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.

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