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April 13, 2006

Books, Journals & More

A closer look: Sandra Jordan

Pitt law professor and alumna Sandra Jordan is a former assistant U.S. attorney and a former member of the prosecution team in the Iran-Contra trials.

She’s taught Pitt law students since 1989 and now Jordan is expanding her reach with a new textbook, “White Collar Crime: Cases, Materials and Problems,” co-authored with J. Kelly Strader of Southwestern University School of Law. The book is one of only a handful of case law textbooks on the subject.

Writing the book was a matter of selecting the subjects she and her co-author wanted to cover, then picking the appropriate cases to illustrate the legal points and details.

“These are the kind of cases I handled,” she said, adding that care was taken to pick current cases with interesting facts for the benefit of the students. In such a fast-moving area of law, that isn’t always easy. Jordan said a letter update to the text is likely to come out this summer, with a full update likely in the next two to three years.

Aimed at mid- to upper-level law school students, the book draws on Jordan’s interest and experience in white-collar cases. Jordan is teaching from the new text this semester for the first time.

Along with the requisite mentions of Enron, Martha Stewart and WorldCom, Jordan selected some influential cases that she likes teaching, including some with criminals whose names are downright Dickensian in light of their actions.

What law student could forget a money launderer with a name like Ratzlaf, whose case is used to illustrate the concept of “smurfing” — a practice in which a large amount of money is divided into multiple smaller transactions to evade governmental reporting requirements.

Or, Wayne Schmuck, a used car distributor who lived up to his name by rolling back odometer readings, then selling the vehicles at inflated prices to dealers. He was indicted for a dozen counts of mail fraud for submitting to his state department of transportation title application forms bearing the fraudulent information. The 1989 Supreme Court case is cited in the text’s chapter on mail and wire fraud.

The topics are timely and growing in importance for all attorneys, not merely those who want a career in criminal law, Jordan said.

Today, boutique law firms have sprung up to focus on white-collar cases, and most of the major law firms in Pittsburgh have at least a handful of people who specialize in such cases, Jordan said. But, when the 1979 Pitt law graduate began her legal career at the U.S. attorney’s office in Pittsburgh, little was written on the subject and few schools taught it.

After four years in the office, Jordan moved into the white-collar crime department where she spent six years, ultimately becoming department chief. “I wanted to do it,” she said of her move to specialize in white-collar crime. The opportunity to handle bigger cases and more grand jury work drew her in.

Looking back, she’s found that she entered the field just on the cusp of a wave that has made white-collar crime a fast-moving area of the law, and a crucial one for every aspiring lawyer to study.

A change in the Department of Justice’s stance on white-collar crime that began in the 1980s caused the legal community to take it more seriously.

‘There’s been a change in attitude from a couple of decades ago,” she said. “It used to be a slap on the wrist, ‘They’re not the real criminals.’” In 1986, a five-year sentence “was a big deal,” she said. Now the government has upped the ante with harsher sentencing and white-collar criminals have begun to get the message that they could go to jail.

“That has had a big effect on the climate,” she said.

In light of the changes, “a class like this is so vital, not only for people who think they want to be employed in the practice of criminal law,” Jordan said, adding that all law students need to familiarize themselves with the basics, “even if they never intend to go near a criminal case,” she said.

Anyone dealing with small businesses must be aware of the regulations and how to defend a client who may be caught up in a white-collar crime investigation.

“Even at a mom-and-pop firm … invariably one of their clients is going to walk in the door with a subpoena,” Jordan said. “You have to know this stuff.”

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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