J DuClos

Appellate

Shipwreck Titanic

Finding the Titanic was a major technological effort and investment. What incentive do salvors have to go all in on such risks? The public benefits from the archeological recovery of lore. Individual careers can be made, too. But is it enough? When the exclusive salvor in possession of the Titanic shipwreck came up with artifacts technically abandoned under age-old maritime and property doctrines, it expected to recoup its investment. A skein of conflicting property law concepts in the common, international and constitutional domains came into relevance. The matter was resolved before a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

I was on a small briefing team that researched and drafted the position of ownership. My work was documented in a Journal of Maritime Law and Commerce piece titled A Conceptual Wreck: Salvaging the Law of Finds. That article was dubbed the last word on the distinction between the laws of finds and salvage by the journal’s editors.

Appellate

Constitutional Sovereign Immunity

Chatham County, Georgia, home to Savannah, was sued in a bridge allision. Admiralty jurisdiction — constitutional from inception — is historical, complex and recondite. Intersect the ancient jurisdictional issue with sovereign immunity and modern municipal governance, and a case before the United States Supreme Court was born, Northern Insurance Company of New York v. Chatham County, Georgia, 547 U.S. 189 (2006). I was on a small team that provided deep pre-colonial research and technical writing in the admiralty lexicon for the principal brief.

Media

Non-Profit Media Rights

New Orleans gets its character from a few sources, like the lay of swamps, rivers and mud. But its people are the true prize. One of them is Sister Helen Prejean, who has been fighting the death penalty for decades. She writes best-selling books about her work, which include several compelling case studies. Her mission is charitable in nature, so when I was asked to establish the nonprofit media entity holding rights to the Academy Award winning Dead Man Walking for her group of advocates, I gladly undertook the work pro deo.

Environment

NOLA Flood & Levee Cases

In the years after Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans community carried on, but not without a comprehensive collection of distractions. The vestiges of destruction went on for miles. Basic services were scarce. Wind and water scars cut far inland. Water pressure was intermittent, as was power. The metropolitan infrastructure was unmanned. Half the population had not returned. The most violent crimes were at an impossible high. The United States military was permanently stationed downtown. The economy recessed. Skyscrapers laid vacant.

My office was on the 33rd floor of the Energy Centre — floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Mississippi, Brazilian hardwoods, Italian marble, and a spiral staircase wound through the floor to a law library worthy of an ABA accredited law school — but I’d step up to the brass faucets, turn the tap, and out would shoot air. It was an apt metaphor for the whole shebang. A crippled government struggled to instill confidence. At the time, and even in retrospect, the list of problems and failures was endless.

I moved to New Orleans to participate in those national civic affairs, and worked fallout cases: the enormous levee, flood and environmental catastrophes; state takeover of the Orleans Parish schools; and a broad array of matters proceeding through governmental systems disrupted to their cores.

Many moments stay with me, but one in particular sums up the experience. I had read the story of how the flood came to be in the levee failure complaint, which landed on my desk. Dozens of plaintiffs’ pages recounted the scientific history and all the warning signs. Straight-line canals were dug to shortcut the shipping distance between the Gulf and New Orleans, rather than winding up the Mississippi. The sediment under those wetlands was fine and soft, and it’d fall in on itself from the sides and fill up the canals again, making them too shallow for ships to pass. The dredging would repeat, as would the cycle, which would widen the canals, not just deepen them. When Katrina blew in running at a dead angle south to north, the biblical storm surge charged up the canals (“superhighways”, as they were dubbed) and either overtopped or simply shattered the levees.

A few months after my educational read, I was sitting in a deposition in another tower on Poydras — it was a resident of the Lower 9th telling it from his vantage, where lives were swept away in an instant. The question was, “What did it sound like?” He testified among a cadre of lawyers holding bated breath around a mahogany table, “Like a crack of thunder, then a jet plane. Water started in under the doors and poured over the windowsills.”

View a motion I prepared for the consolidated dredging actions, which proceeded in admiralty. Most do not know it, but much Hurricane Katrina litigation proceeded that way, in admiralty. I maintain a deep respect for the admiralty bar and maritime practice.

Media

New Media Protections

There are stakes in art. Visual media are often the most powerful instances of information and influence. As with every Whitney Annual and Biennial, the 77th of these in the museum’s history (begun in 1932 by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney) would be no exception to offering one of the broadest and most diverse takes on art in the United States. It brought together 103 artists and three curators — Stuart Comer of MoMA, Anthony Elms of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, and Michelle Grabner of the School of the Art Institute in Chicago.

To make this exhibition possible, I developed special media protections on behalf of Navia Vision, including medium-aware indemnities accounting for controversial content. This was the last Biennial to take place at the Whitney’s Madison Avenue building. In 2015, the museum celebrated its new downtown waterfront locale.

Media

Corporate Growth & Admin

Chemistry Creative, Inc. is the neoteric kingpin in visionary design and media production. This gifted outfit from Brooklyn is at a nucleus of inventive energy, but the reach of its operation and imagination is limitless — for example, it unfurls elaborately fabricated and timed campaigns that roll out synchronously in multiple metropolises on a global scale, beautifully, and at the height of technical competence. From cinematography and environmental design, to audio engineering and astonishing events, the all-star troupe infuses its clients’ businesses with the extraordinary artistic verve emanating from New York City. Its clientele includes HBO, American Express and Def Jam.

Chem asked me to furnish corporate development, administration and governance so that company growth could be received and channeled. I did that, and also developed intellectual property compacts and licenses to splice joint ventures, negotiated and composed leases on large commercial spaces in the city, and devised intricate compensation agreements that rewarded the aces who bring Chem’s magic to life.

Tech

Github for Lawyers

GitHub for Lawyers is a piece I wrote in 2013 about how legal drafting is procedurally and logistically consistent with software code drafting, and that the most popular tools used by developers for version control (Git) could just as well be put to use by those desiring to manage a legal drafting project. This article rose into the top 10 of Hacker News, driving tens of thousands of reads in one 24 hr period. In particular, I struck a note on public participation in the legislative process.

Our current model for representation by Congress and the Senate (and state replications) is exactly that model deployed when our federation barely broke the teens in number, was concentrated on the eastern seaboard still distant from even the Mississippi River, was populated by something like 1/50 the population represented coast-to-coast and Alaska/Hawaii today, and when transportation technology consisted of horse and saddle, or waterfaring steam vessel — not even train. There were then good reasons for representative bodies — it was a convenience, if not a necessity of federal governmental management. But each of those reasons has lapsed. So why not encourage citizens to compete with lobbyists, to form their own groups, to draft legislation using version control tools, and to advance causes through bill-drafting efforts? Do not ever be fooled into believing power does not ultimately rest in your hands — perhaps more now than ever before, it truly does.

GitLaw is a platform for collaboratively drafting, committing and pushing legislation — essentially GitHub for lawmaking. Individuals (or groups) initiate legislative proposals, and the community revises them, or forks and revises them, tracking all changes asynchronously. Legislation is categorized by community and/or issue and/or organization (e.g., ride-sharing, or New York, or the National Institute for Trial Advocacy). When a proposal is fully committed and ready for deployment, it is pushed directly to the representative empowered to sponsor and advance the legislation in the relevant congressional environment (local, regional or national).

Internal democratic processes within the platform highlight legislation with particularly strong viability, in a form of pre-voting and constituency polling. Actual legislative outcomes are tracked, logged and visually depicted. The legislative side of the platform is provided pro bono; the platform is supported by paid accounts owned by lawyers and organizations wishing to negotiate/draft/revise legal documents in tandem with other lawyers and organizations. GitLaw is a decentralized collaborative lawmaking platform for logistically airtight direct democracy.

Writing

Foreign Research & Writing

Jong’lwazi is a novel about the maturation of a young man navigating political schism in his rural South African village circa 1960s; when apartheid most acutely took root; when his region was being carved out of the Union-cum-Republic for a new sovereignty premised on lingo-ethnic genealogy; and when certain processes of democracy were novel if not indigenous. There manifests a parochial dispute over the failure of primogeniture (chiefdom of Mthonjana) that is of political value to the urban power vacuum (based in Mthatha), which is under competing pressures from a national tide (reconstituted as the Republic of South Africa) and international opposition (concentrated in the U.N.). The wayfaring young man is swept into these hierarchies through an illicit relation with the daughter of a parochial disputant of imperfect stature. But his development is more than civic. While endeavoring to unearth the material resources required to bring his infant daughter into his lineage, he is visited with experiences that evoke fragmentary memories of his father, who he incrementally learns was a dualist — a traditional healer skilled with medicinal herbs, and a mystical Christian novitiate who sought to harmonize faiths on a scientific plane. His multilayered pilgrimage is recounted by means of a lengthy correspondence addressed to a Native American who had visited Transkei at a pivotal juncture fifty years prior to the date the composition begins — and through it, and the involvement of a surrounding ensemble, an ethnographic account of a little-known but hugely important time, place and people is assembled. The resulting story grips as much as it elicits.

The creation of this work was a twenty-year project. The text addresses, crosses and compares topics spanning economics and labor, religion and spirituality, race and gender, government and democracy, love and parenthood, and the environment and medicine. At heart, it is a work of preservation — for amaXhosa and amaBomvana, and isiXhosa generally. Relative to the voluminous annals of literature published in the Indo-European language family, there exist very few texts published in a Bantu language, thus even fewer in a Nguni language, such as isiXhosa. Coordinately, there are relatively very few novel-length stories written about amaXhosa, and again thus even fewer about amaBomvana.

Environment

Interdisciplinary Event

Blue Mind 3 was the third iteration of an annual convening of ocean experts and neuroscientists founded by Wallace J. Nichols. Mind and ocean; neuroscience and conservation; emotion and environment; grey matter and blue space. Watch a video summation here. The event was held from May 29 to May 31, 2013 on Block Island. I was a partner, assisting with development, logistics, media, and programming. I also opened the weekend with Rhode Island’s state poet laureate Lisa Starr (2007-2012), using original underwater imagery obtained from sites on- and offshore during dives with Tampa’s photographer laureate Karen Glaser, exhibitor at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and author of the grainy Dark Sharks series. Presentations followed from filmmaker and granddaughter of Jacques Cousteau (Celine Cousteau), chef and National Graphic fellow Barton Seaver, mesmerizing painter and client Ran Ortner, and a host of neuroscientists from Harvard, NYU, and Vanderbilt, who paired up with entrepreneurs, elected officials and creatives from a dozen organizations and agencies to explore new questions about our connection to water.

Appellate

Attorney Fiduciary Duties

The fiduciary duties built into the attorney-client relationship are traced back far into recorded history. They continued to develop consistently under the reigns of kings, through the American colonial transfer of legal regimes, and into the 21st c. when a new facet was revealed. What duties do co-counselors owe each other when collaborating on behalf of a client? The opinion of the Louisiana Supreme Court rendered on this issue as it swept across the states in 2007 derives virtually wholesale from the brief to which my research and writing were central, including citation to the Bible at footnote 5 to highlight the governing principle that an attorney can have but one master: the client.

Government

Federal Election

California's special election to vote up a successor to Rep. Xavier Becerra proved extraordinarily competitive. When Rep. Becerra was appointed Attorney General of California, dozens of candidates filed for presence on the federal congressional ballot. The 34th Congressional district is exceptionally influential for its representation of major constituencies encompassed within the United States' second most populous city, notably Koreatown and the financial and arts quarters. I lent top-to-bottom campaign administration to Dr. Jason Ahn, a remarkably selfless and grounded public servant with a strong record of domestic and international humanitarian work on fundamental issues, like superior healthcare, disaster response and family reunification. The project comprised administrative compliance — including financial/treasury activities — at the county and state levels, as well as at the federal level with the Federal Election Commission and Internal Revenue Service. The rapidity with which a federal special election campaign must develop also required small-team attention to details that reached media, research, staff, events, communication, and design — for example, the campaign logo was procured from the talented Matt Player of Sydney.

Ultimately, Dr. Ahn chose to support Robert Ahn, an attorney, a Planning Commissioner for the City of Los Angeles, the only other Korean American in the race, and the eventual run-off candidate who faced Jimmy Gomez in the final contest.

Government

Public Labor Finance

Teachers’ unions continue to play a significant role in both the labor and education sectors. In 2008, during the depths of global economic recession, the expiration of a Rhode Island teachers’ union contract seized a school system. The law in this space is taut, and a municipality caught between revenue shortfalls and perpetual contracts sought slack. I researched the history of applicable constructs and policies, and drafted the foundational positions that freed the municipality from additional obligations. This analysis led to a commission from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, the Taubman Center for State and Local Government, and the Program on Education Policy and Governance, to document the event in a piece titled The Etiology of a Malfunction in Democratic Processes, which was published in the Arizona State Law Journal.

Tech

Non-Profit Financial App

Cashcare was conceptually born when, in the process of considering a non-profit post-secondary education directorship, I was asked to design a program for scaling financial health outreach work. Instead of laying things out in a word processor, I took to my code editor. I designed an application and built a website to showcase it, with an associated write-up.

My suggestion was to evolve the program to a digital platform by rolling out a Cashcare application owned by a non-profit organization comprised of a bank consortium. This would have the effect of streamlining the effort — both instructionally and actionably. The many possible features such an application might offer to mitigate impediments to program goals took several shapes: harnessing limited self-control through gamification; increasing control through customization; satisfying control through information; reducing time commitment and cognitive overload through convenience and simplicity; and providing comprehensive advice and instruction through trusted in-app support.