William Ortman

William Ortman

Assistant Professor of Law

Contact

Room 3259
(313) 577-3962

William Ortman

  • Biography

    William Ortman writes about the legal and institutional design of criminal justice. His current scholarship focuses on plea bargaining, the practice that accounts for the vast majority of criminal convictions in American courts. Before joining Wayne Law, Ortman taught legal research and writing as a Climenko Fellow at Harvard Law School. From 2007 to 2013, he was a criminal defense lawyer and commercial litigator in Des Moines, Iowa. Before that, he clerked for Judge David Tatel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Ortman earned his law degree with highest honors from the University of Chicago Law School, and a bachelor of arts with highest honors from Swarthmore College.

    Since joining the Wayne Law faculty in 2016, Ortman has taught criminal law, evidence, administrative law and a seminar on advanced topics in criminal law and procedure. He has twice been voted Professor of the Year by Wayne Law’s upper-level students, in 2018 and 2019.

  • Degrees and Certifications

    J.D., University of Chicago Law School
    B.A., Swarthmore College

  • Selected Publications

    The Defender General, 168 University of Pennsylvania Law Review (forthcoming 2020) (with Daniel Epps)

    When Plea Bargaining Became Normal, 100 Boston University Law Review (forthcoming 2020)

    Second-Best Criminal Justice, 96 Washington University Law Review 1061 (2019)

    The Lottery Docket, 116 Michigan Law Review 705 (2018) (with Daniel Epps)

    The Yates Memo Versus Administrative Law, 165 University of Pennsylvania Law Review Online 191 (2017)

    Probable Cause Revisited, 68 Stanford Law Review 511 (2016)

    Rulemaking's Missing Tier, 68 Alabama Law Review 225 (2016)

    Chevron for Juries, 36 Cardozo Law Review 1287 (2015)

  • Social Science Research Network
    View SSRN Profile

    Publications

    • REVISION: Second-Best Criminal Justice
      August 14, 2019
      Criminal procedure reform can be understood as a “second-best” enterprise. The general theory of second best applies where an ingredient necessary for a “first-best” ordering is unattainable. That’s an apt description of the contemporary criminal process. Our normative ideals of criminal justice require fair and frequent trials to judge guilt or innocence, but the criminal trial rate has been falling for at least a century; today it is vanishingly close to zero. What may be even worse is how we’ve eliminated trials—by endowing prosecutors with enough leverage to coerce guilty pleas. Excessive prosecutorial leverage is the source of some of criminal procedure’s deepest pathologies. <br><br>This Article asks the reader to accept—as a thought experiment—that a negligible trial rate is a constraint on criminal procedure reform in the near term. From that starting point, the crucial question becomes whether there is a less destructive way to ensure a negligible trial rate. There is: ...
    • REVISION: When Plea Bargaining Became Normal
      July 16, 2019
      Plea bargaining is the criminal justice system, the Supreme Court tells us, but how did it get to be that way? Existing scholarship tells only part of the story. It demonstrates that plea bargaining emerged in the nineteenth century as a response to (depending on one’s theory) increasing caseloads, expanding trial procedures, or professionalizing law enforcement. But in order for plea bargaining to truly become the criminal justice system, the legal profession would have to accept and internalize it. That was not its first reaction. When legal scholars and reformers in the 1920s discovered that bargaining dominated America’s criminal courts, they quickly denounced it as abusive. By the 1960s, only four decades later, the legal profession had learned to love it. <br><br>This article investigates the process that made plea bargaining the normal way of doing American criminal justice. The story unfolds in three parts — plea bargaining’s discovery by and frosty reception from the “crime ...
    • REVISION: When Plea Bargaining Became Normal
      May 29, 2019
      Plea bargaining is the criminal justice system, the Supreme Court tells us, but how did it get to be that way? Existing scholarship tells only part of the story. It demonstrates that plea bargaining emerged in the nineteenth century as a response to (depending on one’s theory) increasing caseloads, expanding trial procedures, or professionalizing law enforcement. But in order for plea bargaining to truly become the criminal justice system, the legal profession would have to accept and internalize it. That was not its first reaction. When legal scholars and reformers in the 1920s discovered that bargaining dominated America’s criminal courts, they quickly denounced it as abusive. By the 1960s, only four decades later, the legal profession had learned to love it. <br><br>This article investigates the process that made plea bargaining the normal way of doing American criminal justice. The story unfolds in three parts — plea bargaining’s discovery by and frosty reception from the “crime ...
    • REVISION: Second-Best Criminal Justice
      September 18, 2018
      Criminal procedure reform can be understood as a “second-best” enterprise. The general theory of second best applies where an ingredient necessary for a “first-best” ordering is unattainable. That’s the contemporary criminal process. Our normative ideals of criminal justice require fair and frequent trials to judge guilt or innocence, but the criminal trial rate has been falling for at least a century; today it is vanishingly close to zero, and there’s no good reason to expect it to change course. That is unfortunate, but not catastrophic. What is catastrophic is how we’ve eliminated trials — by imbuing prosecutors with enough lever-age to coerce guilty pleas. Excessive prosecutorial leverage is the source of criminal procedure’s deepest pathologies. This Article argues that we should — at least as a thought experiment — begrudgingly accept a negligible trial rate as a fixed constraint on criminal procedure reform. Then we can proceed to the crucial question — whether there is a less ...
    • REVISION: Second-Best Criminal Justice
      August 21, 2018
      Criminal procedure reform can be understood as a “second-best” enterprise. The general theory of second best applies where an ingredient necessary for a “first-best” ordering is unattainable. That’s the contemporary criminal process. Our normative ideals of criminal justice require fair and frequent trials to judge guilt or innocence, but the criminal trial rate has been falling for at least a century; today it is vanishingly close to zero, and there’s no good reason to expect it to change course. That is unfortunate, but not catastrophic. What is catastrophic is how we’ve eliminated trials — by imbuing prosecutors with enough lever-age to coerce guilty pleas. Excessive prosecutorial leverage is the source of criminal procedure’s deepest pathologies. This Article argues that we should — at least as a thought experiment — begrudgingly accept a negligible trial rate as a fixed constraint on criminal procedure reform. Then we can proceed to the crucial question — whether there is a less ...
  • Accomplishments
    • William Ortmanhad his latest essay, "The Yates Memo Versus Administrative Law," published in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. Read the full essay here.
    • William Ortman'sforthcoming paper for the Michigan Law Review, co-authored with Professor Daniel Epps, won an honorable mention award at the 2018 AALS Scholarly Papers Competition. The paper is titled "The Lottery Docket." Read the announcement
    • William Ortmanco-authored with Daniel Epps an article titled, “The Lottery Docket,” which was published in the Michigan Law Review. Read the article here.
    • William Ortman’s article “The Defender General,” which he co-wrote with Daniel Epps, was accepted for publication by the University of Pennsylvania Law Review.

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