Juvenile Law & Justice Clinic Wins Missouri Court of Appeals Case for Teen

A team of students and faculty in the law school’s Juvenile Law & Justice Clinic has prevailed in its persistent quest to secure justice for a teenage client. Seventeen months after taking the second-degree assault case, the clinic successfully argued before the Missouri Court of Appeals that an error in due process had occurred.

Led by Mae Quinn, professor of law and director of the Juvenile Law & Justice Clinic, the team began work on the case in April 2013. As a law student, Mollie Stemper, JD/MSW ’14, kicked off the clinic’s representation by zealously advocating for their client before the Juvenile Division of the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis.

Classmate Pallavi Garg, JD ’14, then continued representation over the summer, first chairing the case at trial along with three co-counsel and cross examining the main witness in the case. She was assisted with research by now third-year law student Kevin Holt. However, despite their stellar efforts, the minor was ultimately found guilty of assault in the second degree by the juvenile court.

In spring 2014, the appellate advocates, Meredith Schlacter, JD ’14, Adam Trombly, JD ’14, Safia Kahn, JD ’14, and now third-year law student Alice Stewart all worked hard as a group to “scour the record, research legal issues, and draft a beautiful brief,” Quinn says.

In its brief, the clinic argued the juvenile court erred in implicitly acquitting the client of the charge she faced, but then finding her guilty of a different crime with which she had never been charged. As the students argued in their brief, this amounted to fundamental constitutional error that denied their client due process of law.

Quinn argued the case this summer, sharing the podium with Amy Faerber, a local public defender representing one of their co-defendants.  

The team’s dedication and hard work was justly rewarded when the Missouri Court of Appeals reversed the finding of guilt and discharged their client from the effects of the juvenile court adjudication.

“Our client had to endure a host of difficulties and humiliations as a result of the improper procedure and unfair finding of guilt,” Schlacter says. “I am very glad that our client was able to find some measure of justice after all she went through.”

Holt agrees with Schlacter and adds, “It was one of the strongest examples of legal injustice that I’ve witnessed firsthand. Along with the rest of the work I did in the clinic, the case dramatically influenced my way of thinking.”

Under the leadership and tutelage of Quinn, the Juvenile Law & Justice Clinic provides students with the opportunity to get real-world experience representing young people in the St. Louis area and acting as lead counsel on a range of youth advocacy matters.

“Participating in the clinic definitely shaped my law school career, as it was the first real legal experience I received,” Holt says. “Professor Quinn became my mentor that summer, and I believe she has affected my career in many ways.”

Through their holistic approach to juvenile representation, over the years, the clinic’s student attorneys have collaborated with social work, education, mental health, medical, and other non-legal experts, emerging from the program experienced advocates who have established meaningful attorney-client relationships. They have honed their legal research and writing skills and learned what it means to be ethical lawyers and strategic thinkers who can zealously advocate for individual clients and client populations, frequently on multiple fronts.

“My experience in the clinic prepared me with the skills and outlook I need to undertake my current work: representing death row clients in their final stage of appeals,” Stemper says. “It has also given me the opportunity to pass on my passion for clinical education to the next generation of law students as an instructor in the Capital Punishment Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law. Mae and the Juvenile Law & Justice Clinic have absolutely been instrumental in my career.”

This recent Washington Post article “How municipalities in St. Louis County, Mo, profit from poverty” cites some of the clinic’s work in the region’s municipal courts – local venues that also prosecute teens. In the article, written in response to recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, Quinn describes how her students have fought on behalf of vulnerable youth across numerous overlapping systems.

Other coverage of the work of the Juvenile Justice Clinic: 

  • Civil Justice Clinic’s Juvenile Rights and Re-Entry Project Praised in National Report [view]
  • Clinic Leads Charge to Reform Juvenile Sentencing Laws [view]

Judy Uelk, Fall 2014