Saturday, October 27, 2007

Legal scholar dissects Supreme Court workings at El Caballero Country Club Event

Here's my article from this week's Encino Sun

Noted legal expert and Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson spoke to a crowd of about 90 members of The Executives – the Valley-based fundraising arm of The Jewish Home for the Aging – at the El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana on October 18.

“Is this really a room full of lawyers or are there any normal people here?” Levenson joked at the early morning meeting.

Levenson, who testified earlier this year before the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Alberto Gonzales proceedings, eloquently translated the law into user-friendly terms in a lecture entitled “What to Expect from the 5-4 Supreme Court.”

In an age of celebrity-driven court news, from O.J. Simpson to Phil Spector (the latter of whom Levenson said looked “more and more like my Bubbe” as his trial progressed), the professor focused on cases addressed during the Supreme Court’s past term, and why people should care.

“This is the lowest number of cases they’ve decided in the last 50 years,” Levenson remarked on their 68 case load, as compared to the more typical 150 in years past. “As they decide fewer cases, unfortunately their opinions get longer and less comprehensible, so that’s the challenge that we have for today.”

Her favorite case of the term, she said, was Morse and the Juneau School Board et al. v. Frederick in Alaska, a freedom of speech item that concerned a high school student holding up a “Bong Hits for Jesus” sign during the passing of the Olympic Torch in the 2002 Winter Games. The high school student’s principal, represented by attorney Kenneth Starr, accused the student of promoting drug use.

Levenson succinctly covered the broad range of criminal and civil cases decided by the Supreme Court and everything in between. These included issues involving gun control, equal protection violations, the Environmental Protection Agency and global warming, and the Guantanamo Bay enemy combatant cases, among others.

Possibly in salute to the bingo nights the Jewish Home for the Aging frequently hosts, Levenson teased the crowd to yell out “bingo!” at the tenth mention of Justice Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote who often acts as the deciding factor. This was true of the past term’s abortion case, where Kennedy’s vote determined the court’s ruling against full-fetal extractions.

Levenson discussed court decisions that disproportionately affect minority populations, such as the “war on drugs” and the disparity in sentencing terms for powdered cocaine vs. crack cocaine – the drug of choice in poor minority communities.

“[This means] if you’re a minority, you’re going to get slammed, and if you’re the kid in Beverly Hills you might get a lighter sentence,” she said.

A return guest speaker at an Executives event, Levenson also brought a note of humor to serious legal matters.

Regarding her experience as a witness during the Alberto Gonzales case and the discharge of eight United States attorneys for performance-related issues, she stated that “the attorney [Gonzales], in my opinion, did lie.

“I never had a date who wanted to be discharged for a performance reason.”

The Executives will continue their speakers series on December 6 when they host Kenneth Starr at the El Caballero Country Club. For more information, call (818) 774-3332.

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