UB School of Law’s Human Trafficking Prevention Project Sees Progress After Lobbying Md. Legislature for Vacatur Bill

An important piece of legislation to help sex-trafficking survivors move on with their lives passed an important hurdle in the legislature on March 19. The House passed the bill, which removes certain criminal convictions from sex-trafficking survivors’ records, 131-7. The Senate is now reviewing its own version of the bill.

One of the strongest advocates for this bill, known as the True Freedom Act of 2019, has been UB School of Law Professor Jessica Emerson, JD ’13, founder and director of the law school’s Human Trafficking Prevention Project. According to a new study, of which Prof. Emerson was an author, Maryland is among the worst in the country in providing criminal-records relief for survivors.

Professor Jessica Emerson, J.D. '13, founder and director of UB's Human Trafficking Prevention Project
Prof. Jessica Emerson, J.D. ’13, founder and director of UB’s Human Trafficking Prevention Project

The March 14 report, prepared by UB School of Law, Brooklyn Law School, the ABA-based Survivor Reentry Project and the nonprofit advocacy group Polaris, looked at federal and state criminal record-relief statutes intended for victims of human trafficking who were arrested or prosecuted as adults.

Maryland ranks so poorly, the report stated, primarily because it offers relief for too narrow a range of convictions obtained as a result of trafficking, and because it has a difficult process for vacating convictions, including obtaining approval from the state’s attorney.

While initially praised as forward-thinking, efforts by the Maryland legislature in 2011 to allow victims of human trafficking to have prostitution convictions cleared were later deemed inadequate by advocates. “Survivors had been forced by their traffickers to commit criminal acts other than prostitution,” Prof. Emerson told The Baltimore Sun for a March 14 story that was later picked up by The Washington Post.

The Sun‘s editorial board came out strongly in favor of the legislation in a March 16 editorial, which concluded with: “Eight years ago, Maryland lawmakers tried to do the right thing for victims — now they should finish the job.”

In 2016, the National Survivor Network surveyed survivors of human trafficking and found that 91 percent of 130 respondents had been arrested — 40 percent of them nine times or more. Survivors testified in hearings before the Maryland General Assembly that they have lost jobs or been unable to obtain employment because of convictions for crimes they committed at the direction of, and while under the control of, their traffickers. These crimes have included acts like theft, drug possession and distribution, and solicitation.

The bill has come up for review previously in the legislature but has always faced opposition from the Maryland State’s Attorneys’ Association, Prof. Emerson said. But that opposition was removed after the bill was amended to satisfy the organization’s concerns.

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Prof. Bessler Discusses Capital Punishment as Guest on National Constitution Center Podcast

UB School of Law Prof. John Bessler, one of the nation’s leading scholars on capital punishment, was one of two guests on a March 14 podcast on the topic produced by the National Constitution Center. Find the full 49-minute podcast here.

Professor John Bessler

The podcast focused on cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, beginning with Madison v. Alabama, a case that was decided on Feb. 27. In that case, petitioner Vernon Madison was found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to death. While awaiting execution over three decades, he suffered a series of strokes and was diagnosed with vascular dementia.

In 2016, Madison petitioned the state trial court for a stay of execution on the grounds that he was mentally incompetent, stressing that he could not recollect committing the crime for which he had been sentenced to die. The state responded that Madison had a rational understanding of the reasons for his execution, even assuming he had no memory of committing his crime.

Writing for the majority, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the defendant need not specifically recall committing the crime, as long as he can appreciate the criminality of the act. In fact, she wrote, many defendants claim they cannot recall committing their crimes. The court concluded that execution is constitutional in these cases, and sent the case back to the lower courts to determine more precisely the extent of Madison’s cognitive impairment.

“The first thing is, the court says … it is OK to actually execute someone who doesn’t remember,” says Prof. Bessler. “But you cannot execute someone who does not have a rational understanding of why they’re being executed. And this is really an extension of what the court discussed in Panetti v. Quarterman (2007).

“In that case, the court was talking about someone who had gross delusions stemming from a severe mental disorder. And in this case, we’re talking about this idea of dementia. And so there is an extension of that principle.”

In reference to cruel and unusual punishment, Prof. Bessler noted the judiciary’s tendency to focus on the physical pain of lethal injection, rather than the psychological torture associated with remaining on death row for years, and in many cases decades. Prof. Bessler noted that the Supreme Court of Alabama, a death penalty state, has defined psychological torture as “where somebody has an awareness of their impending death but where they’re helpless to prevent that death.”

“That seems to me to be a very applicable principle to be thinking about when you’re thinking about people on death row,” said Prof. Bessler. He noted that in the Madison case, the defendant came within 30 minutes of being executed before receiving a stay.

Looking ahead, Prof. Bessler suggests that the Supreme Court might be moving toward a reconsideration of capital punishment as a form of torture. Referring to the 1968 Eighth Circuit decision in Jackson v. Bishop, finding non-lethal corporal punishment a violation of the Eighth Amendment, Prof. Bessler said, “It may only be a matter of time before the Court is forced to confront the issue of the psychological torture associated with the death penalty.”

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Law Student Adrianne Blake Wins Award for Volunteer Service from Military Spouse J.D. Network

Adrianne Blake, UB School of Law Class of 2019, has won the 2018 Making the Right Moves Volunteer Service Award from the Military Spouse J.D. Network, an organization that supports lawyers who have spouses in the military. She joined MSJDN in August 2016 and quickly became active, particularly in planning, promoting and facilitating webinars for members.

Blake is managing editor of the University of Baltimore Law Review. She has worked to promote mental health awareness through the Student Bar Association and is advocating for a change in the Maryland bar application, so attorneys who suffer from mental illness are not deterred from seeking treatment due to biased application questions.

As president of the law school’s Military and Government Law Association, she coordinated a leadership conference in fall 2018, promoted fundraisers, arranged a Pentagon tour, and connected students to the federal government and military for an in-depth perspective.

Blake has clerked for the Hon. Mary Kramer, Circuit Court Judge of Howard County, and was an attorney extern in the State Attorney’s Office for Anne Arundel County. Additionally, she was a Coast Guard JAG intern at the U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters last summer. This summer, Blake will be working at the Department of Justice, Office of Information Policy.

Blake says she enjoys volunteering because it helps her connect with people, advocate for military spouses and law students, and pursue her advocacy interests in government and mental health.

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UB School of Law’s Elizabeth Paige Wins Newman Civic Fellow Award for Student Leadership

Elizabeth Paige, a member of the University of Baltimore School of Law Class of 2020, is the winner of a prestigious Newman Civic Fellow Award. It was established to honor student leaders dedicated to creating lasting change and building a better world. More than 260 students from colleges and universities across the country were selected for the honor.

The Newman Civic Fellowship, named for Campus Compact co-founder Frank Newman, is a one-year experience emphasizing personal, professional, and civic growth. Through the fellowship, Campus Compact provides a variety of learning and networking opportunities, including a national conference of Newman Civic Fellows in partnership with the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. The fellowship also provides fellows with access to apply for exclusive scholarship and post-graduate opportunities.

“Elizabeth Paige has served UB and greater Baltimore with distinction,” says UB President Kurt L. Schmoke. “One of Ms. Paige’s most special accomplishments is her work in helping to establish a campus food pantry here at UB. She has focused her work on ensuring law students are treated equitably, helping students secure faith-based accommodations, supporting students by volunteering as a note-taker for Disability and Access Services, and speaking out on issues facing the LGBTQIA community at UB.

“Ms. Paige has committed herself to supporting and advancing Title IX initiatives on campus, including development of sexual misconduct awareness programs. [She] is the ideal example of how a student at the University of Baltimore can change a community for the better.”

In her personal statement, Paige said, “I am passionate about making higher education inclusive and accessible for everyone. As a first-generation college graduate, I am keenly aware of the culture shock and difficulties that first-generation and low-income students face in pursuit of their academic and professional goals. Seeing food insecurity on my campus firsthand, I was compelled to help and led the development of the UB Campus Food Pantry, which provides food, hygiene items, and connections to local resources and assistance programs.

“For the last two and a half years, I have served as the Title IX Special Projects Assistant for the university, developing awareness and prevention campaigns surrounding sexual misconduct and gender equity. I also served on the student organization election board, facilitating fair and democratic elections on campus; and on the student organization funding board, using a viewpoint neutral perspective to distribute funds to clubs.”

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Tax Moot Court Team Gets High Marks at 2019 National Competition, Placing Third in Oral Argument

The UB School of Law Tax Moot Court Team was named second runner-up for oral argument in the 2019 National Tax Moot Court Competition, held Mar. 9-10 at the University of Florida (Levin) College of Law in Gainesville, Fla.

The UB team placed third out of 12 teams in oral argument. Team members Brenton Conrad and Dara Polakoff performed wonderfully throughout the competition, said team advisor Prof. Fred Brown. “They received glowing praise from the judges for their knowledge of the law and facts, ability to respond to questions, speaking technique, intensity, and persuasiveness,” he said.

UB Law tax moot court team
Dara Polakoff, rear left, Prof. Fred Brown, and Brenton Conrad, rear right, with judges at the 2019 National Tax Moot Court Competition.

After advancing to the quarterfinals, the UB Law team qualified for the semifinals with a hard-fought win against “perennial juggernaut” Charleston School of Law, which had won seven consecutive championships in the competition. Prof. Brown has the play-by-play: “In a splendidly argued semifinal match against Stetson University College of Law, UB was defeated in a split decision among the judges.

“The UB team then rebounded with a resounding win against the University of Oregon School of Law in the consolation round, argued before actual U.S. Tax Court judges, to win the award for second runner-up. Brent and Dara displayed tremendous diligence and determination during the competition and the months of research, writing and preparation leading up to it.”

Prof. Brown reported that for Polakoff, who was a member of the UB team last year, this is the second time she has argued in the semifinals and consolation round. In fact, during her two years on the team, she argued in 12 matches — a UB Law record — and possibly a record for the National Tax Moot Court Competition as well.

“This is a great testament to Dara’s achievements as an advocate,” said Prof. Brown. “In order to keep arguing, you have to keep performing at a very high level. ”

As for Brenton Conrad, “He progressed wonderfully throughout the practices and competition. His fantastic performance in the consolation round was his best, and he received praise from the U.S. Tax Court judges for his intensity and persuasiveness,” said Prof. Brown. “In the quarter-finals match against Charleston, when we knocked the seven-time reigning champion out of the competition, I think that Brenton’s stellar rebuttal was the key in the team’s victory.”

Prof. Brown notes that this is the third time in five years that the UB team won the award for second runner-up. The team has made the semi-finals for three straight years, and four out of the past five years.

Special thanks go to Professors Dolin, Fowlkes, Gevarter, Schwidetzky, Snyder, and Vallario, as well as alumni Steve Cornelius, Selena Qian, Jeremy Rountree, Lani Sinfield, and Sue Watson, for serving as judges during the team’s practice arguments.

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Donations Are Still Being Accepted for UBSPI, Which Brought in Over $26,000 for Student Grants via 25th Annual Auction

If you weren’t able to attend the UBSPI Auction on Feb. 22, you definitely missed a great evening. But you still have a chance to support this important cause!

Even though we raised $26,675 to support summer public interest fellowships for students, if we raise a bit more we can support eight students instead of seven. Use this crowdfunding link to help us reach our goal of $32,000 by Friday, Mar. 15.

sarah simmons and friends at UBSPI auction

UBSPI President Sarah Simmons, Class of 2019, talks about the importance of these summer stipends. “The auction is important because all of the proceeds go towards helping UB law students who are working at unpaid public interest organizations that do good in the community.

“Students who aspire to practice public interest law know that they will not be the attorneys with six-figure salaries right out of school, but we do it because we believe in serving underprivileged communities and using our legal superpowers to help others,” says Simmons.

Professors Jaros, Emerson and Hubbard at UBSPI auction

“That being said, there are expenses that go along with working at these internships, such as gas, parking, food, and other living expenses,” Simmons continues. “Providing grant funding to these students enables them to focus full-time on both their development at the organization and the communities they are serving, without having to split their time working a second paid job.

students enjoy fellowship at UBSPI auction

“The event was a great success — not only because we met our fundraising goal, but because we had the enthusiastic participation of students, faculty, staff, and alumni. We had a broad range of auction items this year, with a particularly robust and diverse silent auction.

“This year, we were also successful in doing a lot of pre-auction fundraising through campaigns like Giving Tuesday #BowOnPoe, which gave us a head start going into the event,” Simmons says. 

Thank you to everyone who supported the auction and UBSPI, including our generous in-kind sponsors, volunteers, attendees and everyone who bid on auction items. We couldn’t have done it without you!

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Prof. Tiefer On U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis, Who Gave Paul Manafort a “Weak” Prison Sentence

In sentencing former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort to 47 months for tax and bank fraud, the federal judge’s departure from both sentencing guidelines and the prosecution’s recommendation shocked many legal observers.

In a Mar. 7 ruling viewed as a defeat for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team, U.S District Judge T.S. Ellis ignored the federal sentencing guidelines of 19 to 24 years in prison. Judge Ellis also imposed a $50,000 fine, well below the $24 million the guidelines would have allowed.

Writing on Mar. 8 for Forbes.com, UB School of Law Prof. Charles Tiefer argues that “this weak sentence sends these kinds of messages: it is not so bad to use Republican connections to cash in with Putin’s allies; Trump’s campaign manager is worthy of much, much more respect than in the Sentencing Guidelines; Mueller’s quest for the Russia connection deserves little help.”

Prof. Tiefer writes that Judge Ellis was a Reagan appointee to the Eastern District of Virginia, a court that is of particular interest because it often handles cases concerning national security, including espionage. He compares Judge Ellis’ stance in the Manafort case with that of U.S. Rep. William J. Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat convicted of bribery a decade ago.

In 2009, Judge Ellis sentenced Rep. Jefferson to 13 years. “It seems that while Judge Ellis can sympathize with Manafort, the Republican presidential campaign manager,” Prof. Tiefer writes, “he did not sympathize with Jefferson.” This relatively short sentence for Manafort also calls into question whether Trump would still feel it necessary to pardon his former campaign manager, a move that has widely been expected but that carries its own political price for the president.

“Now, Trump might just get off and not need to display the pardon weapon,” writes Prof. Tiefer. “Trump should say, ‘Thank you, Judge Ellis.’ “

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