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Op-Ed

National championship

December 5, 2022

Is it weird that law schools worry about where they're ranked? It doesn't have to be if you make the contest fun.

Milt Policzer

By Milt Policzer

Courthouse News columnist; racehorse owner and breeder; one of those guys who always got picked last.

I’ve always thought that college reputations suffered from a chicken/egg problem. Do the “best” schools produce the most successful students or do the smartest students create the best schools?

What if, say, Harvard, traded student bodies with Podunk State in the middle of nowhere? Wouldn’t the stats on career success be radically changed?

Top, driven students are going to do well no matter where they are, and if they’re in a community with other top students (who, theoretically, have successful parents), there will be real-world job connections.

I bring this up in the light of the recent mini-brouhaha over the U.S. News and World Report rankings of the top law schools. A good number of those top law schools say they’re withholding data from the magazine because they don’t like the way the rankings are calculated. Among the complaints are that the magazine rankers place too much emphasis on grade point averages of incoming students and high-paying jobs as opposed to public service work for outgoing students.

Sounds like they were ranking the students, not the schools.

Chicken/egg debate aside, why should law schools care about this? These aren’t football rankings. There’s no national championship. There’s no bowl game money at stake. I’m pretty sure all these schools are getting full classes no matter where they’re ranked.

The only explanation I can come up with for this controversy is that the people running law schools really do think they’re like football teams. They want to win the national law school championship.

So we need to formalize this with a series of seasonal contests leading up to a final championship match at, say, halftime of the football championship game. School teams will engage in a series of challenges that include objecting, creative billing and Supreme Court trivia.

Winning national championship team members get automatic admission to the state bar of their choice.

Corpse law. Death is no longer a defense in Louisiana.

We learned this in a ruling from the Louisiana Supreme Court in which the court, in a footnote, tells us that “stare decisis is part of the common law tradition that has governed criminal law in Louisiana from the time it was a territory of the United States.”

The court then proceeds at some length to explain that it doesn’t have to pay attention to stare decisis.

I guess that’s normal for courts these days. Be that as it may, the Louisiana court decided to overrule the “abatement ab initio doctrine” that says if a defendant dies while his case is being appealed, the appeal is dismissed and the conviction and sentenced are vacated.

That may seem kind of reasonable since the dead can’t serve their sentences — unless the state wants to throw bodies into jail and let them rot. A lot of them would get out early for good behavior, I guess.

The court, though, cited victims’ rights and the state’s Crime Victims Reparations Act (CVRA) as reasons not to vacate a conviction. The CVRA, as far as I can tell — and, please, correct me if I’m wrong — doesn’t say anything about needing a conviction for crime victims to get some money from the state.

And there doesn’t seem to be any reason for crime victims not to file civil suits against an estate. So I have no idea how this helps victims.

Anyhow, the bottom line from the court for the dead convicted murderer is that his appeal is dismissed and he gets a notation in the record that the conviction removed the defendant’s presumption of innocence and the conviction “was neither affirmed nor reversed on appeal due to his death.”

There’s no closure on appeal for the dead.

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