Step by Step . . .

Professor guides students through criminal procedure

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

In her “Criminal Procedure: Adjudication” class, Wayne Law assistant professor Blanche Cook walks her students through all the significant stages of a criminal prosecution, starting after the investigation: from the prosecutor’s decision whether to seek charges, through all pre-trial phases, guilty pleas, trials, sentencing, and post-conviction relief. 

It’s a very familiar terrain for Cook, who spent 8-1/2 years as an Assistant United States Attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice in Nashville, Tenn., specializing in large-scale drug and sex-trafficking prosecutions, as well as illegal narcotics, money laundering, human trafficking, firearms, bank fraud, and civil rights. As a federal prosecutor, she briefed and/or argued more than 40 federal appeals.

“I enjoyed the civil rights and sex trafficking contributions, and I enjoyed serving both justice and the community,” she says. “Now, I am leaving a legacy by broadening the intellectual and socio-economic horizons of my students.”

Cook, whose primary areas of expertise are appellate practice, criminal law and procedure, critical race theory, employment discrimination, evidence, federal courts, sex trafficking and trial advocacy, also teaches “Criminal Law,” “Sex Trafficking and Citizenship,” and “Race and the Law,” and is the head of the Keith Center and a member of the Diversity, and Clinical Programs Committees. As the head of the Keith Center Committee, she is actively working on celebrating 50 years of Judge Damon Keith’s service on the federal bench next year.

A leading national expert on sex-trafficking prosecutions and the commercialization and exploitation of women and girls, her research includes victims’ rights related to evidentiary issues, race-class-gender profiling and sex-trafficking statutes. She is currently working on two articles: One that addresses whether persons who obstruct sex trafficking prosecutions should register as sex offenders and the use of citizenship laws to create vulnerability to sex trafficking.

“Sex trafficking is omnipresent and always has been,” she says. “Detroit is not unique – notice how close we are to a border,” she says. “Ours is a society that craves vulnerable flesh. The popular conscious has to understand the role of gender in the creation of vulnerable populations and how we are all complicit in the exploitation of that enterprise.”

Cook, has taught and lectured at American Baptist College and Vanderbilt University, at the University of Phoenix, Truman College, and at The University of the Witswatersrand, in Johannesburg, South Africa, where she spent a summer as an intern for Lawyers for Human Rights.

A Critical Race Theory legal consultant at Vanderbilt Divinity School, Cook joined Wayne State University Law School in the 2014 fall semester. She enjoys helping her students reach their potential, many of whom work full- or part-time in addition to their law studies.

A graduate of the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, Cook earned her undergraduate degree at Vassar College and, drawn to the law by her desire for social justice, earned her juris doctor from the University of Michigan Law School.

“I enjoyed the chance for socio-economic mobility at U-M – and I loved Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor,” she says.

After clerking for the Hon. Gregory K. Scott, at the Colorado Supreme Court in Denver, and for the Hon. Damon J. Keith of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Cook worked at Miller Canfield in Detroit; at Seyfarth Shaw in Chicago; and as a Dispute Resolution Officer for Amtrak.

An author and frequent speaker, in March Cook was a panelist for the WSU School of Social Work Diversity Lecture on “Advancing Racial Justice”; and presented a talk, “The Racialization of the Justice System” at an event sponsored by The Detroit Women’s Forum. In early April she was a panelist at a Critical Race Theory Conference at Yale Law School.

Last year she spoke at Duke Law School in Durham. N.C.; Vanderbilt Law School in Nashville, Tenn.; the American Bar Association Criminal Justice Section’s Fall Institute in Washington, D.C.; the Michigan Future Law Professors Workshop at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor; and several WSU events. She also presented “The Racialization of the Justice System” at Swords Into Plowshares Peace Center in Detroit; and will deliver a TED talk this fall.

The Chicago native, whose leisure pursuits include chess, swimming, cycling, tennis, kayaking, telemark skiing, and travel, is enjoying life at Wayne Law, and in downtown Detroit.

“I love my students, Avalon Bakery, and I have my dream job,” she says.

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