By Mary Prosser and Leslie Shear, Interim Co-Directors
Welcome to the latest edition of the Frank J. Remington Center’s electronic Newsletter. An energetic influx of new clinical students arrived last May to begin year-long clinical programs, and more arrived this Fall to begin their academic year programs, including the new Federal Appeals Project. We now have about 90 students filling our tight living space (not even counting the more than 30 students who were part of the Prosecution and Defender Projects during the summer). Things are hopping all day long, and the students keep life interesting.
Even with the rather significant number of “comings and goings” – as set forth below – the Remington Center continues to move ahead, forging new alliances with community partners, offering students even more learning opportunities, providing services to the Wisconsin Department of Corrections and the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and representing clients throughout Wisconsin who otherwise would not have legal assistance.
This Newsletter brings a tribute by Clinical Professor Michele LaVigne for recently retired, longtime clinical faculty members Ken Streit and Pete DeWind, along with articles about the revamped Restorative Justice Project, the “Ask a Lawyer” sessions conducted in state prisons, and impressions of the Remington Center from Sara Brelie, a former student who has returned as a supervising attorney. An article entitled “What I Did Last Summer, Remington Style” may cause Remington Center alums to reminisce; the article is a series of sketches by Remington Center students of their experiences and thoughts during their first summer at FJRC and their visits to prison. There is a wonderful piece by 3L Michael Hahn on how his work with the Wisconsin Innocence Project caused him to reevaluate the concept of “innocent until proven guilty.”
News and Updates:
- Remington Center Updates
- Ken Streit's and Pete DeWind’s Lasting Impressions on the Remington Center
- Remington Center Students Win National Criminal Procedure Moot Court Competition
- Inmates See FJRC Attorneys as “Rock Stars” at Prison “Ask a Lawyer” Sessions
- Restorative Justice Project Expands to Reach Larger Community
- Returning to Law School….This Time, with a Paycheck!
- Freeing a Man Who Had Not Been an Angel: A Moral Awakening for an FJRC Student
- What I Did Last Summer: Remington Center Style
- The Client Who Knows All
- The Remington Center Work Space (two descriptions)
- The Defense Lawyers’ Ode: No Good News
- Real Clients Bring Life and Challenge to Legal Issues that Seemed Straight-Forward in the Classroom
- The Road Trip and the Elusive Mr. Public
- The Perils for Female Students Visiting Men’s Prisons
- A Thank You for Not Being Able to Help
Remington Center Updates
Along with the arrival of more than 130 Remington Center students during the summer and fall of 2013, there have been a number of faculty changes. As detailed in our Spring Newsletter, Carrie Sperling has joined the Center as a clinical associate professor of Law and a supervising attorney for the Wisconsin Innocence Project, and Jonathan Scharrer has joined as a Clinical Instructor and director of the Restorative Justice Project.
Sadly, other faculty have moved on or will be moving on in the next month. As noted below in a tribute by Michele LaVigne, long-time supervising attorneys Ken Streit and Pete DeWind retired last spring. In addition, with the completion of a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, Tricia Bushnell, Lanny Glinberg, and Caitlin Plummer are moving on to other endeavors, as is Kat Dellenbach, an LAIP supervising attorney.
Comings and Goings
Trisha Bushnell, a supervising attorney with the Wisconsin Innocence Project since 2010, leaves in early December to become director of the Midwest Innocence Project in Kansas City, Missouri. Tricia was the lead attorney in WIP’s exoneration of Joseph Frey, who was serving a 102-year sentence for a rape that post-conviction DNA testing proved was committed by another man.
Lanny Glinberg, a supervising attorney with the Wisconsin Innocence Project for the last year, will leave the Remington Center at the end of this year to return to his former position as an Assistant District Attorney for Dane County. Lanny obtained post-conviction DNA testing in a number of cases, and he recently argued a case in the Wisconsin Supreme Court that dealt with police use of cell phone tracking data. He has been a student favorite as he guided them through investigations with creativity, humor and professionalism.
Caitlin Plummer, a supervising attorney with the Wisconsin Innocence Project for almost two years, left the Remington Center in August to join the Michigan Innocence Project as a Teaching Fellow. While with WIP, Caitlin supervised students and worked with criminal defense attorneys around the state to identify recent convictions where DNA testing might prove innocence. She co-wrote "'Shifted Science' and Post-Conviction Relief," 2012 Stanford Journal of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (2012), which addresses wrongful convictions based on scientific evidence that is later repudiated.
Kat Dellenbach was a supervising attorney with LAIP from May through October. Kat, a 2013 UW Law School graduate with a political science background, has taken a position as Communications Director for a Wisconsin state senator.
Awards and Accolades
State Public Defender's Office's Eisenberg Award
The Public Defender Board of the State Public Defender’s Office awarded the clinical programs at the UW Law School and Marquette Law School its 2013 Eisenberg Award. The award is given in recognition of clinics’ “tireless work for the rights of our poorest citizens.” Named for Howard Eisenberg, former dean of Marquette Law School, the award was accepted on behalf of the UW Law School's clinics by Clinical Associate Professor Byron Lichstein at the annual State Public Defender conference in early November.
Alumni/ae Receive Accolades
Remington Center Alums continue to shine after they leave law school. Each year the lists naming noteworthy Wisconsin lawyers include Remington Center alums; this year was no exception:
Wisconsin Law Journal’s 2013 list of “up-and-coming” lawyers include:
Cecelia Klingele, a 2005 UW Law graduate and now an assistant professor of law at UW. While a law student, Cecelia was took part in both in LAIP and the Criminal Appeals Project. After law school, Cecelia was a supervising attorney at the Remington Center; she then served as a law clerk to Chief Judge Barbara B. Crabb of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, Judge Susan H. Black of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and Associate Justice John Paul Stevens of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Kevin Henry, a 2011 UW Law graduate and now with the Sun Prairie law firm of Eustice, Laffey, Sebranek & Auby. Kevin was a clinical student with LAIP.
Nicole Masnica, a 2010 UW Law graduate and now an attorney in the Waukesha Trial Division of the State Public Defender’s Office. Nicole was a clinical student with LAIP and the Defender Project.
The Wisconsin Law Journal’s Women in Law Awards for 2013 included two former Remington Center students:
Laura Przybylinski Finn, a 1994 UW Law graduate and now with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Madison where she serves as Project Safe Childhood coordinator and Chief of the office's Criminal Division. Laura was a clinical student with LAIP.
Rita Rumbelow, a 1994 UW Law graduate and now with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Madison where she serves as the office's Project Safe Neighborhoods Coordinator. Rita was a clinical student with the Prosecution Project.
Ken Streit's and Pete DeWind’s Lasting Impressions on the Remington Center
By Clinical Professor Michele LaVigne
One of the benefits of membership in the “old guard” at the Remington Center is longtime friendship with terrific colleagues. One of the drawbacks is that empty feeling when they leave. Ken Streit and Pete DeWind dealt us a double whammy this spring when they both “retired” to their next adventures.
Technically, you could call Ken Streit a supervising attorney in LAIP. For over 20 years he supervised students at Taycheedah and last year he helped build the Re-entry Project. He also taught Professional Responsibility every year. But such a job description doesn’t begin to describe the real Ken Streit.
Ken lived and breathed social justice and public service. He lived every day by the belief that life has been good to him and it is his obligation to give back. Without fanfare, Ken volunteered at homeless shelters and the juvenile detention facility. He was on boards of countless social service providers and worked with Habitat for Humanity. He even became the guardian for a mentally ill inmate because nobody else was available.
Ken was also a policy wonk, as in he genuinely loved thinking, writing, and talking about correctional and criminal justice policy. As we might expect, Ken was also unsparingly generous with his vast knowledge. Ken always welcomed visitors who showed up at his door with questions that began with “why do they…” or “can you explain….” No one left Ken’s office without his or her question answered and without a better understanding of what makes the correctional and legal systems operate.
Ken’s policy work and public service extended in other directions as well. A little known fact about Ken is that he served as a member of the Madison Transit and Parking Commission. And yes, some of us (well, me) exploited that, showing up at his door several times a year (usually after a messy snow fall) with the demand that he “do something about the crowded buses on Route 38.”
Ken’s departure gives new meaning to the concept of losing institutional knowledge. Luckily, we have his phone number. Ken is now spending time with his grandkids and, not surprisingly, continuing his work to make the world a better place.
When Pete DeWind was a student in LAIP, then Milwaukee Co. District Attorney E. Michael McCann spoke to the students about careers. He told them they could chose between a life of public service or work in a “fancy firm with paintings of ducks on the wall.” Pete was not the fancy firm type, but as he regularly told his fellow students, he wasn’t ready to give up on ducks on his wall. It was only fitting then, that when he graduated at the end of the summer, his LAIP group and supervising attorney chipped in and bought him a portrait of a couple of geese in flight painted by an inmate at the Federal Correctional Institution at Oxford. When Pete came back to LAIP the next year, this time as a supervising attorney, the painting came with him and it stayed in his office until the day he left.
Pete started as a supervising attorney in the prison project but soon found his passion with the Restorative Justice Project. It was as if he had been waiting his whole life to do this work.
Anybody who works in Restorative Justice believes in the essential humanity of all people. But Pete brought something more – some quiet magic. Pete has a remarkable gift for drawing people out in such a way that offenders and victims could have meaningful, fruitful conversations that might have once seemed impossible. Part of Pete’s secret is that he has mastered the art of listening, asking exactly the right follow-up questions, and getting out of the way.
Ordinarily, Restorative Justice is not the stuff of front pages. Restorative Justice conferences take place in small prison conference rooms, far from crowds and social media. However, in 2011 Australian Dateline ran a documentary on some of the work of the Law School’s Restorative Justice Project. You can see it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wCGKo715I6Q. If you watch you will see some of the wonderful work the project does and the way Pete made it happen, while never making it about him.
Pete took the painting of the geese with him when he left. No doubt it will adorn whatever office or workspace he occupies next. To be honest, those geese aren’t much to look at, but they will remind Pete about the choices that he has made and the lives he has changed. Which makes them very valuable geese indeed.
Remington Center Students Win National Criminal Procedure Moot Court Competition
Kaitlin Kelly and Grant Turpin, two Remington Center students representing the University of Wisconsin Law School, won the 2013 National Criminal Procedure Moot Court competition at the University of San Diego Law School. Kelly and Turpin, both 2Ls, were coached by Britta Sahlstrom, a 3L and an LAIP alum. The faculty adviser was Adam Stevenson, director of the Oxford Federal Project and the Federal Appeals Project at the Remington Center.
Turpin and Kelly both give credit to their training
and experience at the Remington Center. Turpin believes the Wisconsin Innocence
Project improved his ability to make cogent arguments: “I think one of
the biggest things working in the Innocence Project has taught me is to
be clear and concise. In many circumstances, we deal with clients who
are not versed in the law and do not understand complex issues; thus, we
are forced to explain things in a clear, concise, easy-to-follow
manner. The same goes when giving an oral argument to judges. Many
times, the judges are not familiar with the case law and have not read
the bench memo. Having an ability to avoid legalese and explain things
in a basic way aids when giving an oral argument. It helps the judges
following along and keeps the person giving the argument from confusing
him or herself.”
Kelly believes that her experiences at the Remington Center were particularly helpful during one of the final rounds of the competition when she and Turpin were assigned to “represent” a criminal defendant. She says her work with the Re-Entry Project taught her not to be distracted by the client’s criminal charges and to concentrate on the particular issue at hand, in this case Fourth Amendment violations.
Turpin further noted that working with the Remington Center “aided me in being personable while still being professional. Whether it is dealing with clients, opposing parties, or supervising attorneys, things always run more smoothly when you appear to be likable and approachable. The same goes for dealing with judges during competitions. I think the thing that truly set Kaitlin and me apart from the rest of the competition was the fact that we were not robotic or overly formal; we were conversational.”
Kelly believes it was their passion while
arguing that set them apart – something the judges specifically
commented on. And passion for a defendant’s rights is infectious at the
Inmates See FJRC Attorneys as “Rock Stars” at Prison “Ask a Lawyer” Sessions
Answering legal questions from a room full of Wisconsin prison inmates may not be something most of us would choose to spend a day doing. But that is just what Remington Center Clinical Professor Michele LaVigne (director of the Public Defender Program) and Clinical Assistant Professor Adam Stevenson (director of the Oxford Federal Program and Federal Appeals Program) do several times a year. They take a couple of law students and conduct an “ask a lawyer” session at one of Wisconsin’s prisons as part of the Restorative Justice Program of the Prison Ministry Project of the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Madison. The program is run by Rev. Jerry Hancock, a 1972 UW Law School graduate and former Dane County Deputy DA.
At these “ask a lawyer” sessions, LaVigne, Stevenson and the students spend several hours discussing topics the inmates ask to hear about, and answering inmate questions. The inmates are not permitted to ask personal or too specific questions, although they can ask about a circumstance of a “friend.” The focus of the discussions is on principles and areas of the law chosen by the inmates. Sentence modification is always a primary topic. LaVigne believes that having a large group of inmates in the room together means that the atmosphere is not personal, and this helps all the inmates process what happened, or is happening, to them more objectively. Rev. Hancock sees LaVigne and Stephenson as representing the “community” in the restorative justice process, explaining how the law really works and how the legal system addresses crime.
Although most around the Remington Center would describe Stephenson and LaVigne with very differing adjectives--Stevenson as tall, serious, and detail oriented; LaVigne as expressive, effusive, and not tall—their tag-team presentation is well received by what could be a tough audience. Most of their time is spent addressing the significant amount of misinformation that gets transmitted through the prisons on what LaVigne refers to as “inmate.com.” Neither LaVigne nor Stevenson has any difficulty being blunt with inmates, many of whom have spent too many hours pouring over trial transcripts and case law and coming up with less than viable means to reduce or overturn their sentences.
Yet LaVigne's and Stevenson's bluntness resonates with the inmates. As one inmate wrote to LaVigne and Stevenson after their last “Ask a Lawyer” session: “The whole ‘System’ is flawed but with the support and help from people like yourself there is hope for those of us incarcerated. Your insight into the limited chances of success with sentence modifications along with the difficulty of proving Ineffective Assistance of Counsel really hit home with me as I pursued the appeal process only to be denied. Your honesty was appreciated.”
Another inmate appreciated very specific information even though it was not what he wanted to hear: “One of my main concerns was answered which was about ERP/CIP [Earned Release Program/Challenge Incarceration Program] and when us inmates were able to partake in such programs. You said exactly what the DOC has been telling me for 5 years when I ask PRC [Program Review Committee] if I can take the ERP. You simply cleared up my questions because I thought DOC was making up there own rules on it and I could get around it. It turns out that DOC are making up their own rules but they can and there is no way around the ‘3 year from MR [mandatory release]’ rule.”
Other inmates who attend these sessions are simply grateful for gaining information, being cared about, and perhaps given some hope: “It was very helpful to know how certain issues must be litigated and how the Courts operate in reviewing them,” and “It was nice to get some straight forward advice from some nice as hell, no nonsense, cool as heck people – for our friends. I know that in my case, my good buddy ‘John’ was happy to hear that there might be some hope for him and his children. It really seems as though the legal system is a man’s worst enemy and it’s great to see that there are people out there who actually genuinely care to help us fight for what’s rightfully ours. So please, with all my heart and soul, thank you so very much.”
Rev. Hancock says that LaVigne and Stevenson are “rock stars” to the inmates in the prisons - two professors from the University of Wisconsin Law School who are willing to come and answer in an honest and understandable manner any questions the inmates ask. According to Rev. Hancock, “Michele’s and Adam’s straight answers put a lot of good information into the [prison] system”; he adds that LaVigne and Stevenson also benefit from these visits as the visits inform their teaching and practice, giving them insights they cannot get anywhere else.
Restorative Justice Project Expands to Reach Larger Community
The zeal and imagination of the law students in the Remington Center’s Restorative Justice Project (RJP) are transforming a program that previously focused on facilitating dialogues between inmate offenders and their victims into a program that is also taking restorative justice principles to schools, communities, groups of prisoners, and beyond. RJP’s new director Jonathan Scharrer has inspired and challenged his students to see the potential for restorative justice in all these settings. His unbridled enthusiasm for the potential of restorative justice is infectious, and his students’ enthusiasm for their work is impressive.
Restorative justice is used as both an alternative and a supplement to the criminal justice system. It takes an approach to crime that seeks to provide a meaningful opportunity for both victim and community involvement in the criminal justice system, to help victim/survivors move forward, and to hold offenders accountable for their behavior. As one student describes RJP, “we are about repairing harm.”
Scharrer and his students have reached out to numerous community groups and organizations to establish programs and build relationships that will allow RJP students to explore and follow their passion for restorative justice in settings that coincide with their interests. Among the various community-based projects that are envisioned or underway are alternative to prosecution programs (known as “community conferencing”), a partnership with the local YWCA to facilitate “circle” groups in several high schools, and a program assisting high school students with their Youth Courts. One RJP student is seeking through campus outreach to establish a restorative justice program within the UW-Madison setting. The new prison-based programming includes a collaboration with the Department of Corrections and its Office of Victim Services and Programs. The goal of this prison undertaking is to develop restorative justice programing to equip inmates with strategies and new perspectives to deal with the various issues that they will face when released.
The focus and goals of RJP are in many ways quite different from those of the other Remington Center programs. RJP does not focus on proving points, discovering new evidence, or showing that something or someone else is wrong. RJP is about accountability for the offender, recognition of harm, including the broader societal harm, by the offender. For the victim/survivor, RJP provides a chance for those harmed to explain the impact of the crime on their lives, to ask why it was inflicted, and to explore what can be done to move forward. Despite its differences, RJP complements and enriches the traditional Remington Center programming by addressing the harm of the crime, not simply the conviction and the sentence imposed.
RJP Students Bring Restorative Justice to Youth Courts and Halfway Houses
In one of the new school-based projects, RJP students serve as “advocate judges” in local high school Youth Courts. The goal of the RJP advocate judges is to instill in the jurors, who are high school students, the principles of restorative justice. Already they are seeing positive changes. In the past, sentences imposed by the student jurors were often silly and unrelated to the specific action of the offender or the harm the offender caused. In a recent Youth Court overseen by RJP law students, the sentence for a student ticketed for fighting, who also was a perennial truant, required the student to have perfect attendance, to take part in school activities, and to write an apology letter to those harmed by his actions. By agreeing to abide by the Youth Court’s sentence the student will – if he successfully completes the Youth Court sentence—avoid the police ticket and likely suspension from school. Because of the alternative sentence, that student may become more engaged in his school community and school work.
Another RJP student, as part of her training in Restorative Justice practices, was a participant in a three-day “cap-stone” program for Wisconsin prisoners. The full program is several weeks and is intended to help inmates process their lives and crime, and to think about the impact of their crime on others and themselves. This student wanted a restorative justice experience outside her comfort zone and that gave her a chance to see the restorative justice process from the offender’s side. The student is now developing a 5-6 week curriculum for women in ARC House in Madison, a residential program for women offenders transitioning from prison. She will facilitate this program next semester.
Prison-Based Restorative Justice Projects Are Expanding
With the addition of these new community-based initiatives, the base work of RJP in Wisconsin’s prisons has not been set aside. Students continue to work on “victim-offender dialogues” in sensitive crimes such as homicide and sexual assault. Such dialogues give victims or their families the opportunity to sit down with the offender, and to ask questions that only the offender can answer. These dialogue requests may only be initiated by the victim or the victim’s family. When a request for dialogue is made, an RJP student who has been trained to handle such cases will meet with the parties to determine if a dialogue is appropriate and likely to repair harm. The preparation process often requires multiple individual meetings with the victim and the offender. If a dialogue is deemed appropriate after the screening process, a student sets up the dialogue and co-facilitates it with Scharrer.
The prison work also now includes significant restorative justice group work. Scharrer and his students recently completed work in an intensive three-day restorative justice program at the Green Bay Correctional Institution, which was facilitated by Janine Geske, Distinguished Professor of Law at Marquette. In that program, approximately 25 inmates met as a group with law students, various community members, including victim/survivor speakers, to address the inmates’ criminogenic needs (crime producing factors that strongly correlate with the risk of recidivism), to increase understanding of the impact of the harm they have inflicted, and to develop empathy for those harmed. Based on the writings and other works produced by the inmates at the end of the three days, the program had a profound effect. As one inmate later wrote in a letter to Scharrer: “I have never been in a restorative justice program, I’ve been trying for years to get in one . . . . When we come to prison we really don’t think about our victims, it’s like outta sight outta mind, it’s easy to not think of the ones we have hurt, but sitting through the stories of the survivors that came and visited us was powerful, I clicked with [survivor] because when she told the story about her son I broke inside. . . . I am so tired of letting people down in life that I want nothing but to make this program excel, and prove to the people that it’s worth it.”
The Restorative Justice Project’s primary goals are to have positive impacts on offender accountability and on victim and community healing; the Project is also having significant impacts on the students enrolled in the program.
One student’s goal before enrolling in RJP was to be a prosecutor; she wanted to make sure the “bad guys” were taken off the streets. After working with RJP, this student still wants to be a prosecutor, but no longer wants to “throw away the key.” Instead, she wants to incorporate restorative justice practices into her work as a prosecutor. She knows that offenders who participate in restorative justice programs, whether in prison or as alternatives to prosecution, are significantly less likely to commit another crime. According to this student, restorative justice is something everyone should support: “RJP is a great program if you are tough on crime as it is hard for offenders to look into the face of a victim and admit wrongdoing; for those not as ‘tough on crime,’ the program is valuable as it offers alternatives to long prison sentences.”
Returning to Law School….This Time, with a Paycheck!
By Sara Brelie, Clinical Instructor, Legal Assistance to Institutionalized Persons
Three years ago, I graduated from UW Law School with a clerkship lined up and plans to commute to Waukesha for the next 2+ years. This past spring, the search for my second post-law school job ended with an offer to work as a clinical instructor for LAIP. So, just about three years after celebrating my graduation from law school, I celebrated my return.
Of course, much has changed even in the short time since I was a student here. There are more Remington Center students (yay!), which means that renovations have made desk spaces even smaller than when I was a student. Many of my former supervising attorneys are still here, but some attorneys have left and others are new. Perhaps most noticeably, Bobby Austin is gone, along with his big smiles and engaging conversations.
In terms of what makes the Remington Center a place I wanted to return to, not much has changed. This office is still full of people who are passionate about serving an unpopular and often misunderstood clientele. Working here, I am still reminded daily that people are almost never what you expect them to be based on crime(s) they (may) have committed in the past. But most important, this is still a place where students learn—they learn to see the law and the criminal justice system through the eyes of the inmates they serve. They learn to listen to clients, advocate, plan and do research to address client concerns, deliver bad news, and decide whether and when to go to court. In other words, they learn to be lawyers. And that is an amazing thing to get to take part in every day. I’m so happy to be back.
Freeing a Man Who Had Not Been an Angel: A Moral Awakening for an FJRC Student
By Michael Hahn, 3L
In our criminal justice system, all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The statement appears in countless judicial opinions and articles and is supposed to be the foundation of our criminal law. As I found out during my clinical work at the Remington Center, it is not an easy principle to live up to.
I was one of the Wisconsin Innocence Project students assigned to case of Joseph Frey, a man imprisoned since the early 1990s for a rape in Oshkosh that he did not commit. When we first got the case and learned the facts, I was not very excited. The State’s case against Joe for rape had been deeply flawed, but his criminal history supported his conviction. Because of Joe’s history, I was more concerned at the beginning of the case with finding any real perpetrator of the crime, if there was one other than Joe, than I was in proving the innocence of a man who had done some terrible things earlier in his life. I wanted “bad guys” caught; I did not want to get “bad guys” out of prison.
I did not think that we had much of a chance to find any “real” offender or prove Joe’s innocence. We needed a full DNA profile from the last remaining piece of evidence that had been sitting in a file cabinet for twenty years. If we were lucky enough to get that, then we needed that DNA profile to match an offender in the CODIS database. To win this case we needed to basically win the lottery.
I will never forget when we got the DNA results. I had stopped back in the Remington Center late in the day on a Friday. My supervising attorney Tricia Bushnell and my partner Matt Gardner were both out of the office. I checked Tricia’s mailbox and there were the results. At first, I didn’t believe what I saw, and then it registered that we had gotten the full DNA profile and the DNA hit we were looking for.
The DNA matched a man who had been convicted of assaulting two young girls in Fond du Lac County in 1993, almost two years after the assault in Oshkosh for which Joe was wrongfully convicted. Even then, I was more excited that we found someone who had committed a vicious crime than that we would exonerate Joe.
Later, when Tricia and I spoke on the phone with Professor Keith Findley, the importance of the findings started to sink in. As Tricia explained, Joe had been serving a sentence for an assault he committed in Green Bay when he was sentenced to 102 years for the Oshkosh assault. Under the Green Bay assault sentence Joe would have been released in 2005. Keith said, “we’re giving him his life back.”
After Keith said that, and after spending the next month or so preparing with Tricia and Joe for the hearing that overturned Joe’s conviction, I realized that Joe really was getting a deserved second chance on life. He had paid his debt to society and served an additional eight years for a crime he didn’t commit; he was going to be a free man again. Before this I hadn’t given Joe the benefit that he deserved – that he could really be innocent, that he might be a decent man, that he had a right to be out of prison. I let his past influence how I approached the case, how I viewed Joe.
Joe's case made me realize that we really don't pay much more than lip service to the presumption of innocence. After all, there had to be a reason that the defendant is charged, right? Joe’s case taught me that the presumption of innocence must be present before a person goes to trial; it must exist during the police investigation and the district attorney’s decision to charge or not to charge. If the presumption of innocence is ignored, we turn a blind eye to exculpatory evidence or alternative explanations of how the crime occurred. The presumption does not exist to protect the guilty; we have it to protect the innocent, like Joe Frey and the hundreds of other people that Innocence Projects around the country have exonerated.
The Remington Center brought important legal principles like the presumption of innocence to life for me, as it does for so many clinical students. This case, and many others handled by the Remington Center clinics, reveal the real world impacts of the law, which are not easily seen in the classroom.
What I Did Last Summer: Remington Center Style
The work load of all Remington Center students this last summer was slightly increased by a request that each student write a short essay story about his or her experiences at the Remington Center. The only criteria was that the story told be truthful; anonymity was promised. Almost 60 students submitted essays.
The essays told a variety of stories—serious and thoughtful, irreverent, angry, frustrated, and even whimsical. Several told of fears of entering prisons and meeting persons convicted of horrible crimes. Many rejoiced at the ability to do something “meaningful,” while others seethed at the inequities and even cruelties the criminal justice system often inflicts. One student wrote an elegant and biting rap about the lot of black youths who end up in the criminal justice system. Another student “complained” that his supervising attorney would not allow him to be paid $300,000 by a client for setting up a recording contract (which also had the student playing guitar in the backup band). Several female students wrote of receiving love letters, and the significant discomfort these caused.
The prisons, depending on the specific prison at issue, received rants for inefficiencies and indifference, and praise for extra efforts made to meet the needs of the students and the inmates. A number of students expressed sincere beliefs in the innocence of their clients; others knew their clients had committed heinous crimes but saw the humanity in them beyond the crimes and wanted desperately to ensure these inmates’ procedural and substantive rights were protected. The procedural roadblocks to justice were a common theme. The most common theme or experience written about – which is reflected in the excerpts below – is the gratitude of clients even when the student has been unable to provide a tangible benefit.
It was difficult to pick just a few stories for inclusion in this Newsletter. Those excerpted below are focused on the students’ personal experiences. Perhaps the stories will bring back memories for some Remington Center alums – perhaps memories that have been repressed.
The Client Who Knows All
One of my clients has spent the better part of ten years researching his case and picking out parts of opinions that he believes will get him out of jail early. He thinks that by piecing together phrases from opinions, he can catch the court making a mistake and be let out on a technicality. He is proficient enough at legal research and close enough to arriving at a “right answer” that I research every case he cites to make sure that my take on his situation and my interpretation of the law are accurate. As soon as I read his letters, analysis, and ideas, I have a strong feeling that he is wrong and I am about to go on a lengthy wild goose chase. It is a perfect example of “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”
When I try to explain to him why his interpretation of the law, or his assessment of his situation, is incorrect, he questions my legal ability and my mental ability. He thinks that by disagreeing with him I disgrace my profession in that I “do not want to fight for justice.” When I try to explain to him that even if his claims had substantive merit, they would be procedurally barred under statutory rules regarding appeals and the timing of motions, he tells me I am wrong and that procedural bars are merely “subjective decisions by the courts when they don’t like someone.” I then have to explain to him that that opinion is wrong as well, and in fact that is the exact opposite of what procedural bars do.
The Remington Center Work Space (two descriptions)
One thing I really enjoyed about my experience in the Remington Center was the fact that my classmates and I were all going through the same learning process together. It is crowded, loud, and sometimes chaotic in the Remington Center; our desks are small and we are working in a room with copiers, shredders, printers, and 30 or 40 other students (and the same chaos and number of Remington Center students in the room across the hall), but there was something very reassuring about having all those people around who were tackling the same problems I was. If there was something I didn’t understand, or if I had no idea who to contact or how to interpret something in a case, I could turn around and ask my fellow students. Everyone worked together and helped each other solve problems. I could always turn to my supervising attorney if I was really stuck on something, but I didn’t have to go ask about every little thing because chances were that anything I was stuck on, someone else had already dealt with. That first week in particular we all banded together to take on the most daunting task: figuring out how to work the copy machines.
There is something to be said for working in an office with a design focused on collaborating as a group. You have the ability to bounce ideas off each other, ask questions, and get social support. But there are other things to be said about working in a group comprised of a whopping 70 law students, all of whom are contained in two offices approximately the size of a shoebox. The phrase “packed in like sardines” has taken on a completely new meaning for me.
The Defense Lawyers’ Ode: No Good News
“Find comfort in uncertainty.” “There’s a lot of grey in the law.” “In defense there are usually more losses than wins.” I’m not comfortable with these truths; I don’t think that most law students or lawyers are. We’re all crazy, type-A people who think we can control the world. When I see a problem, I map out a plan, come up with a solution, work on it, and it usually gets solved to my liking. But that’s not what’s happened at the Remington Center this summer, for me at least.
While I’ve seen my co-workers file motions and have wins on behalf of their clients, I’ve delivered a lot of bad news. I’ve learned to say, “the law just isn’t on our side” in a way that shows empathy, but carries with it finality. It’s been a bit of a challenge to sit in front of someone and tell him something he’s been holding onto just won’t work out. One client that comes to mind is Mr. R.
Mr. R was interested in shortening his prison sentence. He believed the judge would have been more lenient had the judge been aware of the severity of Mr. R’s mental health issues. Mr. R also felt he didn’t completely understand his plea agreement. Unfortunately, the law just wasn’t on his side. Mr. R’s mental issues were addressed to some degree during his sentencing hearing, so they didn’t rise to the level of a “new factor.” Withdrawing his plea would expose him to forty-five additional years of prison time. I had to tell him during a meeting that there was nothing LAIP could do to shorten his time in prison.
I could tell from his demeanor at the start of our meeting that Mr. R thought I had good news. When I started to explain the law behind why we couldn’t help him, he became upset. At one point he said, “What you’re doing now, it’s just what they did to me.” He didn’t understand what I was saying. Mr. R. was about to walk out of our meeting when I convinced him to stay and explained the situation in a way he could understand. He was still unhappy, but I understood why.
During a follow-up phone call, I didn’t think he would be receptive to me. However, he took my call and was polite as I explained a minor issue that was still unresolved. At the end of the conversation, he said to take care of myself and then said something that surprised me. He said that he would be writing me a letter thanking me for everything I had done for him.
I don’t feel like I did anything for Mr. R. I couldn’t file a motion on his behalf; I couldn’t shorten his prison sentence. However, Mr. R. thinks I helped him. Maybe it’s that I helped him understand a system he feels he was lost in, maybe it’s just that I took the time to listen to him. I don’t know exactly what he believes I did for him, but I’m glad that even though no clear win came from his case, he believed LAIP assisted him.
Real Clients Bring Life and Challenge to Legal Issues that Seemed Straight-Forward in the Classroom
One of the best things about working in LAIP is the variety of work. I wasn’t sure what to expect coming into a criminal clinic. I assumed that there would be a fairly limited range of things that LAIP could help inmates with and a limited range of things that I could do as a law student. Although this is true to a degree, I was impressed and surprised at the variety of work I was able to do even within the somewhat limited sphere of LAIP. My low expectations came from the fact that I was thinking only about legal issues rather than thinking about working in a legal system with real people. A sentence modification is just another criminal law issue from a first-year law school perspective, but in LAIP, there could be any number of interesting reasons that a client may want or deserve one.
My time at the Remington Center gave me a glimpse of the way in which legal work is grounded in real people’s lives, and because peoples’ lives widely vary, their legal issues become extremely varied as well. I had a 20-year old client and a 60-year old client and many between. I had a client who wrote almost weekly citing case law and new legal research he had done, clients who did no research whatsoever and relied on me for all the law, and even a client who stubbornly wanted me to pursue a claim in a very questionable and potentially unethical way. Learning how to respond and handle each of these clients, no matter what their legal issues were, was a learning experience all its own.
However, diverse as the clients were, the work itself was also much more varied than I expected. For example, I worked as part of a group on a project for a client of the Immigration Justice Clinic, and I worked by myself for clients with diverse issues. I wrote tons of letters; I searched out information from other lawyers, police and the clients’ relatives; and I wrote and filed motions in court. I think that learning how to navigate these different types of work while learning how to respond to the extreme variety of the clients made my work this summer a lot more far-reaching than I ever expected it would be.
The Road Trip and the Elusive Mr. Public
My alarm goes off at 5:30. It’s prison day.
If you were a student in the Remington Center, you know what that means. It’s an early start and a stressful day. It’s security screenings and client interviews, hurried lunches and endless hours on Highway 151.
I had trouble even finding this client. His name is common, so he’s not the only John Q. Public in the prison system. The online inmate locator says that he’s at a halfway house in Milwaukee. Nope. That’s a different Mr. Public. Two weeks and a dozen phone calls later, I learn that my client is actually at the Wisconsin Resource Center, where they house inmates with mental health issues.
My job is to check in with Mr. Public to see whether he wants us to update a parole advocacy letter we had previously written. I crawl out of bed, get ready, and hop on my motorcycle. I’m the only one going to WRC, and I have to get a state car from the Charter Street lot.
I’m on the road at 7, coffee in hand. 151 is an old friend by now. I hit the cruise control and zone out until I am just outside of Rosendale. They love giving speeding tickets in Rosendale.
The phone rings. It’s the Remington Center.
“Hey, I just got a call from the staff at WRC. They said they just looked at their schedule and realized that your client isn’t available today. Sorry.”
I turn around. Mr. Public remains elusive.
The Perils for Female Students Visiting Men’s Prisons
Having prisoners as clients can be a unique and challenging experience for any Remington Center student. But for the female law student it is especially challenging as visiting prison is a major part of Remington Center Clinics. Unless the prison is Taycheedah, young women are going to be visiting male-populated prisons. My first experience in a male prison was not so bad. At Green Bay, I did notice many prisoners came to the door of their cells to stare at us. At the time, I felt they were not exclusively staring at the women, but the entire group of outsiders. It wasn’t until we turned to leave that the cat calls started. At medium security prisons, the staring was more overt as we walked through the prison yards.
Though these prison visits never troubled me, it was what happened a few days after a visit that caused significant unease. I received a love letter from an inmate. This has happened to other female students this summer as I am sure it has happened before, but that did not help my discomfort. The love letter I received was 12 pages long. The letter had some legal questions but a significant portion of it was spent talking about a future relationship together.
Having to respond to such a letter and advances can be challenging. As attorneys in training, we know these are our clients and we must represent them to our fullest capabilities. But it is a challenge to navigate this uncomfortable situation. It is hard not to transfer your own resentment from these client letters to the effort you put into your client’s case.
A Thank You for Not Being Able to Help
Walking into prison was always a daunting task in my eyes. Countless prison visits over the summer had somewhat desensitized me to these feelings, but not today. I was there to perform a task that I had managed to avoid the entire summer: I had to deliver the bad news to a client that there was just nothing we could do for him. I had never closed a case before, and I was dreading it. I had no idea how my client was going to react. Would he be angry? Would he shout at me? I had never been good at dealing with confrontation, but I knew this was a skill that I had to learn if I hoped to be successful in my future as a lawyer. W