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38th Annual Jefferson B. Fordham Debate

38th Annual Jefferson B. Fordham Debate - Qualified Immunity: Apportioning Accountability

DATE: Tuesday, October 5 2021
TIME: 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm
LOCATION: Virtual Event
COST: Free and open to the public
1 hour CLE (pending)

Qualified Immunity: Apportioning Accountability

In the aftermath of recent high-profile officer involved killings calls for police accountability have increased. Abolishing qualified immunity, a defense available to law enforcement officers sued for alleged civil rights violations, continues to be a point of contention among law makers debating the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021. Proponents argue that without the shield qualified immunity provides to police, public safety would suffer because officers might hesitate when situations require haste. Police making split second decisions under stressful conditions would be subjected to the risk of civil liability while discharging their duties were qualified immunity to end. Opponents of qualified immunity are concerned the doctrine frees police to use excessive force with impunity. Critics maintain the doctrine operates to deny alleged victims of police violence access to an effective judicial remedy.

The University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law will host a virtual debate to consider the consequences of ending or amending the doctrine of qualified immunity. Is it possible to adjust policy levers to reduce police misconduct while protecting public safety, civil rights, and civil liberties?



Jason Johnson, Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, President
Jason C. Johnson joined the LELDF as President in January 2019 after over twenty years as a law enforcement officer and executive. Most recently, Mr. Johnson served as Deputy Commissioner of the Baltimore Police Department from 2016-2018. In addition to leading the BPD Strategic Services Bureau, Mr. Johnson also served as Chair of the BPD Performance Review Board, which conducted detailed internal reviews of all uses of deadly force by police officers. During his BPD tenure, he oversaw improvements in recruiting, training, technology, and employee health and wellness practices. Prior to joining the Baltimore Police Department, Mr. Johnson retired from the Prince George’s County, Maryland Police Department, at the rank of Major. During his career, he was assigned as a patrol officer, police academy instructor, hostage/barricade negotiator, and patrol shift commander. He also served as assistant commander of the Special Investigations Division; as well as commander of the Office of Legal Affairs and the Internal Affairs Division. Mr. Johnson is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Law and the 251st Session of the FBI National Academy.

Joanna C. Schwartz, University of California Los Angeles, Professor of Law
Joanna Schwartz is Professor of Law at UCLA School of Law. She teaches Civil Procedure and a variety of courses on police accountability and public interest lawyering. She received UCLA’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 2015, and served as Vice Dean for Faculty Development from 2017-2019.

Professor Schwartz is one of the country’s leading experts on police misconduct litigation. Professor Schwartz additionally studies the dynamics of modern civil litigation. She is co-author, with Stephen Yeazell, of a leading casebook, Civil Procedure (10th Edition), and her recent scholarship includes articles empirically examining the justifications for qualified immunity doctrine; the financial impact of settlements and judgments on federal, state, and local law enforcement officers and agency budgets; and regional variation in civil rights protections across the country.

Moderator: Erika George, Director, Tanner Humanities Center and Samuel D. Thurman Professor of Law

The Fordham Debate is named in honor of Professor Jefferson B. Fordham, an outstanding legal scholar and defender of individual and civil rights who joined the University of Utah College of Law faculty in 1972. The annual debate addresses relevant contemporary public policy and legal issues.

For questions contact Kris (801) 585-3440.