Marvel chairman commits millions for law school to fight faulty forensics

A forensics investigator photographs knives on the ground after man in Westminster after an arrest was made on Whitehall in central London
A forensics investigator photographs knives on the ground after man in Westminster after an arrest was made on Whitehall in central London, Britain, April 27, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville
  • Cardozo law school aims to educate lawyers and judges on misuse of forensic evidence
  • Project backed by Marvel Entertainment chairman Isaac Perlmutter

(Reuters) - From bite marks to blood spatter, a New York law school wants to train current and future attorneys about forensic evidence and the ways it can be misused in the courtroom.

The Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law on Thursday unveiled a $15 million initiative that includes two new clinics in which students will work on clemency and wrongful conviction cases based on faulty forensic evidence, as well as a slate of continuing legal education courses for judges, prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys on forensic evidence and how it can be abused.

Funding for the new Perlmutter Center for Legal Justice comes from Isaac and Laura Perlmutter and the Perlmutter Foundation and is the largest single donation in Cardozo’s history. Isaac Perlmutter is the chairman of Marvel Entertainment LLC.

The Perlmutters met the new law school center's executive director, Josh Dubin, when he assisted them in a long-running legal case stemming from a Florida tennis club dispute involving, among other things, allegations that the couple’s DNA was stolen during a deposition. A neighbor in their Palm Beach community accused the Perlmutters of sending hate mail in a contested libel lawsuit that was dismissed in 2021.

While other law schools already have clinics devoted to clemency or wrongful convictions, Cardozo’s will be unique in its focus on forensic science beyond DNA, said Dubin.

“DNA has become the sexy, foolproof way to get people off because you have some biological material,” he said, noting that many successful wrongful conviction cases have involved DNA evidence, while other forensic techniques and their shortcomings have received less attention.

Dubin pointed to a 2009 report from the National Academy of Sciences that concluded that many commonly used forensic techniques — including fingerprint analysis, shoe-print comparisons and firearm examinations, have not undergone sufficient validity testing to support court claims. DNA analysis was the only method that met the reliability threshold, it found.

Serving as deputy director of Cardozo’s new center is Derrick Hamilton, who spent 21 years in prison for a murder he steadfastly maintained he didn't commit. Hamilton, now a paralegal, became a prolific jailhouse lawyer and successfully convinced prosecutors to throw out his conviction and those of five others.

The 2009 report on forensic failings “should have turned the entire criminal justice system on its head, and it didn’t,” Dubin said. “We are trying to equip a new generation of lawyers with the tools — whether they are prosecutors or defense attorneys — to do it properly.”

Read more:

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Flawed forensics in criminal trials overlooked in push to reform expert witness rules

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at karen.sloan@thomsonreuters.com