Author Archives: Eric Yap

Summer Reading: The Girl on the Velvet Swing

She was a young actress and model, new to New York City, who caught the attention of a wealthy and famous older man.  After gaining the trust of her mother, the man lured the 16 year old alone to his apartment, plied her with champagne, and raped her after she had passed out.  Despite this, she continued to have a relationship with him for a number of years, while he continued to support her family financially.

The Girl on the Velvet Swing

Some time later, she married another man, the heir to the fortune of a well-to-do Pittsburgh family. He had his own dark past: posing as a theatrical agent in New York, he had physically abused several young aspiring actresses. The women were all paid off to ensure their silence.

These events may sound all too familiar, especially in the wake of the #MeToo movement, but they occurred in the early 1900s and are the subject of Simon Baatz’s book The Girl on the Velvet Swing (Call No. HV 6534.N5 B33 2018). The young model was Evelyn Nesbit, the man who sexually assaulted her was renowned architect Stanford White, and her husband was Harry Thaw.  Nesbit would become one of the first fashion icons, her image appearing in advertisements everywhere, but her prior entanglement with White would haunt her for her entire life. Things came to a head one sweltering night in 1906 when Thaw saw White in attendance at a performance in the rooftop theatre of Madison Square Garden. Yelling “You’ve ruined my wife,” he pulled out a pistol and shot White three times at close range.  Stanny, as he was known to his friends, died instantly in a building of his own design (this second iteration of Madison Square Garden, erected in 1890, would be torn down in 1925.)

Stanford White

The story of Nesbit, White, and Thaw has been covered before in other books, including Nesbit’s autobiography from 1934, and Paula Uruburu’s American Eve (2008).  What distinguishes The Girl in the Velvet Swing is the depth it gets into in describing the multiple trials and appeals, and the legal maneuvering undertaken by Thaw and his ever-changing legal team.  How to defend the accused when he shot the victim in front of countless witnesses? Would the insanity defense fly if Thaw himself refused to assert it?  How to take advantage of the system and free Thaw once he was committed to an asylum?

The book’s coverage of Thaw’s trial proceedings is full of rich detail, sourced from the many newspapers that were breathlessly reporting on the latest legal twists and turns: the New York World, New York American, New York Sun, among others (the Author’s Note at the end of the book provides further context as to the newspaper coverage.)  Especially telling are the legal shenanigans that ensue after Thaw escapes from the Matteawan asylum in New York state. He lands in a small Quebec town across the border from Vermont, and his army of lawyers wage legal battle over extradition that spills over into the courts and politics of Canada.

Harry Thaw

When all was said and done, Harry Thaw had hired around 40 lawyers on his legal team, and had spent the staggering sum of $1 million on legal fees.  And he was free.  It’s another story that remains all too familiar to us today.

Towards the end, the book circles back to the putative center of the story, the girl who once innocently swung on Stanford White’s favorite apparatus, a velvet swing.  But maybe the story was never really about Evelyn Nesbit.  As she once lamented: “Stanny White was killed. But my fate was worse. I lived.”

 

Dedication of the Phyllis & Bernard Nash ’66 Reading Room

The BLS alumna sat down on one of the brightly-colored, soft and comfortable couches in the newly-christened Nash Reading Room. “We didn’t have anything like this in the library, back when I was in law school!”

Over the years, many alumni have had experiences similar to those described by Bernie Nash (BLS ‘66) in his remarks at the dedication of the Nash Reading Room on June 26, 2018. When he started out at BLS, the library was a “medieval” place with long tables and hard chairs, where students kept their heads down in their devotion to quiet study. Yet he soon learned that these austere physical trappings belied the value of the library and librarians. During Nash’s tenure as a student, BLS Librarian Lucie Jurow (BLS ‘30) became his mentor. She not only taught him how to do legal research, a skill that served him well in law school and in practice, but also helped him out when he ran into some issues with the law school administration. Nash’s appreciation of Jurow’s mentorship, and of the value of the law school library, stuck with him throughout his long and successful career.  Hence it was fitting that the newly-renovated third floor collaboration room, which has quickly become the most popular space in the library, be dedicated as the Phyllis & Bernard Nash ‘66 Reading Room in honor of the Nashs’ generosity in giving back to BLS.

After the official ribbon-cutting ceremony had been conducted by Phyllis Nash, Bernie Nash, Dean Nick Allard, and Library Director Janet Sinder, the guests spilled into the reading room. Some guests chatted with those who were using the space: students taking summer classes as well as recent graduates studying for the July bar exam. Others settled on the inviting couches and fractal lounge chairs. They sipped champagne and didn’t seem like they wanted to leave.

2018 Graduation: Photos from the Library and Beyond

Students at Brooklyn Law School spend a lot of time in the library.  It was perhaps fitting that even as their law school journey drew to a close at graduation on May 18, the BLS Class of 2018 couldn’t quite escape the library.   

At the commencement ceremony, class speaker Maria Ortiz reminded graduates of the quote from “A League of Their Own” that every BLS student has passed countless times given its prominent display in the library stairwell: “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it… The hard is what makes it great.”  When the happy graduates returned to BLS after the ceremony, many headed to the library’s third floor Nash Reading Room with family and friends to celebrate over food and drink.  The Nash Reading Room only opened last fall (official dedication to come soon!), and it was wonderful to see it transformed into a place of joyous celebration. Build it and they will come.

We look forward to continue seeing familiar faces over the summer as many newly-minted alums will be using the library for their bar exam studies.  Here are some photos from the graduation festivities in the library and beyond. (Thanks to Jean Davis for taking most of these photos!)

Congratulations and all the best to the Brooklyn Law School Class of 2018!!

Springtime comes to BLS

Tulips in front of the law school

Officially, the first day of spring fell on March 20 this year. This was news to those of us living in New York City. According to Accuweather, the high temperature in downtown Brooklyn on that day was a whopping 37° F (time perhaps for a pop quiz on de jure versus de facto?).

Enjoying coffee in the BLS Courtyard

 

 

 

It has taken a while, but spring has finally arrived in Brooklyn. Though we are in the midst of our exam period, BLS students are taking advantage of the good weather. Many of them can be seen out in the courtyard, discussing the intricacies of the UCC (the code, not the coffee) or regulatory takings and the Penn Central test.  Students may be grappling with the fruit of the poisonous tree, but at least they can enjoy the blooming flowers and greenery all around the law school. 

Downtown Brooklyn – Columbus Park

(Photographs courtesy of Jean Davis)

Study Room Reservations and Library Hours for Reading/Exam Period

During the Spring 2018 reading and exam period which starts April 27, 2018 (Friday), you must make a reservation to use a library study room. All of the study rooms will be locked; please go to the first floor circulation desk when your reservation time begins to charge out the key to the room. The link for study room reservations can be found on the library homepage under Related Links.

Study Room Policies

  • Study rooms are for the use of groups of two or more students.
  • Study rooms may be reserved for the current day and three days ahead.
  • Study room reservations may be made in 30-minute time slots; the time slots must be contiguous.
  • Students may book up to 8 contiguous time slots per day for a total of 4 hours per user per day.

Library Hours for the Reading/Exam Period 

April 27, 2018 (Fri.) – May 10, 2018 (Thurs): 8:00 AM to 2:00 AM

(Circulation Desk closes at 12 midnight on these dates.)

May 11, 2018 (Friday): 8:00 AM – 10:00 PM 

Good luck on your exams!

 

Snow Day Reading: Riot Days

In “Riot Days”, her short memoir of the events leading to her incarceration and subsequent release 18 months later,  Maria Alyokhina gives us a glimpse of the Russian justice and penal systems. But it is a glimpse, and nothing more.

Alyokhina is a member of the band Pussy Riot, perhaps still best known for their “punk prayer”  protest in 2012, at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. After eluding authorities for a while, Alyokhina and two fellow Pussy Rioters were arrested.  Most of “Riot Days” is about what ensued: detention, trial, conviction, and imprisonment in prisons in Berezniki near the Ural Mountains, and in Nizhny Novgorod.

Upon arrest, the author and her bandmates were charged with “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”, with prosecutors seeking a 3 year prison term for each of the accused. In the chapter titled “Russian Trial”, Alyokhina describes a trial which is by turns tedious and absurd: a long line of accusers claiming shock and moral injury, confused witnesses, an accuser who wasn’t present at the church and only “saw the video”, a vomiting dog.  Not to mention a sometimes distracted judge:

“The secretary stops recording the proceedings. The judge bows her head and starts doodling.

‘Your Honour, please stop doodling!’ the lawyer shouts.

‘Don’t look at my desk!’ the judge shouts back.”

After she was convicted and sentenced to 2 years in prison, Alyokhina would continue to fight the system from within.  Often her protests would fall flat, and she spent months in solitary confinement. Yet a surprising number of times, and in part due to her celebrity, her efforts bore fruit. Notably, on occasions when she was able to tell the authorities what specific law they were violating, she managed to get the guards to rein in their abuses such as stealing from the salaries owed to the prisoners.  

Included in “Riot Days” are some evocative vignettes, as Alyokhina navigates the Russian justice and penal systems.  The guards who get upset when the prisoner who gives manicures to everyone in prison, guards and prisoners alike, is about to be released (“Who will do our nails?”) Having nothing to read in prison other than a box full of romance novels.  Igor, the chief of criminal investigations, who boasts about dieting and riding 10 miles on his bicycle. The author making sushi rolls for her fellow prisoners, none of whom has tasted sushi before.  

With widespread disenfranchisement of those who have been convicted in this country, one of the author’s stories involving voting was quite striking.  Alyokhina was a detained prisoner accused of political crimes, and on hunger strike, when this happened:

“In the middle of all this, the clatter of an iron key in the lock of the iron door, and someone roars “You want to vote?”

Despite being weakened by her hunger strike, the author jumped out of her cell. In an elegantly decorated room adorned with a large portrait of Putin, she got to vote in the Russian presidential elections.

“Riot Days” is fragmented, a bit messy, and may not be everyone’s cup of tea. If you are looking for a more comprehensive account of events surrounding the Pussy Riot case, there are other sources you can turn to.  Still, the book does an excellent job capturing the mood of those turbulent events. Despite the hardships she suffered, the author manages to ring a note of optimism: even if the system is stacked against you, knowing your rights and fighting for them can take you a long way.  As Alyokhina tells herself, in the midst of one of her many battles with prison authorities, “I have to understand the law.”

Riot Days, by Maria Alyokhina (Call No. ML420.A57 A3 2017)

Valentine’s Day Quiz

Can you name the U.S. Supreme Court Justice?

1.  It must have brought a Flood of emotions: his clerks wrote him a card on Valentine’s Day, 1985, that read “Respondents are red, petitioners are blue. We’re very lucky to have a Justice like you.”

2.  “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family.”  It’s no mystery that this passage comes from the closing paragraph of the ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), authored by this Justice.

3. Rush Limbaugh’s wedding to the “Jacksonville Jaguar” Marta Fitzgerald, was held at this Justice’s home in 1994.  As the officiant, the Justice may have been required to ask a question or two.  Alas, the couple ending up splitting a decade later.

4. Toxic love triangle: Carol Anne Bond was excited when her closest friend announced she was pregnant. Excitement turned to rage when Bond learned that her husband was the child’s father. Bond went to the former BFF’s home at least 24 times in order to spread toxic chemicals on surfaces her nemesis would touch; she was prosecuted under federal law for her actions. In ruling that the Chemical Weapons Convention did not apply, this Justice explained why he was not upholding the mandate in this case: “The global need to prevent chemical warfare does not require the Federal Government to reach into the kitchen cupboard.”  Bond v. United States (2014).

5. This notorious Justice penned the majority opinion in Sole v. Wyner (2007).  The case involved a rebuffed attempt by Wyner to assemble nude individuals into a peace sign on a Florida beach, on Valentine’s Day, 2003.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Mindfulness and Meditation for the Legal Professional

Now that we are in the reading period at BLS (aka Hell Week at some institutions) and exams are just around the corner, stress levels are running high. Throughout the library, anxious faces are buried in casebooks and class notes, an ample caffeine supply on hand to fuel the late night cram sessions. Sadly, the stress doesn’t end upon graduation. Being a lawyer requires you to deal with conflict, unreasonable client demands, tight deadlines, and long hours. These can be especially unforgiving for someone newly entering the profession, and can lead to unhealthy habits — there’s a reason why some state bar associations require members to take continuing legal education classes on substance abuse.

So what is a stressed out law student or lawyer to do?

The answer, according to Jeena Cho and Karen Gifford, is mindfulness and meditation. In their book, The Anxious Lawyer: An 8-week Guide to Joyful and Satisfying Law Practice Through Mindfulness and Meditation (2016) [Call number: KF298.C47 2016], lawyers Cho and Gifford have crafted a meditation program targeted to fellow members of the legal profession.  The program is aimed at those new to meditation and includes a variety of exercise and practices, covering such topics as mindfulness, compassion towards others and self, mantra repetition, heartfulness, and gratitude. By following this initial eight week program, readers hopefully will see a change, for the better, in their habits and perspectives. They would be able to build on these changes and continue their meditation practices going forward, including developing meditation styles that best suit their own needs.

Law students and attorneys will relate to the many examples drawn from the authors’ experiences from law practice, and how they personally benefited from meditation. For example, in the chapter on mindfulness, Cho and Gifford discuss mindful client interviews, and the importance of setting boundaries with clients. They broach topics such as working with difficult opposing counsel, and the challenges of “toxic mentoring.”

Cho and Gifford don’t sugarcoat the fact that it may not be easy for lawyers to start or to stick with a meditation practice. Our perspectives on our lives and profession get ossified and habits are hard to break. The authors’ approach provides a road map to get started with meditation and mindfulness, with plenty of room for the individual to adapt what best works for him- or herself. In addition to the guidance provided in The Anxious Lawyer, Jeena Cho’s podcasts cover related topics and are worth checking out.

For members of the BLS community who wish to engage in meditation, BLS Library has a Contemplation Room, Room 105M on the first floor mezzanine. This space is provided for students, staff and faculty to engage in contemplation, meditation, or quiet spiritual awareness. If you have any questions about the Contemplation Room, stop by the reference desk and we would be happy to help.

Beware the Bootleg Bluebook

Richard Posner doesn’t like the Bluebook. He has railed against it for years, devoting entire articles in the University of Chicago Law Review (1986) and the Yale Law Journal (2011) to the horrors of what he deems an ever-growing monstrosity. In a December 2016 article for Green Bag, Judge Posner stated that among the reforms he would implement at federal appellate courts, the first thing to do is burn all copies of the Bluebook, in its latest edition 560 pages of rubbish”.

Well, one person’s rubbish is another person’s treasure.  Enter the Bootleg Bluebook.  

Say what? Of all the things to make knockoffs of, why the Bluebook? It isn’t a literary bestseller like Harry Potter and it sure as heck isn’t Louis Vuitton. Even the Kelley Blue Book would seem a likelier candidate for a fake. Then again, with over 35,000 students matriculating at ABA-accredited law schools annually, the built-in demand means that a lot of Bluebooks are sold every year.

Unfortunately some BLS students who bought Bluebooks through third party vendors have been victimized by these fakes.  We’ve heard that students at other law schools have run into this problem too.

Imagine a student at Any Law School, U.S.A., meticulously poring over the Bluebook to make sure everything is cited correctly for their first legal writing assignment. Only to get his or her paper back, marked up to the hilt with corrections in red ink.

“But I cited to page 16 of the Bluebook. Id at 100, no period after Id

“That’s not correct and not what it says in my copy. Let me see your Bluebook.”

Sorry. It’s fake.

I feel for students who are using the Bluebook for the first time only to find out that their trusted source was a bootleg.  Fake news we can handle. But fake Bluebooks?

One of the BLS students was kind enough to lend us their bootleg copy.  It’s basically a case of OCR gone bad.  Periods vanished, text out of sync, commas turned to periods and vice versa, blurry text, off-kilter page numbers, and the most common error: missing spaces. New jersey losing its capitalization and making you think of swag rather than state — while the III for Illinois makes you want to yell “My kingdom for a horse!” Interestingly, the Chinese and Japanese characters seemed to be in good shape, though the bootleggers couldn’t decide what color print to use and kept switching back and forth between black and blue.    

 

 

      

So the Public Service Announcement for today: It’s best to get your Bluebook directly from the publisher or from a trusted retailer, rather than through a third party vendor.

It’s nice to know, though, that the bootleggers got this citation on page 510 right:

Richard A. Posner, The Bluebook Blues, 120 Yale L.J. 850 (2011).

 

 

That was then, this is now

That was then, this is now: The transformation of BLS Library’s 3rd Floor in pictures.

Inside the old 3rd Floor Reading Room

Spring 2017, students voted on the chairs for the new reading room

Summer 2017, gutted and about to be renovated.

Fall 2017, getting things into place

Now new signage has been installed. Striking graphics and inspirational quotes adorn the walls.  The third floor space has been completely transformed in a few months.  

We hope you enjoy using the third floor Collaboration/Reading Room!