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Legal analysts use media to educate public about issues

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Lawyers and judges who eat, sleep, and breathe the law might find it easy to forget that not everyone understands the finer points of how the justice system works. Issues of public interest, high-profile court cases, and even the day-to-day workings of the court can create drama and lead to misunderstanding.

This is where legal commentators – analysts of the inner workings of the legal system – come into play.
 

pundits Marion Superior Judge John Hanley hosts legal public access show “Off the Bench.” (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Throughout Indiana, a number of attorneys and judges share their professional expertise and insights on legal issues through television and radio shows. A law school dean who comments on various sports topics and has an affiliation with the NFL Network; a former Marion Superior judge who now has a small firm and frequently works with local network stations covering legal news; and a current Marion Superior judge who hosts a monthly show about the court for a government cable access channel in Indianapolis discuss their experiences.

Sports law analyst

If you watch the NFL Network, you may have recognized one of its commentators. Indiana University School of Law

– Indianapolis Dean Gary R. Roberts has been serving as an on-air legal analyst for the network discussing the current dispute between National Football League team owners and players.
 

Roberts-DeanGary-mug Roberts

So far, he has done a few call-in interviews, including one on March 11 to discuss the labor negotiations. That interview was recorded at the WFYI studio in Indianapolis and is available on the NFL Network’s website.

In that interview, Roberts explained the role of lawyers and the possible trajectory of the NFL labor negotiations through the court system.

When he gives his analysis on any item in sports news, he said, he doesn’t take sides and only comments on the legal aspects, such as whether one side has a strong or weak legal argument and why.

During the March 11 interview, Roberts told the other commentators, who were in the NFL Network studio in Los Angeles, that he expected both sides to come to an agreement shortly before the 2011 NFL season is scheduled to begin and that he expects there to be a Super Bowl in Indianapolis in 2012.

Roberts said the NFL Network contacted him to be a commentator likely based on his past analysis for other media outlets regarding legal issues of various sports. The law school dean is a leading expert on sports law and antitrust law and has testified nine times before congressional committees. He is a certified commercial and sports arbitrator with the American Arbitration Association and is a founding member and serves on the board of directors of the International Association of Sports Professionals and Executives.

Roberts said he enjoys explaining the legal issues surrounding sports because there are so many and the latest developments in this area of law are something he studies on a regular basis. He also enjoys doing it because it helps him to promote the law school in Indianapolis.

“It brings our institution into the public’s consciousness, where good people are doing interesting things,” he said.

When he began his tenure as dean of the law school in 2007, Roberts hoped to incorporate more sports law courses, but he said finding external funding has been difficult. The school currently offers two sports law courses, one taught by the dean and the other by Scott Bearby, managing director of legal affairs and associate general counsel to the NCAA.

Local news analyst

Gary Miller, an attorney who has taught ethics as an adjunct professor and is known for his lectures involving scenes from television shows and movies featuring lawyers that illustrate unethical behavior, can now be seen on television as himself.


Gary Miller Miller

Miller, a former Marion Superior judge who is now a name partner at MillerMeyer in Indianapolis, is a frequent commentator on a number of local network stations that reach audiences in central Indiana.

When he was on the bench, he oversaw a number of high-profile cases and got to know a number of journalists covering those cases. After Miller left the bench, those reporters and producers started calling him.

“Anything that involves the law is something that reporters and news directors want help explaining to the lay audience,” he said. “It runs the gamut of Officer (David) Bisard’s arrest to Tim Durham’s situation, to the woman who took rat poison to self-induce abortion. For all legal issues, reporters are looking for credible sources.”

Sometimes he’s on-air, and sometimes he is simply asked to explain a legal issue in a way that the reporter can use to make it understandable to viewers during the next broadcast.

When he is going to be on-air, he said, “the very first thing you have to realize is the amount of time you have to explain something is very short. The only thing I know in advance is what’s the general topic and do I need to find out a specific law. I will try to put myself in a position of a lay person who will be watching, and say what kind of information about this topic is important.”

He said he’s yet to get any legal business as a direct result of being on the air, and most of the time when he is on television he is identified as a former judge and not by his firm name. But, he said, that isn’t why he does it.

“Anytime they call and I’m in town and available, I’m more than happy to help,” he said. “Most of the people I deal with are friends, so when a friend calls I try to help. It’s just the way I’ve always operated.”

“Off the Bench”

In Marion Superior Court, a program called “Off the Bench” has covered a number of legal topics since it started airing in 2005. Issues addressed have included alternatives to juvenile incarceration and Marion County juvenile justice reform efforts, re-entry programs, identity theft, voter laws, the justice system’s response to mentally ill offenders, and court appointed special advocates.

The program has had four hosts since it started: Judge Cale Bradford, now with the Indiana Court of Appeals; Judge Gerald Zore; and most recently, Judge Robert Altice. The current host is Judge John Hanley, who taped his first show in early March.

In that show, he hosted Marion Superior Judges David Dreyer and David Shaheed who discussed their work with the April 4 commemoration program to recognize the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the speech Robert Kennedy gave in Indianapolis on his presidential campaign tour that night.

As a student he had done some reporting for his college radio station and newspaper at the University of Notre Dame, and Judge Hanley said he had not been on-air since then. However, he felt fairly comfortable on-air for his first show, he said, and is looking forward to future programs.

Selected “Off the Bench” programs may be viewed online at www.indy.gov. Select “Government TV; On Demand; Special Events” and search “Off the Bench.”

While all three commentators got onto television in different ways, a common thread is the desire to explain legal issues to the community in a way that increases understanding of the law and clarifies the legal process.•

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  1. Your article is a good intro the recent amendments to Fed.R.Civ.P. For a much longer - though not necessarily better -- summary, counsel might want to read THE CHIEF UMPIRE IS CHANGING THE STRIKE ZONE, which I co-authored and which was just published in the January issue of THE VERDICT (the monthly publication of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association).

  2. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  3. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  4. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  5. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

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