Recent Work

Go here for my stories on crime victims and here for details on God’s Nobodies, my Kindle Single story on a Syracuse murder case. This page lists other stories I have produced as a freelancer in recent years.

The New York Times

the-new-york-timesWhy is it in businesses’ best interest to hire the formerly incarcerated? I found a federal office in St. Louis that for 14 years has perfected the art of making a market-driven pitch to area businesses. The result has not only been a big increase in well-paying jobs for the former prisoners who go through the program, but a big decrease in their numbers who get in trouble with the law again. This June 26, 2016, story was a feature in the Sunday business section.

The Trace

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In a report jointly published by Politico, this September 7, 2017, story challenges Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ preference for aggressive federal gun prosecutions as the solution to urban gun violence. I focused on St. Louis as a case study of the approach’s failure for two significant reasons: It already has taken the lead in the nation for trying the gun-prosecution approach, and yet it consistently ranks at the top of the most violent U.S. cities. The story then asks what strategies do work, and points to one activist’s struggle to get support for sending outreach workers to the streets to intervene in violence.

I continued to follow the lawsuit brought against Bushmaster by the Newtown victims’ families, this time with an analysis of the decision by a Connecticut judge to throw the case out. My October 17, 2016, story zeroes in on an aspect of the claims and decision that got almost no attention in other publications: a claim by the families that came closer to winning than the claim that everyone else wrote about.

I developed a scorecard, culled from recently published major studies in criminology, of the most effective policing strategies to reduce gun violence. This August 11, 2016, story, co-published by The Crime Report and accompanied by a Q&A with criminologist David Weisburd, contradicts some conventional thinking about strategies like “broken windows” policing and community-oriented policing. Based on a new crop of mega-studies, however, I distinguish between anecdotal evidence (one city, one study, where something did or didn’t work) and broader patterns found in hundreds of studies.

In the legal campaign to hold “bad apple” gun sellers responsible for gun violence, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence is using an innovative strategy: measuring retailers’ conduct against their trade association’s guidelines on preventing straw purchases. In this April 11, 2016, story, I look at the strategy through the lens of a case concerning an attack on volunteer firefighters in my hometown, Webster, New York.

Dick Heller’s challenge to D.C.’s gun laws led to the most important Second Amendment ruling in history by the Supreme Court. So why is he so unhappy with the outcome? As a Supreme Court nomination battle kicks in, and D.C. v. Heller retakes the stage, I profiled the man whose alliance with the extreme branch of the gun-rights movement puts distance between him and his namesake case, in this March 20, 2016, story. (Also published by The Atlantic.)

I fact-checked GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz’s statements about his career as a gun-rights lawyer and found a record of exaggeration and obfuscation about what he has accomplished and how pure his record as a Second Amendment absolutist really is. The story was published February 18, 2016, on the eve of the South Carolina primary. (Published also by Vice)

What chance do the parents of Newtown’s mass shooting victims have in their lawsuit against Bushmaster, the maker of the shooter’s gun? This February 16, 2016, story tells how the federal law providing immunity to gun manufacturers might work in this case, and the long-shot theory that might save the case. In this April 14, 2016, follow-up, I wrote about the judge’s ruling on the defense’s motion to dismiss, which puts off a major decision on the case’s key questions. (The first story also ran at The Atlantic.)

At 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.


Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 5.40.46 PMAs part of a comprehensive report on violence and redemption, I wrote on September 19, 2016, about Oklahoma’s fitful attempts at erasing its distinction as one of America’s most punitive states. The state makes everyone’s lists of red states embracing criminal justice reform, but the reality looks a lot messier up close.

How can an updated version on an old concept, community-oriented policing, help heal the troubled relationship between police and our highest-risk neighborhoods? I went to Minneapolis to look at one embattled police department’s efforts, and compared those uncertain results with a successful experiment just across the city line in Columbia Heights, Minnesota, in this December 14, 2015, feature.

The American Prospect

prospectsquareIn this October 3, 2016, story, I look ask why Charlotte police find themselves embroiled yet again in controversy, over the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, even after embracing new forms of training. Real solutions, the story suggests, will take much deeper forms of reform, such as the approaches advocated by this organization.

The Crime Report

A St. Louis federal judge, E. Richard Webber, told me about his unusual practice of insisting on one-on-one meetings with every person he sent to prison soon after their release. I wrote about it in this as-told-to story published January 10, 2018.

This January 4, 2018, Q&A with Tom and Caren Teves, co-founders of, examines the line between responsible journalism and violence-inciting exploitation. No Notoriety advocates minimizing the use of mass shooters’ names and photos in news coverage so that future shooters do not find inspiration in the stories.

In my September 15, 2016, Q&A with Regan Hines, director of the new documentary Incarcerating US, we talk about why in his view the story of mass incarceration really starts with the story of the war on drugs.

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.

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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.

O, The Oprah Magazine

Ostory101In 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.


“Learn to Love Your Lawyer,” December 2004. This Inc. magazine reported feature gave 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