Approaching the bench

Exploring the ‘symbiotic relationship’ between lawmakers and the judiciary

Exploring the ‘symbiotic relationship’ between lawmakers and the judiciary

By Tequia Burt
Chicago Lawyer Correspondent

Illinois lawmakers generally emphasize the strict separation of powers between the judiciary and General Assembly.

“The relationship between us and the courts is arm’s length; it’s respectful and we recognize that we are co-equal branches of government,” said House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs. “But their job is to rule on the laws and determine whether or not they abide with our constitution and nothing more.”

However, cooperation between the courts and lawmakers can be essential to pushing forward key policy and legislation in the state of Illinois, according to other lawmakers and experts.

“On the whole, there’s not enough interplay between the courts and lawmakers,” said former state Rep. Scott R. Drury, D-Highwood. “I’m not saying that the court should dictate what we do, and we certainly shouldn’t dictate to the courts how they should interpret our laws. But there is a symbiotic relationship, obviously, between the judicial branch and the legislative branch. And to the extent that there could be more lockstep cooperation, I think it would help everybody in the long run.”

Read more

Originally published in January 2019 in Chicago Lawyer

Accruing interest

Will the states step up as the federal government rolls back consumer protections? Who’s going to regulate fintech? And what, under Trump, is a bank? A look at the trends affecting banking, financial and tax law

Will the states step up as the federal government rolls back consumer protections? Who’s going to regulate fintech? And what, under Trump, is a bank? A look at the trends affecting banking, financial and tax law

By Tequia Burt
Chicago Lawyer Correspondent

As the Trump administration continues to loosen federal regulatory oversight, in particular those that protect consumers, what should banking and finance legal professionals be paying attention to?

Here are three areas to keep an eye on as regulatory uncertainty shows every sign of being an ongoing challenge for the banking and finance industry.

How will states react to the federal rollback of regulatory enforcement?

After he was appointed head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau last November, Mick Mulvaney made clear his goal was to “dramatically” shift the agency’s priorities.

“Anybody who thinks a Trump administration’s CFPB is going to be the same as an Obama administration CFPB is being naïve. Elections have consequences,” Mulvaney said at a news conference on his first day on the job.

An Obama-era consumer watchdog agency created in the wake of the financial crisis as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, the CFPB functions as one of the federal government’s main financial services regulators. The agency protects consumers by making sure financial companies are following the law; collecting and responding to consumer complaints; enacting protections to ensure consumers are treated fairly; and promoting financial transparency.

The CFPB has supervisory authority over banks, thrifts and credit unions with assets of more than $10 billion as well as their affiliates. Additionally, the agency has supervisory authority over nonbank mortgage originators and servicers, payday lenders and private student lenders of all sizes. During its seven-year history, the CFPB has taken on everything from the prepaid card industry to the mortgage servicing business.

During his tenure Mulvaney has moved to undermine the agency, including making a budget request of zero dollars this year, and has continually urged Congress to weaken the CFPB. The Trump administration has made a number of moves to diminish the agency’s power, including stripping the CFPB’s Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity of enforcement power. Previously, the office had forced payouts in several well-known cases, including settlements from lenders it alleged had systematically charged minorities higher interest rates.

So how will the states’ attorneys general respond to this rollback on a federal level? According to several legal experts, states, including Illinois, are poised to fill the gap.

Read more

Originally published in November 2018 in Chicago Lawyer

Mediation killers

The top reasons mediations fall apart — and how to avoid them

The top reasons mediations fall apart — and how to avoid them - Lisa Predko

By Tequia Burt
Chicago Lawyer Correspondent

Imagine it’s mediation day. You’ve been preparing for weeks — or even months. You and one of your clients are on the same page and are working toward one goal: to settle the case.

As you sit in the mediation room and the minutes tick by, though, you begin to realize that one of the key decision-makers on the other side is not going to show up.

According to seasoned mediator Faustin “Frosty” Pipal of Chicago-based Resolute Systems, “that’s the No. 1 mediation killer, in my view.”

Pipal, who primarily oversees personal-injury, product-liability and professional negligence mediations, said that whether it’s an irate brother-in-law, a key insurance adjuster or a disgruntled business partner, the fact that the other side is not there can be a big obstacle to reaching an agreement that all parties are able to live with.

“Though not many of my cases fail, almost 100 percent of those that do, do so because one or the other decision-maker is not physically present at the mediation,” Pipal said. “It’s so important to have all persons involved in the process be in the room, where they can be a part of the give and take of the negotiation.”

“‘Being there’ is the very essence of a mediation and if someone is phoning it in, in my experience, it’s going to be harder to get the case settled,” he added.

And Pipal means that — literally. He recommended against having mediations via telephone or even online. Pipal said bluntly of online cases: “If we move toward online meetings, we’re going to have increased failure rates of mediations.”

Read more

Originally published in September 2018 in Chicago Lawyer

The Year of the Grinnell Woman

Meet our candidates running for public office.

Microphone on stage at an event

Tequia Burt ’98

In 1992 widespread anger caused by the humiliating treatment of Anita Hill during Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court confirmation hearing by an all-male, all-white panel of lawmakers ushered in the “Year of the Woman.” According to Rutgers’ Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), that year 29 women filed for U.S. Senate seats, and 11 won their primaries; 222 filed for U.S. House seats, and 106 won their primaries.

Though that doesn’t seem like many today, these numbers had surpassed previous records by leaps and bounds and have had a long-lasting impact on our electoral politics. The 24 women who won election to the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in November 1992 was the largest number of women elected to the House in any single election. The U.S. Senate saw the first black woman elected and tripled the number of women overall in that chamber.

As of August 2018, 107 women hold seats in the U.S. Congress, comprising 20 percent of the 535 members. Twenty-three women (23 percent) serve in the Senate, and 84 women (19 percent) serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. Five women nonvoting delegates also represent American Samoa, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands in the House.

But there is still work to be done — the United States is far from having equal gender representation in local, state, or federal government. According to recent data compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the United States ranks 102nd in terms of women’s representation in government. For comparison’s sake, the United States’ neighbor to the south, Mexico, currently ranks ninth.

The United States is poised for another seismic electoral shift. In this powerful #MeToo era, women are taking to the streets to protest what are seen as attacks against basic rights. They are also running for public office in unprecedented numbers, with a few high-profile women shining in the spotlight, such as New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who defeated an incumbent congressman in her primary, and Georgia’s Stacey Abrams, the first black woman nominated for governor by a major political party in the United States.

According to CAWP’s most recent figures, there are 468 women running for the U.S. House and 51 running for the U.S. Senate as of this writing; these figures well outpace previous records. Moreover, an NBC analysis found more than 40 percent of Democratic House nominees are women, compared to less than 10 percent for Republicans.

“It makes sense that there are more Democratic female first-time office seekers out there right now,” says Barbara Trish, professor of political science. “Given that Republicans dominate state and local offices — with Democrats taking a big hit over the last decade — the door is open for Democratic challengers to those incumbent-held Republican seats.”

So it follows that there are extraordinary numbers of Democratic women throwing their hats in the ring for local, city, and statewide offices for the first time. And, of course, there are Grinnell College alumni among them; at least three have sailed through primaries and will know in November if they are victorious in the general election.

Kayla Koether ’12 leans on fence at a farm in Iowa

Women seeing themselves as contenders

Kayla Koether ’12 seeks to represent the people of Iowa House District 55 in northeast Iowa as a progressive Democrat (kaylaforiowa.com), and is running against an incumbent Republican, Michael Bergan, in November.

“I am running for the Iowa House of Representatives because, for years, I have been troubled by the trajectory of rural Iowa,” Koether says. “It’s become an expectation that young people will leave to pursue their vocations. It’s become more and more difficult to become a farmer or an entrepreneur here.

“For too long the rural exodus has been viewed as ‘inevitable’ and taken for granted by policymakers. But we rural dwellers are dedicated to our places, and we have a vision of strong rural communities. I want to bring that vision to the Iowa Statehouse,” she adds.

Koether says she thinks the reason for the groundswell of women running for public office across the United States is because we are at a crossroad in our country.

“Many people are feeling a call to duty. Those considering a run for public office realize — and have probably realized for some time — that we are nearing the edge of the cliff,” she says. “The need to step up and set a course toward progress on so many levels — economic stability for all, human relationships, health care access, environmental sustainability — hasn’t been so profound since the lead up to the Great Depression.”

Liz Johnson ’88, co-founder of VoteRunLead (voterunlead.org), a nonprofit that trains women how to run for political office, has worked with several Grinnell College alums over the years, including Koether. According to the organization’s recent survey, which polled 750 potential female candidates, 56 percent of those candidates said they don’t think as many women run for office as men because no one has ever encouraged them to run.

Johnson, who is currently a VoteRunLead board member, says this is changing — especially after the results of the 2016 presidential election. Women are no longer waiting for permission or encouragement to become civic leaders, she said. The number of women seeking training from VoteRunLead to run for public office across the country has exploded; the organization has trained more than 12,000 women to run for office since November 2016.

“The 2016 election was a real wake-up call for women across the political spectrum,” Johnson says. “We are realizing we can no longer sit on the sidelines of our democracy and think it will represent us well. And communities are looking for women to run for office, especially local office. The leadership of women incorporates our life experiences, providing a perspective in policymaking that is more inclusive and brings more people to the table to solve complex problems.”

Koether agrees with that sentiment.

“In the past, women in particular didn’t see themselves as candidates because they didn’t fit conventional expectations,” she says. “Now, they have seen that the stakes are too high and the system will not fix itself. They must step up so that we can reach our highest aspirations for a vibrant democracy.”

Laura Clymore Ellman ’87 at a speaking event

Finding the courage to run

Laura Clymore Ellman ’87, a federal compliance assessor at Argonne National Laboratory, is running for Illinois State Senate in the 21st District (ellmanforillinois.com). Ellman, a Democrat who lives in the Chicago suburb of Naperville, Illinois, hopes to unseat incumbent Republican Michael Connelly. Ellman is focused on helping the state of Illinois find its financial footing and fostering its economic growth. The state’s poor financial shape is among the worst in the nation.

She had never really seriously considered running for public office, citing a lack of experience, “but November 2016 happened,” and Ellman says she suddenly felt qualified. “At the time, it was more ‘why not?’ than ‘why?’ run,” she says.

“I never thought it would be me, and I have never been overly politically active. It was just never one of those things I identified myself with.” By Thanksgiving she knew she would run.

“I decided to run for a lot of reasons. For nearly 20 years, out where I live, the ballots were pretty one-sided: uncontested races, all the same party,” she says.  “I’d be frustrated for that one election day, but it never really went beyond that. As I talk to more people, the more convinced I am that we need alternatives; we need to have contrasting opinions on where Illinois is going. Having the same band of people representing us is not in our best interest.”

Grinnell College women up to the challenge

Erin Gonnerman poses by one of her campaign signsEllman was not the only Grinnell College alum who decided to run for public office after the 2016 election. Erin Hennessy Gonnerman ’09, who has already won her race and is now a Two Rivers (Wisconsin) City Council member, did, too. “It was three weeks after Nov. 8, 2016, that I picked up my nomination papers to run for city council,” she says.

Gonnerman, a mechanical engineer at NextEra Energy, says she thinks Grinnell College female alumni are particularly well-suited to running for office.

“Don’t hesitate to run, especially for local offices that can be done while maintaining your full-time job,” she says. “It’s a good way to get involved in the government and help you decide if higher office is something you’d be interested in. City councils and village boards need people with diverse opinions and backgrounds, and they also just need people who are willing to do the work, put the time in, can think critically, and who care about the community.”

Though Grinnell College women may have the strong critical thinking and leadership skills it takes to make good political candidates, they still can face an uphill battle while running. One only need look to the Barbara Lee Foundation’s well-known 2014 report “Keys to Elected Office: The Essential Guide for Women” to see just how difficult it is for women seeking public office.

The guide doesn’t hesitate to show female candidates the cold, hard reality of running. It points out that, when it comes to fundraising, women are often not included in the same well-connected donor circles as their male counterparts. According to the guide, women are judged on their looks, the way they dress, their families — and often have to be more qualified than their male opponents. “Women need to provide more evidence than men of expertise. The first way to relay that to voters is to make an excellent first impression — to hit the ground running and to maintain that momentum throughout the campaign,” the guide states.

Rita Rawson getting sworn inBut none of those factors has stopped Grinnell College women in the past. Rita Rawson ’90 was first elected in 2015 and is in her second term as alderman of the 5th Ward in Davenport, Iowa (voteritarawson.com). She is also the only woman of color on the city council. Rawson says the way women can win is by pinpointing important local issues that citizens feel have been ignored. Rawson has been successful in promoting urban revitalization.

“The older, core neighborhoods have been neglected for decades,” she says. “But after a lot of hard work, urban revitalization is now the council’s No. 1 goal. When I was running, I never had a thought of  ‘I can’t get this done.’ My goal was to always just get it done.”

Her advice to alums currently running for office is to have a vision that you can articulate clearly. “Being yourself and being authentic to your voice and vision, as well as being honest to constituents, is critical.”

Kim Butler smiles at the camera

Participating in our democracy effectively 

Kim MacDonald Butler ’83, a progressive Democrat who lives in Balsam Lake, Wisconsin, is not letting obstacles get in her way of making a difference in her rural community. She is running for Wisconsin State Assembly District 28 against Republican Gae Magnafici (votekimbutler.com). Previously, Butler was set to race against incumbent Republican Adam Jarchow, but he dropped out of the race after losing a special election for the state senate earlier this year.

“I stepped up to run against the incumbent, assuming I would lose, simply to get the issues of jobs, education, health care, and the environment inserted into the discussion. That he decided not to run for re-election is a happy accident,” she says.

Butler initially decided to get politically involved after her children began high school. “Just voting and giving money every once in a while was not getting the results I wanted,” she says.

So in early 2016, Butler joined the Polk County Democrats; by late 2016 she was elected co-chair of the group. However, it was only after being chosen as a delegate to attend the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on behalf of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders that she was truly inspired to run for state assembly.

“There was something about Bernie Sanders that really touched me. Largely it was his focus and speaking on income inequality,” Butler says. “So when he said, ‘Go join your local Democratic party,’ I did. Then he said, ‘Go to your local caucus and make sure everything was fair,’ so I went and eventually moved up and was elected as a delegate for the national convention. It was a really eye-opening experience for me, seeing so many people so passionate about politics.”

For Butler, campaign training has been instrumental in giving her the tools she needs to run for office. The first major training camp she attended was Camp Wellstone, a weekend-long program targeted to grass-roots progressive candidates. “You learn all the things you need to know to be a candidate; how to raise money and win your race,” she says.

After completing a couple of other training programs, she connected with Liz Johnson at a VoteRunLead training camp, which Butler attended to gain more knowledge about running as a female candidate. It was there she also re-connected with Koether, whom she had first met at Camp Wellstone.

Koether says that connecting with fellow Grinnell College graduates was the final push she needed to decide to run for state office.

“It was heartening to run into other Grinnellians, including Kim Butler and Liz Johnson, at the campaign trainings I attended as I was making the decision to run,” she says. “Feeling grounded and part of a supportive community was key in helping me find the courage to put my name on the ballot.”

She continues, “At one of those trainings, a woman told me that running for office is like ‘getting a Ph.D. in life,’ because you hear so many stories and see the world through so many different perspectives. Going out and talking with people in our communities — and helping people find ways to talk to each other — is exactly what I wanted to be doing during these troubled times.”

Ellman adds that you should not let running for office scare you — you have more to contribute than you realize, she says, and the time is now.

“A common belief is that those seeking office have loftier ideals than just normal folks. But maybe now OUR loftier ideals should push us to run,” she says. “If you have considered it but thought the barriers too high, think again. Once you get started and commit, those barriers become much more manageable.”

Derriere in chair

Tequia Burt ’98

Grant Faulkner ’87 says the best way to learn how to write a novel is to just sit down and write it.“Everyone has a story to tell and everyone’s story matters,” he explains.

Encouraging people to put pen to paper and helping them find creative inspiration is his daily mission in his role as executive director for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which challenges participants to write 50,000 words — the length of a short novel — in 30 days.

The 30-day writing challenge, which takes place during the month of November, provides a community of like-minded individuals a variety of ways to collaborate, support, and encourage one another in person and online during the brief, but highly intensive writing period. The program has grown every year since its inception in 2000 when 150 people participated; last year, more than 300,000 writers signed up. Though NaNoWriMo targets neophyte writers, it is also designed to help seasoned pros and has yielded thousands of published novels and multiple bestsellers.

“What makes the program really effective is that we’re very inclusive. We make writing accessible and inviting, and that’s important because it can sometimes be intimidating,” says Faulkner, who has led the nonprofit since 2012. “Many people are blocked when it comes to writing because they hear their inner editor’s judgments, or they don’t believe in the value of their story. We emphasize the imaginative exploration and the creative journey of writing a novel.”

NaNoWriMo provides several other writing programs throughout the year to more than 500,000 people — including 100,000 kids and teens who participate in its Young Writers Program — but Faulkner says the 30-day writing challenge is a particularly galvanizing recipe. “The pressure of a constraint often holds creative benefits. It’s important to bang out that first draft and just get the words on the page, because you can’t edit a blank page.”

Giving writers advice on how to keep that momentum going is the motivation for his recently published book, Pep Talks for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo.

“I’ve talked to so many writers who want to write year-round, who want to finish their novels after National Novel Writing Month, but it can be challenging to keep writing,” he explains. “I want people to prioritize creativity and develop a creative mindset so that they’re not just creative in November, but every day of their lives.”

Studying abroad in France as a Grinnell College student — and spending many hours reading novels in cafes — is what convinced Faulkner to eschew becoming an economics major and to focus instead on English literature.

“My English degree equipped me to think critically about art and aesthetics, so I’ve brought Grinnell’s intellectual intensity to my reading and writing in many ways,” he says.

Though Faulkner has been writing since his mother gave him a journal on his seventh birthday, leading an organization like NaNoWriMo has taught him that no writer’s process is perfect.

“Writing is just so challenging, and every story holds new mysteries and problems to solve, so I’m always learning, always fighting the same inner battles, always experimenting with my approach.”

Human and Wildlife Trafficking

Ridding the world of both

People are sometimes surprised to learn that Steven Galster ’84 works equally hard to protect both humans and animals.

“When [my organization Freeland] first started out, we were looked at very oddly,” he says. “I used to go to meetings in the human rights community and there was this misconception that those who worked in wildlife only cared about animals and not about people.”

However, Galster says that while working on issues surrounding global security for other organizations, he realized that the transnational trafficking of humans and animals had some things in common: “corruption, organized crime, and just the commodification of life.”

Galster says he began to grasp that there was a real need for risky frontline work on investigations and solutions aimed at the intersections in trafficking. “While conducting an investigation in the Russian Far East on Siberian tiger poaching, I met criminals who were trafficking tiger body parts and women,” he says. “When I tried to get police involved and sensed they were not ready to take on the crooks, I realized we had a role.”

So he founded an organization in 1995 that eventually evolved into Freeland (www.freeland.org) by 2002. The nonprofit provides training and technical assistance to police and customs and environmental agencies, giving them the tools to reduce poaching, illegal logging, enslavement, and the criminal exploitation of endangered people and animals.

“The vision of the organization is a world that is free of wildlife trafficking and human slavery,” he says. “The mission is to collaborate with civil society and governments to protect vulnerable people and wildlife.”

Freeland has had many successes since it was founded. In 2015, the nonprofit partnered with the Thai police to dismantle a human trafficking network controlled by a military general. It battled poachers targeting Indochinese tigers in 2017, helping to bring the big cat populations back from the brink of extinction. Freeland also teaches organic farming in poor communities to make them less of a mark to traffickers, and it trains airline staff around the world to identify and report signs of human or wildlife trafficking.

Galster spends most of his time these days in Freeland’s Bangkok office, but the organization is headquartered in Green Lake, Wis., which is where it held the North American version of the Freeland Film Festival (www.freelandfilmfest.org) June 15–17 this year. The soon-to-be annual film festival, which began in 2015, has been hosted in Asia and is set to rotate through Africa and South America in coming years.

It might also seem a bit unusual that a wildlife and human trafficking nonprofit hosts a film festival, but Galster says good storytelling is critical for inspiring change. The more we understand each other’s perspective, he says, the more people will “wake up” and want to take action.

“Environmentalism and human rights issues can sometimes become very political,” Galster explains. “So our focus and our stories are what people from many backgrounds can agree on as everyone’s priorities. It is my hope that the inspiration that people find while attending the festival will bring new hope for people, wildlife, and ecosystems everywhere.”

Galster credits his political science major at Grinnell and Wayne Moyer, professor of political science, for sparking his interest in human rights work.

“He was so passionate about his work and took such a great interest in his students,” Galster says. “My mind opened up a lot at Grinnell.”

Originally published June 2018, Grinnell Magazine

Street-Based Sex Work

By Tequia Burt ’98

A biology and religious studies double-major at Grinnell College, Katie Hail-Jares ’07 looks back on Professor Tammy Nyden’s Philosophy of Science class as instrumental to the way she approaches her research on sex work. It was in that class that she realized that in order to grow, science needed to include more diverse voices.

Hail-Jares’ certainty that storytelling is essential to understanding research was the driving force behind Challenging Perspectives on Street-Based Sex Work (Temple University Press, 2017), which Hail-Jares co-edited. The book unites academics with the people whose lives are affected by street-based sex work (SBSW) to discuss policy and new directions for research.

“Our book takes academic chapters about SBSW and intersperses them with response chapters written by people whose lives are impacted by sex work, including sex workers themselves, police officers, public defenders, activists, and medical providers,” she says.

The book grew out of her experience working with Washington, D.C.,-based HIPS, a harm reduction program that provides safer sex and injection supplies to street-based sex workers. She found that sex workers often felt taken advantage of by researchers because most of their work focused on a limited number of negative narratives. They often voiced frustration to Hail-Jares that the programming and policies that came out of it weren’t really helpful and didn’t address structural barriers like housing, unemployment, or transphobia.

“Street-based sex workers have agency and are not pimp-controlled, drug-addicted caricatures,” she explains. “Many of the chapters authored by sex workers in the book discuss how they took on incredible advocacy opportunities to improve their communities. There are thoughtful discussions about pregnancy, gentrification, and the constitutionality of anti-prostitution statutes.”

Hail-Jares, currently a postdoctoral fellow at Griffith Criminology Institute in Queensland, Australia, says the unconventional approach of blending the activist, Everywoman perspective with those in the “ivory tower” was met with skepticism in academia. Some presses even urged her to not give authorship to nonacademic authors.

“We had a few presses that originally were interested in the manuscript that then passed when we refused to change the format and authorship to make those chapters more traditional,” Hail-Jares says.

After the book was published, it resonated so much with the community that it inspired an original play, Project Dawn, which has been performed in Philadelphia, Atlanta and Kansas City, Mo., in the past year.

The play explores the experiences of women in Project Dawn, a prostitution diversion court that really exists in Philadelphia. Two of the book’s chapters are firsthand experiences written by Project Dawn staff members. Hail-Jares’ co-editor, Corey Shdaimah, and the playwright Karen Hartman worked together closely to incorporate research and the voices featured in the book into the script.

“It is very unusual for academic research to influence the creative arts in this way,” Hail-Jares says. “We were excited about this opportunity to collaborate and reach a different audience.”

Hail-Jares’ work with underserved populations is not new. While an undergraduate, she received a national Harry S. Truman Scholarship for her work in coordinating the Grinnell College’s Liberal Arts in Prison Program. After graduation, she co-founded the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s Skylark Project to provide legal and social services and support to incarcerated survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.

This book has given her the opportunity to merge her past work with her current research. “I am so overjoyed that most sex workers have responded positively to the book and are supportive,” she says. “I keep every one of those messages.”

Originally published March 2018, Grinnell Magazine