This page showcases pieces written by University of Baltimore School of Law Dean Ronald Weich, including op-eds, speeches, position papers and other works of relevance to the legal community. It also includes excerpts from and links to articles in which he is quoted.
In an Aug. 20 article in The Crime Report, Dean Ronald Weich refutes an assertion by Princeton professor Naomi Murakawa that former Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) was among the lawmakers responsible for building “Prison America” by enacting harsh federal sentencing laws.
Murakawa is the author of The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America .
Weich, who served as chief counsel to Kennedy – and, before that, as special counsel to the U.S. Sentencing Commission – takes issue with the subtitle of Murakawa’s book.
“No fair observer of criminal justice policy could conclude that liberals – or conservatives or Democrats or Republicans – bear sole responsibility for the spike in incarceration over the past half century,” Weich wrote. “Rather, these disastrous criminal justice policies were a bipartisan misadventure that reflected the nation’s anger and fear about crime.
Weich noted that every crime bill enacted by Congress in the 1980s and 1990s passed with broad bipartisan majorities and with the support of leaders from both parties. He also noted that the Senate often passed crime bills by unanimous consent.
Weich also says Murakawa’s book fails to take into account the complex, collaborative nature of the legislative process, of which he says Kennedy was a master.
“Yes, [Kennedy] was a lead sponsor of the Sentencing Reform Act, but he did not write the law in a vacuum,” Weich wrote. “The bill’s text is the product of years of negotiations with [Republican Sen. Strom] Thurmond and many other members of the Senate, as well as committee markups and floor debates.”
Continued Weich: “In all of these efforts Kennedy never lost sight of his progressive ideals. But he recognized that in a legislative body whose rules reward consensus, the only way to advance his goals was to negotiate and compromise with influential members on the other side of the aisle.”
Murakawa also does not adequately emphasize the “huge influence” of the Justice Department in shaping the final law, Weich said: “It is no surprise that a bill first introduced during President Jimmy Carter’s administration became more conservative by the time it was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan.”
In July 2015, Dean Weich was quoted in a Washington Post story about the human toll of the government’s decades-long war on drugs and on the particular damage done by mandatory-minimum sentences.
Reporter Sari Horwitz‘s article — “From a First Arrest to a Life Sentence: Clemency is the only way out for the thousands of nonviolent drug offenders serving life terms in federal prison” — is the third in a series titled “Unwinding the Drug War.”
Horwitz tells the story of Sharanda Jones, prisoner 33177-077 at the Carswell women’s prison in Fort Worth, Texas. Jones, a first-time, nonviolent offender, was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 1999 by a federal judge after she was convicted on a single cocaine offense.
Writes Horwitz: “Jones almost certainly would not receive such a sentence today. Federal sentencing guidelines in similar drug cases have changed, in particular to end disparities in how the courts treat crack cocaine vs. powder cocaine. And, following a 2005 Supreme Court decision, judges have much greater discretion when they mete out punishment. In the past decade, they gave lower sentences by an average of one-third the guideline range, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission.”
But the hangover from the years of harsh, mandatory-minimum sentencing continues.
Jones is among about 100,000 federal inmates — about half the total population — doing time for drug offenses. Of them, many thousands are nonviolent offenders serving life without the possibility of parole. Four in five are black, like Sharanda Jones, or Hispanic.
Weich, who served as a special counsel to the U.S. Sentencing Commission in the late 1980s, told the Post that mandatory-minimum sentences were about math, not about people.
Said Weich: “These laws forced judges to look at their calculators instead of into the eyes of the defendants they were sentencing. They weren’t allowed to ask, ‘How did they get to this point in their lives?’ and ‘Who were they going to be in five or 20 years?’ ”
The Daily Record, January 8, 2015
In “An open letter to UB Law,” Generation J.D. blogger Alicia Gipe wrote about preparing law students to enter the job market. The dean of the University of Baltimore School of Law has submitted this response:
Thank you for your open letter to the University of Baltimore School of Law, published at TheDailyRecord.com on Dec. 30. I’m delighted you had such a positive experience at UB and that you were impressed by your professors and the supportive learning environment at our school.
The concerns you expressed in your letter about the current job market for new lawyers are very valid. The legal profession is changing in dramatic ways, and lucrative employment for recent law school graduates is no longer the sure thing it once was. At UB, we feel a keen responsibility to prepare students for this brave, new world by focusing on the skills and judgment young lawyers need to succeed today and by offering hands-on legal experience throughout law school.
Practical legal experience has been at the heart of a University of Baltimore School of Law education since the institution was founded as a night school in 1925. While students receive a rigorous grounding in the theory of law, they also learn the nuts and bolts of lawyering from highly skilled professors and seasoned attorneys. Students gain tangible experience through the school’s 10 clinics, 21 moot court teams and various experiential courses. Just last year, we updated the curriculum to ensure that all UB students will engage in actual or simulated law practice before they graduate.
Real-world legal experience begins the summer after the first year of school, when all UB School of Law students are guaranteed the opportunity to work with legal employers through the school’s pioneering Experience in Legal Organizations (EXPLOR) program. Meanwhile, sitting judges and practicing lawyers from across this region participate in the education of our students as teachers, mentors, trial team coaches and eventually as employers.
Because of our focus on practical excellence, UB graduates have a well-deserved reputation for getting the job done. And because of that perception throughout the legal community, UB graduates are more successful in this tough job market than are graduates from many other schools. While 51.5 percent of our 2013 graduates were employed in bar-required jobs nine months after graduation, an additional 27 percent of graduates landed “J.D. advantage” jobs — positions for which bar passage is not required but for which a J.D. degree provides a distinct advantage. That means almost eight out of every 10 UB graduates landed good jobs less than a year out of school, slightly better than the national average.
These “J.D. advantage” jobs do not include working as Starbucks baristas. They are challenging, well-compensated positions in corporations, government agencies, nonprofit organizations and other professional settings. While UB is known for producing top-notch litigators, we are just as proud of our graduates who contribute to society in other ways. A UB School of Law education inculcates problem-solving skills that help graduates forge a wide range of exciting career paths.
Those who want to practice law get a great head start at UB. Our law school ranks among the top schools nationwide for the number of graduates hired as judicial clerks. More than 18 percent of employed 2013 graduates secured these coveted positions — twice the national average. It’s no surprise to me that so many UB School of Law alumni end up as judges, state legislators and state’s attorneys and in other positions of civic leadership.
At the end of your letter, you express optimism that the UB School of Law will continue to rise above the crowd and be a pioneer in order to maximize each graduate’s potential for success. I promise you we will meet that challenge and continue to make you proud to be an alumna of our very special school.
Dean, University of Baltimore School of Law
"Justice in Focus: Crime Bill @ 20" for Vera Institute of Justice:
An interview with Dean Weich was part of a Vera Institute of Justice feature titled "Justice in Focus: Crime Bill @ 20." Dean Weich reflected on his time as counsel to Sen. Edward Kennedy.
"Newsmakers" Interview with Dean Ronald Weich in The Daily Record:
An interview with Dean Weich was featured in an April 17, 2013, front-page story in The Daily Record. (Article is in PDF format.)
Op-ed: "Fixing the filibuster," The Baltimore Sun, March 10, 2013:
The filibuster is back in the news, thanks to Sen. Rand Paul's nearly 13-hour talkathon on U.S. drone policy last week. Putting aside the merits of Mr. Paul's national security views, his feat of endurance was in the best tradition of the Senate. He used his right to unlimited debate on the Senate floor to draw the attention of his fellow citizens to an issue of profound national importance.
Other recent filibusters are less noble. Last month, senators used the rules to delay, for little apparent reason, confirmation of their former colleague Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense. And more recently, the Senate minority blocked indefinitely the nomination of a highly qualified woman, Caitlin Halligan, to the D.C. Court of Appeals, the second most important court in the country and one to which the Senate has yet to confirm an Obama nominee.
The fact is, some filibusters are good and some are abusive. The rules should be reformed, but reformers should be careful not to go too far. Happily, the Senate earlier this year passed two resolutions by broad, bipartisan margins that will speed work on widely supported legislation and nominations without gagging the likes of Senator Paul or others inspired by Jimmy Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."
Read the entire op-ed.
Letter to the editor: "'Leveling the Wings' of Legal Education," The Daily Record, Feb. 21, 2013:
Note: A version of this letter appeared in the newspaper.
By Ronald Weich
Dean, University of Baltimore School of Law
The Daily Record's February 7 editorial ("Legal Education—Stopping the Graveyard Spiral") likens law schools to distressed airliners. While the comparison is extreme, the current challenges in legal education are real. At the University of Baltimore School of Law, we take these concerns very seriously.
It is certainly true, as every practicing lawyer knows, that the legal profession is changing in ways that have affected the employment prospects of recent law school graduates. Some of those changes may be attributable to the economic downturn in recent years, but others are structural. For example, technology has streamlined activities typically assigned to law firm associates, and new client billing arrangements have altered the economics of law firm hiring. Meanwhile the budgets of many government agencies and non-profit organizations are stretched thin. It is no wonder that would-be law students are wary of entering the profession when lucrative employment upon graduation is no longer a sure thing.
But law schools are still engaged in a fundamentally valid enterprise. Throughout our society, lawyers are needed to help people and institutions resolve disputes, tackle complex problems and advance the quality of life. There are many tasks lawyers perform that only properly trained and licensed lawyers can do, or do well. And in general, over the course of a career, lawyers earn a very good living doing those things. So legal education remains valuable—but it needs to stay relevant to contemporary legal practice.
Read the entire letter.