In the past few weeks the world has changed in ways most of us could never have imagined. While much remains unknown, one thing remains stable—the sense of community that both comforts and uplifts us, even in the midst of trying times.
The post below is a riveting reflection from 1L Ryan Kenney, who was among a group of BC Law students on this year’s Gulf Coast Pro-Bono Spring Break trip to Montgomery, Alabama. It was scheduled to be posted several weeks ago, but was postponed due to the emergency situation COVID-19 created. That said, we think the message is too important to go unshared. We will share several other related service trip stories this week.
Stay safe everyone, and please reach out to us at email@example.com if we can do anything to help, or if you would like us to consider publishing a guest post on your own experiences during the outbreak.
When people asked us where we were from and we replied that we were on spring break from Boston College Law School, gently raised eyebrows and clarifying questions invariably followed. As if on cue, our neighbor on the puddle jumper from Charlotte, then the barista, the lobbyist in the state house elevator, and virtually everyone else we encountered who wasn’t already expecting us conferred a “Well, welcome to Alabama!” and a warm smile.
This week, we witnessed how people make, interpret, and execute laws in Alabama.
Growing up, I always said I wanted to be a lawyer. Both my dad and my stepmom were lawyers and I always loved to write. When it came time to take the LSAT and write a personal statement, however, I began to rethink this career choice and decided to wait to apply.
In April 2015, right before my college graduation, I received one of the worst phone calls of my life. I learned that someone close to me had been sexually assaulted. Although the details were fuzzy, she decided to take all the available steps she could. She went to the hospital where a rape kit was performed, she reported the rape, and decided to move forward with pressing charges.
When this case was unfolding before my eyes, I constantly had more questions than I did answers. I could not understand what additional evidence the prosecutor “needed” before pursuing the case, the standard of proof—guilty beyond a reasonable doubt—meant very little to me, and the perpetrator’s ability to walk away with a misdemeanor charge seemed unjust.
Simply put, this was the most difficult time in my life. My emotions were everywhere and I felt stuck in a position where I was unable to help. But finally, I discovered the true reason why I wanted to be a lawyer.
“This seems like a philosophical question.”
My classmate was trying to parse the Supreme Court’s reasoning in two cases with similar facts and different outcomes. Our professor did not seem enthusiastic about the prospect of a philosophical discussion. Some professors teach introductory law classes like a foreign language, immersing students in legal syntax and vocabulary until its functioning becomes intuitive and fluid. Imagine trying to teach French students to conjugate a verb while they’re working on a grand theory for the union of sound and thought. You would get further by just drilling, “Je vais à la plage. Tu vas à la plage. Il/Elle/On va à la plage.” So our professor responded with a pointedly practical answer spelling out the officially recognized legal rule at work in the two decisions.
But there was an interesting, philosophical issue beneath the surface of the Court’s reasoning, even if we didn’t have enough time to cover it. These are the two cases:
Anthony Ray Hinton spent thirty years on death row for a crime he did not commit.
Commanding a spellbound crowd on the Boston College Chestnut Hill Campus (where undergraduate classes are), Mr. Hinton took students, faculty, and members of the public through three decades of despair, faith, fury, friendship, and humor. He was often emotional, always passionate, and amazingly graceful. For nearly an hour and a half, it was impossible to think of anything but spending thirty years in a five by seven cell.
Today I am thrilled to host an open letter from the Board of BC Law’s If/When/How Chapter on the Kavanaugh confirmation, our continued support for sexual assault survivors, and what comes next in this fight.
As the board of BC Law’s If/When/How chapter, we think it is important to say publicly, and unequivocally, that we believe Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramierez, and Julie Swetnik. We believe Brett Kavanaugh lacks the moral character and the temperament to be not only a Supreme Court Justice, but a judge. We are sickened by his appointment to the Supreme Court, and strongly condemn it.
Brett Kavanaugh represents the worst of everything the legal profession has to offer; he is a living manifestation of white privilege, male privilege, class privilege, and rape culture. He also represents an opportunity for lawyers and law students to do better; to improve our profession so that the next generation of law students, lawyers, and clients – anyone who interacts with our justice system – enjoys a fairer legal process that recognizes the many modes of marginalization in our society and outright rejects sexual violence of any kind as acceptable behavior. Kavanaugh’s rise to prominence and the current climate surrounding the allegations against him illustrate the desperate need for lawyers to recognize their crucial role as advocates for sexual assault survivors. Lawyers are the advocates on the frontlines of justice — taking and trying survivors’ cases, working with them to ensure they’re protected, be it through securing restraining orders or helping to file charges against assailants.
I have the privilege of spending my summer in New Orleans, working on indigent capital appeals. A lot of my day is spent in the organization’s library, digging into criminal law research questions. I’ve also had the opportunity to join an attorney at a status conference for a federal civil suit challenging the heat conditions on death row, and to visit some of our clients there.
This is my house for the summer, a carriage house converted into a studio. A few things about New Orleans: it’s humid (imagine living in the moment when you step out of a hot shower), the streets flood (past your ankles), the cockroaches are prolific (and big), and it’s one of the most amazing cities I’ve been in.
I’m looking forward to the next eight weeks here, learning more about the city and meeting more incredible attorneys who are dedicating their lives to saving those of others.
This spring, BC Law Impact is excited to present guest posts from current students about the factors that drove them to BC Law and the impact the community has had on their lives. Today’s post comes from 2L Hannah Jellinek.
Cheshire Correctional Institution sits atop an uncharacteristically tall hill given the generally flat land surrounding the prison. Perhaps because of this elevation, the long thin driveway, and the large red brick façade, the prison has a haunting and overwhelming presence. The front doors lead to a separate world. One where razor sharp barbed wire sits on top of chainlink fences and seemingly cuts into the bright blue skies and puffy white clouds. One where you see kids running around freely, smiling and laughing, but then realize their obstacle course and hide and seek spots are the long wooden benches of the visitation room. The Cheshire world is separate from the small houses of the town, separate from the run-down basketball courts across the street, separate from what I have previously known outside of the gates.
Once I go through the weekly routine of submitting my license, clearing the metal detector, and gathering the light pink VISITOR pass, I walk out of the waiting room and through the lobby. A bright yellow line on the dark brown floors divides the hallways of Cheshire. It is what separates us from them. The free individuals who can decide their next step, their next meal, their next shower, from those on the other side of the line who decide nothing.
After I wrote about the failures of the War on Drugs for BC Law Magazine last semester I waited anxiously for the backlash. I spent ten years in the U.S. Coast Guard before law school, six of them chasing international drug cartels at sea, and I had the opportunity to work with some of the most professional and dedicated military and law enforcement personnel in the world. I was terrified about how they’d respond when I called the drug war a “lost cause,” and it took less than a day for the responses to start flooding my inbox. The volume wasn’t surprising, but the content shocked me.
When people asked me about my summer (How was work? Did you like what you did?), I found it difficult to provide an adequate account of what I was doing. I spent my summer with the Child Protection Unit at the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office. The Assistant District Attorneys (ADAs) there form part of the team that investigates and, if appropriate, prosecutes instances of child physical and sexual abuse in Suffolk County, which includes Boston, Revere, Chelsea, and Winthrop. At the Superior Court level almost all of the cases they handle deal with allegations of sexual abuse involving children. To be clear, the following will include a discussion of those cases, and some of it may be difficult to read. Continue reading
I am pleased to host a guest post today from Vincent Lau, BC Law ’97. Alumni, please note that the Sung sisters will be special guests speakers for the Alumni Assembly at this year’s Reunion on November 3. If this is your reunion year, we hope you will attend! ABACUS will be screened earlier that day on the Law School campus, and the Rappaport Center will also host a panel discussion after the screening, open to all.
ABACUS premieres on PBS Frontline on September 12.
I was recently invited to a special screening of the new PBS documentary film ABACUS: Small Enough to Jail. First of all, a disclaimer: this is not a film review. I have no credentials to dissect whether ABACUS was well done from a technical or an artistic standpoint. What I can share are my reactions, and this documentary resonated with me on several fronts. The fact that the story (and film) involves several BC Law alumnae makes it even more compelling for our community. I would encourage everyone to go see it.
Abacus is a community bank located in the heart of New York’s Chinatown. Thomas Sung, an immigrant and a lawyer, opened the bank so that he could meet the needs of the people there. He later convinced two of his four daughters (one a BC Law alum) to join him, by arguing that working in a community bank lending money to local entrepreneurs is an important and effective way of giving back to the community. Continue reading