A Summer Gig at the Courthouse: Alyssa Miller Shares her Experience
Alyssa Miller’s summer gig wasn’t spent working at a coffee shop, though lots of caffeine was probably involved. It wasn’t spent working at the library either – though research played a big role in her responsibilities. Miller’18 spent the summer working under Judge Melissa Powers, Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile Division. Miller’s experience gave her insight into juvenile law, society, and the way the legal system affects vulnerable youth.
Miller explains that she was responsible for reviewing and presenting to Judge Powers “what happened at the lower levels of the court.” Most juvenile cases are handled before a magistrate. These are usually “cases in dependency, child custody, child support, and juvenile delinquency.” The magistrate’s initial opinion can, however, meet an objection, and then these cases are bound for Judge Powers’ court. “My job,” Miller says “was to read the transcripts and let the judge in on what happened in the transcript and in the lower court so that she could make an informed decision when hearing oral arguments.”
Miller expresses that she is glad to have taken UC’s Family Law course. Through her studies she “learned a lot about custody, child support, and how the law works in those circumstances.” Although she was unfamiliar with delinquency when she began the job, the Advanced Legal Research course proved useful, she says. Completing the course gave her the skill set to research fields that were new to her.
Miller’s work was not limited to the courtroom, however. The Juvenile Court and Cincinnati Public Schools initiated a collaboration this summer to offer tutoring programs for children held in detention. Miller continues to visit and help teach these youths multiple times each week.
“I work with juvenile delinquents in the female division,” says Miller. She not only assists them with their homework but also offers substantive advice to help the detained youths better themselves. She states, “It’s been a very positive experience to meet these young women and realize that they’re not bad people. They come from bad circumstances—circumstances that you can’t even believe exist, and yet they still have positive outlooks on life.”
Miller believes that society experiences cycles of poverty and violence and that education is the key to reducing violent crime. She explains that for young offenders, “it’s hopefully not too late for them to turn their lives around, before they enter the adult system.
After completing her studies at Cincinnati Law, Miller aims to become an assistant United States Attorney. She says that this has been her goal since the age of three, “although she didn’t know what it was called then. I learned [the title] when I was seven, and I’ve been set on it ever since.” With her experience at the Juvenile Court, she is on the right track.
by: Pete Mills, Cincinnati Law writer
Six Years and Growing: An update on the LLM Program
Six years ago, the College of Law launched its first master’s degree program, the LLM in the US Legal System. It is a program for students who have earned a law degree outside of the United States and now seek graduate level education in in US law.
Nora Burke Wagner, Assistant Dean for International Student Programs and LLM Director, sat down with Updates to discuss the program’s first years, the successes of graduates, and its future.
Q: How has the LLM Program developed over the last six years?
A: We had imagined a diverse program that would bring many different backgrounds and perspectives to the College of Law—both in and out of classes. We’ve definitely been successful in this area. We’ve brought the world to UC Law.
The first year, we started with five or six students, and the growth has been steady. Since then, we’ve enrolled 60 students from 28 different countries, so we’ve actually exceeded our own expectations. Moving forward, we’re turning our attention to the Middle East and looking at firming up partnerships in Africa, which will open doors to many more international attorneys.
Q: How does the program collaborate with other universities?
A: We have at least a half dozen partner universities in a wide variety of countries, and we’re working on creating additional partnerships. We’re already seeing new opportunities opening for law students in terms of travel and overseas internships.
We’re also seeing new opportunities for faculty. They’ve been able to teach abroad and conduct research at partner universities. For example, Professor Jennifer Bergeron delivered a lecture on the innocence movement at the University of Graz in Austria earlier this year. Professor Lynn Bai gave a series of lectures on US business law topics at the University of Lorraine in France. And, Professor Marjorie Aaron had the opportunity to lecture at the University of Bordeaux, one of the top universities in France. (Professor Ronna Schneider will be lecturing there this fall.)
Professor Ildiko Szegedy-Maszak from Javeriana University, a very highly regarded university in Bogotá, Colombia, taught international trade to our students this year. She also lectured to the broader legal and business communities.
We’ve been able to launch our first dual-degree program with Javeriana University. This arrangement allows students who are in the fifth and final year of their bachelor’s of law program to come here and spend one year also earning their LLM. I’m excited to share that this year we have our first students from Javeriana. It’s great for our LLM program, because it brings several highly qualified students in each year, and hailing from Latin America, they further broaden our diversity. It is particularly exciting and promising given the existing business relationships between Cincinnati and Bogotá.
Q: What sorts of places are alumni of the LLM program now?
A: Students come to us with wide ranging goals, so unsurprisingly, their lives and careers after graduation run the gamut. We’ve had students from Africa who return home to pursue careers in academia. We’ve had students who stayed in North America and are pursuing additional degrees, both here and in Canada. We’ve also had students from Europe and the Middle East who have returned home and landed dream jobs with big companies or teaching.
We also have graduates working in Cincinnati area law offices. We think we’ll see more of this as the local legal community meets and gets to know our students. LLM students are attorneys in their home countries. Many of them have wide-ranging professional experiences. If you find yourself in need of technical language or cultural expertise, let us connect you with one of them.
Q: What are some plans for future development and growth?
A: Every year our recent graduates are helping us forge new networks, establish new contacts, reach out to new sets of students, and create new relationships with additional universities. Because of them we have a whole new set of opportunities, allowing us to grow not only in terms of our general international work and partnership opportunities , but also our recruitment efforts.
It’s hard to say exactly what the next six years will have in store, but if the last six are any indication, we know there’s always a host of opportunities right around the corner.
College of Law Receives $125,000 Gift for Student Scholarships
Cincinnati, OH—The University of Cincinnati College of Law has received a $125,000 gift targeted specifically at the College’s scholarship program. The donor, who has requested anonymity, said his donation reflects the significant role the College played in his success, giving him the tools to excel in the legal and business worlds.
“Gifts of this level represent a powerful vote of confidence in the institution,” said Verna Williams, Interim Dean at the College of Law. “We could not be the exceptional institution that we are without this kind of support, which will ensure that we continue to attract and retain an academically talented and diverse student body.”
In today’s highly competitive law school environment, scholarships are a priority for students and for the law school. “We are fortunate to have such a strong supporter,” said Tom Giffin, Senior Director of Development at the College. “This alum’s experience at the College of Law made him excited and happy to be able to ‘pay it forward’. ”
The scholarship will be awarded in the spring semester of the academic year to a student who “demonstrates exceptional ability, promise and/or need, as well as having demonstrated the highest ethical standards.”
About the University of Cincinnati College of Law
As the fourth oldest continuously operating law school in the country, UC’s College of Law has a rich history of educating and inspiring leaders who pursue justice and advance the role of law in society. Its ranks include many distinguished alumni, including a U.S. president, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and six governors. The College cultivates an intimate learning experience with a9:1 student to faculty ratio and offers a wealth of resources, such as more than 40 student organizations, five journals and seven centers and institutes. For more information, please visit www.law.uc.edu.
A Note from LLM Grad Natia Mezvrishvilli
Dear Professor Williams,
I hope you remember me. First of all thanks for all wonderful opportunities UC law school gave to me throughout the year. Each professor I met at the university was new experience for a student coming from different system of law and completely different system of high education.
I am writing this e-mail to express my gratitude towards school, professors, students and especially professors - Lassiter and Moore. Professor Lassiter ensured my smooth transition from Civil Law to Common Law system, inspired me by his teaching methods, friendly and professional attitude toward student who was experiencing serious difficulties in the process of learning. The assistance Professor Moore provided is immeasurable. She connected me to various professionals at Prosecutor’s Office, Public Defender’s Office and etc. which was extremely helpful for practicing lawyer.
As you are aware, Georgian criminal justice system is based on codes, thus hundreds of Supreme Court cases at the beginning of semester was the toughest thing could happen to me. However, with the assistance and almost constant encouragement of professor Lassiter, that I was able to succeed, I managed to get highest grades in the most difficult subjects, including his Criminal Procedure. We started working on a project, encompassing comparative analysis on Georgian-American Criminal Procedure. Although I could not finish it due to my heavy workload at school, I have succeeded back home with respect to teaching future lawyers. I am sharing this news being confident it might please you as a dean and representative of the law school as this particular success is mainly triggered by Professor Lassiter’s encouragement to share American experience with Georgian colleagues and impact of wonderful professors of UC law school as a whole.
I will be teaching Criminal Procedure of Georgia in two leading Georgian Universities this fall. I used to teach before coming to the UC law school, but what makes more sense now is that I will use American methods of teaching, the one I learned from Professors Lassiter, Moore, Bryant, Bilionis and others. There will be something innovative in the Syllabus of Georgian Criminal Procedure and for Georgian law students on behalf of UC law school. I am considering to pursue PHD in Constitutional Law - the area I would never imagine to step in. This interest and decision was greatly conditioned by Professor Lassiter’s advice to work on constitutional aspects of American and Georgian Criminal Procedure… and by fascinating Constitutional Law courses taught by Professors Bilionis and Bryant. Professor Moore's way of teaching made me reconsider the way my department defines criminal justice policy within the Chief Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia. I hope I can manage to establish new approaches in policy making, which will ultimately ensure the effective functioning of Georgian criminal justice system.
Hope I did not take much of your time. Thanks once again. … My gratitude belongs to school and all professors. … (The) experience and knowledge I gained in UC law school will definitely influence development of Georgian Prosecution Service and education system.
Natia Mezvrishvili, LLM (‘17)
Head of the Department of Supervision Over
Prosecutorial Activities and Strategic Development
Chief Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia, Tbilisi, Gorgasali str. 24.
A Transition Seven Years in the Making
If you were to ask a UC Law alum of decades past about microfiche, he or she would likely recall hours spent researching in the library, using special equipment to view a sheet of microfilm. If you were to ask a new, 20-something UC Law student about microfiche, you more likely get answered with a confused stare.
“Many young people do not know what it is,” says Akram Pari, Bibliographic Services and Special Collections Librarian, of UC’s Robert S. Marx Law Library. Microfiche are sheets of microfilm, and each sheet contains several tiny pictures of printed pages. It was the old-school way of condensing and preserving documents. Fortunately for younger students, Pari and a team of staff librarians have been working since 2011 to convert the Marx Library’s vast collection of legal documents from microfiche format to a digital format.
“Management of the microfiche collection would cause us difficulties. It was challenging to manage that size of a collection, in terms of space, financial needs, staff,” says Pari. It cost thousands of dollars annually to maintain document collections in microfiche format. Converting these collections to digital format was “very challenging, but it took us a long way toward providing access to our patrons.”
Pari was hired in 2011 by Director Kenneth Hirsh as “amongst other duties, coordinator for government documents.” This position comes with great responsibility, as the Marx Library is a Selective Government Depository Library and part of the Federal Depository Program (FDLP), which seeks to make federal government publications available to the public at no cost. Through the program, the Marx Library receives thousands of government documents at no cost, but in return, it has an obligation to make these documents accessible to the public.
Pari and the Marx Library team’s work has paid off. In 2014, the Government Publishing Office conducted its public access assessment. While most libraries had one or more deficiencies noted in their reports, the Marx Law Library excelled, and the report highlighted achievements in cataloging the Federal Depository collection.
Now, with easily-accessed digital format, anyone can view the Marx Law Library’s collection of government documents at no cost through the online catalogue. Individual documents are fully searchable by title or other criteria, eliminating the tedium of searching the shelves for microfiche.
The library staff will complete the years-long conversion project at the end of August.
Written by Pete Miller
Martha Stimson – At 100, Still Never Afraid
While interviewing Martha Stimson’43 at her home in Cincinnati, it quickly became apparent that she isn’t much different from other Cincinnati Law alums. She enjoys recalling her days of strenuous study, the constant worry about her grades, the professors that impacted her life, and the lunches she shared with her best friend before heading back to class – memories that all grads have.
However, one discovers Martha is unique from her fellow alums because when she says, “back in the day,” she’s talking over 74 years ago—from 1940 to ’43.
What was happening in the world at that time? It was the height of the Second World War, the global war that involved over 100 million people and 30 countries. Nazi Germany’s attempt to invade Moscow was beginning to fail. The Star of David was required wear by all Jews in the Netherlands and Belgium; Jews in other Nazi-controlled countries had already been forced to wear it. And, the Japanese naval advance in the Pacific would soon be halted thanks to the American victory at the Battle of Midway.
It was also a period of time when Martha, living at home, was deciding where to submit her applications to law schools.
Interestingly, Martha toured Italy and Germany as World War II continued to explode. Asked if she was ever afraid during her excursion held while the world appeared to be separating at the seams, Martha said, “I was a little scared. It was a period where all the homes had black curtains.”
She quickly added, “But when I communicated with my parents, I always told them that I was alright. Never afraid.”
Making the Case for Cincinnati Law
Martha cut her trip short due to the war. Soon, however, she was accepted at Cincinnati Law. Martha, and one other female, Dale Case, whose father was a professor at the University of Cincinnati, comprised the women in the Class of 1943. The two became fast friends and often ate lunch together between classes. Martha shares, “There was very little social life.”
Nine men and the two women made up the class. But did she or Dale ever consider themselves “trailblazers for women in the legal field”? The humble, soft spoken Martha politely shakes her head no. Not one for protest marches and bullhorn parades, her inroads were made with a quiet dignity, the daily pursuit of excellence, and a confidence in her classroom work.
“I enjoyed law school,” Martha softly states. “Some people were surprised I enrolled and I was told, ‘Only men do that.’ That is what men said then and that is what they always will say.”
Though it would take another 37 years before Cincinnati Law had its first tenured female faculty member, Martha reports there was never any pushback from her instructors.
“The professors were glad to see you in class. They were a valuable part of your life,” she fondly recalled.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1916, Martha’s path took her through Long Island to Cleveland, Ohio and finally to Cincinnati in 1937 following the infamous Ohio River flood that left over a million people homeless from Pittsburgh to Cairo, Illinois.
Later, an aunt urged her to apply to prestigious Smith College in Massachusetts, which she did. In today’s competitive nature of law school acceptance and emphasis on LSAT scores, Martha shyly states that her excellent undergraduate grades at Smith were credentials enough for her to gain entry into UC Law.
She can still recite the names of numerous faculty members that taught her at UC. In an earlier interview, Martha is quoted as saying, “Dean (Frank) Rowley made us work hard and toe the line.”
A Professional Career Kicks Off
Martha was in one class taught by the legendary Murray Seasongood. The, “Father of Cincinnati’s Charter form of Government,” Seasongood took on what many called the nation’s worst governed city in 1923, and ignited a reform movement that later led Cincinnati to be hailed as the country’s best-run municipality. It was Professor Seasongood that asked Martha to come to work at the Paxton & Seasongood Law Firm upon her graduation.
Through her work at Paxton & Seasongood, Martha met Si Lazarus, who started the law department at Federated Department Stores, which is now known as Macy’s Inc. Federated Department Stores operated more than 400 department stores and 157 specialty stores in 37 states. “Mr. Lazarus got permission from Mr. Seasongood for me to come to work for him,” Martha says.
Martha proudly states, “Everything I ever accomplished professionally was because of my law degree.”
As for her dear friend Dale Case, she passed away over 20 years ago due to cancer. Martha still communicates with Dale’s daughter on a regular basis
Martha’s son, David, followed in her mother’s footsteps, graduating from Cincinnati Law in 1977. David is now Senior Counsel at Nixon Peabody LLP, in Rochester, New York, and reports, “I was allowed to make my own choices with law school. No pressure from Mom. But I knew where I was going.”
Still Engaging with the College of Law
On November 4, 2017, the College of Law will be hosting an alumni event: Celebration 2017: ReConnect. ReEngage. ReIgnite.—an opportunity to renew relationships with the law school and with other alumni. As with most gatherings of this type, it is a sure bet that memories will be recounted and improved upon… and perhaps even stretched a bit due to the passage of time.
However, if 100-year-old Martha Stimson attends – and she certainly still may physically – the “youngsters” of the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s will probably discover a new definition of the phrase, “back in the day at UC Law.”
- By Thomas W. Giffin, Director of Development
Cincinnati Law Launches Academic Year; LLM Program Grows with First Students from Dual Degree Program
Cincinnati, OH— The 2017-2018 academic year opened as the College of Law welcomed the next generation of corporate attorneys, social justice leaders, immigration rights
activists, prosecutors and public defenders. The Class of 2020 includes 97 JD students and 17 LLM attorney students enrolled as of August 21, 2017.
The first-year students represent 48 universities. Most (55%) are Ohio residents; 45% are from out of state, coming from 18 states, including California, Texas, Utah, Alabama, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The class has spent significant time living or studying abroad in places like Italy, Thailand, Armenia, India, France, Mexico, Belgium and Oman. They were, literally, born all over the world: in Canada, Ghana, the Republic of South Korea, Belarus and China.
A Look at their Backgrounds
Interestingly, the class includes native speakers of German, Belarusian/Russian, Japanese, Hindi, and Armenian/Russian.
Though many are recent graduates from undergraduate institutions, some come to law school after careers in other fields. One worked as a life insurance agent, a paralegal, a global IT specialist for Amazon, and a finance and human resources manager at a New York City start-up.
They have a wide range of hobbies. In addition to reading, they enjoy hiking, competing in mud runs, competitive Pokémon trading cards, home brewing, golf, and animal rescues. They also engage in baseball card trading, playing archery, studying languages, playing squash, running marathons, skiing, and cooking.
Law School Welcomes 17 LLM Students
The LLM (master’s degree) program for internationally-trained attorneys and law graduates continues to grow. Now in its sixth year, the LLM program boasts 17 attorney students, including several individuals who have returned for additional training.
This year’s participants come from 11 countries: Saudi Arabia, Ghana, Kuwait, Italy, Nepal, Turkey, Colombia, Venezuela, Uganda, Jamaica, and China. The professional careers of the attorney students include positions as a manager at the National Pensions Regulatory Authority in Ghana; teaching assistant in law at the University of Ha'il (UoH) as well as a case investigator for the Saudi Arabian Industrial Development Fund; a civil and criminal law attorney in Italy; and an assistant specialist at the Development Bank of Turkey, focusing on international loan agreements. This year’s class also includes the first two students earning their LLM via our dual agreement with the University of Javeriana in Bogota, Colombia.
Their areas of interest are varied and include antitrust law, business law, criminal law, international law, corporate law, and human rights law.
Former OIP Fellow Continues to Fight for the Innocent
When attorney John Kennedy’s indigent client was acquitted of murder last year, his greatly relieved defendant turned to him and asked if it felt good to represent an innocent person. The answer was a little hard for Kennedy to articulate.
Keeping the innocent free is the highest goal for the former OIP fellow. “But I always have a fear of an innocent man going to prison if I fail,” says Kennedy, JD ’10. “It would be my fault.”
That’s a heavy weight to carry on one’s shoulders for an entire career, but Kennedy is exactly where he wants to be — in the Hamilton County Public Defender’s Office. He joined the office in 2011 soon after graduating. It was his dream job, one he began longing for as an Ohio Innocence Project fellow.
The New Richmond, Ohio, native decided to become a lawyer after his first year as a political-science major at Miami University in Ohio. As he began checking out law schools, he was leaning toward Oregon’s Lewis and Clark Law School when he attended a prospective-student open house at UC College of Law. He was snagged immediately. “I was attracted to UC at that open house,” he says. “There was so much warmth and happiness in the students that I decided this is where I wanted to go. At Lewis and Clark, there was no enthusiasm. Everyone seemed down.”
Furthermore, the Ohio Innocence Project also tugged at his heart. A promotional video shown that weekend contained a short segment about Clarence Elkins, OIP’s first exoneration. “I remember sitting there and thinking how amazing that was.” The atmosphere, the students and the OIP video were enough for Kennedy to ditch any thoughts about Oregon. His OIP fellowship a couple of years later sold him on the branch of law he wanted for his career — criminal defense, especially for indigent defendants.
The fellowship, he says, was “very good — reading through transcripts and hearing from inmates, seeing the glaring discrepancies in cases.” It was also very frustrating, he admits. “I would read transcripts and say to myself, ‘Don’t you think that should be questioned? As a defense attorney, you don’t think you should fight over that? Aren’t you going to zealously represent your client?’ ”
Time constraints were another frustration, a common one among OIP fellows. “Everything took so long,” he says. “It was so difficult to get certain things done. A couple of my big cases hit dead end after dead end.
“Ed Emerick was one of those cases. We visited him in prison in Toledo. We went to police stations. We searched evidence rooms. There were spots of blood he wanted tested, but we just couldn’t find them.
“I believe he was innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted, but there were no options left. That’s the kind the frustration that I sometimes felt in the process.”
Lengthy timeframes demoralize defendants, he adds. “Ed was very frustrated the first time we saw him. He felt like previous fellows weren’t hearing him.” Kennedy and his partner won Emerick over with their empathy, but in the end, they had no more success than their predecessors.
Fortunately, Kennedy had greater success as an OIP fellow while working on the Wally Zimmer case; Zimmer got released early. But that didn’t happen until years after Kennedy had graduated and others continued working on the case. The end result met everyone’s hope, but the interim required great patience. Frustrations have followed him into his public defender work. “I enjoy being here,” he says, “but it has its trying days, too.”
One of the annoying parts of the job is knowing that some people call pubic defenders, “public pretenders.” “It's frustrating that the public believes public defenders are bad attorneys - that they do not effectively represent their clients,” he says. He believes his profession has grown more hard-working and passionate in Hamilton County over the last few years.
“In my first six months, I hadn’t seen anyone do a jury trial. Now, as an office, we had 16 jury trials by September of this year. Many people are winning them. In the past four days, we’ve had three wins.
“We’re expected to fight for our clients. Things are happening now that are unprecedented. In many other areas, indigent public defense is lacking, but we are changing that.” An example of the Hamilton County Public Defenders’ commitment to their clients is the fact that Kennedy got a client acquitted for murder in May. Joshua Maxton, 26, had been indicted for shooting and killing an 18-year-old girl who was riding in the front passenger seat of a car in North Avondale.
Kennedy retells the story:
“Joshua was walking down the street, when a car with three people in it stopped and turned around, and the driver called out to Joshua. After talking with someone in the car, Joshua walked away, and a shot was fired. It hit the back passenger window, killing the passenger in the front seat — killing an innocent teenage girl who was with the wrong people.
“The passenger in the back seat and the driver didn’t see who did it, so they assumed last person they saw — Joshua —was the one who shot.
“Later, the driver rode by the scene in a police car, and he pointed out Joshua. The police then picked him up. They tested his clothes and his hands for gun-shot residue. Everything came back negative. DNA was also taken from items at the scene, and there was no match to Joshua.
“Within two days, three people had called the police to say that someone else had committed the murder. Two of them had witnessed the shooting and gave the police the shooter’s name. A third person at the scene described what the shooter was wearing, where he went afterward and identified the shooter by his size, skin tone and what he was wearing. None of the characteristics matched Joshua’s. A fourth person came forward about four months later and also gave the police the shooter’s name.
“Yet the police didn’t follow up on any of the calls.”
At the grand jury hearing, Maxton was indicted on eight charges — murder, aggravated murder, two counts of attempted murder, three counts of felonious assault and a weapons-while-under-disability charge. He was placed in the Hamilton County Justice Center with bond set at $1 million.
At the trial, Kennedy presented evidence from recorded interviews and lab results obtained from bottles found at the scene. The jury decided that Maxton was not guilty. Getting an acquittal on a murder charge was a relief for Kennedy. He hopes it helps to boost public confidence in their office and in other public defenders around the country. One aspect of his job that appeals to him is the variety of the work. “It’s different every day,” he says, “new cases, new issues, new people to deal with. It’s ever changing.” But in the end, it’s his attitude that makes all the difference: “It’s something I am very passionate about. You can really make a difference in people’s lives.”
Written by Deb Rieselman
Cincinnati School of Law alumnus honored grad named to Chambers USA list
TULSA, Okla., July 7, 2017 – Cincinnati School of Law graduate Oliver Howard (J.D. 1979) was recently named by Chambers USA to its list of Leaders in Their Field. Howard, who practices law with the law firm of GableGotwals, was honored for his work in Litigation - General Commercial (Band 2).
The qualities on which Chambers USA rankings are assessed include technical legal ability, professional conduct, client service, commercial astuteness, diligence, commitment and other qualities most valued by the client. Interviews are conducted with peers outside of the firm and clients in order to determine inclusion and rankings.
Howard was one of 15 GableGotwals attorneys to receive this ranking. The firm was also recognized as a Leading Firm in the areas of Energy and Natural Resources (Band 2), General Commercial Litigation (Band 2) and Corporate/Commercial (Band 3). It also was added this year as “Other Noted Firm” in the area of Native American Law.
GableGotwals is a full-service law firm of more than 90 attorneys representing a diversified client base in Oklahoma, the Southwest and across the nation. The firm has offices in Tulsa, Oklahoma City and San Antonio, Texas.
Law Students' Work on US Supreme Court Case Pays Off; Brief Cited by Highest Court in the Land
Early in 2017, first-year students at the University of Cincinnati College of Law were invited to research a high-stakes question that was pending in the United States Supreme Court: when the prosecution chooses to pursue the death penalty against a defendant who has mental illness but cannot afford to hire counsel, does the defendant have the right to a mental health expert who is independent from the prosecution?
Since 1985, capital defense lawyers across the country have obtained such assistance as a matter of right under the Court’s landmark decision Ake v. Oklahoma. Nevertheless, the Alabama courts held there was no such right. In McWilliams v. Dunn, nationally-renowned attorney Steven Bright of the Southern Center for Human Rights asked the Supreme Court to correct that error.
The students jumped at the chance to research the expert appointment practices that have existed across the country since Ake was decided. Their research supported an amicus curiae brief filed by the National Association for Public Defense and other co-amici in McWilliams. Professor Janet Moore supervised the students in her role as chair of NAPD’s Amicus Committee, which she shares with Professor Jennifer Kinsley of NKU-Chase College of Law.
The students’ work paid off. On June 19, 2017, the Court ruled 5-4 that Ake clearly established the capital defendant’s right to a mental health expert who is sufficiently available to the defense and independent from the prosecution to effectively “assist in evaluation, preparation, and presentation of the defense.” The students were thrilled to see Justice Breyer’s majority opinion cite the NAPD brief as showing that the majority of jurisdictions have already adopted this principle.
In reflecting on the experience, many contributing students found it to be not only a valuable learning opportunity but a highlight of their first year at UC Law.
“Assisting Professor Moore with research for the McWilliams brief was one of the highlights of my 1L year,” reflected rising second year law student Francesca Boland. “When I started law school, I never dreamed that before the first year was over I would provide research support for a Supreme Court brief. This was a fantastic opportunity to put my new skills into action and to get a taste of real lawyering. I am thrilled that the brief played a role in the Supreme Court win!”
David Wovrosh expressed similar sentiments. “It was pretty surreal to see our work cited by the highest court in the land,” he said. “The research really tossed the principles we learn in the classroom into the thresher that is the practical application of law. It was an invaluable learning experience. I could never have imagined having access to such profound and impactful experiences my very first year!”
Marissa Lee also was enthusiastic about her experience: "I'm incredibly appreciative of Professor Moore for giving us the opportunity to do research for an NAPD amicus brief for the Supreme Court. My work allowed me to collaborate with my professor and fellow students outside of class, and my work had a sense of significance. We understood the importance of the case to the defendant in this case and to lawyers representing indigent defendants across the country."
The students’ energetic response to the opportunity offered in the McWilliams case led to the formation of the College of Law’s Bearcat-NAPD Amicus Team. Students continue to actively assist Professors Moore and Kinsley with research and drafting as well as with the many administrative tasks required to conduct effective appellate advocacy. The team is therefore well-positioned to continue following the McWilliams case, which was remanded for further proceedings, and to assist in the many other cases across the country that raise questions about whether courts are enforcing the bedrock constitutional guarantees that the Supreme Court emphasized in Ake: “a fair opportunity to present [a] defense” and “to participate meaningfully in a judicial proceeding in which . . . liberty is at stake” – in short, “[m]eaningful access to justice.”