Prof. Sisk, students, reflect on successes of Appellate Clinic's inaugural year
Published on: Friday, June 21, 2013
In its inaugural year, UST Law’s newly-created Appellate Clinic saw two 3L students, Christopher Motz (‘13) and Terrence Schnurr (‘13), represent a client in a case before the United States Court of Appeals under the supervision of Prof. Gregory Sisk
. These students became part of an energetic and committed team of advocates that prepared the opening and reply briefs, with one of the students also arguing before a panel of nationally-prominent judges.
A former appellate specialist with the U.S. Department of Justice, Sisk, who continues to be involved in appellate cases (most recently in two Supreme Court cases), said he created the clinic with the goal being to provide UST Law students with the opportunity to further develop writing and advocacy skills, as well as to give them a chance to learn about the jurisdiction, rules, strategies, and jurisprudence of the appellate courts system and to analyze and argue significant legal issues.
“This clinic is really designed to give law students a chance to exercise lawyering skills in a real-world appellate practice experience,” Sisk said.
Over the past academic year, Motz and Schnurr have been working with Sisk on Patterson v. Schriro, a case which raised a prisoner’s claims of denial of religious liberty rights and deliberate indifference to medical treatment and adequate nutrition. The team also included University of Arkansas law students T.W. Brown and Matthew Mitchell at the University of Arkansas working under the supervision of Prof. Dustin Buehler. During the fall semester, the team examined the record, developed issues for the appeal, and then prepared an opening brief. In the spring they reviewed the respondent’s brief and prepared a reply brief.
On April 15, in the lavishly-decorated marble-walled main courtroom in the Ninth Circuit’s headquarters in San Francisco, Motz, along with Brown, presented argument before a panel of three - Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain, and Judge N. Randy Smith.
During their argument before the panel, Motz and Brown were questioned extensively about the law and record by the judges.
On May 8, the Appellate Clinic team received the news that the panel had affirmed the District Court decision and ruled against the prisoner’s religious liberty and medical indifference claims. The panel recently denied a petition for rehearing in which the Appellate Clinic argued that dismissal of the medical indifference claims at the pleading stage was contrary to a recent federal precedent.
Although the team was naturally disappointed by the unfavorable result, their client, Barry Northcross Patterson, wrote the students several times to express his appreciation for their efforts in advocating his claim. The students expressed to Patterson, their gratitude in being afforded the opportunity to take on his case. Motz said it was a privilege for them to learn from the client as well - especially from his experiences in prison life and his frustrating difficulties in getting those in the judicial system to listen to his pleas.
“I really got a sense of Mr. Patterson’s humanity,” Motz said, reflecting on the experience, “that this appeal was important to him in a way far deeper than one could grasp from reading district court orders or legal memoranda. For me, it was my first taste that I was developing professional skills that could really impact a person’s life for the better.”
Following the experience, Prof. Sisk said he has been moved to begin work on a scholarly article about the daunting procedural obstacles that prevent this frequently-ignored segment of our society—the millions of individuals incarcerated in our prisons and jails—from obtaining a court hearing about the abuses they suffer and the inadequate health care they are provided.
Schnurr said participating in the Appellate Clinic provided an invaluable, practical and professional experience that stood apart from other law school activities he has taken on.
“It was an amazing opportunity to apply all the skills I had developed in law school. The contrived cases I had encountered previously—in Lawyering Skills classes, in intramural moot courts, and in the law journal write-in—of necessity, were simple and tended to point the way to the issues and cases to be considered…Here, we found a real world case with a long, often muddled, record and we had to begin by plunging into the record to fully understand the issues involved.”
“I am honored to have been included in this program and I know I’ll be a better lawyer because of it, wherever my career takes me,” Schnurr said.
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