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The MSBA’s 125th Thought Leadership Initiative hosted its Spark Series Capstone Program on January 20, 2023, at

the University of Maryland Carey School of Law. The event created space for intellectual stimulation and deep reflection and included thought-provoking keynote speakers and panels, with high-level professionals challenging us to think about emerging issues and the role of our profession in grappling with ethical and justice implications – that will serve to have a lasting impact on the MSBA and the profession as a whole.

After an address by keynote speaker Attorney General Anthony Brown, attendees engaged in panel discussions on the topics “Guardians of Justice,” “Reforming Justice,” and “Science, Technology & Justice.” The day concluded with a dean’s roundtable discussion between Dean Ronald Weich, University of Baltimore School of Law; Renée McDonald Hutchins, University of Maryland Carey School of Law; Dean Roger A. Fairfax Jr. of American University Washington College of Law; and Dean Dayna Bowen Matthew of George Washington University School of Law.

GUARDIANS OF JUSTICE

Erica Newland, Counsel of Protect Democracy, and Lauren Stiller Rikleen, Interim Executive Director of Lawyers Defending American Democracy, discussed how their organizations facilitate attorneys making known their support for democracy and the rule of law. Both noted that bar associations have a role to play by taking leadership in protecting the rule of law. Newland also indicated that a bar association “might be especially well positioned” to help organize support for attorneys who might take on professional risk by speaking out, for example as a whistleblower.

REFORMING JUSTICE

Alec Karakatsanis, Founder and Executive Director of Civil Rights Corps and Michael R. Bromwich of Steptoe & Johnson, spoke on the theme of reforming justice. Karakatsanis described the fundamental problems with such systems as money bail—where poor people sit in jail for such offenses

as parking tickets, and the war on drugs, which has led to millions of people jailed but has not reduced the level of drug use, which is higher than ever.

Bromwich talked about how attorney failures played a role in the Baltimore City Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force Scandal, noting that there was a lack of skepticism on the part of lawyers when officers were accused of misdoings; a failure on the part of defense attorneys to litigate when there was a lack of probable cause for arrest; and even pro-government judges who accepted uncredible police testimony. Although Bromwich noted there were some exceptions to this, overall there were broad-scale failures and shortcomings in the entire universe of lawyers involved.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & JUSTICE

Amanda C. Pustilnik, Professor of Law, University of Maryland Carey Law and Lydia X. Z. Brown, Policy Counsel for Privacy and Data, Center for Democracy and Technology, discussed the role of science and technology in justice.

Professor Pustilnik discussed the core of her work, which is based on the idea that science and technology are fundamentally important to justice. She noted that we now have 25 years of good brain imaging science that has been used successfully in courtrooms and in settling cases showing that people who claim pain ought to be viewed differently.

Brown discussed the impact of algorithmic harm on disabled persons, explaining that there is a presumption of fraud built into social services/public benefits computer programs. As an example, she noted that, in the time of COVID and distance testing, virtual test proctoring companies attempt to control unauthorized activity. Brown said that this approach fails to recognize wider systemic issues, such as why do students cheat in schools; this is a system where students are being taught to earn high grades rather than synthesize knowledge.

DEAN’S ROUNDTABLE

Deans Weich, Hutchins, Fairfax and Matthew addressed the grand challenges they face as those leading the institutions raising tomorrow’s lawyers. Dean Hutchins noted that law school deans have come to understand that they are raising a generation of lawyers who will be called to uphold democracy. “Lawyers have a very real role to play in maintaining and supporting American democracy.” Dean Weich agreed but said the future lawyers will also have to work to improve American democracy and institutions. Dean Fairfax agreed that law schools must instill values that will not only keep the profession strong but will renew and prop up democracy … stakes have never been higher.

Dean Matthew believes the charge of law schools now is that they must educate “a veritable army to save, to protect, to fight for democracy, the rule of law, justice … what we are doing is no less than, I think, educating an army for tomorrow.” Going further, she said it’s not only the job of law schools—“We are the last best hope.”

To learn more about the Capstone event, visit: https://www.msba.org/spark-series-capstone-program-challenges-lawyers-to-improve-system-fight-for-democracy/