A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Opinion

An Open Letter to the ABA

By Ryan Morrison

Earlier today, New York Law School students received an e-mail from our administration telling us that the American Bar Association has decided not to waive any required class hours after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Instead, students will be attending regular and makeup classes nearly every day for the next three weeks, including weekends. Students of all the law schools in the tri-state area surely received similar notifications.

Boo hoo, right? Any complaints about the schedule will come from entitled law students who just need to suck it up and get down to work.

Well, actually, no.

Some of those people with no homes are the law students, or their families, or friends. Over the past long and terrible week, many, many law students headed to the Rockaways, Staten Island, and Long Beach to volunteer and help however we could. And if you’ve seen the devastation in these areas, you know that help is needed, desperately.

I am the first to defend New York Law School as a great institution. Our new dean, Dean Crowell, is a good man who cares about his students. Our professors reached out to their students to make sure we were all okay while our facilities were closed (we are located in TriBeCa and our building had no power). While I don’t know any ranking members of the ABA, I doubt they have anything but our best interests at heart.

I just think the ABA’s decision was shortsighted, and a bit tone deaf to what’s happened.

It’s rather like Mayor Bloomberg’s desire earlier in the week to go ahead with the New York Marathon.  He initially believed that keeping the event on would show the resilience of our city and the spirit of its citizens, and would allow the world-class athletes, many of whom had already traveled here, to put on a performance that would make our city proud.

And normally he’d have been right. But before we can afford to make symbolic statements of how tough we are, our city had — and has — some practical matters to address.

Many people, in the hundreds of thousands, are still without food, power, heat, or running water, as temperatures dip into the 30s in the evenings. The faces of the folks living through this show a pain that I’ve never seen before up close. As my friend Christine said after dropping off another carful of donated goods to Staten Island, “This can’t be reality.”

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Surviving Sandy

By Meghan Lalonde

Last Monday, Hurricane Sandy took New York and New Jersey by storm. And if losing power was the biggest imposition to your daily schedule, well, then you’ve got a lot to be thankful for.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the tri-state area has been left with an estimated $50 billion in damage. Lower Manhattan was dark and flooded for nearly a week, and the Jersey Shore decimated.

Since all the LASIS reporters are students at New York Law School in TriBeCa, many of us were stranded inside the belly of the beast, uncertain how the school, our friends and families, or the surrounding areas would fare.

I hunkered down in New Jersey, where I’d been for the weekend, and watched the lights flicker until finally everything went dark and stayed that way for several days. Other members of the LASIS team were left in flooded buildings, watching transformers explode, or crowded around radios without power and water. One of us was even ambitious enough to do some reading for class by strapping on a battery-powered headlamp.

We were in as much contact as possible with each other, thanks largely to our Google Group for this site and our iPhones. We checked in regularly to see that the others were safe. Thankfully, we were.

After the storm cleared there was more damage than most anticipated and the tragic stories came pouring in like the tidal waves that overwhelmed the subway system and beaches.

We learned that one of our reporters went outside to help cut downed trees on a neighbor’s lawn, others offered up their couches to friends who’d been displaced.  Several of us were donating clothes, food, anything we could.

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Murderer in Prison Gets a Sex Change

By Ryan Morrison

When I write articles for this website, I always keep in the back of my mind the possibility of a future employer reading what I’ve written. I certainly voice my opinions and have teetered on going overboard once or twice, but never before have I decided to argue for a side that no one seems to support (well right now, it’s 97 percent who disagree with me according to this poll)

This week, U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf ordered prison officials in Massachusetts to provide sex-reassignment surgery for a transgender inmate.

Think that’s ridiculous? Well, if you do, you’ll really like this:  Michelle (born Robert) Kosilek is serving a life sentence for murdering her wife and has no possibility of parole. (The court opinion referred to the prisoner as “she”, though the surgery had not yet been performed, and I will, too).

I’ll allow you some time to scream at your computer monitor before continuing.  Believe me, I hear you.

“Why the hell should tax payers have to pay for this?” “This surgery is for a sex change, for god’s sake, a choice, not a remedy for something universally agreed to be medically necessary.” “Plenty of people who haven’t killed their wives would love to have this surgery, but don’t, because they can’t afford it. So why should a murderer get this operation for free, when hardworking, law-abiding citizens can’t?”

Like I said, I hear you. But now take a second to hear me.

Michelle Kosilek was in prison for committing the most heinous of crimes, murder. So what? In the United States, prisoners are given treatment for their serious medical conditions regardless of their crimes. End of discussion. So the only questions that matter are whether this prisoner suffers from a serious medical condition and whether gender reassignment surgery is necessary for treatment.

Both these questions were heavily addressed in Judge Wolf’s 126-page decision. In his ruling, Judge Wolf determined gender reassignment surgery was the “only adequate treatment” for a “serious medical need.” He writes: “The court finds that there is no less intrusive means to correct the prolonged violation of [Ms.] Kosilek’s Eighth Amendment right to adequate medical care.”

The media has had trouble explaining exactly how Judge Wolf arrived at his decision; allow us.

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Go Ahead, Critique the Commander-in-Chief

By Russell Smith

President Obama hasn’t hesitated to silence critics of his military policy.

First, he kept Private Bradley Manning in solitary confinement for months after Pvt. Manning allegedly leaked thousands of military documents revealing U.S. human rights abuses to the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks. Then President Obama pressured Yemen to jail a journalist who uncovered evidence that the U.S. was lying about missiles lent to Yemen and used in a strike that killed Yemeni citizens. Now President Obama is discharging U.S. Marine Corp Sergeant Gary Stein for posting critical comments of the president and his military leadership on Facebook.

Sgt. Stein is 26 years-old, a nine-year veteran, and a Tea Partier. His Facebook group, Armed Forces Tea Party, critiques liberal politicians and policies. An example the group’s sharp wit: superimposing the faces of President Obama, Vice President Biden and Rep. Nancy Pelosi onto the movie poster for “The Incredibles“, but with renamed title, “The Horribles“.

Okay, not that witty. But perfectly legal.

In 2010, the notoriety of the Armed Forces Tea Party got Sgt. Stein an invite to appear on MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews” – but at the Marine Corps’ command, Sgt. Stein declined. At the time, Sgt. Stein was also directed to put a disclaimer on the Armed Forces Tea Party group, indicating it was not affiliated with the Marine Corps. He agreed and did so.

But two years later, Sgt. Stein received notice that his political postings constituted “serious misconduct” mandating the termination of his service to his country.

Sgt. Stein’s “other-than-honorable” discharge – resulting in a loss of rank and veteran’s benefits – has drawn reactions from politicians to pundits. Lawyers from the ACLU and the U.S. Justice Foundation have claimed that discharging Sgt. Stein for his political speech would violate his first amendment rights and have pledged to file a federal lawsuit on his behalf.  But some members of the media disagree, arguing that soldiers must give up their first amendment rights and fall in line behind their commander-in-chief.   (more…)

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Newsflash: Youth and Good Looks Work Well on TV.

By LASIS Staff

In 2010, seasoned Southern California weatherman Kyle Hunter got wind of a weather anchor opening at KCBS, a Los Angeles-based television news station. Mr. Hunter, who at 42 had accumulated 22 years of broadcasting experience and has a degree in geosciences and broadcast meteorology, contacted the station’s management about the job immediately. He never heard back.

Instead, KCBS hired Jackie Johnson, a 32-year-old female weather forecaster from its sister station, KCAL. Eager to fill the new void at KCAL, Mr. Hunter then contacted that station, but was told in an e-mail that there was “not an opening for you here now.” He later learned that 25-year-old weather anchor Evelyn Taft snagged the spot.

Mr. Hunter, an award winning, certified meteorologist, claims the stations hired young, attractive females, instead of qualified males like himself, in an effort to hook more male viewers. He is suing CBS Broadcasting in California state court for gender and age discrimination in violation of California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), seeking money damages, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees for the alleged discrimination and his “pain and suffering.”

Well-known discrimination attorney and active feminist Gloria Allred is representing Mr. Hunter in what she says is a “trail blazing lawsuit” because “most victims of gender discrimination are female.” According to the Huffington Post, CBS maintains that the accusations are “frivolous” and predicts “an early dismissal” of the lawsuit.

FEHA prohibits employers from either refusing to hire or firing someone based on gender, but let’s face it, Ms. Taft and Ms. Johnson weren’t hired just because they are female. They were hired because they are attractive, too.

This might not sound fair or just, but television is a visual medium – and television news is a business that relies on viewers and advertisers to make a profit. So, was Mr. Hunter not being hired an exercise of sound business judgment or age and gender discrimination?

The media accurately reported the facts, but didn’t analyze the legal issues. LASIS will.   (more…)

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