News Roundup

Last Friday, the Criminal Justice Section of the North Carolina Bar Association presented its annual awards for excellence in prosecution and criminal defense. The prosecutor award went to Assistant United States Attorney Sandra Hairston, who serves in the Middle District of North Carolina and who regularly outlawyered me when I was doing federal criminal defense work. The defense attorney award went to Mark Owens, Jr. of Greenville, who this NCBA press release describes as the “elder statesman” of the Pitt County bar. Congratulations to both winners.

WRAL reports on State Crime Lab woes, reforms. WRAL reports here that the Crime Lab “has instituted various changes to help clear a backlog of evidence awaiting testing but that its biggest problem persists – having enough funding to retain analysts who are taking higher-paying jobs.” Among the reforms mentioned was “bringing corporate workflow ideas” into the lab to make its operations more efficient.

88% of judges think they are above average. This Above the Law post discusses a study about whether 167 federal magistrate judges were subject to common cognitive biases like the anchoring effect, hindsight bias, and egocentric bias. Egocentric bias is the tendency to overestimate one’s own ability, and the study found that 88% of judges reported that they were above average judges. They’re like children in Lake Wobegon, apparently.

What not to wear, Oklahoma edition. An Oklahoma legislator has introduced a bill that would make it a crime to wear hooded sweatshirts, or anything else with a hood, in public. Slate reports here that the purpose of the bill is to ensure “that people cannot conceal their identities for the purposes of crime or harassment.” The bill contains exceptions for Halloween, masquerade parties, inclement weather, and “exhibitions of minstrel troupes, circuses . . . or other amusements.” Before you think “only in Oklahoma,” take a look at G.S. 14-12.7, a similar statute inspired by quite different historical concerns.

Fewer lawyers, but more “limited legal license technicians”? Law school applications continue their rapid and continuous decline, according to this Wall Street Journal Law Blog post. And while the shrinking number of applicants hasn’t exactly created a lawyer shortage, legal services remain out of reach for many Americans. In response, Washington State has created something called a “limited legal license technician” to handle certain types of cases with only an Associate’s degree and 3,000 hours of work under a lawyer’s supervision. Above the Law has the story here. It’s an interesting parallel to the rise of mid-level providers in medicine, such as physician assistants and nurse practitioners.

Grisham’s latest, reviewed. John Grisham’s latest page-turner is Gray Mountain, a book set in rural Appalachia that concerns a big-firm attorney turned legal aid lawyer and some bare-knuckle litigation against big coal. I enjoyed it, in part beacuse it led me to read up a bit on so-called mountaintop removal coal mining, but this Above the Law review opines that it is “mediocre” with a weak and confusing plot.

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