, who was even able to address black church congregations about homophobia. And obviously patience is necessary; and legislative work takes time; and there are real challenges on so many fronts….No one expects a president to be grappling with all this early on, or, God help us, actually leading on civil rights. That’s our job, not his.”

So, where are we and how concerned should we be?

Let me start with Sullivan’s “familiar feeling.” I’m less concerned than he is (of course, I’m not about to get kicked out of the country, either), principally because Clinton and Obama are so different, tempermentally. Clinton, for all of his obvious intelligence, was in many ways an incautious, borderline reckless, man: “I’ll just issue an order allowing gays into the military. What could be hard about that?” Obama’s endlessly analyzed personality is that of the careful incrementalist, who listens to all parties, decides on a course of action (and sometimes reconsiders his position, as with yesterday’s about-face on the release of prisoner abuse photos), and then works patiently and tirelessly for consensus. Anyone who could herd the divas on the Harvard Law Review has some accomplishment to commend his approach.

So what looks the same from one perspective — the lack of progress on gays in the military — may be quite different in underlying significance. We don’t know what Obama is doing (or thinking) behind the scenes, but I’m willing to bet it’s…something.

Not exactly reassuring, is it? I don’t have any way of verifying my suspicion on this issue, and I might be totally off. (I really hope not. DADT is just nuts; made even more so now that same-sex couples can marry or civilly unite. That legal act is now a ground for discharge under the policy. My next post will be of a conversation I had with the unceremoniously brilliant Alex Nicholson, the founder of an organization dedicated to repealing the policy, Service Members United.)

But there is movement. Let’s put this into context. For approximately forever, the only traction gay issues had at the federal level had been as a wedge issue — against us. I’m talking about DADT and the Defense of Marriage Act, not to mention the Federal Marriage Amendment (which never had a chance of passage but was conveniently unsheathed whenever an election loomed), and of course the epidemiologically and ethically indefensible ban on HIV-positive immigrants.

Now we have a gay-inclusive hate crimes bill set to pass and be enacted into law, likely quite soon. (I don’t agree that this is entirely symbolic; but even if it were, symbols matter). “Sources” tell me that there is a place on the legislative agenda this year for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. (Whether it will be trans-inclusive is less certain, but vital: Who most needs this protection? Not me.) ENDA has been around since, if I’m remembering correctly, the Truman Administration. Neither Sullivan nor Sanders discusses this issue, on which progress looks quite likely.

Meanwhile, lifting of the HIV ban is moving along — albeit at the glacial pace of the federal regulatory process. Again, Sullivan (first quoting):

“’The Department of Health and Human Services has submitted for OMB review a notice of proposed rule-making to implement this change.’

“Translation: we’re doing the bare minimum to make us look no worse than Bush, but we have no real interest in this and are letting the bureaucracy handle it, and we guarantee nothing.”

I think that’s too critical. HHS Secretary Sebelius acted within one week of her confirmation to get this long-overdue repeal moving through the process. As this site reports, the bureaucrats are following standard procedure here, needed to put into practical effect the legislative repeal (changing the law meant that HIV was no longer required to be on the list of excludable diseases; now it must be removed).

Imagine it’s the end of 2009: The hate crimes bill is law, so is ENDA, and the HIV repeal is lifted (in time for Sullivan, I sincerely hope; but as he points out, there are many others for whom the ban leaves fewer, or no, options). DADT continues to be assaulted, relentlessly, from many perspectives, but is still in place. Civil unions, flowering all over the country, lie beneath still-frozen soil in D.C.

Would we regard this record as one of success? Let’s see if we get there, first. And let’s continue the relentless advocacy that is finally, I believe and dare to hope, beginning to push on the hinge of history.

Community Service

April 12th, 2009 No comments

The Honorable Daniel Anders is a Philadelphia trial court judge currently assigned to Family Court. Based on my own experience with that court as a foster parent (likely the subject of a future post), I can attest to the difficulty of the family court judge’s job. Cases come in a ceaseless barrage, threatening to flatten human terrain that needs sharp relief. After a day’s worth of this emotional drama, judges might be expected to indulge the vice(s) of their choice: exercise, booze, blogging…whatever. More judging, even in an “American Idol” guest gig, would seem to be right out.

So I was buoyed to learn that Dan, whom I’ve known personally for a few years, takes an evening out of each month to preside over something popularly called “Nuisance Court.” (This recent article  describes the court and Dan’s volunteer efforts there.) Based on the “broken windows” theory of crime prevention, this court hauls people in for the most minor offenses — loitering and violation of the open container laws. The idea, which is controversial, is that by interdicting behavior at this relatively benign point, you can send a message to others that the area is safe; perceptions of safety then encourage more safety. Whether or not that’s true, stopping “nuisances” has the potential to turn low-level crime into something positive.

The most directly positive outcome of a Nuisance Court conviction is community service;  depending on the offense, a defendant who pleads guilty will receive anywhere from ten to about thirty hours of service (and no fine — don’t plead guilty, and risk paying a hefty one). Dan told me that he encourages representatives from community groups to be present at the hearings, the better to match defendants to appropriate service. And if these low-level offenders don’t fulfill their service, they receive an automatic fine.

Dan and I had a good talk about his work. It’s important to him, and he seemed to take special pleasure in dealing with juveniles, especially when adult guardians were there to provide “supplemental guidance” (my phrase, not his). He also shared a couple of good stories.  My favorite involved a guy who was obviously loitering, but who concocted a fabulous story about waiting for a trolley to take him downtown for an appointment. A cop on the scene pointed out that at least three trolleys had gone by while he was standing there. Then, later that same evening, the same guy was brought back for the same offense. Instead of just ‘fessing up, he said that he was waiting for the trolley, this time to get to his  job as a night janitor. Then why, the cop asked, was he standing on the wrong side of the trolley stop? I think you can guess at the verdict.

About fifteen to twenty judges participate in these nuisance court hearings; some, more regularly than others. If they don’t volunteer, these hearings don’t happen because there’s no funding for them. Communities are well served by having these volunteer judges show  an interest in them. And Dan told me that the hearings help with his day job: He can bring his knowledge of the area into Family Court, giving him a fuller sense of how these areas, and these families, actually function. If he wants to assign family visits (when a child  has been placed in foster care), he’s better off knowing the logistics of transportation, what community services are available, and so on.

I’ve written before, in other contexts, about the teaching function of law. Dan Anders takes this aspect of his job seriously, and deserves admiration for his contribution to improving our civic life.

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