Distinguished Clinical Professor of Law; Director, Public Defender Project
B.A. 1974, Syracuse University
J.D. 1978, George Washington University
Before joining the Law School's clinical faculty, Michele LaVigne practiced as a State Public Defender in Madison, Wisconsin. She now teaches criminal law, professional responsibility, and trial advocacy. She is the director of the Remington Center's Public Defender Project, in which law students are placed as interns in public defender offices throughout Wisconsin.
Prof. LaVigne is a long-time member of the faculty of the National Criminal Defense College and the Wisconsin Public Defender Trial Skills Academy. She has given presentations to defense attorneys around the country on trial advocacy. In 2010, she received the David Niblack Award from the Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers for service to the indigent.
During most of her tenure at the Law School, Prof. LaVigne has been involved in research and litigation on the rights of deaf defendants. She co-authored "An Interpreter Isn't Enough: Deafness, Language and Due Process," * 2003 Wis. L. Rev. 843 (with McCay Vernon, PhD), which discusses deafness and language acquisition and their combined effects on deaf and severely hard-of-hearing individuals in the criminal justice system. Based on her advocacy for the deaf community, Prof. LaVigne received the Distinguished Member of the Year Award from the Wisconsin Association the Deaf in 2005 and the Thomas G. Cannon Equal Justice Medal from the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee in 2009.
In 1999, Prof. LaVigne developed a mock trial program at the Wisconsin School for the Deaf in Delavan, Wisconsin. In 2004, the WSD mock trial team competed in the State Bar High School Mock Trial Competition. This was the first time in Wisconsin that a deaf team participated. The WSD team won the regional competition and placed sixth in the state semi-finals. The WSD team continued to participate in the state competition for a number of years.
More recently, Prof. LaVigne has been researching and writing in the area of language impairments and their effect on the quality of justice for affected individuals. Prof. LaVigne collaborated with Gregory Van Rybroek, JD, PhD, on scholarship related to the communicative, behavioral, and legal implications of language impairments among populations frequently found in the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Their article "Breakdown in the Language Zone: The Prevalence of Language Impairments among Juvenile and Adult Offenders and Why It Matters"** was published the the Winter 2011 edition of UC Davis Journal of Juvenile Law and Policy. Their second article looked at the effects of a client's language impairments on the attorney-client relationship. The article "'He got in my face so I shot him': How Defendants' Language Impairments Impair Attorney-Client Relationships," appeared Volume 17 of the CUNY Law Review (Winter 2014).*** Prof. LaVigne is currently working with Sally Miles, PhD (Speech-Language Pathology) studying the effects of language impairments within the context of police interrogation.
Prof. LaVigne received the Law School's first Clinical Teacher of the Year Award in 2008.
Scholarship & Publications
- Deafness and the law
- Language acquisition and its effects on behavior and comprehension
- Indigent defense
Michele LaVigne filed an affidavit summarizing her findings in "Under the Hood: Brendan Dassey, Language Impairments and Judicial Ignorance," in support of Brendan Dassey's petition for clemency. Dassey, who was featured in the Netflix docuseries "Making A Murderer," confessed to helping his uncle murder a Wisconsin woman in 2005. LaVigne concludes through her research that Dassey was particularly vulnerable to making a false confession, due to a severe communication disability.
Michele LaVigne's article "Under the Hood: Brendan Dassey, Language Impairments and Judicial Ignorance" (co-authored with Sally Miles), is forthcoming in the Albany Law Review's annual Miscarriages of Justice issue.
Michele LaVigne was part of a panel discussing the Fourth Amendment and Wisconsin v. Mitchell, argued in the Supreme Court of the United States in April. The discussion took place at the UW Eau Claire Center for Constitutional Studies.
In February, Michele LaVigne presented "Understanding Your Client's Language Impairments" at the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice Death Penalty Conference, held in Monterrey, California.
Michele LaVigne's book, "The Wisconsin Bail Manual" (co-authored with Bonnie Hoffman and Renee Spence), was published in November. The project was funded by a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance as part of a nationwide campaign to improve the quality of pretrial justice.
Michele LaVigne's article, "Breakdown in the Language Zone: The Prevalence of Language Impairments Among Juvenile and Adult Offenders and Why It Matters," was accepted for publication in the Winter 2011 edition of the UC Davis Journal of Juvenile Law and Policy.
An article by Michele LaVigne and Gregory Van Rybroek '90 titled "Breakdown in the Language Zone: The Prevalence of Language Impairments Among Juvenile and Adult Offenders and Why it Matters" was listed on SSRN's Top Ten downloaded lists for both Family Law and Representing Children & Children's Interests. The article is slated for publication in the UC Davis Journal of Juvenile Law and Policy.
Michele LaVigne received the Thomas G. Cannon Equal Justice Award from the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee at the society’s 2009 Anniversary Luncheon on September 3, 2009. The award recognizes LaVigne’s advocacy on behalf of the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities.
Michele LaVigne and alumna Rachel Arfa ‘07 gave a joint presentation at the Wisconsin State Bar Convention on May 8, 2009. Their topic was “Representing the Deaf Litigant: It’s Not What You Think.”
Michele LaVigne presented a talk covering indigent defense and communication (“when a client doesn’t speak your language”) at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law Center for Law and Social Justice in April 2009.
An article co-authored by Michele LaVigne was cited and discussed by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals in a decision February 18, 2009, in Strook v. Kedinger. The article, “An Interpreter Isn’t Enough: Deafness, Language and Due Process,” in the 2003 Wisconsin Law Review, which LaVigne co-authored with McCay Vernon, was recommended as “a thorough and thoughtful primer for how to assess a deaf person’s abilities and needs.”
News & Media
Monday, Dec 16, 2019Michele LaVigne creates jazz residency program at local schools
Wisconsin State Journal
Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019Michele LaVigne: How language impairments affect criminal defendants
Wisconsin Public Radio
Friday, Nov 1, 2019Michele LaVigne: Language impairment made Brendan Dassey prime candidate for falsely confessing to murder
Wisconsin Law in Action
Thursday, Oct 3, 2019Michele LaVigne's research on Brendan Dassey confession cited in clemency petition
WBAY - Green Bay
Thursday, May 23, 2019Wisconsin's public defender shortage has created a constitutional crisis, says Michele LaVigne
Tuesday, Oct 13, 2015Michele LaVigne and Jeremy Newman weigh in on Wisconsin judges' use of risk assessment tool
The Badger Herald
Tuesday, Jan 25, 2011Michele LaVigne discusses challenges of accommodating those with limited language
- Constitutional Law
- Criminal Law
- Ethics & Professional Responsibilities
- Trial Advocacy