New Lease on Life—The 1930 neoclassical edifice that housed Rutgers School of Law-Newark for two decades will soon be filled with students again—only this time, housing them.

Financing has been secured for the 17-story tower at 15 Washington Street—one of Newark’s original skyscrapers—to be converted into a dormitory, with living spaces, common rooms and even a two-story penthouse for Chancellor Nancy Cantor.

The $85 million project, to be carried out with the New Brunswick Development Corporation, will be financed by bonds, mortgage and the state’s Higher Education Facility Trust. Most recently, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority announced Tuesday the approval of $13 million in tax credits.

The former Fireman’s Fund Insurance building—designed by the firm of John H. & Wilson C. Ely, which also did the Newark City Hall and the National Newark Building— was Rutgers Law’s site from 1979 until 1999. At one point its deteriorating condition, which included shoddy elevator service, put the school’s ABA accreditation in jeopardy. The columned portico has appeared in The Sopranos and the movie Rounders.

Cantor says, “We are celebrating our past by restoring one of Newark’s grandest buildings, exploring innovative ways to create spaces there where communities of experts from inside and outside the university can engage and problem solve together.”


Vonte Skinner

Lyrically Challenged—Are rap lyrics “a form of artistic expression that are protected under the First Amendment,” or a form of evidence that can be used to convict rappers of crimes?

The New Jersey Supreme Court will try to decide the answer this week, as it hear arguments Monday in State v. Skinner, a 2012 attempted murder case that has garnered national attention.

Vonte Skinner was found guilty of shooting Lamont Peterson and sentenced to 30 years in prison after a jury was read 13 pages of rap lyrics, violently describing shootings, knifings and rape. The lyrics were found in Skinner’s car following his arrest.

Skinner appealed, claiming the reading of his lyrics, most written years before the 2005 incident, gave the jury the impression he was predisposed to violence and influenced his conviction.

The Appellate Division reversed, 2-1, and the dissent allowed the state an automatic right to appeal.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey is appearing as amicus. Its outside counsel, Ezra Rosenberg, Michelle Hart Yeary and Cara Schmidt of Dechert in Princeton, ask the Supreme Court to set rules about the admissibility of written lyrics.

They argue that using a defendant’s artistic expression against him is unfair was well as illogical. “That a rap artist wrote lyrics in the first person is no more reason to ascribe to him the acts and conduct described in the lyrics than to ascribe…Nick Carraway’s beliefs to Fitzgerald,” they write, alluding to The Great Gatsby.


Pulaski Skyway

Another Bridge Closure—This has nothing to do with the governor’s office, but it will certainly last longer than the one that’s under investigation. And it’s causing the nearby Hudson County courts to change their hours in response.

Starting in April, the Pulaski Skyway, which connects Jersey City and Newark, will undergo a $1 billion rehabilitation. It begins with the northbound roadways, which will be closed for at least two years. The southbound lanes will stay open for now.

Mindful of the resulting traffic delays, court administrators are changing the official court hours of the William Brennan Courthouse and the County Administration Building to 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., a 90-minute delay from the usual 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The buildings will still open at 9 a.m. and limited 8:30 a.m. access will be given to the public in the administration building “for probation, finance and special civil part matters.”

The Skyway’s structural integrity was called into question following the 2007 collapse of the similar I-35W bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis that killed 13 people and injured 145. Federal investigators found that the plates supporting the bridge’s gussets were inadequate for the load it carried.


Paula Franzese

Don’t Worry, Be Happy—Seton Hall University School of Law professor Paula Franzese is taking her teachings out of the classroom and putting them in print.

Franzese hopes her new book, A Short and Happy Guide to Being a Law Student, to be released March 17 by West Academic, can serve as an “antidote to some of the fears and doubts that school, work and life can conjure up.”

The book looks to pass along tips to help law students manage the good and bad in both their personal and professional lives. Divided into eight parts, chapters include “Five Guideposts to Live By,” “Ten Ways to Make Wise Choices,” and—as a reminder to seek comfort in small pleasures—a recipe for making Italian specialty penne vodka.

The book, Franzese says, was “written with great love to provide reassurance, guidance and wisdom, particularly at those moments when life presents crossroads.”

The guide has a decidedly personal slant for Franzese, who recalls panicking before her first day at Columbia Law School and questioning her abilities. A phone call to her father set her at ease.

The guide, along with its sister publication, A Short and Happy Guide to Being a College Student, began as daily letters Franzese wrote to her son, Michael, before he left for Boston College.

Royalties from sales will go to public interest law fellowships.