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Defender Aid Clinic: A Force to be Reckoned With

April 11, 2019
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The Defender Aid Clinic has been continually picking up steam and spending a lot of time in the courtroom. Students have gained valuable experience both within the confines of the clinic walls as well as in front of the judiciary.  Here is just a glimpse of the Defender Aid Clinic highlight reel.

Oral-argumentsOn Tuesday, April 9, 2019, Second-year law student Emily Williams of Laramie, Wyo. argued before the Wyoming Supreme Court. The case was involving improper comments by the trial court and was an intense oral argument.

“It was a very interesting issue because it is not that common of a scenario and was definitely an uphill battle,” says Williams. “Overall it was a really awesome experience though because the Wyoming Supreme Court was so interactive. I got to have a really good conversation with the justices, so it was a really enriching experience for me.”

Faculty Director of the Defender Aid Clinic Lauren McLane was beaming with pride after the oral argument. (More about Professor McLane).

“The justices were asking really hard questions to Emily,” says McLane. “No matter the outcome of the appeal, I am extremely proud of how well she held her own in front of the highest court in the state.”

Williams credits Professor McLane’s rigorous preparation for her success.

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“Professor McLane is such a tremendous resource and mentor in terms of learning and preparing,” shares Williams. “She let me take the first pass by myself and then was there to guide me through multiple moots. She helped me to anticipate all of the different scenarios and potential questions that I might face, and forced me to react to them calmly and competently.”

Third-year law student and current student clinic director, Alex Cremer of Sheridan, Wyo. also argued before the Wyoming Supreme Court in March.  His case was a direct appeal to the Supreme Court, arguing on an evidentiary issue for his client.

“It was exciting to actually prepare for the case,” says Cremer. “Professor McLane did a great job of over-preparing me so that I felt confident and more readily able to appear before the justices. It was still a challenging experience, because you have to have a good grasp on thousands of pages of transcripts and be prepared to have an answer for literally any question. I felt confident in my ability to adjust on the fly after working with Professor McLane.”

Appearing before the court did not disappoint. The justices lived up to their reputation of being extremely engaging, insightful, and friendly to the students.

“We are so lucky that we are able to have to opportunity to appear before the Wyoming Supreme Court,” says Cremer. “They were very welcoming and I learned a lot in the small window of time I spent before them.”

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Cremer felt that the experience was extremely validating for the three years spent learning, working, and improving during law school – an appropriate and refreshing way to tie everything together while still under the umbrella of the law school.

“It was fun to know that no matter how real you can make your moot problems, there is nothing like actually representing a client with a real case,” he says. “It is different than trying to impress a professor and get a grade when there is someone else’s life on the line. In that respect it was an honor and a privilege.”

For Professor McLane, the sentiments shared by Cremer are exactly why we have the clinics.

“This is why we are here. It’s practicing law, while you are in law school,” explains McLane. “This is the ultimate experiential learning opportunity for any student. In fact, many practicing attorneys will never appear before the Wyoming Supreme Court, so to get this experience and exposure at this point in their education is invaluable.”

resentencingIn addition to the Supreme Court arguments, Cremer and Williams joined forces on a major juvenile resentencing case that has been part of the Defender Aid Clinic for the past four years.

Originally taken into the Clinic by the late Professor Diane Courselle, the case Davis v. State of Wyoming is an extremely special one in that is not only the biggest terminal case in Wyoming, it has spanned over the course of four different directors of the Clinic.

Following the passing of Professor Courselle, Tom Fleener served as the Clinic Director when the case initially was up for resentencing in Johnson County. The team lost, but under the direction of Julianne Gern, the Clinic filed an appeal to the Wyoming Supreme Court, which they won in a landmark decision. (More about that case here).

With the case now in the hands of Professor McLane, Williams and Cremer appeared in the Johnson County Courthouse on March 4th in front of Judge Edelman (B.S. ’88, J.D. ’91) to argue for Mr. Davis’ release.

Professor McLane is extremely proud of her students.

“Emily exhibited skills that any seasoned lawyer would have exhibited which is substantial given that she is a second-year law student,” she acclaims. “Alex knows his way around the courtroom and was a great examiner already, but we had some unpredictable things happen that he dealt with like any experienced attorney would have dealt with off the cuff. If anyone walked into that courtroom, there is not a chance that they would have guessed that either of them was a law student making that argument.”

For Williams, the case felt very personal.

“This is the biggest case that I have worked on in the Clinic for the past year,” she comments. “We got to know our client really well, and since this case has involved so many past students and directors of this Clinic, they all rallied around us and offered support.”

The students still have to submit their closing statements via a written submission to the court by the end of May. It is hoped that a decision will be made on the case by the end of the summer.

While arguing in multiple courts has afforded Cremer and incredible experience and an arsenal of courtroom skills, his service as the Student Clinic Director has been equally rewarding.

“I am so grateful for the opportunity,” he says. “It was easier than I thought it would be because of the group of the students. Egos are left at the doors and everyone is receptive to my insights and help. It’s been fun working with fellow classmates on things that are a little more exciting than your average midterm paper, and fun to see people become more confident and put this stuff to the test before they are out there.”

Even though only one student appears to do an argument in the courts, it is a true collaborative effort with all of the clinic students to research the cases, gather the facts and write the briefs. An ancillary benefit to the Clinic is the community that is forged between the students as well as the professional network they encounter.

Cremer attributes this positive culture to Professor McLane.

“Professor McLane has particularly brought an invigorating energy to the Clinic and the law school in general,” says Cremer. “It has been so fun to learn and grow from someone that puts some much energy and fervor into their work. Moreover, she teaches you to take it seriously and to perform it passionately and if you’re not willing to do just that, then there is no point in getting in into this kind of work.”

As evidence of her dedication to expanding the knowledge of her students, Professor McLane is taking both her current and her future Student Clinic Directors with her to the Innocence Network Annual Conference taking place April 11 -13 in Atlanta, Ga.

“The conference offers incredible exposure to students on the leading causes of wrongful convictions and how to investigate and litigate such convictions as well as time with exonerees across the world,” says McLane “My first conference impacted my life in so many ways, I want the leading students in my Clinic to have that experience and carry it forth with them into their practice.”

In addition to attending with the students, McLane is presenting at the Conference on Friday. Her talk entitle In Pursuit of Just, Real Science: Deconstructing and Confronting Forensic Science in our Casework, highlights the intersection of her expertise in forensic evidence and her work in the Defender Aid Clinic.innocence conf

At the end of this year, both students will take their experiences and move on to greater things.

After passing the Bar exam, Cremer will be joining the ranks of the Colorado State Public Defenders Office, one of the nation’s top public defender programs. Meanwhile, Williams will take the reins of the Clinic and became the new student director.

“The Clinic has been my favorite part of law school by far, and I am excited to take over in the summer,” says Williams. “Part of me is nervous, but I’m eager to handle more cases, especially the trial cases. This year has been very foundational, so next year I look forward to using that knowledge and being even more involved.”

As for the rest of the students in the Defender Aid Clinic, they will continue to plow forward with a full docket.  The students are currently investigating several innocence cases alongside of the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center, as well as working on a direct appeal in the Ninth Judicial District. The Clinic has also partnered with the City of Laramie Municipal Court and will start taking cases as early as May.

The College of Law is extremely proud of the amazing work that the students have accomplished in the Clinic and cannot wait to see what exciting thing are in store for the future!

Contact Us

College of Law

1000 E. University Ave., Dept. 3035

Laramie, WY 82071

Phone: 307-766-6416

Fax: 307-766-6417

Email: lawadmis@uwyo.edu

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