December 11, 2017

Archives for September 17, 2014

Killing Them Softly (Part One): The Attack on Lawyers’ Brains

rhodesI borrowed the title of this series from a Loyola Law Journal article by DU Law professor Debra S. Austin, J.D., Ph.D.: Killing Them Softly: Neuroscience Reveals How Brain Cells Die From Law School Stress And How Neural Self-Hacking Can Optimize Cognitive Performance.

The phrase “neural self-hacking” comes from Google, which runs a class for employees by that name, plus other classes on brain well-being. Yeah, it’s a Silicon Valley thing, but don’t be fooled: the companies offering these classes mean business, and they think mindfulness is good for it. As Prof. Austin says:

Many innovative companies promote wellness to provide vibrant workplaces and thriving employees. Research shows that perks such as onsite gyms, work/life balance programs, stress management classes, mindfulness training, and nutrition coaching improve the bottom line.

Killing Them Softly makes the case for why the law profession might want to catch up with that idea, instead of mounting a systematic attack on law students’ and lawyers’ brains. Prof. Austin’s article describes in detail just how we do that, and the implications of this practice. Consider these excerpts:

Neuroscience shows that the aggregate educative effects of training to become a lawyer under chronically stressful conditions may undermine the efforts of legal educators by weakening the learning capacities of law students. Stress in legal education may also set the stage for abnormally high rates of anxiety and depression among lawyers.

The stresses facing law students and lawyers result in a significant decline in their well-being, including anxiety, panic attacks, depression, substance abuse, and suicide. Neuroscience now shows that this level of stress also diminishes cognitive capacity. The intricate workings of the brain, the ways in which memories become part of a lawyer’s body of knowledge, and the impact of emotion on this process indicate that stress can weaken or kill brain cells needed for cognition.

Cognition, Latin for “the faculty of knowing,” describes the process by which humans perceive stimuli, extract key information to hold in memory, and generate thoughts and actions to achieve goals.

In other words, the way we initiate lawyers into the profession and how we approach law practice is counterproductive on the most fundamental neurological level. We make it hard for lawyers’ brains to do what we ask of them. We impede their ability to learn, to store knowledge and access memory, and to exercise sound judgment. Most critically, we restrict that essential ability to sort through the facts, discern what’s important, and figure out what to do about it. And while we’re at it, we also heighten susceptibility to the distressing psychological conditions that plague our profession.

And guess what? That’s what happened to all of us. It’s amazing any of us can function as our studies and work require, but our brains are amazingly resilient, and we’ll talk about how they get the job done in the face of all this neurological aggression. Before we get that far, we’ll look into how our brains learn, and how the stresses of the profession damage them. And we’ll take a look at the case for neural self-hacking.

Stay tuned.

Rhodes has been a lawyer for nearly 30 years, in firms large and small, and in solo practice. Years ago he left his law practice to start a creative venture, and his reflections on that topic appeared in an article in the August 2014 issue of The Colorado Lawyer. His ebook, Life Beyond Reason: A Memoir of Mania, chronicles his misadventures and lessons learned about personal growth and transformation, which are the foundation of much of what he writes about here. If you enjoy reading this blog and would like to contribute a blurb to Kevin’s upcoming collection of these posts, please email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Permanency for Child in D&N Proceeding More Important than Reestablishing Familial Ties

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of M.D. on Thursday, September 11, 2014.

Dependency and Neglect—Foster Parents—Permanency Hearing—Compelling Reason.

The La Plata County Department of Human Services (Department) filed a petition in dependency and neglect regarding M.D. due to its concerns about the parents’ history of domestic violence and substance abuse. M.D. was placed with foster parents and, based on father’s admission to certain allegations in the petition, including that he tested positive for methamphetamine, the court adjudicated the child dependent and neglected and adopted a treatment plan for father (mother’s rights were not at issue in this case). The district court later entered judgment allocating a majority of parenting time and sole decision making authority for M.D. to the foster parents.

On appeal, father contended that the court erred in concluding that it need only find a compelling reason to allocate parental responsibility to a nonparent under the permanency hearing statute. Because CRS §19-1-115 concerns only temporary custody awards and the court’s order here was a permanent custody order, the findings under §19-1-115(6.5) were not required. Further, there was evidence in the record that the child needed permanency and that a complete transition back to father would be difficult and probably result in harm to the child.

The record also reflects that the Department made reasonable efforts to finalize permanent placement of the child and that procedural safeguards were in place to protect father’s rights. In addition, because father was not deprived of all of his parental rights, and because the trial court retained jurisdiction to modify its existing order, the trial court order relating to father’s custody and visitation rights did not require a finding of unfitness to protect his fundamental liberty interest. The record supports the court’s findings regarding several compelling reasons as to why the child could not be returned home under §19-3-702(4). Therefore, the court did not abuse it’s authority to award permanent custody to the foster parents. The judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Statutory Language Deprived Court of Appeals of Jurisdiction in Bond Revocation Case

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Jones on Thursday, September 11, 2014.

Bond—Revocation—Petition for Review—Jurisdiction.

In this felony case, the trial court set bond for defendant. He posted the bond, and the jail released him from its custody. While he was free on bond, a second court found that there was probable cause to believe that he had committed another felony. Based on that finding, the trial court revoked his release on bond in this case, and it ordered that the jail hold him without bond until this case was resolved. Defendant filed a petition for review in this court.

The prosecution argued that the Court of Appeals did not have jurisdiction over defendant’s petition for review. Defendant filed his petition for review relying on CRS §16-4-204(1), which authorizes review of trial court orders issued under CRS §§16-4-104, -107, and -201. Here, the prosecution’s motion to revoke defendant’s bond relied on CRS §16-4-105(3), which is not mentioned in CRS §16-4-204(1). Because it is not mentioned, a defendant cannot seek appellate review of an order issued under CRS §16-4-105(3) by filing a petition for review under CRS §16-4-204(1). Therefore, the Court of Appeals did not have jurisdiction over defendant’s petition for review, and the appeal was dismissed. Defendant may, however, seek the Supreme Court’s discretionary review of the trial court’s order under CAR 21.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Entire Lease Void Where District Exceeded Leasing Authority

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Rocky Mountain Natural Gas, LLC v. The Colorado Mountain Junior College District on Thursday, September 11, 2014.

Lease—Municipality—Void—Reformation—Equitable Estoppel—Compensation.

Rocky Mountain Natural Gas, LLC (RMNG) and Colorado Mountain Junior College District(CMC) entered into a lease allowing RMNG to construct and operate a natural gas compressor station on CMC property. Despite the statutory three-year term limit on CMC’s authority to lease district property, the lease included an initial term of twenty years, with an option for RMNG to extend the lease for an additional twenty-year term. RMNG spent approximately $2.5 million in reliance on the lease, and CMC thereafter took action to set aside the lease as unenforceable, because the term of the lease exceeded CMC’s statutory authority. The court granted summary judgment in favor of CMC.

On appeal, RMNG contended that the district court erred by determining that the lease was entirely void and unenforceable. Because the evidence did not clearly show that CMC desired to lease the property for less than the twenty-year term stated in the agreement with RMNG, it was within the discretion of the district court to reject reformation of the contract as an appropriate equitable remedy. Further, because the entire contract was void, the court could not use the “savings clause” to reform the contract to the maximum three years. Accordingly, the district court did not err in determining that the term of years could not be reformed and that the entire lease was void and unenforceable.

RMNG also contended that the district court erred by refusing to apply equitable estoppel against CMC to prevent manifest injustice. Where a contract is void because it is not within a municipality’s power to make, the municipality cannot be estopped to deny the validity of the contract. Here, because CMC had no power to lease district property for any term exceeding three years, principles of estoppel do not apply against CMC. Accordingly, the district court did not err when it allowed CMC to deny the validity of the lease.

RMNG further argued that the district court erred because it refused to hold a hearing or make factual findings that would permit it to craft a remedy that fully compensated RMNG for CMC’s breach. CMC refunded the lease payments it received from RMNG. Accordingly, RMNG was fully compensated for the benefit it conferred on CMC and the district did not err when it denied further relief and granted summary judgment in favor of CMC. The judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 9/17/2014

On Thursday, September 17, 2014, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued one published opinion and three unpublished opinions.

Juarez-Galvan v. United Parcel Service, Inc.

Uzdenov v. Holder

Reneau v. Mahoney

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.

Comment Period Open for Changes to the Federal Rules of Civil, Appellate, Bankruptcy, and Criminal Procedure

The Judicial Conference Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure has opened the public comment period for several proposed changes to the following rules and forms:

  • Appellate Rules 4, 5, 21, 25, 26, 27, 28.1, 29, 32, 35, and 40, and Forms 1, 5, 6, and New Form 7;
  • Bankruptcy Rules 1010, 1011, 2002, 3002, 3002.1, 3007, 3012, 3015, 4003, 5009, 7001, 9006, and 9009, and New Rule 1012, and Official Forms 11A, 11B, 106J, 201, 202, 204, 205, 206Sum, 206A/B, 206D, 206E/F, 206G, 206H, 207, 309A, 309B, 309C, 309D, 309E, 309F, 309G, 309H, 309I, 312, 313, 314, 315, 401, 410, 410A, 410S1, 410S2, 416A, 416B, 416D, 424, and Instructions, and new Official Forms 106J-2 and 113;
  • Civil Rules 4, 6, and 82; and
  • Criminal Rules 4, 41, and 45.

A PDF of the proposed changes may be found here.

The public comment period closes on Tuesday, February 17, 2015, at 11:59 p.m. Members of the public who wish to present testimony may appear at public hearings on the proposed amendments.

Comments and supporting files must be submitted electronically using the Regulations.gov portal. After choosing the appropriate link below, click the “Submit a Comment” link. This will display the comment web form. You can then enter your submitter information and attach your comment as a file (up to 10MB), or type your comment directly on the web form. When you have finished attaching or typing your comment, click the “Preview Comment” link to review. Once you are satisfied with your comment, click the “Submit” button to send your comment to the advisory committees. Upon completion, you will receive a tracking number for your submission.

Detailed instructions on how to submit a comment are given in the Regulations.gov FAQs.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Witness’s Failure to File Tax Returns for Several Years Probative of Character for Truthfulness

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Leaf v. Beihoffer on Thursday, September 11, 2014.

Negligence—Driving Under the Influence of Drugs—Impeachment—Evidence—Tax Returns—CRE 608(b)—Guilty Plea—Jury Instructions.

Defendant Beihoffer’s car rear-ended plaintiff Leaf’s taxicab on an icy road. Beihoffer ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence of drugs (DUI). Leaf sued Beihoffer for negligence, and the court entered judgment in Beihoffer’s favor.

On appeal, Leaf contended that the district court committed reversible error by allowing impeachment evidence that he had failed to file income tax returns for several years, because that evidence was not probative of his truthfulness and was unfairly prejudicial. Evidence of a witness’s failure to file income tax returns for several years is probative of the witness’s character for truthfulness and therefore admissible under CRE 608(b) to impeach the witness’s credibility. Therefore, the court did not err in admitting such evidence.

Leaf also contended that the district court erred by not giving preclusive effect to Beihoffer’s DUI guilty plea and by excluding evidence of the plea offered for impeachment. However, evidence of Beihoffer’s DUI guilty plea had no preclusive effect in this case. The court also did not err in excluding evidence of the guilty plea for impeachment, because there was sufficient cumulative evidence presented to the jury on this undisputed issue.

Finally, because Leaf did not allege a negligence per se claim in this case, the district court did not abuse its discretion in rejecting Leaf’s proposed definitional instruction of DUI. The judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Question of Prospective Harm Inappropriate for Summary Judgment in Dependency and Neglect

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of S.N. on Thursday, September 11, 2014.

Parental Rights—Termination—Dependency and Neglect—Summary Judgment—Prospective Harm.

The Boulder County Department of Human Services (Department) removed S.N. from her parents’ custody at birth because a hearing on termination of parental rights involving the parents’ three older children was pending. The trial court adjudicated S.N. dependent and neglected by summary judgment based entirely on a theory of prospective harm.

On appeal, the parents argued that the trial court erred by granting summary judgment on the Department’s petition for dependency and neglect regarding S.N. There were material facts that could affect the determination of whether S.N. should be adjudicated dependent and neglected. Therefore, the question of prospective harm was inappropriate for summary judgment because the parent’s prior conduct alone can never be sufficiently predictive of future conduct to take the question from a trier of fact by summary judgment. The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded with directions.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Remand to Determine Whether Defendant Hired Specific Attorney or Entire Firm

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Stidham on Thursday, September 11, 2014.

Sentencing Hearing—Sixth Amendment—Right to Counsel—Continuance.

A jury found defendant guilty of multiple sex offenses involving three minor children. The district court convicted him, adjudicated him a habitual criminal based on various prior convictions, and sentenced him to forty-eight years to life in the custody of the Department of Corrections. At a resentencing hearing, the court denied defendant’s request for a continuance based on his objection that an associate from the firm, R.T., instead of the attorney from the firm he had hired, H.S., was there to represent him. The resentencing hearing proceeded, and the district court ultimately imposed the same sentence.

Defendant argued that the trial court violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel when it denied his request for a continuance of his resentencing hearing. It is unclear from the record whether defendant hired H.S. personally or the firm. Therefore, the case was remanded to make this determination and for further findings. If defendant hired H.S. personally, the court will need to vacate the current sentence and set a resentencing hearing at which H.S., defendant’s current counsel, or defendant’s retained counsel can appear. If defendant hired the firm, the court should consider and make a record of the appropriate factors in deciding whether it should have continued the resentencing hearing to allow defendant to be represented by H.S. If it finds it should have granted defendant’s requested continuance, the court should vacate the sentence and reset the resentencing hearing.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 9/16/2014

On Tuesday, September 16, 2014, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and three unpublished opinions.

Fortner v. Young

Engelhardt v. Heimgartner

United States v. Deppish

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.