Saturday, April 21, 2012

Personal Note

The University of St. Thomas School of Law Spring symposium on Sentence Commutations and the Executive Pardon Power is now over. Professor Mark Osler was the driving force behind the event and law journal Editor in Chief Marc Spooner and Symposium Editor Alison Ovenden worked out the details and ran things smoothly.

The special features of the event were numerous, and impossible to rank in any intelligent manner. Jeffrey Crouch (American University) and I were able share political science angles to the mix - significant in and of itself because of the traditionally poor lines of communication between the disciplines. Margaret Colgate Love, former U.S. Pardon Attorney, participated and former Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich gave the keynote address. David Zlotnick (Rodger Williams School of Law) gave a presentation on strategic clemency that would have fascinated any social scientist - lots of interesting,researchable hypotheses. Judge Richard Sullivan, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York was fascinating as well, doing more than providing a "judicial perspective," but also challenging the audience to think about some issues in new, more rigorous ways.

Dan Kobil (Capital University School of Law) and Doug Bernam (Ohio State School of Law) were the dynamic-duo-one-two-dynamite punch. I think I could listen to them talk about clemency and litigation all day. In 20 plus years, it has never once occurred to me to give a standing O at a political science conference, for any reason, or any one. But Kobil and Berman know how to load you down with quality, thought provoking information. They also help you live better with the fact that you woke up so !@#$ early in the morning. And, well, sometimes, gratitude can be hard to suppress.

At the end of the day, we were able to hear from Serena Nunn, J.D. Michigan Law School, and a recipient of a commutation of sentence. On the same panel sat the prosecutor in her case (now Judge Denise D. Reilly) and the sentencing judge (Judge David S. Doty). Can you imagine how rarely that combination of individuals is achieved? The conversation was a little tense, polite, informative, emotional, compelling ... and I don't think anyone in the room walked away from it the same. What an experience!

Speaking of compelling, I have to say this, as a teacher and husband to a top-notch lawyer: I made it a point to talk to as many St. Thomas School of Law students as I could, not about myself, or my work, but about them. I asked them about what year they were in, where they were from, what they liked / did not like about law school, if it everything they expected it to be, where they wanted to be in the future, etc. I talked to several tables of students before my presentation, several individually during breaks and others going to and from the campus.

Every single student I met was not just polite, but clearly welcoming, friendly, articulate and altogether impressive. They appeared focused, ambitious, intellectually curious, and a wide, fabulous world of potential just seemed to surround each and every single one of them. I haven't met so many impressive students in one place in many, many years. It was great to chat with them, and an encouragement as well. Yes, it is good for a teacher to see that kind of thing every now and then.

I am so grateful to the folks at St. Thomas for inviting me to participate in the symposium. As I told Prof. Osler last night, I think it will actually take a couple of days for it to all really sink in.

P.S. Ruckman, Jr.
Editor, PardonPower

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