Monthly Archives: June 2016

Law Student Reflects on Muhammed Ali: Heavy Weight Champion in Life, Not Just the Boxing Ring

Saad Chishty, a WMU-Cooley law student belonging to to Michigan’s Democratic Caucus and Unity Center, was invited to attend, along with other community leaders, Muhammed Ali’s funeral ceremony at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Kentucky. He would have the privilege to meet and interact with special keynote speakers and foreign dignitaries. This kind of rare, historical experience is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity – in law school and in life. Saad didn’t need to think twice.

“I must admit, it was truly an amazing, breathtaking, surreal and humbling experience to be in the presence of such profound, prolific, reputable and world renowned historical leaders and other notable celebrities. People of all faiths, colors, creed were present to pay their respects to the Greatest of All Time.”

Saad went on to praise the 3-time heavyweight champion’s contributions to society.  “He was a  true humanitarian who spent the entire span of his life building bridges between different faiths and cultures.” Creating bridges instead of barriers is the culture embraced in his WMU-Cooley Law School community too.

“The entire experience was exceptional and unreal,” reflected Saad. He was able to offer his condolences to Muhammed Ali’s immediate family members, including his brother, wife, Lonnie, daughter Leila, and other childhood buddies.

“In accordance with the Islamic burial custom, Muhammed Ali’s casket was brought into the Freedom Hall for a prayer service,” shared Saad. “There were close to 14,000 guests simultaneously chanting in Arabic, ‘There is no God, but the one and only incomparable God of Abraham.'”

saad - muhammad ali funeral

Saad remembered writing a biographical report on the Rev. Jesse Jackson in elementary school. “It was a dream come true to meet the man who participated in the Selma to Montgomery marches organized by James Bevel, Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders in Alabama. Rev. Jackson, to me, is an American civil rights activist, Baptist minister, and politician, including a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988.”

saad - jesse jackson

“It’s not every day that one gets to bid farewell to the People’s Champ and sit down with civil rights leaders like Rev. Jesse Jackson,” shared Saad. “I shook his hand and he hugged me – and we shared a conversation. I was honored and humbled to be in the presence of so many role models that I admired growing up.”

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Peacemaking Court: Restoring human relationships instead of punishment

vestrand_joanBlog author Joan Vestrand, WMU-Cooley associate dean and professor, launched a Peacemaking mediation program  in the Auburn Hills, Michigan, Avondale Public Schools.  The Peacemaking Court fosters good relations within schools and the community schools to help resolve disciplinary matters and interpersonal conflicts in a humane, supportive way.

Today, we know that the single greatest predictor of youth incarceration is a history of school discipline.  This problem has come to be known as the school-to-prison pipeline and blame for it is squarely placed on the Zero Tolerance school discipline policies that arose out of the Reagan-era mentality of “just say no.” These policies called for harsh discipline for perceived school misconduct. Although enacted in good intention, they backfired. They bred insidiously an outcome quite outside the goal – again, the school-to –prison pathway and this has led to a schoolhouse-to-jailhouse crisis across the nation. In fact, the United States leads the world in the percentage of citizens behind bars.

Peacemaking March 1.2

Under Zero Tolerance, what was once considered “normal” youth behavior and misbehavior, became justification to criminalize conduct and exclude noncompliant students from the school community. Such automatic harsh consequences, irrespective of the severity of the misbehavior or the circumstances involved, proved disastrous.  In enacting these policies, there was no consideration of their potential negative impact on the welfare of the offending student or on the culture of the school.

Even worse, the cost of Zero Tolerance is without benefit. No evidence emerged that zero tolerance policies made schools safer or improved student behavior. According to a 2008 Task Force Report by the American Psychological Association, Zero Tolerance policies failed to achieve the intended goal of creating an effective school discipline system. To the contrary, research repeatedly demonstrates that suspension, expulsion, and other punitive consequences are not the solution to disruptive or even dangerous student behaviors. What we now know is that dangerous students do not become less dangerous when excluded from appropriate school settings. Instead, it’s quite often the opposite – exclude and the safety risk escalates. Youth who are not in school are at exceedingly high risk of delinquency and crime which increases the danger to everyone.

And then there is the fiscal hit we take as a nation for every drop-out. Each year’s class of dropouts drains the country of more than $200 billion annually in lost earnings and taxes. Billions more are spent on welfare, health care and other social services that flow from the problem.  Prison costs are an example. In Michigan, for the year 2013, we spent approximately $40,000 per prisoner annually, compared to about $8,000 per student.  Clearly, it is much less costly and better for society to keep a student in school – to find a better way to address behavioral issues.

Peacemaking March 1.3

In part due to mounting societal pressure against harsh school discipline laws, Michigan’s Board of Education is seeing the light. In 2012, it asked districts to take a second look at their Zero Tolerance policies urging the abandonment of policies that exclude students from the educational process. Although the Department’s directive is advisory only, numerous districts have begun to replace punitive practices with restorative ones. Schools are shifting towards programs and policies that meet the developmental needs of youth. Punishment is giving way to practices that allow students to problem-solve, dialogue, and build positive relationships. We are realizing that to raise a healthy and productive member of society, we must provide meaningful, authentic opportunities for youth to be active participants in making decisions and resolving conflict.

Schools that are getting it are experiencing amazing results. Restorative justice works because these programs are centered on respect, responsibility, relationship-building, and relationship-repairing. The focus is mediation and agreement, as opposed to punishment. If a student misbehaves and a restorative justice system is in place, the offending student receives the chance to come forward and make things right.  Instead of a culture of punishment and mistrust, it’s a culture of accountability and responsibility – and training youth to be correct in their behavior.

What we now know is that positive discipline produces positive behavior. Schools that embrace restorative justice initiatives have seen suspensions decrease by 50% or more, and disrespect for teachers has declined.  Students are more focused on their studies and attend classes in greater percentage. The suspensions and expulsions which often led students to fall behind, drop-out, and enter the juvenile justice system, have subsided, putting a halt to the school-to-prison pipeline. As one educator has put it, the whole thing boils down to a shift in perspective.  It’s seeing the truth that “My student is not giving me a hard time – my student is having a hard time.” Marvin Berkowitz, the Director for the National Center for Character Education preaches to teachers all over the country that “we can’t teach through a rat.” Personal turmoil, problems at home, lack of support, abuse, and neglect – these rats come right into the school with the child. Berkowitz says that to get anywhere with a youth, we must first address the rats.  To ignore them is solid barrier to success. For change to take place, root issues must be exposed and dealt with.

Peacemaking March 1

Here at WMU Cooley, we are helping in this.  A few years back, we designed a high school Peacemaking Court that has our students supervising high school students in resolving peer conflict and other misbehavior in a positive way – one which avoids punishment. The project, in place at Avondale High School in north Oakland County, is a partnership with our Auburn Hills campus.  In the program, adults stand down.  Instead, high school students (the peacemakers) trained and supervised by law students, work with their peer to correct behavior and repair any harm. Using a circle process and a talking piece, the students work to build trust with their peer and to create a safe place for honest dialogue.  In other words, they give gentle nudge towards introspection and amends.

What typically begins as an intervention involving a closed-off, un-invested classmate, peer-to-peer, transforms into something very special. Typically, by mid-proceeding, comes recognition by the classmate that the care and support is genuine and the classmate starts to open up.  It’s like the budding of a flower. Demeanor changes and the classmate is now leaning into the circle and making eye contact. Responses grow considered and thoughtful. There begins the hint of a smile and more smiles, and laughter often erupts as bonds develop. The armor loosens and the guard comes down.

With this transformation, the real work – the heart work – can begin. Tender inquiries probe for root issues and solutions, including what needs to happen to repair any harm. The kids who spin this gold? Again, their one very special qualification is their co-peer status and with it their ability to identify –truly identify with their classmate. They, too, are works in progress – far from perfect with many mistakes of their own – and a personal character still very much under development. Often they have experienced similar problems. They can relate and can empathize.  By the same token, they can get very real very quickly and see past the malarkey. They have an uncanny knack for holding their peer accountable and for helping their classmate realize the errors in their ways and the harm not just to others, but themselves.  It is peer-generated tough love at its finest. The cheering and support upon pivotal insights, and recognition, and oftentimes tough reality checks, come from the heart.  And, from the smile on the classmate’s face, they are received in the same way. In these moments, hearts are expanding all around, in benefit of everyone. It’s the power of love – the true antithesis to exclusion and best remedy for broken soul.

Again, with peer peacemaking, what begins at opening ceremony as dubiousness and mistrust gives way to  a kind of evident joy that only comes from being basked in the care and support of others. For every case we’ve held, the tide has turned for the classmate involved. Troubling history of suspensions and in-school detentions for defiant and insubordinate behavior, have resolved themselves into new friendships,(the peacemakers)and better choices – ones that are kinder to self and more respectful of others.

Perhaps best of all –every student that is the subject of peacemaking, becomes a peacemaker, paying it forward. One such student, who came into the peacemaking process with a terrible attitude and two year record of discipline to show for it, and who was referred because the school had exhausted all other options, was so changed by the experience that he advocates peacemaking as first stop for every struggling student. He feels that had this happened for him, things would have been different, much sooner.  The high school is listening.  Thrilled with the results of the program, they would like to have peacemaking available every day of the week and we’ll work hard to make that happen.

It’s been a terrific community partnership with what are actually unsurprising but extremely gratifying results, for all concerned. It’s a win-win for everyone involved. The law students are learning to question the effectiveness of a punishment-based system in favor of a more humane approach – one that actually seeks to change behavior and repair relationships.  This s far cry from the law’s traditional focus on the offense, only, in disregard for any emotional factors involved.

The high school peacemakers are learning the same thing – that dispute resolution, in order to be effective, must be positive. Equally significant, in recognition that the role of peacemaker is an important one, which holds them out as an example, they have stepped up their own character accordingly.  They have strived to become what they stand for. Their personal growth is also product of the trust placed in them by the school.  After all, this program gives them a stake in their own school community – which in the past has been a rare, if not unheard of opportunity.  It empowers them with a voice and a role in what happens with their peers. They feel important and valued to have this responsibility – all very good and very necessary stuff for best school culture. There is a third aspect to their growth – one that at first blush might come as surprise, but not when we think it through: the peacemakers are helped by their classmate. It’s like the bumper sticker about rescue dogs that wisely poses the question: “Who rescued who?” Take the time to help someone else – and your own heart expands. Look what it did for the Grinch: his heart grew three sizes the day he finally put others first. A program like this helps to build empathy and respect, extremely important traits for assurance of a successful democracy in a country that embraces capitalism.

For the classmate who is the subject of peacemaking, the impact of this program is first seen on their face, and then in their change. Another benefit, though, is that upon successful completion of any amends, no record is kept of the incident.  This is how true second chances look.  No baggage, no stigma, and no scarlet letter; just reacceptance and a fresh start.  Equally beneficial, the classmate becomes part of the solution – serving as a peacemaker in future cases.

COA and Peacemakers

Our program has garnered both local and national attention and accolades.  It received the 2012 Eastern Leaders Group Leadership Award and was the subject of lectures and instruction at the St. Louis, Missouri National Center for Character and Citizenship as part of their Carnegie Project for Social Justice.  In addition, by request we have presented on the project at Native American Peacemaking conferences held in northern Michigan, sharing the information so that others may replicate the work.  Next January, we will be presenting on the project at a national conference of special education administrators in California.

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WMU-Cooley Juneteeth Keynote Speaker Edward Keith DuBose: Achieve Professionalism At All Times

It’s necessary to uphold your professional reputation, be involved in community, and manage client trust carefully. There is no substitute for hard work, which will bring success.” – Edward Keith DuBose, WMU-Cooley Juneteenth keynote speaker

Edward Keith DuBose

Edward Keith DuBose

On June 16, the Black Law Student Association at WMU-Cooley Law School’s Tampa Bay campus hosted the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, Juneteenth. The featured speaker during the celebration was Edward Keith DuBose, Sarasota County Bar Association president and partner at Matthews Eastmore Trial Lawyers.

WMU-Cooley Professor Renalia DuBose introduced the keynote speaker with great personal pride.

“Successful attorneys are  not sitting in their offices looking out the window. They are in their communities working hard.  That is why I invited Keith to be our speaker. He is a visible, sincere servant in his community.”

In his talk, “Keys to Demonstrate Professionalism Personified,” he spoke to faculty, staff and students about how to best demonstrate professionalism and what steps an attorney must take to become a partner at a law firm, including:

  • Achieve professionalism at all times
  • Stay involved in your community; participate in the spirit of service and give back to the community
  • There is no substitute for hard work; which brings success
  • Take good care of your personal and professional integrity
  • Choose clients carefully; some can cause you trouble with the Bar
  • Manage trust accounts carefully

“Understanding the history of diverse groups makes us better attorneys,” said DuBose. “We can help our clients seek justice and help them heal ”

WMU-Cooley Professor Stevie Swanson spoke about the meaning of Juneteenth during the celebration.

“Slaves in Texas were not freed until June 19, 1865 even though Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862 that freed all slaves in the Confederate States of America on January 1, 1863,” said Professor Swanson. “As an African and African American History major from Yale, Juneteenth to me is a reminder that we need to recognize the past of all races and ethnicities. This day should be a reminder to work hard to make our communities better.”

(left-right) WMU-Cooley student Sylvester Stokes, BLSA member, Professor Stevie Swanson, Professor Renalia Dubose, Keynote speaker Edward Keith DuBose, Tamike Laroque, BLSA vice president, Jazmin Shorter, WMU-Cooley BLSA president, Joe Cline, BLSA treasurer

(left-right) WMU-Cooley student Sylvester Stokes, BLSA member, Professor Stevie Swanson, Professor Renalia Dubose, Keynote speaker Edward Keith DuBose, Tamike Laroque, BLSA vice president, Jazmin Shorter, WMU-Cooley BLSA president, Joe Cline, BLSA treasurer

Edward Keith DuBose received his Bachelor of Arts from Duke University in 1993 and was a member of the 1989 football team that won the A.C.C. Championship led by Steve Spurrier. He received his Juris Doctor degree in 1996 from the UF College of Law. As a shareholder in Matthews Eastmore Trial Lawyers in Sarasota, Florida, his practice is devoted to plaintiff’s personal injury cases. He is active in his community and champions programs benefiting area youth, and donates countless hours to the United Way, Paddock Foundation, Selby Foundation, Sarasota Bar Association, youth football, New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church and frequently gives motivational talks at community functions and local schools. In 1989, the Sarasota Bar Association presented him with the prestigious C.L. McKaig award, recognizing his extraordinary community accomplishments. Mr. DuBose is currently the president of the Sarasota Area Board of the United Way and is the first African American president of the Sarasota County Bar Association.

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Legal Analysis: When Can a Parrot Be Considered a Reliable Court Witness?

miller_nelsonBlog author Nelson Miller is the Associate Dean and Professor at WMU-Cooley’s Grand Rapids campus. He practiced civil litigation for 16 years before joining the WMU-Cooley faculty. He has argued cases before the Michigan Supreme Court, Michigan Court of Appeals, and United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and filed amicus and party briefs in the United States Supreme Court. He has has many published books, casebooks, book chapters, book reviews, and articles on legal education, law practice, torts, civil procedure, professional responsibility, damages, international law, constitutional law, university law, bioethics, and law history and philosophy. He also teaches law classes on the Kalamazoo, Michigan campus of Western Michigan University.

Every couple years, we hear in the media about using a parrot as a witness in court. The most recent story features Bud the parrot who may have been a witness to his owner’s murder. According to the report, the parrot subsequently repeated, “Don’t f—— shoot!”  The media asks whether Bud can be the prosecutor’s witness to his owner’s murder.

The short answer is no.

The long answer is “nothing is impossible.”

Another media story on a parrot witness reported an animal expert saying that the African grey parrot has a high intelligence for an animal, as high as a chimpanzee or porpoise, with the language skills of a two year old child and the cognition of a five year old.  The last two assertions, though, are really meaningless.  No parrot has the perspective of a human of any age, so the intelligence comparison doesn’t help.

Assuming just for the sake of argument that a parrot really did have age-five human intelligence, then on cognitive age alone, the parrot might just be able to testify.  Statutes typically require witnesses to be able to swear or affirm to an oath, which means that the witness must be of an age and mental competence to recognize right from wrong.  While five-year-old children may not recognize the purpose of an oath, courts have allowed them to testify (particularly to the one horrible question of their sexual abuse by an adult) when they appear to recognize right from wrong.

But again, lacking human perspective, parrots don’t give human meaning to the words that they mimic.  A parrot who says “You’re a fool!” doesn’t really hold that opinion of you or anyone else, just as the parrot wouldn’t know the meaning of “Don’t shoot!” when ostensibly testifying that someone allegedly said it in a harrowing homicide.

So the better question than the parrot testifying is whether the parrot, including what the parrot repeated, could be evidence–not testimonial evidence but physical evidence like an audio recording.  Again, the answer is probably not, although in a closer call.

An animal expert in one of the several reported parrot stories said that parrots usually require repetition to begin to mimic what they heard.  The parrot evidence’s proponent thus would not have the foundation to assert that the parrot heard something once (like the “Don’t f—– shoot” of the recent homicide) and was repeating it reliably. A court might bar the evidence on that basis unless an animal expert could testify that the parrot could have learned and repeated a statement made just once or perhaps a few times quickly at the moment of the homicide.

But still, let’s play out the possibility that a parrot expert so testified that the parrot was probably reliably repeating what the parrot had heard on that single occasion.  If a prosecutor had any chance of qualifying a parrot as a witness, then no prosecutor in his or her right mind would ever call a parrot as a witness.

Why?  In practical terms, prosecutors have no chance of proving beyond a reasonable doubt any charge relying on the testimony of a parrot.  Calling a parrot as a witness, or even using the parrot as audio evidence, would be like crime investigators who foolishly admit having consulted an astrologer, diviner, or medium for evidence of the crime.  The defense lawyer would have the jurors laughing the parrot prosecutor right out of the courthouse.  The prosecutor who calls a parrot as a witness would make an easy mark in the next election for a new prosecutor.

Also, the Constitution’s confrontation clause requires that the accused have the right to confront and cross-examine the witnesses against the accused.  What chance does the defense lawyer have of cross-examining a parrot when the answer to every question would be the same?  Talk about an unimpeachable witness!

Finally, the prosecutor would never get the parrot witness’s testimony into evidence in the first place.  A witness’s proponent must first establish that the witness has a foundation for the witness’s testimony.  In testimony based on eyewitness accounts, that foundation requirement means that the witness would first have to testify that they were at the scene to observe and testify to the crime.

Imagine the prosecutor’s foundation question:  “So, parrot, were you present when the decedent was shot?”  Parrot answers, “Don’t shoot!”  Defense counsel interjects, “Objection!  The parrot is now testifying without foundation!”  Parrot interjects, “Don’t shoot!”  Trial judges orders the parrot witness to be silent until the judge has ruled.  Parrot interjects, “Don’t shoot!”

Nonetheless, and with tongue firmly in cheek, one can say that two different kinds of parrots have testified. The first are human witnesses named Parrott such as in one case Officer Kim Parrot, in another case marina owner Kirk Parrott, and in yet another case obstetrician Dr. Liboum Parrot.  The other kind of testifying parrot is the witness whom the other side accuses of simply repeating someone else’s untruths.

So you’ll find a grain of truth in just about anything–even that to which the parrot testifies.


Media Coverage

Fox 17 http://fox17online.com/2016/06/24/dont-shoot-did-pet-parrot-witness-owners-murder/

Steve Gruber Show http://stevegruber.podbean.com/e/tuesday-june-28-2016-hour-3-complete/

FOX 2 Detroit http://www.fox2detroit.com/news/local-news/166810081-story

WJR Radio Detroit: Nelson Miller’s June 28 podcast starts at 38:20: http://www.wjr.com/the-big-story-with-marie-osborne/

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Law School Transforms into Actual Court: Students Get to Listen and Learn

Western Michigan University Cooley Law Tampa Bay recently got to host, for the second time, the Second District Court of Appeals. “It is a rare and amazing opportunity for students to see an actual Appellate court session with working attorneys offering oral arguments and those attorneys being asked questions by the judges,” exclaimed WMU-Cooley student Kimberly Canals Simpson.  

In fact, she felt that students and faculty alike were riveted for hours listening to the three arguments, which included two criminal cases and one civil cases. The cases were heard by Judge Edward C. LaRose, Judge Samuel J. Salario, Jr., and Judge Daniel H. Sleet.

The 120 person Courtroom Classroom at WMU-Cooley was packed with law students and local attorneys. All there to listen and learn. The three judges agreed. This is exactly the kind of opportunity every law student should experience before they ever graduate.

After the conclusion of the court session, the three judges came back into the Appellate Courtroom without their robes and allowed the Cooley students to ask any questions they had about the appellate process, what judges are looking for in an intern and many other subjects.  It was a great day to observe the Second DCA’s docket and as a fantastic opportunity to educate and train law students in court procedure.

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This is the third time in the last two year that the Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal held oral arguments at WMU-Cooley Law School’s Tampa Bay campus. The law school’s state-of-the-art courtrooms transform easily into a court site for students, attorneys, and other members of the public.

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Professor Jeffrey Swartz: Recent Supreme Court Decision to Allow Police Search Evidence Surprising

Blog author WMU-Cooley Law School Professor Jeffrey Swartz served as a county court judge for Miami-Dade County, Florida, Professor Jeffrey Swartzbefore joining the WMU-Cooley faculty. Professor Swartz is also a frequent legal expert in the media. Professor Swartz shares his opinion on the recent Supreme court decision  ruling in Utah v. Streiff.

“Not only does the ruling surprise me,” stated Swartz, “it surprises me more that Justice Stephen G. Breyer sided with the conservative majority. It appears that individual freedoms under the Fourth Amendment are becoming less important in the minds of the justices on the Supreme Court.”

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On Monday, June 20, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-3 decision that courts may include evidence of a crime, even if the evidence was found during a search that was not constitutional. The ruling in the case now gives police more opportunities to stop individuals and search them to find evidence, even if it’s not related to the original intent of the search. This ruling essentially changes the 1968 SCOTUS ruling in Terry v. Ohio, which allows police officers to stop a suspect on the street and frisk them in order to prevent a crime, or for personal protection of a police officer – but also protects persons from unreasonable searches and seizures aimed at gathering evidence.

“Essentially, the Supreme Court now has ruled that evidence found during searches that were previously protected under the fourth amendment can now be used,” summed up Professor Swartz.

“Typically Justice Breyer would not side with the Court’s conservative judges,” continued Swartz. “There are other Supreme Court decisions expected soon, including those on the topic of abortion. It will be interesting to see if he sides with the conservative justices to gain support on something else down the road.”

“In Strieff, the State of Utah conceded and the court concurred that the officer did not have a reasonable and articulable suspicion to seize the defendant. Despite that the officer approached and detained Strieff by asking him his name and radioing for ‘wants and warrants’ in hopes of finding something to keep Strieff in custody. When a traffic warrant was found, he arrested Strieff and searched him, finding drugs.

“The Utah Supreme Court eventually set aside the conviction saying that there was no attenuation between the original seizure and the arrest and search, therefore the evidence was subject to suppression.

SCOTUS found that attenuation existed. They stated the warrant was the attenuation. Thus, there was no direct connection between the original seizure and the search incident to the arrest on the warrant. Without saying it, this is an instance where the court is carving exceptions on very technical issues. This decision, coupled with Heien v. North Carolina from 2104, in which the court applied a ‘mistake of law’ theory,  indicates the court’s relaxation of the Terry ‘reasonableness’ test and the reasonable and articulable standard for a Terry Stop.

“These two cases signal the court is receding from a traditional Terry analysis. Ultimately, one has to wonder whether new police officers will be trained in the Terry, or without such training will courts rely on the officer’s good faith and subjective belief. Have we returned to the days of ’round up the usual suspects and check them out?’ We will see.”

Media Outlets Go to News & Media to arrange an interview with Professor Swartz.

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WMU-Cooley Professor Devin Schindler: Law and Medicine Tie the Knot

Blog author Professor Devin Schindler teaches Constitutional Law and Health Care Regulation at WMU-Cooley Law School’s Grand Rapids campus and is a frequent commentator on numerous healthcare and Constitutional issues, having been interviewed over 200 times by radio, television, print and internet media sources.

Early in my career as a healthcare attorney, I made a deal with one of my physician clients. I promised her that I would never perform surgery, so long as she promised me that she would not practice law. The reason was obvious. Law schools, generally speaking, do not teach science. Medical schools do not teach law. Medicine is science; law is law, and never the twain shall meet. In the last 20 years, however, the practice of medicine has changed dramatically.  Law and medicine are not only involved, they are married – for better or for worse.

The Affordable Care Act, among other things, has imposed literally thousands of regulations on how physicians must practice medicine. The penalties for failing to follow these regulations can be draconian, including loss of licensure, treble penalties and even criminal prosecution. Medicine is perhaps the most highly regulated industry in our country. As a result, physicians have no choice but to develop at least a passing understanding of how the legal system operates and impacts the practice of medicine.

Medical schools have historically done a poor job of preparing their students for the realities they will face upon licensure. To fill this gap, the Western Michigan University Homer Stryker School of Medicine has partnered with WMU-Cooley Law School to develop a series of creative programs specifically designed to ensure that medical students will be prepared to practice in this highly regulated world. Recently, for example, law school faculty from WMU-Cooley’s Grand Rapids campus partnered with the medical school’s chief ethicist to design and teach a three-hour module on the corporate practice of medicine. This module, entitled “What do you want to be When You Grow Up” explored various practice models, including small office practice, hospital practice, large multidisciplinary practice groups and Accountable Care Organizations. In addition to reviewing basic corporate structures, this program explored the benefits — and drawbacks — of various practice models.

Another faculty member from the law school’s Grand Rapids campus recently taught a class to the medical students on informed consent. Future modules being designed include topics like medical malpractice law and responsible billing and coding.

This unique program benefits both medical and law students. The medical malpractice module, for example, will include a mock trial in which law students will partner with medical students to develop expert and direct testimony. This and other modules being planned will give law students interested in pursuing a career in health law “hands-on” experience with the people they will someday represent.

Although in its infancy, these type of cross-disciplinary programs are examples of how the legal and medical community need to partner and collaborate together. Future health care attorneys will need to understand beyond what is in tort textbooks. Experiential learning is critical to the success of any student who wants to leave law school ready, on day one, to practice law. The law school’s affiliation with the medical school is one of many new and innovative programs the law school is implementing to ensure its students stand above their brethren when it comes to the knowledgeable, ethical and skillful practice of law.

Today, attorneys and medical professionals can’t afford to be adversaries. The fields of law and medicine must unite and walk down the aisle together as life partners.

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