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Panic Street Lawyer: I Am There

Sunday, 08 September 2013 06:00 AM Written by

20130908 thrival150Organizers want yesterday’s Thrival Innovation + Music Festival in East Liberty to one day become the Pittsburgh equivalent to Austin’s South by Southwest. Station to Station makes one of its nine U.S. art train stops downtown tonight. Sandwiched in between is the Steelers’ home opener on the North Shore. Toto, I don’t think we’re in Smoky City anymore …

This September, like Septembers past, is full of “coming attractions” previews. This week the Post-Gazette had special sections on new fall movies and the 2013 National Football League season, and I anticipate features on new fall recorded music, the 2013 National Hockey League season, and the 2013 Carnegie International in the very near future.

Why is there no fall preview for law? Yes, I know that there will be a host of stories on cases to be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court when its new term begins on the first Monday in October (October 7 in 2013). But most U.S. law is made elsewhere. So here is my look at 6 subjects – familiar to those who have read PSL since 2010 -- where autumn law may be made at levels below the High Court:

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20130906 jailcosts photocom92687270 150The Texas based blawg Grits for Breakfast estimated that 3.7% percent of Texas adults are in prison, or under community supervision based on data from a recent Texas Criminal Justice Coalition report.

That's about one in 27 adult Texans; still a large number, but down from one in 22 just a few years ago, when the state justice system supervised about 4.6 percent of Texas adults.

Recently, Texas has been lauded for closing down prisons and keeping violent crime rates in check. The reality is that Texas was incarcerating, and continues to incarcerate, more people than any other state and most foreign countries.

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A legal education magazine, The National Jurist, will rank Duquesne University No. 4 among Best Value Private Law Schools in an upcoming report in its October issue.

In announcing the ranking, the magazine noted it created the Best Value rankings in 2004 as a way to honor schools that took the cost of legal education seriously and that it  has published articles about the problems with rising tuition in almost every year since it was founded in 1991.

“With rising tuition, it has become increasingly difficult for private law schools to make the Best Value list,” said NJ Editor-in-Chief Jack Crittenden. “But some schools have made great strides to keep debt low through scholarships, even if tuition is high. We felt it was important to recognize the schools that deliver excellent results and have a lower debt load than most private law schools.”

“We are honored that National Jurist magazine has selected Duquesne among the top-five Best Value private law schools in the United States,” said Duquesne University Law Dean Ken Gormley. “We have worked hard to keep our tuition affordable, while increasing our scholarship funds available to students and providing them with a top-notch legal education that makes them competitive on the Bar Exam and successful in the legal marketplace.”

According to the magazine its best value rankings look at tuition, debt, and cost of living and compare these numbers with percent employed and bar pass rates. The study is designed to identify and recognize law schools that help students pass the bar exam and land jobs without burdening them with huge debt. Schools must meet all criteria to be included, and then the National Jurist applies a weighting system to determine each schools' grade.

The top five private law schools have an indebtedness below $105,000 and met all other criteria. The data in the study is based on the Class of 2012

The overall rankings will be released in the October issue of the magazine, due out in the last week of September.

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Panic Street Lawyer: Jobs and Jasmine

Sunday, 01 September 2013 12:06 AM Written by

20130901laborday photocom90392045 150Two weeks ago, I began with English football terms, and last week I began with a “Jeopardy” question. This week’s PSL plays a different kind of word game, in honor of the true meaning of Labor Day: celebrating worker contributions to society. Specifically, I will explore this week’s newspapers and find a buried Labor Day angle in every item.

Some reported current events do not require much digging to find the sought-after treasure. For example, this week saw the return of students to most Pennsylvania schools. Those students go to school to be educated by educated teachers. We all know the stories of dedication to the job and sacrifices that teachers make for our sons, daughters, siblings, friends, nieces, nephews, grandsons, and granddaughters (sadly, teachers sometimes sacrifice their lives in the course of these “clean” jobs). But although teachers provide a valuable service, sometimes there are disagreements over what teachers should actually be paid for that service. These disputes arise in both urban and suburban school districts, and they occur at the post-secondary education level as well.

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20130830prisoncostillustration photocom88345401 150New York City spent about $167,731 per inmate last year and had 12,287 prisoners on an average day, according to a study of New York City jails by the city’s Independent Budget Office (IBO).

“The numbers provide a troubling statistical portrait of the more than 12,000 people in our city jails on a typical day last year, coming at a significant fiscal cost to the city and no doubt great social cost to families and communities,” the IBO’s Doug Turetsky told the New York Post.

The annual average taxpayer cost in 40 states responding to a recent Vera Institute of Justice survey was $31,286 per inmate. According Vera, Pennsylvania pays $42,339.00 per year, per prisoner in state prison. New York state is the highest with an annual cost per state inmate of $60,076.

Michael P. Jacobson, the director of the City University of New York Institute for State and Local Governance and a former city correction and probation commissioner, told the New York Times part of the reason the city’s cost was so high was because “The inmate-to-staff ratio probably hovers around two prisoners for every guard.”

On the state level, the guard-to-prisoner ratio is one guard for every 6.7 prisoners, according to the American Correctional Association.

Jacobson also noted the success in bringing down NYC’s jail population from a peak of about 23,000 in 1993 to about 12,000 people today -- but said the fixed costs were not likely to go down soon.

Still, he said, there were things that could be done to save money, like reducing the amount of time people sat in jail awaiting trial. Some 76 percent of the inmates in the NYC were waiting on trial or other disposition, according to the IBO.

The average time spent awaiting trial has stretched to 95 days from 76 days in 2002. Many inmates cannot afford bail and simply sit in jail for months. Twice as many people as a decade ago await trial for six months or longer.

With three out of four inmates sitting in jail in New York City awaiting trial, taxpayers are paying about $1.5 billion a year incarcerating people who have not even been convicted of a crime.

Many of those inmates, if they could afford a monetary bond, would be working, united with family and paying significantly less for room and board than NYC is currently paying.

(Image: Dynamic Graphics/Getty Images)


Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, P.C. He is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and just completed a six year term on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. His weekly column on crime and punishment is syndicated by GateHouse New Service. You can read his musings on the criminal justice system at www.mattmangino.com and follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.

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20130825 colbertgaggift490Unlike PSL, some of America’s favorite television shows are in summer reruns.

One of those shows, “Jeopardy,” requires contestants to come up with questions that go with category answers. For example, in the category “3-Letter Words,” the correct question for my title answer (above) is “what is gag?” Google can confirm this.

Another TV show currently in summer reruns is “The Colbert Report.” As a general rule, it is not a good thing if Mr. Colbert & Company write up a bit about you, your profession or your company. In TCR’s last show before it went on late summer hiatus, Comedy Central ran this legal segment from nearby Washington County that included my “Jeopardy” word in the segment called “The Word:”

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20121123 prisoner photocom136558438 150A number of states and now the federal government have made a seismic shift in crime and punishment policy. Specifically, policymakers are looking for ways to incarcerate fewer people for shorter periods of time.

Here is what some commentators and practitioners think about this watershed moment in America’s criminal justice system.

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Panic Street Lawyer: Real Pittsburgh renegades

Sunday, 18 August 2013 06:00 AM Written by

20130817wap subwaypremierleague490Pittsburgh weather this week has been seasonable, if the season you are talking about is football season (live music here has also been football-seasonable – see below).

It got me in the mood to type up all the one-word football vocabulary terms I can think of. Let’s see: club, manager, table, fixture, transfer, match, pitch, challenge, card, kit, striker, header…Wait, what?

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