Professor Schmeiser Aids Sandy Hook Advisory Commission

by Liz O’Donnell

Susan Schmeiser

As the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings approaches, members of the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission (“SHAC”) have been working to provide answers about the events leading up to the tragedy of December 14th, 2012.

Professor Susan Schmeiser, an expert in mental health law, currently serves as an unofficial reporter for the Commission, which Governor Malloy tasked to investigate how the events of last December happened and how best to respond, and to provide input on how to prevent something similar from occurring in the future.

“The Commission is specifically looking into the issues of gun violence, school safety, and the mental health system, including access and the delivery of treatment, stigma reduction, and how stigma impedes treatment,” Schmeiser said.

Schmeiser said she became involved after a UConn Law alum working in the Governor’s office spoke with former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, who participated in a similar commission after the Columbine shootings. He said that the commission used a law professor to assist the members in organizing and drafting the final report.

“They were looking for a law professor and knew I taught in mental health law and family law,” she said. “I thought it sounded like an amazing opportunity to learn from experts in the areas in which I teach about what’s happening in the world and what needs to be done.”

Although she said she was unsure at the time what the job would entail, so far she has attended as many meetings of the Commission as she could, taken extensive notes, and done legal research with respect to Connecticut’s recent statutory enactments.

Two UConn Law students – Jeff Wisner and Emma Rotondo – are also assisting Schmeiser with her duties as reporter.

“We have all observed the hearings, whether in person or on video, and are working on outlining the existing materials. It’s great to have more sets of eyes and ears on the subject,” she said.

Schmeiser said that as a reporter, she will help with the organizing and drafting of the report and she will continue to do legal research when necessary.

“It’s been an honor to participate in any way in this process. The members of the Commission are working hard, dedicating their time and effort without remuneration, and that has been incredibly impressive,” she said.

Schmeiser credited Dean Fisher with encouraging UConn Law faculty to take an active role in the Connecticut community.

The Commission issued a preliminary report in March but has not yet issued its final report. Schmeiser said the Commission is working to make sure the final report it releases will help contribute to the positive changes that have already taken place in Connecticut.

“The Sandy Hook Advisory Commission’s contribution might be to add considered analysis and opinions of the issues that have salience beyond just Newtown,” she said. “The Commission wants its work to have a broad impact because people will be paying attention.”

But the SHAC functions as a study commission, rather than to propose legislation.

“They are more likely to come up with a broad and complex analysis of how we’re failing kids and others in promoting a culture of violence, and in not providing uniformly effective and available mental health services. Hopefully that will resonate throughout Connecticut and beyond.” Schmeiser said.