There is no one as passionate as a mother in defense of her child, and indeed, when that child has suffered the indignities of the legal system in one of its many permutations, the need to do something can be overwhelming. Often, this passion serves as a driving force for change, for good. But passion is just part of the equation.
Emails arrive announcing new organizations dedicated to good causes all the time. Often, they’re a bit disconcerting, like when the Marshall Project went public with its goal of being the savior of criminal justice because no one had been doing or writing a damn thing until it showed up. It’s not merely insulting to those toiling in the fields long before the saviors arrive, but it reflected the arrogance of one niche (journalists) presuming to know better than those who actually did the very work they could only see from afar.
Fargo, ND – Families Advocating for Campus Equality (FACE), a newly formed not-for-profit organization dedicated to ensuring fairness and due process for all parties involved in allegations of sexual misconduct on college campuses, was officially launched today, it was announced by Sherry Warner Seefeld, president and one of the organization’s co-founders.
Organized by three mothers from around the nation whose college-student sons each suffered the ordeal of false accusation and subsequent entrapment in a web of injustice, FACE will, through education and dialogue, work to raise awareness of the challenges presented under current university hearing procedures while actively seeking, in the interest of justice, to bring about effective change in the ways campuses respond to sexual assaults.
Having written fairly extensively on this subject, this was of great interest. I immediately emailed around, asking if anybody knew anything about this new group. Were they connected to any organization? Did they have legal advisors, board members, anyone remotely knowledgeable involved? Was this legit?
The response I received was mostly a big ol’ shrug. Only one person had any idea about their existence, and suggested they were somehow connected to the uber-conservative Manhattan Institute. I wrote to the contact email for FACE, asking these questions, but have yet to receive a response.
FACE is committed to restoring fairness to a system which is inherently out-of-balance, a system in which the pendulum, driven by political correctness, has swung too far.
“Basic fairness and due process of law are not and should not be gender-driven,” adds Judith Grossman, Co-Executive Director. “An unjust system serves no one.”
Through its efforts, FACE will work to ensure safety and protection for all students entrusted to the care of our colleges and universities.
There’s nothing disagreeable about any of this, but there is similarly little substance to it. It may play well with those who have a limited understanding of the law, but to lawyers, the devil is in the details. Fortune cookie concepts like “an unjust system serves no one” fail to inform adequately. There are critically important issues involved here, and they require a great deal of depth and understanding to fully appreciate. Three mommies may be full of passion, but do they have the chops to know what distinguishes sound doctrine and policy from empty passion?
This past week, the United States Sentencing Commission, by a 7-0 vote, decided that its drug table reductions should be given full retroactivity, even if it came with a couple of strings attached (such as requiring prisoners to apply for the reduction and staying application until November 1, 2015).
At the heart of this push was the organization Families Against Mandatory Minimums, FAMM, and this accomplishment is huge. It attests to the powers of mommies, of families, of passion. But it also attests to the value of knowledge, experience and focus. FAMM has grown into a remarkably professional organization; it is not unguided passion. It is the child of Julie Stewart, who has built an incredibly strong machine to advocate for her cause.
Is FACE anything like FAMM? Will FACE serve the greater good, or be a vehicle to vindicate the interests of three mommies? Will FACE bring not just passion but intelligence and experience to their cause? I hope so. The cause is important. But more than an appeal to emotion is needed before it becomes one of the many self-proclaimed advocacy groups that seek prominence without the effort needed to present an intelligent and legitimate solution to a critical problem.
I look forward to hearing back from the three mommies. I hope they’ve done this right, and will do this well. Their passion is important to preventing the death of due process on campus, and with relation to accusations of sexual misconduct. We need people who are dedicated to such causes. But passion isn’t enough. They also have to know what they’re doing.
Update: I’ve had the opportunity to gather some more information, both via email and telephone, about the three mommies, their goals, their attitude and their plans. While there is still a great deal of growth and sophistication needed on the learning curve of this issue, they hope to provide support and information for students and their families who find themselves on the bad side of Kafka and to provide balance to the sad stories pushing the envelope on behalf of “survivors” in their appeal to emotion by providing the human face of the wrongly accused and punished. In other words, they will present the human face of the problem, rather than the legal face.
I trust their intentions are good. Translating good intentions to good actions will be the next test, and I wish them luck in doing so. Welcome to the ranks of lawyers and organizations that have stood for due process and constitutional rights all along, in this and the many related areas of law.
Update 2: On August 22, 2014, an email arrived from the three mommies at FACE, containing a “White Paper” as to their mission and seeking Applicants (yes, applicants) for their Board of Directors, because what lawyer wouldn’t want to apply to three mommies to see if they are worthy of their time being used to bask in the reflected glory of these monumentally important people.
Aside from the insanity of the mommies seeking applicants for their Board (which, I muse, will provide an interesting opportunity to see which lawyers are desperate enough to seek their favor), the White Paper makes clear that they lack the knowledge and experience to fulfill their mission. I hesitate to rip it apart, as I still hold out hope that the mommies will eventually extend their grasp to match their intended reach, but this is a really poor start, and suggests that if they get any momentum at all, they are just as likely to be a danger to themselves and other as a help.