Posted On: September 30, 2008

Mandatory Continuing Legal Education

My colleague, Paul Bekman, and I have sent this letter to Judge Wilner, Chairperson, Standing Committee on Rules of Practice & Procedure, and I thought I would share it with my readers...

We, members in good standing of the Maryland Bar, respectfully request that the Standing Committee on Rules once again consider recommending to the Court of Appeals mandatory continuing legal education (MCLE) for members of the Maryland Bar.

The challenges confronting the practice of law and our legal system today are more formidable than ever before. The law grows ever more complex, nourished by new statutes, new rules, new opinions by our distinguished courts, and new threats from forces that strain our traditional understanding of the rule of law and individual rights and liberties.

To meet the challenges of modern law practice, lawyers more so than ever before must be competent. The ABA Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar defines competency as basic skills, knowledge of the law and legal institutions, and the ability and skill to apply oneself to the task accepted with reasonable proficiency.

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Posted On: September 23, 2008

Fallacious Arguments

For those who plan to tune in to the presidential debate this Friday, here is a cheat sheet on some common logical fallacies. One can only hope these two fine candidates will steer clear of such foibles, but I, for one, am not holding my breath.

Slippery Slope

The “slippery slope” argument falsely assumes that once you take a moderate first step in a particular direction, a catastrophic chain of events will follow. In many cases, a better metaphor would be a staircase with many safe steps along the way.

For instance, one candidate told a radio show that choosing a vice president based on certain non-negotiable positions would send him down a “slippery slope.”

On the other hand, sometimes the slippery slope does exist and can be a legitimate basis for an argument. When you hear language like “opening the floodgates” and “slippery slope” your job is to make certain that the argument is true.

Compound Question

A question like, “Isn’t America tired of Democrats wanting to raise taxes?” is a compound question because it actually involves two or more issues that cannot be accurately answered with a single response. It assumes that Democrats have always wanted to raise taxes and also that you may have a position on the issue. The best response to a compound question is to point out that the questioner has made a false or unwarranted assumption.

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Posted On: September 8, 2008

Regional Juries Proposed

Those who cherish the jury system do so with the full recognition that juries composed of mere mortals are not perfect. We take the good with the bad, always trying to improve. For example in civil cases we now have juries composed of six citizens as opposed to the traditional twelve.

I am grateful that the Abell Foundation has shed new light on the outcome of jury cases in Baltimore City, as reported in yesterday’s Baltimore Sun. But I take issue with the suggestion that we in Maryland create regional juries. Even if the concept were attainable by overcoming legal hurtles, such juries would smack of the same "court packing" attributable to FDR when he proposed that Congress add a tenth justice to the US Supreme Court. President Roosevelt considered the Supreme Court Justices to be in error when they persistently ruled against him.

We must remember our system of government is composed of federal, state and local governments. In Maryland we have twenty-three counties and Baltimore City. Each county and city has its own local laws and customs. The defendants are entitled to juries who live in the community in which the trial unfolds. Those who say that in some counties juries are more likely to convict than juries in Baltimore City seem to write with a preconceived notion that many of those found not guilty are, in fact, guilty. Each case, however, must be judged on its own merits. Perhaps in the city cases, the prosecution did not have the evidence to persuade or were not as experienced as prosecutors in the other counties.

Although I do not believe that we should create regional juries, we should be ever conscious of enhancing the already refined methods of educating new jurors. We should also take steps to assure their confidence in their safety. And, we should let them know they have our respect for the serious work they do and sacrifice they make to serve the public and our democratic way of life.

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