Matthew Handler ’10 has won first place in the 2009 Chief Justice John B. Doolin Writing Competition sponsored by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. His article, “Tribal Law and Disorder: A Look at the System of Broken Justice in Indian Country and the Steps Needed to Fix It,” was published in the Oklahoma Supreme Court Sovereignty Symposium Compendium (2009), and was recently republished in Brooklyn Law Review (2010).
Handler said his awareness “of the twisted criminal justice system American Indians endure” began when he read the “startling statistic that one out of three Indian women will become victims of rape in their lifetimes.” In his research, he found that tribal rights to self-governance “have been significantly limited through the patchwork system of laws. Many tribes must rely almost exclusively on the federal government to enforce and prosecute crimes,” he said. But the federal government is ill-equipped for the job, and Indians endure violent crimes at almost two and a half times the national rate.
“For example, the FBI is one of the agencies that respond to incidents of domestic violence on reservations,” he said. However, it has limited experience with this type of crime and limited ability to police the vast expanses of Indian lands. “The FBI has not traditionally been in the business of responding to house calls in the far reaches of Oklahoma,” he said. In addition, federal prosecutors decline 65 percent of criminal cases referred to them, largely due to problems with tribal investigations. In areas where the federal government does not maintain exclusive jurisdiction over criminal matters, tribal governments are severely limited in their ability to punish offenders.
“My article comments on recently proposed legislation to remove hindrances to effective policing and enforcement on Indian lands.” he said. “It exposes the history of substandard criminal enforcement and prosecution and advocates for real reform.”
Writing the paper was a labor of love, Handler said, calling upon skills as a “passionate story-teller” and investigative journalist that were honed at the Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University, where he earned a B.S. degree. A facile speaker, he was also a radio producer and on-air talent in Syracuse.
Handler is executive articles editor of the Brooklyn Law Review, a Carswell Merit Scholar and recently was awarded the Herman Fagen Scholarship. He has been a summer associate at Brown Rudnick, L.L.P. and a legal intern at The Opportunity Agenda and the Office of the General Counsel of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. He was also a judicial intern with Magistrate Judge Debra Freeman of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.
He is active in several student organizations, including the International Law Society, the Unemployment Action Center, and the Entertainment Law Society. An aspiring litigator, Handler is currently interviewing for a postgraduate position.
Listen to an interview with Matthew Handler.