FACE Time (Update x2)

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.

The other day, another new organization appeared on the scene, with a press release that came as a bit of a shock.  It was Families Advocating for Campus Equality (FACE).

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.

15 comments on “FACE Time (Update x2)

  1. william doriss

    It’s rare when no one comments. Perhaps no one wants to argue with you on a Sunday in mid-summer: Vacation Time. Maybe no one has anything to add, but I cannot believe that.
    I will say, that was a good posting about K.C Johnson. I own the book, Until Proven Innocent, St. Martin’s Press, 2007, of which he is co-author. Color photos included. No, I have not read it yet. John Grisham plugs it thusly: “A masterful examination of the pathetic rush to judgment in the Duke rape case.”
    I have yet to read this book. Now may be a good time to start.

    1. SHG Post author

      Sometimes, the subject of a post doesn’t interest anyone other than me. That’s fine. I write because of my interests, not to pander to others.

      That’s a very nice comment about K.C. Johnson, but wouldn’t it have been more useful in the post about Durham-in-Wonderland?

      1. william doriss

        Are you rapping my knuckles for not commenting in a timely fashion? I read the Durham posting and the comments but had nothing to say at the time,… nothing to add. Delayed reaction! Had to think aboudit.

          1. william doriss

            Testing, testing,… We’re going to start a “non-profit” Focus Group,… And we’ve begun searching for qualified board members,…? Once the board has been selected and the paperwork filed, we will then decide what to “focus” on? That has yet to be determined. Any suggestions?
            (Just wanted to see if you were awake? Testing, testing,…)

            1. SHG Post author

              Sorry, Bill, but only Barleycorn is allowed to start drinking and commenting before 9 a.m. Rules, you know.

    1. SHG Post author

      Thanks for the link, or I never would have seen it. That’s quite a remarkable and disturbing comment. Based on the most shallow generic position claim, someone wants to donate money to the cause. No clue what they will actually do, who they actually are, what qualifications they have to speak for anyone, whether their fabulous or total psychos, someone still wants to donate. Unreal. This scares the living shit out of me.

      1. Fubar

        [ Breaking form entirely here, because, just because.

        SHG wrote:

        Thanks for the link, or I never would have seen it. That’s quite a remarkable and disturbing comment. Based on the most shallow generic position claim, someone wants to donate money to the cause.

        I think it is worthwhile to note that a direct followup posted by a FACE founder to that "How can I donate to FACE?" inquiry is both principled and informative.

        In short, "We have filed our 501c3 application with the IRS and are awaiting our designation as a non-profit so we are holding off on accepting monetary donations ..."

        Although that response isn't dispositive of FACE's future success, at worst it indicates that FACE founders are not bereft of clues or principles.

        Based upon my all too brief acquaintance almost two decades ago with the late Virginia Resner, who led California's chapter of FAMM, I would also offer another general observation. The success of FACE will depend upon its founders' exercise of grit and perseverance.

        S'awliright? S'awliright. Close de box.]

        1. SHG Post author

          Yes, it’s admirable that they aren’t taking donations yet. That only leaves about a million questions unanswered. I, on the other hand, was focused on the comment offering the money, where absolutely nothing is known about the bona fides of this “grass roots” organization, which is what I found disturbing.

          It’s not enough to stake a claim in advocacy turf. It’s not even enough to have grit and perseverance. You also need to have substantive knowledge. Take a look at this page, their resource for how to find a lawyer:

          American Bar Association – Find an attorney

          National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers – advancing the mission of the nation’s criminal defense lawyers to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or other misconduct.

          Does this strike you as reflecting an adequate level of sophistication to be entrusted with an important issue? I find this unconvincing.

          I’ve seen too many well-intended people become embroiled in complex legal problems and turn out to be a royal disaster, often as bad if not worse than the original problem. I tend to be highly skeptical of a surplus passion and a shortfall of knowledge, experience and skill.

          1. Fubar

            [Open de box.

            ... It’s not enough to stake a claim in advocacy turf. It’s not even enough to have grit and perseverance. You also need to have substantive knowledge. ...

            I’ve seen too many well-intended people become embroiled in complex legal problems and turn out to be a royal disaster, often as bad if not worse than the original problem. I tend to be highly skeptical of a surplus passion and a shortfall of knowledge, experience and skill.

            Points understood and taken. And also preceding points distinguishing the offer to contribute.

            In mitigation I note that the FACE "resources" page also includes links to FIRE and NACDL, not just to ABA.

            Yes, they're apparently babies in the world of non-profit organizing, not even to mention organizing around legal issues. They have apparently jumped right into the deep end of the pool.

            But "surplus passion and a shortfall of knowledge" is a curable condition, if those who suffer it have the right attitudes and a modicum of intelligence. I think that grit and perseverance, unless they are terminally stupid or attitudinous, will bring them most necessary substantive knowledge through work with whatever knowledgeable assistance they can attract.

            I've not contacted them, and will not. All I could offer them these days are hopelessly out of date suggestions of who to contact for assistance and advice. If they are actively seeking advice from organizations like FIRE or NACDL, then they have a good chance of gaining some substantive knowledge. They will, of course, need to learn the art of drinking from a firehose while treading water and dodging sharks.

            And yes, I've seen enough disasters to know what they look like. Like you, I worry too. For FACE, I think it's far too early to call either way. All I can do is wish them well.

            S'awliright? S'awliright. Close de box.]

            1. SHG Post author

              I’m not against FACE by any means. I certainly support the idea conceptually (as should be overwhelmingly obvious from my writings), and hope they are what they say they are. My hope is that they affiliate with an excellent organization like FIRE, with a proven track record of integrity, competence and effectiveness, and that they connect with lawyers who are highly knowledgeable in this field and competent to guide their advocacy efforts.

              My hope would have been that they had their ducks lined up before announcing their existence. Since this issue touches matters that concern me, it matters that they’re both real and legit. I hope they are. Still awaiting word from them. Bear in mind, Bill Otis’ blog is sponsored by the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation:

              The Criminal Justice Legal Foundation was established in 1982 as a nonprofit, public interest law organization dedicated to restoring a balance between the rights of crime victims and the criminally accused.

              What’s not to like, right? No mention that balance involves the death penalty for jaywalking. The details matter.

  2. John Neff

    It is not clear what rights a student has and what the consequences are if their rights are violated. U. Conn. just settled a case on the other side of the issue for $1.3 million so there are consequences. No doubt after universities have to pay millions in damages they might realize this is a problem. Dealing with a university administration is like trying to get a turtle to run a maze.

  3. Todd E.

    Just from the language and context, it has me wondering if this is a group that exists to prevent “the promising futures and reputations of young men from being pointlessly tarnished by the accusations of vicious trollops” and the like…

    1. SHG Post author

      I don’t think that’s what they mean, but you raise one of the very real problems of trying to tackle a highly controversial, extremely nuanced problem, that requires a very sharp scalpel when all you have is a big ol’ club. My sense is that they aren’t that lop-sided in their view, but may not yet have the capacity and experience to navigate some treacherous terrain.

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