Govtrack.us

I’ve added one of my favorite new reference sources, Govtrack.us, to the sidebar.  This provides a user friendly interface to track the progress of federal legislation.

Best of all, the website handicaps every single bill in the legislative process with a percentage chance of enactment that allows a neophyte to separate the serious bills from those that are going nowhere.

from Wash Park Prophet http://ift.tt/1FP1j5T
via Denver News

I Support More Funding For Asteroid Defense

Today is Asteroid Day, in honor of the June 30, 1908 Siberian Tunguska asteroid strike that hit with a force 1000 times the Hiroshima atomic bomb in the middle of nowhere.  Objects falling to Earth from space, while rare, can be devastating when they do hit, leading to more than one of the mass extinctions in the history of life on Earth.  We don’t want to end up like the dinosaurs.

These are low probability, but immense consequences events, and we have finally reached a point technologically where we have the ability to identify potential threats and do something about them before it is too late.  Even a comparatively minor strike, like the Tunguska event, would be a catastrophe of epic proportions it it hit an urban area.  This is one kind of catastrophe we can’t afford to learn from tragic experience from after that kind of hit.

A major investment in asteroid defense is well worth it, if it ever becomes necessary, and the probability that it will be invoked at least once or twice in the remaining history of human civilization is real.  It will do more to make us safe than many comparable investments in national defense, and of course, it is a question of national (and global) security.

from Wash Park Prophet http://ift.tt/1Nvnm7C
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Wasting Water In The West

The water law property rights of the arid American West are supposed to lead to efficiency, but the galling reality is that they often encourage waste in reality as applied.

A good example is the use of scarce water in California to grow water thirsty cotton in the Sonoran Desert, when it would be more economically efficient to grow it in the moist American Southeast.

Inefficient agricultural use of water for low value agricultural activity relative to the value of the immense amount of water used is the number one reason that water is scarce in the arid American West. Federal crop subsidies exacerbate the problem.

Over the last 20 years, Arizona’s farmers have collected more than $1.1 billion in cotton subsidies, nine times more than the amount paid out for the next highest subsidized crop. In California, where cotton also gets more support than most other crops, farmers received more than $3 billion in cotton aid. . . . If Arizona’s cotton farmers switched to wheat but didn’t fallow a single field, it would save some 207,000 acre-feet of water — enough to supply as many as 1.4 million people for a year. . . . The government is willing to consider spending huge amounts to get new water supplies, including building billion-dollar desalinization plants to purify ocean water. It would cost a tiny fraction of that to pay farmers in Arizona and California more to grow wheat rather than cotton, and for the cost of converting their fields.

This is also hardly the only problem with inefficient water use in the west driven by bad policy. Another source of waste under Colorado’s water laws, for example, is a use it or lose it system for water rights that turn any water conservation approach that reduces water use into an immediate 100% forfeiture as a penalty for not wasting water.

In Colorado, Use It Or Lose It dates to statehood when miners competed for water needed to extract gold. Colorado leaders set up a system defining water as property where settlers who proved they’d put it to a “beneficial use” could divert it from rivers and streams. But settlers could lose rights to water if they didn’t continue their use. Leaving water to sustain ecosystems wasn’t considered a legitimate beneficial use.

The state engineer records water use. When a farmer, rancher or city uses less than the allotted maximum over a 10-year period, state officials declare all or a part of a water right “abandoned” on a list issued every 10 years. That water no longer can be diverted and goes up for grabs to other rights holders next in priority.

Given the water pressures in the West, Louisiana-based ranch owner Witt Caruthers this year decided to try the new approach at his head-gates along Willow Creek.

“Colorado’s water system created an incentive to use our water even in times when it’s not absolutely necessary. When you’re under that pressure to use it or lose it, you’re almost forced to abuse it. That’s to the detriment of all,” Caruthers said.

Given these incentives, is it any wonder that farmers aren’t interested in water conservation?

Of course, Colorado is also famous for forbidding basic conservation practices like keeping rain buckets or establishing grey water systems that prevent water from leaving the place where it falls to be diverted by someone with senior water rights from a river somewhere further along the river basin than the place where it falls.  Legislation to change that policy was defeated in the Colorado General Assembly in this year’s session.

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Colorado Supreme Court Invalidates Sectarian Voucher Program

* The Colorado Supreme Court has struck down a Douglas County School Board voucher program that would have used public funds to pay tuition for sectarian schools.  Most justices voting to kill the program relied on a provision of the state constitution which has been on the books since 1876 that prohibits such programs in no uncertain terms, although justices reached the same conclusion for different reasons.

The program was enacted when the local Republican party ran a slate of partisan and ideological candidates for the Douglas County School Board that won and implemented a slate of conservative proposals for the district, which has mostly led to a dramatic decline in quality of the public schools in Douglas County.

* Meanwhile, Colorado Public Radio reports that the Denver Public Schools will be asking for more money to build schools and operate schools in 2016, although the exact details have not been finalized.  District enrollment has surged from 70,000 to 90,000 in recent years, making Denver the fastest growing urban school district in the nation, through a combination of increasing population and an array of non-sectarian charter schools and special programs in public schools that have convinced families that live in the district to send their children there, rather than to private or suburban schools.

* Conservatives at the Western Conservatives Summit in Denver held a straw poll for President that decisively backed candidates with no serious hope of winning the GOP nomination, while scorning the front runners in the race.

[Ben] Carson, a retired surgeon, won the straw poll for the second year in a row with 224 votes to beat out former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who received 201 votes. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was third with 192 votes, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was next with 100. While most national polls have Jeb Bush as the front-runner, the former Florida governor finished 14th out of 18 candidates on the GOP straw poll ballot Sunday. . . . In 2011, Herman Cain received 48 percent of the votes in the summit’s straw poll to eventual Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s 10 percent.

Ben Carson is also notable for being the only African-American candidate in the GOP Presidential race.

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Scandinavian Policies v. Scandinavian Human Capital?

The descendants of Scandinavian migrants in the US combine the high living standards of the US with the high levels of equality of Scandinavian countries. 

Median incomes of Scandinavian descendants are 20 per cent higher than average US incomes. 

It is true that poverty rates in Scandinavian countries are lower than in the US. However, the poverty rate among descendants of Nordic immigrants in the US today is half the average poverty rate of Americans – this has been a consistent finding for decades. In fact, Scandinavian Americans have lower poverty rates than Scandinavian citizens who have not emigrated. This suggests that pre-existing cultural norms are responsible for the low levels of poverty among Scandinavians rather than Nordic welfare states.

From here via Marginal Revolution.

The short book argues that Scandinavian prosperity is undermined by strongly democratic socialist policies relative to success it would have without them as a result of its beneficial cultural norms, and that we should therefore not try to emulate Scandinavian governmental policies and expect them to work elsewhere.

The fact that my mother was a 100% Scandinavian descendant also makes this rare study of Scandinavian-Americans interesting to me.

I can’t say that I’m convinced, however, although the quote above that captures the book’s main premise is intriguing.

The fit immigrant hypothesis, which argues that immigrants tend to have a greater abundance of traits that lead to success than people who don’t immigrate because they lack the ambition and motivation and confidence to take risks that immigrants do, is more than adequate to explain the disparities.  Also, clearly, the study is looking at pre-social welfare intervention poverty rates, and not post-intervention poverty rates which Scandinavian countries remedy much more successfully than the United States does. The higher Scandinavian, pre-intervention poverty rates may, however, reflect a more urgent incentive to avoid poverty in the U.S. than in Scandinavia.

The forward to the book (by a different author) is as follows:

I am regularly amazed at the persistence of several tenacious fallacies regarding the Nordic countries. In this tightly argued monograph Nima Sanandaji has performed a service by addressing them one by one and marshalling evidence and logic to explain the history of Nordic economic success and the genesis, impact and reform of their welfare states. No one who reads this work will be able to repeat, at least not without a bad conscience, the familiar slogans about Nordic socialism, third-way policies or how high taxes and state-guaranteed incomes beget economic growth and engender and nurture moral responsibility and community spirit.

The lag between perception and reality is especially glaring in the case of the Swedish model. Outside Sweden the serious reforms initiated in the 1990s seem not to have been noticed and ‘third wayers’ continue to act as if Sweden had not liberalised the economy, introduced competition in the production of government-funded services, lowered tax rates and reformed state benefit systems. To most of the ‘Swedish model’ boosters, it is still 1975.

It is an easily overlooked truism that a redistributive system presupposes something to redistribute. The Nordic countries enjoyed robustly productive systems before the welfare states we know today were established. Starting in the 19th century, the peoples of the Nordic countries created vast amounts of wealth, founded new firms and industries, and generated societies with high degrees of social trust and moral responsibility.

They built on foundations that, as a result of their histories (notably the relative absence of feudalism) were comparatively egalitarian and mono-ethnic. That wealth and those social orders preceded the welfare state; indeed, without them, the Nordic experiments in welfare statism would have certainly turned out quite differently, as experiences in other countries suggest. After welfare states were initiated, however, the Nordic countries began to coast on accumulated capital. Even more worrying, the strong social trust that was so widespread among the people and that limited predatory behaviour, shirking and disregard for the interests of one’s neighbours has been undermined by tax rates that punish those who contribute and transfer payments that encourage those who take. The rising percentage of the populations on disability and early retirement, in an age of improving health and longevity, suggests a population in which shirking has become more and more socially acceptable. The long-term prognosis for such a model is not a happy one.

The comparison of Nordic populations with their cousins who decamped for the US, which forms a small but interesting part of Sanandaji’s analysis, suggests that when pundits praise, say, Swedish healthcare by looking at longevity, what they are measuring is not the impact of the Swedish health financing system, but of Swedishness, whether in diet, genetic inheritance or behaviour. Indeed, Americans of Nordic descent exceed their stay-at-home cousins in high degrees of social trust, high incomes and low levels of poverty. It turns out that ‘culture matters’ and ‘culture’ is not merely a placeholder for ‘all the stuff we cannot understand’ but can be measured and studied in terms of behaviour. Cultural capital, and not only physical capital, matters and, like physical capital, cultural capital does not automatically renew itself: it can be eroded over time by perverse incentives.

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A Liberal High Water Mark

We’ve hit a liberal high water mark, despite the fact that nationally, both houses of Congress have Republican majorities and a majority of U.S. Supreme Court Justices were appointed by Republicans, and in Colorado, one of the two houses of the Colorado General Assembly is controlled by Republicans.  Both the U.S. Senate and the Colorado shift happened in the 2014 election, less than a year ago.

* This morning’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges allows same couples to marry on the same basis as opposite sex couples throughout the United States.  
This is the culmination of the gay rights movement that arose in part from the community of gay men formed starting in World War II when sailors discharged from duty for being gay were all dumped together in San Francisco, began in earnest with the Stonewall riot in 1969, gained urgency as AIDS disproportionately afflicted gay men, saw a serious setback in a U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding criminal sodomy laws for consensual same sex intercourse in the 1986 case of Bowers v. Hardwick, state and federal legislation overriding a 1993 decision of the Hawaii Supreme Court legalizing same same marriage was a case of one step forward and two steps back.  But, gay rights made a series of courtroom gains simultaneously following and causing shifts in in public opinion.  The 1999 decision of the Vermont Supreme Court mandating civil unions but not requiring them to be called marriage was one of the first big victories.
Legislatures, referendums and lower courts had already brought gay marriage to about three-quarters of Americans (and seventeen countries outside the United States, including Canada, England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand, all of Scandinavia, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Spain, Portugal and much of Latin America, but excluding Mexico where a constitutional right to same sex marriage was declared on June 14, 2015, but has not yet been fully implemented).  Public support for gay marriage had already reached 57-38 according to a Wall Street Journal poll on the eve of the decision percent when the Court ruled today.  Public support for same same marriage in the U.S. has solidified at above 50% by 2013, and one CNN poll in early 2015 had shown support as high as 63%.  
We can reasonably expect that support for gay marriage will continue to increase significantly over the coming year now that it is legal everywhere, because public opinion usually follows legal resolution of divisive social issue.  In contrast, when Loving v. Virginia struck down bans on interracial marriage, the bans still had strong majority support that continued for something like a decade after the decision was handed down.  Yet now, public support for legally permitting interracial marriage is nearly universal, even among former segregationists and far right politicians and political activists.  
There are rare cases where increased public support for a position taken by authoritative legal bodies (which is almost universal) does not translate into near consensus support over time – opposition to abortion, death penalty support, support for the establishment clause prohibitions on governmental religious statements, and opposition to the right to bear arms, are probably the most notable.  But, they are rare.  
Also, in cases of controversy, legislation and judicial action often finds an uneasy middle ground.  The U.S. Supreme Court’s abolition of the death penalty, for example, lasted only a few years, but over time after the death penalty was legally permitted again, the legal system has chipped away at the circumstances when it can be imposed (e.g. in cases involving juveniles, in cases involving the mentally ill, and for most non-homicide offenses such as child rape) and has exercised strict judicial review that postpones most state level executions by a decade or more despite federal laws limiting the scope of collateral attacks on death sentences and other state convictions enacted in response to the strictness of judicial review of these sentences.
Importantly, another reason that legislative and judicial steps to legalize same same marriage have changed public opinion is that when this was done, none of the parade of horribles offered up by gay marriage opponents have materialized.  Some sex marriage had existed continually in some states since 2004 when Obergefell was decided.  Civil unions, which were same sex marriages in all but name, had been around since 1999.  The Netherlands started to allow same sex marriage in 2001 and our neighbor to the north, Canada, had followed suit by 2005.  No notable problems was caused by same sex marriage anywhere that it was legalized, in part, because allowing a couple to marry has minimal impact of people who aren’t part of that nuclear family, and in part, because the number of same sex married couples as a proportion of all married couples in any place where same sex marriage has been legalized has always been tiny.
Obergefell also demonstrates the limits of American federalism in private law.  While the textbook theory of American federalism is that states have unfettered discretion to adopt varying legal regimes subject only to minimal federal interference in select areas, in practice, significant differences in private law between states in the face of a mobile and regularly interacting populace are very difficult to sustain.  A regime in which some states had gay marriage, and others did not, posed difficulties when, for example, the military allowed gays to serve, the Social Security administration tried to follow state law, and federal tax law and immigration law provisions dependent upon marital status had to be applied.  The U.S. Supreme Court’s Windsor decision, which struck down the “Defense of Marriage Act’s prohibition on federal recognition of gay marriages conducted in states where it was legal forced the federal government to recognize gay marriage at least some of the time, and once it did so, the ability of gay couples to marry in states that recognized gay marriage, even if they lived in states that did not, had already created an intractable problem to administer.  Even if the Supreme Court had decided to strike down merely the exemption from the full faith and credit clause in the Defense of Marriage Act and not struck down the ability of states to decide what marriages could be entered into in their own states, the effect would have been almost the same.
* In a sudden tipping point moment in the wake of a white supremacist’s murder of nine black people having a prayer meeting at a historic AME church in Charleston, South Carolina, state officials in South Carolina, Alabama, and other states throughout the South are finally taking action to remove Confederate flags and symbols of Confederate leaders (mostly put in place in the 1960s as part of a backlash against the Civil Rights movement).  National park officials are following suit.  Major national retailers, including Wal-Mart, Amazon, Sears and K-Mart are moving Confederate flag products from their shelves.  Former Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney acknowledge that the Confederate flag is a symbol of support for racism that must come down and other Republicans have followed suit.
While the changes are mostly symbolic, they disavow almost half a century of public support at the highest level for racist right supremacists across the South, undermining their movement culturally, and signaling, 150 years later, we may finally be at the point where William Faulkner’s quote, “The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.”, may no longer apply to the Civil War, which is still not forgotten but perhaps is finally over.
* Medical marijuana is no longer a crime in almost half of the U.S. states.  Recreational marijuana use is now legal and regulated under state law in Colorado, where I live, and in Washington State, and is decriminalized or likely to be legal and regulated, in a few more.  Marijuana continues to be a crime under federal law for both medical and recreational purposes in every state, but the Obama administration’s U.S. attorneys have acquiesced to state preferences by not prosecuting marijuana offenses that are legal under state law with a few exceptions, despite their clearly established legal authority to do so under the Supremacy Clause and case law interpreting it in the marijuana law context.  The change in public opinion about marijuana that state legalization or partial legalization has brought about has also created a strong risk of jury nullification in every marijuana offense prosecution, particularly in states where it is legal and widespread under state law.
More generally, states and the federal government are gradually repealing laws that have given the United States the world’s highest incarceration rates, the toughest treatment of juvenile offenders, and the most intensive use of prolonged solitary confinement.  The U.S. Supreme Court’s other decision today invalidated on a 6-3 vote, a major portion of the Armed Career Criminals Act which is one of the main mandatory minimum federal sentencing laws, for being void for vagueness (the vote to decline to apply the ACCA to the particularly offense of the offender before the Court was 8-1). Not long ago, Supreme Court has struck down juvenile life without possibility of parole sentences, at least prospectively, and a decision last week invited challenges to prolonged solitary confinement practices.
A series of high profile cases of alleged police uses of excessive force, which rose to national prominence following the shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri by a policeman led to massive, prolonged protests, and serious state and federal investigations that produced real change and has prompted more aggressive treatment of similar incidents and policy changes elsewhere.
* President Obama has issued executive orders that have paused deportations for large numbers of undocumented immigrants who might be eligible for legalization of their status under future laws in the face of stalled legislative efforts.
* Congress passed and President Obama signed Obamacare (the Affordable Health Care Act or ACA), a couple of years after he was elected and this law has slowed health insurance cost inflation and dramatically reduced the number of uninsured people in the country, despite fierce opposition from Republicans.  The issue was central in the successful GOP effort to retake control of the U.S. House of Representatives and was an important part of their ultimate success in securing a majority in the U.S. Senate in the 2014 elections.  The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenge to that law (the most recent of several) based on its shoddy drafting, that would have crippled it yesterday in a 6-3 vote.

Increased availability of long term contraception, among other factors, have greatly reduced teen pregnancy rates.

Despite Congressional inaction, a strong labor market, grass roots activism, and state legislation, has pushed up the minimum wage and pay for low income retail and fast food workers across the country.
* The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has dramatically constrained the ability of the federal government to use Military Commissions, as opposed to civilian courts, to prosecute suspected terrorists.  The number of persons detained at Guantanamo Bay has likewise steadily declined despite strong Congressional efforts to thwart President Obama’s ability to deliver on his promise to shut it down.  
Other Presidential and legal action to unwind draconian policies of the George W. Bush administration in the war on terrorism have been a mixed bag.  The authority of the president to indefinitely detain suspected terrorists as “enemy combatants” subject only to minimal habeas corpus review, and of the President to order the targeted killings of suspected terrorists has survived.  The administration has also continued to advocate for intrusive spying measures that impair privacy.  But, the administration ended the Iraq War (only to reengage at present to fight ISIS and support rebels against the chemical weapons using regime of Syria), and is tapering down our involving in the civil war in Afghanistan against the Taliban.
But, revelations of NSA data collection from U.S. citizens whose scope far exceed what the American public had been told, has resulted in major policy changes narrowing that authority from Courts and Congress fueled by an unlikely coalition of pro-civil liberties liberals who distrust national security agencies operating in secrecy and anti-government libertarian leaning conservatives.

* The proportion of Americans who identify as non-religious has rapidly surged to record levels, while the number of proportion of Americans who identify as Christian has reached record lows.

* The federal judiciary has more Democratic appointees, after six and a half years of President Obama’s tenure, than it has had in a long time.

As of June 11, 2015, the total number of Obama Article III judgeship nominees to be confirmed by the United States Senate is 311, including two justices to the Supreme Court of the United States, 53 judges to the United States Courts of Appeals, 254 judges to the United States district courts, and two judges to the United States Court of International Trade. The number of nominations currently awaiting Senate action is 18. There are currently 9 vacancies on the United States Courts of Appeals, 45 vacancies on the United States district courts, 4 vacancies on the United States Court of International Trade and 22 announced federal judicial vacancies that will occur before the end of Obama’s second term.”

The balance of power by the party of the President who appointed the federal judge is as follow (Democrats first, Republicans second, vacancies third).  None of the existing vacancies will change the balance of power on any of the existing circuit courts, although announced judicial vacancies could conceivably tip the balance.

SCOTUS 4-5-0
13 Circuit Courts of Appeal Combined 94-76-9

1st Cir. 4-2-0  Dem.
2rd Cir. 8-5-0 Dem.
3rd Cir. 8-5-1 Dem.
4th Cir. 10-5-0 Dem.
5th Cir. 5-10-2 GOP
6th Cir. 5-10-1 GOP
7th Cir. 3-6-2 GOP
8th Cir. 2-8-1 GOP
9th Cir. 20-9-0 Dem.
10th Cir. 7-5-0 Dem.
11th Cir. 8-3-1 Dem.
D.C. Cir. 7-4-0 Dem.
Fed. Cir. 7-4-1 Dem.

* The media widely acknowledges that global warming is real.  Renewable energy usage has surged, and a wide variety of hybrid, plug in electric and alternative fuel vehicles are now available.

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Strikes Still Very Rare In U.S. In 2014; Colorado Unionization Rate Up

There were only 11 strikes involving 1,000 or more workers in 2014, which involved 34,000 workers in all.  This was the second lowest rate of significant strikes by labor unions in recorded history after 2009, in which there were only 5 strikes involving 1,000 or more workers, which involved just 13,000 workers.

In Colorado, total union membership (representation by unions) rebounded from a low point of 6.6% (8.0%) in 2010 to 9.5% (10.7%) in 2014.  This is dramatic progress in just four years.  There are currently 221,000 union members in Colorado and another 29,000 employees in Colorado who aren’t union members but are represented by unions in a union shop.  In the private sector in Colorado in 2014 membership (representation) was 7.4% (8.0%), and in the public sector it was 19.9% (24.6%).

Nationally, in 2014, the private sector 6.6% (7.4%) of employees were members of unions (represented by unions), while in the public sector  35.7% (39.2%) of employees were members of unions (represented by unions), with both percentages generally tending to fall over the previous decade.

Within the public sector, nationally, union representation rates are highest with local government employees (45.5%), intermediate with state government employees (32.8%), and lowest with federal employees (31.6%).

Thus, Colorado’s private sector unionization rate exceeded the national average in 2014, but its public sector unionization rate was substantially below the national average.  About two-thirds of Colorado union members are in the private sector, and about 60% of people represented by Colorado unions are in the private sector.

Public employees rarely have the right to strike, but also rarely need the job security protections provided by traditional private sector workers who would otherwise be “at will” employees.

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China’s Prefab Construction Methods Go Big

American prefabricated component construction firms have been touting the benefits of this approach for years.  Assembling large prefabricated parts of a building in factories can make it possible to get better quality, with less waste, at a lower cost, with more worker safety, because the controlled environment is a better one for manufacturing things than an outdoor, constantly changing construction site.  The modular approach also allows a construction company, for example, to build modules for several different floors all at the same time in parallel, while at conventional construction sites, all of the structural elements for one floor of the building must be completed before any of the structural work on the next floor is begun.  All the corner units of a multistory building, for example, might be built at the same time.

At the site, the prefabricated modules can be assembled very quickly, like giant Legos.

This approach is rare in the United States, where most building are stick build from raw construction materials on site, except for some sophisticated ceiling trusses.  A notable exception in Denver’s recent building boom was a new apartment building that went up next to the University of Denver light rail station.

But, a project in China, the construction of a 57 story building with 800 apartments and offices for 4,000 workers from 2,700 modules assembled in just three weeks on site (after many months of assembling the modules in the construction company’s factory), dramatically illustrates the true revolutionary potential of this approach to construction.  The last 37 stories went up from January 31 to February 17 of 2015.

According to Juliet Jiang, a senior vice president of Broad Sustainable Building, that built the project:

“One hundred percent (of the) parts are factory-made. We don’t waste any materials, no one is idle in the workshop or on site. We have very good planning.”

Jiang said that the processes employed by the firm are also far more cost effective, environmentally friendly and lead to less disruption in cities during construction.

In contrast, it took almost five years to build London’s 37-story Walkie Talkie building which opened in August 2014.

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Posts Related To Legal Paraprofessions

I attended an inaugural meeting of the Colorado Supreme Court’s new subcommittee of the Unlicensed Practice Committee devoted to considering reforms to law licensing in a vein similar to that of Washington State (perhaps with different details or specialties).  Washington State is just in the process of launching a program to allow people to obtain a credential as a licensed legal technician with a specialty limited to a subset of family law after about a year of law school coursework, 3,000 hours of on the job training, passage of a limited practice bar exam, and passage of character and fitness review.  Paralegals with ten or more years of relevant experience can test out of the one year of coursework.
It is an idea that I have been kicking around for many years on this blog and elsewhere, and now that it has some chance of going somewhere, I will be doing my best to help inform the subcommittee in ways pertinent to moving this idea forward.
As an initial research step, I have culled a number of posts from this blog that are either related to the idea, or the problem it is trying to solve, or that otherwise can provide useful background, in no particular order.
When you apply for a green card (lawful permanent residence status) as a spouse or parent or ummarried child of a U.S. citizen under age twenty-one, your application can be processed when it is filed, many factors that would disqualify you for other visas don’t apply, and if you entered the country legally (even if you later fell out of legal immigration status) you can apply for a green card in the U.S. rather than at a foreign embassy.

But, suppose that you are a child of a U.S. citizen who is over the age of twenty-one, a brother or sister of a U.S. citizen, a spouse of a lawful permanent resident, or an unmarried child of a lawful permanent resident, how long do you have to wait in line to have your application considered a recent date?

1. Spouses and unmarried children under the age of twenty-one of lawful permanent residents: Four years if not Mexican nationals, and six years and nine months if Mexican nationals.

2. Ummarried children of U.S. citizens who are more than twenty-one years old: seven years if not nationals of Mexico or the Phillipines, seventeen years and seven months from the Phillipines, and eighteen years from Mexico.

3. Unmarried children of lawful permanent residents: eight years and nine months if not nationals of the Mexico, the Phillipines or the Dominican Republic; twelve year and seven months from the Phillippines, fifteen years from the Dominican Republic, and nineteen years and six months from Mexico.

4. Married children of U.S. citizens: eleven years if not nationals of Mexico or the Phillipines, twenty years and ten months for nationals of Mexico, and nineteen years and nine months for national of the Phillipines.

5. Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens: twelve years if not nationals of Mexico or the Phillipines, sixteen years for nationals of Mexico, and twenty-four years for nationals of the Phillipines.

The deadlines shift from month to month.

There is no family based immigration for married children of lawful permanent residents, or siblings of lawful permanent residents, or parents of lawful permanent residents.

In these categories there are also far more reasons that you can be prohibited from filing a legal immigration application for periods of three or ten years for past immigration related issues.

In theory, it takes a minimum of three years as a lawful permanent resident for a spouse of a U.S. citizen to get U.S. citizenship, and a minimum of five years for other lawful permanent residents to get U.S. citizenship, although in practice, it takes longer in both cases.

Spouses of less than two years who are granted lawful permanent resident status have that status reviewed after two years, at which point they must have the bona fide status of their marriage re-examined by immigration officials.

* Against Transubstantive Civil Procedure

About 80% of new United States immigration court cases (which are Article I courts with only indirect appellate resort to the ordinary judicial branch courts) are to Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and China.  

As of 2010, when there were an estimated 10,790,000 undocumented immigrants in the United States according to the Department of Homeland Security, the most common countries of origin were Mexico (6,640,000), El Salvador (620,000), Guatemala (520,000), and Honduras (330,000). These four countries account for a little more than 75% of the total.  But, China was only the tenth most common country of origins with 130,000.  (In between were the Philippines, India, Ecuador, Brazil and Korea.) All of the countries outside the top ten combined accounted for another 1,550,000. So, the current statistics suggest that undocumented Chinese immigrants are particularly likely to end up in immigration court relative to their numbers.

About 34% of undocumented immigrants in the United States have lived in the U.S. for at least two decades, about 61% of undocumented immigrants have been living in the United States for at least a decade, and 91% have lived in the United States for at least five years.

Net undocumented immigration from Mexico is currently zero and has been zero or a net outflow for several years.
The immigration judge was presented with uncontested oral evidence and affidavits that a woman speaking fluently in the language of Ethiopia, where she claimed to have grown up, had mixed parentage, with one parent an Eritrean, and the other an Ethiopian. This, she claimed, resulted in violent and cruel government action against her on both sides of the border of the newly divided nation. Despite this evidence, (and the judge didn’t question that she was persecuted) the judgeordered her returned to the country of her torment.

The Bureau of Immigration Appeals, as is its custom, summarily affirmed the judges description with essentially no analysis or discussion.

The judge said that it wasn’t credible that she was an Ethiopian. Why? She had few official documents in hand to prove her citizenship. (I’d be more skeptical if a refugee did.) Her passport was torn up, although the important pages weren’t missing. A relative’s evidence was presented by affidavit, rather than in person. 

Was it sloppy immigration attorney lawyering? Probably, yes. The appeal was handled by DU law students who got it right, however, although we don’t know who handled the case at trial. Even when the attorney’s aren’t students, they are often volunteers with little or no experience in the field. But, there aren’t exactly a lot of non-Ethiopians in Denver, speaking fluently in the language of Ethiopia, claiming asylum with affidavits in hand from relatives, under penalty of perjury, who claim to know that her parents are Ethiopians.

The 10th Circuit reverses the decision, basically finding that the immigration judge had no basis in the evidence presented to be unthinkably skeptical. The appellate court wasn’t allowed to consider extensive documentation of her nationality presented after the hearing, although they chide the government attorney stating: “We are frankly surprised that the government persists in defending the BIA’s decision, rather than acquiescing in remand in the interest of justice.” (The appellate court also chides the government attorneys in footnote 1 for incompetence in their appellate brief, noting that they admit key facts in one part of their brief, which they deny in their analysis “making it difficult for the Court to determine what facts the government deems to be material and disputed.”

Fifteen per cent of taxi drivers in the US have a degree, up from 1 per cent in 1970. Likewise, 25 per cent of sales clerks are graduates, against 5 per cent in 1970. An astonishing 5 per cent of janitors now have a bachelor’s degree.
Suzanne Shell, most recently in the news for receiving unauthorized practice of law sanctions from the Colorado Supreme Court in connection for her advocacy on behalf of parents facing termination of their parental rights, is back in the legal news again.
I am troubled by the existing system, which tolerates decision making about the future of parent-child relationships based in part upon the incompetent bumbling around in the court systems of economically marginal pro se parents or partially represented parents who are ill equipped to represent themselves.

Poverty itself, standing alone, should be a qualification for welfare, rather than a ground upon which to terminate a parental rights. The kind of functioning in the court system that the Court of Appeals in today’s decision expects of a pro se or only partially represented party to exhibit to avoid procedural defaults and penalties in the system is unrealistically high. The court system is simply not designed to provide meaningful justice in the absence of competent legal representation at every step of the process for all parties. . . .

When Should There Be A Right To Counsel

I do not believe that it is terribly important to have a right to counsel in every case, although in an ideal world this might be the better course. When only money is at stake, a party may be economically justified in not securing legal representation in a losing battle or a case with stakes too small to justify hiring a lawyer. Likewise, when a party is incompetently represented in a case involving only money, a legal malpractice action provides some recourse to a client who is hurt, without imposing conflicting duties upon an opposing private party to exercise restraint in pursuing their case. I also have not a great deal of sympathy in the rare high stakes cases where a big money dispute where someone who can easily afford a lawyer loses because they don’t take the case seriously.

But, there is a constitutional right to representation in termination of parental rights cases such as this one (a large share of which involve economically marginal parents), just as there is in criminal defense cases where one cannot afford a lawyer, which can be squeezed in a suspect way, when it is hard in practice to obtain representation. Expecting someone who makes just $2,000 a year and has an unstable economic life to be able to afford to obtain paid counsel to represent them competently in a parental rights termination case is unrealistic.

Also, there is currently no constitutional right to representation in parental rights and parenting time cases, for example in the context of a divorce, where the parents are too indigent to easily afford counsel, despite the fact that the legal system is ill suited to handling these cases in the absence of counsel and despite the fact that difficult custody issues often fail to coincide with the resources to litigate them properly in the current system, something that is very expensive even for affluent parents.

The American Bar Association agrees with me on this point, and also identifies several other categories (e.g. eligibility for income support benefits) that are similarly problematic.

Other Problems In Custody Cases

Lack of counsel in contested custody cases isn’t the only problem with the court system in custody and parental rights/termination cases, although the analysis above explains why so many divorces (upon which the courts have a monopoly) involve pro se parties despite the high stakes involved for the children and parents involved. While Colorado handles pro se parties in custody matters better than many states, as a result of a heavily in person court facilitation process early in divorce cases and a focus on alternative dispute resolution, it is still fundamentally not designed to be user friendly for people without lawyers. 

The lack of guidance provided to those in the system by a vague “best interests of the child” standard plagues the system with uncertainty that provokes litigation. Even if there is complete agreement on the facts in a case, which are often awkward to present to a judge because almost everything is potentially relevant, the law does not provide an answer or even much practical guidance about what a court should do in a case. 

The court system’s usual rules are designed to do justice between parties at a leisurely pace based on something in the past that is done and over with based upon relatively clear legal rules, something that works fine in a personal injury case, a criminal case, or a breach of contract case between parties who no longer do business with each other. But, these rules are ill suited to forward looking custody determinations in which the needs of the children are constantly evolving making a once and for all resolution of the matter inpracticable. Courts are bad at making quick decisions and bad at predicting the future.

The Future

Sooner or later, I suspect, we are going to come to the conclusion that we need to start over from scratch in the area of custody and parental rights procedure. 

While an adverarial process works for most areas of the law, I see the law moving towards a basically inquisitorial process, in which someone like a child and family investigator evalutes the parties and issues in context in the field, rather than a court room, at public expense in addition to advocates for both parents at state expense for the indigent. 

Likewise, I see the process moving away from the decree model, where a decree has a measure of finality and post-decree modifications are seen as an exception to be limited, to the probate court guardianship and conservatorship model, in which continuing regular court supervision of the parties is the norm to be applied, with the reviews being basically pro forma in the mill run of cases. 

And, I think that ultimately, the vacuous “best interests of the child” standard will be fleshed out with standards serving children’s best interests that provide greater guidance in particular cases, such as interstate moves. For example, one such meta-rule that is evolving is what amounts to a presumption in favor of preserving the pre-separation status quo to the extent feasible, and a whole host of standards of conduct, such as an expectation that a parent not bad mouth the other parent in the presence of a child, is also evolving.
Once upon a time, where you wanted to sell real estate, you handed some soil or twig for the property to the buyer in what was called livery of seizen. Couples kiss, wear traditional costumes, and exchange rings when they marry in front of a crowd. One of the traditional ways to revoke a will (recently litigated in Colorado) is to destroy or deface the physical document (which leads to a number of peculiarities of probate law). Traditionally, wills were read aloud after a death, although that rarely happens these days. Even though it no longer legally matters, it is traditional to seal a contract with a handshake. When sports teams finish a game, win or lose, the players each slap hands saying “good game”, emotionally putting an end to disputes over the details that led to the final result. Churches acknowledge affiliations to their faith with dramatic baptisms in the Christian church and a vividly memorable circumcision ceremony for infant Jewish and (at least in traditional societies) adolescent Muslim boys. Basic trainees in the military, men entering monastic orders, and prison inmates have their hair shorn, and are stripped of almost all of their personal possessions. . . .

For example, one of the classic problems that one sees in modern family law litigation is that one or both of the people who once were married, or at least a loving couple, can’t let go of that relationship. The service of the divorce petition, the signing of the papers, the dryly worded court order ending a marriage and providing for the sharing of the children and property of the marriage, and often a restraining order as well, don’t communicate to the former member of that relationship with adequate emotional force that the relationship is really, once and for all, over.  Some people are simply beyond reaching by any means of communications, but a large number of people who go through family law proceedings simply don’t really understand at an emotional and subconscious level what has happened until much later, even if they can parrot the court’s ruling.

Perhaps if that message could be conveyed with more visual drama in some universally accepted new ritual, more people who move on, and there would be, as a result, less senseless fighting driven by old emotions instead of new practicalities. The demise of fault based divorce has made the process much more antiseptic for all involved in the process, but have we overdone it to the point of failing to really acknowledge in an emotionally valid way that not just the legal construct of the marriage, but also the emotional reality of the relationship that it approximates, has ended? Shouldn’t the symbolism and ritual that ends of marriage need to be even more powerful and less subtle than the symbolism and ritual that starts one?

Adoptions tend to be even more understated, for fear of spooking the relinquishing parents, and not surprisingly, the main complaint that gets litigated in adoptions is that of relinquishing parents who claim they were properly appraised of the gravity of their actions.

A classic problem in consumer litigation of all kinds is the not infrequent failure of a debtor or consumer, already overwhelmed by paper and having trouble determining what is most important, to realize that a summons and complaint in a lawsuit is a once and for all speak now or forever hold your peace notice that has profound legal consequences if ignored.  This lack of understanding is one of the driver’s of the almost ubiquitous paranoia about ulterior motives and about being cheated by one’s betters found among unsophisticated people who have frequently been on the receiving side of litigation.

Perhaps we would do well to imitate the litigation practices of the protocol agents of the advanced civilization in the science fiction book “Jaran” by Kate Elliott, where legal disputes are announced by delivery of a physical baton in person by a courier, and one responds to the allegations at a mandatory in person appearance at the designated place and time, as inefficient as that may be, rather than simply enforcing the duty to appear by entering a default judgment against a party who does not appear (one that is often forgotten until property is seized pursuant to the judgment).

I have no empirically evidence to support the theory that more dramatic visual drama in the legal system would make any difference at all. The modern trend has been to strip away formalities, arcane language, pompous court room surroundings, wax seals, fancy ribbons and the like from legal matters. Instead, modern legal proceedings and legal facilities, favor plain English, the bare minimum of in person appearances, contemporary but understated and inoffensive surroundings suited for efficient, processing of business matters, dispenses with wigs and obtuse morning suits, and use very simple seals and acknowledgements – relying on the ability to confirm orders with third party repositories rather than lack of counterfeitability for reliability. Many documents that used to have to be notarized are now simply signed under penalty of perjury with no third party verification of identity or intent.

For lots of purposes this trend may be a good one. It demystifies the legal system and makes it more accessible to pro se parties. Much of what courts do is as much administrative business as it is emotionally meaningful decision making. For the most part, people prefer an inexpensive, quick, form driven informal probate process to the traditional succession proceedings of courts of equity will all their pomp and circumstance. And, some parts of the court process, like the delivery of jury verdicts finding someone guilty or not guilty, have managed to hold onto some of the drama that gives them emotional power. But, maybe some of the time, particularly in civil matters that don’t involve business people and may have consequences for people who do not have the same cultural heritage as the lawyers and judges who are running the system, a higher touch, lower tech approach is in order and would make courts more effective. It is certainly a hunch that would be worth exploring with more systematic research.
What professions does Colorado regulate?

Most professional and business regulation at the state level involves three industries: (1) health and psychological well being, (2) finance, insurance and real estate, and (3) the construction industry. There are, of course, a few professions that don’t fit any of these categories. The professions and businesses regulated by the Department of Regulatory Agencies are below.

Health and Psychological Well Being

Professionals:

Nurses (CNA, LPN, RN) 67,615
Barbers/Cosmetologists 45,743
Nurse Aides 31,803
Physicians/Physicians Assistants 22,737
Emergency Medical Technicians 15,986 (Department of Public Health)
Dentists/Dental Hygienists 8,952
Massage Therapists 7,528
Pharmacists 7,385
Physical Therapists 5,537
Social Workers 4,421
Veterinarians 3,998
Addiction Counselors 3,080
Unlicensed Psychotherapists 2,706*
Chiropractors 2,655
Respiratory Therapists 2,630
Psychologists 2,462
Occupational Therapists 2,160
Optometrists 1,144
Acupuncturists 1,046
Athletic Trainers 700 (projected)
Marriage and Family Therapists 651
Audiologists/Hearing Aid Providers 552
Nursing Home Administrators 448
Podiatrists 198
Midwives 54 (direct entry midwives only, nurse-practitioners classified with nurses)

* ironically one really does need a license to be an “unlicensed psychotherapist” and unlicensed psychotherapists in Colorado even have a professional association.

Businesses:

Barber/Cosmetology Shops and Salons 4,427
Pharmacy Businesses 2,247
Health Facilities (Department of Public Health)
Hospitals (Department of Public Health)
Medical Marijuana (Department of Revenue and Department of Public Health)
Ground Ambulances (Department of Public Health)
Air Ambulances 19 (Department of Public Health)
Life Care Institutions 11

Finance, Insurance and Real Estate

Professionals:

Stockbrokers 154,580
Insurance Agents 108,927
Real Estate (Agents, Appraisers, Brokers & Sales) 53,251
Accountants 16,497
Investment Advisor Representatives 9,163
Mortgage Brokers 8,729

Businesses:

Insurance Agencies 10,108
Securities Brokerage Firms 2,403
Insurance Companies (e.g. Life, Health, Property & Casualty, Title, HMOs) 1,464
Accounting Firms 1,204
Investment Advisory Firms 705
Purchasing Groups (Insurance) 431
Banks 107
Preneed Contract Sellers (Funeral) 72
Credit Unions 52
Money Transmitters 40
Government Entity Self-Insurance Pools 9
Trust Companies 7
Saving and Loan Associations 4

Construction Industry

Professionals:

Architects/Engineers/Land Surveyors 29,738
Plumbers 22,737
Electricians 19,308
Landscape Architects 681

Other Professions and Businesses

Professionals:

Professional Counselors 4,424
Boxers 1,194
Outfitters, Hunting and Fishing Guides 738
Bail Bonding Agents 497
Athlete Agents 2

Businesses:

Tramways 365
Funeral Homes and Crematories 349 (projected)

Non-DORA Regulation

There are other professional and business licenses regulated at the state level by agencies other than DORA. Some of the more notable are: 

Attorneys (Judiciary),
State Judges (Judiciary),
Notaries Public (Secretary of State), 
Debt Collection Agencies (Attorney General), 
Payday Lenders (Attorney General),

P-12 teachers in public schools (Department of Education), 
Public school administrators (Department of Education), 
Charter schools (local school districts and Department of Education),
Private schools (Department of Education),
Home Schooling parents (Department of Education),

Car dealers and sellers (Department of Revenue), 
Powersports dealers (Department of Revenue),
Manufactured home sales (Department of Local Affairs),
Retail sales establishments (Department of Revenue),

Restaurants (Department of Public Health), 
Nursery businesses (Agriculture), 
Pesticide applicators (Agriculture), 
Kennels (Agriculture), 
Sale of farm products (Agriculture), 
Feedlots (Agriculture), 
Zoos (Department of Natural Resources), 
River outfitters (Department of Natural Resources), 
Parks and Exhibitors (Department of Natural Resources), 
Water treatment plant operators (Department of Public Health), 
Firms related to air pollution, water pollution and hazardous waste (Department of Public Health),
Mines (Department of Revenue and Department of Natural Resources)
Fossil Fuel distributors (Department of Revenue)

Establishments that serve or sell alcohol (Department of Revenue),
Tobacco vendors (Department of Revenue),
Racing (Department of Revenue), 
Bingo and Lotteries (Secretary of State), 
Casinos (Department of Revenue), 

Public utilities (including taxi cabs) (PUC and Attorney General), 
Commercial vehicle drivers 130,000+ (Department of Revenue),

Lobbyists (General Assembly), 
Political campaigns (Secretary of State), 
Charities (Attorney-General and Secretary of State), and 

Law enforcement officers (Attorney General). 

A variety of businesses and professions are regulated at the local level. Some of the more notable include a variety of building trades (such as general contractors), real estate development (via building permits, zoning regulation, etc.), and street vendors.

Likewise there are many businesses and professions that are licensed at the federal level. . . .

On the question of lawyers, I’ll grant you that (1) there is a good argument that entities should be able to represent themselves, pro se, via their officers, (2) the “practice of law” which requires a license should be more narrowly and more definitively defined to excludes quite a bit of transactional practice, (3) there should be more kinds of paraprofessionals authorized to act independently in particular legal areas, particularly where there is lots of unmet need that call on only a narrow legal knowledge skill set (e.g. criminal law, immigration and child custody). But, the case for regulating lawyers, who are in a particularly good position to take advantage of clients and the harms done in the unauthorized practice cases that do come up, also make the case for regulation pretty good.
As I previously noted, a very small percentage of Colorado lawyers handle a very large percentage of trials in which lawyers are used at all in Colorado. This continues to be true in light of the 2008 annual report of the Colorado judicial branch.

The high volume, predominantly government employed criminal bar handles more than 98% of county court jury trials, and about 80% of district court jury trials (where more serious cases such as felonies and civil disputes over $15,000 are handled). In all, more than 90% of jurors called to serve in Colorado’s state courts serve on criminal or quasi-criminal (e.g. traffic, juvenile delinquency, and parental rights termination) cases.

About two-thirds of non-jury cases in county court are also handled by the criminal bar, while more than half of the remaining cases are small claims court cases handled without lawyers (with less than $7,500 in controversy). About 98% of civil cases other than small claims court cases in county court which go to trial (1,374) produce a bench trial rather than a jury trial — typically for less than a full day.

There are 19 civil trial per year in county court (jurisdiction up to $15,000 in controvery) and 246 civil jury trials in district court (general jurisdiction) each year in Colorado. Personal injury case make up a majority (at least) of civil jury cases in Colorado. There are 266 bench trials in Colorado district courts each year in civil cases.

Most judicial decision making based upon evidence in Colorado District Courts (and the Denver Probate Court) comes in evidentiary hearings not classified as trials. There are about 12,988 final domestic relations hearings, 2,022 guardianship and/or conservativeship hearings, about 178 will, trust and formal probate hearings (only 7 of which are will contests), and about 134 mental health case hearings in Colorado each year. Many of these cases are only nominally contested, however.

The courtroom part of American criminal procedure hasn’t changed much for several decades, and is remarkably inexpensive. It wouldn’t be unusual for the combined costs of the prosecutor’s office, the public defender’s office and the court system (but excluding police investigative costs) in a prosecuted felony to be below $200 each, on average, in a typical county. A significant percentage of the total costs for all involved is in capital cases. In many cases, much of the process is oral, and many of the motions that are filed are heavily form driven. As I noted before:

It is a fair guess that the vast majority of criminal cases in Colorado, probably 80% of jury trials and 30% of bench trials [excluding hearings], at least, are handled by roughly 1,000-1,400 criminal lawyers who make up about 5-7% or less (the 20,000 number above is probably an underestimate) of the lawyers licensed to practice in Colorado.

The county court civil process, which mostly handles small claims where lawyers aren’t involved, and collection and evictions cases brought en masse by lawyers specialized in that practice, is also quite quick and efficient, mostly because in a large percentage of cases defendants either fail to appear or settle on the spot in the courtroom. A few hundred more lawyers handle the bulk of the county court civil case load.

Non-criminal cases in district court, in contrast tend to be slow and very expensive, despite the fact that the stakes are often lower than they are in felony criminal cases. The process is somewhat streamlined in domestic cases, but in other civil cases, the rules contemplated a civil jury trial, even if this is highly unlikely.

Trials, Hearings and ADR

There were 1399 jury trials in District Court in Colorado in fiscal year 2010: 1,059 in criminal cases, 306 in civil cases, and 34 in juvenile cases (generally only termination of parental rights cases give rise to a right to a jury trial in juvenile cases). I know from other data that approximately 75% of general jurisdiction civil jury trials are personal injury cases.

There were also 763 bench trials in District Court: 53 in criminal cases, 368 in civil cases, and 342 in juvenile cases (many of which are quasi-criminal juvenile delinquency cases).

There were 13,860 domestic relations hearings in District Court: 13,487 permanent orders hearings in dissolution of marriage cases, 202 legal separation hearings, and 171 invalidity of marriage hearings. Note that almost every dissolution of marriage or legal separation of invalidity of marriage case must be concluded with a hearing (including every case where children are involved) even if the cases are uncontested. So this doesn’t necessary capture the full number of active litigations in these cases.

There were 183 mental health hearings in District Court: 49 for involuntary commitment for alcohol treatment, 78 long term certification hearings, and 56 short term certification hearings.

There were 2,729 probate hearings: 430 for combined conservatorships and guardianships, 614 for conservatorships without guardianships, 1,517 for guardianships without conservatorships, 137 for the formal probate of a will, 11 for will contests, and 20 hearings related to trusts. Many of the conservatorship, guardianship and formal probate cases are not genuinely contested but do require in court testimony to establish the faces beyond mere affidavits.

In County Court in Colorado, in fiscal year 2010, there were 1,321 jury trials: 821 in misdemeanor cases, 483 in traffic cases, and 17 in civil cases.

In County Court there were 4885 bench trials: 275 in misdemeanor cases, 176 in traffic cases, 1,295 in civil cases other than small claims cases, and 3,139 in small claims cases. There were also 9,053 final hearings in infraction cases.

These figures, naturally, omit, federal court trials and hearings, and hearings in administrative courts (e.g. DMV license revocation hearings). This list also omits parole revocation hearings and many hearings that aren’t the moral equivalent of a final bench trial in a case (e.g. scheduling hearings, motion hearings, temporary orders hearings, contempt hearings, etc.).

Compared To Case Loads

District Court Civil

There were 116,346 civil cases filed in District Court in Colorado in fiscal year 2010, that produced 306 jury trials and 368 bench trials, but not all of those filings are created equal.

Rule 120 hearings filings (a summary hearing, often uncontested and dispensed with after filing for lack of objection, in the non-judicial mortgage foreclosure process) accounted for 39,404 of those cases. The bulk of of the non-judicial foreclosure process is handled by the executive branch public trustee’s office, whose duties are ministerial and comparable to those of a sheriff enforcement a judgment rather than by a court imposing one. The court in a rule 120 hearing addressly solely the question of the existence of default justifying foreclosure (in all but rare cases due to non-payment of amounts due on a promissory note), not damages.

Distaint warrant filings (state tax lien filings) accounted for another 45,528 filings and generally don’t produce a hearing. A distaint warrant is roughly equivalent proceedurally to the administrative registration of a judgment obtained in another state and does not require proof of the merits before a claim can enforced against property.

These case make up 73% of the district court civil docket, but have a comparatively trivial impact on the court’s work load. The 578 foreign judgment filings, 322 out of state subpeonas and 278 name change petitions are also almost purely administrative matters that do not greatly burden the court. 

There were 30,236 cases of other types on the District Court civil docket in the state. 

About 5,809 are claims that fit in the heartland of tort law: cases involving personal injuries including worker’s compensation cases that end up in court) and wrongful deaths, breach of warranty, public nuisance, sexual harassment cases, fraud cases and malpractice cases (of all kinds) as well as motions to approve transfers of structured settlements. These cases make up a greatly disproportionate share of civil jury trials in District Court with about one in thirty-three of them actually proceeding to a jury trial

About 3,527 involve judicial efforts to establish title to or possession of specific pieces of property often in connnection with the collection of a debt. A big portion of the remainder of the cases, 13,165 involve contractual disputes or rights in real estate or other property. The number of jury and bench trials in cases such as these greatly understates the number of actual controversies resolve by the court process, because many “paperwork intensive” cases can be resolved by judges on the merits, or in a manner that makes a determination on the merits largely a foregone conclusion, in motion practice prior to trial. 

Many cases involve judicial review of, or action collateral to that of other decision makers: There were 722 appeals from municipal or county courts and 72 cases to confirm arbitration awards. There were 3,820 cases are to seal records or seek habeas corpus relief that is generallly collateral to a criminal case. There were 5 public utility cases, 236 cases reviewing acts by local governments and by government officials, and 31 special district cases. Note also that appeals of municipal or county court cases classified as civil in district court, appear to include cases where the underlying matter appealed from would be a traffic or criminal case, and that it is possible to appeal such cases even in many cases when guilt is not disputed (and hence there was no trial) if there is an alleged error regarding the sentence. The number of civil cases appealed to District Court from county court or a municipal court is probably closer to one or two hundred.

This leaves 2,849 other kinds of cases on the docket. They include: 470 declaratory judgment cases, 583 injunctive relief cases, 1,484 cases classified simply as “other”, 29 restraining order cases, and 334 contempt of court cases.

District Court Criminal 

There were 36,993 criminal cases in District Court that were resolved with 1,059 jury trials and 53 bench trials (with the balance being resolved by plea bargain or dismissed prior to trial).

Probate Filings

There were 12,189 probate filings in Colorado in fiscal year 2010. 

Of these, 5,600 were for the informal probate of a will, 1651 were for informal probate in an intestate estate, 425 were for the formal probate of a will, 225 were for formal probate in an intestate estate, 18 involved appointment of a special administrator where the probate or determination of intestacy was informal, 27 involved the appointment of a special administrator following a formal probate proceeding, 78 were small estates, 103 involved a determination of an heirship, 231 were trust cases, 93 were public administrator statements, and 149 involved “estates.” All of these cases combined produced 137 hearings for the formal probate of a will (out of 452 such cases), there were 11 hearings for will contests (out of roughly 6,070+ wills presented for probate), and 20 hearings related to trusts (out of 231 trust cases). Less than two wills presented for probate in a thousand gave rise to a genuine will contest that must be resolved in a hearing in 2010 in the entire state of Colorado. 

Denver’s Probate Court has only a couple of dozen contested will hearings a decade. In 2010, Denver’s Probate judge and her magistrate handled held 342 guardianships and/or conservatorship hearings, 3 contested will hearings, 14 formal probate hearings, and 7 trust hearings. Thus, there were 6 or 7 guardianship or conservativeship hearings in a typical week, and there was two hearing related to the probate of a will or to trusts every month. In addition, official statistics do not reflect, but there probably were, proceedural hearings, hearings on creditor’s claims, and hearings related to accountings in probate and guardianship and conservatorship estates.

Of the 8,220 decedents estates that were handled by the courts in Colorado in any capacity in fiscal year 2010, only 45 (about half of one percent) involved the appointment of a special administrator which gives rise to the kind of close court oversight of the estate that is routine in many states such as Florida, New York and Ohio. Slightly more than 90% of primary decedents estates that had any court involvement in Colorado were handled administratively and approved as a matter of course by the Probate Registrar in the clerk of the court’s office, rather than by a judge, on the basis of a simple court form. Other parts of the probate docket were also purely administrative and required little or no judicial intervention: 592 were trust registrations, 36 were will transfers (where a will has been lodged and is moved to a new court), 4 were registrations of foreign orders, 449 were ancillary proceedings to a probate elsewhere domesticating a foreign appointment as personal representative, and 1 was a disclaimer filing.

In contrast, there were 192 adult conservatorships, 378 combined conservatorship and guardianship proceedings, 227 conservatorships for a minor, 668 adult guardianships, 560 guardianships of minors, 26 involved approving single fiduciary transactions, and 374 were personal injury settlement approvals. These produced 430 hearings for combined conservatorships and guardianships, 614 hearings for conservatorships without guardianships, 1,517 hearings for guardianships without conservatorships. Thus, almost every guardianship and conservatorship case produces a hearing and some more then one. In most, the key issues are determining the competency of the adult in question (if the case concerns an adult), and determining if the person seeking to be appointed as guardian or conservator is the right person to do so. Frequently, only one of these questsion, or neither of these questions, is at issue.

County Court Civil

County courts in Colorado in civil cases in 2010 had 1,295 in civil cases other than small claims cases and 17 civil jury trials.

This comes from 148,425 money claims, 42,689 eviction cases, 531 cases to repossess personal property, 13,257 restraining order cases, 1,496 name change petitions, 27 purely administrative registrations of foreign judgments, and 529 cases classified as “other.” The vast majority of these cases are low stakes cases brough by collections attorneys for businesses in the business of lending money and by professional landlords. Less than 1% of civil cases in county court go to trial and only about 1.2% of trials are jury trials. This is particularly notable given the fact that county court procedure has little or no pre-trial dispositive motion practice. The vast majority of cases either produce default judgments or are resolved in a pre-trial settlement (usually reach in person in the court room at an initial appearance date or, much less frequently, immediately prior to a scheduled trial).

Court Sponsored Mediation

The courts also sponsor mediation (or its close cousins, excluding arbitration) through its ADR programs. There were 7,160 such cases in Colorado in the fiscal year 2010: 5,476 in domestic relations cases, 410 in juvenile dependency and neglect cases, 200 in child support enforcement cases, 172 in juvenile delinquency cases, 8 in probate cases, 283 in district court civil cases, 130 in criminal cases, 435 in county court civil cases, 36 in small claims cases, and 10 in restraining order cases. While court affiliated domestic relations ADR is offered in all judicial districts, other forms are offered only in some judicial districts.

For example, the Fourth Judicial District (El Paso and Teller Counties) is the only one with court affiliated, formally recognized ADR programs for criminal cases and restraining order cases. It also accounts for just under half of the dependency and neglect ADR cases (with all but ten of the rest being in Denver), and 57% of the county court civil ADR cases. All but 7 of the small claims ARD cases are in the 11th Judicial District (Chaffee, Custer, Fremont and Park counties). All but eight of the child support enforcement cases happen in one of four judicial districts in the Denver metro area (the 2nd, 17th, 18th and 19th judicial districts). Most court affiliated ADR programs in Colorado in non-domestic relations cases are effectively pilot programs. 
8. Higher educational degrees in many fields are an excessively time consuming and expensive de facto required credential for entering many professions in which the kind of information used by colleges and universities to admit new students accounts for substantially all of the economic value added associated with the degree in the occupations that student ultimately pursued that is inferior to the benefit that would have accrued from starting in that profession at a younger date. In particular, mechanisms should be developed to encourage occupations where higher education is used as a signal of intellectual capacity but the occupation itself requires little formal academic training, such as journalism and many forms of direct and middle management, for example, by encouraging some form of graduation with distinction from high school as an alternative credential.

9. Excessive credentialism is particularly harmful to women who plan on spending some time out of the workforce to have children and be stay at home parents to those children, because accentuates conflicts between biological fertility clocks and the time needed to establish oneself in a career, and because interrupting one’s education to start a family makes it much harder to continue to pursue higher education.

10. Excessive credentialism drives up the cost of professional services across the board for consumers by creating a barrier to entry into professions that have excessive credential requirements and by creating an addition cost that must be recovered by members of those professions.
22. There is an economic need for legal professionals who are less expensive than today’s lawyers who could have a narrower field of practice in imitation of independent medical professionals such as pharmacists, nurse practioners, emergency medical technicians, and independently operating physician’s assistants. Criminal law, child custody, and immigration law are among the areas of law that would be particularly well suited to the establishment of these kind of allied legal professions.
If you have an LSAT score of 145 or less, you have a very dim chance of graduating from law school and then passing a state bar exam.  An LSAT score of 145 is roughly equivalent to an IQ of 117, a bit more than one standard deviation above average, and roughly average for a college graduate (roughly the 86th percentile of the general population).

An LSAT score of 165, which would be more typical of a law student who passes the bar exam, corresponds to an IQ of 133, which is a little above the 98th percentile necessary to qualify for MENSA membership, and is about two standard deviations above average. 

Law students at top law schools and law students at the top of their classes on law review and graduating with honors tend to have still higher IQs (usually in the 99th percentile).
The Feminist Argument For Undergraduate Legal Education

Women make up 60% of law school graduates, appropriately because there are significantly more women than men who are extremely high performing in verbal and writing ability pertinent to the practice of law (Wai 2010).  But only about 17% of equity partners in large law firms are women (citing Wittenberg-Cox 2014). The percentage of women at each intermediate step in the large law firm lawyer career path declines.  Women have made up about 45% or more of law school graduates for more than thirty years, so the pipeline arguments are exhausted.

The reason for this is really not a mystery.  Men who marry and have children who work at large law firms and have what it takes to advance on that career ladder continue to devote “Big Job” class time commitments of sixty hours a week or more to their jobs.  Women who marry and have children who work at large law firms and are capable of doing the work necessary to advance on that career ladder take time off for a number of years while they have young children if they can and pay a punishing economic price for doing so for the remainder of their careers and in terms of job advancement.

In the ordinary seven years of higher education needed to obtain a law degree, a typical newly admitted to the bar attorney is 25 or 26 years old.  Women who have kids before completing graduate school are much more likely not to earn their degrees at all and almost never get into the large law firm career track.  Further, the creme of the crop of law school graduates who go onto be partners at large law firms, are also often expected to spend a year or two as judicial branch law clerks prior to entering private law firm associates as a sort of final on the job training process for the best and the brightest that provides insights in future trial practice.

Promotion at a large law firm from associate attorneys to “of counsel” or “non-equity partner”, which are the next steps up in the large law firm career ladder, typically takes seven to eight years as an associate and then “senior associate” attorney in that firm working sixty to eighty hours a week.  This puts a would be non-equity partner in a law firm at 32 to 35 years old. . . .

It is almost impossible to commit the relentless long hours necessary to be on partner track at a large law firm to an associate attorney’s job if you are pregnant and then give birth to a couple of kids spaced a few years apart.  This is particularly true if you want to breast feed for at least the medically recommended lengths of time (about twelve months) and to not wish to feel like you are being a terrible mother. 

Taking six months to a few years off immediately after being promoted to “Of Counsel” or “Non-equity partner” is likewise not a recipe for keeping your job in a large law firm, not matter what your reasons may be.

This leaves a woman who wants to have children without fertility treatments and other biological clock problems by having children before reaching advanced material age who is otherwise perfect law partner material with a window of three years or less to have kids while still securely reaching the penultimate step in the career ladder as “non-equity partner”, which is pretty much the lowest perch from which you can return to the firm after an extended leave of absence and have any hope of ever becoming an equity partner in a large law firm. 

Indeed, many women with an aptitude for law become paralegals or legal secretaries rather than lawyers because the earlier start is friendlier to their aspirations and desires to be parents at a reasonably young age while still having time to establish a meaningful career that they can return to without undue penalty once all of their children are ready to go to preschool.

Making law and undergraduate degree and disregarding the tradition of judicial clerkships for top law school grads seeking to become partners in private law firms turns a zero to three year window into a four or five year window, and maybe even a six year window to have children while having some hope of eventually becoming a partner if a woman takes enough AP classes, IB exams, and local college courses while in high school to finish an undergraduate degree in three years rather than four  Indeed, the addition three to five years in this window also makes it much more feasible for women who want to have children to make it all of the way to equity partner in a law firm before doing so.  And, holding onto the economic rewards of your career following an interruption in your working life for a few years is much easier for someone who has attained the status of equity partner than it is for anyone with a less senior position in a law firm.

If the biological clock theory advanced here is correct, it is fair to estimate that a shift of legal education from a graduate degree to an undergraduate degree would roughly double the number of women who become equity partners in large law firms.
There is overwhelming empirical evidence to show that the cost of higher education results in much lower levels of college attendance and completion for poor students with given test scores and grades, than for more affluent students.  The most academically talented poor students are only about as likely to earn a college degree as the least academically talented affluent student.

Cutting three years and about $150,000+ of education costs (in the form of student loan debt for most poor, working class, and middle class law students) off the investment in human capital necessary to become an attorney dramatically expands access to the profession for students from less affluent families.

Put another way, given a choice between a 26 year old associate attorney applicant with one year of experience, and one with four years of experience, almost all employers would find the latter more valuable, and the change would make the lifetime earnings of all attorneys’ net of education costs substantially higher.

In another related point, lower levels of student debt make it more viable for law school graduates to pursue governmental or public interest law careers out of law school, rather than being debt driven to pursue the position with the highest possible starting salary.

The Comparative Argument

The United States is exceptional in making a pre-professional law degree a graduate degree rather than an undergraduate degree.  Almost every other country in the world that has higher education requirements for becoming lawyers, in countries in the English common law tradition and in countries with the European civil law tradition alike, make a law degree an undergraduate degree. 

This is solid evidence that there would be few if any detrimental effects to making a law degree in the United States and undergraduate degree rather than a graduate degree.  There is really nothing radical about making legal education an undergraduate enterprise except for institutional inertia.

A Footnote Related To Legal Education In Less Developed Economies

Even with both a typically four year bachelor’s degree and a three year professional degree as well as a bar exam as pre-requisites, the American economy manages to have enough resources to provide a legal education to almost every law school applicant who is capable of passing a state bar exam and is astute enough in applying to safety schools to apply to a school with sufficiently lenient admission law school admission standards.  (Of course, admissions standards at some law schools are even lower if you are politically connected).

Likewise, very low levels of full time law degree required employment for recent law school graduates(particularly those with relative poor academic credentials at less prestigious law schools), unprecedented associate attorney layoffs during the financial crisis that are still continuing at low levels into 2014 (also here perhaps with actually quite significant layoffs in 2014) low pay for significant subsets of entry level lawyers (e.g. Massachusetts deputy district attorneys make on average less per year than court house janitors and public defenders there (who on average have more experience) make only slightly more), all tend to support the conclusion that the higher education system is not under-producing new lawyers at the margins in the United States.

In most less developed economies, this is not the case. 

High school graduates are rare and college graduates are even more scarce, while many people in these countries are not just functionally illiterate in the official language of the country, but are totally illiterate in their native language. 

In these circumstances, allowing people to enter the full fledged practice of law with a year or two of post-secondary training in law, may make a great deal of sense.  It is better to have a sufficient cadre of lawyers with some formal legal training to administer of functional legal system, than to have a much smaller cadre of lawyers trained to developed country standards whose numbers of completely inadequate to operate a functioning legal system.  The former may have more mistakes of law than would be optimal, but the latter will be effectively a system with lawless anarchy because the system can’t handle the demands it needs to serve.

Also, in a less developed economy setting, it is probably more sensible to categorically limit the jurisdiction of courts that conduct Western style legal proceedings to a subset of the total judicial system docket that the available supply of lawyers can manage and to choose the cases for the subset of the total that are most critical to have handled by well trained legal professionals (e.g. serious felonies and real estate disputes), while reserving minor cases of the sort handled in courts of limited jurisdiction in the United States (e.g. misdemeanors and minor debt collection and residential eviction cases) to traditional dispute resolution processes or lay adjudication of some other type. 

It may also make sense, if the supply of formally trained lawyers is small, to deploy the lion’s share of formally trained lawyers as judges to maximize the accuracy of ultimate decision making based upon the cases presented to them, and to dispense with any formal licensing process for people assisting litigants in this process.
Most people assume that lawsuits, apart from those in small claims court, are primarily both brought and defended by lawyers. The reality, however, is that a very large share of all cases are handled without lawyers. Consider the following statistics from the 2010 fiscal year in Colorado’s state courts:

In 60% of divorce cases, neither husband nor wife has a lawyer – this is the case type in which it is most common for neither party to be represented by counsel that generally involves meaningful adversarial litigation activity beyond a partial day one time hearing (apart from the small claims court division of county court limited to money claims of up to $7,500, which are lawyerless by design; about 12,000 of these cases are filed each year and about one in five are resolved through a brief bench trial with no pre-trial proceedings).   At least one of the parties in a divorce is not represented by a lawyer in an even larger share of all divorce cases in Colorado.

There were no lawyers in 73% of adoption cases, and in 65% of juvenile relinquishment cases, both of which are frequently uncontested, form driven and involved fairly small raw numbers of cases. There were no lawyers in 56% of district court civil case (although I have a suspicion that this may include all of the “distaint warrant” cases, which are basically state tax lien filings prepared by the State of Colorado, that don’t involve meaningful court proceedings since the due process takes place within the Colorado Department of Revenue process). About 50% of all district court civil cases are distaint warrants (which rarely give rise to any hearing) and another 26% are approvals of non-judicial foreclosures in brief, unappealable hearings, usually by default and when held usually involving unrepresented defendants at which the non-payment of a mortgage payment is typically the only issue which may be considered.  Fewer than half a dozen law firms handle the vast majority of non-judicial foreclosures statewide in Colorado.

Defendants are not represented by lawyers in 64% of misdemeanor criminal cases, although describing these cases initiated by the District Attorney’s office as lawyerless is deceptive, and the lack of representation is related in part to an unconstitutional Colorado practice of denying misdemeanor defendants access to a public defender prior to considering a plea bargain offer, that will probably be discontinued by court order in the near future.

A very large share of all civil cases brought in county court (mostly consumer debt collection and residential eviction actions), about 200,000 a year in round numbers statewide in Colorado, are brought by a collections attorney (often en masse with the pleadings prepared primarily by collections officers and paralegals), but give rise to a default judgment or result in an answer being filed by an unrepresented defendant.  A typical county court case alleged that the defendant has missed one or more credit card or rent payments.
Justice Kennedy recently spoke on the issue (Hat tip to SCOTUS Blog) to the American Bar Association, as it presented the most powerful judge in America (because he is the swing vote on the highest court) an award.

“In the developing world, there are not enough lawyers, there are not enough paralegals, there are not enough college-educated persons to make such a system work,” Kennedy told delegates . . . In some countries, he said, half to three-quarters of the population works in the “shadow sector,” with no licenses or legal regulation, and half the people have no official birth records. Lawyers can’t merely advise millions of young people in those nations to wait decades while the groundwork for a legal structure is established, Kennedy said.

But he said lawyers are well-suited to educate and recruit those young people to promote law by fighting lawlessness – families in Asia that sell their young daughters into the sex trade, an African nation that charges fees to women who want rape complaints investigated, nations that hold prisoners incommunicado and without charges for a decade, “the ongoing and looming greater disaster in Darfur.”

Lawyers should tell their listeners, “Here is a cause for your passion and your anger and your youth and your energy,” Kennedy said. And he said U.S. lawyers must also realize that “the rule of law cannot stand here unless you address those problems in other nations.”

The issue he charged American lawyers with is not an easy one. How do you build a legal system with few or no lawyers?

The most recent serious effort to try to do so has been in China, with decidely mixed results. But, the absence of formal legal education doesn’t mean that a society has to be without lawyers all together.

The Washington Post recently highlighted the remarkable authority that a “Children’s Parliament”, run, as the name suggests, by children, in Goma, Congo has developed (as modest as it is) amidst a failed overall legal system, largely on the strength of the fact that it is not corrupt and makes a good faith effort to apply the law to the facts, despite the fact that its opinions are not themselves binding.

Prior to 1890, when New Hampshire adopted one, there was no such thing as a bar exam; every state, but one, had one by 1915. A college education wasn’t a prerequiste to law school in the United States until about 1900 (and is still not in most of the world). When Yale Law School was founded in 1843, there were only eight law schools in the country and many lawyers learned the profession in another lawyer’s office rather than in a law school. From 1779 to 1817, there was only one law school in the United States (at the College of William and Mary). Harvard Law School, founded in 1817, was the second.

Also, as far removed from actual practice as American law schools are, they are far closer than their civil law cousins, who lean on bar exam preparation courses even more heavily to teach students substantive law than do American law schools.

Early Americans were actually far more litigious than we are today, but most of the cases would have been considered small claims and were dealt with in the style of a modern small claims court. For every day legal purposes, the “Justice of the Peace” concept, in which lay persons met out justice in minor civil and criminal cases, are considered a pretty abysmal failure compared to status quo alternatives in places like New York State, where professional judges with graduate degrees in law in well organized state courts of record do a far better job. But, compared to a system like that of Liberia, which has only 22 judges (about a tenth of the number of judges per capita as Colorado), it looks attractive.

Both the civil law system, and the British, distinguish between a core group of litigators, and other lawyers with less formal credentials, reducing the size of the core group — although the civil law system achieves this partially by having far more judges than common law systems do, per capita, and by entrusting much transactional legal work to the notary public’s office.

The Roman legal system, one of the earliest, referred essentially all private law cases to rent-a-judges paid by the parties and largely independent of a formal court system, much like modern day arbitrators, another attractive option in a country with a weak state.

English law has its roots in the Norman Conquest, after which the occupying Army, itself in a military hierachy, divided up the conquered territory among Army officers, creating the foundations of the modern aristocracy, and granted each aristocrat the authority to met out justice in his own territory. Originally, this was mostly done directly by nobles hearing disputes between his subjects, but, eventually, this task became specialized and largely delegated to skilled specialist servants of the local ruler. The early Islamic empire, which fused religious and political authority followed a similar pattern, allocating the power to mete out justice largely to local rulers who often acted on the advice of educated servants.

Justice by general purpose local political leaders is another attractive alternative to bureacratic lawyer based justice, which, while it has its flaws, also offers a desirable alternative to the anarchy that prevails in much of the world today.

The notion that law without lawyers is a desirable thing is mostly a hoary myth that ignores the downside of that approach. But, as Justice Kennedy appropriately points out, the Rule of Law is a necessity that the much of the world can’t afford to conduct American style.
A while back I noted (and I will update this post with the reference if I find it), a Denver study comparing criminal law outcomes between defendants represented by public defenders and those represented by private attorneys.

In cases that went to trial they did equally well, but private attorneys fared better during plea negotiations. It isn’t clear if this was due to the nature of the cases (with the marginal good cases seeking private counsel) or if this was due to better lawyering.

A counterpoint to this is a recent study on attorney effectiveness in tax court, which compared settlement and trial outcomes in pro se cases to those in lawyered cases.

Interestingly, the study found that the presence of an attorney for the taxpayer significantly improved the taxpayer’s financial outcome in tried cases, an effect that increased with the experience of the attorney. No such effect existed in settled cases. Although the latter result initially is surprising, it highlights the paramount importance of procedural expertise in formal trial proceedings, as opposed to negotiations with the opposing party. The study also found that the presence of an attorney for the taxpayer did not affect time elapsed to trial or settlement. Thus, the study found that taxpayers’ attorneys, who generally are paid by the hour, neither prolonged disputes nor expedited their resolution but did significantly improve the financial outcomes of the cases they tried.

Thus, in tax, lawyers help at trial, but not in the civil equivalent of a plea bargain. This may indicate that having no lawyer at all, as opposed to a different kind of lawyer does matter at trial, and that the I.R.S. is considerably better at enforcing low level uniformity and discipline on its trial lawyers than most district attorneys’ offices.

California has adopted a law providing legal representation at state expense in certain non-criminal family law, eviction and foreclosure suits. Previously, publicly appointed counsel was available only in criminal and termination of parental rights cases, and in rare cases where courts appoint counsel so that a position can be properly represented (often in appellate cases).

I’ve argued for something similar in the past, particularly in custody cases where the interest of the parties is significant, but the parties may all be indigent. The representation will be funded through court costs.

Those who think that it is more expensive to hire lawyers in these cases than to let the parties fumble though the court process should look at the tangles these cases routinely produe and then think again.
We need to develop more middle ground in our economy and social class system between winner-take-all successes and those who are just getting by; to invigorate the middle class.

We . . . have a lot of valueable legal work that isn’t done, or is done by overworked and underpaid idealists, because it is hard to make pay.  This includes a lot of family law in low asset/low income households, a lot of termination of parental rights litigation, a lot of criminal defense work for moderate to low income individuals, representation of consumer defendants in debt collection and eviction and foreclosure cases, a fair amount of probate litigation in low asset estates, and immigration law work in areas other than employer visas.  Lawyers with seven years of post-high school education are very expensive ways to meet the public need to counsel and advocacy in these areas, but many individuals who are involved in these kinds of disputes aren’t qualified to represent themselves competently.  If independent specialized paraprofessionals who could just hand child custody cases, or just handle criminal defense work, or just handle immigration work could do these kind of cases with an associates or undergraduate pre-professional degree, rather than a law degree, unmet legal needs could be filled in an affordable way that is more competent than the status quo without really impacting the market for existing lawyers much, and a lot of middle class jobs would be created in the process.  In some cases, the most sensible way to handle these cases would be the way we handle most criminal cases – with their services provided by a government agency with professional employees on payroll, but this wouldn’t have to be the case.

This has happened somewhat in the area of tax law, where certified financial planners and certified public accountants, tax preparers, and enrolled agents before the IRS fill the gap between what people need and what they can afford that lawyers cannot bridge.  In the area of bankruptcy, in theory, independent paraprofessionals are mere scrivners, but in practice, they subtly provide more guidance to bankruptcy petitioners than their formal duties suggest.  There is also a very small niche conceirge/personal assistant niche of people who help people with personal consumer disputes sometimes formalized as a “health care advocate” when it involves medical bills.

from Wash Park Prophet http://ift.tt/1GCYHca
via Denver News

War In The Drone Era

Drones And Extreme Automation Are Today’s Technology, Not Vaporware.

The age of drone warfare is already here.

Unmanned armed aircraft have been regularly used by the U.S. to kill suspected terrorists and insurgents for almost a decade.  Cruise missiles and “smart bombs”, which are even older, are likewise basically just suicidal drones.  Reconnaissance drones in the air and in the water come in sizes as small as hummingbirds and as large as Cold War era manned spy planes and 1930s airships.  There are drone cargo helicopters that have been used regularly in Afghanistan.

And, prototypes of drone aircraft carrier based unmanned fighter aircraft have done everything that a manned fighter aircraft can do (and more) in realistic tests.  Indeed, there is good reason to believe that drone fighter aircraft might outperform the best of the best manned fighter aircraft for the simple reason that they can withstand greater G-forces allowing for more complex maneuvers and because one can field a larger fleet of drones for one’s money because drone aircraft will very soon be cheaper than manned aircraft because the former does not require expensive and engine capacity consuming life support systems for the pilot.  So far, the military has avoided those kinds of tests, in part, because they fear the conclusions that would be drawn for the future of the manned fighter fleet if the drones perform as expected.

There are also a variety of unmanned ground vehicles, some armed.  The remote controlled version of these area ready for prime time, although early battle field tests have revealed some weaknesses for smaller ones, like using civilian women and children whom the rules of engagement don’t permit the ground drones to shoot to cover the ground drone’s sensors with opaque cloth rendering it blind and useless.

Extrapolating drone technology to new platforms is increasingly a relatively trivial engineering problem now that model software programs exist to operate them and the electronics needed have become commercial off the shelf technology to a great extent.

Also, highly automated technologies short of true autonomous robots or remote controlled drones are also having an impact.  Gun turrets no longer need to have a vulnerable gunner in them exposed to hostile fire.  New, highly automated ships can operate with about 1/9th of the crews that were necessary as recently as Vietnam.

The number of people needed to run an artillery battery is much lower than it used to be, and “smart” artillery rounds, like the “smart bombs” used by aircraft, are now so accurate that perhaps 95% of artillery rounds fired will hit their targets, an order of magnitude or more above historical artillery accuracy.  So, it takes far fewer people to operate artillery batteries necessary to hit X number of targets per day than it did a generation ago.  Improve drone and spy satellite reconnaissance also means that target selection is far more accurate, although reducing the number of rounds that must be fired to destroy all known targets.

Just as “smart bombs” maneuver after being released to an intended target, “smart bullets” that do essentially the same thing after they have been fired from a sniper rifle are in workable prototype stage right now.

No One Knows What Mix Of Drones Is Best, Or How It Impacts The Current Mix Of Forces

While all the individual weapons platform technologies are now a reality, however, no one has really developed an overall tactical approach to exploiting these technologies most effectively.  There is no clear consensus on what mix of drones is needed.

For example, while it is now technologically possible, and indeed trivial given current technology, to use drone aircraft to deliver smart bombs, keeping human operators further from the fray, so far this hasn’t been done.

No one has meaningfully re-evaluated how an increasingly accurate ability to deliver ordinance based upon real time quality visual reconnaissance and signals intelligence without putting any human operators close to where the ordinance will be delivered, tweaks the mix of air power resources, artillery resources, heavy ground forces in tanks, naval forces, old fashioned front line infantry, and behind the lines forward operating base personnel are needed in a modern military force.

For the most part, military procurement operates on autopilot, replacing old systems for comparable new systems on a one to one basis using mixes of forces established in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, before these transformative technologies arrived.

There has been some adjustment within the Army, of its relative balance of different kinds of capabilities, for example, with some heavy battle tank divisions replaced by medium weight Stryker brigades.  But, the U.S. military still haven’t taken on the job of rebalancing its forces in light of modern capabilities at a larger scale.

For example, no one has seriously rethought issues like the relative roles of aircraft, submarines and surface combatants in naval warfare against other near peer surface combatants, since World War II, the last time that world had much significant naval warfare between navies, despite the fact that the scant available evidence suggests that the surface combatant component is much more vulnerable than the submarine and aircraft components of the anti-surface combatant warfare force of the military.

Likewise, no one had really made a principled determination about our relative need for small, medium and large drones that span the entire range of existing military hardware from handgun size class drones and smaller, to drones that rival the size of the largest warships.

Soon Our Opponents Will Use Drones Against Us

Most problematically, given that drone and automation technology can proliferate much more easily than, for example, nuclear weapons or nuclear powered naval craft, because they are almost COTS technologies at this point, U.S. military planning related to drone warfare to date has been almost entirely devoted to how to wage offensive military operations with our drones, rather than to how to defend ourselves and our interests from attacks by drones operated by our opponents that are anything more sophisticated than a cell phone operated IED.

It is too late to interdict technologies like laptop computers, fly by wire model aircraft controls, cell phones, long distance wi-fi routers, and model fixed wing and rotary aircraft from the international market in a way that would be an effective barrier to a foreign military or a well organized and funded terrorist group.

Our navy, for example, struggles to figure out how to defend its ships and commercial ships that it is escorting, from attacks by swarms of missiles and/or small craft operated by nations such as Iran or North Korea.  Similarly, the U.S. Navy already struggles to a devise ways for its surface combatants to survive attacks from just one or two modern coastal submarines, or from a large number of sea mines with its limited anti-submarine warfare and anti-mine warfare systems.  But, this already difficult problem would be compounded greatly if a nation like this could simultaneously deploy hundreds of drones in the air, on the surface and underwater to attack of U.S. destroyer or commercial ships that it is escorting.

Nuclear weapons turned out to be less important in modern warfare than anticipated mostly because it is rare for obliteration of an entire city or metropolitan area civilians and all in a single overwhelmingly blow to be a military objective.  They are also expensive to build and require scarce materials.  Yet, usually, combatants who can afford to build or acquire nuclear weapons want to wrest political control of urban areas from somebody else, not to destroy it entirely.

But, drones and automation may have tools, like infantry support scale drones, that are better suited to more ordinary military objectives.  For example, a drone that can barge into a house in urban warfare and identify and kill any enemies who are a threat to soldiers seeking to occupy and control the neighborhood where the house is located without placing their own lives in undue danger.

Using drones in warfare against a near peer is very different from using drones in warfare that is highly asymmetric against guerrilla insurgent fighters, as the U.S. has done so far.

For example, a near peer might be able to jam remote control signals or GPS signals that a drone’s operator relies upon to command and control it, or might shoot down satellites critical to the command and control and intelligence function, or might be able to use an electromagnetic pulse weapon to disable the electronics that run drones or automated systems.

Fighting mass produced drones on either side makes a war of attrition with a military force made up mostly of humans, a dismal prospect.  Even a 100-1 win loss ratio for the humans in drone-human engagements, can portend an eventual certain defeat of the human force if the other side can mass produce enough drones at a cost that it can afford.

Drones are also well suited to very long range, highly targeted missions.  One can imagine a small, stealthy glider sized “mother ship” drone traveling from North Korea or Algeria or China or Iran to the sky near a U.S. or European or Canadian or Japanese or South Korean city and releasing a smaller, shorter range drone with fire power equivalent to a handgun and tracking cell phone signals or using information provided by a forward observer with a cell phone-like targeting device, to assassinate a single targeted individual, perhaps a political leader or business leader or scientist or clergyman or a few armed guards at a targeted facility.  Or perhaps the final stage short range drone would drop a hand grenade sized bomb into a busy market or mall, or bus or train depot, or school or church, again from a launch area thousands of miles away.  The local spy culprit who identifies the target’s location may be carrying nothing more incriminating than a civilian GPS and camera equipped cell phone to identity targets that has encryption software and calls an anonymous phone number or web address to convey its encoded targeting information.  The actual smart phone used in a particular operation (or at least its identifying SIM card) could be destroyed after each operation at a modest cost.

If the target is a fixed location, instead of an individual, like a particular office in a government building or a particular tourist attraction, aerial photography or a local cell phone or car navigation system user’s data can be used to set GPS coordinates to which a fully automated armed drone can proceed to launch a surprise attack, eliminating defenses based on disrupting signals used to control the drone remotely.  Tracing the source of such an attack could also prove very difficult, particularly if the drone self-destructs either in the attack or in some remote location far from the scene of the attack where it would take a long time to recovery any useful information about the source.

It might be possible to design systems to protect a President or Prime Minister or chief military officer of a country from that kind of targeted attack, but it would be much more difficult to defend hundreds or thousands of possible targets that are almost as significant from that kind of attack.  And, as noted above, treaties will be worthless in preventing deadly drone technology from proliferating in the very near future.

Once again, the tale of modern warfare, in which offense almost always overcomes defense, will repeat itself.

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