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Significant Achievements of the Clinical Programs 2011-12

For updates on recent activities and achievements of the clinical programs, see and

Abrams Environmental Law Clinic

Started in January 2012 with the generous support of Jim and Wendy Abrams, the Abrams Environmental Law clinic attempts to solve some of the most pressing environmental problems throughout Chicago, the State of Illinois, and the Great Lakes region. On behalf of clients, the clinic challenges those who pollute illegally, fights for stricter permits, protects public access to natural resources, advocates for changes to regulations and laws, holds environmental agencies accountable, and develops innovative approaches for improving the environment. Through clinic participation, students learn substantive environmental law and procedures for addressing concerns through the courts or administrative tribunals. Students develop a number of core advocacy competencies, such as counseling clients, spotting issues, conducting factual investigations, performing practical legal research, advocating through written and oral communications, planning cases, managing time, and addressing ethical issues and dilemmas. In addition, students develop an appreciation for the range of strategic and tactical approaches that effective advocates use. Some matters are best resolved in front of a judge, others in an adversarial hearing, others through face-to-face meetings with government officials, and others by putting public pressure on a polluter or administrative agency. Any given matter may require the use of one or more of these approaches simultaneously or sequentially, although in general, the clinic deploys adversarial approaches to help achieve its clients' objectives.

Civil Rights Clinic: Police Accountability

The Civil Rights and Police Accountability Clinic won preliminary approval of a consent decree resolving a class action case on remand from the United States Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of Illinois’ drug forfeiture scheme. The Clinic reformed a decades-long government practice of denying people the opportunity for a hearing for a year or more after police seize their cars for possible forfeiture. While police and prosecutors reaped millions of dollars from private property seizures, low-income women were deprived of access to their primary means of transportation to work, school, food, and medical care.

After six years of intense litigation before the Federal District Court, Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and United States Supreme Court, the Clinic won the right to prompt post-seizure hearings within 14 days before a judge in which property owners may seek the return of their cars. The Clinic also established procedures that enable owners to retrieve their cars upon a showing of hardship. The federal judge who supervised settlement negotiations conferred the highest praise on our Clinic students: “The kind of conduct and responsibility displayed by the lawyers in this case make one proud to be in the legal profession.”   

The Clinic also advanced efforts to improve transparency of the Chicago Police Department around charges of police abuse. Third year students Traci Irvin and Jordan Wilkow won summary judgment in an Illinois Freedom of Information case to prevent the City from hiding police officers charged with having committed the most abuse in Chicago from the public. The Clinic continues to fight for the public’s right to see how the City and Police Department address police misconduct complaints. The case is presently on appeal.

While researching and drafting our summary judgment briefs in the Freedom of Information case, Clinic students discovered that Kilroy Watkins, a pro se prisoner, had appealed a Cook County Judge’s denial of his Freedom of Information request for official misconduct complaints against a couple of notorious Chicago police detectives whom he accused of torturing him to confess to a crime that he did not commit. His appeal raised similar legal issues to those raised in our case. Elizabeth Wang, Clinic alum and co-director of the Exoneration Project Clinic, agreed to assist Mr. Watkins in filing a reply brief before the Court of Appeals, drawing on the research and writing of Traci, Jordan, and recent clinic alums Rachel Beattie, Lindsay Calkins, Peter Orlowicz, and Kathleen Rubenstein. Together they won a tremendous victory for government transparency, when the Court of Appeals held that records related to complaints of police misconduct are public and must be produced pursuant to FOIA. Unfortunately, a week later, the Court of Appeals vacated its decision after finding that Mr. Watkins while pro se filed a late notice of appeal, depriving the Court of jurisdiction. Thanks to the outstanding advocacy of Ms. Wang, the Illinois Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeals’ jurisdictional ruling and ordered the Court of Appeals to address the prisoner’s appeal on the merits.

The Clinic also made significant strides in challenging systemic supervisory and disciplinary practices in Chicago. In the Clinic’s civil rights prosecution of a group of Chicago police Special Operations officers who perpetrated a pattern of criminal abuse targeting Latinos for false arrests, illegal searches, and robbery, a team of students won access to Department-wide disciplinary data. Our Clinic students showed the power of mathematics in civil rights cases to illuminate how the Police Department’s broken disciplinary systems led an elite group of officers to believe that they could abuse Chicago’s most vulnerable residents with impunity. Dr. Steven Whitman, the former chief epidemiologist for the City of Chicago, analyzed that data and found that Chicago police officers are rarely disciplined when they are charged with false arrests, illegal searches, theft, robbery, and extortion. The probability that an officer would be disciplined for those charges was one in a thousand. Joseph Stine, a retired Philadelphia police commander, tied those numbers to problematic police practices. Mr. Stine wrote that despite a history of scandals involving groups of officers who worked together and who accumulated extraordinary numbers of misconduct complaints, the Chicago Police Department failed to examine patterns of complaints against groups of officers.

Buttressing this work, graduating student Kelly Graf took an excellent deposition of a sitting judge, a former high level prosecutor who uncovered the pattern of criminal misconduct by the elite team of Chicago police officers. Ethan Frenchman, with the assistance of Kelly and Sam Boyd, took the lead in preparing summary judgment motion and briefs in this case.

The litigation is ongoing, but the students’ successes bring them one step closer towards vindicating their clients’ rights. The case is expected to go to trial in the coming academic year.

Finally, showing that Clinic students and attorneys do far more than litigate, second year students, Chaclyn Hunt and Jessica Michaels, designed and led workshops at Hyde Park High School, Kenwood, Urban Prep, and University of Chicago Laboratory Schools crafted to improve relations between students and police officers. Chaclyn and Jessica are also working with photojournalist Aaron Cahan and writer Jamie Kalven to document and record student voices around issues of race, class, and police accountability.

Corporate Lab: Transactions Clinic

The Corporate Lab: Transactional Clinic successfully completed in excess of 80 projects during the 2011–12 academic year in collaboration with companies including Accenture, Allstate, Baxter Healthcare, IBM, Integrys Energy Group, JPMorgan Chase, Lincoln Center, Microsoft, Neiman Marcus, Northern Trust, Schreiber Foods, Sony Electronics, Verizon Communications, and various start-up companies as part of the Booth New Venture Challenge. The addition of Lincoln Center, one of the world’s premiere arts centers, marked the Corporate Lab’s expansion to include highly sophisticated and renowned non-profit organizations among its clients. The Lab continues to be successful due in large part to the interesting projects and high-quality work that draw students and leading organizations to work together. Indeed, this past March, Corporate Counsel magazine profiled the Lab, describing it as “an innovative way to help students gain experience in the business of law.”

Notably, during the 2011–12 academic year, the American Bar Association’s Global Anti-Corruption Task Force published the Corporate Lab’s Special Report on complying with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and the International Bar Association, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime began to use the Special Report as part of their anti-corruption educational tools. As a continuation of this endeavor, the Lab hosted this past spring a conference that brought together the most influential leaders in the anti-corruption field, including representatives from the Department of Justice, senior in-house corporate and compliance counsel, and outside counsel, to discuss aspects of the FCPA that practitioners have struggled to understand and implement.

In addition, the Corporate Lab completed the following projects, which comprise a representative sampling of the many projects undertaken by the Lab over the past academic year:

  • Annotating and drafting model bylaws for a company’s subsidiaries, and reviewing, analyzing, and revising a company’s end-user license agreement and terms of service;
  • Creating a primer on legal issues facing the retail industry to assist a company in expanding its consumer operations;
  • Drafting a practical legal memorandum—intended for use by a company’s business personnel—discussing the “fair use” exception in copyright law; and
  • Conducting market research and analysis regarding venture capital initiatives at companies within particular industries.

Beyond these cutting-edge projects, the Corporate Lab has continued to host its very successful Speaker Series. The Speaker Series has given Lab students an opportunity to hear from leading practitioners (from both law firms and in-house legal departments) on substantive areas of law (e.g., the fundamentals of a specific type of transaction) and those real-world concerns critical to young attorneys’ success (e.g., client development and networking). In addition to many other esteemed practitioners, the following leaders in business and law participated in the Speaker Series over this past academic year: Chancellor William Chandler (Wilson Sonsini and former Chancellor on the Delaware Court of Chancery), Dennis Chookazsian (former CEO of CNA), Ann Ziegler (CFO of CDW), and Steve Ritchie (Kirkland & Ellis).

Furthermore, the Corporate Lab launched the Transactional Challenge for rising second-year law students to gain exposure to transactional practice during their first law school summer. Approximately 80 students registered for the Challenge, which allows students to compete against each other in a series of “real-world” transactional corporate exercises. The Challenge will also give participating students an opportunity to network with senior in-house counsel and law firm partners as part of a post-competition reception this coming fall.

Exoneration Project Clinic

Amid all of the excellent work by EP students on a variety of cases during the 2011-12 school year, this year resulted in extraordinary success for several EP clients. First, client Eric Caine, who was released from prison in March of 2011, finally obtained a Certificate of Innocence after a protracted battle with the state. More significantly, however, the EP obtained the release of three EP clients from prison. These clients had served a combined 60 years in prison. Thanks to the efforts of EP students, these clients had their convictions overturned and future charges dismissed.

In November of 2011, client James Harden was released from prison after having served nearly 20 years for the purported sexual assault and killing of a classmate. Mr. Harden was 16 at the time this crime occurred. EP students thoroughly investigated Mr. Harden’s case and then drafted and litigated a successful post-conviction motion for DNA testing. The results of this DNA testing revealed that DNA on the victim belonged not to Mr. Harden, but to a convicted rapist and multiple-time felon. Based on the significant efforts of EP students in litigating a post-conviction petition and multiple discovery issues, prosecutors voluntarily dropped charges against Mr. Harden, allowing him to be released from prison. The EP was then successful in getting Mr. Harden a Certificate of Innocence.

EP client Harold Richardson also left prison in November of 2011 after having served nearly 17 years for the purported sexual assault and killing of a Chicago woman. EP students also litigated a successful motion for DNA testing on behalf of Mr. Richardson, who was only 17 at the time of his arrest. DNA testing revealed that DNA on the victim belonged not to Mr. Richardson, but to a convicted murderer with a significant history of sexual violence against women. Students litigated a contested motion for a new trial, and over the prosecution’s objection the court granted Mr. Richardson a new trial and bail. The state ultimately abandoned an effort at retrial, and the EP is currently seeking a Certificate of Innocence for Mr. Richardson.

In May of 2012, James Kluppelberg left prison after having served nearly 25 years of a life sentence for murder and arson. He was convicted of supposedly starting a deadly 1984 Chicago fire. EP students investigated Mr. Kluppelberg’s case with unusual dedication and thoroughness, demonstrating that the state’s theory of arson was impossible under modern understandings of arson science. Further, the critical witness who implicated Mr. Kluppelberg recanted, and students also uncovered evidence that another person had confessed to setting this fire, evidence that was withheld from Mr. Kluppelberg at trial. EP students drafted and litigated a post-conviction motion for Mr. Kluppelberg based on all of this evidence. After over three years of litigation, prosecutors finally abandoned their opposition to Mr. Kluppelberg’s claims and the court ordered his release. The EP is currently seeking a Certificate of Innocence for Mr. Kluppelberg.

Federal Criminal Justice Clinic

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit recently sided with the Federal Criminal Justice Clinic in United States v. Reyes-Hernandez & Sanchez-Gonzalez, 624 F.3d 405 (7th Cir. 2010), a case with the potential to dramatically impact the prison sentences given to defendants in illegal reentry cases. Chicago law students convinced the Seventh Circuit that federal judges should have the discretion to grant below-guidelines sentences to illegal reentry defendants to bring sentences in line with those given in federal districts with "fast track" programs, which allow judges to reduce defendants' sentences if they promptly plead guilty and waive certain rights. The Seventh Circuit, which is based in Chicago, has jurisdiction over federal courts in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin--all jurisdictions that lack fast-track programs. In siding with the Federal Criminal Justice Clinic, the Seventh Circuit reversed prior precedent. Previously, the Seventh Circuit had ruled that judges could not consider a district's lack of a fast-track program as a reason to reduce sentences. This latest ruling already has had an impact on at least two people and has the potential to impact many more. Pedro Sanchez-Gonzalez, the FCJC's client in the case, and Jaime Reyes-Hernandez, whose case the court of appeals consolidated with Sanchez-Gonzalez's, have had their sentences vacated and will be given a second chance before sentencing judges. The judges now will be allowed to consider deviating from the guidelines to bring the sentences in line with those given to similarly-situated defendants in fast-track districts. The Seventh Circuit's ruling is in line with decisions reached by the First, Third, and Sixth Circuits. However, the Fifth, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits have ruled oppositely.

The FCJC currently is participating in the litigation of a more recent Seventh Circuit case which addresses the fast-track issue, United States v. Ramirez, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 14847(7th Cir. 2011). The clinic assisted in writing a Petition for Rehearing En Banc and an Amicus Brief in that case.

In addition, during the past year, FCJC students have won a number of significant victories for their clients before federal district court judges. For example, one team of students wrote extensive sentencing motions and argued orally against the United States Attorney’s Office request that one FCJC client serve 22-27 years in federal prison, and ultimately helped secure their client a sentence of 10 ½ years. Another team of students convinced a judge to grant a hearing on a motion to suppress evidence, a rare occurrence in federal court.

Housing Initiative Clinic

The Housing Initiative Clinic had some notable closings and accomplishments in 2011-2012. One project that is representative of the clinic’s work with distressed properties was the acquisition and rehabilitation of an eight-unit building in the South Chicago neighborhood area. The building, having gone through foreclosure and been vacated of tenants, had been purchased and mothballed by the City of Chicago. A local community development organization, Claretian Associates Inc., reached agreement with the City on a purchase and rehab proposal, and Claretian Associates retained the Housing Initiative to help them structure the transaction and bring it to fruition. Our students worked on the transaction throughout fall quarter and handled the closing. Our students negotiated the purchase and sale contract; drafted the construction contract, architect agreement, management contract, trust documents, counsel’s opinion, and various other evidentiaries; and negotiated the loan documents prepared by the project’s two lenders. Financing was provided by the City of Chicago’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program and by the Community Investment Corporation, a non-profit lender that specializes in multifamily residential buildings.

A second project for the Housing Intiative involved the acquisition of a mixed use building in the West Humboldt Park neighborhood on behalf of the West Humboldt Park Family and Community Development Council. A restaurant will occupy the first floor, with a residential unit above. The lender on the project needed an accelerated closing to meet its targets under the federal New Markets Tax Credit program, resulting in a very compressed drafting, review and closing schedule. The Housing Initiative students were up to the challenge and led the project to a successful closing. Currently, students are negotiating the construction contract for the rehabilitation and build out.

Another interesting and notable project for the Housing Initiative this year was the development of a new program for gaining site control for distressed housing, which the Housing Initiative worked on with one of its developer clients and the City of Chicago. The program involves the discounted transfer to the developer of receiver liens that are held by the City or its affiliate, and the developer would then proceed to foreclose the lien out to gain site control. The hope is that this approach will add a new tool for gaining control of troubled properties that are being neglected by absentee owners and overwhelmed banking institutions.  Housing Initiative students negotiated and drafted the transactional documents that will serve as a template for the program, and the search is underway for a suitable property on which to pilot the program.

Students continue to report tremendous satisfaction with their work in the Housing Initiative in their reflection papers. One student wrote, “Seeing a transaction like this through, from beginning to end, is a great learning opportunity. The deal structure for these City-sponsored rehabs is quite complex, with the private lender essentially bridging the City funds that provide the bulk of the rehab and permanent financing. It definitely required a team effort to keep track of all the moving parts and to bring everything together on time for the closing.” Another project involved the negotiation of a half million dollar rehabilitation contract, where the lawyer on the other side of the negotiation was a partner in a construction law and litigation boutique in Chicago with nearly thirty years of experience. The student wrote, “Before this experience, I did not realize the extent to which lawyers have to be familiar with the legal documents, the organization they are representing, and any relevant laws . . . Before any negotiation took place, we spent hours upon hours reading through the contracts, researching the law, and thinking about how each of the terms would impact the client. After this, we compiled a memo of the terms of the contract that were concerning and made recommendations to the client. Through several conference calls and email exchanges, we were able to come to an agreement about the changes we wished to pursue and answer the client’s questions. . . . It took several weeks to negotiate the details of the contract, but we ended up with a final agreement that was balanced and fair. . . . These types of opportunities through the Housing Initiative Clinic have confirmed my desire to do transactional work and negotiate contracts as a practicing attorney.”

Mental Health Advocacy Clinic

In July, the Mental Health Advocacy Clinic successfully resolved its four-year old class action against the Illinois Department of Human Services on behalf of more than 100 residents at Elgin Mental Health Center. The Plaintiffs claimed that this state-operated psychiatric hospital was violating the Illinois Mental Health Code law by failing to provide sufficient telephone access and failing to provide Plaintiffs with “private and uncensored communication” by telephone.  The agreement requires the Department to provide additional phones on each of the living units where Plaintiffs are being treated, as well as phones in private offices for communications between Plaintiffs and their lawyers. Dempsey v. Saddler, 08 CH 27221 (Cir. Ct. Cook Cty, Cty Dept., Chancery Div.) Dana Vallera, Kristen Metzger, Kate Wooler, Myla Arumagam, Lauren Modelski, Smitha Nagaraja, and You Rim Bak all worked hard to accomplish this result.