Experience of a Lifetime: Second-Year Law Student Ariel Guggisberg Helps Secure Prisoner’s Release
Law student helps write petition that leads to prisoner’s sentence commutation.
Cincinnati, OH—President Barack Obama’s recent commutation of 61 federal prisoners has a Cincinnati Law connection: second-year student Ariel Guggisberg helped draft the clemency petition for one of the prisoners whose sentence was commuted. “It feels like we really changed a person’s life,” she said.
The clemency petition was made possible under the umbrella of Clemency Project 2014, a working group of attorneys and advocates who provide pro bono assistance to federal prisoners who would likely have received a shorter sentence if sentenced today. Participants include federal defenders, the American Civil Liberties Union, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the American Bar Association, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, more than 70 of the nation’s largest and most prestigious law firms, 500 small firms and solo practitioners, and 30 law schools and clinics. The project was developed after former Deputy Attorney General James Cole appealed to the legal profession to provide free assistance to help identify eligible prisoners and assist them in preparation of clemency petitions.
The Clemency Project 2014 reviews requests from a prisoner who has served 10 years and does not have an obviously disqualifying feature (ex. a crime of violence). The prisoner is assigned an attorney, who requests permission to review documents in his/her case to determine if other criteria are met. If the prisoner is qualified, the individual is assisted by a lawyer to help fill out and file a clemency petition. That’s where Guggisberg came in.
As part of her summer internship at firm Pinales Stachler last year, Guggisberg—under the direction of her supervising attorney Candace Crouse—was charged with helping to draft the petition for her client Michael Morris. (The firm was assigned two cases.) “I thought it was so much fun over last summer,” she said, “finding ways to argue how our client would be sentenced differently today—such as ‘the old laws required mandatory outlandish sentences,’ ‘the sentencing laws differ today,’ and ‘our client has accepted responsibility and learned from his experience.’
“We had to show he’s been rehabilitated and that he can contribute to society.”
After the petition was written, it was submitted to the Office of the Pardon Attorney, where the US Pardon Attorney makes final recommendations to the President. Then they wait to hear.
President Obama’s commutations are part of a larger effort calling for changes to sentencing laws. Most of the recipients “are low-level drug offenders whose sentences would have been shorter if they were convicted under today’s laws,” wrote President Obama in a Facebook posting. He went on to describe pardons and communications as ways “to show people what a second chance can look like.”
Guggisberg and her colleagues at the firm had the pleasure and privilege of breaking the exciting news to their client. She described it as an “incredibly rewarding experience.” Mr. Morris, who is in Texas, will live with his family to reintegrate into society, beginning his new life in July when he and the others are officially released.
What did she learn from this experience? Guggisberg shared that she was impressed and encouraged by watching her colleagues, daily, do everything they can for clients. “It was beautiful to see. I learned that to be successful in criminal defense, you have to have thick skin and relentless hope in humanity.”
Upon graduation next year, Guggisberg plans to focus her career in healthcare law.
Third Year Law Student’s Oral Argument Garners a New Sentence For Client Before the Sixth Circuit
Kellie Kulka’s oral argument at the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals brings a win for the Sixth Circuit Clinic and a published opinion—all before graduation.
Cincinnati, OH—Kellie Kulka ’16 had an opportunity only a small number of law students get – to argue a case before a federal appellate court, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. What happened her first time up? The court ruled in her client’s favor, reversing the sentence!
“This is a big win,” said Kulka. “I’m just shocked that they issued an opinion so quickly.”
The case, United States v. Fowler, involved a Detroit doctor who was convicted of healthcare fraud. The law school’s Sixth Circuit Clinic, which introduces students to the basics of appellate advocacy, took the case on appeal. Last year’s clinic participants wrote the initial brief; this year’s group did additional research and brought the case to argument.
Clinic director Colter Paulson, Senior Associate at Squire Patton Boggs, explained: “Kellie took oral argument preparation, and her representation of the client, very seriously and spent the better part of two months working on and preparing for the argument. ” This was in addition to her regular clinic assignments and academic work.
“When I walked through security at Potter Stewart Court House, I was asked if I was there to argue a case, to which I responded "yes I am,” said Kulka. “That's when the experience became very real to me, that this wasn't just at Moot Court competition, but that I was actually advocating for someone. I spent months reading trial transcripts and the briefing by the parties. I was actually dreaming about the case by March. However, it was not until I told them that I was there to argue, that I was able to take real ownership the case.
“Kellie’s preparation paid off. In fact, she did such an excellent job during oral argument that the federal public defender in a companion case ceded his reply time to her so she could drive our points home before the panel,” said Paulson.
“I argued in the En Banc Courtroom. I had been in that room before to observe, but actually learning that I would argue in that room was surreal,” Kulka remarked. “I was nervous initially, but once I began to present the case, the adrenaline kicked in and I rode that thrill for the remainder of my time.”
The clinic team won a reversal of the doctor’s sentence because the court failed to make factual findings to support it. And Paulson and the team feel that they should be able to substantially reduce the client’s sentence on remand, based on some of the language written in the decision about the extent of the fraud.
“But we also won a larger victory,” noted Paulson. “Lots of sentencing arguments like this are losers because of waiver before the trial court, but we argued that the right to factual findings could not be waived. There were no cases in any circuit saying so, but we got the panel to agree that even if the trial attorney waived the argument, ‘the district court was still under an obligation to make factual findings regarding the applicable Guidelines range.’ This is decision requires district courts to make factual findings to support sentences rather than (as is often the case) just hand-waiving to create a Guideline sentence.”
Congratulations to Kellie Kulka, the Sixth Circuit participants, and clinic co-directors Paulson and Lauren Kuley, Associate at Squire Patton Boggs, on their successful win.
University of Cincinnati College of Law Named a Best School for Public Service Careers
Kate Cook ’14 interned with the Indigent Defense Clinic, learning to represent clients.
The College of Law was recognized among the top 20 law schools in the country for law students interested in prosecutorial/public defender work.
Cincinnati, OH— The accolades continue into 2016 as the University of Cincinnati College of Law was just recognized as a “Best School for Public Service Careers” by National Jurist magazine. The college is among the top 20 law schools in the country in the prosecutors/public defenders category.
“I am very happy to hear we have been recognized for our success in preparing students for careers in public service. This is a reflection to the hard work and commitment of our faculty and staff,” said Dean Jennifer S. Bard.
National Jurist magazine conducted a study, which will be published in the winter edition of preLaw magazine that looked at the top schools in three categories – public interest, government and prosecutors/public defenders. The study examined curricular offerings, employment placement, debt, starting salary and loan repayment assistance programs. Twenty schools were recognized in each category; some schools appeared in more than one.
Over the past few months the College of Law has received numerous acknowledgements, including being ranked an A- Best Value Law School by National Jurist and preLaw magazines; a top school for practical training by National Jurist; a top 50 law school for sending graduates to the top 250 law firms by the National Law Journal; and a top 30 National Jurist Super Lawyer School.
LLM Program Is Opening Doors for Attorneys from China
“Law is the art about justice and kindness. It has depth and complexity; every court has two sides, and society is driven by multiple different forces,” states Ying (Nancy) Zhang, an LL.M. student from China.
The LL.M. program provides students who have studied law in a foreign country the opportunity to receive up to two years of exposure to the U.S. legal system. Each student has, at minimum, a bachelor’s in law and earns a masters in law for foreign-trained lawyers. The program is currently in its fourth year, and has so far graduated 30 students from 18 different countries. This year’s class features 18 students from 10 countries, and includes Qing Lyu, also from China, in addition to Zhang.
Before starting the LL.M. program, Zhang completed a bachelor’s degree at Zhengzhou University, where she received training to “think like a lawyer”, and a master’s degree at China University of Political Science and Law. She also had field experience, practicing corporate law at a local firm in Singapore for nearly four years.
When her husband relocated to the U.S. for work, it opened the door for Zhang to participate in the program.
Fellow student Lyu also left China to pursue education in America when her husband came to the States for work as well. “If you have a law degree in your country, and you know a little bit about American institutions, when you come back to my country, it’s very competitive for you to find a good job.” Although Lyu is not yet sure if they will return to China at some point, she does know that she wants to get work experience in America under her belt before they do.
Lyu also attended China University of Political Science and Law, but for her undergraduate education, where she studied both law and economics. For her graduate program, she went to Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, focusing on maritime law.
Similar to other LL.M. students, these women have noticed disparities between teaching styles here and in their home country, and both point to talking during class being the biggest one.
Lyu explained that professors will lecture, and although you can ask questions, it typically doesn’t happen. In the third year, students take classes that do allow them to talk a little bit, but note taking is still the major point of class. During her studies here, however, “We are asked to engage a lot. To ask questions, discuss with each other, or debate with professors-that’s very different.” Professors, and other students, are more open to questions here as well, and she feels that there is not such a stigma of asking a “dumb question.”
Zhang partially credited the factor of age for this phenomenon. While American law students hold some other type of degree, those in China do not necessarily have that. Law is open to younger students, meaning that they need to be told more of what the law is, and how it works, before they can reasonably be expected to make judgements about it.
This degree has also served as a reminder that looks can be deceiving. Although she researched what law school in America entailed, Zhang came to find out that actually doing it is different than imagining it. As taking class everyday in China was no problem, she didn’t understand why everyone said 17 credit hours would be too much. After delving into her classes, however, she realized that they were right. “When I’m really going through it, it’s like, Oh, okay, I really have a lot of homework. I actually need to read a lot before I come to school, I’m expected to talk in class, and I have to write a lot. I knew I would probably go through this, but actually doing it is a little bit different.”
Lyu felt similarly, originally deceived by social media posts. “I feel like it’s more challenging than I thought. A lot of my classmates came to the U.S. to study law, and they always post pictures of a lot of interesting things, like parties, and they travel a lot...I feel like I don’t have time for that. Basically, I study in the library, I prepare for class, I go home to sleep, and that’s my life.”
Although there are not as many international students, specifically those from China, at UC as opposed to many other law schools, Lyu views this as a benefit. “It forces you to talk with Americans or people from different countries, which also helps you improve your english skills. It’s kind of common if you have a lot of Chinese here that you just talk with them. You discuss with them about the class, or anything, so I think it’s beneficial for me not to have that.”
After LL.M. graduation, Zhang hopes to continue practicing corporate law, similar to what she was doing before, but to stay in the U.S.
Lyu isn’t sure where she will end up. If she remains stateside, she wishes to become a lawyer. However, upon return to China, her goal is to become a judge. Although that’s often one’s final job in America, it is not the same in her home country. After graduation, many of her classmates became clerks, in pursuit of eventually becoming a judge, saying, “In our country, we want to work for the government.”
Wherever they end up, both women are extremely happy to be a part of the program, and grateful for the opportunity to learn from skilled professors who care. As Zhang put it, “It is a privilege to be back to school at this time of my life.”
Author: Michelle Flanagan '18, UC Honors Student
Prof. Sandra Sperino Gives Talk on First Generation Discrimination
Prof. Sandra Sperino gave a talk titled "First Generation Discrimination" at the conference, The Present and Future of Civil Rights Movements: Race and Reform in 21st Century America. The conference was hosted by Duke Law School's Center on Law, Race and Politics on November 20-21, 2015.
College of Law and Arts and Sciences Partner; Students can Earn Dual Degrees in Shorter Time
Undergraduate students who plan to attend law school can now participate in the 3+3 Law Program, a new partnership enabling them to earn both a bachelor’s and law degree in six years.
Cincinnati, OH—Things just got more streamlined for students aiming to attend law school after their undergraduate education.
Thanks to a new partnership between the University of Cincinnati’s College of Law and the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences, students majoring in Political Science, International Affairs, History, Philosophy, English, or Communications will be eligible for the new 3+3 program.
The University of Cincinnati 3 + 3 Law Program allows eligible undergraduates at University of Cincinnati’s McMicken College of Arts & Sciences to earn a bachelor’s degree and a law degree in just six years, saving a year of tuition and time over the traditional path to becoming a lawyer. Students admitted to the University of Cincinnati College of Law under the program will complete their bachelor’s degree while simultaneously completing the first year of law school.
“The 3+3 Program is an exciting opportunity for undergraduates who know they have a strong interest in law school and want to get an early start on getting to know what it will be like,” said College of Law Dean Jennifer S. Bard. “We will be including the 3+3 students in events and lectures and also encourage them to enroll in the classes taught by our faculty that will be available to all undergraduates.”
Recent accolades from National Jurist, including being named a Best Value Law School, along with bar passage results well above the state average, are simply additional reasons students should consider the College of Law and take advantage of this opportunity.
“Our new 3+3 partnership with the College of Law will save Pre-Law students a year of tuition.” said McMicken College of Arts and Sciences Dean Ken Petren. “Each student will have a team of advisers so they are ready to apply to law school at the end of their junior year. We’ve chatted with prospective students about this opportunity, and the response has been very positive.”
Currently, the partnership is limited to UC students in specific majors within the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences.
How Do Students Sign Up?
To apply, students must be in their junior year of one of the eligible programs, have completed the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), and submit an application to the law school. Application to the 3+3 program does not guarantee admission; rather, candidates will be considered alongside the school’s regular pool of applicants.
Students who are interested in this program and already attending UC are encouraged to schedule an appointment with the Pre-Professional Advising Center to find out more about the 3+3 program, as well as schedule a meeting with their department academic advisor to ensure that they can meet all undergraduate major requirements.
Because bachelor’s degree completion and the first year of law school will be happening simultaneously, students will be considered a full-time law student during the fourth year and will pay law school tuition. University scholarships and financial aid may still be available.
To learn more visit: 3+3 Program
First-year Student Tyler Spanyer Talks About His Decision to Attend UC Law
“I chose UC Law because it was where I felt most comfortable. They welcomed me with open arms and promised me that from the moment I walked in the door, to the day I walked across the stage, I would get the best practical legal education I could hope for. The Open House was important for me because I had only lived in Lexington, KY, and seeing UC first-hand was instrumental in my decision-making process. At the Open House, I had the opportunity to meet faculty, staff, and some of the students I now call classmates, all while getting the feel for what UC Law was all about.”
Professor Janet Moore Presents Work at Loyola-Chicago
Professor Janet Moore presented Participatory Constitutionalism at the Loyola-Chicago Law School's Constitutional Law Colloquium on November 6, 2015.
College of Law Reports Strong Bar Passage Results
Kevin Flynn, recent graduate, is hooded
by his father, ’87 UC Law graduate Kevin R. Flynn.
Law School Beats State Average and ranks second in Ohio as 88 % of First-Time Takers
Pass the July 2015 Ohio Bar Exam
Cincinnati, OH—Three years of coursework, thousands of study hours, and hundreds of hours of legal work experience all come together three days in July when law school graduates from across the state and beyond sit for the Ohio Bar Examination. Today, the results of the July 2015 Bar Exam were released and the University of Cincinnati College of Law, ranked an A level “Best Value Law School” by The National Jurist, recorded an 88 percent passage rate for first-time takers, second among Ohio law schools. This rate exceeds the state-wide average passing rate of 80 percent.
The overall passage rate for College of Law’s takers is 87 percent, second among Ohio law schools. It is almost 13 percent higher than the state-wide average rate of 74.5 percent.
Out-of-state results are just as strong. For those jurisdictions that have released their outcomes, Class of 2015 results represent a 87.5 percent pass rate, including a 100 percent pass rate in Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Minnesota, New York and Wisconsin.
“We’re excited about the results of the July bar exam and very proud of our students. Their hard work has paid off,” said Jennifer S. Bard, Dean and Nippert Professor of Law. “They have represented our school, their families, themselves and the community with distinction. We look forward to celebrating with them during the swearing ceremony in Columbus and supporting them as they continue their careers.”
She continued, “Although in the end each student’s bar preparation is one of individual effort, much credit goes to the faculty and staff who have developed a curriculum that both prepares students to pass this specific test and excel as lawyers.”
Applicants who successfully passed the examination and who satisfied all of the Supreme Court’s other requirements for admission will be admitted on Monday, November 16, 2015 at 10:30 a.m. during a special session of the Supreme Court at the historic Ohio Theatre in Columbus, OH. The session will be streamed live via the Supreme Court and Ohio Channel websites at www.supremecourt.ohio.gov and www.ohiochannel.org. It will also be available statewide on the Ohio Channel’s local public broadcasting stations.
Other Cincinnati Law News
From the Seminary to Law School, Zack Weber Shares How It All Connects
Cincinnati native and first-year law student Zack Weber spent his time following high school on a unique and diverse path exploring different areas of interest that fit his personal and professional motivations. From his early studies in the seminary to seven-years of professional experience, Weber has found that his desire to make a difference in the lives of others has been a strong motivating factor throughout his professional journey and has inspired him to pursue a career in the legal field.
“It’s been a bit of a round about path here,” he teased.
Weber expressed that his interest in the seminary started around his sophomore year in high school. After graduating from local Cincinnati school Elder, he did not pursue that line of study initially, but instead began his undergraduate study in Engineering at the University of Dayton.
“Engineering was actually an interest of mine in high school as well so I wanted to give that a shot, you know a fair shot first before deciding to start with seminary.”
But it wasn't long until Weber decided to start his seminary journey. After his first year at UD he decided to transfer to the Pontifical College of Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, where he received his undergraduate degree in Philosophy in addition to his early priesthood training. Following his studies at Josephinum, Weber continued on in the seminary and traveled over 4,000 miles to Rome, Italy for graduate studies in theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University.
“I was [at the Gregorian] a total of four academic years. Although in-between my third and fourth year of studies I actually did an internship back here in the States with a parish in Hamilton, Ohio where I was helping out with different parish functions. I couldn’t say mass or anything like that but I was helping out with the school, with their parish counsel, and with anything else I could without being a priest at that point,” Weber shared.
After returning from Italy, he ultimately decided to not be ordained a priest. Around that time, Weber recalled, a good friend who also left the seminary had gone directly into law school. And about five or six of his friends from seminary were likewise taking the law school path.
“I always thought that was kind of curious, ‘what’s the connection?’” Weber questioned, and through conversations with his friends, who are now practicing attorneys, noticed there were many parallels between the two professions that he could identify with.
“It kind of struck a chord with me. I think the idea of being in seminary and wanting to be a priest has a lot of commonality with wanting to be a lawyer. I think in both arenas you have a great ability to help people, albeit in different ways; and while many priests want to help people in a spiritual way, the ideas of truth and justice, I think, carry over into both places.”
This desire to pursue law school prompted Weber to take the LSAT in 2007, but he determined at that particular time law school wasn’t the best decision. So he started out his career in retail and customer service, sharpening his communication and interpersonal skills. After his return from Italy, Weber began working at the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza as a front office assistant manager, before later moving into a position at Nordstrom. Most recently, he was the manager for the Art of Shaving, a retail store that sells a men’s luxury grooming line. Weber opened the store in 2012 and was the general manager for three years before he left this summer for law school.
He commented, “I think my desire professionally has always been to make a substantial difference in people’s lives. And I think that was my initial desire when I thought I wanted to be a priest. And I think it's still my deep desire now. Which, you know in retail you can make a difference but I don’t think it was the kind of difference I was looking for.”
Now as first year law student and Fellow with the Center for Race, Gender and Social Justice, Weber endeavors to explore different areas of law to be able to pursue that goal of making a substantial difference in people’s lives. With UC Law being at the top of his list, Weber noted that the Center was one of the major factors in making UC Law his final decision.
“Social justice has always been a major interest of mine, probably from the time I was in grade school. I remember wanting to get involved in community service type activities. I actually did a 10-week mission trip and volunteered at Catholic youth camps and stuff like that in college. So I’ve always been trying to commit myself, to give my energy, my abilities, and my skills to help people in whatever position they are in in life.”
Weber admits that his specific career goals are not fine-tuned at this moment, but he is looking forward to exploring different areas of law where he can tie-in his interest for social justice.
“I think that the idea of social justice can be found pretty much at any level. You know whether you’re in a business, whether you’re in small practice or public interest, you can really carry that out in any area… But I’m keeping my mind really open. I do want to spend some time both in the public and private sector before I make a decision. That’s a pretty broad generalization, but it’s a starting point.”
By: Sarah Nelson’17