Blog Posts: John Charles Boger (Jack)

John Charles Boger (Jack)

Join Us for the 1L Book Club

Saving Nelson Mandela book cover

Last summer, we issued an invitation to our incoming first-year class: let’s read a book together this summer about law and lawyers. You’re all about to begin three intense years in close quarters, undergoing professional legal training. Let’s find a way to share broader thoughts about the whole enterprise, kicked off by reflections offered by selected Carolina Law faculty members.

We turned last year to Jonathan Haar’s “A Civil Action,” a harrowing account of a childhood leukemia epidemic in a suburban Boston neighborhood in the 1970s, and the toxic tort lawsuit eventually brought by anguished parents and their flamboyant lawyer, charging that industrial chemical waste, leaching from nearby corporations into a nearby stream, may have been responsible for the children’s illnesses and death.

In some ways, this year’s selection could not be further removed: an ocean away, in sub-Saharan Africa; a different legal system, apartheid South Africa of the 1960s; with completely different legal issues – not the American law of toxic torts but the South African Sabotage Act, a case with allegations of criminal conspiracy, sabotage, even high treason, with death by hanging awaiting defendants who included Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and other “enemies of the state.”

Yet themes that were central in last year’s reading reappear: the nuanced roles of lawyers and judges play in any legal system, the clash of contesting parties and values, and the sometimes dismaying relationship between law and “justice.” The tale told in “Saving Nelson Mandela: The Rivonia Trial and the Fate of South Africa” (Oxford Univ. Press, 2012), authored by former UNC School of Law Dean and Emeritus Professor Kenneth S. Broun, begins with the arrest of key South Africans, who are members of the African National Congress and the banned Communist Party. They were seized on July 11, 1963, at the suburban home of an affluent white family in Rivonia, a Johannesburg suburb, where they had in fact gathered regularly over several years to plan actions meant eventually to overthrow the government.

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No Comments | Posted by John Charles Boger (Jack) on Thu. June 19, 2014 10:00 AM
Categories: Book Club

"A Civil Action" as an Introduction to Tort Law

A Civil Action

Terrible things happen. A bridge suddenly collapses, and cars and trucks plunge into the dark waters below. A crowded airliner misses its landing strip and breaks apart on landing. Mothers and fathers hear a life-changing diagnosis of a young child, found to have acute lymphocytic leukemia. Beyond the poignant responses of families and individuals, society itself responds in varied ways. First responders secure the scenes and search for survivors. Doctors and nurses provide care to the ill and injured. Civil and aerospace engineers move to examine collapsed bridges and downed aircraft, looking for structural flaws that can be repaired. Researchers in universities and biotech companies work to understand the causes of illness and to develop cures or preventive measures.

Lawyers also play important roles in addressing tragedy. At one remove, it is often lawyers who craft the statutes and regulations that establish minimum construction standards, or air safety protocols or restrictions on the use of unsafe chemicals. Yet long before the advent of the modern statutory and regulatory state in the 20th century, the Anglo-American “common law” devised a means to compensate victims who had suffered injuries because of the deliberate misconduct, reckless indifference or negligence of others. Even apart from criminal law provisions, enforced by state officials and punished by fines or jail time, the civil courts stood open to private parties who could come before a judge for personal relief. Sometimes those parties sought a judicial order to stop ongoing mischief – the operation of a dangerous nuisance or the reinforcement of a leaking dam just upstream from a populated area. More often, those parties sought a financial payment from those they deemed responsible in compensation of damages already suffered.

This system of “tort law,” designed for the resolution of private damage claims, is a major branch of the law. Its basic principles are taught during the first year at virtually all law schools nationwide. Within its domain are many subtle and time-tested ideas you will learn and weigh for yourself. The first 81 pages of A Civil Action introduces you to two elements that ordinarily receive far less attention in torts casebooks and reading:

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2 Comments | Posted by John Charles Boger (Jack) on Wed. July 10, 2013 10:00 AM
Categories: Book Club

Announcing the UNC School of Law 1L Book Club

A Civil Action

Stories are an important way to understand the world around us. This summer, for the first time, UNC School of Law is hosting a virtual book club as a gateway for entering Carolina Law students. We invite you to begin “reading the law” by turning to a riveting story. This is not an assignment (no exams, no grades!). Instead, we hope to open up a meaningful conversation with you, our entering 1Ls, to be joined by our faculty, a few of whom will write weekly blog posts about the book we’ve chosen that may dovetail with their legal interests and expertise.

For our inaugural book, we invite each of you to embrace a real-life legal thriller, A Civil Action, written by Jonathan Harr. It’s a story about childhood leukemia and the increasing suspicion, by the children’s troubled and grieving parents, that possible chemical contamination of a local stream may have led to their children’s illnesses and death. They contact a flamboyant plaintiff’s injury lawyer, who interviews scores of witnesses and buries himself in facts and legal theories about pollution, water tables, the medical impact of certain chemicals on childhood illness, and the intricacies of legal responsibility. Two large national corporations operating in the suburban Boston town where the illnesses arose are eventually sued. They in turn hire outstanding Boston law firms to investigate and defend their positions. The case moves into federal court during the 1980s. You’ll read how these real life lawyers struggle with the uncertain facts, a cast of reliable and less credible witnesses, the conflicting scientific evidence, and the complexities of the American legal system.

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3 Comments | Posted by John Charles Boger (Jack) on Wed. July 3, 2013 10:00 AM
Categories: Book Club

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