Ohio Innocence Project's Case Wins at the 2007 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival
Cincinnati, OH—Conviction: The True Story of Clarence Elkins, a documentary about the life, wrongful conviction and eventual release of Clarence Elkins, has won the 2007 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival Award for Best Short Documentary. This story features the work of University of Cincinnati College of Law Professor Mark Godsey and the law school’s Ohio Innocence Project. This team, through an analysis of DNA and testimony, led the charge to have Mr. Elkins released from prison after he was wrongfully convicted of raping and murdering his mother-in-law.
The movie, directed by Mike West and Bill Ward, was a unanimous choice by the judges for the Best Short Documentary award out of about 100 other documentaries. Reviewers called the movie “an awesome documentary” and “in-depth look at a case, a justice system, and a life.” The film festival, which concludes today in Missoula, Montana, is considered one of the world’s top documentary film festivals.
“Literally everyone was crying at the screening, that’s how much this film touched people,” said the College of Law’s Godsey. “It’s a way to educate people about what happened in this case, and a way to do it in a beautiful form. The film told the story about all the pain that was involved in this case, and did it in a very effective way.”
“The festival was wonderful – great people, warm atmosphere – and seeing the film move the audience to tears was an experience I’ll never forget,” said West. West produced the film, along with Ward, Fred Steim and David Fortney. Executive producer for the film was Kurtis Productions.
A Summary of the Story
In a small town in Ohio, Melinda Elkins' mother is raped and murdered and her husband is arrested for the crime and sent to prison for life. Proving that police have the wrong man would take eight years, all of her money, and the only life she knew. Partly a meditation on the role of luck in the criminal justice system, the documentary chases a story too unbelievable if it weren't true.
The Big Sky Film Festival
The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival includes three separate competition categories – Best Documentary Feature, Best Documentary Short and the Big Sky Award. To be eligible for screening in a competitive category, films must be Montana Premieres and have not been broadcast on the Internet or Television anywhere in the United States. Big Sky competition films can be any length but must be about the American West. The award for Best Documentary Short is given to one film up to 50 minutes in length.
177th Law School Hooding Celebrates Graduates
Ohio State Senator Eric Kearney ’89, along with 128 students, were honored at the University of Cincinnati College of Law’s 177th Hooding Ceremony on May 8, 2010. In addition to honoring the senator, the ceremony was highlighted by keynote speaker and law school graduate Justice Stephen J. Markman ’74 of the Michigan Supreme Court.
“My College of Law colleagues and I were eager to celebrate this wonderful occasion with our students in the Class of 2010 and their family and friends,” said Dean Louis D. Bilionis, who presided over the ceremony. “The day marked a major milestone in the lives of these young professionals. They’ve worked hard, accomplished much, and are embarking on careers that will be rich with achievement and positive contributions to society. We are thrilled for them and salute them.”
At this year’s event, Senator Kearney was presented with the Nicholas J. Longworth, III Alumni Achievement Award. This award recognizes law school graduates for their outstanding contributions to society. Senator Kearney is a champion of small business development, child safety, adoption, and crime prevention. Before joining the Ohio Senate, he founded and built one of the largest African-American owned publishing companies, Sesh Communications, publishers of The Cincinnati Herald, The Northern Kentucky Herald, The Dayton Defender, and other publications. He also practiced law with Strauss & Troy, LLP and was a partner with the firm Cohen, Todd, Kite & Stanford, LLC.
Additionally, the Goldman Prize for Teaching Excellence was awarded. The Goldman Prize is given to law school professors and is based on their research and public service as they contribute to superior performance in the classroom. This year’s recipients are Professors Marjorie Aaron, Kristin Kalsem, and Darrel A.H.Miller. See accompanying article on the Goldman Prize winners for complete details.
Meet Keynote Speaker Justice Stephen J. Markman
Justice Markman, who serves on the Michigan Supreme Court, has a distinguished career in the legal field. He began his career on Capital Hill, working for seven years as the chief counsel of the United States Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution and as the deputy chief counsel of the United States Senate Judiciary Committee. President Ronald Reagan nominated him to serve as assistant attorney general of the United States, a position he held from 1985 to 1989. In this role Judge Markman headed the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy, the office bearing principal responsibility for policy development within the department and coordination of the federal judicial selection process. He went on to serve as United States attorney in Michigan, nominated by President George H.W. Bush. After working in government for many years, Judge Markman joined the firm of Miller, Canfield, Paddock & Stone. Two years later he became a member of the Michigan Court of Appeals, serving for four years until his appointment to the Michigan Supreme Court.
Other award winners include:
- James Michael Matthews, John W. Peck Award
- Giles Roblyer, Stanley M. Chesley and Hon. Susan J. Dlott Prize for Litigation Excellence, William Worthington Prize, James B. Helmer, Jr. Law Review Award
- Jonathan T. Amitrano, Corbin Prize
- Jonathan W. Ford, Neil Weill Service Award
- Sean M. Donovan, J. Carro Consummate Advocate Award
- Ryan Nicholas Schmit, University Award
- Amy Gill, College Moot Court Award
- Megan Shuba, Augustine John McDonough Prize
- Lori Goetz Heilman, Norbert Heinsheimer Essay Prize
- Peter J. O'Shea, James B. Helmer, Jr. Law Review Award
After 18 Years in Prison, UC Law Students Help Innocent Man Regain His Freedom
Students working as part of the Ohio Innocence Project, based within the UC College of Law, saw their efforts have the ultimate impact on Monday, August 2008, when Robert McClendon was released after serving 18 years for a crime that scientific testing says he did not commit.
McClendon was granted a new trial and released on his own recognizance after a hearing in the downtown Columbus courtroom of Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Charles Schneider. More than 15 University of Cincinnati College of Law students who are part of the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP) were on hand to witness the proceedings, along with about 20 excited friends and family members of McClendon.
Both the Franklin County prosecutor’s office and defense counsel from the OIP indicated after the hearing in media reports that they don’t expect charges to be re-filed against McClendon. That decision would make McClendon the third Ohio inmate to earn exoneration in the five-year history of the OIP, and end a legal odyssey that began for the Columbus resident in 1990, when he was arrested for a rape of a 10-year-old girl, a crime he has steadfastly denied committing ever since.
"The first thing he said when Mike (Harrington) and I went to meet him for the first time was ‘Before we get started, I just want to tell you guys I’m completely innocent of this crime,’ " recalled UC third-year law student Dan O’Brien, who worked on McClendon’s case for most of the last year as a OIP Fellow. "He said that we had to believe that fact if we were going to work on this case."
McClendon maintained confidence that a DNA test could clear him. O’Brien ended up drafting a brief that ultimately earned McClendon a chance at a DNA test, despite McClendon's having previous efforts to earn such a test before the OIP joined his case denied.
McClendon also benefited from a project being initiated by the Columbus Dispatch newspaper, which partnered with the OIP to try and get DNA testing for the state’s inmates whose cases had the most potential to be helped (or hurt, if the DNA would prove their involvement) by the results of testing. The Dispatch partnership ended up earning DNA testing for 30 inmates — McClendon is the first to have his results come back.
"We have more exciting cases that we are working on than at any other time in our history. The McClendon case is just the beginning," says OIP Faculty Director and UC Professor of Law Mark Godsey. "I think it’s also appropriate in this case to point out that Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien has been the model of what every citizen should want out of a prosecutor. He looked hard at the issues involved in this case, and when he saw what the facts were saying, he was reasonable and cooperative in trying to make sure the right thing got done."
The prosecutor’s office allowed for the DNA testing to be done on the underwear the victim was wearing when attacked. Just locating that piece of evidence, 18 years after the fact, was a chore for UC law students O’Brien and Harrington. New, more sensitive analyzing technology determined the presence of DNA material on the evidence, and when it was tested against a sample taken from McClendon in prison, it was shown not to be a match.
"Before we even had the DNA results, we had read the transcripts from the trial and had formulated opinions on what had happened," says Courtney Cunningham, a current OIP Fellow who took over the work on McClendon’s case in May along with partner Megan Tonner. "When the results came back, we were pleasantly surprised but not shocked. From that point, we just collaborated with the prosecutor’s office and worked to do what was best for them, best for us and best for Robert."
Cunningham and Tonner had their efforts this summer overseen by OIP attorney Jennifer Paschen Bergeron, the lead defense counsel on this case and herself a recent UC College of Law grad. Bergeron was a member of the college’s Class of 2002, shortly before the OIP came into existence.
"You just don’t know what is going to happen with a case like this," Bergeron says. "That’s the whole reason for having an Innocence Project and doing this kind of testing."
Monday’s hearing was a quick matter, lasting little more than 10 minutes. McClendon’s backers could be heard to gasp and cry softly when he was brought into the courtroom in handcuffs and leg irons.
Judge Schneider offered words of praise to both the prosecution and defense counsel who worked to recognize the ultimate issues of justice involved in the case, and then closed simply with, "Mr. McClendon, you are released on your own recognizance. Thank you, Mr. McClendon, and good luck to you."
UC law student Jason Masterson was among those who made the trip up to Columbus for the hearing. "It's just historic to be in the courtroom and see someone like Robert, who was wrongfully convicted, walk out."
Masterson, who had worked for three years in the Hamilton County Justice System as part of the Talber House program before coming to law school, considers Monday's outcome an event that "restores your faith. With my background, I knew the realities of the system and wasn't going to be interested in being a part of the Innocence Project if the organization was too liberal. But what sold me was how strict the screening process is (for inmates). They've reviewed hundreds of cases, but only five have gone to court. That says they're being selective." In McClendon's case, his assertion of innocence for so many years was borne out by Monday's events.
I’m just thrilled for Robert," says Dan O’Brien. "It’s a great feeling knowing I was part of the project that freed him, and it just seems like a lot of hard work has paid off. That’s a great feeling."
Article By: Carey Hoffman
Phone: (513) 556-1825
New Attorneys Admitted to the Bar November 17, 2008
UC Law’s graduates who successfully passed the Ohio State Bar examination were sworn in Monday, Nov. 17, at a special public session of the Supreme Court of Ohio.
Supreme Court Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger served as the keynote speaker, and Justice Terrence O’Donnell led the new attorneys in the professional oath.
The oath of office sessions was broadcast live on the internet on the Supreme Court’s Website as well as the Ohio Channel. In addition, the sessions will be available statewide on the Ohio Channel’s local public broadcasting stations, which reach more than 4 million homes. The sessions will air on the Ohio Channel from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 25 and from 1 to 3 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 12 and Sunday, Dec. 14.
The attorneys being sworn in passed the July 2008 bar examination and satisfied all of the Supreme Court’s other requirements for admission.
UC Law's Antonio Mazzaro '09 Co-hosts CityTalk Radio, November 30
Third year law student and SBA President Antonio Mazzaro co-hosted the live call-in show CityTalk Radio, located on 550WKRC-AM, on Sunday, November 30. This week's topic was Greater Cincinnati's New Faces of Leadership. Guests included Ohio State Representatives Connie Pillich and Denise Driehaus.
Tune in to CityTalk Radio to learn about issues and happenings throughout the tri-state. Email questions to email@example.com. Visit the website at www.citytalk550.com for more information and to blog about this program or past ones.
'09 Graduate Virginia Tallent Awarded Equal Justice Works Fellowship
After graduating from the University of Cincinnati College of Law over the weekend, Virginia Tallent is set to begin her legal career with the Child Health Law Partnership, a partnership between the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. This program was made possible through the Equal Justice Works Fellowships program.
“My project will solve legal issues affecting the health of low-income children and their families through a dynamic medical-legal partnership,” said Tallent. “My project will elevate the ability to respond to housing conditions cases referred to Child HeLP through specialized advocacy. My goal is to secure environmental justice for low-income clients.”
Tallent, a Springfield, MO native, began work in legal advocacy through an internship with the Children’s Law Center in Covington, KY. She saw that children’s rights and the inequalities facing many youth today were issues that had never touched her life before, but affected her through her work at the CLC. This inspired her to focus on this area as a career.
“I believe that our first responsibility is to help others, especially vulnerable populations like children. I have seen firsthand how the medical problems of low-income children are often complicated by unmet legal needs. Medical-legal partnerships are an invaluable tool in the fight to improve medical outcomes for children.”
Equal Justice Works Fellowships is the largest postgraduate legal fellowship program in the U.S. More than 300 lawyers and law students submitted applications for the Class of 2009. The new Fellows are funded by 34 sponsors; represent 35 Equal Justice Works member law schools; and will be working at organizations in 15 states and the District of Columbia.
“The Class of 2009 is entering the field when people need affordable legal services the most,” said Cait Clarke, Director of Public Interest Law Opportunities at Equal Justice Works. “These attrneys have demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to justice and I’m proud to welcome them into the legal services community.”
Two UC Law Students Selected for 2009 Equal Justice Works Summer Corp Program
Law students Michelle Cheek ‘10 and Allison Schwartz ‘10 have been selected to participate in the 2009 Equal Justice Works Summer Corps program. Summer Corps members provide critically needed legal assistance to low-income and underserved communities in 44 states and the District of Columbia. In addition, Summer Corps members gain first-hand experience and legal skills in areas such as client intake, individual representation, research and writing.
This year, Cheek will work at the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati. Schwartz will work at the New Hampshire Public Defender Office in Concord, New Hampshire. Both will be engaged in a broad range of issues, including civil rights, community economic development, death penalty, disability rights, housing, domestic violence, education, public benefits and workers' rights.
This year's 420 Summer Corps members represent 147 Equal Justice Works law schools. With a record 1,184 applications this year, the selection process was extremely competitive. The law students will each receive a $1,000 AmeriCorps education award voucher upon completion of a minimum of 300 hours of summer service at a nonprofit public interest organization.
For more information about the program, visit their website.
Pro Bono Week Gives Students Inside Scoop on Clinics
UC Law’s Public Interest Law Group (PILG) celebrated National Pro Bono Week, October 26-31, 2009, giving students a “behind-the-scenes” look at three of the law school’s clinical pro bono opportunities.
Sponsored by the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, National Pro Bono Week is a coordinated national effort to showcase the great difference that pro bono lawyers make to the nation, its system of justice, its communities and, most of all, to the clients they serve. The week is also dedicated to the quest for more pro bono volunteers to meet the ever-growing legal needs of this country's most vulnerable citizens. During the week, interested 1Ls and 2Ls got the chance to shadow upper level students and pro bono lawyers working with three of the College of Law’s clinical experiences: the Domestic Violence & Civil Protection Order Clinic, the Ohio Innocence Project, and the Indigent Defense Clinic.
Students got an inside look at domestic relations’ court proceedings and learned how the Domestic Violence Clinic assists victims and provides representation in civil protection order hearings. They also heard lawyers and students with the Ohio Innocence Project evaluate individual cases of wrongful conviction and see how they construct arguments for exoneration. Students that signed up for the Indigent Defense Clinic experience observed third year students utilizing their limited practice licenses representing indigent clients in felony and misdemeanor charges in Hamilton County Courts.
Here’s what three students thought about their experience:
“I had an opportunity to shadow students involved in the Domestic Violence Clinic. It was an invaluable experience because it gave me an inside look at how I could best use my legal education to make a real difference in my community. Being a first year law student can be overwhelming at times because there are so many opportunities to get involved and make a difference. The ability to shadow the various institutes and clinics the College of Law provides gave me the chance to reflect on what I want to do with my legal education. By seeing what my peers are able to do with their talents and skills, I am slowly but surely figuring out where I might end up in a few short years.” Lauren Cook '12
“During Public Interest Week at the law school, I had the opportunity to talk with current members of the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP). Over lunch, we discussed what the fellows in the project actually do, heard a bit about their caseload and past work, and discussed in detail a case that they are currently working on. It was fascinating to hear about how their work not only helps to free innocent men who have been wrongly imprisoned, but also, in many cases, indicates the real perpetrator. Far from the simple process depicted on TV shows, the work of the OIP fellows in releasing innocent men from prison involves complex legal and genetic issues. As an informal, conversational discussion, the meeting provided us with information tailored to our own questions, and thus was more informative than a lecture and put a real face on the problem of innocent men in prison.” Angela Neyer '12
“I shadowed a student interning at the Indigent Defense Clinic. During my visit, we made several client visits on several of the cases the student was working with. Talking with the student, I learned more of what an internship at the IDC is about. I was surprised that students have so much freedom and flexibility with their caseload. They actually get direct client interaction allowing them to put theory/law into practical experience. Criminal law, specifically public defense, is an area I am very interested in and I think the clinic would be very helpful to anyone who is interested in criminal law -- whether on the prosecution or defense side. It gives students practical, hands-on experience working with indigent clients. After shadowing a student, I am most definitely hoping to work at the IDC during my 3L year.” Kaushiki Chowdhury '11
College of Law Bar Exam Results Are Strong
The results for the University of Cincinnati College of Law students who took the July 2009 Ohio Bar Exam are in and the College of Law led the state for overall test takers. While the passage rate for all takers was 81.3 percent, the College of Law’s passage rate was 89 percent.
The passage rate for the College of Law’s first-time test takers was 91 percent, compared to an 87.8 percent passage rate for all first-time test takers in Ohio. This score puts the law school third among Ohio law schools.
Ohio is among the top three jurisdictions in which our graduates practice. The 2009 class fared equally well on the New York and Illinois bar exams.
Applicants who have successfully passed the examination and who have satisfied all of the Supreme Court’s other requirements for admission were sworn in on November 9 during a special session of the Supreme Court at the historic Ohio Theatre.
177th Law School Hooding to Celebrate Graduates
University of Cincinnati College of Law’s Hooding Ceremony will honor Senator Eric Kearney, along with this year’s graduates.
Cincinnati, OH—Ohio State Senator Eric Kearney ’89, along with 128 students, will be honored at the University of Cincinnati College of Law’s 177th Hooding Ceremony on May 8, 2010. This event, which will be held at historic Music Hall, begins at 1:00 p.m. until 2:45 p.m. In addition to honoring the senator, the ceremony will be highlighted by keynote speaker and law school graduate Justice Stephen J. Markman ’74 of the Michigan Supreme Court.
“My College of Law colleagues and I are eager to celebrate this wonderful occasion with our students in the Class of 2010 and their family and friends,” said Dean Louis D. Bilionis, who will preside over the ceremony. “The day marks a major milestone in the lives of these young professionals. They’ve worked hard, accomplished much, and are embarking on careers that will be rich with achievement and positive contributions to society. We are thrilled for them and salute them.”
At this year’s event, Senator Kearney will be presented with the Nicholas J. Longworth, III Alumni Achievement Award. This award recognizes law school graduates for their outstanding contributions to society. Senator Kearney is a champion of small business development, child safety, adoption, and crime prevention. Before joining the Ohio Senate, he founded and built one of the largest African-American owned publishing companies, Sesh Communications, publishers of The Cincinnati Herald, The Northern Kentucky Herald, The Dayton Defender, and other publications. He also practiced law with Strauss & Troy, LLP and was a partner with the firm Cohen, Todd, Kite & Stanford, LLC.
Additionally, the Goldman Prize for Teaching Excellence will be awarded. The Goldman Prize is given to law school professors and is based on their research and public service as they contribute to superior performance in the classroom. This year’s recipients are:
- Marjorie Aaron, Professor of Practice and Director, Center for Practice. Professor Aaron is an active mediator, arbitrator, and trainer in negotiation and dispute resolution throughout the tri-state. She works with both students and practitioners utilizing innovative methods to teach principals of dispute resolution.
- Kristin Kalsem, Professor of Law. A co-director of the law school’s nationally-known joint-degree program in Law and Women’s Studies, Professor Kalsem writes in the areas of women’s legal history and the cultural study of law. Most recently, she has written about issues of gender, race, and class in the contexts of bankruptcy reform and consumer protection.
- Darrell Miller, Assistant Professor of Law. Professor Miller is a former litigator in the areas of complex and appellate proceedings for Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP. A dynamic and dedicated teacher, he also has written significant articles in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights.
Keynote Speaker Justice Stephen J. Markman
Justice Markman, who serves on the Michigan Supreme Court, has a distinguished career in the legal field. He began his career on Capital Hill, working for seven years as the Chief Counsel of the United States Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution and as the Deputy Chief Counsel of the United States Senate Judiciary Committee. President Ronald Reagan nominated him to serve as Assistant Attorney General of the United States, a position he held from 1985 to 1989. In this role Judge Markman headed the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy, the office bearing principal responsibility for policy development within the department and coordination of the federal judicial selection process. He went on to serve as United States Attorney in Michigan, nominated by President George H.W. Bush. After working in government for many years, Judge Markman joined the firm of Miller, Canfield, Paddock & Stone. Two years later he became a member of the Michigan Court of Appeals, serving for four years until his appointment to the Michigan Supreme Court.