When it comes to federal appeals, lawyers and their clients tend to lose much more often than they prevail. But that rule of thumb didn't apply this year to the Appellate Litigation Clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law.
The clinic went undefeated in the Fourth Circuit, winning all five of its cases there, including one of note that corrected an abuse of discretion in sentencing. The clinic ended the academic year with a 5:3 record in all circuits in which it presented challenges.
"Our overall record of winning reversals on appeal for our clients this year is 62.5 percent — significantly better than the federal circuit appellate reversal rate nationwide, which is approximately 7 percent," said Stephen Braga, director of the clinic.
The students' highest-profile case, Mangum v. Hallembaek, corrected a legal error by the federal Bureau of Prisons that interpreted a lack of direction by a North Carolina federal judge to a state court as approval for consecutive sentencing. The winning appeal spared their client 10 years in jail.
Clint Cowan '16 and Travis Andrews '16, who presented the case before the Fourth Circuit, were featured in North Carolina Lawyers Weekly about the case and the problem of sentencing interpretation. "Prisoners are bearing the brunt of this," Cowan told the publication. "So it's a justice problem."
The yearlong clinic allows 12 students to engage in the hands-on practice of appellate litigation through actual cases before various federal circuit courts of appeals. The students are placed in teams and assigned to handle primary responsibility for work on at least one appellate case during the course of the year. In addition, the students work together as a small law firm to provide secondary-level assistance to each other.
All of the clinic's students argued in court this year. In addition to Andrews and Cowan, Ricky Camposanto, Kyrie Graziosi, Jude Halawi, Sean Johnson, Brian Remondino, Josh Robbins, Andrew Selman, Katie Tongalson, Dana Wallace and Jean Zhuang brought cases before the Fourth, Sixth and Eighth circuits. Third-year practice licenses allowed them to present the cases, under Braga's supervision.
In addition to Mangum, the winning cases were Clark v. Cartledge (argued by Wallace); Oliva v. Lynch (a joint-clinic immigration case argued by Zhuang); Matherly v. Andrews (argued by Robbins and Remondino); and Duckett v. Fuller (argued by Camposanto).
Other cases tackled such questions as to whether a man's fear of retaliation by an international gang qualified him for asylum in the U.S., to whether a case could be brought for bad prison food being cruel and unusual punishment.
The final win for the year, in Clark v. Cartledge, was handed down earlier this month. Braga called the news "a wonderful post-graduation present."
Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.