University of Pittsburgh

Faculty News

Monday, July 21, 2014 - 12:10pm

President Obama’s judicial nominees have been moving increasingly quickly to Senate confirmation, and the Legal Intelligencer (part of ALM Media Properties) asked Pitt Law Professor Arthur D. Hellman why this is now happening.

Hellman suggested that the gutting of the filibuster in favor of a simple majority was the reason for the speedier pace.

The nuclear option changed the landscape, Hellman said.

“The dynamics are completely different” now, he said, explaining that when something as significant as changing the 60-vote threshold is changed, it changes the game since interest groups that might have once put money into fighting a nominee might lose interest and some senators who might have voted against a nominee might change their minds in the face of an, essentially, impossible fight.

Hellman also cited the midterm elections as putting pressure on the White House to move its nominees through while it has a majority in the Senate, saying of Obama before the midterms, “He has a window now that is going to close soon.”

Read the full article here.        

Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 11:13am

Pitt Law Professors Debbie Brake and Ben Bratman were quoted extensively in an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on July 12, 2014, about a recent settlement of a lawsuit alleging employment discrimination and retaliation.

Read the full story here.  


Monday, July 14, 2014 - 5:17pm


A front page Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article details the story of the suicide of 23-year-old Brandon Palakovic in July 2012 in a troubled, now-closed state prison outside of Altoona. Pitt Law graduate, Bret Grote, a prisoners’ rights advocate familiar with the Palakovic’s matter, was quoted by the Post-Gazette on the Palakovic family’s recent lawsuit against the Department of Corrections seeking answers and reform about Brandon’s death.

Mr. Grote said to the Post-Gazette that the Palakovics have one goal in their case. "They don't want other people to go through the pain and the loss that they have,” Grote said. “If Brandon's story in this lawsuit can hit home the life and death consequences of this issue, and contribute to publicizing the serious human rights violations that go on in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, then that is their ultimate intention.”

Mr. Grote with The Abolitionist Law Center has taken on the Palakovics’ case under the representation of Mike Healy of the firm Healy and Hornack and Pitt Law Professor Jules Lobel.

Read more about the Palakovics’ story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Read more about the case Palakovic v. Wetzel at the Abolitionist Law Center.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014 - 1:45pm

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals became the first federal appellate court to hold that the Federal Constitution requires states to recognize same-sex marriages. What are the implications of this development for the likelihood that the United States Supreme Court will take up the issue? The Wall Street Journal put that question to Pitt Law Professor Arthur D. Hellman, an expert on the federal judiciary.

“On an issue this fundamental, I just don’t see the Court waiting around for the other circuits,” Hellman said. “People expect the Supreme Court to settle issues like this [for the country] with a unified voice, and I’d imagine the Court will do that sooner rather than later.”

Read the full story here.  

Wednesday, July 2, 2014 - 9:49am

Photo: Pitt Law Professor Vivian Curran

University of Pittsburgh School of Law Professor Vivian Curran recently was made a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques (Order of Academic Palms) by the government of France. The award, originally founded by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1808, recognizes distinguished academics and figures in French culture and education. It was bestowed on Curran by the Consul General of France during a June 3 ceremony. The innovative approaches to legal scholarship and education Curran has brought to Pitt Law now place her with such Ordre des Palmes Académiques luminaries as 19th-century mathematician Henri Brocard and Olympic gold medalist Michel Alaux.

Instrumental in promoting the teaching of law courses in foreign languages, Curran instituted the Languages for Lawyers program, a course system designed to facilitate communication between lawyers and foreign clients and to teach foreign languages in a legal context. Curran’s class teaching French in a legal context was the first of its kind in the country. She also founded the English for Lawyers course for foreign attorneys and teaches a course on international arbitration in French, which produces students sought after by major American law firms in France and at home. Cultural exchange is a key component of Curran’s instruction, a critical element for an increasingly globalized world, and a facet of her influential book, Learning French Through The Law (Juris Publishing, 1996).

Curran’s work has greatly expanded Pitt Law’s embrace of foreign languages and intercultural exchange. For the past eight years, Curran has worked with a group of French and American judges at the Collège de France on the internationalization of law. In addition to her many English-language publications, Curran publishes frequently in French law journals—work that was recognized with her election in 2013 to the Société Française de Législation Comparée (French Society of Comparative Legislation). In addition, Curran is a member of the American Law Institute and International Academy of Comparative Law. She was also decorated in 2007 with one of the highest honors in the Republic of Austria for her work as the United States appointee to the Austrian General Settlement Fund Committee for Nazi-era property compensation.

Today’s lawyer and legal scholar must be prepared for a world of overlapping international legal configurations, particularly in the spheres of human rights and multinational corporations, topics on which Curran is frequently sought after to speak. She has given talks at universities in the United States, France, Germany, Italy, and Holland. Her articles have appeared in such publications as the Notre Dame Law Review, Hastings Law Journal, Boston College Law Review, Alberta Law Review, American Journal of Comparative Law, Revue Internationale de Droit Comparé, American Journal of International Law, Columbia Journal of European Law, Cornell International Law Journal, and as chapters in numerous books, including one coedited by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

The Ordre des Palmes Académiques capstones Curran’s exemplary legal scholarship, hard work, and the innovative practices she continues to impart on the Pitt Law community.

Thursday, June 26, 2014 - 4:27pm

It is quite common for federal district judges to sit by designation on a court of appeals, but only rarely do appellate judges sit by designation on the district bench. Currently, however, Third Circuit Judge D. Michael Fisher has been assigned to handle two cases that are ready for trial in the Western District of Pennsylvania. Pitt Law Professor Arthur D. Hellman commented on the development in a story published in the Legal Intelligencer.

Hellman explained that the practice can be beneficial. Since it is common for lawyers to be appointed to the circuit courts from private practice or academia, they can gain valuable experience by handling a trial-level case, which is often messier than what appears before an appeals court. “I think that is very useful,” Hellman said.

The order designating Judge Fisher did not include the reason for the assignment. Chief Judge Theodore A. McKee acknowledged that it would have been preferable to include the reason, and Hellman agreed. The “lack of an explanation is likely to lead people to jump to an erroneous conclusion,” he said.

Read the full article here.  

Friday, June 20, 2014 - 2:21pm

Federal judges are required to file public reports each year on their financial holdings and sources of income. The reporting requirements were instituted as a means of exposing potential conflicts of interest, but they serve that purpose poorly, Pitt Law Professor Arthur D. Hellman told the National Law Journal.

The disclosures, Hellman said, are “outdated as soon as they're filed.”

“If you're a knowledgeable lawyer, you know the judges are supposed to be using the conflict identification software [used by the judiciary independently of the disclosure reports],” Hellman said. “You hope that’s going to be effective.”

Read the full article here.  

Wednesday, June 11, 2014 - 11:27am

President Obama’s 49 appointments to the federal courts of appeals have dramatically altered the makeup of the federal appellate judiciary, Pitt Law Professor Arthur Hellman told the Washington Post. The transformation, in just 5 1/2 years, marks “a huge shift in a very short period of time,” Hellman said. And it means that Democratic appointed judges “have the ability to control every important case if they wish to” in those nine circuits.

The reason that’s important is because those courts are often the courts of last resort, Hellman told the Post, since the Supreme Court rules only in about 75 cases a year and has not weighed in many areas, including issues of import to business or the First Amendment rights of student internet expression. The appeals courts, in contrast, issue thousands of opinions a year.

Until the high court speaks, “the law that counts is the law of the circuit,” Hellman said.

Read the full story here.  


Tuesday, June 3, 2014 - 1:32pm

Pitt Law Professor Arthur Hellman was quoted in The National Law Journal article "Law Firm Ties That Bind" by Zoe Tillman. The article is part 2 of a series of NLJ articles on judicial transparency. "The question ought to be: 'Does a judge have a stake in the firm's continued financial success?'" Hellman said in the article which relied upon his expertise in judiciary ethics. Read the article on The National Law Journal.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014 - 11:54am

Professor Vivian CurranPitt Law Professor Vivian Curran is slated to receive the Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Palmes Académiques (The Order of Academic Palms) from the Consul General of France, Mr. Oliver Serot Almeras. She will receive this highest honor on Tuesday June 3, 2014 at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

The Order des Palmes Académiques, originally instituted in 1808 by Napoleon Bonaparte, is one of the highest French government honors bestowed upon academics and cultural figures.

Please join in celebrating Professor Curran's achievement at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in the Alcoa Room for the ceremony and following reception.

June 3, 2014
6:00 p.m.
University of Pittsburgh School of Law
Alcoa Room, Barco Law Building, Second Floor
3900 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15260

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