ISPS Experiments Workshop: Dane Thorley (Yale and Columbia), “Running Field Experiments in the Courts: An Example and a Discussion”

Event time: 
Thursday, November 12, 2015 - 9:00pm through 10:00pm
Event description: 

“Running Field Experiments in the Courts: An Example and a Discussion”

Dane Thorley, J.D. Student at Yale Law School and Ph.D. Student in Politcal Science at Columbia University

Dane Thorley will discuss 2 projects, one field experiment on judges and one discussion paper on using experiments in the courtroom. The titles and abstracts are below:

“Please Recuse Yourself: A Field Experiment Exploring the Relationship Between Campaign Donations and Judicial Recusal” (with Donald P. Green, Jonathon S. Krasno, Costas Panagopoulos, and Michael Schwam-Baird)

Abstract: In this paper we present the preliminary results of a field experiment that explores one aspect of the relationship between campaign donations and judicial behavior—the propensity and motivation behind judicial recusals.  We are able to identify civil cases where one or more of the attorneys involved made financial contributions to the judge’s previous election campaign. A random selection of judges presiding over cases that match these criteria received letters identifying the potential conflict and requesting recusal. We measure the rate of judicial recusal, in addition to a number of secondary outcomes. We find that sending judges letters has a moderate, albeit non-statistically significant, effect on recusals but leads to a 21 percentage point increase in the likelihood that a judge will disclose the donation in the court record. This study provides novel insight into the impartiality of the judicial system and the sensitivity of elected judges to appearance of conflict-of-interest.

“Experiments, Courts, and the Legal Process: The Legal Implications of Running Randomized Experiments in the Courtroom” (with Jacob Kopas)

Abstract: Although legal scholars have been utilizing experimental methodologies for over 60 years, they have only recently begun to design and implement field experiments, an empirical method in which subjects are randomly assigned treatments in natural settings. Field experiments are a powerful tool for identifying causal relationships, but relative to observational studies, where researchers gather data that already exist, field experiments can be problematic because they require the researcher to actively intervene in the subjects’ lives. Because of these interventions, researchers and organizations running experiments must address a number of ethical concerns before they start their study. When field experiments take place in the court context, these ethical concerns become even more salient, and researchers must also take into account the legal implications of randomizing interventions in actual court cases. In this article, we explore the legal and ethical issues surrounding the use of court-based field experiments. It is the only assessment of its kind, and should be a useful tool for researchers and organizations interested in conducting such projects, institutional review boards responsible for approving such studies, judges tasked with evaluating the reliability of data resulting from court-based field experimentation, and individuals considering legal action based on experimental results.

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