Law Students Argue Before Sixth Circuit Challenging Denials of Writs of Habeas Corpus

Appellate Clinic Director Bruce La Pierre with
law students Benjamin Farley and Nicole Pelletier

A pair of third-year law students in the Appellate Clinic at Washington University School of Law recently presented oral arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in two cases challenging denials of writs of habeas corpus.

“From my first days at law school, I had heard how appellate practice was some of the most challenging work a litigator could do,” said Benjamin Farley, JD ’16. “Being able to do that type of work while I was still in law school attracted me.”

Farley presented oral arguments in the case of Terrance Walter, who was convicted of aggravated murder and felonious assault in Ohio. The trial court initially declined to tell Walter that he had a Sixth Amendment right to conduct his own defense and later summarily denied his request for self-representation. The case raised the question of whether a state court can deny such a request because the timing of the request could cause delay and disruption. Assisting with the brief and arguments over the course of three semesters were law students Steven Alagna, JD’16; Tyler B. Myers, JD’16; Craig Turner, JD’16; Jackie Fugitt; and Robert J. Iversen.

Nicole Pelletier, JD’16, argued the appeal of Thomas Crangle, who entered a guilty plea on a rape charge in 2007 without being told by his lawyer or the judge that his sentence would include post-release control. Lacking this information led to entering a guilty plea, which Pelletier argued should be set aside. In addition to Pelletier, the team preparing the brief and arguments consisted of Farley; T. Hunter Brown, JD’16; Jesus A. Osete, JD ’16; Bradley Dlatt, JD ’16; John Holtz, JD ’16; and Robert J. Sonnenfelt, JD ’16.

Both teams were led by Professor Bruce La Pierre, director of the Appellate Clinic, and Brian Walsh, an adjunct instructor and partner at Bryan Cave LLP.

“The opportunity to present an oral argument first drew me in, but the clinic also allows students to work with a team of attorneys and law students to think through legal issues, brainstorm potential arguments, and determine the best strategy for briefing an appeal,” Pelletier said. “It also provides students with invaluable writing experience, as we were able to draft portions of the brief and receive feedback from Professor La Pierre and Brian Walsh.”

Pelletier said she learned “to always be open to new ideas. When writing the brief, we went through rounds of reorganizing and changing our phrasing. When preparing for the argument, we also often changed our approach to certain questions. It was all in favor of presenting the best argument for our client, and it was a process that required me to be open to and prepared for changes.”

One key to Farley’s preparation were moot court sessions organized by La Pierre, who has argued numerous cases in the Federal Courts of Appeals and in the United States Supreme Court. “The moot court sessions helped me deal with the nerves,” Farley said. When the time came to argue against a lawyer from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, Farley recalled that he “wasn’t nervous at all. The lawyer from Ohio was great, a really impressive individual. But she was really kind, too. She came over and congratulated me.”

Farley has received a one-year appointment as a clerk to Judge Bobby Shepherd of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in El Dorado, Arkansas. Following the appointment, he plans to work in the Litigation Group for Lewis Rice LLC in St. Louis.

“The appellate clinic gave me the reality of what working at a big law firm would be like,” Farley said. “Issues arise at any time of day. I’d get emails at 6 a.m. or 9 p.m. with a question, and you have to be ready to respond. I also learned that good work gets rewarded with more work. I think that’s what the law firm experience is going to be.”

Pelletier is planning to join the Insurance Practice Group of Faegre Baker Daniels LLP in its Indianapolis office.

“WashU Law has provided me with a legal education that enables me to confidently begin my career as an attorney,” she said. “The appellate clinic has given me hands-on experience working through a case on appeal, preparing briefs with colleagues, managing clients’ best interests, and preparing and presenting an oral argument to a U.S. Court of Appeals – an opportunity I hope comes along again soon.”