U.N. human rights advisor to explore sustainable development and its implications for Africa

Monday, February 29, 2016

LAWRENCE — A Nigerian scholar and chairperson of the United Nations Human Rights Council Advisory Committee will discuss sustainable development and its implications during the 2016 Diplomat’s Forum next week at the University of Kansas School of Law. Obiora Chinedu Okafor

Obiora Chinedu Okafor, professor & York Research Chair in International and Transnational Legal Studies at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Canada, will present “International Legal Accountability and the Right to Development: An African Perspective” at 4 p.m. Monday, March 7, in 107 Green Hall. The lecture is free and open to the public. A reception will follow the event.

“The right to development is poised to take center stage in the international human rights agenda,” Okafor said. “This raises a number of important questions. What are the socio-political and economic factors which have shaped policy and action? What kind of accountability mechanism, if any, has been instituted? What is the role of law? The presentation examines these and related questions from a broad African perspective.”

Okafor has published extensively in the fields of international human rights law and immigration/refugee law. He is the author of three books: “The African Human Rights System, Activist Forces, and International Institutions”; “Legitimizing Human Rights NGOs: Lessons from Nigeria”; and “Re-Defining Legitimate Statehood.” Okafor has served as an SSRC-MacArthur Foundation Visiting Scholar at Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Program, a Canada-US Fulbright Scholar at MIT and as a visiting professor at universities in France, Uganda and Nigeria. He holds law degrees from the University of Nigeria and an LL.M. and doctorate from the University of British Columbia.

Okafor currently serves as chairperson of the United Nations Human Rights Council Advisory Committee. He has also served as an expert panelist for the United Nations Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee and United Nations Working Group on People of African Descent. He has consulted for a variety of international organizations, governments and law firms.

The Diplomat’s Forum is the law school’s most prestigious annual international and comparative law event. Its aim is to provide a platform for an open sharing of thoughts on international law and relations and the United States through the perspective of a professional with notable diplomatic experience in the service of a foreign government.

Past speakers have included:

  • General counsel and legal director of the International Monetary Fund
  • Managing director of TA Trade Advisory Group
  • China’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations
  • Saudi Arabia’s deputy minister of commerce and industry and chief World Trade Organization technical negotiator
  • Consul general of Japan
  • Consul general of Austria
  • Economic counselor of the Royal Dutch Embassy.

Law school symposium to explore election law, voting rights

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

LAWRENCE – With presidential election season in full swing and voting laws in flux in states around the country, legal scholars will gather in Lawrence next week to explore election law and its effect on citizens’ right to vote.

The 2016 Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy Symposium, “The Right to Vote: Examining Election Law,” will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Feb. 19 at the University of Kansas School of Law, 1535 W. 15th St. The program is free and open to the public, but registration is required.

“Examining election law, and issues related to election law, is important because the ability to elect our representatives is a vital component of our democracy,” said Cody Branham, third-year KU Law student and senior symposium editor for the Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy. “This event brings together some of the leading authorities in election law and provides an opportunity to analyze whether our voting system is working as intended. Election laws that promote equal representation have helped this nation evolve into a more just democracy and ensure that it continues to do so in the future.”

The symposium will examine election law over time and consider future developments. Panels will cover: 1) The History and Future of Contested Elections, 2) The Conduct of Election and Protection of Voting Rights and 3) Kansas-Specific Election Law Issues.

Panelists include:

  • Dean Joseph Aistrup, Auburn University
  • Doug Bonney, ACLU of Kansas
  • Beth Clarkson, Wichita State University
  • Professor Derrick Darby, University of Michigan
  • Professor Ed Foley, Ohio State University Moritz College of Law
  • Mark Johnson, Dentons, KU School of Law
  • Professor Richard Levy, KU School of Law
  • Mike O’Neal, Kansas Chamber of Commerce

Scholarship from the symposium will be published in a 2016 issue of the Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy. 

For more information and a complete program, visit the symposium website. Contact Cody Branham at kjlppsymposium@gmail.com with any questions.

KU law students and Legal Services for Students assisting with free tax preparation

Monday, February 08, 2016

LAWRENCE – As tax season gets under way, two University of Kansas groups are offering free tax preparation services for those who qualify.

KU Law students with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program will prepare returns for taxpayers who are residents of Kansas, Missouri or Illinois; who earn less than $54,000 per household per year; and who do not itemize their deductions. The program runs from Feb. 17 through April 15.

Legal Services for Students (LSS) is also offering free tax assistance through a VITA partnership with the Internal Revenue Service. Any U.S. resident taxpayer may prepare and electronically file their federal and state tax returns for free via the LSS website if their income was $62,000 or less in 2015. International students and staff at KU may also prepare their taxes using free software with no income limit.

Last year, KU Law students prepared about 225 federal and state tax returns. LSS directly prepared 203 returns in 2015 and assisted more than 1,500 individuals in preparing their own returns through the tax workshops at the Budig computer lab. View the workshop schedule (PDF). For more information about tax assistance provided by Legal Services for Students, contact the office at 785-864-5665 or legals@ku.edu.

“The tax preparation workshops are a great way for students and staff to learn about properly preparing and filing their own tax returns,” said Jo Hardesty, director of Legal Services for Students. “LSS tax attorneys and KU Law student interns are available at the workshops to assist and answer any questions that may arise.”

The VITA program operates on a first-come, first-served basis, and the number of preparers varies with the site. Those seeking assistance are encouraged to arrive near the start of each session. Taxpayers should bring proof of identification and all relevant documentation, including proof of income, expenditures and health insurance-related documents. For more information, call 785-864-9227.

Law students Matthew Schippers and Andrew Jorgenson are coordinating this year’s VITA program, with about 25 other law students helping to prepare returns. Stephen Mazza, dean of the law school and professor of tax-related law, serves as the VITA faculty coordinator.

“VITA provides great value to the community and KU students,” Schippers said. “It gives KU Law students practical experience with tax law and customer service while also helping individuals who seek an alternative to paying a professional or risking error in preparing their own returns.”

Taxes are due on Monday, April 18, instead of Friday, April 15, this year due to the federal observance of Emancipation Day.

Spring 2016 Schedule

Monday 6:00 – 8:45 p.m., Green Hall, Wheat Law Library, 3rd Floor Computer Lab, 1535 W. 15th St.
Wednesday 3 – 5:45 p.m., Green Hall, Wheat Law Library, 3rd Floor Computer Lab, 1535 W. 15th St.
Thursday Noon – 2 p.m., Penn House, 1035 Pennsylvania St.*

3 – 4:45 p.m., Ballard Center, 708 Elm**

5:15 – 6:30 p.m., Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority Resident Services, 1600 Haskell Ave., Apt. 187

Saturday 10 – 11:45 a.m., Green Hall, Wheat Law Library, 3rd Floor Computer Lab, 1535 W. 15th St.

Sessions run Wednesday, Feb. 17, through Monday, April 18. No sessions will be held on Feb. 27 (Saturday), March 5 (Saturday), or March 12-19 (University of Kansas spring break).

*Sessions will be held at Penn House on Feb. 18, March 3, March 24, April 7 and April 14.

**Sessions will be held at Ballard Center on Feb. 25, March 10, March 31, April 7 and April 14.

KU Mock Trial Team to host Jayhawk Invitational tournament in Lawrence

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

LAWRENCE — Teams from across the Midwest will gather in Lawrence this weekend for the Jayhawk Invitational Mock Trial Tournament. Students from 17 schools will compete Saturday, Dec. 5, and Sunday, Dec. 6, in simulated courtroom trials, pitting their analytic skills against the region’s top undergraduate advocates.

"We are thrilled there is so much interest in this year's competition," said Chelsi Hayden, KU Mock Trial Team adviser and clinical associate professor of law. "We hope the tournament proves to be an engaging experience that helps competitors on all 30 teams develop their trial skills."

Mock Trial competitors build cases based on a packet of evidence given to all teams, crafting strategies to present information and counter arguments from competitors. Each team portrays both sides, with members acting as both attorneys and witnesses. Judges select winners based on performance.

This year’s Jayhawk Invitational marks a return to tradition as the competition resumes in Lawrence for the first time since 2004. Teams will compete in preliminary and elimination rounds, with the top five teams receiving awards. Top individual competitors will also be recognized as well as the team that demonstrates exemplary sportsmanship.

Universities host mock trial tournaments throughout the academic year, with the top teams qualifying for regional and national competitions in the spring. KU’s Mock Trial Team has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years, quadrupling its team roster and expanding its tournament schedule. The squad qualified for the preliminary rounds of the 2015 American Mock Trial Association National Championship Tournament in Louisville, Kentucky.

“The skill set you develop applying rules to a given set of facts are exactly what you will be doing in law school,” said Will Admussen, the team’s public relations director and a junior majoring in economics and political science. “There’s so much room for creativity and a lot of fun.”

The Mock Trial Team relies on the support of volunteer judges to ensure a successful tournament, which will take place on campus. If you would like to serve as a judge, contact the team at KansasUMockTria​l@gmail.com.

The Jayhawk Invitational is sponsored by the KU School of Law.

Treaties could be key in helping indigenous communities fight effects of climate change

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

LAWRENCE — Some may view treaties between indigenous peoples and the federal government as a relic of the 19th century, but they just might provide a way for tribes to mitigate the effects of climate change on their lands and communities. A University of Kansas law professor has authored a study showing that provisions of treaties can lead the way to fighting the effects of climate change, which often hit native communities earliest and most severely.

Elizabeth Kronk Warner, associate dean of academic affairs, professor of law and director of the Tribal Law and Government Center at the KU School of Law, has authored “Everything Old is New Again: Enforcing Tribal Treaty Provisions to Protect Climate Change Threatened Resources.” The article examines provisions of two native treaties and how they have been successfully argued to require the federal government to address damages done to fishing resources of the Swinomish and Nez Perce tribes. The cases are proof that treaties, which were no longer drafted after the 1870s, could be a new way to fight the effects of climate change on native communities.

“I don’t think anyone has ever looked at treaties for this reason,” Kronk Warner said. “It may not be a cure-all, but it could certainly be part of a larger solution. It’s applying what has been a very successful solution to a new context.”

In the case of the Swinomish and Nez Perce tribes, their treaties with the federal government contained specific provisions that their fishing access and rights be maintained as they were a vital part of their culture, daily life and very survival. When those rights were infringed, the tribes were successful in bringing action that eventually required the federal government ensure fulfillment of those rights.

There are more than 500 federally recognized tribes in the United States, many of which have treaties with the federal government. Those who are negatively affected by climate change could potentially use the treaties as a legal tool to mitigate those effects, Kronk Warner said. For example, tribes with provisions regarding hunting rights whose lands are affected by drought, wildfires, rising coastlines or other effects of climate change could bring suit arguing the federal government is bound by its treaty to protect those rights.

Federal courts have proven in recent history to be very protective of hunting and fishing rights protected by treaties. Kronk Warner said provisions related to infrastructure and many other aspects of native life could potentially be part of a legal strategy as well. She added that, in her legal opinion, the argument that climate change was not a foreseeable issue when the treaties were signed would not be an argument relieving the federal government of its obligation to uphold the agreement.

Kronk Warner compares the approach to litigation against big tobacco companies. It took decades to find the right legal strategy to eventually hold the companies liable for health damages their products caused. Similarly, using treaty provisions to mitigate the negative effects of climate change could be the next step in an ongoing battle, in which climate change is already devastating the lands and resources of tribes across the country. Looking to treaties could be a valuable tool, as litigation and adaptation plans have had varying levels of success.

Kronk Warner, a citizen of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, has written extensively on climate change, native law and indigenous knowledge’s role in the fight against climate change. She was also recently appointed a district judge for the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation and will serve on the Healing to Wellness Court. Her most recent article will be published in the University of Nebraska Law Review and is available online.

While climate change has already begun having negative effects on native lands, communities and resources, the legal fight to ameliorate the effects is still fairly new. Looking to treaties, which many have failed to view as a solution to a modern problem, could be key.

“How climate change impacts tribes will continue to change, and how tribes react to that will change as well,” Kronk Warner said. “Examples are highly localized, but I think this is an approach that any tribe with a treaty could look to use.”

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