Civil Justice Clinic Honored

From left: Christine Gertsch, Kevin Barry, Celeste Maynard, Joshua Scollins and Marissa Vicario
From left: Christine Gertsch, Kevin Barry, Celeste Maynard, Joshua Scollins and Marissa Vicario
June 1, 2012 - The Quinnipiac University School of Law's Civil Justice Clinic was recently honored with the Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA) Award for Excellence in a Public Interest Case/Project.

The clinic was recognized for its legislative advocacy work in support of the repeal of Connecticut's death penalty in April 2012. The award was presented at the Association of American Law Schools' Clinical Law Conference in Los Angeles in May 2012.

Kevin Barry, associate professor of law and co-director of the clinic at the Quinnipiac University School of Law, along with law students Christine Gertsch '13, Celeste Maynard '13, Josh Scollins '12, and Marissa Vicario '13, spoke to legislators, researched legislative history and state and federal case law, and testified before Connecticut's Joint Judiciary Committee with their findings.

"We were delighted to hear that the Civil Justice Clinic was being honored with this prestigious award for its work in support of the advocacy effort to repeal Connecticut's death penalty," said Brad Saxton, dean of the Quinnipiac University School of Law. "Professor Barry's work has allowed us to add legislative advocacy to the Civil Justice Clinic's docket, and we are delighted that he and our students were able to help the state of Connecticut wrestle with such critically important policy questions."

During  the fall 2011 semester, Barry learned that a "prospective" repeal bill-a repeal that would leave in place the sentences of those currently on death row but abolish the death penalty going forward-would be brought up during the Connecticut General Assembly's short session. He invited clinic students to research a legal argument raised by the bill's critics, who believed that a prospective repeal would render the sentences of those currently on death row unconstitutional.

Barry and the students researched the law in New Mexico, where a similar bill passed in 2009. They also researched Connecticut case law and reached out to other groups working on repeal. Based on its research, the Quinnipiac group concluded that the legal argument against prospective-only repeal did not withstand scrutiny. 

The group wrote testimony outlining its findings, which was delivered before Connecticut's Joint Judiciary Committee in March 2012.  The Quinnipiac group spent the entire day in Hartford, listening to the testimony of others and waiting for an opportunity to speak.

"Overall it was a great legal experience," Gertsch said. "Testifying in front of the legislature was not something I imagined doing in law school." Gertsch read the group's prepared testimony and fielded questions from senators along with Scollins.

"It was fantastic-this doesn't happen in other areas of the law school," Scollins said. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

On April 5, Connecticut's Senate voted to repeal the death penalty prospectively, relying in part on the clinic's testimony. On April 11, Connecticut's House of Representatives followed suit. Gov. Dannel Malloy signed the bill into law on April 25.

"I'm humbled that the clinic was able to contribute to the repeal effort, and I'm really proud of our students. They were the epitome of passion and professionalism; they were great lawyers," said Barry.

Barry says his original goal was for clinic students to have the experience of lobbying their legislators and drafting and delivering testimony. The clinic aims to provide service to students and service to a cause-be it an individual client or a policy issue. "We had the perfect blend," Barry says.

The Quinnipiac Civil Justice Clinic works on a range of direct service cases: wage and hour, special education, substandard housing conditions, prisoner re-entry issues, unemployment, family and more. In December 2011, the clinic added legislative advocacy to its work. 

The Quinnipiac Civil Justice Clinic shared the CLEA award with University of Alabama Tornado Relief Project.