Recent Work

Crime victim series

Slate-logoSince early 2014 I have been working on a series of narrative feature stories that show the ways in which we fail to understand who is harmed by crime and what they need from us. Here is the series, supported by a Soros Justice Fellowship:

Part 1: Radical forgiveness. One woman’s forgiving relationship with the man who killed her daughter, and what that relationship shows about a split in the victims’ movement.

Part 2: Victims as prisoner counselors. I visited Texas prisons to witness the work of Bridges to Life, a program in which victims go inside prisons to teach prisoners empathy for their victims. What, I asked, do the victims gain from this?

Part 3: Tough-on-crime’s last true believer. I profiled Bill Otis, the leading voice of tough-on-crime federal policy, whose use of pro-victim rhetoric to justify harsh sentencing laws goes largely unanswered by criminal-justice reformers.

Part 4: Victim advocacy meets police reform. Susan Herman is the most important police reformer you’ve never heard of. The longtime victims’ advocate works to change the culture of policing, and cops’ relationships with citizens in the most troubled neighborhoods, from her executive position in the New York Police Department. What does it mean to seek better victim services in combination with improved police-community relations?

Part 5: Crime victims focused on prevention, not punishment. In Los Angeles, these four examples of anti-violence activism show what a communal response to crime looks like when we really listen to victims.

Part 6, the final installment, is coming soon with an examination of the restorative justice movement in the U.S., asking why it has played only a marginal role, considering that it holds many answers to questions raised earlier in the series.

Here is a collection of blog posts on this work in progress and a post on some of the themes it explores.

God’s Nobodies: Misguided Faith and Murder in the Life of One American Family

Cover_GodsNobodiesThis Kindle Single e-book, published December 14, 2012, tells the true story of a Syracuse murder, what led to it, and its tragic aftermath. Go to the book’s main web page for more on Tim Ginocchetti and the family and cultural forces that turned a childlike, closeted-gay young man into his mother’s killer. Also on this site are an archive of blog posts about this story, photos and audio clips, and other background on a reporting project spanning more than four years.Ostory101

In the July 2010 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine, I told part of the story in a feature focusing on Tim’s grandmother, Esther Rufo, whose love for her grandson and dedication to the truth led to her expulsion from her marriage and family.

The Trace

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 6.15.22 AMAt a time when critics of “stand your ground” self-defense laws are pushing to repeal or curtail the laws, the statute that started the trend and that represents the most extreme form of such laws may be toughened even more. I wrote about it September 27, 2015, with a follow-up on an American Bar Association report that documents the opposition to such laws.

Pacific Standard

psmagcover-08My July/August 2013 cover story, “The Upside of Trauma,” looks at the aftermath of the Christmas Eve 2012 sniper attack on West Webster volunteer firefighters by exploring post-traumatic stress disorder’s lesser-known opposite. When my hometown suffered this shock, I wanted to understand the impulse that pulls a community together after mass shootings and other tragedies. That’s when I learned about a related but distinct phenomenon known as post-traumatic growth. My reporting and review of the research into the mind’s ability to turn trauma into a new mission in life, not just the resilience to return to normal, led me to a handful of people in Webster, New York, who are trying to cultivate positive change — in the town and in themselves.

Vanderbilt Law

fall-2014For this alumni magazine’s Fall 2014 package on graduates who have pursued business careers, I profiled Daryl Wickstrom, Sotheby’s deputy chairman and Asia chief; Rick Engle, heir to the Hasbro toy dynasty who joined his brother to form their own entrepreneurial toy company; and John Phillips, another lawyer tending to the family business, this one the storied thoroughbred breeding and racing operation Darby Dan Farm.

The American Lawyer

In the January 2014 issue, I wrote about one of the finalists in the Litigation Department of the Year contest, LA-based O’Melveny & Myers, and I did a Q&A with former Big Law managing partner and corporate CEO Tom Richards, the outgoing mayor of Rochester, who offers some poignant lessons in work-life balance.

Screen Shot 2013-12-07 at 10.33.35 AM

December 2013 “Bar Talk” on the Baby Veronica adoption case, focusing on the enormous legal effort generated by one little girl’s fate. The case provoked intense passions on both sides for years, but what struck me most about it was the dedication by lawyers on both sides to causes and clients they truly believed in. I concentrated on the winners, but in a case where one family had to lose, it’s tough to declare anyone a real winner.

TAL ScardinoMay 2013 “Bar Talk” on West Webster (N.Y.) Fire Department volunteer Ted Scardino and his decision to lend his voice to one piece of gun-control legislation. Scardino was one of four firefighters shot on Christmas Eve 2012 by a convicted felon who allegedly obtained his weapons through a straw purchase. I tell how Scardino, a technologist at Nixon Peabody in Rochester, turned his anger into a resolve to prevent future attacks.


Screen Shot 2013-07-23 at 7.58.30 PMA heavily touted New Republic cover story on the supposed death of Big Law provokes me to return to the scene of my former career covering that world, with this critique of the piece (July 24, 2013). The upshot: the writer’s condensed version of business history leaves much to be desired. But at least he got one thing right: don’t let your kids grow up to be associates at big corporate law firms.

“Vote for Harriet!!! The dubious professional distinctions of Harriet Miers,” an October 2005 essay calling on my years covering the Texas bar to lend some perspective on a Supreme Court nominee.

Miller-McCune magazine (now Pacific Standard)

January/February 2011 feature on an innovative program in Texas to help violent-crime victims recover by talking it out with the criminals who harmed them. A sidebar took a look at Susan Herman’s book Parallel Justice for Victims of Crime.

“Law and Terror,” an August 2008 essay/book review on an analyst’s provocative plan to balance national security with the rule of law.

Inc. magazine

“Learn to Love Your Lawyer,” December 2004. This was a reported feature giving entrepreneurs advice on dealing with lawyers.

Stanford University Press

“Bench Press: The Collision of Courts, Politics, and the Media,” 2007. I wrote a chapter analyzing news coverage of Samuel Alito Supreme Court nomination. This book grew out of a conference I helped organize in Washington, D.C., televised on C-SPAN, which launched Syracuse University’s Institute for the Judiciary, Politics and the Media.

CNY Sports

“46 Peaks, 35 Years.” The story of my fitful quest to climb New York’s 46 highest mountains. This appeared in the Summer 2010 of a regional sports magazine. (Download PDF)

FPO magazine

“Re: Write,” a column of advice and reported stories for a quarterly magazine on editing and art direction. A link is available for one piece, on legal review of magazine copy.


For nearly three years, ending in May 2009, I wrote a daily critique of legal journalism that was twice named one of the top legal news blogs by the ABA Journal. (Website no longer online.)

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A writer and editor on law, crime, and business