Category: Law

Property Owners Get a New Legal Weapon

ROBERT BRIDGES, clinical professor of finance and business economics, USC’s Marshall School of Business

This op-ed originally appeared at Forbes on July 2.

Nearly unnoticed among the marquee decisions by this year’s Supreme Court session is Koontz v. St. John’s Water Management District. The decision granted the plaintiff the right to sue a governmental agency that required a payment – or ‘exaction’ – for public facilities miles away from his property as a contingency for approval of a building permit.

The headlines the morning after the decision heralded the ‘bolstering of property rights,’ but it’s doubly ironic that the integrity of rights in real property have been so badly eroded that it would take an act by the highest court of the land to simply grant the right of an individual to challenge a clearly confiscatory act, and that other forms of exactions – unforced, implied, or provided voluntarily – are an unfortunate but normal part of today’s real estate development process.

A Low Tax Burden — and Still Complaining

EDWARD D. KLEINBARD, professor of law, Gould School of Law.

This op-ed originally appeared April 22 at CNN.

Tax day may be over, but many Americans are still suffering from tax hangovers.

If it’s any consolation, here’s our country’s best-kept fiscal secret: According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Americans in 2012 enjoyed the lowest tax burdens as a share of our national economy of any developed country in the world.

How can it be that we feel so much tax pain, but compared to other developed countries our tax burdens are so low?

There are three reasons.

How to Escape the Debt Ceiling Limit

EDWARD KLEINBARD, professor of law, USC’s Gould School of Law.

This op-ed originally appeared in the New York Times on Jan. 10.

The fiscal cliff may have been avoided, but an even higher-stakes political standoff — this time, over the federal debt ceiling — is just around the bend.

Congressional Republicans have said they will demand immense cuts to popular government programs in exchange for agreeing to raise the nation’s authorized borrowing limit of $16.4 trillion. The Treasury Department briefly nudged against that ceiling on Dec. 31, but used “extraordinary” financial measures to buy more time. If nothing is done, the government will soon be unable to pay all of its bills in a timely manner. This unprecedented event would profoundly damage the government’s credit rating and send the financial system into a tailspin.

Schools Are Hardly Gun-Free Zones

RON AVI ASTOR, professor of urban social development, USC’s School of Social Work and Rossier School of Education.

This op-ed originally appeared at CNN on Dec. 21.

Last week’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, appears to have at least temporarily changed the debate on gun control and opened the door to new restrictions.

Following up on his pledge to “use whatever power this office holds” to prevent another slaughter at a school, President Barack Obama has said he will submit new gun-restriction proposals to Congress in January. But the obstacles to progress remain formidable, chief among them the political power of the gun-rights lobby in Washington.

How Lawyers Undermine Access to Justice

GILLIAN HADFIELD, professor of law and economics, USC’s Gould School of Law.

This op-ed originally appeared at CNN on Nov. 25.

In our country, lawyers and judges regulate their own markets. The upshot is that getting legal help is enormously expensive and out of reach for the vast majority of Americans. Anyone faced with a contract dispute, family crisis, foreclosure or eviction must pay a lawyer with a JD degree to provide service one-on-one in the same way lawyers have done business for hundreds of years.

Increasingly, the only “persons” with access to legal help are “artificial persons” — corporations, organizations and governments. No wonder that in a 2010 New York study, it was shown 95% of people in housing court are unrepresented. The same is true in consumer credit and child support cases; 44% of people in foreclosures are representing themselves—against a well-represented bank, no small number of whom engaged in robo-signing and sued people based on faulty information.

Science the Messenger Gagged

COSTAS SYNOLAKIS, professor of environmental enginering, Viterbi School of Engineering.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

It is impossible to predict earthquakes with the precision that would have helped the 300 people who died as a result of the earthquake in L’Aquila, Italy, on April 6, 2009. It is equally difficult, apparently, to predict court decisions.

After a 13-month trial, six scientists and one government official were sentenced to six years in jail Monday for giving authorities information that was “too reassuring” about the possibility that an earthquake would take place in the wake of a series of small earthquakes. The defendants will also have to pay compensation to the families of 29 of the 309 victims who, swayed by government reassurances, did not evacuate their homes, according to relatives.

The Medicare Disadvantage

DANA GOLDMAN, director of USC’s Schaeffer Center, ADAM LEIVE, graduate student at University of Pennsylvania and DANIEL MCFADDEN, senior fellow, Schaeffer Center.

This op-ed originally appeared at the New York Times.

One question at the center of the Medicare debate is whether private insurance companies have a future role to play in the huge federal program. Paul Ryan’s 2012 budget proposal gives private health plans a starring role in the form of a voucher program. But some economists would give them the hook, citing the failure of Medicare Advantage to control costs. Some perspective is in order.

Medicare Advantage has historically cost 7 to 12 percent more than traditional Medicare, according to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission. But to conclude that this cost difference proves that private health plans have no place in Medicare misreads the Medicare Advantage experience in an important way: It ignores the decisive role that government has played in driving up the program’s costs. Medicare Advantage is only partly about reducing costs. It is also designed to increase choice for beneficiaries. And the incentives that government gives private health plans to expand choice end up undercutting efforts to save money.

The Truth Could Set Them Free

DAN SIMON, professor of law and psychology, USC Gould School of Law.

This op-ed originally appeared at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Stripping people of their liberty or life is one of the most solemn tasks exercised by liberal democracies. Yet, bizarrely, the American criminal-justice system pays too little regard to the factual accuracy of its verdicts.

Consider the steady trickle of exonerations, which occur at a rate few observers would have predicted not long ago. The recently launched National Registry of Exonerations lists the details of 989 exonerees since 1989, and the Innocence Project reports on 300 convicted inmates who have been exonerated based on DNA testing alone. (An additional group of 1,170 defendants have been exonerated in 13 “group exonerations” that followed major police scandals.) No doubt, the actual number of false convictions is much higher.

Holding the L.A. District Attorney to a Higher Standard

DAN SIMON, professor of law and psychology, USC’s Gould School of Law.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Los Angeles Daily Journal.

To its credit, the Los Angeles district attorney’s office did not ignore the cry for freedom from a condemned inmate. As a result, convicted murderer John Edward Smith is a free man after a DA investigation learned that the sole prosecution witness had falsely identified Smith as the perpetrator in a 1993 drive-by shooting. The accuser now claims that he pointed the finger at Smith only after being misled and pressured by Los Angeles police detectives.

Smith’s ordeal demonstrates how our criminal justice process can go wrong, and it highlights why fixing the process should be at the center of the race between Jacky Lacey and Alan Jackson for office of the DA.

Los Angeles County has had its fair share of faulty criminal prosecutions. Since 1989, 26 Angelinos have been declared factually innocent after having been convicted and sentenced to prison. That’s about double the rate of exonerations in the rest of California, and it doesn’t include more than 100 false convictions produced by the Rampart scandal in the late 1990s. The true number of false convictions is no doubt much greater. Smith was exonerated only because his new lawyer managed to locate his accuser, and he was eager to recant. Likewise, Brian Banks of Long Beach was exonerated months ago of his conviction for rape only because his accuser “friended” him on Facebook, agreed to meet with him, and recanted her accusation on camera.

The Great Diversion: Romney’s Taxes

EDWARD J. McCAFFERY, professor of law, economics and political science, USC’s Gould School of Law.

This op-ed originally appeared at CNN.

By now, most of us have probably heard that Mitt and Ann Romney paid just under $2 million in taxes on income — virtually all from investments — of just under $14 million for 2011, an effective tax rate of 14.1%. This is a low tax rate, lower than the typical middle-class American worker pays, especially when one considers payroll taxes, the largest burden for most Americans. It should concern us that individuals of Romney’s wealth — analysis has put his personal fortune as high as $250 million, not counting some $100 million in trusts set up for his five children — pay so little as a percent in taxes.