Heat wave is here – and so is the need to legally protect our pets

Alicia Prygoski

Alicia Prygoski

Guest columnist Alicia Prygoski is a May 2016 graduate of Western Michigan University Cooley Law School. She works on farm animal protection policy initiatives for The Humane Society of the United States Farm Animal Protection Team in Washington, D.C. During her time at WMU-Cooley, she founded a Student Animal Legal Defense Fund chapter and brought many animal law-related events and opportunities to the Lansing campus. While in law school, she was also a member of the State Bar of Michigan Animal Law Section and a volunteer with Michigan’s Political Action Committee for Animals. Alicia also received the Wanda Nash Award from the State Bar of Michigan Animal Law Section for outstanding dedication to learning about and promoting animal law issues.

Michigan bill would protect animals left in parked cars

Since graduating from Western Michigan University Cooley Law School this spring, I’ve devoted my time to enacting farm animal protection laws with The Humane Society of the United States. I chose to focus on helping farm animals because of the horrible, systemic cruelty that is inflicted upon them in factory farms and slaughterhouses across the country. In the agriculture industry, farm animal abuse is the norm. My goal is to change that.

However, I know all too well that other animals desperately need protection, too, which is why I’m grateful that Senators Curtis Hertel and Rick Jones have chosen to stand up for Michigan’s pets by introducing Senate Bill 930. This common-sense bill would make it illegal to leave an animal confined in a car under life-threatening conditions, such as extreme heat or cold. Under the bill, penalties would increase depending on the degree of harm suffered, with the strongest being a felony and up to five years in jail if the animal does not survive. Sixteen other states have passed similar measures.

Common sense tells us that leaving an animal in an unventilated car on an extremely hot day will cause dehydration, heat stroke, or death. But what many people don’t realize is that even in milder weather or when the car’s windows are open, our pets can rapidly overheat. For example, on a pleasant 70-degree day, the temperature inside a vehicle can reach 99 degrees within 20 minutes. For most animals, especially those with heavy fur coats or short noses, being confined in a car at that temperature can be deadly.

Many pet parents who leave their dogs or cats in cars are not ill-intentioned. They simply run into the grocery store, assuming it will only take a few minutes – but then a few minutes turn into 10 or 15, and their pet ends up suffering the often fatal consequences. Being a good caretaker includes planning for our companion animals – whether that means leaving them at home, dropping them off at day-care, or calling ahead to find out if the restaurant or store you’re visiting allows pets – it is part of the responsibility we take on when make them part of our families.

There have been too many avoidable deaths in Michigan resulting from animals being left alone in cars. Now that the hottest part of the summer is upon us, SB 930 is needed more than ever to act as a deterrent against people who don’t think twice about leaving their pets in cars as well as ensuring that those who do are held accountable when their pet suffers for it.

As someone who will forever consider herself a Michigander, I am proud of my state’s legislators for introducing this common-sense legislation that will help prevent extensive suffering and save so many lives. The HSUS works every day to protect all animals, from cows, chickens, and pigs to the dogs and cats in Michigan, pushing for standards that allow them to live their lives free from suffering. I sincerely hope that the Michigan legislature passes this bill and becomes the next state to protect animals trapped in hot cars.

Leave a comment

Filed under Alumni Stories and News, Uncategorized

Quintessential Practical Legal Scholarship: WMU-Cooley Innocence Project Intern Joseph Daly Argues Client’s Case

Blog author, Marla Mitchell-Cichon, is the director of WMU-Cooley Law School’s Innocence Project as well as the co-director of the Access to Justice Clinic for Western Michigan University Cooley Law School. Professor Mitchell-Cichon has extensive practice experience in criminal and poverty law. Her litigation experience includes practicing before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, the Ohio Supreme Court, and trial courts in both Ohio and Michigan.

What if you had to argue your first case before you passed the bar examination? Cooley graduate and legal intern Joseph Daly did just that.

Joseph Daly and Professor Marla Mitchell-Cichon at graduation in May 2016

Joseph Daly and Professor Marla Mitchell-Cichon at graduation in May 2016

In March, the Cooley Innocence Project  filed a motion for a new trial on behalf of Octaviano Molina Jr., citing new evidence that casts doubt on Molina’s involvement in a 1998 rape case. Legal intern Joseph Daly wrote the motion under my supervision. He spent countless hours researching, drafting and fine-tuning his arguments.

In May, Joseph graduated from Cooley, but stayed on with the Innocence Project as a volunteer. His hard work paid off — the case was set for oral argument on the motion on June 27. In his first court appearance, Joseph argued the motion before Genesee County Circuit Court Judge Joseph J. Farah.

The Cooley Innocence Project Team

The WMU-Cooley Innocence Project team

Our office put Joseph through several practice arguments. I assured him that he was prepared for any question posed by the judge. Except for the one he was asked right out of the box. Judge Farah asked Joseph if he was familiar with the Michigan Supreme Court decision in People v. Swain. I gulped. We didn’t cover that case in our practice arguments. The case itself wasn’t particularly relevant to our case, but I was concerned the question would throw Joseph off. But then I heard Joseph respond that he was familiar with the case and that he had watched the oral arguments. Yes, I recommended to all of the innocence project interns to watch the oral arguments in the case, but students don’t always do the “extra reading.” But Joseph was thinking and acting like a lawyer.

After hearing argument, Judge Farah ordered an evidentiary hearing to consider new evidence, including DNA evidence that identifies a second man never charged with the crime. Joseph had to remind the judge that the hearing would have to be scheduled after the July bar exam.

Joseph promised Mr. Molina that he would follow through with his case to the end.  Joseph has stayed on with the project to do just that. You can’t argue with that.

Leave a comment

Filed under Student News, Achievements, Awards, The Value of a Legal Education, Uncategorized

A Decade Debate: Is Law a Learned Profession or a Profession of Theory?

In a recent op-ed piece, Judge Richard Posner of the seventh circuit asks why more law schools do not hire professors with extensive “real-world” practice experience.[1]


Historically, and to this day, there has been a standard path towards professorial appointment, and it goes like this:

(1) Do very well in a highly ranked undergraduate program;

(2) Get accepted to the most selective law school you can;

(3) Obtain a Judicial clerkship with a circuit court judge known for placing clerks on the Supreme Court

(4) Lock down that plum position as a clerk on the Supreme Court.

The denouement of this 10-year path, for some, has been a professorial appointment at your local, exclusive law school.

Notably absent from this formula though is a requirement for those professors to have actual practice experience.  There is no argument that professors from this milieu are very bright and admittedly capable of writing outstanding law review articles, giving insightful speeches at seminars, and capable of training the next generation of law clerks, professors and scholars.  They deserve both our respect and congratulations on a job well done.

However, as the Carnegie Report stated nearly 10 years ago, “Most law schools give only casual attention to teaching students how to use legal thinking in the complexity of actual law practice. Unlike other professional education, most notably medical school, legal education typically pays relatively little attention to direct training in professional practice. The result is to prolong and reinforce the habits of thinking like a student rather than an apprentice practitioner, conveying the impression that lawyers are more like competitive scholars than attorneys engaged with the problems of clients.”

Judge Posner has his doubts too. Even today. He suggests that there is still a continuing divide between what he calls “the academy” of law professors and the “actual practice of law.” His solution is one that Western Michigan University Cooley Law School has as part of their mission since its founding in 1972. Unlike most law schools, WMU-Cooley has always focused on training students for the actual practice of law. To accomplish this goal, the School has long taken Judge Posner’s advice by hiring “a high percentage of lawyers with significant practical experience.” In fact, WMU-Cooley will not hire a professor unless he or she has actual practice experience.

WMU-Cooley full-time faculty have an average of 11 years of actual practice experience. To that end, the law school also injects a deep bench of adjunct faculty comprised of engaged practitioners and Judges with specialized and ongoing experience in the subject matter they teach.  This combination of experience and knowledge is critical to the accomplishment of the school’s mission of training the next generation of knowledgeable and skilled practitioners.  The American Bar Association agrees. The latest ABA Standards and Rules outline the importance of learning outcomes including teaching law students the “proper professional and ethical responsibilities to clients and the legal system” and “other professional skills needed for competent and ethical participation as a member of the legal profession.”

Both Judge Posner and the ABA understand that law is a learned profession. WMU-Cooley believes the best way to learn a profession is not in the rarified air of a debating society.  Rather, it is through the guided experience of learning from those who know what it means to represent clients, know what it means to argue cases, and know what it means to negotiate a complex business transaction.

schlinder_devinBlog author Professor Devin Schindler teaches Constitutional Law and Health Care Regulation at WMU-Cooley Law School’s Grand Rapids campus. Before joining the Cooley full-time faculty in May 2007, Professor Schindler was a partner with the law firm of Warner, Norcross & Judd, in Grand Rapids, Mich., 1986-2007. He has appeared three times in front of the Michigan Supreme Court, most recently winning in the case Tomecek v Bavas. Professor Schindler has litigated numerous constitutional issues at all levels of state and federal courts, including the Michigan Supreme Court and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. In addition to being named a Superlawyer by The Detroit News, Professor Schindler has also been named as one of “The Best Lawyers in America” in the fields of healthcare law and commercial litigation.

Leave a comment

Filed under Faculty Scholarship, Uncategorized

Military Feature Mariko Willis: Military and Law School at the Center of Her Heart

WMU-Cooley, as a Military friendly and designated Yellow Ribbon School, talks to its military students, faculty and graduates about their journey from the military to law school and about their career goals. This month we feature WMU-Cooley law student Mariko C. Willis. Mariko has recently been selected to be a Marine Corps Staff Sergeant.

Military rank and title: Sergeant (Staff Sergeant Select), Platoon Sergeant, Utilities Platoon

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Why did you decide to go to law school and why did you choose WMU-Cooley: After obtaining his Bachelor’s Degree at Western Michigan University, my father went to the University of Florida law school and, at age 29, was appointed by the governor as Judge in Van Buren County, Michigan. He is the youngest Judge in Michigan history, as well as the longest-serving probate Judge in Michigan, serving for over 38.5 years, retiring in 2015.  Following in his footsteps, my older brothers, Michael and Shaun Willis, both became attorneys and now practice in Michigan as well.  As a child, it was my intent to also go to law school; however, after my other brother (a Marine), Christopher Willis, died in a car accident shortly after his return from Iraq in 2003, I switched gears and joined the Marine Corps in my brother’s honor.

Career description: I joined the Marines in 2003, splitting an 8-year contract between reserve and active duty orders.  I was honorably discharged in 2011 and then continued my education obtaining a bachelors degree of science in business management.  After being out of the service for three years, I decided to re-enlist in the United States Marine Corps Reserves in 2014, at the same time deciding to pursue my education at WMU Thomas M. Cooley Law School.  I am in my second year of law school and currently have a total of 10 years in the Marine Corps. My decision to re-enlist in the military was an easy one – it has been at the center of my heart since I first joined in honor of my brother.  My decision to go to WMU Cooley was based not only on proximity, but due to my desire to practice in the Grand Rapids area upon passing the Bar.  I also serve as the Chief Operations Officer for the Corporal Christopher Kelly Willis Foundation (the “Willis Foundation”), which my brothers and I established in honor of our deceased brother.  The Willis Foundation provides college scholarships to children who have lost a parent (or whose parent has been permanently disabled) in a combat zone.  To date, we have awarded 14 scholarships to Michigan children, many from the Grand Rapids area.  It is our belief that these children have also given the ultimate sacrifice.

Career goals: I am fully dedicated to continuing my education, fulfilling my military obligations, ensuring that children of our fallen heroes are taken care of through the Willis Foundation, and being the absolute best mother I can be to my son, Tyson (6 years old).  As an attorney, I hope to make strides in the legal profession for the benefit of Veterans in the Southwest Michigan area.  I also hope to assist my brothers and sisters in arms on a pro bono basis, dedicating at least 10% of my practice to the men and women who have served our country honorably.  My current plans are to extern in the Van Buren County Prosecutor’s Office (the very first place my father worked out of law school), and then join my two brothers at Willis Law (the law firm they established in 2004).

Tell us a little about you: As a single mother, attending law school, working as a law clerk, serving in the military and volunteering for the Willis Foundation, I rarely have free time!  However, when I do have some time to spare, I enjoy spending time with my son, Tyson, my parents, my siblings and my nieces and nephews.  Other hobbies include shooting/marksmanship, hunting, bass fishing, softball leagues, reading, and traveling.  I am a member of the Kalamazoo Rod and Gun Club, Ducks Unlimited and the National Rifle Association.

Leave a comment

Filed under Military Feature, Uncategorized

WMU-Cooley Faculty Analyze Recent Use of Deadly Force by Police

WMU-Cooley Law School faculty have brought their scholarship and practice expertise to help students and the public understand the tragic events of Louisiana and Minnesota arising from police shootings of civilians they had stopped. They have recently appeared in media in Michigan and Florida on the circumstances under which deadly force may be used in self-defense or during an arrest.  Here are some of their thoughts, with links to their media appearances.

 Self-Defense Must Be Proportional to the Threat.

Tampa Bay Professor Karen Fultz appeared on Bay News 9 TV in Tampa to say that Karen FultzFlorida’s statutes define deadly force, in terms of self-defense, as akin to if when someone is approaching you and you believe that you will be harmed or killed by way of their approach, you have the right to use self-defense and the same amount of force that would be used by them.  What makes the particular incidents confusing is that police officers have training such that they should react differently than would ordinary citizens to the perception of deadly force threatening them.  Though they knew that the victims possessed a gun, the investigators or jury will still be called to assess whether their responses were reasonable.

Prof. Fultz cautioned that shortly following incidents like these, the public often does not have sufficient information in which to draw a conclusion as to what happened.  She pointed out that even the videos taken by citizens or by the police may not tell the whole story.

Citizens Must Comply With a Lawful Order When Stopped by Police, and Police May Use Force on a Compliant Suspect Only to Prevent Escape.

Grand Rapids Professor Tonya Krause Phelen commented on WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids about the rights and responsibilities people have when stopped by the police.  Citizens have the responsibility to comply with a lawful order of the police.  But in the Minnesota case, the early video evidence suggests the victim was complying with the police but was shot anyway.  The only time police can use force under such a circumstance is to prevent escape of someone who they have probable cause to believe presents a threat to others if he escapes.  Without that probable cause, his shooting could amount to a section 1983 civil rights violation.  Because so many people now carry weapons lawfully, Prof. Krause Phelen also suggested that police, local citizens and gun rights advocates begin a dialogue to address how police can effect police stops in ways that present less danger to the them or others when stopping a person who lawfully has a weapon.Tonya Krause-Phelan

Professor Krause Phelen also appeared on WXMI TV in Grand Rapids to elaborate on the duty of citizens when stopped by the police.  Police are trained and are supposed to be respectful at the outset, escalating their response only if the suspect resists.  Police are allowed to use deadly force, she repeated, only if the suspect is escaping and presents a danger of death or serious bodily harm to the officers or citizens in the area.

Body Cameras Worn By Police Are Beneficial Because They Add to Available Information About What Happened.

Tampa Bay Professor Jeffrey Swartz appeared on WFTS-TV in Tampa to point out that body cameras increasingly worn by police benefit both the citizens and the police.  Jeffery D. SwartzProfessor Swartz, who was a judge of the Miami-Dade County Court before joining our faculty, noted that videos taken by private citizens of an arrest or a police altercation often are taken after the fact or sometimes while the arrest is occurring, but they rarely depict what happend beforehand.  He likewise urged that people not rush to judgment, given that videos taken by citizens do not tell the whole story.


A Citizen’s Video Recordings Is Helpful and Legal So Long as the Citizen Does Not Interfere With the Arrest.

Lansing Associate Dean Christine Church commented on WILX-TV in Lansing about the responsibilities of citizens in taking videos of police action.  She noted how cellphone video has changed American justice.  Christine Zellar Church“Now we have videotape, rather than a he said-she said kind of testimony.  As a citizen, you have the right to record the police as long as you don’t get involved and interfere.” Dean Church added that “if it’s a bystander who is simply recording what’s going on then, that’s been held to have to be constitutionally protected by the First Amendment.”


Ultimately, the Analysis in These Cases Will Hinge on Whether the Police Officer Had a Reasonable Belief That His Life Was in Danger.

Dean Church also appeared on WKZO radio in Lansing to state that, in analyzing the conduct of a police officer, or even of a private citizen, who uses deadly force, the analysis will hinge on whether that person had a reasonable belief that his or her life was in danger.  What makes the Louisiana and Minnesota cases different from some previous police shooting cases is that in the most recent cases, both shooting victims had a firearm on them.  Thus, the question will be whether the officer had a reasonable belief to fear that deadly force would be used against him.  In ensuing investigations and lawsuits, the videos taken by citizens and possibly by police cameras will be a key piece of evidence to evaluate that question.

We Should Use Caution Before Drawing Conclusions About What Happened Until All the Evidence is In.

Grand Rapids Professor Devin Schindler appeared briefly on WWMT-TV in Grand Rapids to urge that we not rush to judgment.  Devin S. SchindlerHe noted that police are under much more of a microscope than ever before.  Yet we do not at this point know what the police officers in question were seeing, and so it is difficult at this early stage to evaluate whether these were justifiable shootings or not.


Filed under Faculty Scholarship

Professor Gary Bauer: My Normal is not Your Normal.

Crossroads: Which Path Is Right For You? Believe nothing merely because you have been told it. Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for the teacher. But whatsoever, after due examination and analysis, you find to be kind, conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings – that doctrine believe and cling to, and take it as your guide. – Budda



WMU-Cooley Professor Gary Bauer, a recent ABA Solo and Small Firm Trainer award winner, teaches Estate Planning to third-year law students and a directed study class he created called Solo By Design. His blog, sololawyerbydesign.com, provides law students, recent solo practioners, and seasoned professionals who wish to go solo, with information and resources to be successful in the legal business. This blog post was first published on June 16, 2016.

I have been publishing this blog for over a year. I hope you have found it to be helpful. However, my ideas are my ideas. And, you need to develop a practice that is well suited to your circumstances. That means that you will need to do all the work necessary for your success and create a practice that builds upon your strengths and compensates for those aspects of your personality that are missing or weak. This will constantly challenge you and your ability to succeed in the business of law. There are a lot of “coaches” out there who will offer to help you. But there are many who really don’t know what they are talking about. Or they tell you that, if you do this or that, you will be successful.

What follows is a quote from a blog called the “Unwashed Advocate at unwashedadvocate.com.” In it, the author has a “List” intended to share ideas that the author feels someone in the practice of law needs to know. This list was first published after the author’s first year of practice. Copied below is one of the elements of that list that I wish to share with you. His entire list is really good too! But this bullet point explores the fact that no one, but you, can really determine the path you need to follow to be successful. It is also the reason I tell my students to go into the field and interview attorneys in their geographic area who are the same gender and the same ethnic background as themselves. Interview practicing lawyers with over 10 years of experience and attorneys with less than three years of experience. Do this to better understand the good, the bad and the ugly of going solo before dipping your feet into those murky waters. The greater number you interview, the better prepared you will be to handle the stress and realities of solo practice. He says:

You’re just as smart as self-titled gurus, business practice experts, SEO gurus, solo practice experts, and law office startup coaches, unless you hire them. I promise you, you are just as smart as any of these people. Like them, you can Google business information and read about the ins and outs of starting your practice, building a business model, and attracting clients. The only way you are below them in expertise and intellect is if you hire them. Secondary note: if they have been licensed to practice law for less than 5 years, they have no business giving advice. They know precisely squat. Secondary secondary note: if they’ve never established their own long-term successful practice, they don’t know anything more than you. Wake up. Spot these charlatans early and often.

Finding your way is not an easy task and it takes work. But, if you are willing to do the hard work, the payoff is great. The results will be worth the effort you put into it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Faculty Scholarship, The Value of a Legal Education, Uncategorized

On Pirates, Ice Cream and Baseball!

Who says learning can’t be fun?  The students and faculty of the WMU Cooley Toronto Study Abroad program are busy proving that learning and fun are not mutually exclusive! Let’s talk pirates!  See the boat picture?  That was taken aboard an impressive three masted sailing ship while students joined Professor Victoria Vuletich for a sail around the gorgeous Toronto Harbor. Complete with pirate songs and the firing of a miniature cannon.

study abroad

There have also been a Blue Jays baseball game with Professor Murdoch Martyn and the Krinock Lecture and reception with the Hon. Justice Todd Archibald, who is teaching in the program.

Ice cream, you scream, we all scream for … ice cream!  One of our students is enjoying an almost-life-size ice cream cone. We were celebrating Victoria Day in Canada and no summer holiday is complete without ice cream, right?

study abroad 3

And we are only half way through the Toronto program – what will we learn and do in the next three weeks?!

vuletich_victoriaWMU-Cooley Law School Victoria Vuletich is directing the law school’s Study Abroad program in Toronto. She and her students are sharing their experiences throughout the 2016 summer semester.

Leave a comment

Filed under Faculty Scholarship, Foreign Study, Uncategorized