Monday, May 20, 2024

Supremely Conservative Replacements

By Paige Gottorff
Paige Gottorff is a recent graduate of the Class of 2024 at Albany Law School.
Prior to attending law school, Paige earned a degree in Legal Studies at Grand Valley State University, Michigan, where she was a member of the Women’s Lacrosse Team. 
At Albany Law School, Paige served as Managing Editor for Research and Writing for the Government Law Review, Vol. 17, where she worked on the Writing Competition and edited second-year students’ notes and comments. She was also a member of the Albany Law Negotiations Travel Team and the Albany Law Student Trial Advocacy Competition Travel Team.  Additionally, Paige competed in numerous in-house moot court competitions.
Following the bar examination, Paige will be working as an Associate Attorney for Vahey Law Offices, PLLC, in Rochester, NY.

The United States Supreme Court has recently been on a history-making streak.  And not for admirable reasons, but for the alarming regularity with which the Court has been stripping individuals of their rights.

The current bench is the most conservative panel the Court has seen in ninety years.  This is frightening when pondering the trend expected regarding basic human rights cases about which the Court grants certiorari and opts to conceal from public scrutiny by deciding through the shadow docket.

Since the earliest of times, death has been a valid punishment for crimes with minuscule societal impact.  As history progressed, methods of execution began at the most barbaric levels and slowly shifted to consider the ethics of executing a fellow human being.  Presently, “more than seventy percent of the world’s countries have abolished capital punishment in law or practice.”  But in 2022, the United States was in the top five of the world’s countries that performed executions--fewer only than China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.

As a vast majority of death penalty cases are petitioned to the Supreme Court, the nine Justices who don the black robe are the same ones who “okay” the executions.  How has the United States gone from abolishing the death penalty to reinstating it and using it the fifth most frequently in the world?  A closer look at the individuals who have made and are currently making these critical decisions may give us a sense of what is really going on at this country's “Court of Last Resort.”
To read the paper, open HERE.

Saturday, May 11, 2024

Roberts’ Strategy as Chief Justice

Narrow or Not Amidst Recent Court Shifts?
By Priscilla Capuano
Priscilla Capuano is a graduating third-year student at Albany Law School. Prior to attending law school, she earned her bachelor’s degree from Siena College, where she majored in Philosophy and minored in Creative Arts.
While in law school, Priscilla interned at the Albany County District Attorney’s Office in the summer of 2022. She continued her work there by completing a Field Placement over the fall of 2022 and by volunteering in the spring of 2023. During the summer of 2023, Priscilla worked as a Summer Associate for Goldman Sachs. In the fall of 2023, she completed a field placement in the chambers of the Honorable Mae D’Agostino.
Priscilla was a member of Albany Law School’s Criminal Appellate Travel Team where she competed in the 2023 Herbert Wechsler National Criminal Law Moot Court Competition. She also competed in the 2023 Domenick L. Gabrielli Appellate Advocacy Moot Court Competition, where she was a finalist, and won the third best oral advocate award. She and her partner won the 2023 McGovern Senior Prize Trials.
As the Managing Editor for Production, Research, and Writing on the Journal of Science and Technology, Priscilla was involved in organizing and running the Journal's Write-on Competition in the summer of 2023. Until graduation, she is continuing her involvement in the Journal of Science and Technology and is serving as an Executive Editor for the Center of Judicial Process.

Amidst scandal, controversial decisions, and dramatic ideological shifts on the Court, Chief Justice Roberts attempts to maintain the Court’s reputation and legitimacy.

However, Roberts does not wield his former power as the deciding vote in closely divided cases. Roberts’ diminished power on the Court was hastened by the replacement of two liberal fixtures with new conservative Justices, tipping the balance of the Court to an overwhelmingly conservative majority. 

While Roberts does not dominate the Court as he did in recent years, as Chief Justice, he decides who writes the majority as long as he is not in dissent. The author of the majority opinion has a profound impact on the law, and has discretion over how broadly or narrowly the Court rules. Roberts’ proclivity to render narrow rulings is now in conflict with the conservative majority’s broad and dramatic decisions. Furthermore, a non-partisan and legitimate court is not easily achieved on a Court that renders partisan and often controversial decisions.

Thus, it is questionable how Roberts will achieve his goals on the distinctly conservative Court. Although it is unlikely that Roberts will regain his former power or lead a Court that is above legitimate reproach, he can implement different strategies to maximize results that best align with his vision for the Court.
To read the paper, open HERE.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Rowan Wilson and the Injured Plaintiff

Trying to Avoid Insult upon Injury During the DiFiore Court
By Lukas Moller
Lukas Moller is a 2023 graduate of Albany Law School. He grew up in Altamont, NY. Prior to law school, Lukas received his Bachelor of Arts, Summa Cum Laude, in Honors History from SUNY Albany.
While at Albany Law School, Lukas interned for the Albany County District Attorney’s Office, Goldman Sachs Ayco Personal Wealth  Management, and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York.
Lukas joined Goldman Sachs Ayco Personal Wealth Management after graduation, focusing on tax, trust and estates, and securities matters. Lukas wrote this paper for Professor Bonventre’s Court of Appeals Seminar.

The great Court of Appeals Judge Benjamin Cardozo characterized dissents as “the gladiator making the last stand against the lions.”[1]  For now-Chief Judge Rowan Wilson, the lions had been the more conservative majority in the DiFiore Court.

Judge Wilson joined the Court of Appeals in 2017 when he was selected by then-governor Andrew Cuomo after six nominations to the court.[2] The DiFiore Court was riddled with split decisions and unsigned memoranda, with strong dissents often spearheaded by then-Associate Judge Wilson and Associate Judge Jenny Rivera.

The attention delegated to the minority opinions has been dominated by criminal procedure.[3] Dissents by Judge Wilson, such as those in People v. Tiger[4] and People v. Dawson,[5] have gained notable attention for the “indifference to justice” by the majority to highlight what many see as a weakened court.[6] But more attention should be given to civil cases, especially personal injury cases, both for what they say and what they do not say.

Much like in criminal cases, Judge Wilson’s decisions in the personal injury context provide insight into the direction that he plans to steer New York's highest court as the new Chief Judge. This paper will focus on the opinions of Judge Wilson, mostly dissents, in divided court decisions in plaintiff injury cases to contextualize the frame of mind of the DiFiore Court and Wilson's disagreement therewith. 
  [2] Vincent Bonventre, NY Chief Judge Nominee Rowan Wilson (Part 1), NEW YORK COURT WATCHER (Apr. 15, 2023),
  [3] See Symposium, The Role of the “Victim” in the Criminal Legal System: Rotten Social Background and Mass Incarceration: Who Is a Victim?, 87 BROOK. L. REV. 1299 (2022); Jonathan Cantarero, Fixing Appeal Waivers in New York, 84 ALB. L. REV. 189, 207 (2021).
  [4] People v. Tiger, 32 N.Y.3d 91 (2018).
  [5] People v. Dawson, 38 N.Y.3d 1055 (2022).
  [6] Vincent Bonventre, NY Chief Judge Nominee Rowan Wilson (Part 2), NEW YORK COURT WATCHER (Apr. 16, 2023),
To read the paper, open HERE.

Monday, February 5, 2024

The NY Court of Appeals' Ludwig Decision on Prior Consistent Statements

A Hearsay Exception that Challenges the Rights of the Accused
By William J. Matthews
Will Matthews is a third-year student at Albany Law School. Prior to attending law school, he worked for Via Aquarium as an Aquarist and worked for Ducks Unlimited as a GIS Analyst Intern. He graduated from Paul Smith’s College with a degree in Wildlife Science.
Recently, Will organized Place, Space, & Justice in a Climate Migration World, the Albany Law Review Spring 2024 Symposium.
Post-graduation, Will will be working as a Staff Attorney at the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

In New York, a complainant’s prior consistent statements are generally inadmissible in court as hearsay, unless an exception applies. In People v. Ludwig, the New York Court of Appeals upheld the admission of the prior consistent statements of a child in a child sexual abuse trial. The Court held that the testimony fell within the existing exception for prior consistent statements offered to complete the narrative of events leading to the investigation and arrest of the defendant.

The Court’s majority opinion, authored by Judge Susan Read, was joined by Judges Victoria Graffeo, Eugene Pigott, and Sheila Abdus-Salaam. The Court's ruling was questioned in a separate concurrence by Judge Robert Smith, who failed to see why the investigative process required explaining. Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, joined by Judge Jenny Rivera, echoed Judge Smith’s concerns in a dissenting opinion. The dissenters added that prior applications of the “completing the narrative” exception were accompanied by effective limiting instructions, ensuring that jurors did not consider the evidence for the truth of the matter asserted.

People v. Ludwig is a challenging case that forces readers to weigh the importance of the rights of the accused with the natural human desire to protect the most vulnerable among us. This paper uses the three distinct opinions written in Ludwig as a backdrop for a larger conversation about the Court of Appeals’ willingness to stretch the applicability of exceptions to the general rule against the admissibility of prior consistent statements when the complainant is the victim of sexual assault or abuse, particularly children.

Is it appropriate to erode the rights of the accused when the alleged victim is a sexually abused child? Or should the rights of the accused be treated with absolute reverence, even when it prevents a child sex victim from being able to fully tell their story in court?
To read the paper, open HERE.

Thursday, December 7, 2023

New York Court of Appeals: Why I Loved Sandra Day O'Connor

Gender and sexual orientation equality, the right to choose, diversity, religious liberty, reasonableness in search and seizure and criminal punishment, etc.
Wisdom, decency, and realism.
Source: Annenberg Public Policy Center

Monday, November 20, 2023

Court of Appeals Judge George Bundy Smith

A Legacy of Judicial Excellence and Civil Rights Advocacy
By Kimberley Bernard
Kimberley Bernard is a third-year student at Albany Law School. Prior to attending law school, Kimberley earned her bachelor’s degree from the University at Albany, SUNY, where she majored in English with double minors in Business and Sociology.
At the law school, Kimberley has served as treasurer for the Black Law Student Association, was a semi-finalist in the 2022 Donna Jo Morse Client Counseling Competition, and was the recipient of the 2023 James Campbell Matthews Student Award. Currently, she works as a student assistant in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Office.
With an interest in family law, Kimberley has spent the last few years dedicating herself to these matters. In the Spring of 2023, Kimberley interned with the Family Violence Litigation Clinic, representing clients faced with domestic violence issues before the court. During the summer of 2023, Kimberley worked as a Summer Law Clerk for Arquette Law Firm, focusing on family and matrimonial matters.
This fall semester, she has had a Field Placement in the chambers of the Honorable Richard Rivera and she serves as a part-time Legal Aide for the New York Attorney General’s Office’s Law Enforcement Misconduct Investigation Office.

George Bundy Smith, a distinguished jurist, left an indelible mark on the legal landscape of New York State during his tenure on New York's highest court, the Court of Appeals. This paper examines his judicial philosophy, landmark decisions, and lasting impact on civil rights and social justice within the context of the Court of Appeals.

Raised amidst racial segregation, Judge Smith’s personal experiences with inequalities fueled his commitment to civil rights and social justice throughout his career. His journey from being the only African American in his high school class to serving on New York's high court showcased his dedication to justice, fairness, and equality.

This paper explores Judge Smith’s early life, legal career, and educational journey, which included experiences such as being a Freedom Rider during the Civil Rights Movement. His tenure as an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and as a law secretary to influential jurists provided him with insights into the legal system’s transformative power in promoting civil rights and social progress.

The paper delves into significant rulings and opinions authored by Judge Smith, including his majority opinion in People v. LaValle (2004) that challenged the constitutionality of a “deadlock instruction” in death penalty cases. Another significant opinion, People v. Calabria (2000), addressed prosecutorial misconduct’s impact on a fair trial. Additionally, this paper highlights Judge Smith’s impactful dissent in People v. Tortorici (1999), where he challenged the majority’s approach to due process in cases involving mental competency.

Judge Smith’s commitment to public service extended beyond the bench, as he actively championed civil rights causes, promoted diversity within the legal profession, and engaged in various legal organizations. While his decisions were not without criticism, Judge Smith’s legacy is one of unwavering dedication to justice, equality, and civil rights. His impact on the legal community continues to inspire future generations in their pursuit of a more just society.
To read the paper, open HERE.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Judge Caitlin Halligan: Past Precedent and Future Predictions

By John K. Penman
John Penman is a third-year student at Albany Law School. Prior to his legal education, John received his bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University where he won the school's undergraduate short fiction competition. At Albany Law, John is a Government Law Center Fellow and participant in Moot Court. 
John has additionally interned with the New York State Justice Center For the Protection of People With Special Needs, New York State Department of Education, and Office of Minority Counsel in the New York State Assembly.
Presently, John is working with clients through the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York’s Right to Counsel Program and Community Economic Development Clinic at the Edward P. Swyer Justice Center.

This paper presents a profile of Caitlin Halligan, an accomplished legal professional who recently secured an appointment as an Associate Judge of the New York Court of Appeals. Drawing from various sources, including her early life, education, career trajectory, and past judicial nominations, this paper sheds light on Halligan’s journey and provides insights into her potential role as an Associate Judge.

The analysis explores Halligan’s academic achievements, notable clerkships with federal courts, private practice experiences, and her tenure as a prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.  This paper also addresses concerns and expectations regarding Halligan’s corporate background, her pro bono work, and her ability to interpret the law fairly and equitably.

Finally, this paper discusses the potential impact of Halligan’s appointment on key legal issues in New York State, such as workers’ rights, corporate liability, and criminal justice.
To read the paper, open HERE.