One of the many voices of student scholarship at Fordham Law
Brandon Ruben ’16 received the John D. Feerick Student Writing Award in 2015 for his Fordham Law Review note on attorney/inmate email monitoring, supplied much of the research in an influential New York County Lawyers’ Association (NYCLA) report on the topic, and organized and co-moderated a first-of-its-kind NYCLA panel featuring key stakeholders on the debate’s front lines, including U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries.
Yet for all the individual acclaim his work garnered, the Stein Scholar graduate’s written and spoken advocacy highlighting prosecutorial overreach always focused on something greater than his own scholarly reputation: Ruben is devoted to fundamental ideas of fairness and justice in our legal system.
These guiding principles motivated him to author “Should the Medium Affect the Message?: Legal
and Ethical Implications of Prosecutors Reading Inmate-Attorney Email” in Professor Bruce Green’s Ethics in Criminal Advocacy seminar. Ruben also credits Feerick Center for Social Justice Executive Director Dora Galacatos for making him aware of the issue and suggesting that the practice was ripe for further questioning.
The discussion that Ruben’s inquiries sparked shines a light on the scholarship possibilities available to today’s Fordham Law students.
“If you want your note to make an impact, write on something you’re passionate about,” Ruben advises current students. “Don’t pick something just so you can satisfy the requirement. Once you’ve written this scholarship, stop viewing your status as a student to mean that you don’t have an independent voice. Ideally, you are the voice on the topic after you’ve written about it, and you should go out and use your voice.”
Ruben did just that with his NYCLA panel held on March 24, 2016. The panel occurred one month after the American Bar Association, acting on the recommendation of a NYCLA report heavily influenced by Ruben’s
research, adopted a formal resolution urging the Bureau of Prisons and Department of Justice to provide inmates with confidential legal email as they do phone calls, snail mail, and in-person meetings.
The panel featured, among others, Rep. Jeffries, D-N.Y., a co-sponsor of a bipartisan piece of legislation that would stop federal prosecutors from reading attorney-inmate emails, and James McGovern, chief of the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. In addition, the panel included David Patton, executive director of the Federal Defenders of New York, and Walt Pavlo, founder/president of Prisonology LLC.
Protecting attorney-client emails is integral to the criminal justice system’s ability to offer effective assistance of counsel, Jeffries declared. Isolating privileged emails from non-privileged emails remains a significant time and resource burden, said McGovern, who added his office had no desire to read these emails, even though it was legal to do so. McGovern voiced support for Jeffries’ bill at the time. (The bill remains stalled in Congress.)
“I don’t think the ball gets moved forward when people in their respective camps preach to the choir,” Ruben says on the necessity of presenting different viewpoints at the panel. “The ball gets moved forward when people in the room rigorously talk through issues to reach an outcome that we ultimately believe represents justice.”
Ruben’s co-moderator, Cardozo Law Professor Ellen Yaroshefsky, praised his work to the panel’s audience and noted the panel marked the first of its kind on email monitoring.
“He’s done a stellar job of promoting this issue both in New York and around the country,” said Yaroshefsky, who described Ruben as the “rare person who moderates a panel while still in law school.”
Today, Ruben is clerking for the Hon. Claire V. Eagan in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma. As such, he is unable to work on issues surrounding email monitoring due to judicial ethical codes. Advocating for defendants and prisoners is considered a partisan issue, as it pertains to the criminal justice system.
Ruben looks back with pride on his ability to craft a legal argument that had “direct application toward ensuring fairness and justice for a population for whom fairness and justice are often overlooked.”
“The great thing about the ideals of our country is we don’t deny people fairness, justice, and due process just because the state convicted them of wrongdoing,” Ruben explains. “Obviously folks don’t have the full panoply of rights once they are incarcerated that non-incarcerated citizens do. Still, we have a duty, as an open and free society, to think about how we treat everyone, especially vulnerable populations of whom prisoners are one.”
Ruben will begin his third yearlong clerkship this fall, with the Hon. Robert L. Wilkins of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In the meantime, others, such as UC Berkeley’s Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic, have begun examining the implications of his work.
“Once I get done with clerking, it will definitely be something I pick back up,” Ruben says.