Thursday, November 24, 2005

Time to Start that Christmas Shopping (a jury-free posting)

Hello, Folks.

Merry Christmas.

This year for Christmas, I'm promoting the idea of buying New Orleans music for Christmas presents. I can't think of a better way of using the market to help out the musicians from that great city. And let's just make one thing clear -- there is no point to rebuilding New Orleans without its musicians.

New Orleans is (was) one of the few cities in which being a musician isn't considered self-indulgent, but in which musicians are seen as the cornerstones of the community. It is (was) also one of the few cities in which the lines between "black music" and "white music" are pretty much ignored.

New Orleans is the home of American music - jazz, ragtime, swing, dixieland, blues, rhythm & blues, rock and roll and more hail from there. But today, New Orleans musicians are dispersed across the country, as the rooms in which they made their livings and honed their chops remain closed.

Few of these artists are affluent; even internationally respected artists such as Kermit Ruffins, Dr. Michael White, the Rebirth Brass Band and the Subdudes don't necessarily make alot of money. Many, such as the New Birth Brass Band, relied on weddings, sports events and private parties, as well as regular club gigs, to make ends meet; the network of jobs they relied on no longer exists. A number of great artists are functionally homeless today, following Katrina.

This cultural diaspora endangers the core of American musical culture. If the New Orleans creativity dies, I fear we will be left with Madonna Ciccone and Gwen Stefani as our cultural standard-bearers. Personally, I would find this unbearable.

So, I'm suggesting there are no better Christmas (or Hanukkah) gifts, this year, than music from New Orleans - and no better place to buy it than from New Orleans music distributors and record companies, such as the Louisiana Music Factory or Basin Street Records. They have to survive as well.

If you're not familiar with New Orleans jazz, consider the Putumayo Presents New Orleans collection. It is an excellent introduction, including pieces by Kermit Ruffins, Dr. John, Dr. Michael White, Deacon John, and others. Putumayo is donating its proceeds from this disk to relief efforts; it is available directly from Basin Street Records (less expensively than from Putumayo).

Unfortunately, my efforts to find some charitable organization to promote this idea have met with no success; any readers caring to promote the concept have my thanks. The most I've achieved is to convince the Louisiana Music Factory to include a little slip with each order it ships out suggesting that CDs made great Christmas gifts.

As a lawyer, I've done some pro-bono work for some artists from New Orleans, so I see the state these people are in. They've lost homes, instruments, master recordings, papers, written music, and jobs - often after careers that span decades. So this year, let's see if we can give them all Christmas presents that will really matter, by buying their music and giving them a taste of the national recognition that has, sadly, too long eluded them.

So, please consider this humble suggestion. Your uncle doesn't need another tie; he'd be much happier with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band's Funeral for a Friend. And don't forget to treat yourself, as well, to a taste of some of the greatest music America can produce.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Why Lawyers and Judges Don't Understand the Jury: Redux

Robert Williamson made the insightful comment:

"I didn't have a clue about the historic role of the jury or how juror's make decisions when I graduated from law school. Having an academic take the lead to design the "history" and "purpose" sections of the course makes sense for the reasons set forth in your post. The folks most conversant with the social science research and with how jurors make decisions, however, are not on law school faculties. Conflict of interest or no, they are trying cases or consulting on cases and any course that does not tap into that well of knowledge is likely to fall short of the mark I think you have in mind. I've pointed to your post on my blog, and I am looking forward to hearing more on this idea as you develop it. "

And for the most part, I agree. While a small number of legal academics are social scientists (such as Michael J. Saks and Neil Vidmar), they are by far the exception and not the rule. It is interesting that neither Saks or Vidmar have J.D. degrees; both did post-doctoral work at Yale Law School, where Saks received an M.S.L. degree, and where Vidmar performed a Law Fellowship.

Jury social scientists can be found in a variety of disciplines, including psychology, philosophy, criminology, sociology, and mathematics. Indeed, Thomas Munsterman, head of the NCSC Center for Jury Studies, is an engineer by training. And, like anything involving the social science, it can be assured that if you laid every one of these experts end to end, they still wouldn't reach a conclusion.

I am not so sure, however, that high-school students need to receive much training as to the social-science behind the jury. First, it can be pretty heady stuff. Secondly, alot of the social science has more to do with jury manipulation than performance.

Now, I do believe that law schools should offer courses on the social science of the jury system. Few do. The classes may be taught in psychology, political science or sociology departments, but clearly this is something lawyers are expected to know yet have no background in. We go by myth, anecdote, popular misconceptions, sheer luck, intuition, clues, hints, rumor, gossip and innuendo, not by a background in study and science.

Unfortunately, there is not even a decent law school textbook giving a broad overview of the social science of the jury system in an approachable and useful way. Nancy Marder's book The Jury Process and Randolph Jonakait's The American Jury System are the pick of the litter, but neither are written for this purpose. If someone wants to study this material, they can get snippets, read an occasional lengthy treatise which will cover one aspect, or research the law reviews.

What we have here is an institutional failure on the part of American legal educators to take the jury seriously. How many law professors have ever been successful trial lawyers? And if we take out those educators consigned to the less prestigious and influential clinical programs?