Jenny Roberts, professor of law and co-director of the Criminal...

Jenny Roberts, professor of law and co-director of the Criminal Justice Clinic at the American University Washington College of Law. Credit: Hofstra University/Torrance York

The next dean of Hofstra University’s law school will be Jenny Roberts, a law professor now at American University Washington College of Law who has published widely on criminal law in academic journals.

Roberts was chosen partly because of her ability to grow “connections across campus to other academic departments as well as the legal community,” Charlie Riordan, Hofstra provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, said in an interview. That could include, he said, partnerships with the university’s School of Engineering and Applied Science and with the School of Health Professions and Human Services, exploring the legal issues in those fields.

Riordan also said that Roberts, co-director of AUWC’s Criminal Justice Clinic, would help grow Hofstra’s own “tradition of clinical legal work” at Maurice A. Deane School of Law. The school’s projects include asylum, law reform and defender clinics.

A search committee worked for a year and interviewed about 20 candidates before choosing Roberts, Riordan said.

Roberts will join Hofstra July 1, taking over from interim dean Julian Ku, a constitutional law professor who formerly served as the law school’s vice dean for academic affairs. Gail Prudenti, a former New York State chief administrative judge, stepped down last June after six years as the school's dean. Prudenti oversaw the 850-student law school as it raised more than $22 million for initiatives including scholarships and faculty hiring.

Before American University, Roberts taught at Syracuse University College of Law and New York University School of Law. She did a clerkship in the Southern District of New York and worked as a public defender at the Legal Aid Society in Manhattan. After college at Yale University, she obtained her law degree from NYU, graduating magna cum laude.

One thread of her scholarship, unfolding over dozens of publications over the last 20 years, relates to the “collateral consequences” of a person’s encounter with the criminal justice system that can include involuntary civil commitment, sex offender registration, disenfranchisement, and the loss of public housing and benefits.

Her 2009 Iowa Law Review article on the subject was cited in a watershed 2010 Supreme Court case, Padilla v. Kentucky, in which the court held that defense lawyers have a duty to inform noncitizen clients that a guilty plea may result in deportation.

Roberts has also written about the nation’s sprawling misdemeanor system, in which roughly 13 million or more cases are prosecuted each year.

In a 2013 Washington and Lee Law Review article, “Crashing the Misdemeanor System,” she argued that more zealous defense, instead of pleading, as is often done, could force law enforcement and legislators to exercise more discretion by “making the system bear more of the true costs of adjudicating misdemeanor arrests.” 

In an interview, Roberts said she saw opportunities to work at Hofstra in emerging issues of law, such as artificial intelligence, along with those that are long-standing. “What everyone wants is a safer society. We have to ask how do to that in a way that is just, unbiased and actually works, based on evidence we have about what works and does not.”

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