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May 15, 2008

A notable new clinic at the University of Chicago Law School

As detailed in this announcement and as explained more fully on this official webpage, the University of Chicago Law School has a just created a terrific new legal clinic:

The Mandel Legal Aid Clinic is proud to announce the creation of a new clinical opportunity, the Federal Criminal Justice Project (FCJP).  FCJP will be led by Director Alison Siegler, formerly an attorney with the Federal Defender Program and instructor of Federal Sentencing course here at the Law School.

The primary mission of the FCJP is to zealously represent indigent defendants charged with federal crimes while giving students a unique opportunity to practice in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The FCJP will represent clients from arrest through trial/plea bargaining and sentencing and will also represent clients on appeal.... In addition to representing individual clients the FCJP will serve as an information clearinghouse and resource for Chicago-area federal criminal defense lawyers and will work to address larger systematic problems with the federal criminal justice process....

The Federal Criminal Justice Program marks the second new clinical project this year, and joins the Exoneration Project as part of an ever expanding number of clinical opportunities offered to our students.  The FCJP will launch in the Fall Quarter.

I am not sure if the FCJP is the first clinic to focus exclusively on indigent defendants in the federal system, but I do not know of any other law school clinic that formally aspires to "serve as an information clearinghouse and resource" for federal defense lawyers or that seeks "to address larger systematic problems with the federal criminal justice process." 

I am hopeful that the FCJP will develop web-based materials as part of its mission.  The training web page created by the federal Office of Defender Services has many terrific federal defense resources, but it is sometimes dated and more can always be done during this (never-ending?) rapid period of extraordinary federal criminal justice evolution.

May 15, 2008 at 09:02 AM | Permalink

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We have had a federal criminal defense practice within the Fordham clinical program since 1989. Jim Cohen has long supervised students working on an in-house docket of Federal Criminal cases and currently works with our colleague, Michael W. Martin in that practice. I also supervised Fordham students working on Federal criminal cases for much of the 1990s.

I also note that NYU has long had a Federal Defender Clinic in which students work in either the EDNY or SDNY offices, under faculty supervision. That was my formative clinical experience in the mid-80s.

Although I now do a more classic misdemeanor clinic, Jim's devotion to the Federal model is ample evidence that these are great cases for students.

Posted by: Ian Weinstein | May 15, 2008 11:09:50 AM

During my third year at Stanford Law School, I participated in the clinical defense program, which was for state, not federal, defendants.

I found the experience enjoyable and instructive. It felt cool to have a client look up to me and put his eggs in my basket. It also felt cool to think of myself as the lone sentinel, the bulwark against the state and all its resources.

I had one client in particular who was charged with a sex offense. He was exceptionally bright and charming. He was also devious, manipulative and dishonest, not to mention guilty. Nonetheless, assured by my mentors that it was not merely OK but laudable to put forth every effort on his behalf, I settled the case and helped secure a favorable outcome (essentially treatment rather than imprisonment). I certainly did not want a trial, with his female victim, a little girl, on the witness stand, tearfully recounting what must have been a very frightening experience for her.

I felt quite satisfied with myself. But like many feelings of self-satisfaction, this one was not to last.

The next year, after I graduated, I heard that my ex-client had done it again, to a different girl, this time using more force. This gave me pause to wonder about the moral status of my own behavior the year before.

One thing I learned in that clinical program is that defense counsel, and private lawyers in general, view themselves as hired guns, working for whatever serves the client's interests in that particular case, and hermetically sealed off from any other consideration, such as the lawyer's own sense of personal responsibility or taking account of the public good.

Those are the current ethics of the legal profession. In my view, formed long ago in that case from my Stanford days and its aftermath, it is an ethical outlook that could bear some reconsideration.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 15, 2008 2:30:08 PM

Michigan recently announced a new clinic that looks interesting:
Michigan law to launch new innocence clinic in 2009
http://www.law.umich.edu/newsandinfo/Pages/April2008.aspx#innocence

This clinic is in addition to their current Criminal Appellate Clinic:

http://www.law.umich.edu/centersandprograms/clinical/criminal/Pages/default.aspx

Posted by: Sentencing Observer | May 15, 2008 2:40:08 PM

Shame on you, Bill Otis. You graduated from a top law school, yet learned nothing about the premises that form the foundation of the Constitution. What do you expect defense counsel to do? Not litigate vigorously for a client based their own conclusions regarding the client? You clearly are not cut out to be a defense lawyer, but I'll be damned if you think you have the right to question the ethics of other defense lawyers. The founders of this country indeed were courageous to create the system they did. Learn some history.

Posted by: John | May 15, 2008 3:38:00 PM

I would add that it takes courage to recognize that in performing your duty to litigate vigorously on behalf of your client, that you may in fact free a guilty man who will do harm to others. That's not easy. But to assume that defense counsel "hermetically seals" himself off from any other consideration, without care for the public good, is simply arrogant. I ask you, Bill Otis, as a former federal prosecutor, how do you sleep at night having put numerous young black men in jail for over five years or ten years for merely possessing crack cocaine? Does anyone ever ask that question of prosecutors?

Posted by: John | May 15, 2008 3:52:26 PM

John:

"I would add that it takes courage to recognize that in performing your duty to litigate vigorously on behalf of your client, that you may in fact free a guilty man who will do harm to others. That's not easy."

It's not? Might I inquire as to anything you have done professionally to suggest that it's anything OTHER THAN easy? The truth, which you should (and I strongly suspect do) know is that defense counsel is lionized by his colleagues for putting clients back on the street, guilty or not.

"But to assume that defense counsel 'hermetically seals' himself off from any other consideration, without care for the public good, is simply arrogant."

It's not an assumption, it's not arrogant, and it is, unfortunately, true. Perhaps you can tell us which of the canons of ethics requires or even encourages defense counsel to consider, much less advance, the public good when that would be inconsistent with the client's desire to walk.

"I ask you, Bill Otis, as a former federal prosecutor, how do you sleep at night having put numerous young black men in jail for over five years or ten years for merely possessing crack cocaine?"

I sleep well, thank you, knowing that I was faithful to laws democratically, and usually overwhelmingly, enacted by Congresses both Democrat and Republican, and that in so doing I made good on the oath I took when I was appointed. Incidentally, 99% of "young black men," not to mention everybody else, manages to get through life without possessing or peddling crack. The other one percent made a choice that was both rejected by the great majority of their peers and that damaged their communities.

"Does anyone ever ask that question of prosecutors?"

Not more than a thousand times a month. Does anyone ask you what it feels like to put a dangerous person back on the street so that he can do it again?

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 15, 2008 5:34:29 PM

"The truth, which you should (and I strongly suspect do) know is that defense counsel is lionized by his colleagues for putting clients back on the street, guilty or not."

You know nothing of the truth. You have absolutely no clue what goes on in the minds of defense counsel, or in the offices of defense counsel.

"Perhaps you can tell us which of the canons of ethics requires or even encourages defense counsel to consider, much less advance, the public good when that would be inconsistent with the client's desire to walk."

See, Bill, this thing called the Constitution is what I owe a duty to, not the Bill Otis canon of ethics. And the premise underlying our system of criminal justice, Bill, is that defense counsel must vigorously advocate on behalf of all clients, regardless of guilt, in order to advance the public good and help to keep the system of criminal justice functioning.

"I sleep well, thank you, knowing that I was faithful to laws democratically, and usually overwhelmingly, enacted by Congresses both Democrat and Republican"

Are you paying any attention at all to the current debate concerning the disparity in sentencing? But that didn't matter to you back then because well, the law is the law, right? You were just a cog in a machine, Bill. You went along with the crowd even though the crowd was wrong to do what it did. And a generation of youngsters suffered because of it. Sleep well.

"Does anyone ask you what it feels like to put a dangerous person back on the street so that he can do it again?"

All the time. But they don't have a Stanford law education so I don't expect them to understand the Constitution and the criminal justice system. I cut them some slack. You, on the other hand, have embarassed yourself and your law school.


Posted by: John | May 15, 2008 5:59:43 PM

John:

I'm content to let your answer, such as it is, speak for itself. There are plenty of people here who are more interested in debate than bile. I guess I'm just never going to hear about the healthful effects of crack. Maybe with your next interlocutor you could talk about the healthful effects of meth too.

I'll say one thing more. There is a reason the public has such a low opinion of lawyers, and it's not that lawyers are out there "defending the Constitution," as you vigorously applaud yourself for doing. It's that the public understands that our profession has adopted a self-serving code of "ethics" that scarcely stands in the way of lawyers cutting all manner of corners with the truth so that they can make a few more (or a lot more) bucks.

God forbid that I suggest the possibility of legal reform to try to put even a bit more honesty and concern for public well-being into the system. You're right, I shouldn't get a moment's sleep.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 15, 2008 6:25:10 PM

"I guess I'm just never going to hear about the healthful effects of crack."

That's a strawman. I never claimed crack was healthy.

" it's not that lawyers are out there 'defending the Constitution,' as you vigorously applaud yourself for doing."

Never applauded anyone or claimed myself a defender of the Constitution. Read the responses. Am only responding to your ill-informed attacks on defense lawyers and the private bar for doing their jobs.

"It's that the public understands that our profession has adopted a self-serving code of "ethics" that scarcely stands in the way of lawyers cutting all manner of corners with the truth so that they can make a few more (or a lot more) bucks"

Another straw man. Not relevant to the issue. The "ethics" of vigorously defending a client is not self-serving.

"God forbid that I suggest the possibility of legal reform to try to put even a bit more honesty and concern for public well-being into the system."

That's not what you did. You attacked defense lawyers and the private bar. You did not present an alternative process for meting out justice. You stood on your perch as a prosecutor and fancied yourself one of the "good guys" with defense lawyers being a hindrance to justice. That demonstrates ignorance. It's a curiosity that not one prosecutor I know thinks as you do. I drink beers with prosecutors all the time, and we appreciate the role each of us plays in the process. I'm out.


Posted by: John | May 15, 2008 6:39:16 PM

John,
If there's some kind of award for willfully misinterpreting someone's attempt at honesty, you might win it.

Posted by: Jay | May 16, 2008 2:16:33 AM

Jay:

Thank you. There are undoubtedly people out there with whom one can have a reasonably calm discussion about lawyers' ethics and responsibilities, and the reasons for their low public esteem, but I'm afraid John is not among them.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 16, 2008 4:21:03 AM

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