Double vision: KU Project for Innocence frees wrongfully imprisoned man after finding doppelganger

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Exoneree Richard Jones hugs Alice Craig, supervising attorney with the University of Kansas Project for Innocence, after being released from prison.

LAWRENCE — The outlook for Richard Jones appeared bleak when University of Kansas School of Law Project for Innocence interns Chapman Williams and Chad Neswick took over his case in 2015.

Despite maintaining his innocence from the start, Jones had already spent 15 years in prison for aggravated robbery – convicted after the victim and witnesses of a purse snatching identified him in a police lineup. Without new evidence to counter the eyewitness testimony, relief seemed unlikely.

Then something happened that made everyone see the case differently.

Inmates at the Lansing Correctional Facility — where Jones was serving his 19-year sentence — started mistaking him for another guy on the inside named Ricky Amos. Jones reported the look-alike confusion to the Project for Innocence, and Williams and Neswick tracked down mug shots of Amos.

“They looked like they could have been twins,” Williams said. “From there, other pieces of the puzzle began fitting together.”

Nearly two years later, Jones is enjoying a new view. He walked free this month after a Johnson County judge reversed his conviction and ordered his release. Jones held his 2-year-old granddaughter for the first time and enjoyed a barbecue with family and friends.

“Working on Richard’s case has taught me to look at every case with care,” said KU Law student Brenna Lynch, who helped draft the petition that won Jones another chance to challenge his conviction. “It’s bittersweet. We were able to help Richard, and now he gets to be with his family and live as a free man again. But it’s hard knowing that almost 20 years of his life were taken from him for a crime he didn’t commit.”

‘No other option’

On May 30, 1999, Jones celebrated his girlfriend’s birthday by hosting a Memorial Day weekend barbecue in Kansas City, Missouri. The next day, he was home all day cleaning up.

Exoneree Richard Jones embraces KU Law student Nikki Multer, who helped work on his case as an intern with the University of Kansas School of Law's Project for Innocence.A few miles across the state line in Kansas City, Kansas, three people who had been driving around smoking crack went to a neighborhood where they could buy more. They picked up a man named Rick at a known drug house. He told them to drive to a nearby Walmart, where he attempted to steal a woman’s purse in the parking lot. She fought back, sustaining minor injuries, and the assailant got away with only her cell phone.

Neither the victim nor the Walmart security guard got a good look at the attacker. According to court records, they could only describe him as a thin, light-skinned black or Hispanic man with dark hair.

Through a series of identification procedures, police and witnesses came to believe Richard Jones was the assailant. He was arrested nine months after the attack and convicted of aggravated robbery in 2000.

No physical evidence tied Jones to the getaway vehicle, the victim or the robbery. Despite presenting a verified alibi, he was convicted based solely on eyewitness identification.

“Richard Jones’s case highlights the flaws in eyewitness identification and the importance of proper procedures,” said Alice Craig, supervising attorney with KU’s Project for Innocence. “Witnesses were presented with no other option but to choose Jones in the lineups as created. None of the other photos matched the description provided by the witnesses.”

Manifest injustice

Those flawed identification procedures became strikingly clear after Jones drew the attention of Project for Innocence advocates to the existence of his doppelganger, Ricky Amos.

As students Williams and Neswick dug deeper, they discovered that Amos had committed other crimes consistent with the one for which Jones was serving time. They also determined that Amos had lived in the Kansas City area and was associated with the address of the duplex where Jones had allegedly been picked up before the robbery.

“With all of these facts, we were able to build a case, including meeting with the victim of the crime and witnesses who were at Walmart that day,” Williams said.

None of them could tell Amos and Jones apart. “I am no longer certain I identified the right person at the preliminary hearing and trial,” Tamara Scherer, the robbery victim, said in an affidavit last year. “If I had seen both men at the time, I would not have felt comfortable choosing between the two men and possibly sending a man to prison.”

Indeed, Jones was the only light-skinned man in the police lineups shown to Scherer and witnesses.

Project for Innocence students Brenna Lynch and Nikki Multer took over the case in 2016. They drafted the motion to vacate Jones’s sentence, compiled exhibits, made trips to get statements from the original witnesses, researched problems with eyewitness testimony, searched for experts to testify, met with the Johnson County District Attorney’s office and eventually helped file the case.

Although Jones had previously exhausted his appeals, the 10th Judicial District Court in Johnson County agreed to hear the new evidence to prevent a “manifest injustice.” 

Improving the system

Former Johnson County Assistant District Attorney John Cowles, who prosecuted the original trial, testified at the June 7 hearing that it was rare for him to try cases based solely on eyewitness identification because of its known “pitfalls.” He said new evidence presented by the Project for Innocence, in partnership with the Midwest Innocence Project, undermined his confidence that Jones’s trial produced a just result.

Exoneree Richard Jones holds his 2-year-old granddaughter for the first time while giving a TV interview after his release.In a ruling from the bench, Judge Kevin P. Moriarty wrote that no reasonable jury would convict Jones if he were tried again, especially in light of evidence linking Amos to the crime.

“When Judge Moriarty finally said what we all had been waiting hours to hear, it was almost surreal,” said Lynch, who attended the hearing and was at the Johnson County Jail when Jones was released the next day. “The effect of that ruling didn’t even really hit me until I saw Richard get to hug his daughter, something he probably hasn’t done for 17 years. Members of his family, people I had never met before, were thanking me and hugging me. That’s a really good feeling, knowing you’ve made a difference in someone’s life like that.”

Multer and Lynch both said working on Jones’s case taught them the importance of vigilant advocacy.

“Our criminal justice system is flawed, so we as lawyers have a duty to make it better,” Lynch said. “I had the privilege of working on a case that had a happy ending, but, unfortunately, that’s rare. There are hundreds of other cases — and maybe hundreds of other people like Richard — who never get this chance.”

Recent independent studies conservatively estimate that between 2 and 5 percent of inmates in the United States are innocent. More than 70 percent of those wrongful convictions are the result of mistaken eyewitness identification, especially across racial lines, according to Cardozo Law’s Innocence Project.

“Cases like Mr. Jones’s give our students the opportunity to examine the causes of wrongful convictions, as well as the valuable experience of working with a client,” said Beth Cateforis, supervising attorney with KU’s Project for Innocence. “When we achieve an outcome like Mr. Jones’s, the students get to see the result of their perseverance and know that their efforts changed their client’s life.”

Williams, who graduated in May, characterized Jones’s exoneration as the most important accomplishment of his budding legal career.

“More importantly, I’m extremely happy that Richard is free,” he said. “His resilience and determination made it all possible. I hope he is compensated for those 17 years of lost time.”

PHOTOS (from top): Exoneree Richard Jones hugs Alice Craig, supervising attorney with the University of Kansas Project for Innocence, after being released from prison; Jones embraces KU Law student Nikki Multer, who helped work on his case as an intern with the Project for Innocence; Jones holds his 2-year-old granddaughter for the first time while giving a TV interview after his release.

KU law professors provide research, development of Kansas' innovative public benefit corporations legislation

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

LAWRENCE — Since 2010, numerous states have passed legislation providing for the establishment of public benefit corporations — for-profit businesses that choose to also make promoting the public good part of their corporate purpose. Kansas recently enacted such legislation, with aspects that make it one of the most innovative and unique in the nation, supported by a drafting team led by University of Kansas School of Law faculty and alumni.

Corporations that make furthering public good part of their mission are becoming increasingly more common. Whether they are outdoors recreation outfitting companies like Patagonia that support environmental sustainability, or a clothing company such as TOMS that provides shoes to children in need for every pair sold, public benefit corporations are increasingly dotting the corporate landscape.

As of 2017, 37 states have approved legislation allowing such organizations to incorporate within their borders. What makes Kansas’ legislation innovative, KU Law professors say, is its combination of Kansas’ traditional reliance on Delaware law as a model and transparency requirements that originated in legislation proposed by B Lab, a nonprofit entity that fosters the use of business as a force for good.

“The idea is to create a corporate focus where the owners of the company are obligated to pursue one or more benefits for the public good. Traditionally, companies could do that as a byproduct of their work, but this is part of the fiduciary duties of a public benefit corporation,” said Virginia Harper Ho, professor of law at KU. “What’s special about this is the dual mission. You have the for-profit mission and the public good. Had we not done this, businesses that wanted to use the public benefit corporation model would have had to incorporate somewhere else." 

Harper Ho and Webb Hecker, Centennial Teaching Professor at KU, were part of a committee working on behalf of the Kansas Bar Association to research, draft, and recommend to the Kansas Legislature a comprehensive update of Kansas General Corporation Code. They were joined by KU Law alumnus William Matthews, who chaired the committee, and attorneys Robert Alderson, Garrett Roe, William Quick and William Wood.

Delaware law made sense as a starting point because its business entity legislation is traditionally looked to as the gold standard, and the state is widely viewed as business friendly. The Delaware General Corporation Law, updated annually, is touted as the most advanced and flexible business formation statute in the nation. In addition, the Delaware Court of Chancery is a one-of-a-kind business court that, over the years, has developed a high degree of specialized knowledge and created a wealth of modern U.S. corporation case law.

Kansas has a history of modeling business legislation after Delaware dating back at least to the 1940s, and, in more recent times, Kansas courts have recognized Delaware Supreme Court and Court of Chancery opinions as persuasive precedent.

“Delaware is attractive because they have courts that are highly respected, have written good case law and left few unanswered questions,” Hecker said. “So what you can do is pattern your legislation after Delaware’s and take advantage of their statutes and judicial opinions.”

Hecker also said the impetus for special public benefit corporation legislation is the belief that corporate law requires the directors of for-profit corporations to pursue single-mindedly the goal of profit-maximization for the benefit of the corporation’s shareholders. Therefore, the fear is that if a corporation wants to do well and do good, it will open itself up to suit by one or more disgruntled shareholders, hence the need for statutory relief.

The Kansas special committee, however, did not simply want to recreate Delaware’s public benefit corporation legislation. Rather, the committee combined the best of the Delaware and B Lab models with some unique features of its own. The result is a statute that:

  • requires the directors to manage the corporation in a way that balances the monetary interests of the shareholders, the public benefit(s) the corporation has elected to pursue and the best interests of those affected by the corporation’s conduct
  • requires the corporation to prepare an annual benefit statement on the basis of a transparent standard created by an independent third party entity
  • requires the benefit statement to be distributed to the shareholders and be made publicly available
  • requires a two-thirds supermajority shareholder vote to elect or terminate public benefit corporation status (while providing appraisal rights to dissenters)
  • requires that a person be a shareholder in order to enforce the corporation’s duty to pursue a public benefit

House Bill 2153 passed in the 2017 Kansas legislative session was signed by the governor and takes effect July 1. Hecker and Harper Ho said the unique nature of the legislation gives the state an edge in supporting business innovation and will also serve as a model for other states in supporting public benefit corporations while the enhanced reporting and transparency mechanisms will prevent “greenwashing,” the practice of claiming to support public good causes for a competitive advantage without following through.

“We thought we could get the best of both worlds by strengthening the reporting mechanism,” Harper Ho said. “This is another path. Kansas is now the only state to merge the Delaware approach and greater transparency requirements.”

KU law students make honor roll for pro bono service

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

LAWRENCE – Ten University of Kansas School of Law students contributed nearly 600 hours of free legal services during the past year, earning a spot on KU Law’s inaugural Pro Bono Honor Roll.

Students prepared tax returns for low-income residents, interviewed and advised asylum seekers at a family detention center, and served as court advocates for victims of domestic violence seeking protection orders. 

“Participants in the Pro Bono Program had the opportunity not only to give back to individuals and communities in need of legal services, but also to gain hands-on legal experience that will help them become more effective and empathetic advocates,” said Meredith Schnug, associate director of KU’s Legal Aid Clinic.    

The following students completed 15 hours or more of pro bono service during the 2016-2017 academic year. Students are listed by name, graduation year and hometown:

  • Travis Freeman, 2017, Olathe
  • Brett Pollard, 2017, Leawood
  • Rachel Shannon, 2017, Hutchinson
  • Ramona Sole Suchomel, 2017, Asuncion, Paraguay
  • Patrick Sullivan, 2017, Wichita
  • Karly Weigel, 2017, Southlake, Texas
  • Samantha Yianitsas, 2018, Industry, Texas
  • Karlee Canaday, 2019, Manhattan
  • Davide Iacobelli, 2019, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
  • Lauren Johannes, 2019, Overland Park

In addition, six students were honored at graduation with Pro Bono Distinction for having completed 50 hours or more of pro bono service throughout their law school career:

  • Travis Freeman
  • Brett Pollard
  • Ramona Sole Suchomel
  • Patrick Sullivan
  • Karly Weigel 
  • Shelley Woodard, 2017, Garden City

Graduate Travis Freeman volunteered at the South Texas Family Detention Center, helping women who were detained at the border – many with small children – with their asylum claims.

“Many of them had harrowing journeys, subjected to robbery, fraud, kidnapping, and physical and sexual violence. But they persevered,” Freeman said. “It was a humbling experience being brought to tears on a daily basis as they told me their stories.”

Other organizations that benefited from the students’ work include the Willow Domestic Violence Center, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, KU Athletics, Legal Aid Society of San Diego, Kansas Bar Association Young Lawyers Section, KU Traffic Court and the Kansas Long-Term Care Ombudsman Office.

KU law school’s moot court program continues top-20 national streak

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

KU Law's National NALSA Moot Court Competition team

LAWRENCE – The University of Kansas School of Law’s moot court program is 17th in the nation, according to rankings published this month by the University of Houston Law Center.

Led by several top-three national performances, KU Law students accumulated enough points to break into the top 20 for the second year in a row. Pamela Keller, clinical professor of law and lawyering skills director, helped advance KU Law's moot court program two spots above last year’s No. 19 ranking.

“This year every team in our program made it to what we call the ‘knockout’ rounds – the advanced rounds – of a national or international competition,” Keller said. "This means that every team performed at a very high level, which also means our students are ready to perform at a high level in actual legal practice. To have so many teams win awards, and to have our program be nationally ranked, is icing on the cake.”

Accumulating the most points toward KU’s ranking was its performance at the National Native American Law Students Association Moot Court Competition in early March. Megan Carroll, Wichita, and Bill Madden, Topeka, placed second in the NNALSA competition. Carroll won the award for second-best oral advocate out of 128 competitors.

Other highlights from the 2016-2017 moot court season:

  • Ciara Malone, Overland Park, and Nikki Marcotte, Manhattan, placed second in the Wechsler First Amendment National Moot Court Competition in Washington, D.C.
  • Ashley Billam, Olathe, and Sam LaRoque, Shawnee, won the regional round of the National Moot Court Competition in Topeka, then advanced to the Sweet 16 at the national rounds in New York City.
  • Will Easley, Overland Park, and Bill Madden, Topeka, took third place at the Federal Bar Association’s Thurgood Marshall National Moot Court Competition in Washington, D.C.
  • Chris Wolcott of Oakwood, Ohio, and Kyle Crane, Overland Park, advanced to the quarterfinals of the PACE National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition in White Plains, New York.
  • CJ Boyd, Dallas, and Dalton Mott of Independence, Missouri, advanced to the quarterfinals of the National Criminal Procedure Moot Court Tournament in San Diego, and Mott received the third-best oral advocate award.
  • Erica McCabe, Emporia, and Max McGraw and Kriston Guillot, both of Shawnee, advanced to the regional quarterfinals of the National Moot Court Competition in Topeka.
  • John Truong, Wichita; Joe Uhlman, Sedgwick; Bridget Brazil, Chanute: Kyle Klucas, Silver Lake; and Cecelia Crookston, Kansas City, Kansas; advanced to the regional quarterfinals of the Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition in Denver.
  • Skyler Davenport, of Blue Springs, Missouri, and Nathan Kakazu, of Madison, Wisconsin, advanced to the regional semifinals of the ABA’s National Appellate Advocacy Competition in Brooklyn, New York.
  • Hannah Schoeb and Cody Wood, both of Leawood, were quarterfinalists in the Williams Institute Moot Court Competition in Los Angeles.

Most KU Law students who compete in national tournaments were the top finishers in the school’s in-house moot court competition during their second year of law school. Competitions generally consist of writing an appellate brief and presenting a mock oral argument before an appellate court.

Photo: Megan Carroll, Wichita, and Bill Madden, Topeka, placed second in the National Native American Law Students Association Moot Court Competition. Carroll won the award for second-best oral advocate out of 128 competitors.

Law school honors 2017 graduates for scholarship, leadership and service

Thursday, May 25, 2017

LAWRENCE – The University of Kansas School of Law honored Class of 2017 graduates at a hooding ceremony May 13. During the ceremony, nine students received awards for distinguishing themselves in scholarship, leadership and service to the law school and to the community.

The recipients are:

  • Craig Boyd, Dallas, Texas, Faculty Award for Outstanding Scholastic Achievement
  • Hannah Brass, Wilmore, Justice Lloyd Kagey Leadership Award
  • Ethan Brown, Flower Mound, Texas, Janean Meigs Memorial Award
  • Tyler Childress, Coffeyville, Robert F. Bennett Award
  • Kriston Guillot, Shawnee, Janean Meigs Memorial Award
  • Beth Hanus, Elm Grove, Wisconsin, Samuel Mellinger Scholarship, Leadership and Service Award
  • Erica McCabe, Emporia, Class of 1949 Leadership Award
  • Matt Scarber, Tucson, Arizona, Walter Hiersteiner Outstanding Service Award
  • Cody Wood, Leawood, Class of 1949 Leadership Award

Hanus also served as the 2017 banner carrier, an honor bestowed upon an honor student who exemplifies excellence in his or her program.

The award winners were part of a class composed of 121 recipients of the Juris Doctor, as well as one Master of Laws in American Legal Studies and two Doctor of Juridical Science graduates.

Funds for the awards are managed by KU Endowment, the independent, nonprofit organization serving as the official fundraising and fund-management organization for KU. Founded in 1981, KU Endowment was the first foundation of its kind at a U.S. public university.

Student award recipients are listed below by hometown.

Hannah Brass

From Wilmore
Hannah Brass received the Justice Lloyd Kagey Leadership Award, given to the graduate who has most distinguished him or herself through leadership in the law school. Brass served as editor-in-chief of the Kansas Journal of Law and Public Policy and a member of the Dean’s Diversity Leadership Council. She is the daughter of Dave and Mindy Brass and a graduate of South Central High School and the University of Oklahoma.

Cody Wood

From Leawood
Cody Wood received the Class of 1949 Leadership Award, given to the student who has contributed most significantly to the overall experience of students in Green Hall. Wood served as vice president of the International Law Society, a Dean’s Fellow and a KU Law Student Ambassador. He represented the law school in the KU Student Senate and served on the Student Bar Association Executive Board. Wood was also a member of the KU student chapter of the Federal Bar Association and Traffic Court. He is the son of Brian and Lorrie Wood and a graduate of Blue Valley North High School and the University of Kansas.

Kriston Guillot

From Shawnee
Kriston Guillot received the Janean Meigs Memorial Award, given to students who have demonstrated a caring spirit in service to the students of the law school or the community at large. An intern at the Douglas County Legal Aid Society and Legal Services for Students, Guillot served as president of the 3L class, a justice on Traffic Court, a KU Law Student Ambassador, and a member of both the Moot Court Council and the Black Law Students Association. He served as a teaching assistant for the course Lawyering Skills and was a member of the winning team in KU’s 2016 In-House Moot Court Competition. Guillot is the son of Kirby and Joyce Guillot and a graduate of Shawnee Mission Northwest High School and the University of Kansas. 

Erica McCabe

From Emporia
Erica McCabe received the Class of 1949 Leadership Award, given to the student who has contributed most significantly to the overall experience of students in Green Hall. McCabe served as editor-in-chief of the Kansas Law Review and distinguished herself on several committees, including the Academic Affairs Committee and the Dean’s Diversity Leadership Council. She also served as a Dean’s Fellow and a KU Law Student Ambassador, and she was a member of the winning team in KU’s 2016 In-House Moot Court Competition, receiving the award for Best Oral Advocate. McCabe is the daughter of Jennifer and Brenton Bennett and a graduate of Emporia High School, the University of Kansas and the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Tyler Childress

From Coffeyville
Tyler Childress received the Robert F. Bennett Award, recognizing a graduate whose undergraduate degree is from a Kansas university or college and who has demonstrated leadership qualities through public service. Childress served in leadership capacities for the KU Law Dean’s Diversity Leadership Council, the KU Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Advisory Group, the KU Student Senate, and the KU Law student division of the Federal Bar Association. He was a note and comment editor on the Kansas Law Review and vice president of OutLaws & Allies. Childress worked as a legal intern at the Johnson County District Attorney’s Office and prosecuted two jury trials during his third year of law school. He is the son of Tracey and Lisa Childress and a graduate of Field Kindley Memorial High School and the University of Kansas.

Matt Scarber

From Tucson
Matt Scarber received the Walter Hiersteiner Outstanding Service Award, given to the graduate whose service to his or her fellow students demonstrates the greatest promise for contribution to the legal profession and society. Scarber is known for standing up for causes he believes in and engaging in difficult, but important, conversations. He served as the president of KU Black Law Students Association and was a leader on the Dean’s Diversity Leadership Council, along with supporting and assisting many other organizations at the University of Kansas and in the Topeka, Lawrence and Kansas City communities. Scarber was a student finalist for KU’s inaugural Diversity Leadership Award. He is the son of Freddy and Lillie Scarber and a graduate of Cienega High School and the University of Arizona.

Craig Boyd

From Dallas
Craig Boyd received the Faculty Award for Outstanding Scholastic Achievement, which goes to the graduating student selected by the faculty as having made the most significant contribution toward overall legal scholarship. Boyd’s article, “Appraisal Arbitrage: Closing the Floodgates on Hedge Funds and Activist Shareholders,” was published in the Kansas Law Review and cited in a Vanderbilt Law Review article written by experts in the field. Boyd served as note and comment editor for the Kansas Law Review. Additionally, he was a member of a KU Transactional LawMeet team that reached the semifinals of the Southwest Regional Round and received the award for best buyer’s side draft agreement. Boyd served as a Dean’s Fellow and was a member of the KU team that reached the quarterfinals of the 2016 National Criminal Procedure Moot Court Tournament. Boyd resides in Lawrence with his wife, Sara. He is the son of Craig and Gina Boyd, and a graduate of Flower Mound High School and MidAmerica Nazarene University. 


Ethan Brown

From Flower Mound
Ethan Brown received the Janean Meigs Memorial Award, given to students who have demonstrated a caring spirit in service to the students of the law school or the community at large. Brown served as managing editor of the Kansas Journal of Law and Public Policy and as a KU Law Student Ambassador. He was a Dean’s Fellow, president of the Student Intellectual Property Law Association and vice president of the KU student chapter of the Federal Bar Association. He participated in KU’s Medical-Legal Partnership Field Placement Program at KUMC and worked through Kansas Legal Services to serve the elderly population as part of KU’s Elder Law Field Placement Program. Brown helped community members file taxes through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. Brown is the son of Norman and Lori Brown and a graduate of Northern State University.

Beth Hanus

From Elm Grove
Beth Hanus received the Samuel Mellinger Scholarship, Leadership and Service Award, given to the graduate who has most distinguished himself or herself in the combined areas of scholarship, leadership and service. Hanus served as executive note and comment editor of the Kansas Law Review, overseeing each of the scholarly pieces written by fellow law students. Her comment, “Rape by Nonphysical Coercion: State v. Brooks” was published in volume 64. Hanus also served as a KU Law Student Ambassador and a student member of the Academic Affairs Committee. She was a teaching assistant for the Lawyering Skills course and served on the executive board of Women in Law and as a member of the Business and Tax Law Society. Hanus graduated at the top of her class. She is the daughter of Susan and Michael Hanus and a graduate of Brookfield East High School and Macalester College. 

Law school alumnae selected for KU Women's Hall of Fame

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

LAWRENCE — Since 1970, the Emily Taylor Center for Women & Gender Equity has honored a select group of women to be inducted into the University of Kansas Women’s Hall of Fame. It honors and celebrates KU’s rich legacy of phenomenal women.

“These women are exemplary members of society in both overall impact and outstanding character,” said Kathy Rose-Mockry, the center’s director. “This year’s inductees are leaders and trailblazers in their respective fields, reminding us of the importance of women’s voices, contributions and courage in bringing about change in our world.  The influence of their numerous contributions and achievements is immeasurable, and these women serve as awe-inspiring role models for all of us.”

This year’s inductees include Sarah Deer, Terry Hoyt Evans, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, Saralyn Reece Hardy, Colleen McCain Nelson and Jan Bowen Sheldon

In addition, the center recognizes as the Pioneer Woman an exemplary Kansas woman who has made historic contributions of local or statewide significance. This year’s Pioneer Woman is the late journalist and civil rights activist Lucile Bluford, a KU graduate.

A celebration to honor the Women’s Hall of Fame inductees and Pioneer Woman recipient will be at 5 p.m. Tuesday, April 25, in the Adams Alumni Center, followed by the Women’s Recognition Banquet at 6:30 p.m. in the Kansas Union Ballroom. Sign up for the banquet online.   

Sarah Deer is a scholar, activist and educator who, throughout her career, has centered the self-determination and dignity of survivors of violence with a focus on Native women. She will return to KU in fall 2017, joining the Department of Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies and the School of Public Affairs & Administration in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences as a professor. She is currently a professor of law at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota. She is a 2014 MacArthur Fellow and a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. Her efforts were instrumental in the passage of the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 and the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.  Deer received her bachelor’s and law degrees from KU.

Terry Hoyt Evans is a nationally renowned photographer, focusing on the Midwest and Great Plains, capturing the land and inhabitants while commenting on ecological and environmental issues of broad social and political importance. Her photography has been featured in museums across the country, including the National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Baltimore Museum of Art; the Chicago Art Institute; the San Francisco Museum of Art; the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Library of Congress; the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the KU Spencer Museum of Art. She received an honorary degree from KU in 2016. Evans received her bachelor's degree from KU.

Bernadette Gray-Little is the chancellor at KU, serving in this role since 2009. She is the first woman and the first African-American to hold this post. She will be stepping down at the end of this academic year. She is a pre-eminent leader in higher education and a notable scholar and educator. She earned her doctorate in clinical psychology at St. Louis University and served as executive associate provost, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, and executive vice chancellor and provost at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, prior to coming to KU.  

Colleen McCain Nelson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former political reporter who has chronicled three presidential campaigns, is a strong voice and leader in the field of journalism and mass communications. She has served as a reporter for the Wichita Eagle, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Dallas Morning News and The Wall Street Journal, where she served as White House correspondent. She currently serves as vice president and editorial page editor for the Kansas City Star, where she shapes the newspaper’s voice and editorial agenda while fostering community conversations. Nelson received her bachelor’s degree from KU.

Saralyn Reece Hardy is the first Marilyn Stokstad Director of the Spencer Museum of Art. Recognized as a national leader in her field, she served as director of the Salina Art Center and director of Museums and Visual Arts for the National Endowment for the Arts and has been involved at the national, regional and local levels in shaping the way in which art is presented, supported and disseminated, seeking new voices and perspectives. Among her many accomplishments, she has led a large-scale renovation of the Spencer. Hardy received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from KU. 

Jan Bowen Sheldon is a leader in advancing the quality of life for women and individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and at-risk youths through her research, teaching, service provision and advocacy. She helped found Community Living Opportunities and developed the Truancy Prevention and Diversion Program in the Lawrence community. She also has served as the director of the Edna A. Hill Child Development Center. She is a professor in the Department of Applied Behavioral Science and is a courtesy professor of law. She has written numerous articles and publications that have influenced policy and practices in her field. Sheldon received her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from KU.

Law professor develops big-data approach to patent value

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

LAWRENCE — Patents have long been used by inventors to protect their creations, but for just as long it has been exceedingly difficult to accurately determine the value of patents. Even today, to value a patent in a rigorous manner is expensive, requires the hiring of patent law and economics experts, and takes a long time.

A University of Kansas law professor and his University of Washington co-author have just published a study that offers a new and powerful method to evaluate patents, either individually or grouped together into gigantic portfolios. Their new approach, based on network and big-data analysis, can instantly determine which patents are the most important, whether overall, or by owner, inventor, attorney, patent examiner or technology. Doing so allows the authors to probe for answers to previously unanswerable questions about patent law, and their novel approach to “patent analytics” has the potential to open up a new area of legal study of patents, innovation, economics and policy.

Andrew Torrance, the Earl B. Schurtz Research Professor at the KU School of Law, and Jevin West, a professor at the University of Washington Information School, have co-authored “All Patents Great and Small: A Big Data Network Approach to Valuation”, which was published March 27 in the University of Virginia Journal of Law and Technology. The article outlines the powerful methods of network analysis they used to explore and organize one of the biggest patent data sets ever compiled. Among their findings, they reveal that litigated patents tend to be much more valuable than those not litigated and that the value of litigated patents tends to rise strongly with the level of court in which litigation occurs. For example, patents litigated in federal district court (the lowest level) are, on average, more than five times more valuable than unlitigated patents, and patents that reach the U.S. Supreme Court are, on average, more than eight times more valuable.

When Torrance and West plotted the average value of litigated patents on a map depicting all the federal judicial districts in the U.S., they discovered something surprising. Not only do the average values of litigated patents vary widely from district to district (Nevada and Connecticut host litigation of extremely valuable patents), they also noticed that the largest concentration of districts with litigated patents of especially high value, occurs in a “patent hotspot” in the southern central portion of the U.S., comprising Texas, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas. By contrast, the northern central U.S. districts tended to host litigations of low-value patents, forming a sort of “patent tundra.” Received wisdom would suggest that districts on the East and West coasts would see litigation of the most valuable patents, while the middle of the country would be “patent flyover country.” However, careful and powerful analysis of big patent data decisively refutes this assumption.

Torrance and West take advantage of huge sets of patent data made available by the United States Patent & Trademark Office. These data sets include detailed information about every U.S. patent issued from 1976 to the present. Determining patent value has been extremely difficult, given the complex nature of patent documents, the overwhelming amount of data and the traditional reliance on the opinions of patent “experts.” Instead, Torrance and West used algorithms developed to analyze vast amounts of data, including patent citation data.

“The mountain of data available on patents has become so large it’s just not possible for any individual, however brilliant, to understand, let alone master, it,” Torrance said. “What we’re doing could be called ‘big patent data analysis.’”

The approach not only can answer questions that were previously simply not answerable, it can help formulate new research questions. For example, few people would have thought to ask why valuable patents tend to be litigated in courts in Kansas and Colorado before the study, because it was widely assumed patents in the heartland were of low value. Now that the study has revealed the opposite to be true, Torrance and West intend to investigate what factors might explain the rich vein of patent gold that seems to run through federal courts in the south central region of the country.

Being able to judge the value of patents can have significant influence on the field of patent law. What has always been an expensive, slow, even artisanal process can now be done quickly, cheaply and efficiently, Torrance said, and can help patent holders, or anyone else interested in patent value, determine which ones are worth defending, which are not worth litigating, which ones to buy, sell or license and much more. Their analysis even sheds light on which inventors, law firms and patent examiners give rise to the most or least valuable patents.

“It could educate people on where the best places to litigate are. It may show we should change the laws on where it’s possible to litigate patents,” Torrance said of big-data patent analysis. “We’ve only looked at a limited set of questions so far, but the results of our first study encourage us to test a number of other basic assumptions in patent law, some of which may end up being unsupported. We think big patent data network analysis is a valuable way to probe those assumptions. It’s imperative to find out as much as we can about inventing and patenting so that we can better understand and foster innovation, which, we believe, is one of the best hopes for progress in the big issues facing humanity, like alleviating poverty, curing disease and protecting the environment.”

Interest in patent analytics and big patent data have recently reached a fever pitch. In March 2017 alone, Torrance was invited to share his expertise in the area at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, the government of Canada, in Ottawa, Canada, and to the government of Ontario in Toronto, Canada. Other attendees included leading legal analytics companies, patent-holding corporations, the World Intellectual Property Organization, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and patent offices in Britain, Canada and the United States. He and West have also been invited by Cambridge University Press to contribute a chapter on patent analytics to a forthcoming book on legal analytics, and their study was recently listed on Social Science Research Network's top-10 download list for Intellectual Property: Empirical Studies eJournal.

A burgeoning field, data analytics in regard to law could open a new avenue of careers for aspiring lawyers and even change some of the skills deemed valuable in the law. The field has long been viewed as an art in which rhetorical and writing skills, for the purposes of producing strong, persuasive arguments, were considered the most valuable traits, Torrance said. But in the era of big data, complex algorithms and computer programming – the fundamentals for legal analytics – mathematical, scientific and computer science abilities are likely to rise in importance.

“There is a commonly held view that students who enter law school do so, in part, to avoid math,” Torrance said with a laugh. “But you cannot outrun math. It’s even finding its way into the law now. It was inevitable that mathematical analysis would eventually reach the law. Now it’s about to hit like a tidal wave. Math and science have always been required for patent law, so it’s no surprise that patent law is at the forefront of this trend. Patent law has always generated mountains of data, so it’s ripe for patent analytics. I think we’re going to find some very fascinating patterns in patent data, leading to the realization that we really don’t understand this area nearly as well as we thought we did. Big data and powerful analytic methods are throwing open the frontiers of patent law to a new generation of exploration. I can’t wait to be surprised by the findings that lie in wait for us. The level of interest in patent analytics and big patent data is exploding. We used to work on this research in the academic shadows, but suddenly a spotlight is shining on this area."

Law professor to be inducted into Kansas Newspaper Hall of Fame

Friday, April 07, 2017

LAWRENCE – A University of Kansas law professor and former KU journalism dean will be inducted into the Kansas Newspaper Hall of Fame.

Mike Kautsch, a media law expert and one-time journalist who has long championed government transparency, will receive the award during the Kansas Press Association’s annual convention today, April 7, in Topeka.

“His service to the journalism profession is both wide and deep,” the association reported. “For KPA, he has served for years as a media law consultant. Whenever KPA has had a need for assistance, Mike has always been there, giving prompt and reasoned advice as KPA and others try to strengthen the state’s open government laws.”

Kautsch was instrumental in the drive to establish a reporter’s privilege in Kansas, working with state revisors of statutes, legislators, KPA staff and the state’s other media associations to pass that law in 2010. The shield law allows reporters to protect the identities of confidential sources without fear of prosecution.

After 18 years at the KU William Allen White School of Journalism & Mass Communications, the final 10 spent as dean, Kautsch joined the KU law faculty in 1997 and launched the school’s Media, Law and Policy program. He continues to lead the program, now called Media, Law and Technology, writes about freedom of expression and freedom of information, and teaches courses such as Media and the First Amendment, Copyright Law and Digital Works, and Digital Privacy Rights in an Open Society. He has received a number of awards for teaching and advising KU students.

“I have felt privileged over the years to work with students and interact with KPA members and others who share my deep interest in the First Amendment and related areas of law,” Kautsch said.

Kautsch testifies before Kansas legislative committees on media-related bills, participates annually in planning and presenting a national Media and the Law Seminar in Kansas City and chairs the Media Bar Committee of the Kansas Bar Association. He is a charter member of the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government and served for six years as a gubernatorial appointee to the Kansas Humanities Council board of directors. He is routinely quoted by major news outlets covering media law issues.

An Omaha native, Kautsch holds degrees in journalism and law from the University of Iowa. He worked as a reporter at the Iowa City Press-Citizen and the Atlanta Journal prior to his career in higher education.

Kautsch and his wife, Elaine, live in Lawrence and have two grown children.

Former Wichita Eagle editor W. Davis “Buzz” Merritt Jr. will also be inducted.


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