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Stanford Law School Offers Campus-Wide Forums on Race, Policing and the Criminal Justice System

"Die-In" demonstration at Stanford Law School

Stanford Law School students participated in a “Die-In” in December 2014 to call attention to events in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island. Photo by Vanessa Casado-Pérez

Stanford Law School is organizing a series of events and educational programming focused on race, policing and the criminal justice system, beginning in January and running through the winter and spring quarters, which will be open to the campus community. Members of the faculty also will offer courses that directly address related issues.

“For many in the Stanford community, events in Ferguson and Staten Island have raised fundamental questions about the basic fairness of our criminal justice system,” said M. Elizabeth Magill, dean and Richard E. Lang Professor of Law at Stanford Law School. “In organizing these events, our goal is to offer a campus-wide forum where all who are interested can learn about and reflect on the legal and policy issues about race and criminal justice that recent events have made salient. It is an opportunity to learn and share ideas as part of this important national conversation.”

The first event will be a panel discussion called “Race and Policing: Moving Forward” on Tuesday, January 6, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. in Room 190 in the Crown Quadrangle building at the law school. Dean Magill will moderate the panel, which will include Ronald L. Davis, director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Community Oriented Policing Services and former chief of the East Palo Alto (Calif.) Police Department; Professor Ronald C. Tyler, who joined Stanford Law School in 2012 to direct the Criminal Defense Clinic after a 22-year career as an assistant federal public defender; Professor Tracy L. Meares of Yale Law School, who has served on the Committee of Law and Justice with the National Research Council since 2004 and was named to the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing in December; and Stanford Law School Professor David Sklansky, an expert in policing and criminal law. More details are available here.

On Monday, January 12, Stanford Law Professor Robert Weisberg, faculty co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, will join former Judge LaDoris Cordell in a discussion titled “Grand Juries: An Arcane Institution or Sacred Cow.” Judge Cordell is a 1974 graduate of Stanford Law School who serves as the independent police auditor for the City of San Jose. This program will take place from 4 to 6 p.m. in Room 180 in the Crown Quadrangle building. More information is online here.

Both events are free and open to the public. They are sponsored by the Dean’s Office, the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, the John and Terry Levin Center for Public Service and Public Interest Law, and the Stanford Law School Office of Student Affairs.

The law school will produce and host several other programs in coming months. They include a faculty-led workshop on the scope and efficacy of federal civil rights laws; discussion of proposals for relying on special prosecutors in cases of homicide by police officers; an in-depth look at the City of St. Louis; and a review of potential efforts for legislative and other reforms.

In addition to these activities, several faculty members are offering courses or reading groups that focus on some of the legal and policy questions raised by the events in Ferguson and Staten Island. Three professors—Professors Norman Spaulding and Richard Banks from the Stanford Law School and Jennifer Eberhardt from Stanford’s Psychology Department—will teach a one-unit seminar on race and policing during winter quarter, Professor David Sklansky will offer an informal (no credit) reading group on race and criminal justice, and Professor Joan Petersilia will teach a course called “Reinventing the American Criminal Justice System” during spring quarter.

Other courses will delve into equality and the law more broadly. Professor Kenneth Mack from Harvard Law School will teach a 1-unit short course in Critical Race Theory in January, Professor Barbara Fried will teach a course on Modern American Legal Thought in the winter quarter, Professor Richard Ford will teach a course on Comparative Civil Rights, and Professor Ford and Professor Bernadette Meyler will teach a 3-unit course in the spring quarter on Critical Theory. Interested students should consult the registrar’s webpage for information.

In addition, the Stanford Criminal Justice Center is compiling a list of potential research topics that can be supervised as directed research projects for students interested in doing research on racial justice issues.

Those interested in the latest news about these activities on the Stanford campus can follow hashtag #SLSforjustice on Twitter.


Law School Research Highlighted in Stanford University’s 2014 Annual Report

This story was published in the Stanford Report on Dec. 19, 2014.

Michelle Wilde Anderson

Michelle Wilde Anderson published research on municipal insolvencies during 2014.

Stanford scholars are engaged in ongoing basic and applied research — much of it interdisciplinary — that creates new knowledge and benefits society. This Stanford University report lists major research projects across the campus. Following are examples from 2014 for Stanford Law School:

In The Atlantic, law Professor Barbara van Schewick explains why we need network neutrality rules and what kind of rules the FCC should adopt to ensure that Internet users can access the applications and content of their choice online.

In “The New Minimal Cities,” published in the Yale Law Journal, law Professor Michelle Wilde Anderson examines the municipal insolvencies of the Great Recession and cities’ obligations for minimum services to their residents, addressing such questions as what share of public revenues must be reserved for residents in order to keep high-poverty areas safe and habitable, even in the face of unpaid obligations to creditors.

In a California Law Review article, Lisa Larrimore Ouellette, assistant professor of law, argues that search results from Google and other search engines can provide better evidence of distinctiveness as it applies to trademark law by showing how strongly consumers associate a word or phrase with particular products.

In The Evolving Sphere of Food Security, Barton H. “Buzz” Thompson, Jr., the Robert E. Paradise Professor of Natural Resources Law and the Perry L. McCarty Director at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, examines the development of irrigation and water institutions worldwide, revealing their importance to agriculture, especially to developing nations around the world seeking to alleviate food insecurity, and how water institutions evolve over time in response to major challenges.

Stanford Law School’s Nisha Kashyap and Stacy Villalobos Selected as 2015 Skadden Fellows

Skadden Fellows Stacy Villalobos (eft) and Nisha Kashyap

Stacy Villalobos (left), JD ’15, and Nisha Kashyap, JD ’14, have been named 2015 Skadden Fellows.

Stanford Law School’s Nisha Kashyap, JD ’14, and Stacy Villalobos, JD ’15, were named on Thursday as 2015 Skadden Fellows, a group of 28 graduating law students and judicial clerks who are dedicating their careers to providing legal services to underserved members of society.

The highly selective Skadden Fellowship Program provides each fellow a salary, fringe benefits and debt service on student loans for two years. The program was started in 1988 to give fellows the freedom to pursue public interest work. To date, it has funded 733 fellows.

“The Skadden Fellowships will allow these remarkably talented lawyers to advocate for under-represented workers and children in the foster system. We are thrilled and proud that Nisha and Stacy will be doing this important work, and grateful to the Skadden Fellowship Program for making it possible,” said M. Elizabeth Magill, dean and Richard E. Lang Professor of Law at Stanford Law School.

Stacy Villalobos will work with The Legal Aid Society in San Francisco, providing direct representation to low-wage, immigrant women workers in Fresno, Calif. She will use community education, impact litigation and advocacy to expand and protect clients’ rights, capitalizing on recently passed state laws to strengthen worker protections.

“The Skadden Fellowship is an incredible opportunity,” said Villalobos. “I am thrilled and humbled that I will get to work with and for immigrant women workers after graduation, which is exactly what I came to law school to do. The Skadden Fellowship has made my dream job a reality.”

Nisha Kashyap will work with the Opportunity Youth Collaborative in Los Angeles, which is led by The Alliance for Children’s Rights. Her goal is to dismantle common barriers to educational attainment that transition-age foster youth encounter, using direct services, stakeholder training, and state and local policy advocacy.

“I cannot think of a better way to start my public interest career,” said Kashyap. “I feel incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity to serve the clients who inspire me, and to be a part of a cohort of dedicated and talented advocates. I am excited to begin my project and elevate the stories, dreams and aspirations of foster youth who want to pursue higher education.”

Susan Butler Plum, director of the Skadden Foundation, said the program is very competitive because applicants have to find a prospective job before they apply. The foundation received about 230 applications this year.

“Ninety percent of our graduates stay in the public interest field,” Plum said.

The full list of 2015 Skadden Fellows and their projects can be viewed here.

Grand Jury System Flawed in Ferguson Case But Still Useful for Investigations, Says Stanford Law Professor

This story was written by Clifton Parker and was published Dec. 10 in the online edition of the Stanford Report.

Gavel bring struck

A grand jury is most useful when detailed and confidential investigations into possible crimes are needed, according to Stanford Law Professor Robert Weisberg.

A special prosecutor leading the grand jury may have been a better approach in the Ferguson police-civilian death case, a Stanford law professor says.

Robert Weisberg is an expert in criminal justice and serves as faculty co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center. He talked with the Stanford News Service recently about the grand jury system in the wake of the civilian deaths at the hands of police in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City.

In the federal legal system, the grand jury is used to decide whether someone should be charged or indicted for a serious crime. The grand jury hears evidence presented by a prosecutor, and it can subpoena documents, physical evidence and witnesses to testify.

What works well in the grand jury system?

They work well when detailed and confidential investigations into possible crimes are needed. And where police searches, interrogations and voluntary interviews aren’t sufficient, the subpoena power of the grand jury surely plays a pivotal role.

What standard of evidence is used in grand jury proceedings? Is that different than trial juries?

A grand jury needs only find a “probable cause” to indict – that is a much lower threshold than “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Why trust in a secretive process like a grand jury? Shouldn’t the entire American judicial process be open and transparent?

Secrecy may be useful in investigations. Even though witnesses can be forced to talk under subpoenas, the assurance of at least temporary secrecy may give them more incentive to speak openly. Secrecy also prevents untested allegations from going public and wrongly stigmatizing people.

England abolished their grand jury system two decades ago because of widespread belief that it did not work. Should that happen in America?

First, to abolish the grand jury, in at least the federal criminal system, would require a constitutional amendment, so don’t hold your breath. It’s true that the grand jury system usually rubber-stamps prosecutors, but it may sometimes provide a useful check – especially in very controversial cases, plus the investigative role remains.

Should the grand jury process have been used to investigate the police roles in the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York City?

It’s too soon to know what happened in regard to the grand jury deliberations in Staten Island (the Eric Garner case,) but in places where the prosecutor has discretion whether to proceed by grand jury – as opposed to a court filing followed by a preliminary hearing before a judge – prosecutors sometimes think the grand jury ensures a broad-based review of the evidence.

Sometimes in such cases, instead of the usual practice of just providing enough exculpatory evidence to establish probable cause, the prosecutor presents a fully neutral and balanced case, and then leaves things to the jurors.But in Ferguson, the prosecutor went a step further by essentially making a case against indictment. He was virtually admitting that he never wanted to go to the grand jury in the first place, and just thought he could not get away with that politically.

Is there a better way to investigate civilian deaths involving the police than through grand juries?

It would probably be better to have a grand jury scheme set up for such cases, perhaps with a special prosecutor, so the regular grand jury process doesn’t get distorted.

Robert Weisberg, the Edwin E. Huddleson Jr. Professor of Law at Stanford Law School, recently wrote an op-ed on the grand jury issue for Stanford Lawyer. Stanford Law Professor David Sklansky also weighed in recently with an opinion piece in Stanford Lawyer about the constraints of grand juries.

SLS Students Protest Police Actions With ‘Die-In’

Close-up of students at Die-In

Stanford Law School students demonstrate by pretending to be dead.

About 100 Stanford Law School students and more than a dozen faculty and staff members participated in a “Die-In” on Friday to call attention to recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island and to lives lost during police interventions.

At 5 p.m. participants assembled and lay down on the ground in the large rotunda at the entrance to the Neukom Building, simulating death for four-and-a-half minutes to represent the nearly five hours that Michael Brown lay dead and unattended on the street in Ferguson.

“The event was meant to bring attention to the unsettling events that continue to happen in our country,” said Clifford Mpare, JD ’16, co-president of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) at the law school.

Poster lists black lives lost.

A poster lists black lives lost during confrontations with police.

He and BLSA Co-President Ashley Williams, JD ’16, organized the Die-In.“The systematic death of black citizens at the hands of police and law enforcement is unacceptable and hurts us all. The event helped us to express our sorrow while sending a silent, peaceful message that black lives matter,” Mpare explained.

Mpare said the event was “hugely successful,” noting, “The sight of 100-plus Stanford Law students on the ground, representing the deaths of countless people at the hands of those meant to protect them, was extremely powerful and, I think, will have a lasting effect.”

Students are already planning other events, including a video campaign and some panels featuring professors and scholars discussing the issue of law enforcement and people of color, according to Williams. On January 5, they are inviting students and faculty to wear a “My Life Mattered” T-shirt that includes the name of one of the unarmed victims of police intervention on the back. The T-shirts can be ordered for $12 from Krista Whitaker at kwhita@stanford.edu.

Students mill around before the Die-In.

Students mill around before the Die-In.

The Die-In on Friday was fully supported by Dean M. Elizabeth Magill and Student Affairs. It was the first of several responses the law school community will hold to address the troubling events.

On Tuesday, Dec. 9, staff from Student Affairs and the John and Terry Levin Center for Public Service and Public Interest Law will host an informal drop-in session from 1 to 3 p.m. for students who want a safe place to turn to one another for support.