Criminal Justice Reform Clinic
The Criminal Justice Reform Clinic (CJRC) provides students with hands-on legal experience while engaging in a critical examination of and participation in important and complex issues in the criminal justice system. CJRC students work on a variety of cases and issues including clemency, parole, prison litigation, immigration, mental illness and incarceration, nonunanimous juries, and removing the criminal-related barriers that keep individuals in poverty.
Former Associate, Longview Defenders, PLLC
When did you work in the clinic? What did you do?
I participated in the clinic throughout the 2015–16 academic year. During the fall semester, I worked on a clemency case on behalf of a Washington inmate serving a long prison sentence. During the spring semester, I worked on Oregon juvenile justice policy issues.
IMPACTIn February 2018, Governor Kate Brown ’85 approved a clemency petition prepared by CJRC law students in 2017 on behalf of Dondrae “Choo” Fair. Fair and his employer, Volunteers of America, sought a pardon of a 1992 Robbery I conviction so he could continue his critical work as the lead mentor for the organization’s Gang Impacted Team.
I was most recently a public defender as an associate at Longview Defenders, PLLC, a firm with the contract for misdemeanor public defense for the municipality of Longview, WA. I had two trials, many motion hearings, and appeared in court most days of the week. I met with clients when I was not in court. I am now relocating across the country and I hope to continue doing similar work after my move.
What parts of your clinic experience helped prepare you for your career?
I did several externships during law school, but CJRC was my only practical criminal experience. It gave me a new familiarity with the functions of the criminal justice system. My participation in the clemency case gave me the chance to work with a client directly and see something through from start to finish.
A memorable moment?
Interviewing a client who was going to appear before Washington’s Clemency and Pardons Board to seek clemency. It was the first time I had ever been inside a prison and I was very nervous, but the client’s words stuck with me. At the hearing, which happened after my time in the clinic was over, the board decided in favor of clemency in a dramatic 3-1 vote, following poignant testimony from our client’s friends and family.
How do you view the clinic now?
CJRC does not just train students to be prosecutors or defenders, it trains them to keep their eyes open to the system’s flaws and inhumanity. It is vital for a public defender to be educated on wrongful convictions, the inequity of the justice system, where we are in this historical moment, and how we got here. This can help us be allies to the people we represent, rather than part of the problem.