Category Archives: Student News, Achievements, Awards

The best people, an excellent legal education program, and first-class facilities – essential attributes of every successful law school.

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 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 WMU-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 WMU-Cooley, but stayed on with the WMU-Cooley 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.

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Filed under Student News, Achievements, Awards, The Value of a Legal Education, Uncategorized, WMU-Cooley Innocence Project

Law School Transforms into Actual Court: Students Get to Listen and Learn

Western Michigan University Cooley Law Tampa Bay recently got to host, for the second time, the Second District Court of Appeals. “It is a rare and amazing opportunity for students to see an actual Appellate court session with working attorneys offering oral arguments and those attorneys being asked questions by the judges,” exclaimed WMU-Cooley student Kimberly Canals Simpson.  

In fact, she felt that students and faculty alike were riveted for hours listening to the three arguments, which included two criminal cases and one civil cases. The cases were heard by Judge Edward C. LaRose, Judge Samuel J. Salario, Jr., and Judge Daniel H. Sleet.

The 120 person Courtroom Classroom at WMU-Cooley was packed with law students and local attorneys. All there to listen and learn. The three judges agreed. This is exactly the kind of opportunity every law student should experience before they ever graduate.

After the conclusion of the court session, the three judges came back into the Appellate Courtroom without their robes and allowed the Cooley students to ask any questions they had about the appellate process, what judges are looking for in an intern and many other subjects.  It was a great day to observe the Second DCA’s docket and as a fantastic opportunity to educate and train law students in court procedure.

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This is the third time in the last two year that the Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal held oral arguments at WMU-Cooley Law School’s Tampa Bay campus. The law school’s state-of-the-art courtrooms transform easily into a court site for students, attorneys, and other members of the public.

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Filed under Knowledge, Skills, Ethics, Student Experiences, Student News, Achievements, Awards, The Value of a Legal Education, Uncategorized

Military Feature Sierra Whitaker-Davis: Law Profession Shares Military Values of Integrity, Service, and Excellence

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 Sierra Whitaker-Davis. Sierra is a  Master Sergeant with the United States Air Force Reserve.

Military rank and title: Master Sergeant (E7), United States Air Force Reserve

Why did you decide to go to law school and why did you choose WMU-Cooley: I decided to go to law school for various reasons. When I did decide to go to law school, I was still on active duty and stationed in Germany. I took the risk of applying to various law schools in hopes that once I was selected that I would be able to leave the active duty sooner than expected. Stars aligned and not only was I accepted to law schools, but I was also granted the opportunity to go into the Air Force Reserves and maintain my rank. I knew at that time it was meant to be for me. I chose WMU-Cooley due to its location and it being a flexible schedule. I am able to manipulate each term schedule to meet my rigorous personal schedule, as well as make time for internships. There is no other law school that has the flexibility that Cooley has when it comes to how many credits are taken during a term and the time of day that the courses are held. Additionally, the staff and professors are fantastic.

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Military Experience: Joining the Air Force is one of the best decisions I have ever made for my professional career. It granted me the opportunity to perform a job that would not have been experienced in the civilian world. Right after basic training, I was hand selected to join the elite honor guard in Washington D.C., which provides presidential support ceremonies as well as providing honors for the fallen in Arlington National Cemetery. This experience allowed me to march in President Reagan’s funeral procession, provided ceremonial honors to Chief Justice Rehnquist, various Tomb of the Unknown Soldier wreath- laying ceremonies, and much more. After that tour, I became a logistic planner. This job (which I still work) has afforded me the opportunity to deploy in support of OIF, OEF, as well as other operations. After over 10 and half years of active duty, I have joined the Reserves out of MacDill Air Force Base. The Air Force is rewarding and my love for the military will keep me around until I am forced to retire. I am looking forward to my second career in practicing law. I appreciate that the profession shares the same level of integrity, service, and excellence that I abide by.

Career Goals: I love the military and plan to utilize my degree to join the JAG Corps Reserve. With my civilian career, I am pretty flexible. After interning with various governmental agencies in the Tampa area, including a judicial internship with a circuit court judge, an appellate state court judge, assisting the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the State Attorney’s Office, I believe that I will end up working for the government at some point. However, there is so much to learn in the civilian sector and I do have an interest in international law, contracts, and other transactional areas of law. In the end, my goal is to be successful in the law. “I will prepare and some day my chance will come.” ― Abraham Lincoln

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Tell us a little about you: I am pleased to say that I am Californian, though I haven’t lived there in the last 12 years. I have been married to my best friend for seven years and am a full time mother to my two step-daughters that are now 13 and 9. They keep us very busy with their various activities. I also raised my baby sister during her teen years, who I am very proud of. She is a soldier in the Army National Guard and will be attending the police academy to become a law enforcement officer. Her twin, my other sister, has followed in my footsteps and is currently active duty Air Force. Traveling is the favorite activity that our family likes to do. We will take weekend trips and week-long trips, sporadically throughout the year. I am a huge animal lover (and so are my girls), as a result we have three cats and a greyhound. I love to support local animal charities. Lastly, you can find me most of the time in the gym, reading an autobiography, or making time for friends and family.

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Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter explains to fellow WMU-Cooley graduates that your career is often like “tacking”

kevin_cotterState Representative Kevin Cotter earned his Juris Doctor from Western Michigan University Cooley Law School in 2006 and was the keynote speaker for WMU-Cooley’s graduating class this May. He was first elected in November 2010 to serve the citizens of the 99th House district in Isabella County, Michigan, as well as 10 townships in Midland County. Representative Cotter serves as Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, the Majority Vice Chair of the Elections and Ethics Committee, and is a member of the Insurance, Michigan Competitiveness, and Tax Policy committees. Below are his words of wisdom to his fellow graduates during the May 22, 2016 commencement, along with his Michigan’s Big Show radio interview.

Good afternoon graduates, administrators, faculty, family and friends. It is an honor to be here with you today to celebrate the achievements of this graduating class.  I am especially honored, because it was 10 years ago this month that I sat in your seats and received my law degree from this fine institution.  I am thankful to this institution for giving me a unique education that set me up for success for a lifetime.

Congratulations to those of you who are crossing the finish line today and moving on to the next phase of your professional lives.

For some of you, that means beginning your careers. For others, it means finishing a goal and advancing careers that already exist.

You should all be proud of the incredible effort that you have put in to get here today. Like all important life milestones, the time you spent here will change your life.  It will start you on a new path, and it will open you up to new people and new ideas.  You now have the tools you need to accomplish great things.

The classes and instructors at Cooley have given you skills you can’t get elsewhere and an opportunity to prepare yourselves for a lifetime of making a difference.

As I think back to my special day 10 years ago, many of the memories of that day have faded. But I can remember one aspect as clearly as if it were yesterday.  I can remember sitting in my seat almost in tears thinking about my family and friends that joined me that day.  I was amazed by the sacrifices that they had made and all of the love and support that they gave me throughout the journey.  I have no doubt that all of you are feeling the same way today.  Graduates, will you please rise and with a round of applause, make sure that those that have joined you today know how thankful you are for all that they have given to you.

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Graduates, today is a milestone, and it is a significant one. It should be celebrated and cherished, but remember that it is a milestone and not a final destination.  Now the question becomes, what will you do with the degree that you receive today.  It will be proudly displayed on your home or office wall for the rest of your life, but don’t look at it as a piece of paper in an expensive frame, look at it as tool.  A tool to do great things in this world to advance your life and to have a positive impact on the lives of others.

I would like to share with you some advice that I received long ago from a mentor. He was talking to me about life and I believe trying to open up my mind to the many options that existed that I may not have seen at the time.  He asked me if I had ever sailed and if I knew what tacking was?  I answered “no” to both questions.  He explained that when you are sailing, the wind often is not blowing in exactly the direction that you need it to, to get to where you would like to go.  Sometimes you have to go this way and then that way to make incremental progress toward your ultimate destination. This is tacking.  This conversation stuck with me and my professional career has certainly been, and I expect will continue to be, one of tacking.

Tacking or coming about is a sailing maneuver by which a sailing vessel (which is sailing approximately into the wind) turns its bow into the wind through the 'no-go zone' so that the direction from which the wind blows changes from one side to the other. [Wikipedia]

Tacking or coming about is a sailing maneuver by which a sailing vessel (which is sailing approximately into the wind) turns its bow into the wind through the ‘no-go zone’ so that the direction from which the wind blows changes from one side to the other. [Wikipedia]

I expect that many of you can or will one day be able to relate to this.  Some of you came to law school directly from undergraduate school, while others like myself took a less traditional path.

After receiving my undergraduate degree, I entered the workforce while taking graduate school classes in the evenings. Laws school was not even on my radar at that time.  However after graduating with a master’s degree and working for a couple more years, I decided to pursue a different track and attend law school.  After receiving my law degree, and passing the bar exam in July, I returned to my hometown of Mt. Pleasant and opened a private practice.  I later merged my practice with another attorney and things were going very well.  However, I was about to make another course change.

Up until that point in my life, the only elected office that I had held was that of treasurer for my freshmen class in high school. I choose to forgo re-election and was at peace with permanently ending my political career.  However in 2009, Michigan was in a very dark place and I saw the effects on many in my community and my family firsthand.

I saw family and friends forced to leave the state looking for work. They had to leave their loved ones and their lives behind just to make ends meet.

I knew someone had to step up and make a difference, and so I chose to do it myself.

It was a risk, and it is scary to jump into the unknown in such a public and potentially embarrassing way.

What’s more, being a few years into practice it was not an ideal time to give up everything and essentially start over. But I felt that it was the right thing to do.

Now, six years later I couldn’t be happier with the way things have turned out. I even had the honor of being elected by my peers to serve as the Speaker of the House.  This has allowed me to do even more and have an even bigger impact on the fortunes of this state.

I had to learn new skills to excel in this new role. But more than that, I had to relearn how to use and apply the skills I already had.

The education I received at Cooley prepared me for the world, not just for my legal practice. I only had to realize that and apply the skills in a new way. Don’t ever be afraid to tack.

My experience is not unique in the modern economy. All over the country, people are having the same realization. The days of 40 years at the same company and a gold watch are largely over in this country. That’s been hard for a lot of people to accept, but it also presents opportunities. Opportunities for the people who can adapt their skills and use their talents in new ways.

Many of you here today have already experienced mid-career changes, and that’s what brought you here. Many of you haven’t had the chance to experience it yet, but you know you may and that’s why you’re here, working on skills you can use anywhere, for a lifetime.

Now that I am in the legislature, I see how all the training I’ve received really did prepare me for this. I just didn’t know it at the time.

Many assume that most politicians are lawyers, but this is not the case. Having a law degree is very useful in drafting legislation and having an appreciation for how important every word or comma in a statute can be, but you would probably be surprised to learn that less than 10 percent of my colleagues are attorneys. They are doctors and dairy farmers. They are realtors and teachers.

They too took skills from every possible background and found a way to translate them to have an impact on the world. I’m certain the apple farmer and store clerk never started their careers planning to end up in the state legislature, and neither did I. But we all learned valuable skills and found new ways to use them to make a difference.

Even though I didn’t know what I would end up making of it, I couldn’t be happier with my education and every experience I had here at Cooley. The opportunities I had to grow and challenge myself set the stage for everything that has come after. I hope that sharing a bit of my story will is some way be helpful to you as you move forward in your exciting journey.

Speaker of House Kevin Cotter and WMU-Cooley President Don LeDuc

Speaker of House Kevin Cotter and WMU-Cooley President Don LeDuc

I can’t wait to see what this group of graduates goes on to accomplish. I look forward to reading about it and hearing the stories that you will all have to tell.

But don’t be scared if your circumstances change and all of a sudden you find yourself needing to tack. Believe in yourself and your abilities and know that you would not have made it this far if you didn’t have what it takes to overcome any challenge.

Be proud of your accomplishments, but be prouder of the skills you’ve learned that will allow you to succeed over and over again.

Thank you again for this opportunity and congratulations to our graduates!

Read Kevin Cotter’s story in WMU-Cooley’s alumni publication, the Benchmark, in the upcoming Summer 2015 issue.

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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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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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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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