Case Western Reserve’s Appellate Litigation Clinic Files Appellate Briefs in Sixth Circuit, Supreme Court of Ohio

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Students in Case Western Reserve’s Appellate Litigation Clinic capped off their semester with two major filings: a 60-page brief to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in a habeas case and a petition asking the Supreme Court of Ohio to hear a case involving Ohio’s menacing-by-stalking statute.

The habeas appeal, briefed by third-year law students Gregory E. Hilbert, Bryce P. Saunders, and Paul M.M. Willison, challenges a guilty plea the client entered in Michigan state court without being told what the possible penalties would be. It also challenges the sentence under the Ex Post Facto Clause, because the state court applied an amended version of a criminal statute without first finding that the defendant committed the offense before the statute went into effect. The brief also asks the Sixth Circuit to find that the Michigan state-court judge had an obligation to recuse because one of the prosecuting attorneys in the case was his brother.

The petition to the Supreme Court of Ohio, filed by third-year law students Caroline R. Ford and Jeffery P. Scott, focuses on Ohio’s menacing-by-stalking statute, which criminalizes behavior that knowingly causes another person to suffer “mental distress.” Ohio courts have applied inconsistent standards in evaluating the mental-distress requirement. The petition asks the court to unify the standard—and to clarify that it must be at least as rigorous as the standard that applies in analogous civil actions.

Hilbert, one of the students who filed the Sixth Circuit brief, called the experience a “phenomenal educational opportunity” that raised numerous challenges, including “effective communication with an incarcerated client” and “a voluminous record of state proceedings to get our hands around.” He added that working on a real appeal was a “wonderful way to combine many of the skills from the first two and a half years of law school.”

Willison, who worked along with Hilbert and Saunders, called the habeas case “a transformative experience that allowed me to develop my legal writing.”

The eight students working in the Appellate Litigation Clinic this year have collectively handled 10 cases. Four students delivered oral arguments to the Ohio Court of Appeals at the start of the semester, and they have collectively filed a total of seven significant appellate motions and briefs. Weekly seminar sessions during the semester have included guest visits from seven Ohio appellate judges and a justice from the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The Appellate Litigation Clinic was inaugurated last year as one of several clinics in the Milton A. Kramer Law Clinic Center. This semester, students worked under the supervision of Professor Andrew S. Pollis and Adjunct Professor Joseph Shell.