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ORAL HISTORY OF JAMES SANDMAN, ESQ.
Twelfth Interview – February 21, 2022
This interview was conducted on behalf of the Oral History Project of the District
of Columbia Circuit. The interviewer is Bill Marmon and the interviewee is Jim Sandman. The
interview took place at Bill Marmon’s apartment in Chevy Chase, MD, on Monday, February 21,
2022. This is the third interview of the second set of interviews (the twelfth interview overall).
MR. MARMON: We are here again in Bill Marmon’s apartment, to conduct the third and
final add-on interviews in Jim Sandman’s oral history. It’s February the
21st, and good morning Jim.
MR. SANDMAN: Good morning, Bill.
MR. MARON: We will start with getting the circumstances of your departure from the
LSC, in February 2020, almost two years ago. How did it happen?
MR. SANDMAN: In October of 2019, at a meeting in Salt Lake City, the board of LSC voted
to renew my contract for a fourth three-year term. That would have taken
me from January 31st of 2020 until January 31st of 2023. When I got back
to Washington and reflected on it, I came to the conclusion that another
three years was too long. I’d done what I came to LSC to do. I’d dealt with
the issues that the board had asked me to deal with. Maybe most
importantly, I felt I had built a strong management team that had
substantial tenure at that point, and that it was a good time for an
organizational transition. I don’t think it’s healthy for an organization to
be led for too long by a single person. I also felt that it was a time for me
to make a transition. I was 68. I wasn’t ready to retire; there were other
things that I still wanted to do. I wanted to teach, I wanted to have more
time to serve as a mentor to law students and young lawyers, and I wanted
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to be able to advocate for systemic change. I had come to the conclusion
that as important as more funding for legal lid is, as important as more pro
bono work is, those two interventions were not and never will be enough
to address the access-to-justice problem in the United States. We need
other, bigger solutions. We need regulatory reform, particularly permitting
people who are not lawyers, but are licensed, regulated, trained
professionals, to provide services that only lawyers can currently provide.
And we need to simplify court processes. Our court processes are very
complicated. They are incomprehensible to people who don’t have
lawyers, yet in the vast majority of cases today, at least one party doesn’t
have a lawyer. I could not address those two issues–regulatory reform and
simplification of court processes–with the vigor I wanted to while I was
president of LSC. My job as LSC president was to focus on the
organization’s mission, which is funding legal aid. I had regularly spoken,
as president of LSC, about the importance of regulatory reform and
simplification of court processes, but it was not the core of what I did.
I came to realize that my experience as president of LSC had
radicalized me. I had come to believe that the current state of civil justice
in the United States is an outrage. And somehow it is tolerated, for reasons
I don’t understand. I tell my law students that every case they read in law
school is unrepresentative of what is actually going on in the majority of
civil cases in our country today. I’m making an educated guess in saying
that. I think it is highly likely that every case a law student reads was
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litigated with lawyers on both sides. Otherwise it’s unlikely that the judge
could have written an opinion of the quality necessary to find its way into
a case book. The judge needs lawyers to develop the facts and the law to
help the judge craft an opinion. That situation, a lawyer on both sides,
happens in only 24% of civil cases in the United States today. The World
Justice Project every year publishes something called the Rule of Law
Index, which ranks the countries in the world on their adherence to the
rule of law. On the most recent Rule of Law Index, released in September
of 2021, the United States ranks 126th among 139 countries on access to
and affordability of civil justice. And among the 46 wealthiest countries in
the world, it ranks #46. Dead last. I regularly hear American lawyers,
including very smart lawyers, say that the United States has the best
justice system in the world. That is not true. It may be true on paper, but I
think the Rule of Law Index demonstrates that as a practical matter, as
applied, for real people in our country today, it’s a lie. And I’m not going
to tolerate that.
I felt I needed a different platform to be able to deal with what I
regard as the urgency of a major threat to the rule of law in the United
States: the gross dysfunction in the civil justice system for people who
can’t afford a lawyer. That’s why I decided to make a change. I considered
only one option, which was going to the University of Pennsylvania Law
School. I thought that would allow me to accomplish several things. It
would satisfy my longstanding urge to teach. It would also give me a
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platform from which I could address these broader issues affecting the
justice system. The Law School had just started something called the
Future of the Profession Initiative, which is intended to tackle the hard
issues facing the profession. I thought there was a good fit between that
project and the issues I wanted to address. I spoke to the Dean in January
of 2020, and met with him in February of 2020 and solidified a position. I
left LSC on February 19th, 2020.
MR. MARMON: Right. And you still carry the title of president emeritus. Does that mean
anything?
MR. SANDMAN: It’s largely an honorific, for which I’m very grateful. It gives me a
shorthand way to identify myself that gives me credibility. People like that
title. I do occasional things for LSC; I’ve done a couple of podcasts, for
example. It’s very informal.
MR. MARMON: Let’s proceed then to your University of Penn life. What does that
involve?
MR. SANDMAN: I started officially in May of 2020, shortly after the pandemic began in
March of that year. I do two things: I teach and I work with the Future of
the Profession Initiative. I teach two courses: Professional Responsibility,
which is a mandatory course, and a seminar on leadership in law. I wanted
to teach a mandatory course because I wanted to be able to reach as many
students as possible with a message about access to justice, and I can do
that through the vehicle of a Professional Responsibility class. If I taught a
course called “Access to Justice,” I’d likely attract only students who
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already get it, who are already interested in the problem. I think every law
student should be aware of the reality of the civil justice system today, and
should graduate from law school with a commitment, at some point, in
some way, in her/his career, to do something about it.
I didn’t come up with the idea of the leadership course; it was
suggested to me by Eleanor Barrett, the Associate Dean for Curricular
Affairs. She thought that it would be interesting for law students to have
the opportunity to study leadership. Lawyers become leaders in a wide
range of organizations — not only in law firms and in corporate legal
departments, but in business, in government, in academia, and across the
non-profit sector in a variety of organizations, many of which don’t have
anything to do with law. No one trains lawyers to be leaders. There’s
nothing like the leadership development programs you see in the military
or in corporate America. Lawyers are often left to their own devices to
develop leadership skills as they find themselves in positions that require
them to be leaders. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
I had served on a panel on leadership at the annual meeting of the
Association of American Law Schools in January of 2020, while I was
still at LSC. It was led by Martha Minow, who was the immediate past
Dean of the Harvard Law School. I learned that there was an emerging
discipline in law schools to teach leadership. The initiative had been
created largely by Deborah Rhode, a professor at Stanford Law School,
who realized the need to train lawyers to be leaders. I knew Deborah, and I
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thought the world of her. I met a number of people at that conference who
were teaching leadership courses and got them to send me their syllabuses.
This was before I decided to or had been asked to teach leadership at Penn
but I was intrigued by the subject. So when Eleanor Barrett suggested it to
me, I was very amenable.
My leadership course is limited the twelve students. I was worried
initially that I might attract former high school student council presidents
who were overly ambitious and with big egos. That’s not who I wanted to
reach. I wanted to reach people who might be introverted, as many
lawyers are, people who recognize that the things they want to do as
lawyers might take them to leadership positions but felt the need for some
preparation. And I’ve attracted the kind of people that I wanted to, and it is
a fascinating experience for me.
The two courses I teach are very different from each other. The
Professional Responsibility class is a big lecture class. The leadership
seminar is small, and I get to know the students very well. I have them
keep journals during the semester in which they reflect on our class
discussions, on the readings, and on guest lectures. bring in a number of
guest speakers: I bring in the chair of a huge law firm; I bring in Martha
Minow, the former Dean of the Harvard Law School; Jonathan Lippman,
the former Chief Judge of New York; Avis Buchanan, who heads the
Public Defender Service in the District of Columbia; Colleen Cotter,
who’s executive director of the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland. These are
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all lawyer-leaders in a wide variety of settings, all people I admire and
think model the best of lawyer-leadership. And the class loves them. They
love the chance to ask them questions, and to hear from them. Most of the
people I invite as guest speakers didn’t pursue leadership; leadership
sought them out. They find that fascinating. I meet with each of my
leadership students at least three times during the course of the semester.
MR. MARMON: Individually?
MR. SANDMAN: Individually, one on one. Through the combination of our meetings and
my reading their journals, which are very personal, I get to know them
well. Interestingly, the course attracts a number of international students
who are in Penn’s Master in Laws program, the LL.M. program. These are
people who are practicing lawyers in their home countries and who have
come to the United States to study American law for a year. Their
experience in practice has given them some exposure to leadership — often
bad leadership. Sometimes they’ll say they’re taking the course to avoid
becoming the kinds of leaders they’ve witnessed in their own
organizations. They add a lot to the class because of their practical
experience, and the J.D. students, the traditional three-year law students,
like having them in the class very much. One thing that emerges is that
leadership issues and challenges are universal across countries. Students
from Taiwan and Latin America and Europe all talk about the same issues.
and have the same perspectives. I love teaching both my courses. I
alternate semesters; I don’t teach both at the same time.
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MR. MARMON: And what are some of the readings that you would do in your leadership
course?
MR. SANDMAN: I use a textbook written by Deborah Rhode, the Stanford professor, who
largely created the field. I assign very little outside of the text.
Occasionally I’ll use TED Talks or videos to supplement the readings. The
readings focus on leadership qualities and styles, on leaders as decisionmakers,
on the importance of situational leadership – that is, how one
leads often varies depending on things like the type of organization,
market conditions, and the particular issue a leader is facing. There may be
different leadership styles needed to deal with different groups within an
organization. We spend a lot of time on moral leadership and ethics. We
address managing change, leading innovation, conflict management,
accountability, crisis management, leading for social change, team
building, and communication skills.
MR. MARMON: And what’s the title of the book again?
MR. SANDMAN: It’s called Leadership for Lawyers, by Deborah Rhode. I use Deborah’s
professional responsibility casebook, titled Legal Ethics. Deborah died
about a year ago, unfortunately, at too young an age. She was the mostcited
legal ethics scholar in the United States. She was incredibly prolific.
She wrote more than thirty books and hundreds of articles. She was very
provocative. She was something of a scold on the legal profession. She
had high standards and high expectations for the legal profession, and she
didn’t think we were meeting them. And she wasn’t shy about saying it. I
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knew that her leadership textbook would have some very interesting
readings and would stimulate some great discussions among my students,
and I haven’t been disappointed. The book is a collection not only of
articles and readings from others, but of Deborah’s own writings.
MR. MARMON: Why don’t we move on to your activities with the ABA?
MR. SANDMAN: I had a hiatus between jobs, from mid-February of 2020 until May of
2020. During that period the Covid pandemic arrived in force. On March
10th, 2020, when I was having lunch at Jimmy K’s Diner on Capitol Hill,
and I got a call from Judy Perry Martinez, then president of the American
Bar Association. I’d worked with Judy in a number of capacities. She
asked if I would chair a new ABA task force she was setting up on legal
issues arising out of the pandemic. The big shutdown had not yet occurred,
that came the following weekend, but Judy saw it coming. She thought
there would be a lot of legal issues that would have to be addressed and
that the ABA was in a position to identify needs, coordinate responses,
identify needs, communicate best practices, and help the profession and
the courts deal with the problems that were arising. I said yes right away.
Judy appointed a task force that had representatives from about 20
different components of the ABA: the Judicial Division, the Litigation
Section, the Pro Bono Committee, et cetera. She also appointed a number
of affiliate members from other organizations, like the National Center for
State Courts, the Conference of Chief Justices, the Administrative Office
of the US Courts, the Pro Bono Institute, the Association of Pro Bono
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Counsel, LSC, and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association. She
used the convening power of the ABA to bring a broad spectrum of
stakeholders to get a variety of players together to deal with the issues she
anticipated, and wisely so.
We got started very quickly. We had a website up by the end of
March that collected materials people were developing from around the
country. We had weekly meetings, all by Zoom, for quite a while, and
eventually moved to bi-weekly meetings. We organized into three
committees: court processes, pro bono, and evictions. We did that only
after the task force had been up and running for several months, because
we wanted to see what kinds of issues were bubbling up and that would
require concentrated focus. Court processes were obvious: courts had to
move online quickly; courts were having few if any in-person
proceedings. The judicial system still needed to function, but in a very
different environment. The system had to change, dramatically, overnight.
Some courts, for example those in Michigan, were much better situated to
deal with the new circumstances than others. Michigan, by luck or by just
good planning, had bought Zoom licenses for all their courts a year before
the pandemic and was ready to go. Other courts had never heard of Zoom,
like a good part of the population, and needed to scramble.
Pro bono was obviously critical. There was a need to marshal pro
bono resources across the United States, particularly to provide help in
what are called “lawyer deserts.” There are significant parts of the country
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where there are few if any lawyers. But the legal challenges the pandemic
created arose everywhere, and one of the silver linings of the pandemic is
that people have learned it’s possible to provide pro bono service
remotely. A lawyer can help clients who are distant through technology.
Traditionally pro bono work has been concentrated among big firms in big
cities, where there are lots of lawyer resources, leaving populations in
rural areas with little help. The task force’s pro bono committee worked to
set up a national, searchable database of pro bono opportunities, so that
lawyers anywhere could identify pro bono opportunities that might fit their
interests, their competence, their time availability, and make matches more
efficiently than if the process had to happen community by community.
And we set up an eviction committee, because it was clear that the
economic impact of the pandemic was causing low- and moderate-income
people who had lost their jobs to fall behind on their rent and face
eviction, at a scale we hadn’t seen before. One of the accomplishments of
the task force was the drafting of a resolution that passed the ABA House
of Delegates in August of 2020, urging that state and local governments
provide funding for rent relief — direct monetary payments to landlords to
meet the rent obligations of people who were falling behind because of the
pandemic. The resolution permitted the ABA to lobby Congress for
Federal funding for rent relief, and ultimately the Federal government
appropriated billions of dollars for rent relief that was distributed to the
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states. That made a big difference in reducing the magnitude of the
eviction threat.
The task force continued to function into the summer of 2021. At
that point, pandemic-related activities had been integrated throughout the
various divisions, committees, and sections, within the American Bar
Association, and among other groups as well, as they should have. The
need for the task force as a central clearinghouse had dissipated. We had
laid the groundwork to disseminate information and to propagate it, and to
distribute the functions we had been performing to other entities to take up
as part of their day-to-day work. The task force disbanded in the summer
of 2021. I felt good about that. Many task forces go on forever. We had a
job to do, we did it, and we knew when it was time to come to an end.
MR. MARMON: Good. Oh, I’ve neglected to ask you about the other thing that you’re
doing at the University of Pennsylvania, and that is the future of the legal
profession.
MR. SANDMAN: Penn’s Future of the Profession Initiative brings an interdisciplinary
approach to improving the legal profession. It encompasses legal
technology; artificial intelligence; improving efficiency and effectiveness;
bringing human-centered design to legal services and processes;
addressing the high incidence of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse
among lawyers; and improving diversity, equity and inclusion in the
profession. Our philosophy is that law can learn from and should work
with other disciplines in addressing issues like these. We work with
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Penn’s schools of design, engineering, medicine, nursing, social work,
education, and business (Wharton).
I myself focus on three issues: one is regulatory reform, the second
is simplification of court processes, and the third is improved use of data
by court systems. My regulatory reform initiative is focused on loosening
restrictions on the unauthorized practice of law to provide more categories
of helpers for people who aren’t able to afford a lawyer. The model that I
think we should be aiming for is the model of the healthcare profession,
which years ago created tiers of professional service providers beyond
doctors. Today we have nurse practitioners and physicians’ assistants and
medical technicians and phlebotomists and pharmacists (who in many
states can prescribe medicine directly), so that access to health care
doesn’t depend on access to a doctor. There’s nothing similar in law. I
think the example of the healthcare profession shows that you can bring
other professionals, without the highest professional academic degree, into
service delivery without sacrificing quality, or competence, or ethics, as
long as the system is subject to effective regulation.
I’m also focused on amending Rule 5.4 of the Rules of
Professional Conduct, which currently prohibits fee-sharing and nonlawyer
investment in legal service organizations. I think that inhibits
innovation and entrepreneurship in law. I think law has been less affected
by change than any other industry or profession I can think of, and one of
the reasons is a regulatory system that protects lawyers with a monopoly
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and insulates them from the kinds of competition that create innovation in
other settings. That rule, the ban on fee-sharing and non-lawyer
investment in legal service organizations–inhibits the creation of holistic
enterprises, multi-disciplinary enterprises, that allow lawyers to come
together with accountants or healthcare providers or real-estate experts or
social workers to deal with all aspects of a client’s problem and not just
the legal aspects.
My second project is about improving and simplifying court
processes, particularly for people who don’t have lawyers. People who
don’t have lawyers confront a system that was created by lawyers, for
lawyers, on the assumption that everybody’s got a lawyer. It’s a system
that works pretty well if you do have a lawyer and horribly if you don’t. It
doesn’t need to be as complicated as it is. I think we could bring principles
of human-centered design, developed in the context of technology and
consumer products and services, to a redesign of legal process to make
things more accessible to real people who don’t have lawyers. There’s a
person at Stanford, Margaret Hagan, who holds joint appointments in the
law school and in the Stanford design school and is an expert at this.
Using design theory to re-think legal process from the ground up,
designing for a user who not only doesn’t have a law degree, but may not
have a college degree or even a high school diploma. This is doable. If you
ask lawyers to simplify legal process, though, that’s a dead end. Lawyers
tend to start with the status quo and try to tweak it; they’re not good at
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starting all over again. They’ll do things like translate the Latin into
English, which is a start, but that is not nearly enough. The challenge in
doing this is that most legal issues that everyday people are matters of
state law, not Federal law, so simplifying process means doing it fifty
times over. Each type of case in each state is going to be different and
requires separate simplification. My hope is that it might be possible to
develop templates that could be easily modified, state by state, to reduce
the challenge of having to do it fifty times from scratch, but it’s a heavy
lift.
And finally, I’m working on a pilot project to help large municipal
civil courts improve their use of data. Most civil courts today are living in
the 20th century when it comes to collecting and analyzing data about their
caseloads and their case outcomes. We’ve identified six big-city court
systems that are interested in collaborating on a project to develop new
forms of data and to share it among themselves, to see what they can learn
to improve their processes.
MR. MARMON: And back to your second project, legal process–what would be some of
the other steps, after translating the Latin?
MR. SANDMAN: Let me give you an example of unnecessary complexity. At least as of a
few years ago, if you wanted an uncontested divorce in the state courts of
New York, you had to file between twelve and 21 different forms, the
precise number depending on whether children were involved and whether
one spouse was seeking support from the other. I’ve looked at the list of
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forms that you have to file. I’m a lawyer, but I’m not a New York lawyer.
I don’t understand the titles of a number of those forms. They’re Greek to
me. I have no idea what the form is about. Why in the world do there have
to be twelve to 21 different forms? Reducing the number of steps in the
legal process to get to an outcome is one way you can simplify.
Reducing the number of necessary court appearances can also help.
For low-income people, for working people, the need to appear in court is
a barrier to justice. They’ve got to arrange and pay for transportation; they
often have to get childcare; they have to take time off from a low-paying
job. And when they get to court, they have to wait and wait and wait. As a
consequence, often they just don’t show up. They default. Many cases in
which a party has a defense, get resolved against them because of nonappearance.
Fortunately, the pandemic has shown that it is possible to
conduct proceedings with people not physically present. For people who
have access to technology, and can participate in a Zoom proceeding, that
has made all the difference in the world. A number of courts around the
country have seen an increase in appearance rates, and a decrease in
default rates, because they’ve made remote appearance an option. That
doesn’t work for everybody, because there are people who can’t afford the
right technology, people in areas that don’t have broadband access, but for
many people, it’s been a big help.
MR. MARMON: Yeah, quite interesting. OK, what about your other pro bono activities
since you’ve left the Legal Services Corporation?
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MR. SANDMAN: I serve on the DC Bar’s Pro Bono Committee, and I volunteer regularly in
normal times at a Saturday morning clinic they do, called the Advice and
Referral Clinic. They do it at a couple of locations in DC; I go to the
Anacostia location. They provide on-the-spot legal help to people who
show up with a variety of civil legal needs. It’s very rewarding. They
always have subject matter experts on-site, so you don’t have to worry that
you don’t know everything. You don’t have to worry about embarrassing
yourself. Each volunteer will typically meet with two or three clients
during the course of five hours of volunteering. I enjoy that a lot.
MR. MARMON: I think Steve Pollak does that too.
MR. SANDMAN: Yes. And I currently serve on eleven boards, or committees, or
commissions, not all of which are pro bono by the traditional definition in
the legal profession. But I’m vice-chair of the DC Access to Justice
Commission, which is appointed by the DC Court of Appeals. The chair is
Peter Edelman at Georgetown Law Center. I am vice-chair of the DC
Public Charter School Board, which charters and oversees public charter
schools in the District of Columbia. Charter schools currently educate
about 45,000 students in DC, only a little less than the 48,000 or so in the
traditional public schools. I serve on the boards of the Pro Bono Institute
and the International Senior Lawyers Project. I’m on the advisory board of
the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, which is
based at the University of Denver Law School and does terrific work on
things like regulatory reform and simplification of court processes. They
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are widely respected throughout the country, particularly by judges, as
providing expert advice on tough issues of improving the justice system. I
chair the board of my church.
MR. MARMON: Which is what?
MR. SANDMAN: Christ Church on Capitol Hill, an Episcopal church founded in 1794. Their
motto is, “Your neighborhood church, since 1794.” We started going there
when we moved to Capitol Hill in 2015, and it’s been a great way to get
integrated into the community. The church also grounds me. I’m on the
board of Albany Law School, where my dad went, and of the College of
St. Rose in Albany, New York, which was my mother’s school. My dad
was a longtime board member at Albany Law School, and was chairman
of the board, and both of my parents served on the board of St. Rose, so
this is a labor of love. Those boards give me regular opportunities to return
to my hometown of Albany, New York, where I haven’t lived full-time
since I was eighteen years old. I serve on both of those boards to honor my
parents. They would love it if they knew that I was on the boards of those
schools.
I keep busy with many extracurricular activities. My hobby is
being a volunteer. I find that my experience with very different
organizations is helpful to me in whatever I’m doing, that a lot of what I
learn is transferable. That’s been my experience in a varied legal career.
From a big law firm, to the DC Public Schools, to LSC, to teaching at
Penn–at each step, I’ve found that I’ve been able to draw on the
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experience that I’ve had in a very different environment previously. I
believe the variety of my experience has made me more effective. If you
get stuck in one environment, in one bubble, for too long, that narrows
you. I’m something of a dilettante. I’m curious, and I like variety.
MR. MARMON: Yeah, I’m very much of that persuasion as well. What about your travel–
you go to UPenn,-when there are classes?
MR. SANDMAN: Yes, I’m now teaching live. For my first two semesters –the summer of
2020 and the fall of 2021 I taught remotely. I wanted to teach in person.
When I had made the decision to teach, I didn’t have Zoom in mind. I was
thinking about traditional instruction. I started teaching in person in
January of 2021. That semester I taught Leadership in a “hybrid” format,
where I had some students physically present with me in a classroom; the
majority, though, were participating by Zoom. That was very hard, to be
teaching to two different audiences at the same time. Starting this past fall,
in 2021, Penn went back to entirely in-person learning, and for the first
time I was in a classroom with all of my students. When I’m teaching in
person I go up to Penn on Wednesday morning by train, and I come home
Thursday evening. I teach on Thursday. I spend Wednesdays meeting with
students and working with my colleagues on the Future of the Profession
Initiative.
One thing I wanted to do in going back to Penn was to be a mentor
to law students. I have benefitted enormously from mentors over the
course of my career, most importantly Judge Rosenn, for whom I clerked
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right after I graduated from Penn. I know the difference that having a
mentor early in your career can make. I also realize that most people don’t
find a mentor right away when they enter the legal profession. So I serve
as a mentor not only to my students, but more broadly. I advertise my
availability, particularly for students who are the first in their family to
have gone to law school, or to college, or who don’t know a lawyer; it can
be helpful to have somebody to talk to. My being on campus makes it
more comfortable for students to talk to me than to have to set up a Zoom
meeting.
MR. MARMON: What about other travel, or other activities?
MR. SANDMAN: There’s been very little because of the pandemic, but I have made a few
trips. Last September, I went to Santa Fe for a meeting of the Conference
of Chief Justices, the organization of chief justices and chief judges of the
highest courts of the fifty states, the territories, and DC. The meeting was
about regulatory reform. I did a presentation. It was a great forum for me,
because state supreme courts are the regulators of the legal profession.
That’s an audience that’s in a position to do something. As a result of that
conference, I got follow-up calls — from Oregon, where they now have a
proposal pending to license paraprofessionals to do certain kinds of work
in eviction cases and family law cases, and from the Chief Judge of DC,
Anna Blackburne-Rigsby. I know and have worked with Chief Judge
Blackburne-Rigsby, but we’d never had a chance to talk about regulatory
reform before. She is now contemplating appointing a task force to
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consider licensing paraprofessionals in DC. I find that there’s nothing like
in-person meetings for issues like that. I also can be more effective
speaking than I can be writing. I can have more of an impact if I can speak
to the right audience.
I went to a conference in Los Angeles last November, sponsored
by UCLA Law School and the RAND Corporation, to talk about
simplification of court processes. That, too, was a very good group of
people to be able to talk to. There were some judges there, and a number
of academics — influencers from across the country who are in a position
to make or to effect change. I have some things coming up in the next few
months. I’ve been invited to talk to a group from the legal department of
Wells Fargo, and to a group from Deloitte, about leadership. I’m going to
a meeting in Denver in June on regulatory reform. So things are picking
up again.
MR. MARMON: Now, give us an update on your family. I know that’s an important part of
your life.
MR. SANDMAN: Our son, Joe, graduated from the University of Michigan in 2012. He
switched to the Ford School of Public Policy from the liberal arts program
in his junior year. The Ford School, named after President Gerald Ford,
who went to the University of Michigan, is principally a graduate school,
but they admit fifty undergraduates as juniors to get a B.A. in public
policy. Joe’s last two years of college were like a graduate-level
experience in a small school within a very large university. He graduated
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Phi Beta Kappa. He then went to the University of Pennsylvania Law
School, my alma mater. I was thrilled he decided to go there. He graduated
in 2015. Penn Law School has a commencement tradition for alumni who
have children graduating. You get to put on a cap and gown, march in the
academic procession, and sit on the stage with the faculty. And you get to
present the diploma to your son or daughter. That experience, giving my
son his University of Pennsylvania law degree, was one of the happiest
days of my life. I have a video of it, and a photograph. Graduation was in
the concert hall of the Philadelphia Orchestra, a very dramatic setting. I
was sitting next to a faculty member who said, “Give me your phone so I
can take a picture.” She got a picture from the stage looking out at this
triple-balconied, very elaborate venue, an incredible shot. That was a very,
very happy occasion.
Joe spent the summer after his second year of law school at
Skadden’s DC office. He then joined Skadden as an associate after he
graduated, and he’s still there. He’s a seventh-year associate, which these
days a very long time for an associate to spend at a big law firm.
Joe married Jonathan Beam in 2018. They had the most wonderful
wedding in Charleston, South Carolina. Beth and I invited a number of our
friends. After the wedding, we got thank you notes from our friends for
inviting them. I had never heard of such a thing. Usually the wedding
couple sends thank-you notes to the guests, not the other way around. But
there was something about Joe’s and Jonathan’s wedding that seemed to
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affect a lot of people. I think part of it was that it was a gay wedding, and
for a number of people their first. Because the phenomenon was relatively
new, the wedding guests felt excited–and joyful–about being able to
participate in a celebration of love that only a few years before would not
have been possible. I was in Philadelphia last week and had dinner with
my co-clerk from many years ago, and his wife, Fred and Phyllis
Magaziner, and they just spontaneously said, “Joe’s and Jonathan’s
wedding was one of the best weddings we’ve ever been to in our lives!”
That was a great, great, very, very happy experience. Joe and Jonathan live
in DC. Jonathan is a program manager for US Ignite, which promotes
smart city development.
Our daughter, Elizabeth, graduated from Mount Holyoke in 2014,
majoring in sociology and with a minor in theater. Mount Holyoke
transformed her. It made her a scholar. She got interested in the criminal
justice system while she was in college. She participated in creating a
book club for teenage boys at a detention center in western Massachusetts.
She and other Mount Holyoke students would visit the boys on Friday
afternoons and discuss books the boys had read. She took a poetry class
that was taught at a prison. The class was half college students from the
area–Amherst and Mount Holyoke and Smith and the University of
Massachusetts–and half prisoners. She decided she wanted to work in
criminal justice after college. She applied for a position with the Federal
public defender’s office in Boston and got hired to work on the Boston
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Marathon bomber case, the defense of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. She spent her
first year after college working on a capital case. I can’t imagine myself at
that point in my life, at the age of 22, having to deal with all the things she
had to deal with. But she came to know her client; she was the person on
the team closest in age to him. He was 19 at the time of the bombing. She
was devastated by the death penalty verdict. The jury delivered their
verdict on the penalty phase, ordering death, the Friday before our son
Joe’s graduation from Penn Law School, on that Sunday. She wasn’t able
to attend Joe’s graduation, she was so upset. She and he are very, very
close. She then decided to go to graduate school in social work and got an
M.S.W. at the University of Southern California. M.S.W, programs
require that students do internships. In the second year of her two-year
program, she did an internship at Metropolitan State Hospital outside Los
Angeles, a mental health facility for people who have been found
incompetent to stand trial in criminal cases or not guilty by reason of
insanity. It’s like what St. Elizabeth’s used to be in Washington. The goal
of the facility is treatment, and to return people to society; it’s not
supposed to be a penal facility. They treat people with the hope of getting
them to a point where they can re-enter society. As you might imagine,
people found not guilty by reason of insanity typically weren’t charged
with shoplifting. It was usually some very serious crime. Elizabeth has an
ability to see the good in people, no matter what they’ve done, and to
establish relationships with people very different from herself. She loved
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that work and wanted to continue in the criminal justice system. When she
graduated with her M.S.W., she applied for a job at the Federal public
defender’s office in Baltimore and got it. She told me about her interview.
Elizabeth has red hair and alabaster white skin, and she was seated in a
conference room at the end of a long table with about ten people at the
other end. She said all of their questions in one way or another came down
to, “How in the world could someone like you relate to our clients?” She
told them about her experience — with the juvenile detention facility in
Massachusetts, and the poetry course at the prison in Massachusetts, and
representing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and her work at the hospital in
California. I think they were surprised. And they hired her. She’s been
there since 2017. She loves her work. She is passionately committed to
her clients and establishes very close and trusting relationships with them
and their families. She visits her clients in prisons and jails, she goes into
their neighborhoods to meet with their families and their friends, to
interview them and gather facts. She keeps a file of letters that her clients
have written to her. The letters are remarkable –not only for how well
they’re written and for the depth of gratitude they express, but for how
beautiful the handwriting is. Whatever assumptions you have about people
in the criminal justice system, you look at these letters and you think,
“There’s another side here. There’s something going on that I may not
have recognized.”
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My wife, Beth, continued to serve as executive director of Rock
Creek Conservancy until 2013. She then took what she called a “gap
year,” and since 2014 has been Deputy General Counsel of the DC
Department of Energy and Environment. So she’s always been an
environmental lawyer, and she likes the opportunity to work on local
environmental issues. The District of Columbia government has the
powers of a state when it comes to enforcing Federal environmental law.
It’s very interesting work, and very local.
MR. MARMON: And when did you move from Chevy Chase, DC, to Capitol Hill?
MR. SANDMAN: We moved in 2015. We had been looking to downsize for a while. Once
our kids were grown, we had more house than we needed. I was
responsible for doing the looking. I looked at condos in Northwest DC for
years. We wanted a three-bedroom condo, because we need a guest room
and an office. There aren’t many three-bedroom condos. I think most
builders think that people who want that much space are going to be
looking for a house, not a condo. I had a Trulia alert for any threebedroom
condo in the District. I came to realize the market was so tight
for three-bedroom condos that the prices were about what we could get for
selling our four-bedroom house. Well, if we were going to downsize, I
wanted to move down in price, as well in size, and that didn’t seem to be
possible. Then one day I got an alert for a place on Capitol Hill. We’d
never looked at Capitol Hill, never given it a thought; we’d been focusing
on Northwest DC, which we knew well. We went to look at the condo and
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loved it. It had a view of the Washington Monument and the dome of the
Capitol. We bought there largely for the condo, not because of Capitol
Hill. But when we moved in we just found that we loved Capitol Hill. We
live right across the street from a Metro. There was a Harris Teeter in the
building at the time–it just closed a couple of weeks ago–but we had a
grocery that we could walk downstairs to in our building. We can walk to
all the museums on the Mall, and to Eastern Market and Barracks Row.
We’ve found that we enjoy living in Washington more than we ever did
before, and we do more in Washington than we’ve ever done before,
because things are so accessible. We live near the Southeast Expressway,
and I’d never realized what a connector that is. We can get to the Kennedy
Center lickety split, and National Airport is just a few minutes away. And
Capitol Hill is a real neighborhood, with a lot of character. I hadn’t
known that before we moved there.
My dad died in 2016, at the age of 96, just a few months short of
his 97th birthday. That was very hard for me, much harder than I would’ve
thought. When you have a parent live to be 96, you think you’re going to
be prepared. You’ve had a lot of time to think about the fact that they’re
not going to be around forever. My dad lived for six years after my mother
died, which surprised my brothers and sisters and me. They had a very
very strong marriage, and we would have thought he was a candidate not
to last long after she died. That’s a common phenomenon. But after my
mom died, in 2010, Dad moved, from Naples, Florida, where they had
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lived together, to Boston, where my two sisters and one of my brothers
live, into a continuing care community. He adapted. He learned a new life
there. He was ninety when he moved, and he adapted. He did pretty well
up until about the last year of his life. I was with him the last weekend he
was alive, and he was still pretty with it–I went through scrapbooks with
him, and he remembered things. He had short-term memory problems, and
his communication skills weren’t what they had been, but in retrospect he
had a really good run. But it was really hard to lose him. I’d never seen
anybody die before, and he suffered at the end. He suffered. That was
very, very hard. He was a good, good man. He never should have suffered.
[voice breaking]
MR. MARMON: OK, we’re reaching the end of this session, and I’d like to hear any sum-up
you’d like to make.
MR. SANDMAN: My biggest break in life came the day I was born the child of Margaret
Dugan and Ed Sandman. So much of life is determined by the
circumstances of one’s birth. I won the birth lottery. I owe everything to
my parents.
I’ve learned that a career is long, and you have opportunities over
the course of a career to do a number of different things. I had no master
plan for my career when I started out. I never could have imagined doing
the variety of things I’ve ended up doing. I was open to opportunity,
willing to take risks, and moved on when I thought that I’ve given and
what I could have gotten out of a job. Knowing when to move on is
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important. I came late in my career to what I now feel was my life’s
calling all along — improving access to justice for low-income people in
the United States. In some ways I happened into it, but I’m glad I did. I
feel like I’ve had an opportunity to make a difference, to shine a spotlight
on an issue that’s not nearly visible enough in our society, and I’m still
doing it at age 70. I feel I have found a harmony between my professional
life and my personal values, between what I do for a living and who I am
as a person. That can be hard to find in a career, but my experience is that
it comes to those who pursue it over time, and who step back periodically
and think about where they are in their careers and are willing to make a
change. I’m surprised, [laughs] and happy that I’ve had the opportunities
that I’ve had. I plan to keep on working. My philosophy is to stay at the
party for as long as you’re having fun. Sometimes that means you’re the
first to leave, sometimes it means you shut it down. I’m going to keep on
doing what I’m doing for as long as I enjoy it.
MR. MARMON: Great! That concludes our interviews. It’s been a real pleasure hearing
about your life, Jim.
MR. SANDMAN: Thank you. You’re a great interviewer. [laughs]
MR. MARMON: Thank you.