Category Archives: Kate Sutherland

Kate Sutherland

Osgoode Alum Chris Hope Speaks About His Documentary Hatsumi

Kate Sutherland

IP Osgoode Speaker Series: “Books Are Dead. Long Live Books!” by Douglas Pepper

Kate Sutherland

ifls screening series presents Life & Debt

Kate Sutherland

Rebecca Johnson on “R v. Kikkik, Take 5: Law/Art/Culture & the Canadian National Imaginary”

Kate Sutherland

Dr. Tracey Lindberg on the Laws of the Kelly Lake Cree Nation

Kate Sutherland

ifls screening series presents Rex v Singh

Kate Sutherland

IFLS Book Club: Zadie Smith’s N.W.

Kate Sutherland

Legal History: Shelley Gavigan Launches Hunger, Horses, and Government Men

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending the launch of my colleague Shelley Gavigan‘s new book Hunger, Horses, and Government Men: Criminal Law on the Aboriginal Plains, 1870-1905.

Here’s an excerpt from the publisher’s description:

Gavigan uses records of ordinary cases from the lower courts and insights from critical criminology and traditional legal history to interrogate state formation and criminal law in the Saskatchewan region of the North-West Territories between 1870 and 1905. By focusing on Aboriginal people’s participation in the courts rather than on narrow legal categories such as “the state” and “the accused,” Gavigan allows Aboriginal defendants, witnesses, and informants to emerge in vivid detail and tell the story in their own terms. Their experiences — captured in court files, police and penitentiary records, and newspaper accounts — reveal that the criminal law and the Indian Act operated in complex and contradictory ways.

At the launch, Justice James MacPherson introduced the book as one about the prairies, history and law by a woman who loves the prairies, history and law. He pronounced it a beautiful, literary, readable book, and praised Shelley as a master storyteller who had succeeded in bringing the men and women whose stories she’d uncovered in the archives vividly to life. Shelley spoke about connections between the past and the present, highlighting how the people and the issues she had encountered in her legal aid work as young lawyer in Saskatchewan in the 1970s had ultimately led her to this exploration of the relationship between Aboriginal people and criminal law on the Plains a century earlier.

I had the opportunity to hear Shelley speak about her research on a number of occasions during the writing of the book, and I credit her accounts of the pleasures and frustrations of archival research as a good part of the impetus behind the historical turn that my own research has recently taken. So you can imagine the eagerness with which I snapped up a copy of Hunger, Horses, and Government Men last night, and how keen I am to begin to read it.

For more information on the book, click here.

Kate Sutherland

Women Lawyers in Literature (in anticipation of the 1st meeting of the Law, Feminism, [short] Fiction reading group)

Lists of top or greatest or favourite fictional lawyers seem to appear at regular intervals, for example, the ABA Journal’s 25 Greatest Fictional Lawyers Who Are Not Atticus Finch, or the Guardian’s Top 10 Lawyers in Fiction (selected by novelist Simon Lelic). Such lists generally feature few or no women lawyers, and those that make the cut tend to be drawn from films or television programs rather than books. For example, the two women included in the ABA’s list of 25 are Ally McBeal and Patty Hewes (of Damages). Where are the women lawyers of literature?

Certainly in seeking to identify the most noteworthy fictional female lawyers, one has a smaller pool from which to draw. In a 1994 article, “In Portia’s Footsteps: Women Lawyers in Literature,” Marion Dixon concluded that after Portia’s appearance in Shakespeare’s 1598 play Merchant of Venice, “there don’t appear to have been any fictional women lawyers in English literature until the 1980’s.” (And, of course, as Dixon notes, despite her name having become synonymous with women lawyers, Portia wasn’t actually a lawyer.) Surely the occasional one must have found her way into 20th century literature pre-1980, but I confess that no names spring immediately to mind. But as the number of women in the legal profession began to increase, so too did the ranks of fictional female lawyers.

The only two scholarly articles that I’ve found squarely on the topic of the representation of women lawyers in literature (as opposed to on television or in film)—the aforementioned piece by Dixon, and one by Kathryn Lee and Elizabeth Morgan titled “Legal Fictions and the Moral Imagination: Female Fictional Lawyers Encounter Professional Responsibility”—focus on crime fiction. The first examples that occurred to me also come from this genre: Alafair Burke’s series featuring Portland Deputy DA Samantha Kincaid, Linda Fairstein’s series featuring Manhattan sex crimes prosecutor Alexandra Cooper, and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s series featuring Reykjavik lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir.

Another of my favourite genres, the short story, has also proved rich territory in this connection. Thus when we decided to make women lawyers the theme of our first Law, Feminism, [short] Fiction discussion, there were many stories from which to choose. Ultimately we settled on three stories by three very different writers that offer a range of representations of women lawyers: “Weight,” by Margaret Atwood; “The Mother,” by Michele Martinez; and, “His Sister,” by Ruthann Robson.

Margaret Atwood is a towering literary figure who needs little introduction. Perhaps worth noting in this context though is the fact that her work has garnered much interest among legal scholars, in particular The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian novel that depicts a Christian fundamentalist society in which reproduction is entirely state-controlled, and Alias Grace, a historical novel based on an 1843 murder case. But our focus next week will be her short story “Weight,” first published in her 1991 collection Wilderness Tips, which has at its centre two women, the narrator and her friend Molly, who attended law school at a time when women students were still an embattled minority, and bonded over shared feminist values and aspirations, but whose career paths and lives have diverged dramatically by the time the story begins.

Michele Martinez, formerly a federal prosecutor, is the author of a series of legal thrillers featuring Manhattan federal prosecutor Melanie Vargas. Vargas is also the protagonist of “The Mother,” a short story published in a 2009 anthology, in which she is forced to rethink an apparent legal victory after being confronted by the mother of a young man whom she is prosecuting for murder.

Ruthann Robson is a professor at CUNY School of Law as well as a fiction writer. She is an extraordinarily prolific writer in both realms, as well as an innovative one whose work might sometimes be characterized as falling somewhere in between the two. Her short stories and novels are peopled by a number of intriguing law student, law professor, and lawyer characters. “His Sister,” from her 2000 collection The Struggle for Happiness, focuses on Jolene Fields, director of the Criminal Defense Resource Center. As a law student, Fields had loved research and hated mooting, and finds herself now “amazed at the privilege of being able to ‘do’ criminal defense work and never walk into a courtroom.” But the story ultimately reveals her rather more complicated relationship to criminal law and with the criminal defense attorneys for whom she does research.

Osgoode folk who would like to join in a discussion of these three stories next week can find details about the meeting time and place on the IFLS blog.

Whether or not you’re able to join the discussion in person, I would be most grateful for any help you can provide in the comments below in my quest to compile a more comprehensive list of women lawyers in literature. In addition to those mentioned above there is Ruth Puttermesser from Cynthia Ozick’s The Puttermesser Papers; Judge Josie Jo Ford from children’s classic The Westing Game; an array of compelling women law students, lawyers, and judges in Lowell B. Komie’s short stories; criminal lawyer Cass Jameson from Carolyn Wheat’s mystery series; the lawyers of all-female firm Rosato & Associates featured in Lisa Scottoline’s series of legal thrillers; and, barristers Selena Jardine and Julia Larwood from Sarah Caudwell’s series of legal whodunnits. Who else?

Kate Sutherland

A Tribute to Adrienne Rich at the Toronto Women’s Bookstore

I’ll be reading one of my favourite Adrienne Rich poems at this event this evening:

All are welcome to attend.