As published by Bloomberg Business
A team of law students from John Marshall recently tried a federal civil rights case in the Central District of Illinois. The case provided the law students with the hands-on training that employers want most of new law school graduates.
The students represented Michael Johnson, an inmate at the Pontiac Correctional Center who complained that a prison guard assaulted him and called him a racial epithet, resulting in a Section 1983 claim against the guard for using excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The presiding judge, Chief Judge James Shadid, is an alumnus of John Marshall.
The trial was held at the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois in Peoria in November 2015. The jury returned a verdict for the defendant, but Johnson was satisfied that he was heard and pleased that the students worked with him to make the most of the trial. The challenges were significant; Professor Damian Ortiz, the director of the clinic who also assisted the team, said that “to survive summary judgment and to survive a motion for directed verdict is an accomplishment in and of itself.”
After the verdict, Judge Shadid met with the team and expressed his appreciation for their outstanding representation. Law student Kevin Annis said, “The experience that I gained during the trial in Peoria is something that I do not think I could have received at any other law school. Being able to say that I have tried a federal lawsuit is something that I think will set me apart from other people applying for jobs after graduation.”
Elizabeth Bucko said that “working on federal prisoners’ rights cases in the Pro Bono Clinic was an amazing experience. I have one semester left and I’m sure a majority of it will be spent in the clinic.”
John Marshall Professor Hugh Mundy, who also assisted the law students, said that “while inmate litigation presents big challenges and long odds for favorable verdicts, each case offers invaluable opportunities for our students to prepare for practice and advocate for a marginalized community.”
Ortiz added, “No other school provides this type of experience to its students.”
John Marshall’s Pro Bono Clinic is one of several clinical opportunities at the law school, where students must acquire practical experience as a requirement for graduation. Under the guidance and supervision of John Marshall staff attorneys Dennis Smith and Eric Zopf, the law students performed all the work typically done by licensed members of the bar, including legal research, fact investigation, client counseling, depositions, settlement negotiations, jury selection, direct and cross-examination, and opening and closing arguments. The team was composed of Kevin Annis, Elizabeth Bucko, Bradley Crandall, Jackie Desana, Samantha Singer and Aaron Novasic.