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Take that, Caplis and Silverman: DU student website brings legal expertise to Ward Churchill trial coverage

Categories: Media

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A banner from TheRaceToTheBottom.org.

In Tuesday's blog "KHOW's Dan Caplis and Craig Silverman Have the Ward Churchill Trial Covered," I shared my view that the aforementioned radio duo's segments about Churchill's wrongful termination suit against the University of Colorado-Boulder are worth hearing, despite their obvious and oft-stated prejudice against the controversial prof, due in part to their legal background. In response, a commenter pointed me and others to an online source with which I was unfamiliar: TheRaceToTheBottom.org. And indeed, the site's Churchill coverage is excellent, displaying precious little bias and a terrific grasp of the legal underpinnings thanks to the people doing the reporting: selected law students and professors from the University of Denver.

Trevor Crow, a third-year DU law student who was one of the early contributors to TheRaceToTheBottom.org, never expected to wind up as something akin to a court reporter -- but he's truly enjoyed his foray into journalism. "All the students have learned so much," he says. "I know I have."

The site came to life in early 2007 thanks to J. Robert Brown, a DU professor specializing in corporate and securities law, and two students, Armin Sarabi and Vaughn Marshall, who had the idea for what Crow describes as "a corporate governance blog. We focus on any type of legal corporate governance issue: shareholders' access to proxy statements and a wide variety of other subjects."

Sounds dry -- but rather than simply pontificating about such topics, the site's team has done its best to explore them firsthand, beginning with the trial of former Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio. "I actually covered Nacchio's sentencing, as well as the oral arguments for his appeal," Crow says.

Trouble is, there's not a constant supply of cases in Denver that pivot on the subjects that fascinate Professor Brown and his students -- so they'll occasionally cover legal proceedings from afar. Example: insider-trading accusations leveled against billionaire Mark Cuban. And even though Churchill's case deals with issues related to the First Amendment, not financial improprieties, the site's team decided it would be interesting to observe the legalistic back and forth anyhow. "Professor Brown contacted the employment law society at DU and hooked up with a couple of students there, and also a couple members who've been working on the blog," Crow allows. "We try to get one person for the morning and one for the afternoon every day -- and we've had some professors attend, too. There are a couple from the Daniels business school who'll be in attendance, and Professor Brown attended some during the first week, and is probably going to attend more in the third week."

Trial accounts are reviewed by a professor before they're published, and the majority of them are evenhanded, sticking to the facts. Leah Jensen's coverage of yesterday afternoon's session, which is far more detailed and all-encompassing than the reports offered up by traditional media outlets, is a case in point. "I can't say we never have a slant when it comes to corporate governance issues," Crow concedes. "Professor Brown definitely has an opinion, and he lets it show on those issues. But as students, we try to provide objective posts -- to write, 'Here are the legal issues, here's how the day in court came out.'"

TheRaceToTheBottom.org "isn't really supported by DU," Crow goes on. "We pay for the space, and we're not connected to DU financially in any sense." The only exception: primary materials, such as court documents and complaints, are hosted by the site affiliated with DU's Sturm College of Law. (Peruse Churchill's original complaint and other related items by clicking here.) But for Crow, the expense and the effort has paid off. "It's been a great educational experience," he says.

Those who read the Churchill coverage will likely feel the same way.


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