Wednesday, April 21, 2021


My Students: The Clemency Clinic

 I have devoted Wednesdays on the blog to profiling my students, alternating between Baylor and St. Thomas. I have so far only profiled former students, but am breaking that tradition today-- and for good reason!

Every year, I get great students in my clinic to work on federal commutations; some of them have already been profiled here. This year's group had some real challenges. For one thing, the pandemic prevented them from traveling to see the clients. I don't even have a picture of them to put up here, since they have never been in the same place at the same time (as two of the students participate online). 

Yet, somehow, they have done great things. And today they are being awarded with St. Thomas's Mission Award for Service and Community. 

What did they do?

Well, of course they worked on cases and did a wonderful job working with clients and producing petitions. But they went beyond that.

For one thing, they are directly responsible for the state pardon given to Maria Elizondo in a special session of the pardon board. You can read about that here.

Just yesterday, I found out something even more remarkable. One of the problems with Minnesota's unproductive clemency process is that granting clemency requires a unanimous vote of the Governor, Attorney General, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. That seems contrary to the constitution of our state, which requires only that the Governor grant clemency "in consultation with" the others.

Yesterday, Judge Laura Nelson of the Ramsey County District Court agreed with us and ruled that the clemency process is unconstitutional. Will it be appealed? Probably. But it is a remarkable ruling. My students not only helped me frame up the arguments (which were ably improved and presented by Andy Crowder at Blackwell Burke), but drafted an amicus brief that was taken into consideration by the court.

Quite a year. Quite a group. Here is who they are:

Kjestina Bruer
Madeleine Haberman
Dalia Istaphanous
Andrea Meitler
Zach Port
Sam Prins
Katherine Running
Ryan Todd

I couldn't be more happy and proud of them.

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