Monday, April 8, 2013

David Tanenhaus Educates on Legal History, Juvenile Justice through Conferences, Scholarly Work, and Speaking Engagements

David Tanenhaus is starting a new chapter in his career, but he’s hitting the ground running with conferences, speaking engagements, teaching, and scholarship.

“I see this as a new chapter in my career,” said Tanenhaus, Professor and Chair of the UNLV History Department and James E. Rogers Professor of History and Law. “I just concluded an eight-year editorship of Law & History Review, the leading journal in the field, where I devoted a lot of time and energy. Now I’m focusing more attention on my scholarly agenda.”

On Feb. 21, Tanenhaus hosted the ninth annual Philip Pro Lectureship, which drew more than 60 attendees. The event featured Bancroft award-winning author and Harvard Professor of Law and Professor of History Tomiko Brown-Nagin, who presented her book, Courage to Dissent: Atlanta and the Long History of the Civil Rights Movement.

“I spent two weeks in my course in the fall on the book. It’s very exciting for students to hear directly from the author,” said Tanenhaus.

In 2005, Pulitzer prize-winning historian Gordon Wood inaugurated the Philip Pro Lectureship in Legal History at the Boyd School of Law. The series annually brings an internationally prominent scholar to UNLV to deliver a public lecture.

Since the Philip Pro Lectureship, Tanenhaus has turned his attention to planning a conference focused on choosing the future for American juvenile justice. He, along with Frank Zimring, William G. Simon Professor of Law and Wolfen Distinguished Scholar at the UC Berkeley School of Law, will host the two-day conference on April 12 and 13.

“Before the event, I heard from a range of people, some from outside the state, who said they were interested in attending – a documentary filmmaker, public defenders, juvenile advocates,” said Tanenhaus. “When there’s a big Supreme Court decision, like 2012’s Miller v. Alabama, it attracts a lot of interest to the field. This has turned out to be a big year for juvenile justice.”

Sessions will focus on important reform issues that are relatively novel to traditional juvenile justice, yet must be addressed by policymakers in the near future. They include: disconnecting the school-to-prison pipeline, the relationship between immigration policy and juvenile justice, the significance of brain science for youth policy, the behavioral and legal issues involving juvenile sex offenders, and the disclosure of juvenile records.

“The conference will bring together prominent scholars to look at the 21st juvenile justice system. It’s very exciting to host the conference,” said Tanenhaus, who will present an overview of the history of juvenile justice reform at the conference.

The conference presenters’ papers will be published in a volume that Tanenhaus and Zimring are editing for Youth, Crime, and Justice, their new book series with New York University Press.

“Our goal for the series is to create a center for the interdisciplinary field of juvenile justice,” said Tanenhaus.

The series aims to become a central repository of studies that span the range of social, behavioral and policy sciences about youth development and governmental efforts to foster adolescent development yet control youth crime.

In addition to hosting conferences, Tanenhaus this semester is teaching an upper division undergraduate survey of American Constitutional History as well as a graduate seminar in American legal history. He has or is scheduled to make research presentations at the University of Illinois, Whittier Law School, and Texas Tech.

“It’s important to draw on past experiences because you can use history to make better decisions about policymaking,” Tanenhaus said.  

Rebecca Nathanson Sets Sights on Expanding Already Award-winning Kids’ Court School

Rebecca Nathanson, Ph.D. has one goal in mind: make sure children can tell their story in court.  

“The reality is, many people don’t think kids belong in court, but it’s always been important to me for kids to be able to tell their story in court,” said the James E. Rogers Professor of Education and Law.

The Kids’ Court School, established in 2002 by Nathanson, was created to help educate children about the courtroom process, reduce their anxiety before legal proceedings, and help facilitate their ability to tell their story in court.

The program has garnered national recognition as a model for children’s courtroom education. In 2012, it won Harvard University’s Bright Ideas award, a recognition given to programs that can be models for improving government at different levels.

“My career has focused on examining the capabilities and limitations of children, with a specific interest in kids with disabilities,” said Professor Nathanson. “I began this as a Research Fellow at UCLA Medical School, and over the years I’ve developed various strategies to enhance the completeness and accuracy of children’s reports. It is from this work that the Kids’ Court School evolved, a program I take great pride in since it has the potential of helping so many children and youth.”

The program’s curriculum is not only evidence-based but standardized, so that parties on all sides of a case know what participants are being taught.

Research conducted in June by Nathanson shows that the Kids’ Court School does indeed reduce children’s level of stress.

“This research is exciting because it’s helping instill more confidence in kids. It could potentially affect the way people look at kids in the legal system,” said Nathanson.

Since December, Nathanson has turned her attention to research exploring attorneys’ and guardians’ perceptions of Kids’ Court School.

“We think parents who are hesitant to have their kids testify would be more comfortable if they perceived their kids’ anxiety as lessened,” said Nathanson. “The second implication of our research is if attorneys perceive their clients’ anxiety as less, it may increase their confidence in their clients’ ability to testify in court. Many attorneys are hesitant about putting kids on the stand, but it’s important that they do.”

Kids’ Court School was developed originally for child witnesses, but the curriculum more recently has been expanded to help juvenile delinquents. Two months ago, Nathanson and her team began collecting data on the efficacy of this component of the Kids’ Court School.

“The juvenile system has been sending to us juveniles who are about to stand trial. Because of the need to remediate juvenile competency in this community and country, we began developing an additional curriculum for kids involved in delinquency proceedings,” Nathanson said.

Soon, she will undertake research to determine attorneys’ and judges’ perceptions of the credibility of children who go through the Kids’ Court School. In the near future, she will start another study to determine if juveniles have the ability to stand trial, or if developmental issues – problem-solving or decision-making skills – preclude that.

“We want to explore if the development of such processes, which typically develop in later adolescence, can be accelerated through the Kids’ Court School,” Nathanson said.

Since opening in 2002, more than 740 children have participated in the Kids’ Court School.

“It gives me great pride that many of these kids who wouldn’t have had a voice, did,” Nathanson said. 

Tax Law Expert Francine Lipman Shares Knowledge, Research and Experience to Provide Access to Tax Justice

While her frequent travels and speaking engagements may seem taxing, Francine Lipman doesn’t mind them at all.

“As a tax law professor researching, writing, and working with low-income taxpayers, there is always more work to be done,” said the William S. Boyd Professor of Law.

In addition to being a tax law expert at the Boyd School of Law, Lipman is an elected member of the American Law Institute and a vice chair and editor for the Section of Taxation of the American Bar Association (ABA). She was recently elected to the American College of Tax Counsel, an organization for experienced tax attorneys who seek to improve the operation of the country’s tax systems.

Not surprisingly because it is tax season, the spring semester is a busy time of the year for Lipman.  She teaches an Advanced Federal Income Tax Law seminar and participates in many tax outreach events and conferences.

Lipman attended the ABA, Section of Taxation 2013 Midyear Meeting in January in Orlando, Fla., where she presented on tax issues facing immigrants, focusing on H-2A and H-2B visa holders who are temporarily working in the United States. In mid-March, she spoke on tax issues facing same-sex married couples and registered domestic partners in Irvine, Calif. At Pepperdine University School of Law Lipman presented her forthcoming essay at a symposium titled Tax Advice for the Second Obama Administration. Coinciding with inauguration weekend, the symposium featured panel discussions with a variety of prominent and well-know scholars and practitioners who discussed how the tax code may (or may not) change during the next four years.  The conference was webcast to more than 600 online viewers.  Lipman spoke on a panel titled “Occupy the Tax Code: The Buffett Rule, the 1%, and the Fairness/Growth Divide.” The presentation "Access to Tax InJustice" will be published as an essay in the spring 2013 issue of the Pepperdine Law Review.

“The essay focuses on the challenges lower-income taxpayers have accessing social benefits provided through the income tax system. Because the federal income tax system is an established, far-reaching, and cost effective institution, members of Congress are using it increasingly to deliver a myriad of social benefits through a variety of tax provisions, including refundable tax credits,”  Lipman said.

Examples of refundable credits include an adoption credit; the First-Time Homebuyer Credit; and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), the largest and most successful anti-poverty program for working families.

“The EITC has a meaningful economic stimulant effect on communities with large populations of working lower-income families. Annual tax refunds put critical dollars in the hands of a working family and they spend it for needed goods and services often in their own neighborhoods. The EITC is a bipartisan social benefit program introduced by then-Governor Ronald Reagan that is tied to work. It provides an offset to regressive Social Security taxes as well as an earnings subsidy for working families with children,” Lipman said.

While the EITC has many benefits, Lipman said the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) disproportionately audits EITC tax returns pushing the capacity of lower-income working families to deal with a revenue collection rather than a social benefit agency.

“The IRS is the United States’ revenue collection agency collecting 96% of all government revenues,” Lipman said. “Accordingly, IRS personnel have been trained as collection agents rather than as social benefits counselors. However, if Congress continues to charge the IRS with the delivery of social benefits, we need to train personnel for this purpose. Congress has appropriated the resources to help working families who are in critical need of these benefits. So we should provide a delivery system that is consistent with getting these benefits to targeted families.”

“Another problem is the current design of the EITC as a lump sum annual tax refund.  The large cash refund makes taxpayers vulnerable to unscrupulous tax preparers and lenders. Families who struggle with cash flow and lack basic banking resources and financial planning skills end up with oppressive bills and interest charges,” Lipman said. “Fortunately, law students at Boyd School of Law offer free tax preparation and electronic filing for many of these families during tax season through a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program in partnership with the IRS. This is a great example of how the law can pay meaningful dividends for law students, and the individuals and communities it serves.”

Boyd Alumnus’ Paper Links Legal, Business Aspects of Contracts

UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law alumnus Elias P. George ‘11 has recently published an article that has drawn the attention of the academic community.

His article, Using Game Theory and Contractarianism to Reform Corporate Governance: Why Shareholders Should Seek Disincentive Schemes in Executive Compensation Plans,” was published in the May 2012 installment of the Golden Gate University Law Review.  

The article focuses on why relying heavily on incentives without providing sufficient deterrents has not been a successful approach to preventing corporate directors and officers from harming their companies.

George said that his economics background is what steered him toward writing this paper.

“Seeing the collapse in the market, I was curious to find out what Congress, the courts, or the private sector could implement to make corporate managers more accountable [to shareholders],” George said.

He added that his economics background emphasizes the neoclassical school of thought – that the private sector is best able to align incentives to create a more efficient market. 

“The problem is that the current judicial scheme has misaligned this structure, tilting the scale in favor of corporate managers and effectively incentivizing them to steal money and opportunities from the companies they lead,” he said. 

In discussing possible solutions to this problem, George said: “What’s interesting is that so often we focus closely on properly structuring incentives between corporate managers and shareholders, but we don’t often think about disincentives.”  

By disincentives, George means that the public and private sectors have not established effective mechanisms for punishing managers who steal money or opportunities from shareholders. 

Seeing this problem, George’s research looked at how the private contract market could address this problem.

“What I’m asking is this: What can we do to force corporate managers to have some skin in the game?  What I propose is creating a disincentive scheme by punishing managers and titling the scale back in favor of shareholders.  This can be done by including a provision in executive compensation contracts that requires managers to pay, as damages, the amount of money stolen divided by the probability of them being caught.” 

This solution effectively requires executives to pay damages proportionate to the severity of their illicit activities. 

George said that he got this idea while working as an investment advisor from 2006-09, but he wasn’t able to properly articulate his idea until he took business law courses while at the Boyd School of Law.

He said that the judicial system limits what corporate managers must pay if they steal money; the law requires that they only pay back any ill-gotten gains (i.e., disgorgement).  

“The courts have effectively capped shareholder recovery; and that’s really powerful because if we as shareholders demand more accountability and stronger markets, we can’t allow managers to abuse their role as fiduciaries without proportionate consequences,” he said.

“The specific provision works this way: If you steal $100, and it’s discovered that the probability you were going to get caught equaled 100 percent, you’d pay $100 as damages. But if you steal $100, establish an offshore bank account, file false tax returns, create sham entities, and take additional steps to conceal your illicit activity, this is evidence I can use to show that you’ve significantly reduced your probability of being caught.”

George went on to say, “So if I can prove that, through your efforts, you have effectively reduced your chances of being caught to 50 percent, you pay me twice what you stole.  In other words, with this specific provision corporate managers police themselves.”

The article has already gained some attention.  Within two months of its publication it made the Top 10 downloaded list for the Social Science Research Network’s Game Theory & Bargaining Theory list for all newly announced papers.

Currently, George is working as an associate at Gordon Silver in Las Vegas.  His practice focuses on intellectual property and litigation.  He said the best advice that he could give to law students and recent graduates is to continue researching, writing, and becoming a student of your craft.