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For anyone who has had an unpleasant experience with social media, the case of Bethlehem, Pa., resident Anthony Elonis, who was arrested for posting violent messages on Facebook, could prove interesting reading. However, media coverage of U.S. v. Elonis is scarce outside eastern Pennsylvania or niche publications.
As this case from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals shows, the country is at an information disadvantage when it comes to the federal courts of appeals.
The American Bar Association Standing Committee on Federal Judicial Improvements implemented its Media Alerts on Federal Courts of Appeals Project in 2009 to provide timely, objective reporting on the 1st through 11th U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals, the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. The ABA partners with professors and students at law schools in each circuit to monitor noteworthy filings, write comprehensive summaries of important opinions and post them to the Media Alerts website. Subscribers, who can sign up for free, receive email alerts when new cases are posted, either all alerts or those from the circuit of their choice.
At the American University Washington College of Law, legal rhetoric instructor Elizabeth Beske and assistant law librarian Ripple Weistling supervise the coverage of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals for Media Alerts.
“I think the most important benefit for the participating students is that Media Alerts improves their writing,” Beske said. “They take a 30- to 50-page opinion and distill its essential concepts in a way that the legally savvy reader can understand.”
In a seminar that Beske and Weistling teach in conjunction with Media Alerts, the final semester project requires students to draft an opinion on a pending D.C. Circuit case using the style and philosophy of a D.C. Circuit judge of their choice.
The Western State University College of Law at Argosy University in Fullerton, Calif., just started covering the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for Media Alerts, initially focusing on cases originating in California.
“We think this is a good opportunity for our students,” law professor Glenn Koppel said. “We already have a year in review part of our law review that focuses on cases from California state courts, so Media Alerts will fit in very well with what our law review is already doing.”
In interviewing students for Media Alerts, Koppel said his primary concern is whether they can accommodate the work into their already-busy law school schedules. At Western, students will write the case summaries, while Koppel and Ryan Williams, assistant law professor and law review adviser, will choose the cases and edit the students’ work.
Williams said he was motivated to join Media Alerts because of the opportunity “to get involved helping the ABA. Being asked to take on the 9th Circuit is an honor.” He said it was conceivable that Western’s work on the 9th Circuit cases could be published in a separate edition of its law review.
When a new school is needed to cover a circuit, Bryan J. Bach, staff attorney to the Standing Committee on Federal Judicial Improvements in Chicago, works with professors already involved in the program to find new contributors. Bach praised Beske and University of Pennsylvania law professor Stephen B. Burbank, a former member of the ABA Standing Committee for Federal Judicial Improvements, for their efforts in finding new law schools to cover the various circuits.
The law schools vary in how they approach participation in Media Alerts — whether it is an independent study, a class or work that contributes to students’ law journal/law review hours.
“With the ABA Media Alerts project, an ABA standing committee is adding value to the law school experience and producing a service useful to lawyers, the media and the public,” Bach said.