The Innocence Project at the University of Virginia School of Law is welcoming a new face and promoting a familiar one.
Juliet Hatchett ’15, who joined the clinic as a staff attorney and Jason Flom Justice Fellow in 2019, has been named assistant professor of law and associate director of the Innocence Project Clinic. Hatchett will co-teach the for-credit yearlong clinic, which represents clients who have claims of wrongful conviction in Virginia, with professor and clinic Director Jennifer L. Givens.
Serena Premjee, a former federal public defender, is the new staff attorney, also through a fellowship. She will supervise the extracurricular student pro bono clinic, focus on the intake of new cases and work on existing cases, in addition to raising public awareness about wrongful convictions.
“Juliet was an outstanding fellow, and I’m thrilled that she has become a permanent part of the clinic, as are our clients,” Givens said. “Serena brings valuable experience to the pro bono clinic, and we’re anxious for her to share that experience, as well as her talents and enthusiasm, with our students and clients.”
With Professor Deirdre Enright ’92, the clinic’s inaugural director, set to launch the Project for Informed Reform, a spot opened for Hatchett to rise and continue to build upon previous team successes.
As teacher of the clinic, “I’m excited to work on cases at that deeper level with students who know them backward and forward,” she said.
Over the past month, the clinic has helped garner absolute pardons for three of its clients.
Hatchett, who participated in the for-credit clinic as a UVA Law student and led the student pro bono clinic as staff attorney, said the number of hours volunteered by students grew more than 1,000 in her first year, to 2,398, and continued to grow even after the work moved remotely due to the pandemic. About 60 students volunteered in the effort last year.
Over the past two years, Hatchett also spearheaded a new policy team, which worked on three bills that were passed into law, one of which the team drafted.
“One of the new laws revamped the standard for the writ of actual innocence petition entirely, and is substantively, hugely important,” she said.
Another bill allowed the public more access to law enforcement records through Freedom of Information Act requests.
“Already we’re gaining access to thousands of pages of documents that we previously couldn’t see,” she said.
Hatchett was particularly proud of the legislative efforts “because the policy team represents the first time that we’ve had the opportunity to work on systemwide postconviction reform in Virginia, rather than on a case-by-case basis.”
Hatchett previously worked for two law firms in New York City, Brune Law and Baker McKenzie, focusing on white-collar criminal defense issues. She is a graduate of Columbia University and hails from Newport News, Virginia.
Before joining the Innocence Project at UVA Law, Premjee clerked in the Western District of North Carolina and worked as a trial attorney at the Federal Defenders of San Diego Inc., where she represented indigent clients charged with immigration offenses, international drug trafficking and other serious crimes.
Premjee, who grew up in Atlanta, majored in English and international affairs at the University of Georgia, then decided to go to law school.
“I wanted all my reading and writing to be put to some practical purpose and end,” she said.
She earned her J.D. at Stanford Law School, where her experiences with clinics were “a big part of how I became an effective and good lawyer.”
After serving as a public defender for four years in San Diego, and with her clerkship wrapping up, she was interested in broadening her practice.
“I was really interested in postconviction work,” she said. When she saw the opening in Charlottesville, she didn’t hesitate to apply. “I’ve heard for years that UVA is the happiest law school.”
Premjee said she is looking forward to working on preventing wrongful convictions from happening and to getting the wrongfully convicted out of the criminal justice system.
“I don’t think any of us in society should be OK with an innocent person being in prison,” she said.
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.