Monthly Archives: April 2016

Honors Convocation is More Than Honoring Smart Law Students

The one celebration, outside of Graduation Day, that honors outstanding achievement and service by law students is during the law school’s Honors Convocation. Honorees from each of the four campuses, every term, join with family and friends to celebrate a job well done!

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Along with recognizing students making the Dean’s List and Honor Roll, the law school also honors the top student in each class with a Certificate of Merit.

The Great Deeds Award is also presented each term to a student who has demonstrated great service, through a long-term commitment or through a single act.

Honors Convocation would not be complete without presenting chosen students with the coveted Leadership Achievement Award. This is an honor that acknowledges those students who have consistently, comprehensively, and effectively provided leadership in a variety of capacities. This prestigious award is intended to be the culmination of a student’s participation in leadership activities while at Cooley Law School.

Once a year, the WMU-Cooley Alumni Association presents the Distinguished Student Awards to third-year law students who have demonstrated outstanding academic, service and student involvement while at WMU-Cooley. They are nominated by their peers and faculty, and are interviewed and selected by the Executive Committee of the Alumni Association. All recipients receive an elegant mahogany diploma frame with custom matting and Cooley logo imprint.

In addition to recognizing law students for high academic achievement at this year’s Honors Convocation, Elizabeth Devolder also received a special award for being named a Law Student of the Year by The National Jurist Magazine. Devolder is a non-traditional third-year student at WMU-Cooley Law School’s Tampa Bay campus. She is one of 25 law students who were honored by the publication.

Devolder received the law school’s Highest Grade Award in 10 classes and serves as the editor-in-chief forWMU-Cooley Law Review. She holds a national championship title from the American Bar Association’s 2015 Law Student Division Client Counseling Competition in which she competed with her husband against 108 teams. She is a WMU-Cooley teaching assistant as well as a mentor for students who are balancing work, school, and family.

“Elizabeth has proven herself as a smart, hardworking, dedicated and determined leader and learner,” said Jeffery Martlew, WMU-Cooley Law School associate dean.

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Australia Study Abroad Reaches New Heights and Sites

While studying in Melbourne as part of the WMU-Cooley Down Under Study Abroad program, students and faculty managed to find the time to travel outside of Melbourne to see all the wonderful sights this beautiful land had to offer. Australia is almost as large, geographically, as the United States, but has only about 6.5 percent of the number of people. Program participants were able to visit many beautiful places with vast, open, unsettled spaces of all sorts in between.

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The experience was spectacular and the Aussie destinations outside of Melbourne were amazing. If you ever get the opportunity to visit Australia, here are some places we recommend you visit:

  • The Great Ocean Road, with its cliff-top views of the Southern Ocean and the giant rock formations  known as the Twelve Apostles
  • Tasmania, full of mountains, oceans, beaches, rain forest, and history
  • Phillip Island, to see the little penguins on parade
  • The Great Barrier Reef, to dive and see the under-water wonders
  • Sydney, with its stunning sea-side sophistocated charms
  • The Grampian mountains, full of rugged bush walks, gorgeous views, Koori culture and kangaroos and wallabies in the wild
  • Adelaide, a beautiful old mining city on the ocean in the heart of the Barossa Valley wine region

You also must visit all the towns along the way, such as Mount Gambier, with its Victorian architecture, and the many vineyards you can find off the highway!

oleary_kimberlyWMU-Cooley Law School Professor Kimberly E. O’Leary is directing the law school’s foreign study program in New Zealand and Australia. She and her students are sharing their experiences throughout the Hilary 2016 semester.

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Study abroad students find that networking is not just local anymore.

In the WMU-Cooley Down Under Study Abroad program, law students spend lots of quality time with faculty. Director of the Program and WMU-Cooley Professor Kim O’Leary has come to know and appreciate program students and enjoys working with them. The students bring with them a love of travel and an inclination toward international law.

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During social visits, legal visits, informal gatherings and just in the break room around the law school, O’Leary and international faculty from the University of Waikato and Monash University exchange ideas with the students about careers, travel and life.

University staff share what it is like to live in Hamilton or Melbourne. O’Leary and her husband and daughter have hosted the students at their apartments in New Zealand and in Melbourne, providing home-cooked meals and relaxed conversation. International faculty — some recognized in world arenas — and Kiwi & Aussie lawyers have mixed with students in backyard barbeques around the pool and outings to the mountains and the beach.

Everywhere, students ask questions about the law in other cultures — what is legal practice like in NZ or Australia? What career paths are open in the international arena? Networking is not just local anymore!

WMU-Cooley Law School Professor Kimberly E. O’Leary is directing the law school’s foreign study program in New Zealand and Australia. She and her students are sharing their experiences throughout the Hilary 2016 semester.

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Can the Political Parties Constitutionally Behave So Undemocratically? Why Yes, Yes They Can.

Professor Brendan BeeryBlog author, Constitutional Law expert and WMU-Cooley Professor Brendan Beery simplifies the complicated process for electing presidential nominees by the two major parties. Professor Beery, a summa cum laude graduate of the law school, teaches Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, and Criminal Procedure at WMU-Cooley Law School, and is a frequent legal expert in the media.

I have been asked more than once about the process for electing presidential nominees by the two major parties, Republicans and Democrats. Many are appalled that the process could be so undemocratic: indeed, it is possible that a political party could nominate a candidate who has lost both the popular vote within the party and the elected (or earned) delegates.  Both parties have rules that allow for multiple ballots that could result in the selection of a nominee who has less than the plurality of votes, and both parties also allow for delegates (especially “superdelagates”) to make their own decisions in certain circumstances.

Law books about the Constitution overflow with cases proclaiming the principle of “one person, one vote.” Indeed, in the 2000 case of Bush v Gore, the Supreme Court ruled that the Florida presidential recount had to stop because some counties were counting votes one way (by counting, for example, “hanging chads”) while other counties were counting votes another way (by counting, for example, “dimpled chads”). In a country where courts are that stingy about the one-person-one-vote principle, how is it possible that a candidate who receives 10 percent, 20 percent, or even 30 percent of the votes in a state primary election can receive no delegates from that state rather than the 10 percent, 20 percent, or 30 percent that he or she seems to have earned?

The simple answer is that the Democratic and Republican parties, unlike local or county governments, state governments, or the federal government, are private actors. The political parties, although they are tangled up with the government, are not governmental entities (or what lawyers usually call “state actors”). Political parties are better thought of as being akin to the Girl Scouts or the Jaycees: private clubs that play a public role.

The U.S. Constitution does not apply to private corporations, organizations, clubs, or political parties; it restrains only state and federal governments. The principle of one person, one vote is an equal-protection principle derived from the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Therefore, it is a principle that applies only to governments, not political parties (which, again, are not restrained by constitutional rules). So unlike governments that must comply with the one-person-one-vote principle, political parties may create whatever mechanisms they see fit for selecting candidates for office.

But as a discerning former student recently pointed out while asking me about this issue, federal courts have sometimes treated political parties as state actors even though they are technically private organizations.  In two cases, Smith v Allwright (1944) and Terry v Adams (1953), the Supreme Court ruled that the Democratic Party in Texas and then the Jaybird Party (a subgroup within the Democratic Party in Texas) violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment by discriminating against African Americans in their primary and pre-primary elections. In both cases, the Court reasoned that the political parties, although technically private, were so integral to selecting the government and then governing that they should be treated as state actors even though they weren’t.

If the Supreme Court treated political parties as state actors in those cases, then why can political parties get away with so flagrantly violating the one-person-one-vote principle contained in the Equal Protection Clause? The answer to that question lies in the cause of action. In Smith and Terry, the allegations were that the political parties in question were discriminating on the basis of ethnicity. Under the Equal Protection Clause, five groups are considered “suspect classifications” against whom discriminatory laws cannot stand without surviving exacting scrutiny: race, ethnicity, alienage, gender, and illegitimacy. Because the challengers to the Democrats in Smith and the Jaybirds in Terry alleged racial and ethnic discrimination, the Supreme Court found it necessary to decide whether such discrimination, which would have been unconstitutional were a government to have undertaken it, should also constitute a constitutional Equal Protection violation as applied to private political parties. The Court held that it did constitute a constitutional violation because those political parties, although not themselves the government, had so much power as to who would become the government.

The problem with any challenge to the modern-day mischief among the two political parties would be the failure of any challenger to allege a constitutional violation in the first place; a court will not hold that a private political party is a state actor in the absence of a constitutional claim because, to repeat, the Constitution is only addressed to state actors and only state actors can violate the Constitution. And unless there is some claim of purposeful discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, alienage, gender, or illegitimacy, there is no Equal-Protection (which is to say constitutional) claim.

The Supreme Court has held that an issue like partisan gerrymandering, even when undertaken by states, constitutes a non-justiciable political question that falls outside the purview of courts because it does not involve a suspect classification under the Equal Protection Clause. So political shenanigans by private political parties, absent some claim akin to racial or gender discrimination, will have to be resolved by the political parties themselves, not by courts.

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Tales of Wearing Wigs and Visits to Courts, Parliament, Consulate and Barrister

The students and faculty of the WMU-Cooley Down Under Study Abroad are learning large by visiting as many legal venues around Melbourne as they could. So what’s the scoop on the wigs? And why do some judges wear them in Australia? What law students found out was that Judges from the Federal Circuit Court of Australia wear a plain black gown in court (without a wig) but the Judges of the Supreme Courts of the States and Territories of Australia do wear court dress similar to that worn by judges of the High Court of England and Wales, with the formality of full gowning and wigs.
Visiting everything the law has to offer in Australia was easy. The Law Center where students take classes sits right in the heart of the legal district of Melbourne. The Supreme Court of Victoria and the Magistrate Court are also just a five-minute walk away, and the Victoria Paliament is a 5-minute tram ride.  At the Victoria County Court, Chief Judge Peter Kidd met with students to  discuss his work and the cases and issues that arise in that court. The WMU-Cooley group got to sit in on a complex sentencing hearing.20160408_144841_Richtone(HDR)

Students then got to visit Parliament. They toured the upper and lower chambers and the most beautiful law library we have ever seen.  At the U.S. Consulate General office in Melbourne, professional foreign service staff explained their careers and how the consulate works to help U.S. citizens in Melbourne, including issuing visas to people who hope to visit the United States.

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Barrister Robert Miller met with the students in his law chambers office. He explained what a barrister does and how he is engaged by solicitors to represent clients in court.  Mr. Miller then brought out his robe, jabot, and wig, and let the students try them on! Although wigs are becoming optional, barristers in robes and wigs can be seen frequenting the streets around the courts. Not only was this a fun and fascinating way to spend a day in Australia, WMU-Cooley students and faculty now have a much greater understanding of Australian courts, legal systems, and wonderful traditions – including wigs!

 Kimberly E. O'Leary

Kimberly E. O’Leary

WMU-Cooley Law School Professor Kimberly E. O’Leary is directing the law school’s foreign study program in New Zealand and Australia. She and her students are sharing their experiences throughout the Hilary 2016 semester.

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Military Feature Patrick Tolan: Military Students’ Strong Sense of Integrity Ideal for Legal Career

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. April’s monthly feature is WMU-Cooley Law School Professor Patrick Tolan. Professor Tolan was a Lieutenant Colonel, Staff Judge Advocate, before he turned his legal career to teaching. 

Military rank and title: Lieutenant Colonel, Retired, Staff Judge Advocate

Career Description: I began my active duty career as a cadet at the United States Air Force Academy in 1980 (I was 17 years old, and turned 18 in basic training). I graduated with a double major in Electrical Engineering and Basic Sciences, but my favorite classes (and professors) were in the law department. I served as a Lieutenant in the Foreign Technology Division at Wright-Patterson Air Force base in Ohio. My job entailed reverse-engineering foreign (predominantly Soviet) weapon systems during the Cold War.

I looked into law school because I always wanted to be a lawyer. When the Air Force offered me the opportunity to attend the University of Michigan Law School through the Funded Legal Education Program (FLEP), a competitive and selective program, I jumped at the chance. After graduating from the University of Michigan Law School in 1990, I was assigned as the Chief of Civil Law, then the Chief of Military Justice at Eielson AFB in Alaska. There, I was the principal attorney advising the Wing Commander on environmental and government contract issues before becoming the chief prosecutor (of Officers and Airmen under the UCMJ and as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney prosecuting civilians who committed crimes on the military installation (Federal property).

After that, I served for three years on the Air Force Trial Team defending the Air Force from contract disputes before the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals. From there I transferred to a teaching position at the Air Force Academy where I taught the Introduction to Law Class, Law for Commanders and Government Contract Law. After the Academy job, I was the Deputy Staff Judge Advocate and principal environmental attorney at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico. I completed my LL.M. in Government procurement and environmental law before becoming the Staff Judge Advocate at Hanscom Air Force Base, between Lexington and Concord, Mass. I was the senior legal adviser to the Air Base Wing Commander and principal legal adviser for military justice issues to the 3-star Commander of Electronic Systems Center. I retired in 2005.

What makes law students with a military background so ideal for a legal career: I believe there are many reasons why law students with a military background make tremendous law students and lawyers. First, military members have integrity — they are used to a code of conduct and the highest moral standards. Second, service members are professionals; they have had training that instills characteristics like honesty, loyalty, perseverance, competence, dedication, and diligence. Third, they put the needs of others ahead of their own personal needs. Fourth, they strive for excellence in everything they do. Finally, the military instills discipline, which is perhaps the most important ingredient to success in law school and beyond.

Tell us a little about you:
My career goal is to have a long and distinguished teaching career, educating the next generation of attorneys. I enjoy church activities; hiking, fishing, kayaking, and outdoor activities; weight lifting, sudoku, and family time with my wife Tonya (of 28 years) and my four children.

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BLSA’s Black Tie Ball Celebration Comes With Rich History and Symbolism

The WMU-Cooley Law School Black Law Student Association of Tampa Bay really pulled out all the stops when they put on this year’s Black Law Student Association (BLSA) Black Tie Ball.  The extravagant gala was the culmination of a series of three events that students put on last month to honor Black History Month.

Black Tie Co-Chair Devan Hardeway, a second-year law student from Columbus, Georgia, shared the rich history of the Black Tie event and how it evolved over the years. “Beginning in 1968, Algernon Johnson (“AJ”) Cooper, the former mayor of Prichard, Alabama, founded the first Black American Law Students Association at New York University Law School. Then in 1983, BALSA changed its name. The word “American” was deleted to encompass all blacks, including those not of American nationality.  Even later, the word “National” was added to reflect the organization’s national expansion, which now includes representation in the law schools of 48 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.”

The National Black Law Students Association (NBLSA), is comprised of chapters or affiliates in six different countries, including The Bahamas, Nigeria, and South Africa, and is organized into six regions (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Southern, Midwest, Rocky Mountain and Western Region) with over 200 chapters.

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Co-Chair Ashley Hart, a second-year student from Plant City, Florida, explained how WMU-Cooley’s Tampa Bay BLSA started. “The Tampa Bay Chapter of BLSA was charted in June 2013 as an affiliate of the National Black Law Students Association. The Black Tie Ball is an annual event of BLSA affiliates throughout the United States. The National Black Law Students Conference celebrates the community work and accomplishments of culturally diverse law students.”

Hart reminded the law students and guests that everyone was “making a positive mark on the Tampa Bay community, as well as on the Cooley Tampa Bay campus, even while undertaking the strenuous work of law school.

BLSA has been involved in many important events. In the fall, BLSA members participated in an event at Middleton High School called “Responding to a Law Enforcement Encounter,” where local judges and law enforcement spent an evening speaking to high school students about the correct way to respond to law enforcement officers in various situations. BLSA also participated in collecting and delivering donated items to children living at Everyday Blessings, a nonprofit foster care facility in Thonotosassa. They also organized “Study with BLSA,” where professors presented midterm reviews for first-term students. Most recently, over 80 law students attended a professionalism event entitled “A Guide to Avoiding Issues with The Board of Bar Examiners and the Florida Bar: The Top 5 Pitfalls of Both Law Students and Lawyers.”

WMU-Cooley Professor and BLSA faculty adviser Renalia DuBose introduced keynote speaker Marie Campbell, Esq., VP of Compliance and Assistant General Counsel GTE Financial. She spoke about the importance of financial integrity and how living out of honesty and strong moral principles will guide your financial success into the future.

BLSA President Jazmin Shorter, a second-year WMU-Cooley Tampa Bay law student, thanked everyone for their inspiring words, then got the party started with a quote from Oprah Winfrey, “Every day brings a chance for you to draw in a breath, kick off your shoes, and dance.”

“So BLSA members and guests,” said Shorter, “you don’t have to kick off your shoes, but draw in a breath and join us on the dance floor! Let’s dance!”

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In Aussie – Art is Everywhere!

Melbourne is a city full of art. Students and faculty who are part of the WMU-Cooley Law program down under have been treated to a profusion of the arts. Everything from a cutting-edge Ai Wei Wei/Andy Warhol exhibit at the National Gallery of Victoria to street art, which is everywhere!


Walking around the lanes of Melbourne, you are surrounded by amazing street paintings! It can take hours to walk just in the center part of the city to see all of the murals, mosaics and sculptures. Aussie museums are full of Australian art – much of it painted by Koorie, or Aboriginal, peoples. The museums are full of old, traditional carvings, dot paintings, and paintings on bark; Victorian paintings that reflect the Continental styles of the day, and modern and contemporary pieces.

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The city is also full of musicians, poets, comedy and performance arts. Each of the numerous street festivals, fairs, and markets are replete with the sounds of jazz and singing. While we’ve been here, Melbourne has been host to an International Flower Show, the White Night creative arts festival, the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, the Moombah Festival, and the Melbourne International Comedy festival.

As some of us have traveled to other parts of Australia, we’ve seen art in Tasmania at such cutting-edge venues as MONA, a private art museum built into a cliff outside of Hobart and the Salamanca Arts district; a marvelous art museum in Adelaide, and sculptures everywhere!

The creative energy in Melbourne and elsewhere in Australia is one of the reasons Melbourne is consistently rated one of the world’s top liveable cities! WMU-Cooley students and faculty are lucky indeed to live in such a place!

 Kimberly E. O'Leary

Kimberly E. O’Leary

WMU-Cooley Law School Professor Kimberly E. O’Leary is directing the law school’s foreign study program in New Zealand and Australia. She and her students are sharing their experiences throughout the Hilary 2016 semester.


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Curing the Ills of the Criminal Justice System: What Can We Do to Support Wrongfully Convicted Men and Women?

“On March 13, 2016 Darryl Hunt died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Hunt was suffering from Stage 4 cancer. But cancer was just one of many struggles that Hunt faced in his life. In 1984, he was wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of a Winston-Salem copy editor. Hunt always maintained his innocence and was exonerated in 2004 after DNA testing excluded him from the rape kit and another man, William E. Brown, confessed to the crime. Hunt spent almost 20 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.” – Marla Mitchell-Cichon, WMU-Cooley Innocence Project Director 

Take a minute to consider all you might lose over a 20-year time span. Then consider how you would begin to put your life back together. Where would you live? How would you support yourself? How would you explain where you have been when you apply for a job? How would your medical and psychological needs be met?

These are just a few of the challenges that those who have been wrongfully convicted face.

Speakers Valerie Newman, Senator Steve Bieda, Dr. Zieva Dauber Konvisser, Kenneth Wyniemko, and Laura Caldwell (on screen)

Speakers Valerie Newman, Senator Steve Bieda, Dr. Zieva Dauber Konvisser, Kenneth Wyniemko, and Laura Caldwell (on screen)

On March 18, the WMU-Cooley Journal of Practical and Legal Scholarship teamed up with the school’s Innocence Project to present its symposium, “Is a Wrongful Conviction a Life Sentence?” A panel of distinguished experts presented both the problems and the challenges to life after exoneration.

As Laura Caldwell, director of Life After Innocence, pointed out, “As we were talking to various people we realized there’s so much need – it’s such a surreal journey and such a battle to get yourself out, but then you come back into a world where you don’t know how to do anything…” Being imprisoned for years means you don’t have a valid driver’s license, you don’t know how to use the latest technology. The average sentence served on a wrongful conviction is more than 14 years, but some have spent over 30 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit.

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State Sen. Steve Bieda and WMU-Cooley Innocence Project client Kenneth Wyniemko have been working tirelessly to pass legislation that will compensate Michigan citizens who are wrongfully imprisoned. Senate Bill 291 would provide $50,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment and needed services that parolees already receive from the state. But, as we learned from the panelists, no amount of money can compensate the loss experienced by men and women wrongfully convicted in our criminal justice system. “I realize and I’ve always realized that no amount of compensation can truly cover what they’ve been through,” said Bieda. Panelist Dr. Zieva Konvisser, who has focused her research on women exonerees, read heart-wrenching accounts of women who explain how you never really get your life back.

Darryl Hunt is one more tragic story where a man never really did get his life back. Darryl Hunt was the founder of The Darryl Hunt Project for Freedom and Justice and The Darryl Hunt Freedom Fights. The documentary, The Trials of Darryl Hunt chronicles the story of his wrongful conviction.

Professor Marla Mitchell-Cichon

Professor Marla Mitchell-Cichon

Blog author, Marla Mitchell-Cichon, is the director of WMU-Cooley Law School’s Innocence Project.  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. She joined WMU-Cooley Law School in July 1995 and also teaches in the Sixty Plus, Inc., Elderlaw Clinic and Professional Responsibility.

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