No Prosecution Clinic for Now

We consider this delay of the clinic a partial victory.  Part of the delay is due to the fact that the faculty has more access to accurate information since we provided them with all of the information gleaned from our public disclosure requests.  More information led to their having more concerns.

This further demonstrates that this so-called process has been quite opaque. Students feel like this is a victory for lots of reasons, including that we won’t be funding an already well-funded state agency. Some of us just don’t like the idea of helping put more people in jail, especially since our public disclosure documents showed that the clinic did not have as its goals any discussion of racial justice or racial disparities until after a student outcry, something that was misrepresented multiple times by the administration prior to our public disclosures.

Another reason we consider this a victory is that we made more information more available to people who need it to make these decisions; after that, the faculty listserve ignited with really important discussions. The administration realized that this wasn’t going to skate through anymore and so they pulled the plug on the vote the night before it was to happen. So there’s victory there, even if the struggle continues.

And simultaneously we recognize that future prosecutors want this clinic, and for various reasons, including the very important point for them that it could lead to their later employment. However, there has to be a way without a clinic that gets them the training and work opportunities that all students deserve. I would hope that even students in favor of the clinic could see that $12,000 per month to a prosecutor is not the best use of clinic funds where clinics that met unmet legal needs struggle to get by.

So is the clinic dead?  Hopefully.  The clinic has been shelved at least temporarily while a committee considers the Criminal Justice Track we proposed. Originally we suggested a Prosecution Track, but it has since expanded to include more future lawyers in the training and this is a good move.

Nevertheless, we are concerned with this process because the main proponent of the clinic is on this committee, and in fact chairs the committee. This has its dangers and benefits, but whatever the case, we are watching the committee closely and pushing for more student involvement therein.

This delay wasn’t just because we held a silent demo during their meeting or even because we lobbied professors; faculty themselves took the information from the public disclosure requests and serious questions were raised in their hearts and minds.

We know there are other solutions to training future lawyers that don’t involve us funding prosecution. Now the administration and students are working to find the best win-win for the students.  And for our greater community in King County.

Finally, we don’t want to demonize prosecutors.  They have lots of power to determine whether the ridiculous rates of racial disparities continue, so angering them is not our goal.  We hope that current and future prosecutors will do all they can to change the criminal punishment system into a criminal justice system. We hope that they might understand that $36,000 per quarter is not something UW Law can pay for given the other needs in our school and our broader community.

Please follow our blog and share it widely.  Contact the faculty members on the committee and let them know that this track is a much better idea than the clinic.  The faculty members include:

– Prof. Maranville (chair)
– Prof. Ambrose
– Prof. Knudsen
– Prof. McCormack
– Prof. Spitzer
– Prof. Bailey

Community members from UW and the broader King County community joined together for a silent candle light vigil; the faculty walked passed us on their way into the meeting.

Community members from UW and the broader King County community joined together for a silent candle light vigil; the faculty walked passed us on their way into the meeting.

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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.