Vol. 77, No. 5, May
Reno testifies before Avery Task Force,
advocates for an investigation checklist to prevent wrongful
Former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno (right) testifies before the
Avery Task Force. Reno recommends creating an investigation checklist
to avoid wrongful convictions.
"He's making a list and checking it twice." Although the song refers
to the jolly, bearded, red-suited bearer of gifts for children, law
enforcement could take a cue from it.
According to former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, fewer innocent
people would be convicted if police and prosecutors developed an
investigation checklist that would prompt them to reexamine assumptions
to ensure all avenues have been explored before filing criminal charges.
Reno delivered her remarks to the Avery Task Force, chaired by attorney
and State Representative Mark Gundrum (R-New Berlin), at the State
Capitol on April 22.
The checklist should be made simple and preferably automated, but
exhaustive, Reno said. She recommended that the checklist include the
- Who are the suspects?
- What leads have law enforcement identified and how have they been
- Has all exculpatory evidence been shared with the defense, and if
not, why not?
- What inconsistencies are there in the case, including eyewitness
- Was the confession taped, and if not, why not?
- Have nearby law enforcement agencies been surveyed to identify other
- Is there a reasonable basis for justifying the use of a jailhouse
According to Reno, such a checklist could help avoid tunnel vision
that can occur when law enforcement tightly focuses on a single suspect
to the exclusion of all others. She also said it would assist police in
"identifying the dots and connecting the dots in the right way."
The Avery Task Force is reviewing practices and procedures in
Wisconsin's criminal justice system that could be improved to avoid
wrongful convictions and hopes to make recommendations by the end of the
year. The state panel bears the name of Steven Avery, who spent 17-plus
years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
U.W. Law School underscores importance of
A strong emphasis on legal writing, a change in grading policy, and
examination of real-world legal problems are all part of a drive to put
the U.W. Law School at the forefront of a movement to improve the
communication skills of aspiring lawyers. One significant change is how
the U.W. Law School grades legal writing courses. Previously, all law
courses were graded on a numeric score - except legal writing, which was
graded with a letter grade that was not figured into the numeric
average. Legal writing classes now are graded numerically and included
in a student's average.
"This is a substantial change. It sends a loud message about the
relative importance of legal writing," says Susan Steingass, director of
the school's Communication and Advocacy Program.
The campaign to strengthen both legal writing and oral communication
grew out of a 2000 U.W. Law School study in which both graduates and
employers identified communication skills as among the most important
skills that a lawyer possesses.
According to U.W. Law School Dean Kenneth B. Davis, Jr., the emphasis
on legal writing will provide a stronger professional base for graduates
that will serve them throughout their careers. "Because words are at the
foundation of our work, sharp, focused legal writing is a powerful
skill, and we are committed to providing our graduates the right tools
to succeed in practice," says Davis.
Steingass plans to meet this spring with faculty, State Bar
representatives, and practicing attorneys to brainstorm new avenues the
law school can pursue to strengthen the program.
New overtime rules for white collar
workers effective Aug. 21
In April, U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao announced the final,
revised regulations governing wage and hour issues arising under the
Fair Labor Standards Act, including regulations related to overtime pay
eligibility for white-collar workers. The regulations had not been
substantially updated for more than 50 years, creating confusion for
workers and employers, generating wasteful class action litigation, and
failing to effectively protect workers' pay rights.
Under the old regulations, only workers earning less than $8,060
annually were guaranteed overtime pay. Under the new rules, workers
earning $23,660 or less are guaranteed overtime pay.
The U.S. Department of Labor's new "FairPay" rule, effective Aug. 21,
is published in the Federal Register and a text version is available online.
For more information about the Fair Labor Standards Act, visit the
Department's Wage and Hour Division Web
Students explore the color of justice at Law
In honor of Law Day, about 100 Wisconsin high school students from
diverse, inner-city schools attended a forum at the Capitol on April 26.
The forum, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of the landmark U.S.
Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, was
cosponsored by the Wisconsin Legal History Committee (a joint committee
of the Office of the Chief Justice and the State Bar) and the Dane
County Legal Resource Center.
The students were joined by the State Bar President George Burnett
and President-elect Michelle Behnke; Wisconsin Supreme Court justices,
Shirley S. Abrahamson, Jon P. Wilcox, Ann Walsh Bradley, N. Patrick
Crooks, David Prosser, Jr., Diane S. Sykes, and Patience Drake
Roggensack; First Lady Jessica Doyle; State Superintendent of Public
Instruction Elizabeth Burmaster; circuit court judges; and law
The goals of the program were to interest the students in taking
advantage of educational opportunities, inspire them to overcome
obstacles, and show them how the law can be a powerful tool for change.
The program, which has been presented nationwide, is based on a model
developed by the National Association of Women Judges.
The students listened to personal stories about obstacles faced and
overcome from Judge Maxine Aldridge White, Milwaukee County Circuit
Court, Judge Ralph Ramirez, Waukesha County Circuit Court, and State Bar
president-elect Behnke. U.W. Law School Vice Chancellor Linda Greene
outlined academic requirements and skills needed for a legal career. The
students had the opportunity to talk about their educational and career
goals with the presenters during lunch, which was sponsored by the State