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Office Hours with Nina Chernoff

May 24, 2018

Professor Nina ChernoffNina Chernoff cemented her place in the CUNY Law Professor Hall of Fame this year when she was given the Outstanding Professor Award by the graduating class of 2018.  Proving for perhaps the first time that it is, in fact, possible to make Powerpoints both informative and entertaining, Nina is known for unparalleled cat memes and interactive games. Step into her classroom and be prepared to question every forensic evidence scene you’ve seen on your favorite procedural dramas. Prior to joining CUNY’s faculty, Nina taught Lawyering at New York University Law School, was a staff attorney in the Special Litigation Division of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, and served as a Zubrow Fellow at Juvenile Law Center.

 

If we asked you to pen your own introduction, what would you add to the “standard faculty intro” to give us the really important details?

Like most faculty members at CUNY Law, I’m eager to build connections between my scholarship and real-world reform through working closely with attorneys and courts concerned with the same issues I address in my research. For example, though I’ve written about fair cross-section claims – the tool criminal defendants use to protect their constitutional right to a jury of their peers – and what feels most important are the opportunities I have to coordinate with courts that are trying to increase the diversity of their pools and attorneys litigating those claims. I always learn a great deal from these experiences and it allows me to identify how my scholarship can be most useful.

 

What’s new and exciting in your classroom this semester?

Shining a light on the unreliability of many types of forensic evidence! This semester I have a small class of students who are combining a study of the rules of evidence with in-depth analysis of the problems with forensic evidence. They’re each drafting legal pleadings that use law and science to argue for the exclusion of some unreliable methods –  like bite-mark and hair evidence, arson investigations, and fingerprints. It’s exciting to watch the students use their legal skills to help the criminal justice system catch up with scientific developments.

 

What’s this we’ve heard about wigs?

I have been known to appear in disguise – complete with wig – in my Professional Responsibility class. The course is about figuring out how to apply ethical rules in practice, so I try to make the classroom as realistic as possible. And sometimes that means having a “supervisor” run into the room and demand you take action – which requires the students to work in real time to figure out ethical solutions to conflicts. But it’s not just me: we also have staff and faculty come to class in-role as teenagers so students can explore the ethical issues involved in counseling a juvenile client who might not be making thoughtful long-term decisions.

 

Do you have any alumni in your inbox right now?

I have two alumni in my inbox and my phone – two fantastic students who just graduated and are now preparing for the bar exam. I am their bar mentor, which means we’ll be working together this summer to ensure they succeed on the bar exam.  They’re doing all the hard work, of course, but I’m here to grade practice essays, help them stick to their study schedule, and provide plenty of chocolate.

 

If you could recruit anyone to guest lecture in your class, who would it be? Or, alternatively: if you could attend a lecture by anyone, on anything – what would you sit in on?

I’m actually hoping to attend a class that’s being taught at the law school this fall. The course is Race and the Law and it is being taught by two extraordinary judges: The Honorable Ronald Ellis and the Honorable Jenny Rivera. It would be a thrill even to just sit in the back of the room and listen!

 

What can’t you let go of? Is there anything that holds you enthralled, that you want to keep on people’s radar, or that is keeping you up at night?

I’m obsessed with the jury system and will stop people in the street if I hear them trying to figure out how to avoid jury service. Juries are particularly important today when so many questions have been raised about the discretion exercised by some police officers, prosecutors, and judges. The jury system is designed to ensure that the community has a voice in the process of prosecution, and it is critical to ensure that juries reflect the communities they come from.

 

Summer is right around the corner. Any essential reads or books you’ve been looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to reading Chokehold: Policing Black Men, by this year’s commencement speaker, Paul Butler. And this is the summer I’m finally going to read War and Peace. (I hope by making this public declaration, I’ll actually follow through!)

 

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