Letter to Voting Faculty

This letter was sent by us to UW Law voting faculty the day before they were to vote on the clinic. Student and faculty pressure was so great, however, that UW Law administration delayed the vote just minutes after this email was sent. Note the link below to view the public disclosure documents from the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and UW Law.
Dear Professors,

With respect and hope we students write you to preserve the best and most efficient use of our limited resources for the global common good.

To that end, we share that there are indeed multiple reasons to vote no on the prosecution clinic tomorrow, as well as information obtained via public disclosure requests.

Briefly, some reasons are:

1) Our criminal justice system today results in the highest rate of incarceration in the world and the discriminate incarceration of communities of color. This is an institution stating it is committed to the “global common good,” yet this clinic would have adverse collateral effects on vulnerable communities within the state. We don’t believe the educational benefits of this clinic outweigh the negative consequences.

2) The proponents of this clinic promised in an email last year that the “supervising attorney from the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office must be someone who has a demonstrated commitment to addressing problems of racial disparity.” (emphasis added) There was also a requirement that the person have experience teaching. But as an advisory committee memorandum pointed out, the person chosen has no experience teaching and further “was not able to identify any prior actions that he has taken which demonstrate a commitment to addressing problems of racial disparity, mass incarceration, or wrongful conviction.”

3) Is this clinic really advantageous for students? With eight UW Law students housed at the KCPO, and a fully-funded clinical instructor from UW Law doing supervising work that would normally require more attorneys from KCPO, the clinic could actually discourage KCPO from hiring Rule 15 students to work and make money in their office. Instead, students would have to pay over $7,300 per quarter for tuition as a part of this clinic; why are we going to make students pay to play?

4) We value the clinical education currently available and the faculty who take on this difficult and courageous work.  We know many of them have to raise funds to keep these clinics going.  To that end, we don’t believe it is the best use of resources to fund a new clinic not in keeping with our school’s mission of the global common good.  We don’t believe this school should pay a prosecutor $12,000 per month to teach a clinic when he has no experience teaching.  This is not a good use of resources.

To view all of the documents thus far obtained via public disclosure request from UW Law, go to:

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/h2iyu6i0bhv12fe/AABUN-Gk2ZDOk5UPtuIRIWfGa

To view all of the documents thus far obtained via public disclosure request from KCPO, go to the same link: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/h2iyu6i0bhv12fe/AABUN-Gk2ZDOk5UPtuIRIWfGa

Please vote no on the prosecution clinic tomorrow.

Yours,

UW Law Students Opposed to the Prosecution Clinic

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Criminal Prosecution Certification Track

As a further reaching alternative to the Prosecution Clinic, we students have suggested a Prosecution Track; it’s outline is below.

  1. Course Requirements. To obtain the certificate, a student must complete the following course requirements:
    1. Level 1

i.     Criminal Law

ii.     Criminal Procedure Investigation

iii.     Criminal Procedure Adjudication

iv.     Evidence

  1. Level 2 *Students self-select from this level in addition to taking the prosecutorial discretion seminar (constructed by Professor Ambrose and Professor Covington.) This would be the social justice component of the certification.

i.     Prosecutorial Discretion Seminar (Required)

ii.     Poverty Law (One of two choice classes)

iii.     Critical Race Theory (One of two choice classes

  1. Level 3

i.     Trial Ad I

ii.     Trial Ad II

iii.     Special Topics in Prosecution Seminar—lead by instructor for KCPO

  1. This is to be done in conjunction with the writing requirement.
  2. Writing Requirement. To obtain the certificate, a student must complete one paper that involves substantial independent research and also satisfies both of the following criteria:
    1. The paper must focus on topics relevant to prosecution, prosecutorial discretion, and/or collateral consequences.
    2. The paper must satisfy the writing requirement for graduation.
  3. Internship/Externship Support.
    1. A UW Law staff will be made available for coaching and support for those student who are pursuing the Criminal Prosecution Certification at UW Law.
  4. Grade Point Requirement for the Certification. The student must maintain a grade point average of B (3.00) or better in courses taken and selected as qualifying for the Certificate. (This requirement is subject to change depending on any changes in the grading system or required mean that might be adopted by the faculty.)

 

Why is this a more viable option?

–       We already have a number of these classes available. KCPO has already said they want to involve one of their staff members in education at UW Law.

–       The selected staff member will still teach a course and KCPO and UW can still partner to develop a program that produces socially-minded prosecutors.

–       This is a win/win for everyone.

  • Those students who desire to be prosecutors will receive legal resources and attention that is specifically directed at their chosen career.
  • The integrity of both the legal education and clinical work at UW Law is preserved and honored.
  • There is a very limited chance of doing community harm through a prosecutorial certification track.

 

A legal clinic, offered by UW Law, forces law students to support a biased criminal justice system

(This article, written by a UW Law student, was originally published in “Real Change,” July 24, 2013.)

For the past few months, students, faculty and administrators at the University of Washington School of Law (UW Law) have been in the middle of a heated debate regarding a law clinic focused on the prosecution of low-level crimes. In this clinic, the product of a partnership between the UW Law and the King County Prosecutor’s Office (KCPO), qualifying third-year students will represent the state in misdemeanor cases, including trials or pretrial hearings. A senior deputy prosecutor will supervise the students.

Historically, law school clinics have a two-fold purpose: to serve unmet needs in local communities and to better equip students to practice law in the future. The administration of UW Law believes that the prosecutor’s clinic will afford students the opportunity to address the inequities of the criminal justice system.

But many student groups, professors, alumni and community leaders do not support this clinic because they believe it is unjust for a public law school to participate in a program that may contribute to the disparity in resources between defenders and prosecutors.

Personally, as a woman of color from an urban area, I oppose this clinic. I’ve worked in Seattle for 10 years as a youth outreach worker and advocate in the communities most impacted by biased prosecution. The people who may be unfairly prosecuted by students from my law school would be my neighbors.

There is no unmet need for prosecutors in King County, but there is a serious need for defenders. Despite the requests of students, UW Law administrators have yet to implement a legal defense clinic. Instead, they are choosing to partner with KCPO, an office whose own staff members have been cited for using racially biased arguments.

The Washington State Supreme Court has found that KCPO’s own senior deputy prosecutor, James Konat, engaged in “prosecutorial misconduct” stemming from racially charged language. Konat, who has handled some of the region’s most high-profile murder cases, used such language back in 2007, but KCPO did not fire him. Reportedly earning more than $147,000 a year, Konat stayed on until February 2012, when he chose to leave by his own accord.

An additional concern is the role Seattle Police Department (SPD) plays in who gets prosecuted in King County. The SPD has a reputation for racial profiling, which greatly impacts who is picked up, charged and prosecuted. If this clinic is implemented, UW Law students will be prosecuting the most vulnerable members of our Seattle community.

Despite repeated requests from students, UW Law administrators have neglected to develop a comprehensive diversity plan. The law school is one of the few schools at UW that does not require its students to complete a diversity requirement to graduate. If UW Law is serious about addressing inequality in the legal system, then administrators should hire a critical race theorist to train all professors to engage in these conversations, as opposed to funding a criminal prosecution clinic that will educate only eight students per year on these issues.

There are many ways to teach students about the criminal justice system and inequality without risking the potential harm to our neighbors.

Many argue that the prosecution clinic can do a lot of good if it is done well, however details of the educational components of the clinic have been in a state of flux. There’s some evidence that Seattle University School of Law administrators rejected the prosecution clinic after a two-year deliberation process led them to decide it was unjust. In 2013, with limited deliberation, UW Law presented the clinic as a course for the 2013-2014 academic year without following its own stipulated protocols for course development.

UW Law is a public service law school in a public university. It is not in the best interest of our neighbors — the public — to pursue this prosecution clinic. There are many other, more efficient methods to develop good prosecutors, educate law students and benefit the community.  We have some of the brightest minds in the country in King County and at UW Law. I am sure we can come up with a stronger, more equitable option for all.

Despite Contrary Assertions, KCPO did not Seek Candidates Committed to Racial Justice

Emails from the public disclosure request lodged by UW students with the King County Prosecutor’s Office show that while the prosecutor’s office was assuring the law school that their candidates had been vetted for their commitment to racial justice, they had in fact done no such vetting. In fact, no additional searching or interviewing was conducted at all – they simply re-submitted the same candidates that had already been submitted to Seattle University’s canceled clinic. It seems that the KCPO is taking the position that everyone who works there has demonstrated a commitment to racial justice.

Their record demonstrates no such thing (See previous posts including “Prosecutor Rejects Juror Because of Race” and “Who’s Teaching Us Racial Justice?”). And their internal communications show that KCPO has failed once again to take the issue seriously. KCPO paid lip service to racial justice while scoffing and disregarding the issues behind closed doors. This collaboration could have been taken as an opportunity to show off their best face. Instead, the office of the prosecutor has turned away from the challenge and opted for business as usual. When the lives of our citizens and our moral center are at stake, that’s not good enough.

 

This post was authored by yet another UW Law Alum who reviewed the King County Prosecutor’s Office documents we unearthed via a public disclosure request.

FOIA Request Reveals Clinic Failed to Address Race Concerns Before Student Outcry

Although Dean Testy and other members of UW Law’s administration currently emphasize the potential for a prosecution clinic to effectively address racial disparities in the law, emails revealed by a recent FOIA request filed with KCPAO show that issues surrounding prosecutorial discretion and racial disparities in the criminal justice system were not considerations involved in the development of the clinic.

The emails detail that the clinic was initially developed between KCPAO and Seattle University School of Law during September 2012. The proposed clinic at SU Law was to be led by a Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney who would develop curriculum and serve as a full-time visiting professor.

After SU decided not to proceed with the clinic in February 2013, UW Law took steps to establish a similar class. By March 22, 2013, UW Law had issued a draft Memoradum of Understanding (MOU) laying out specifics for the implementation of a prosecution clinic. While the MOU stated clear goals of providing students with opportunities to develop trial advocacy and professional skills, it did not mention racial or social justice in any section.

It wasn’t until April 3, 2013 that issues of prosecutorial discretion were brought up to KCPAO by UW Law over email.  It took UW Law until June 7, 2013 to develop a proposal of integrating racial justice into the clinic’s curriculum.

So although UW Law’s administration repeatedly told student leaders in meetings held after the clinic’s announcement on April 2, 2013 that racial justice had always been an element of the clinic’s proposed curriculum, we now know that racial justice was not a part of the formal plan for the clinic as communicated to KCPAO.

The emails also indicate that UW Law’s belated attempt to address racial justice caught KCPAO off guard. One instructor candidate from KCPAO expressed dismay at UW Law’s June 7th proposal to include racial justice issues in the clinic’s curriculum, stating that the proposed materials were “more political than clinical.” So while UW Law has told student leaders that the clinic’s instructors will have a “demonstrated commitment to addressing problems of racial disparity,” instructor candidates have expressed an aversion to materials addressing racial justice.

This unsettling revelation about development of the clinic’s goals and curriculum is just the latest example of UW Law blundering on issues of race. UW Law has struggled to teach issues of race in a classroom setting. There are no common standards or goals for addressing race in core curriculum. The sole academic class dedicated to exploring issues of race, Race and the Law, was founded solely 5 years ago and does not have consistent quality in instruction. And unlike other major programs within the University of Washington, UW Law does not have a diversity plan.

Creating a prosecution clinic that can thoughtfully address racial justice issues is a challenge for institutions with a proven commitment to those issues. For an institution that does not have a commitment to racial justice, creating such a clinic may be impossible.  UW Law has mislead student leaders by insisting that racial justice has been a major consideration from the clinic’s inception, casting doubt on UW Law’s ability to deliver an inclusive, innovative curriculum for a prosecution clinic.

 

This post was authored by a UW Alum who reviewed the King County Prosecutor’s Office documents we unearthed via a public disclosure request.