University of Pittsburgh

Faculty News

Thursday, April 24, 2014 - 2:11pm

Professor Jules Lobel Quoted By Post-Gazette On PA’s Same-Sex Marriage Case

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently sought comment from Pitt Law Professor Jules Lobel on the PA Supreme Court case concerning the constitutionality of the state’s 18-year-old same-sex marriage ban. The case be close to a quick ruling this May by U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III of the Middle District of Pennsylvania. According to the Post-Gazette, if the judge opts to decide the case on the motions, he could do so any time after the May 12 deadline for reply briefs.

Prof. Lobel told the Post-Gazette that the state faces “rough sledding” in making a case against same-sex marriage.

“The rational basis test has not proven in the last 10 years or so to be a savior for the states” that are defending bans on same-sex marriage, Lobel said to the Post-Gazette.

Courts have tended to rule that "pandering to the prejudices of the citizenry is not a rational basis for legislation,” Lobel said.

Read more on this story in the Post-Gazette.

Monday, April 21, 2014 - 1:45pm

Professor Arthur Hellman was quoted extensively by the Recorder, the west coast legal newspaper, in an article on the impact of President Obama’s appointees on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. If one pending nominee is confirmed, the Ninth Circuit will have its full complement, 29 active judges, with Democratic appointees outnumbering Republicans, 20-9. “This will be a moment in history—29 active judges with this very substantial imbalance politically,” Hellman said.

While he cautioned that political pedigrees don’t dictate results from case to case, over the long haul Hellman expects two more Obama appointees to increase liberal outcomes, particularly when the court is deciding which important, thorny issues to review en banc. “It may not be a huge shift, but I think we will see something of a shift in that direction,” he said.

Hellman believes the addition of two more Democratic appointees will be felt when the court holds votes on whether to take cases en banc. He points out that even if five Democratic appointees were to side with Republicans, the remaining Democrats could still form a majority to call a case en banc.

Read more here.  

Monday, April 21, 2014 - 1:41pm

On April 15, 2014, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s energy news site, PowerSource, published an article "Slicing the Corporate Pie," concerning top executives' pay, particularly in the energy industry. Author Anya Litvak interviewed and quoted Professor Douglas Branson: "[S]ome executive compensation experts, such as Doug Branson, a professor of business law at the University of Pittsburgh, say [use of all or nearly all equity-based compensation] ignores a company's other constituents: employees, suppliers and customers. "We're finding that excessive stock options are not a good thing," he said, as they incentivize "taking excessive risk, and taking excessive risk is antithetical to sustainability."

Read the full article here.  

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 - 2:18pm

Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Law Tony Infanti was quoted in an MSNBC story regarding the continuing tax hassles for same-sex couples following the Supreme Court's landmark decision in United States v. Windsor last summer, striking down a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Read the full story here.  


Tuesday, April 8, 2014 - 11:46am

Pitt Law Professor Arthur Hellman commented in The Legal Intelligencer on the surprisingly close Senate votes to confirm two of President Obama’s nominees for the federal district court in Philadelphia. One of the nominees had run as a pro-life candidate for Congress in the mid-1990s; the other had supported gun control legislation in the late 1990s. Hellman noted that the two issues—abortion and gun control—rarely come before a district court judge; “a judge could go an entire career without handling an abortion case” or a gun case, he said. But, he added, trial judges do decide whether to grant preliminary injunctions when they are faced with those kinds of cases, which changes the status quo for a period of time.

Hellman also pointed out that the “no” votes might have been predicated on concerns about the nominees’ approach to legal issues that go beyond the two hot-button issues. He said that some senators might see the judges’ positions on those issues as being “reflective of a larger worldview.”

Read more here.  

Thursday, April 3, 2014 - 4:21pm


For the first time in its history, the Pitt Law Securities Arbitration law clinic has filed an amicus curiae brief asking the Supreme Court to consider a Bear Stearns hedge fund investment fraud case stemming from the sub-prime mortgage crisis and subsequent questions about arbitration neutrality.

The clinic, composed of Pitt Law students Kieran O’Leary, Jeremy Papp, Stuart Carney, Fangxing (James) Li, Kelly Horejs, Joseph Fladung, Sydney Normil, Joseph O’Neill, and Andrew Karas, researched the case heavily in two teams before filing the 27-page brief with the nation’s highest court Mar. 14.

While the Supreme Court handles 10,000 case requests in a year, typically only 70 to 80 go to oral argument. However the filing of the friend of the court brief gives the clinic students the opportunity for real world case experience in research and navigating the motions of court filing.

In comments to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, clinic director Alice Stewart said the case has serious implications for small investors. “Ms. Stewart said the way the arbitrators and courts treated Mr. Stone has serious implications for all small investors.

"The holding in the [appeals court] opinion unduly burdens small investors, and that concerns me," Stewart said to the Post-Gazette. “This is an important issue. Just about everybody over 30 has an investment account, so it affects a lot of people.”

Read more about the case Stone v. Bear Stearns and the Pitt Law clinic’s related actions in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - 11:06am

Professor John Burkoff was quoted in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review on the death by drowning in Jamaica of a man awaiting trial on homicide charges in Pennsylvania. Burkoff questioned why he was allowed to travel outside the United States while serious charges were pending. There are no automatic restrictions imposed under state law in such cases, he said. “It's a surprise to me he was allowed out of the country,” Burkoff added. “It's unusual. Maybe the judge thought he wasn't a flight risk.”

Read the full article here.

Thursday, March 6, 2014 - 2:25pm


In recent stories concerning the movement to end solitary confinement in prisons, Pitt Law Professor Jules Lobel was quoted by NBC News and CNN on his work and involvement in a class action lawsuit to end solitary confinement in prisons.

In a recent NBC News article, “Movement to End Solitary Confinement Gains Force” reporter Elizabeth Chuck relied on Lobel’s experience concerning solitary confinement matters. “The trend right now is to recognize that solitary is both an economically wasteful and harmful method for prisons to operate,” Lobel said in the article.

A recent CNN article by Elizabeth Landau, “Solitary Confinement: 29 Years In a Box,” referenced Lobel’s representation of more than 1,000 prisoners at Pelican Bay Prison in northern California in a lawsuit alleging that keeping prisoners in solitary confinement violates the Constitution and international law because it is cruel and inhumane. In the article, Lobel said there has been a swath of cataract surgeries at Pelican Bay Prison.

The CNN article referenced Lobel’s argument at the American Association for Advancement of Science annual meeting stating that “social interaction and sensory stimulation from a basic human need,” and that need is supported by science. Research has shown people outside of prison who are socially isolated also have a higher risk of heart attacks, hypertension, concentration and memory problems, Lobel said in the article.

“We’re trying to integrate law and science in this,” Lobel said.

Professor Jules Lobel is the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). On May 31, 2012, the CCR filed a federal lawsuit (Ashker v. Brown) on behalf of prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison who have spent 10 to 28 years in solitary confinement. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014 - 1:41pm


Georgia State University College of Law and its Center for Law Health & Society have selected 10 faculty fellows from around the country to participate in the Future of Public Health Law Education Faculty Fellowship Program. One of the award recipients is Pitt Law adjunct professor, Elizabeth Bjerke. Bjerke teaches Public Health Law at Pitt Law and is also assistant professor with the Pitt Department of Health Policy and Management at the Graduate School of Public Health. With the 10 fellows, Bjerke will help create a practice-based course related to preventive services under the Affordable Care Act.

Professor Bjerke is a frequent lecturer on emergency preparedness law. Her recent and current projects include researching the public health system with respect to emergency preparedness and response, integrating traditional legal analysis with social networking principles, analyzing hydraulic fracturing’s environmental impacts, co-authoring the Pennsylvania Public Health Law Bench Book, and investigating laws governing infectious diseases outbreaks as part of the University of Pittsburgh’s MIDAS National Center of Excellence. Previously, she was an attorney specializing in litigation with the United States Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. and with Thompson & Knight in Dallas, Texas.

According to a Georgia State College of Law press release, the Future of Public Health Law Education Faculty Fellowship Program is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to foster innovations and build a learning community among those who teach public health law at professional and graduate schools. In addition to the 10 fellows, five nationally renowned faculty members will serve as mentors in the program. One of the mentors selected is Pitt Law Professor Mary Crossley.

The fellows, their mentors, along with deans, distinguished public health practitioners and leading legal education experts will participate in an intensive 10-day summer institute in July in Park City, Utah, to kick off the program. The fellows and mentors will communicate regularly throughout the year as the fellows implement their curricular innovations, according to the press release.

Monday, February 24, 2014 - 4:07pm

Commenting on the sentencing of former Chief of Police Nate Harper, Professor John Burkoff was quoted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as follows: "Look, one of the things a judge always considers is what kind of message [she's] sending with this sentence," said John Burkoff, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. " 'What's the message I'll be sending to police officers who may be tempted to do something bad if I'm lenient?' "

Read the full article here.   


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