Civil Justice Clinic’s Juvenile Rights and Re-Entry Project Praised in National Report

Washington University School of Law’s Civil Justice Clinic’s (CJC’s) Juvenile Rights and Re-Entry Project (JR-REP) was cited in a recently released report from the National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC) and Central Juvenile Defender Center (CJDC) for its exemplary work on juvenile justice issues. JR-REP was among those credited with offering “immediate assistance for juveniles, long-term training for new lawyers, and recognition of juvenile defense as a specialized practice.”

The report, Missouri: Justice Rationed: An Assessment of Access to Counsel and Quality of Juvenile Defense Representation in Delinquency Proceedings, adds that such clinics “allow students to gain hands-on experience working with children and defending them on delinquency charges.”

The “Other” Missouri Model JR-REP’s Efforts to Improve the Juvenile Justice System 

According to the report, lawyers trained to work with juveniles are desperately needed in the state. Although the report’s authors emphasize that while Missouri has been innovative in providing small, regionalized juvenile placements—known as “The Missouri Model”—the state’s juvenile justice system is “in crisis.”

Missouri’s system “has endured at least two decades of crushing caseloads and inadequate services to provide its mandated services. … Missouri’s indigent defense system has reached its tipping point,” the authors observe.

Mae Quinn, professor of law and JR-REP’s founding faculty member, agrees with NJDC’s findings, calling the messages in the assessment, “excellent and timely, and in need of an advocate.”

Quinn, who serves as a CJC co-director, adds that the educational and professional experiences the clinic provides can play an important role in mentoring students to not only be advocates for the state’s juveniles, but top-notch attorneys in whatever field they choose.

“Our clinic students learn that effective youth advocacy work often involves a multi-front effort,” Quinn says. “It requires not only direct client representation, but also building interdisciplinary knowledge, developing alliances with non-lawyers, engaging with other advocates locally and nationally, and delivering your message to decision-makers—including the legislature. These are all skills that translate well into many areas of practice and policy-making.”

NJDC’s report urges the clinic to continue in its leadership role to help to improve standards and establish best practices for the state of Missouri. For instance, it acknowledges JR-REP’s 2012 colloquium, Evolving Standards in Juvenile Justice: From Gault to Graham and Beyond, saying that such events “bring attention to the major problems facing indigent and juvenile defense in Missouri.”

Students Undertake Youth Advocacy Efforts on All Fronts and Fora – Local to National 

During the spring semester as in past semesters, clinic students have experienced firsthand many of the problems with the Missouri justice system that are identified in the NJDC report. They also have developed as professionals while working directly with other attorneys throughout the state of Missouri.

Third-year law student Shelby Deeney says her love of working with children has made her time in the clinic “my favorite part of law school.”

“I wanted to work with children charged with crimes,” says Deeney, who will head to Colorado after graduation to pursue a career in public service and tribal advocacy. “I also wanted some criminal experience, as well as direct exposure to how the criminal defense system works.”

Through her professional practice experience with the clinic, Deeney helped finalize two petitions for habeas corpus on behalf of youth offenders currently sentenced to mandatory life without parole. Once the state responded to those petitions, Deeney and her law student colleagues quickly drafted and filed two 30-page reply briefs. The teams also filed a special motion relating to oral arguments. All of this litigation took place in the Missouri Supreme Court, as part of the clinic’s effort to implement the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling in Miller v. Alabama that bans mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles under the U.S. Constitution.

“I didn’t realize how personally touched I would be by my case, but it is inspiring,” says Deeney, adding that she found her work on other juvenile cases to be equally significant—not only from a legal perspective, but also from a more human and emotional side.

Her work with JR-REP—as well as her prior work with Adjunct Professor Steven Gunn—helped solidify her commitment to working for social justice after earning her JD, she says. JR-REP also helped put her in touch with an alumna and former JR-REP student attorney who is already practicing family law in Denver.

Mollie Stemper, a JD/MSW student in the clinic and part of the same litigation group as Deeney, says that she has been impressed by the variety of cases, ranging from orders of protection to juvenile justice defense. “I always wanted to be a public defender, so my work in the clinic was a good match for me,” she says.

Stemper’s intensive litigation work this semester has helped to hone her research, writing, and advocacy skills, as she moves toward her goal of becoming a death penalty lawyer, she says. Stemper adds that she has had the opportunity through JR-REP to engage in litigation strategy sessions with some of most experienced and well-known criminal defense attorneys not only in the state, but across the country.

This summer, she plans to intern at the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR), one of the nation’s premier death-penalty defense offices. Thanks to her work in JR-REP, Stemper has already begun a professional relationship with SCHR attorneys. In fact, SCHR called upon JR-REP this semester to assist in a juvenile law, case-strategy session in which Stemper played a leading role.

Quinn notes that in JR-REP, student attorneys practice “real law, in real cases, and in real time.” Beyond this her students fully embrace their roles as public citizens and legal professionals.

“They take the lead in all aspects of our work—not just in individual cases for individual clients—but in helping to raise awareness of the systemic problems in our juvenile justice system,” says Quinn, who plans to work with the next cohort of JR-REP law students on addressing NJDC Report findings. “Our students engage with respected professionals in the field and strategize around how we might find solutions.”

JR-REP Helps Third-Year Student Establish Relationship with National Advocacy Groups 

Third-year law student Jordan Lawrence Pauluhn, a Missouri native who spent last summer interning at the Children’s Law Center in Covington, Kentucky—the regional CJDC affiliate for NJDC—represented children in guardian ad litem and delinquency cases. He also conducted policy-based research and writing. Pauluhn says he learned about the position after Quinn worked with the group’s executive director, Kim Tandy, to recruit from the Washington University law student body.

Through the summer internship, Pauluhn also had the extraordinary opportunity to work closely with some of the nation’s leading experts, not only at CJDC, but also at NJDC. In fact, working with NJDC Deputy Director Mary Ann Scali, CJDC Executive Director Kim Tandy, and NJDC Research Associate Jaime Michel, Pauluhn helped write and edit the Justice Rationed report; his name is on the final report’s title page.

One of the report’s key findings is that the Missouri Public Defender System has not been adequately funded, Pauluhn says. While prosecutors might say that defenders aren’t using their time appropriately and public defenders call for more funding, Pauluhn believes that regardless of how the problem started, the real message is that a lot of children in Missouri lack adequate representation. “The focus now needs to be on solutions, not problems,” he stresses.

Pauluhn hopes the report will be an educational tool and one that leads people to take the availability of counsel seriously, especially those who need it the most—children.

“The legal system wants to hold people accountable, but when counsel is not available, we are failing kids by not giving them the tools to be responsible,” he says.

After returning from internship at CJDC, Pauluhn continued to focus on juvenile justice work by enrolling in JR-REP this past fall. For Pauluhn, JR-REP is not just about teaching law students in the present—it is also about the future.

“The opportunities I’ve had at the Civil Justice Clinic and Children’s Law Center have been about empowering a whole generation of people to work together,” he says. “These organizations are prime examples of how private citizens are doing a lot of public good by bridging the gaps between people to promote understanding.”