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College of Law co-sponsors course on statutory interpretation


January 24, 2009

Attorneys in Arizona will soon be able to earn required Continuing Legal Education credits through a new program that is the result of a new, ongoing relationship of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and the Maricopa County Superior Court system. 

The first of these courses, “Statutory Interpretation From Blackstone to Scalia and Beyond: The Role of Judges in the Interpretation of Statutes in a Democratic Society,” will be offered from 2-5:30 p.m. on Feb. 6, at the Downtown Justice Center, 620 W. Jackson St., in Phoenix.

“The Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law is more than just a law school training lawyers for practice,” said Dean Paul Schiff Berman. “We are a comprehensive legal studies center helping to disseminate knowledge about law to a wide variety of people, whether full-time J.D. students or not. 

“Our revitalized Continuing Legal Education program is a part of that outreach effort, and I am very pleased that we can offer top-flight instruction on crucial questions of statutory interpretation that should be of interest to lawyers, judges, legislators, and others interested in the legislative process as it operates both locally and in Washington, D.C."

The cost of the course is $150, which includes free parking and refreshments. Up to three CLE credits are available. Net proceeds will go to financial aid for students at the College of Law. Sign up at www.law.asu.edu/statutoryinterpretations.

“For present purposes let us assume a statutory provision does not have a plain meaning (or even if it does, the application of the statute to a set of facts is not clear),” the course description states. “Under these circumstances what methods should a court employ in determining the meaning and scope of the provision?

“That is the intriguing, almost intractable, question that judges face in their daily work.  There are many other questions as well that will be brought to bear on this subject. For example, is there ever really a plain meaning without resort to context, or at least without resort to a dictionary in use at the time of enactment?”

An outstanding group of speakers has been scheduled for the course, including two Arizona Supreme Court justices, two leading Arizona practitioners, and two highly regarded law professors. Several seats will be reserved for Superior Court judges.

“Practitioners will be able to learn how judges influence statutory interpretation,” said Michael Berch, a professor at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, who organized the course.

“They will be better able to advise their clients, be more direct in their litigation and, in the courtroom, have a better idea of what judges are thinking.”

Speakers include: Michael Berch, Professor, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law; Rebecca White Berch, Vice Chief Justice, Arizona Supreme Court; Paul Eckstein of Perkins Coie Brown & Bain; Fredrick A. Hessick, Professor, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law; Andrew D. Hurwitz, Justice, Arizona Supreme Court; and William J. Maledon of Osborn Maledon.

“We have viewpoints for academics, practitioners and judges,” Michael Berch said.

Eckstein said the issue of statutory interpretation becomes more important every day.  

“With the passage of more and more laws covering subjects previously left to the common law, we are inching closer to the tradition of code jurisdictions with each passing year,” Eckstein said. “It is at least as important to master the vagaries of statutory interpretation as it is to master reasoning in the common law tradition.  This seminar promises to offer some insight into how statutes are and should be interpreted.”

The course is the first in what will be an ongoing relationship with the Maricopa County Superior Court, and is an example of community embeddedness that is part of the philosophy of the New American University, said Thomas Williams, Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs. The College of Law will offer five or six courses on different subjects in 2009.

“It creates a synergy and knowledge exchange between judges, practitioners and the College of Law,” Williams said.

Elizabeth Evans, education administrator for the courts, said she is excited about the courses.

“ASU holding seminars at our Downtown Justice Center will strengthen ties between the ASU law school and the judicial branch,” Evans said. “It also gives the branch a really broad range of educational offerings. We can certainly benefit from ASU’s presence downtown.”