April 18, 2011
In only its second year of operation, McGeorge's Federal Defender Clinic has represented clients in more than 80 cases in U.S. District Court during the academic year and won some impressive victories.
Professor Cary Bricker and John Balazs, a former assistant federal defender, teach the two-hour weekly seminar on campus while Chief Assistant Federal Defender Linda Harter has principal responsibility for supervising the daily clinical work at the Federal Defender's Office in downtown Sacramento. Bricker is a former senior staff attorney with the Federal Defender Division of the New York Legal Aid Society, Criminal Division.
Third-year students Tatiana Filippova, Matthew Fleming, Timothy Kelly, Gina Le, Scott Radcliffe, David Snapp, Jamie Walker and Etan Zaitsu have worked in the clinic this year. They often face prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office in misdemeanor cases in the federal courthouse. The vast majority of cases result in plea bargains or dismissals, but some go to trial in front of United States Magistrate Judges.
In late summer, Fleming won an acquittal in United States v. Brooks, a bench trial where Mr. Brooks was improperly charged with knowledge of his license having been suspended, an "assimilated" crime under the California Vehicle Code.. Through witness testimony Mr. Fleming established that there was no way Brooks could have imputed knowledge of the suspension. The verdict averted a mandatory jail sentence for an act which the accused had no idea constituted a crime. Mr. Fleming is now preparing for a jury trial scheduled to begin next week.
In November, Filippova and Zaitsu won a bench trial before then Magistrate Judge Kimberly Mueller. She dismissed reckless-driving charges under a Rule 29 motion after the prosecution presented its case, finding insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction. In the spring, Filippova and Zaitsu tried the very first jury trial in the clinic's two-year history, where their client was charged with theft of government property that had taken place a number of years ago. They presented a persuasive defense arguing that the offense conduct fell outside the legal statute of limitations. They also recently wrote and submitted an appeal to the Ninth Circuit on a different case and hope to argue the appeal in the summer.
Recently, Radcliffe and Walker won an acquittal before Magistrate Judge Kendall Newman where their client was charged with leaving a campfire in El Dorado National Forest without fully extinguishing it, a Class B misdemeanor. Both the government and the defense called a number of witnesses and introduced a number of exhibits into evidence, including testimony from the accused and his wife.
Professor Bricker notes that "when Assistant Federal Defender Lauren Cusick and I began the Federal Defender Clinic two year ago, we hoped it would train and produce talented and dedicated trial lawyers. It has exceeded our expectations. We modeled the program after one of the only other Federal Defender clinics in the country, at New York University, where Lauren was a student and participant. We are very proud of the 16 students who, to date, have participated in the clinic. So many clients have been helped by their effective representation."