I have been ruminating on a couple of ideas surrounding change that were sparked by recent events great and small. First, it is the legislative season, which means that various interesting and sometimes passionate pleas for assistance appear in my inbox with some regularity. I have a personal interest in different issues surrounding the protection and expansion of human and civil rights of those in society who are in a disadvantaged position. To keep up with pertinent legislation, I follow along on the Maryland Legislature’s website, which is a great source of information – copies of proposed legislation, amendments, committee votes and the Fiscal and Policy Note from the Department of Legislative Services are readily available. You can even watch video committee meetings and testimony.
One piece of legislation I am watching these days is SB340, which would allow men and women who are being released from incarceration to register to vote at the time of release. Currently, someone returning home from prison is not eligible to vote until any term of probation or parole is completed. This requirement can bar someone from voting for years after they have served their time. Unfortunately, it is another example of the barriers to full participation in our society that is placed in front of ex-offenders. If SB340 passes, more people in Maryland would have the opportunity to vote. Given how important voting is to us as individuals and collectively as a free society, one would hope that the law would zip through the legislature. The law simply allows more people to vote. With the retributive model of criminal justice (hopefully) in its last throes, there is no legitimate reason to withhold the right to vote from ex-offenders.
The next event that got me thinking about how to effect change was hearing Bryan Stevenson, founder of Equal Justice Initiative, speak at the Pratt Library. He and the other lawyers in the organization have represented men and women sentenced to death as a punishment for their crimes. They also represent and advocate on behalf of children who are serving prison sentences in adult prisons. One takeaway from the (terrific) presentation was the idea that proximity to issues helps foster change in the way people view societal problems. It is one thing to discuss ideas in the abstract – mass incarceration or the lack of voting rights for citizens – but it is quite another for people to actually see and hear from those who have been damaged; to witness the impact on those individuals, their families and their communities wrought by perpetuating a cycle of incarceration.
On a much lighter note and stepping down from my soapbox, I also recently recorded an episode of a podcast regarding defective construction (an area of the law in which I frequently practice and one in which there are many sticky wickets surrounding notice of defective work, statutes of limitation and repose and a complex overlay of insurance coverage issues). After recording was finishing, I was struck by the relative ease of the process (at least for the guests) and thought that podcasting might be a great way for the legal community to connect with a diverse audience on any number of topics. Particularly because anyone can listen right from their mobile device and in many cases the content is free.
I have been a podcast listener for quite a while. I have several shows on heavy rotation which relate to current political machinations and movements, the economy in which we find ourselves and legal events (and yes, I binged on that certain show centered on the search for answers relating to the murder of a young woman who attended Woodlawn High in 1999 and the subsequent prosecution of her ex-boyfriend). If I am in the car, at the gym or quietly eating my lunch in my office, chances are good that I am listening and trying to learn.
So, to connect the dots, it seems to me that podcasting would be a great way to complement the many other ways in which we try to get messages out (presentations, blogging, webinars, writing formal articles, reports, white papers, video essays, etc.) Indeed, a quick google search revealed that a few attorneys in Maryland are podcasting on their areas of practice. My pitch would be for the Maryland legal community to use the technology to discuss legal issues that operate to disadvantage certain members of society (in the abstract) but to drive the issue home by speaking with the people residing in our state whose lives are impacted by specific laws or policies. If there is a coalition of the willing who would be interested in talking through specifics, I would be glad to facilitate that discussion.