University of Pittsburgh

Faculty News

Thursday, August 14, 2014 - 10:37am

Molly! Masich, '14, works with an Immigration Law Clinic client who has recently been granted asylum.

A version of this article previously appeared in the Fall 2013 edition of the Pitt Law Magazine. Words by Christine H. O’Toole

United States’ Senate passage of a new immigration law in June punctuated a historic quarter century: the United States has received more immigrants in the past 25 years than at any previous period of its history. These newcomers confront daunting requirements for visas and work permits; undocumented immigrants may also be subjected to largescale immigration roundups, the denial of due process in deportation proceedings, and abusive detention conditions. As a result, efforts to guarantee immigrants’ basic rights and help them navigate paths to citizenship have grown. For one Pitt Law graduate, immigration law grew to become an absorbing cause.

Molly! Masich, ‘14, spent the summers of 2012 and 2013 working with non-profit organizations, helping immigrants find ways to achieve permanent legal status. Her most recent experience was a stint in the Legal Services for Immigrants and Internationals department of Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS), which provides legal help as well as humanitarian aid for immigrants and refugees in Pittsburgh. She took responsibility for 57 cases, contacting nearly 150 individuals—many of whom speak limited English—about services provided by Jewish Family and Children’s Services. A public interest scholarship funded through Pitt Law student fundraising efforts of the Pitt Legal Income Sharing Foundation (PLISF) allowed her to take the post. Over the course of the last academic year, PLISF raised $27,000 and provided 14 full scholarships to students working in non-paid positions.

For Masich, finding the relief for immigrants seeking to enter or remain in the country is painstaking and rewarding task. “Everything about immigration is onerous,” she observes. “And if you make something hard, it encourages deceit.”

Born on the U.S./Mexico border in Arizona, Masich’s lifelong interest in immigration issues stems from having worked to provide social services to at risk immigrants’ before matriculating at Pitt Law. After a previous public interest legal internship and her experience in the three-year old immigration law clinic directed by Prof. Sheila Vélez Martínez, that grew into a passion. Student work on JFCS’s most complex cases frees the non-profit’s limited staff to handle others. “We take referrals for criminal immigration cases. People who have a criminal history have burdensome issues,” she explains. Each semester, eight to ten students tackle the cases that other non-profits will not touch. In the spring 2013 semester, Vélez Martínez estimates that students performed 1,600 hours of pro bono work, with good results. The clinic has won all of the cases it has shouldered since its founding in 2010.

Observing the difficulties clients face has helped Masich pinpoint gaps in their understanding of their rights.

“Often, immigrants make their first contact with the legal system through traffic violations, particularly DUI cases,” she explains. “A DUI violation can affect immigrants’ eligibility for immigration reliefs, but many aren’t aware of that penalty until after the fact.” While working for JFCS, Masich also completed a separate, for-credit externship with Vélez Martínez, researching the problem for a presentation to faith-based organizations and non-profits that serve the local immigrant community.

“One of the changes in the bill, as proposed right now, is to include a third DUI conviction as a ground for inadmissibility to the U.S.,” says Vélez Martínez of the immigration bill passed by the Senate June 28, 2013. “Members of the immigrant community in Pittsburgh have identified this as an issue. We’re creating a legal perspective on the immigration consequences, and working with criminal law attorneys, social activists and health professionals to address this problem from a holistic perspective.”

The current Senate proposes a path to citizenship in 13 years for adults (five years for youth). Masich says that time frame is a significant improvement. “Thirteen years is fast. Right now, it can take up to 20 years, depending on what country you’re from. That doesn’t encourage anyone to follow the laws.”

Vélez Martínez agrees that immigrants will require continued legal assistance to reach citizenship. “The proposed process is complicated. It’s costly. It has obstacles. We have agreed that about nine million people are undocumented and part of our economy. We’re going to let them stay, but will make it very difficult. The strength of the bill is that it recognizes that we have to deal with immigration reform in a comprehensive fashion. And it will finally allow immigrants to travel abroad to visit their families.”

Fast Fact: Pennsylvania was home to 756,410 immigrants in 2011, according to the American Immigration Council, with over 52 percent of them already naturalized citizens. Unauthorized immigrants comprised 1.3 percent, or 160,00 residents, in 2011. That number includes just over 3,000 refugees resettled by the U.S. Department of State within the Commonwealth, placing it fourth after Texas, California and New York. Nationals of Burma, Bhutan, and Iraq made up almost three-quarters of the refugee arrivals nationally and in Pennsylvania.

Monday, July 21, 2014 - 12:10pm

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

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

The nuclear option changed the landscape, Hellman said.

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

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

Read the full article here.        

Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 11:13am

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

Read the full story here.  


Monday, July 14, 2014 - 5:17pm


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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 8, 2014 - 1:45pm

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

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

Read the full story here.  

Wednesday, July 2, 2014 - 9:49am

Photo: Pitt Law Professor Vivian Curran

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 26, 2014 - 4:27pm

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

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

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

Read the full article here.  

Friday, June 20, 2014 - 2:21pm

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

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

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

Read the full article here.  

Wednesday, June 11, 2014 - 11:27am

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

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

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

Read the full story here.  


Tuesday, June 3, 2014 - 1:32pm

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

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