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Published December 18, 2017
As the fall semester at the College of Law is coming to an end, we would like to highlight some of our student victories in the Civil Legal Services Clinic.
Mid-November brought third-year law student Michael Malone before the Wyoming District Court of the Seventh Judicial District in Casper, Wyoming. for a permanent guardianship hearing.
The case was accepted into the Clinic for representation a mere three weeks prior to the set court date, leaving precious little time for preparation. Not only did Malone dedicate an incredible amount of time and attention to the case in order to be court-ready during that three week period, he won the guardianship for his client.
“The experience was invaluable,” he says. “To actually put into practice what you have been studying for the last two years feels very validating. Arguing in court before I even have a license has given me the confidence that I’ll be able to do this once I’m out in the world.”
Though under the supervision of the Civil Legal Services Faculty Director, Danielle Cover, Malone did the argument solo – including the opening statement, closing argument, and direct and cross examination.
“Mike was exceptionally committed to preparing for the hearing in a time crunch,” explains Cover. “We entered our appearance in the case on October 30th and the hearing was scheduled for November 16th. His fact investigation, trial preparation, and trial execution were excellent.”
Originally from Casper, Malone graduated with his undergraduate degree in Criminal Justice through the University of Wyoming Outreach School in 2014. During law school, he has participated in the Wyoming Law Students for Equal Justice, the Multicultural Law Student Association, and has competed in the Richard E. Day Client Counseling Competition, the WTLA Voir Dire Competition, and the ABA Negotiations Competition. He has also been a regular attendee at the Ewing T. Kerr Inns of Court, and currently serves as the President of the Potter Law Club.
In the classroom, Malone has honed his practical skills by utilizing the many experiential opportunities offered in the College of Law curriculum. In addition to the Civil Legal Services Clinic, Malone interned for the Defender Aid Clinic and participated in an externship with Legal Aid of Wyoming. Malone was also one of 16 students that recently took the Summer Trial Institute course in Anchorage, Alaska.
Malone believes the skills gained through trial practice in particular, paired nicely with his work in the Clinic.
“Taking trial practice was extremely helpful,” he says. “It gave me the confidence and procedural knowledge to advocate in the courtroom, while the Clinic has afforded me an entirely different skillset interacting with the actual client.”
After graduation, Malone hopes to remain in the Rocky Mountain region and continue to do trial work.
Spending time in the courtroom is only one of the resolution remedies employed by the Civil Legal Services Clinic. Students in the Clinic work on a diverse range of cases that touch on many different areas of civil practice, and require different tactics and skills. Student Clinic Director Joel Defebaugh, recently resolved two different cases for clients seeking assistance in other areas outside of the courtroom.
In the first case, Defebaugh successfully negotiated with a local landlord to allow a tenant to have an emotional assistance animal in their apartment due to a disability. The situation had grown contentious between the client and the landlord. Over the span of three days, Defebaugh did extensive research on the Fair Housing Act and Wyoming Statues, and carefully crafted a letter to the landlord outlining why the animal should be allowed. In light of the professional dialogue and legal persuasion offered by the Clinic, the landlord acquiesced.
“This case was really enticing for me,” says Defebaugh. “The areas of the law that deal with issues of discrimination such as housing or employment, have roots in constitutional law. It was really interesting for me to draw on that background and use it as a framework for helping the client.”
In a separate case, Defebaugh worked with fellow student Colby Sturgeon to negotiate a property line dispute between two neighbors in which one neighbor erected a wall that effectively blocked the access to the client’s front door. Defebaugh and Sturgeon immediately filed for an injunction and a declaration of easement to use the shared sidewalk and reopen access to the front door. Though a court date had been scheduled, the students were able to successfully negotiate with the neighbor, who then agreed to the designation of an easement for the benefit of their client’s property.
“This case was a little outside the norm, so it was an interesting challenge for us,” comments Defebaugh. “Because of the easement issue it took a little more work than a normal property dispute. But again, it is really gratifying to be able to utilize that core legal education, and put it to work to find real solutions.”
As the Student Clinic Director, Defebaugh sees all of the cases that come through the Clinic doors. He believes that the variety of cases, clients, timelines, and needs is one of the strengths of the Civil Legal Services Clinic, and the clinical programs at the College of Law in general.
“The general practice experience we gain is so incredible,” he says. “We have to be prepared for anything that comes through the door, and I feel like we are really given the skills and ability to be able to navigate that successfully. We may not have immediate answers for everything, but because we have a reliable base in our legal education, and skills in different remedies to employ, we are able to effectively find solutions and advocate for our clients.”
Professor Cover echoes his sentiments.
“These cases are prime example of how the Clinics offer both rigorous learning experiences for students and high quality representation to clients with whom private bar attorneys do not necessarily have the capacity to work,” she says. “The students work extremely hard for the clients and I am exceedingly proud of their efforts.”
Joel Defebaugh is a native of Casper, Wyoming. He attended the University of Wyoming for his undergraduate degree in Political Science, graduating in 2013. While at UW, Joel has excelled in leadership roles, serving as ASUW president, an orientation leader, an admissions representative to new incoming students, as well as a student ambassador. He is currently exploring the possibility of joining the JAG Corps following graduation.
Colby Sturgeon is also a third-year law student, and a native of Torrington, Wyoming. He earned his undergraduate degree from UW in Ag Business in 2014 and also took courses from Eastern Wyoming College. During his undergraduate days, he was also a member of the UW Rodeo Team. He is the first person in his family to attend law school and plans to take his knowledge to serve rural areas in Wyoming following graduation.
The College of Law is pleased to recognize the accomplishments of our dedicated, caring, and knowledgeable students!
Students Frm Left to Right: Michael Malone, Joel Defebaugh, Colby Sturgeon