Alumni News

October 20, 2019 at 5:17 pm

Notable Alumni | James Stratman Lives Where Law and Language Entwine

Graphic for College of Arts & Sciences Notable Alumni Award

Editor’s Note: The College of Arts & Sciences Notable Alumni Awards honor alumni for broad career accomplishments, commitment to community service, and valuable contributions to Ohio University and the College of Arts & Sciences.

James Stratman ’73 Philosophy

Dr. James Stratman ’73 retired from the University of Colorado Denver as Associate Professor of Communication Studies, but his road to success followed courtrooms as well as classrooms.

If CBS developed another CSI show about Stratman’s work in forensic linguistics, it might be titled “CSI: Language.”

From left, President M. Duane Nellis, James Stratman, and Dean Florenz Plassmann.

From left, President M. Duane Nellis, James Stratman, and Dean Florenz Plassmann. Photo by Hannah Ruhoff

Stratman earned a B.A. in Philosophy from the College of Arts & Sciences at Ohio University in 1973, followed by an M.A. from the University of Cincinnati in 1976 and a Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Carnegie Mellon University in 1988.

“His dissertation, which was funded by the American Bar Foundation (ABF), investigated the brief reading, brief writing, and rhetorical decision making processes of appellate court advocates and appellate court clerks,” according to the website for his book A Forensic Linguistic Approach to Legal Disclosures: ERISA Cash Balance Conversion Cases and the Contextual Dynamics of Deception (Routledge Studies in Linguistics Series 2015).

James Stratman, portrait

Dr. James Stratman

While he was at Carnegie Mellon University, “Stratman was retained by the United Steelworkers in a case that involved alleged employer-health benefit fraud. His work in that case required significant analysis of benefit plan documents and testing them empirically to help determine readers’ understanding of them. Stratman’s findings in the case were published in the Industrial Relations Law Journal, and this research was cited in two different later federal circuit court decisions also involving allegations of employer benefit fraud,” reports OHIO Today in a story headlined “Alumnus gives to Linguistics Department, lends expertise to curriculum development.”

“That early work led to other opportunities for Stratman to lend his expertise in discourse analysis, consulting as an expert witness in several large class-action pension fraud cases, including the now famous Amara v. CIGNA case, which was ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011. This work further opened his eyes to the greater implications of his work and the field of forensic linguistics,” says OHIO Today.

A Forensic Linguistic Approach to Legal Disclosures book coverHis 2015 book “investigates allegedly deceptive language in federally required pension reduction notices under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). He has previously served as an expert witness in ERISA pension reduction disclosure cases and his disclosure comprehension research has been cited in two federal circuit court decisions. He is a member of the International Association of Forensic Linguists (IAFL), reports Routledge. “This book is a scholarly work of forensic linguistics that demonstrates how the principles of Gricean pragmatics and their recent elaboration in Information Manipulation Theory (IMT) can be of use to courts faced with deciding cases of allegedly fraudulent disclosure documents.”

Stratman’s academic career includes serving as Director of Management Communication in Carnegie Mellon’s Graduate School of Industrial Administration and as Director of the Master of Science degree program in Technical Communication at the University of Colorado Denver.

He taught “courses focusing upon communication theory and research targeting U.S. trial court processes; legal reasoning and writing; technical communication; and empirical research methods in communication. His legal reasoning research has been supported by two successive funding grants from the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC), research which investigates how first year law students comprehend legal cases,” says Routledge.

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