On June 6 the Ninth Circuit Appellate Advocacy Clinic at the School of Law won the first-ever case that the clinic had presented in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The clinic represents individuals in the Ninth Circuit who are identified by the court as needing pro bono counsel.
In the case of Ruelas v. U.S. Government, third-year student Annie Lawson and recent alumnus Kevin Dulaney (JD ‘13) argued on behalf of the plaintiff, who had been arguing her case without legal representation for the past nine years.
“Our legal training helped us produce a brief that stressed our client’s strongest legal arguments and led to a settlement granting her full relief,” explains Dulaney. “There is never going to be a shortage of unrepresented individuals attempting to vindicate their rights in the courts, and I believe that attorneys have a duty to dedicate a portion of their time to assisting them through pro bono work.”
Ruelas’ husband was arrested in 1999 on drug trafficking charges and a large amount of property was seized. However, since the property belonged to the plaintiff and was not used to commit the crime, it should have been returned. After Mr. Ruelas’ conviction in 2005, the court ruled that the government was not obligated to return Ruelas’ property since they had turned it over to the Department of Justice.
Just one week after Lawson and Dulaney submitted their brief, the defendant agreed to return the seized property.
“My guess is that the government wants to continue to maintain flexibility in not returning seized property, but they realized that once Mrs. Ruelas had counsel and saw how good our brief was that they would likely lose this case in a published opinion which would have set precedent for future cases,” says professor Jeremy Rosen, director of the Ninth Circuit Appellate Advocacy Clinic.
The Pepperdine Clinical Education Program offers second- and third-year students opportunities to participate in clinical or externship programs for academic credit. Each area of clinical fieldwork also has a classroom component in the form of a workshop, and students can choose from both “in house” clinical programs and externships at various courts, organizations, and agencies.