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Saturday, January 22, 2005

CrimProf Spotlight: Dan Filler of Alabama

Filler_1 This week the CrimProf Blog splotlights Dan Filler of AlabamaFiller writes:
Despite a long standing interest in the law, and particularly criminal law, when I graduated from Brown University I had firmly decided not to attend law school. After a tedious summer working for a small law firm on the Oregon coast, I’d become convinced that a lawyer’s job was too boring. Thus, I packed my bags and moved to San Francisco for a life of anything but law. That plan worked for a while. I held down a job as the front desk clerk at the Bayside Motor Inn (on the evening shift) and, later, as a receptionist at what was then California First Bank. Scintillating as these jobs were, I finally capitulated to the law and joined Heller, Ehrman as a paralegal, working on an immense pro bono Native American land trust litigation. Finally, in 1987, I moved to New York, to Greenwich Village, and started at New York University Law School. I was one of those students that actually enjoyed law school, but I rediscovered that old passion – criminal law – while taking the Criminal Defense Clinic taught by Holly Maguigan and Steve Zeidman.

Passions must sometimes wait, however. First there was the matter of my clerkship, a post with Judge J. Dickson Phillips on the Fourth Circuit. There I fumed over the sentencing guidelines and the troubling influence of Judge Wilkins – who was simultaneously the chairman of the sentencing commission and the author of many guidelines opinions – on Fourth Circuit sentencing jurisprudence. Then there was the matter of my school debt. To address that problem, I signed on for two years at Debevoise and Plimpton in New York.

Finally, in the fall of 1993, I became an assistant public defender at the Defender Association of Philadelphia. Working among other committed allies, I found incredible satisfaction battling in the trenches for my clients. I loved the work in a practical sense, honing sharp cross-examinations and developing complex cases theories, but I also felt connected with my inner William Kunstler. I was fighting the good fight. After four years, I moved to a brand new public defense shop, The Bronx Defenders. I was itching for a different challenge, though. I was ready to play the bet I’d been hedging all along: a trip to the meat market. There I met the University of Alabama, and it met me.

My scholarship has focused largely on the social production of law, and crime in particular (list here). Much of my work developed as part of my participation in an interdisciplinary research community, The University of Alabama Interdisciplinary and Interpretive Writing Group. My first full-length article was a qualitative empirical study of the Megan’s Law legislative debates. More recently I published another empirical piece on community notification, focusing on the disparate race effects of these laws, and the curious failure of any commentator or legislator to consider these predictable disparities. Somehow, everybody missed the fact that these laws (framed as a necessary response to white-on-white crime) would deliver the brunt of their force against African-Americans. One curiosity I discovered in this research is that the Megan’s Law race disparities are the smallest in the Deep South. I have also written about the construction of gun control as a juvenile justice issue, the use of a legislative indictment (the Starr Report) as a means of marketing law, and the conflation of pedophilia with terrorism in a campaign to smear Muslims. As committed as I was to criminal defense, I feel equally bound to a notion of honest, critical scholarship. I do my best to approach every issue with an open mind, placing my own orthodoxies under the microscope.

In the past few years, I've worked to mix my academic pursuits with that old passion.  I started a Capital Defense Clinic at the law school.  I am chairing the Alabama Assessment Team, for the American Bar Association's Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project.  And of course, I use my time in the classroom to present a more complex view of criminal law that most students in Tuscaloosa would otherwise discover.  Much like the religion in which I grew up, I try to teach that the only proper practice of criminal law is a critical one.

Each Saturday, CrimProf Blog will spotlight on one of the 1500+ criminal justice professors in America's law schools. We hope to help bring the many individual stories of scholarly achievements, teaching innovations, public service, and career moves within the criminal justice professorate to the attention of the broader criminal justice community.  Please email us suggestions for future CrimProf profiles, particularly new professors in the field.

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Comments

Very nice write-up. I'm a fan of Dan Filler's work; his Megan's Law piece in Iowa was very interesting. It's nice to see his background and personality here.

(Full disclosure: 1. I met Dan and several of his Alabama colleagues at the November AALS conference, and everyone knows what that means; 2. Dan also was kind enough to read an early draft of an article that I co-authored with David Hoffman, and he provided great comments.

I suspect that I would have liked the Iowa piece in any event.)

Posted by: Kaimi | Jan 31, 2005 6:54:52 PM

"I use my time in the classroom to present a more complex view of criminal law than most students in Tuscaloosa would otherwise discover" --- hubris, anyone? Are all southerners unenlightened? Or only those in Tuscaloosa?

Posted by: Wendy | Feb 26, 2005 2:24:42 PM

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