Symposium was a crossroads of legal
A crude and deliberately provocative video purporting to show
the life of the prophet Mohammed was initially credited with
sparking in September a wave of killings in the Middle East,
including the American ambassador to Libya and three other American
nationals. What better time for a forum that addressed the Western
world's use of social media? And who better to lead it than some of
Boston's best legal professionals?
The timing was coincidental. The International Symposium for
Justice & Law, held Nov. 11-14 in Dubai, had actually been
years in the making, and social media was part of a wider spectrum
of U.S. law covered. The symposium, held at the Dusit Thani Hotel
in Dubai, is part of a strategic partnership between the Dubai
Judicial Institute and the U.S. Embassy in the United Arab
Emirates, as part of a joint effort to strengthen the relationship
between the two countries.
Attorney Joseph McDonough, of the Dubai office of Holland &
Knight (profiled in the March 2012 issue of Massachusetts
Lawyers Journal) marshaled the skills of Boston colleagues
Ieuan Mahony of Holland & Knight's Boston office, Associate
Appeals Court Justice Sydney Hanlon and former probation officer
The symposium drew praise from U.S. Ambassador to the UAE
Michael Corbin, who stated: "At a time of extraordinarily rapid
social and technological change, the topics chosen for the first
International Symposium for Justice and Law are truly germane.
Alternative sentencing and social media are cutting-edge issues for
legal professionals in both the United Arab Emirates and the United
States. I am delighted that the Dubai Judicial Institute, working
in partnership with the Embassy and through the facilitation of
Holland and Knight, was able to bring to the United Arab Emirates a
group of leading experts, particularly from the Massachusetts Court
of Appeals and Dorchester District Court, to speak to the legal
community here in the UAE."
A GRACIOUS HOST
The symposium's enthusiastic reception by the diplomatic
community underscores the importance of developing a more universal
application of the rule of law across national boundaries in order
to ensure safety and security, as well as to facilitate
Dubai, one of seven of the United Arab Emirates, seeks to become
a host for world conferences, events and festivals. The oil-rich
UAE, a federal monarchy with a constitution drafted in 1971, has
seven different court systems. While its leaders are federally
appointed, its monarchies are hereditary. If this sounds
complicated, it is. The human rights of non-citizens, who
constitute 80 percent of the UAE's population, has been an issue of
long standing, and now social media adds the potential for
volatility to that mix.
Despite international tensions across the Middle East, the
Western visitors were treated graciously by their hosts.
Hospitality is not only an initiative in Dubai -- it's a key
cultural attribute of Islam, in a part of the world where visitors
may often have come from far away and have few contacts in their
Associate Appeals Court Justice Sydney Hanlon said that the
director of the court system met with the Western group and gave a
tour of the Dubai court. She commends its level of technology,
which includes online access to electronic bulletin boards to check
the status of one's case, get instructions on how to proceed, and
find directions for getting around the courthouse. Additionally,
papers can be filed electronically or in person.
The Western visitors were also given a chance to see many of the
sites in a "stunningly beautiful city," including a visit to the
Dubai Museum and Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the
WESTERN LAW DEFINED
The symposium's first day on Nov. 11 was presented by Jason
Klitenic, a partner at Holland & Knight, Associate Justice
Sydney Hanlon of the Massachusetts Court of Appeals and retired
Probation Court officer Bernard Fitzgerald. Best Practices
addressed included sentencing and probation in criminal cases,
experience with federal sentencing guidelines, introduction to
probation and a demonstration. Alternative sentencing in the case
of substance abuse and mental illness were also addressed,
including case studies.
Nov. 12's presentation addressed the topic of white collar
crimes, youth and gang violence, juvenile justice, motor vehicle
offenses and domestic violence, as well as social initiatives such
as fatherhood and women's programs, changing lives through
literature, and practices to encourage safe neighborhoods.
"I don't think there are many places that have probation the way
we do it," Justice Hanlon said in an email after her session ended.
More than one seemed to lament the lack of oversight of juveniles
in the Middle East.
She noted that the audience asked tough questions without being
confrontational, despite a sense that some things may have been
left unsaid. A woman asked whether Hanlon thought the jury system
was a good one or whether judges wouldn't be better at deciding
criminal cases. Another woman asked about sentencing considerations
in motor vehicle homicide cases and what might constitute an
adequate sentence for the loss of a life. A man asked why the U.S.
didn't do something about violence in movies and television
FREE SPEECH IS NOT FREE
The subject of social media, particularly as it relates to
employer/employee responsibility, was a major topic of discussion.
That's a challenge in the U.S., never mind in a foreign country
with expatriated employees, notes Holland & Knight's Eiuan
Mahony, who chaired and moderated the social media session on Nov.
13 and 14. Panelists included Anita Ramasastry, law professor at
the University of Washington and Peter Dayton, consulting CFO to
the Silicon Valley Finance Group and former senior manager of
business operations for Yahoo! Inc. He provided an overview of how
U.S. law is developing and responding to social media and sources
of U.S. law in the social media "ecosystem." Its intent was not to
tell the UAE, or the rest of the world, how to handle social media,
he says --rather, it was to present the legal issues that the West
is now addressing.
Case studies addressed subjects such as protecting children from
social media harms; the role of parental consent; privacy policies;
fair information practices principles; do-not -track initiatives
and employers' use of social media in considering job
The U.S. Patriot Act, passed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001,
terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, redefined the concept of how
intrusive government would be allowed to be into private life via
surveillance. But in the decade since, surveillance has gotten more
ubiquitous due to technological advances such as tracking devices
and video capabilities on cell phones, which puts increasing
pressure on the U.S. legal system to come up with rules to say yes
or no to limitations on privacy.
So, can an employer ask an employee to hand over a smartphone
loaded with personal data? "There are a lot of ways it can tear the
lid off the notions of privacy," Mahony says.
The crude video that sparked so much unrest in the Middle East
also puts the notion of free speech to test. U.S. law has
"forgiven" adverse press treatment of public figures, unless such
attacks were motivated by actual malice (New York Times Co. v.
Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 ). But in the social media
sphere, Mahony says, "there's no binary yes or no." So, if free
speech provokes terrorism, what is an employer's role -- or, for
that matter, government's role -- to protect against mayhem and
loss of life? That question can't be answered without a set of
standards to which to adhere.
ANY WAY TO RUN A RAILROAD
He brings up an analogy from the 19th century that works just as
well today. When the nation's railroad system was being built, the
gauge of the tracks could vary by operator, inhibiting the
interstate movement of goods. It took adherence to a universal set
of measurements to make the rail system truly able to serve the
Such is the challenge faced by those who seek to create
international standards of law that will serve the world. The
International Symposium for Justice & Law was intended to be a
step in that direction.