: The Blawgraphy
Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

Please note: I'm no longer updating this particular blog, but keep it around for archival purposes. Visit me at the current blog at

Blogging in Higher Education, The Invisible College

Bradford DeLong has a great article, The Invisible College, in the Chronicle for Higher Education.

The hope of all of us who blog is that we will become smarter, do more useful work, be happier and more productive, and will also impress our deans so they will raise our salaries. The first three hopes are clearly true: Academics who blog think more profound thoughts, have a bigger influence on the world — both the academic and the broader worlds — and are happier for it. Are we more productive in an academic sense? Maybe. We will see when things settle down.

Are our deans impressed? Not so far, but they should be. A lot of a university’s long-run success depends on attracting good undergraduates. Undergraduates and their parents are profoundly influenced by the public face of the university. And these days, a thoughtful, intelligent, well-informed Web logger like Juan Cole or Dan Drezner is an important part of a university’s public face. Michigan gains in reputation and mindshare from having a Cole on its faculty. Yale loses from not having an equivalent.

Are deans in general impressed? I doubt it too. Why not? I worry that the weird name – DeLong calls it ‘web logging’ in places, shades of ‘series of tubes’ there – doesn’t properly serve the simple proposition it represents, namely, making the flow of ideas that circulates in an institution publicly available. An outwardly focused institution allows professors to reach an immediate and interactive audience, it allows students to maintain interest and participation in the discussion beyond the single semester in which they have a given class, it allows alumni to keep tabs on the flow of ideas beyond their matriculation, it allows incoming students an opportunity to get the lay of the land intellectually, it allows communities to form, ideas to cross-pollinate, names to be made.

I have hope though. U of H has an interim Dean who himself blogs. That has to bode well.

UPDATE: Maria Kantzavelos has an excellent article in Chicago Lawyer LAW-RELATED BLOGGING STARTING TO SEE A COMING OF AGE which cites the interesting case of Douglas Berman:

Law professors are mindful of where their scholarship lands, particularly when it’s in a court decision. Douglas A. Berman, who focuses on criminal sentencing law at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, is no exception. He considers citation counts the “currency of a law professor’s work.”

While Berman has penned more than 50 law review articles and commentaries, he estimates that only about a half-dozen of those traditional forms of published scholarship have been cited in judicial opinions.

His popular Sentencing Law & Policy Blog, on the other hand, has been cited in more than a dozen cases, including a dissenting opinion in a 2005 landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court (United States v. Booker).

“My blog is my most-cited work, by far. Certainly, it is more widely read than any of my scholarship,” said Berman, who has been blogging about advancements in federal sentencing since 2004. “It’s all part of the power of the blog.”

Reality Check


Grades from CivPro are expected today. Here’s the message I got from the student enrollment services site, where they will be posted:

HTTP Error 500 – Internal Server Error

Due to heavy load, Enrollment Services Online is unable to perform your request at this time. Please try again in a few minutes. If the problem persists, please contact the administrators.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you.

ES Online Web Team

There will be some rejoicing in law student land tonight and much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Of course one of the benefits of the evening program is that we will know this grade with 3 chances to improve on it before the semester is out. It will be really interesting to see how people react, however.

Dow on Death Penalty: “Innocence is a Distraction”


University of Houston Law Professor David Dow had an op-ed in the NY Times not too long ago entitled The End of Innocence. It turns out to be one of the few op-eds I’ve read in recent history truely worth reading. The gist –

Innocence is a distraction. Most people on death row are like Roger Coleman, not Paul House, which is to say that most people on death row did what the state said they did. But that does not mean they should be executed.

It is arguable how distracting Dow himself is being by running the Innocence Project at the University of Houston which focuses, unsurprisingly, on exoneration, as in innocence. Dow is eloquently right that a fixation on innocence misses the point of the capital punishment debate, but we all know how well nuanced argument does on the American political stage.

Yates Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity

A Harris County jury has found Andrea Yates not guilty by reason of insanity during her second capital murder trial for the drowning deaths of her children in the family’s bathtub in 2001.

Houston Chronicle headline | my Yates verdict post on Metroblogging Houston | Video

I met Yates’ attorney George Parnham on two occasions, once just after the original verdict in the Yates case had come in, when Mark Yanis, an attorney (and UHLC alum) who taught co-taught an excellent course in Law & Psychology I took as an undergrad at the University of Houston, had him address the class on the insanity defense. He seemed to indicate at the time that Yates was clearly insane in his opinion and doctors had relatively little optimism of a cure. It’s likely she’ll be spending the rest of her life in a high-security treatment center.

Seeing the reaction to this is pretty interesting. The understanding of insanity seems to be the single biggest differentiator. For instance:

Maybe one kid while she was giving them a bath and flipped out for a bit, but five? FIVE KIDS? She had to go get the kids and drown them one by one. (modeps)

One of her children escaped mid-drowning and SHE CHASED HIM DOWN AND PUT HIM BACK UNDER THE WATER…. Does this sound like temporary insanity to you? No, it sounds well-thought out. (from a myspace blog)

This seems to equate insanity to ‘flipping out’, as in a lack of control. Control, though, I don’t think is the issue in this case. Defense didn’t argue that she did this in the heat of passion, but that she was operating under a strong, very wrong belief that she had to kill her children in order to save them from hell. Defense argues that she knew exactly what she was doing, but she didn’t understand that it was wrong. Another example of a common reaction I’m seeing –

I’m sure all the ladies are going to come out of the wood-work and try to defend her under the guise of post partium depression and to you I say THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR MURDER, especially the murder of children. This is a growing trend in this country and I think it’s gotten to the point of being a little too convenient of an excuse. (back to boston)

Let me me point out the difference between post-partum depression, which is relatively common and does not usually result in mothers killing their children, and post-partum psychosis, which indicates the presence of hallucinations and delusional beliefs, loss of contact with reality and frequently exhibiting bizarre behavior.

the Appeal
As to the appeal, this was really interesting in this case. A truism for lawyers, you never ask a witness a question you don’t know the answer to. Parnham said that in his cross-examination of a witness for the prosecution, Dr. Park Dietz, it came up that Dietz was a consultant on the show Law & Order. Wrapping up, Parnham asked Dietz what he considered a throw-away question – if he had ever seen anything like the Yates case on Law & Order. Dietz testified, to Parnham’s horror, something to the effect that shortly before the drownings, a Law & Order episode had in fact aired in which a woman drowned her children and got off by reason of insanity. The damage lies in the fact that the jury could read into that testimony that Yates, who, it was established, was a fan of the show, had seen the episode and had conjured the condition as an excuse for escaping punishment. Parnham later got a call from a producer of the show to confirm that in fact such an episode never existed. At the time, Parnham had just started the appeal and I had to admit I didn’t give him much of a chance on the appeal or a new trial.

I haven’t watched the case too closely, I’ll try to get a hold of the case materials in the not too distant future. Comments are open.

How many sips does it take to get to a heart attack

I wondered more than once over the course of the past semester if it were possible to overdose on caffeine. Meeting at a starbucks to carpool didn’t help. Not surprisingly, it is. Energy fiend’s Death by Caffeine allows you to calculate the exact level of excess you’ll need to do the deed – in my case 120.63 cups of caffeinated goodness to bring me down. (via BoingBoing)

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