University of Pittsburgh

Faculty News

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.   


Thursday, February 20, 2014 - 4:12pm

Pitt Law Professor Tony Infanti was featured on the Lange Money Hour on KQV 1410 AM speaking about the current state of the LGBT rights movement, his book, Everyday Law for Gays and Lesbians (And Those Who Care About Them), and recent guidance for same-sex couples from the IRS following the Supreme Court's same-sex marriage decision last summer.

An encore presentation will air this Sunday at 9am.  The archived show will appeach here in the near future.  

Wednesday, February 19, 2014 - 12:13pm

Professor Rhonda Wasserman was quoted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette regarding sanctions issued by a federal magistrate judge overseeing prison litigation against Allegheny County. The judge sanctioned an attorney representing the County for failing to provide the names of corrections officers who are prospective witnesses in the case. The judge’s order required the attorney to personally pay for the time opposing counsel spent drafting a motion to compel the county to provide the names. "’Most judges at some point will lose patience, especially if there doesn't seem to be any good reason not to comply with [a discovery] order,’ said Rhonda Wasserman, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh.”

Read the full article here.  

Monday, February 17, 2014 - 10:00am

Professor John Burkoff was quoted by the Pittsburgh Tribune Review about the inevitability of the ban on same-sex marriages in Pennsylvania being thrown out by the courts. “The final result of the litigation in Pennsylvania is foreordained, just as it is in every other state. The only truly open question now is how long it will take for the judicial process to grind to its inevitable conclusion,” said Burkoff.

Read the full article here.  



Thursday, February 13, 2014 - 3:18pm

A federal judge has filed a negligence suit against his dentist in District of Columbia Superior Court, and Pitt Law Professor Arthur D. Hellman talked to Legal Times of Washington (National Law Journal) about the unusual episode. The judge is Senior Judge Laurence Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

There are no ethics rules preventing judges from bringing lawsuits, said Hellman. “Judges don’t give up their rights as citizens when they become judges,” he said. It's uncommon to see a judge file a complaint, he added, “but it does happen.”

The case was filed in Superior Court, as opposed to the federal trial court in Washington. Silberman’s appearance as a plaintiff, then, didn't raise any automatic conflict issues, Hellman said. The presiding judge, Judge Stuart Nash, would be required to follow the same recusal rules as in any other case if the judge or parties identified any conflicts, he said.

Read the full article here.           


Monday, February 10, 2014 - 4:30pm

David Garrow had an essay in Sunday, February 9th's Washington Post 'Outlook' section reviewing two new books about civil rights history, Aram Goudsouzian's "Down to the Crossroads," on the 1966 Meredith March in Mississippi, and David Chappell's "Waking From the Dream: The Struggle for Civil Rights in the Shadow of Martin Luther King, Jr." This was Garrow's second article in the Post in the past three weeks.

Read the full essay here.  


Monday, February 10, 2014 - 1:36pm

Associate Dean Tony Infanti was interviewed on the BBC's Newshour program regarding the legal implications of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's recent announcement that the federal government will be expanding the recognition of same-sex marriages to cover criminal proceedings, bankruptcy proceedings, prisoner visitation, and compensation funds for slain police officers.  The opportunity for Infanti to speak with the BBC was facilitated by Jurist staff members.  

Listen to the full broadcast here or listen approximately 44 minutes in to hear Infanti.  

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