University of Michigan Law School - September 2009 Amicus


Prof. John Pottow in the Detroit Free Press, on "plain vanilla" banking.


Vintage video of Branch Rickey, circa 1959, nearly stumping the panel on "What’s My Line?"

Prima Facie

The Law School's annual Service Day tradition continued this year, with incoming 1Ls fanning out across southeastern Michigan for public service missions ranging from helping students prepare for the Scholastic Aptitude Test in Ypsilanti to cleaning up beaches and wetlands, in cooperation with Michigan Sea Grant, on Lake St. Clair. Learn more in this Michigan Law photo essay.

Big Year, Big House, Big Ideas

Sesqui splash brings Chief Justice, swarms of alumni for perfect weekend

By John Masson, Amicus Editor

It may take another 150 years to come up with a weekend in Ann Arbor as perfect as the one marking the Law School’s 150th anniversary.

Cloudless skies and comfortable temperatures punctuated a gala weekend packed with events underlining the importance of the past and the promise of the future. Headlining the event was Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts, Jr., who began his visit Thursday and didn't leave until after he witnessed the resurgent Wolverines dispatch the Fighting Irish in a Saturday afternoon nail-biter at the Big House.

During his visit, the Chief Justice found time to chat with faculty, drop in on surprise visits to several Michigan Law classes, and entertain well over a thousand rapt faculty, staff, and students during a conversation and Q&A session moderated by Dean Evan Caminker at Hill Auditorium.

But most significant for Michigan Law's next 150 years was the Chief Justice’s participation in breaking ground for the School's new academic building and student commons. The event, with 1968 grad and Alumni Development Committee Chair Bruce Bickner as master of ceremonies, also featured words from University President Mary Sue Coleman, Chairman of the Board of Regents Andrew Richner, ’86, and Dean Caminker. A crowd of alumni and students watched as the group turned over earth on the southeast corner of State and Monroe streets, where the new academic building will begin rising this fall.

"We've worked a long time and we've worked very hard for this day," Caminker told the audience, which was decked out in maize novelty hard hats in honor of the occasion. "We’re standing where the Law School's past meets its future."

In introducing the Chief Justice, Caminker noted that Justice Harlan F. Stone – later a Chief Justice himself – had attended the opening of the Law Quad 75 years ago.

Roberts – who at Hill Auditorium had described himself as something of a frustrated historian – went on to describe some of the work performed by the three Michigan Law students who ultimately sat on the High Court. William Day earned an AB from Michigan and continued his studies in the Law Department in 1871-72, and George Sutherland attended the Law Department in 1882. Frank Murphy graduated the Law School with an LLB in 1914.

The Chief Justice drew chuckles from the audience when he quoted one contemporaneous characterization of Justice Murphy's service: "The Supreme Court tempers justice with Murphy."

But there was no tempering the excitement in the crowd of alumni, faculty and friends as their beloved institution took its most important step yet on a journey into the future.

"The Law Quad, as we know it, is the architectural jewel in the University’s crown," Coleman said. The additional space "will help ensure Michigan Law remains a world leader among law schools for many years to come."

Look for much more coverage of the Law School’s Sesquicentennial Weekend in October’s issue of the Law Quadrangle.

U-M Innocence Clinic triumphs
in its first two major cases

By Jared Wadley, U-M News Service

Watch Big Ten Network’s 12-minute video on Michigan Law’s Innocence Clinic

The University of Michigan Law School’s Innocence Clinic triumphed in its first two major cases during the summer, convincing judges in separate cases to release three prisoners because of new evidence that the defendants were innocent.

Marvin Reed, 42, and his nephew Deshawn, 33, spent nearly a decade in prison for assault with intent to commit murder in a 2000 shooting. On July 10, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Patricia Fresard overturned their convictions and their 20-year sentences.

The Reeds were convicted solely on the basis of the shooting victim’s testimony and despite the testimony of numerous alibi witnesses and two eyewitnesses who implicated another man, Tyrone Allen, in the shooting.

After the trial, the defense learned that the gun used in the shooting had been found on Allen, and numerous witnesses, including Allen’s girlfriend, came forward with testimony that Allen had admitted the shooting to them. The victim, Shannon Gholston, admitted that he had not actually seen the Reeds at the scene of the shooting.

"The new evidence in this case amounts to proof beyond any reasonable doubt … that Marvin and Deshawn Reed are completely innocent," clinic co-director and 1991 Michigan Law grad David Moran said.

Fresard, in her ruling, seemed inclined to agree. "There is a significant possibility that the defendants are innocent of the crimes," she said.

Law student Zoe Levine described the experience as incredible when she spoke to Deshawn Reed on the telephone after he heard the news.

"I have always had an acute awareness of the enormous stakes in this case, but hearing Deshawn cry with joy and relief at the result was overwhelming," Levine said. "He has lost so much time."

After their release from jail July 31, the Reeds thanked the Innocence Clinic and said they planned to spend time with their families and friends. "To be honest, I never thought this day would come," Deshawn Reed said.

In a second case handled by the clinic, Calhoun County Circuit Court Judge Conrad Sindt ordered the new trial for Lorinda Swain, who was convicted in 2002 of performing oral sex on her son, Ronnie some five years earlier when the boy was 6 to 9 years old. Since the trial, Ronnie has repeatedly recanted his story to the police, to the news media, and in court, indicating that he lied because he was caught inappropriately touching his niece.

The 48-year-old woman, whose sentence was 25 to 50 years, has spent more than eight years in prison. During the June hearing, the clinic called two disinterested witnesses who flatly contradicted Ronnie’s trial testimony, but were never called during the original trial, and Ronnie himself.

"This court finds, considering the testimony … that there is a significant possibility ... that the Defendant is innocent of all the offenses with which she was charged," Sindt wrote in his ruling.

A new trial had not been scheduled, as of Aug. 1.

The Innocence Clinic, which opened in January, represents inmates like the Reeds and Swain that they believe to have been wrongfully convicted in cases where biological evidence like DNA does not exist. Other innocence clinics throughout the country specialize in DNA exonerations.

Bridget McCormack, associate dean of clinical affairs and clinic-co-director, said DNA exonerations indicate that "the rate of wrongful conviction is not insignificant, and we know what goes wrong to cause these injustices."

"Bad lawyering is almost always a factor and Michigan’s assigned counsel system is among the nation’s worst, so there are thousands of wrongfully convicted prisoners in Michigan," McCormack said.

The Innocence Clinic is one of 14 clinics at the Law School, enabling students to move beyond the theory of the classroom into the real-world practice of law.

Michigan Court Rules allow students to investigate and litigate cases on behalf of clients, always under the supervision of faculty. They interview witnesses, negotiate with opposing counsel, make legal arguments before judges, and handle contested hearings. Students also develop expertise in client counseling, discovery, legal writing, and trial skills.

The law students discuss and debate potential cases, getting feedback from classmates, McCormack and Moran. It’s not uncommon for students to spend countless hours reviewing court transcripts, poring over files and documents and contacting witnesses.

Judd Grutman, a second-year law student from Los Angeles, said he carefully speaks to witnesses "as not to show our cards too much in pointing fingers or making it look like we are going after the people we think actually did it."

"We have to make sure that we present ourselves as merely helping our client," he explained. "We do not want people to believe that we are trying to pin the crime on others."

Since last summer, the clinic has received more than 3,000 letters from convicted Michigan prisoners and their family members. Each inmate must complete a 19-page questionnaire to be considered by the clinic.

Law students carefully review the questionnaires and new cases every two weeks, working in groups of two. "For some cases, there is nothing we can do," said Katie Brooks, a second-year law student from Ypsilanti, Mich.

Students say they must be selective with cases.

"This is not because we are cynics and do not believe the prospective clients," Grutman said, "rather we make sure as a class that we can make traction with the leads we have, that these issues are still ripe (in that we can actually litigate them) and that the client is, in fact, innocent."

Take a look at the Innocence Clinic in action in this slideshow.

Legends of the Fall: 1Ls
descend on Michigan Law

By John Masson, Amicus editor

Michigan Law's incoming class has arrived in Hutchins Hall, and for faculty and staff, that can only mean one thing: so has the annual letter describing the group, courtesy of Admissions Dean Sarah Zearfoss.

The letter, written with trademark wit and self-deprecating humor, has become something of a rite of fall around the Law School. Through it, faculty and staff get some small sense of the caliber of student drawn to Michigan Law.

And here's a hint: the economic downturn hasn’t been matched by a similar downturn in the extraordinary qualifications of the students who choose to come here.

To be sure, Zearfoss wrote, "it was a bit of a hairy last couple of weeks, as the economy put nerves into several folks who withdrew at the last minute for financial reasons—but we were over-enrolled anyway, so we could be relatively sanguine (although sanguine isn’t really my thing)."

Those who chose to come, Zearfoss wrote, are as strongly positioned academically as last year’s class – which means they’re more highly qualified than any other class in Law School history.

Some of the numbers: the class totals 371 people, 89 of whom are summer starters. Forty-five percent are women, and 23 percent self-identify as ethnic minorities (Asian American, 13 percent; African American, 5 percent; Latino, 4 percent; and Native American, 2 percent.)

"And yes," Zearfoss adds parenthetically, "I know this adds up to 24 percent, but that’s due to rounding, not to my inability to add."

Three percent are non-citizens, and 10 percent were living abroad during the law school application process. Thirty-one percent have at least one parent with no degree beyond high school, and 11 percent have two parents in that category. In addition to the 21 percent who are from Michigan, people came to the Law School this year from 38 states, plus D.C. and Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

"This was a sort of exciting number of U.S. territories, I thought, so next year we’ll be focusing our recruiting efforts on the Northern Marianas and American Samoa," Zearfoss deadpanned.

Also represented are 14 countries, including Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada (some suspect the Canadians are just here for the health care), China, England, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, the Netherlands, Russia, Singapore, and South Korea. They come from 144 undergrad institutions, including 11 from women’s colleges, and range in age from 21 to an all-time high of 63. The mean age is 24.4.

Seventy percent took a year or more off following their undergraduate studies, and 12 percent of them got advanced degrees during that time (including one student with a PhD from Cornell in Experimental Particle Physics, "which just sounds crazy-hard to me," Zearfoss noted).

For hard-core number crunchers, LSAT and UGPA medians and 25th/75th percentiles are as follows:

GPA 25/50/75: 3.55/3.70/3.84
LSAT 25/50/75: 167/169/170

Those numbers are essentially identical to last year’s, and so are once again an all-time high, she wrote. "Don’t complain," Zearfoss added. "At least I didn’t implement my nascent plan to return to whatever our all-time low was and start the climb afresh."

Beyond the numbers, the new students' accomplishments also tell a story. Three are Fulbright scholars, seven were AmeriCorps volunteers, and four were in the Peace Corps. Six are Teach for America alumni, one is a Truman Scholar, and seven are military veterans.

Some come from other fairly weighty careers, as well. One was a reactor systems engineer for the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission; another was the assistant director of operations for the Detroit Shock of the WNBA; and one was a tight end on the football team at Notre Dame. Another was "Booty Master" – read, treasurer – for a pirate-themed a cappella group. Argh, matey.

Also among them is a seasonal wilderness ranger and a wildland firefighter for the US Forest Service; someone with a top-secret clearance at the National Security Agency, and another person who did intelligence for the US army. There’s also a police officer; a political and legislative analyst for the Israeli Embassy; five Department of Justice antitrust paralegals; and someone who had never been in a motorized vehicle until she got on a plane seeking political asylum.

"Finally," Zearfoss wrote, "the following get my nomination for best combination of life experiences: the person who was a life coach for teens and young adults with autism and Asperger's, as well as an Arabic linguist for the US Army; a person who was "VP of Jamming," for the Amateur Rock Guitarist Organization as well as a patent examiner for the US Patent and Trademark Office; and the person with a diploma from Le Cordon Bleu and work experience as an EMT."

Faculty and staff wish them all the best of luck. With backgrounds like these, we can’t help but wonder whose career trajectory will provide the most pleasant surprise 10 or 15 years down the road.

In the News

1983 Michigan Law grad Irasema Garza, president of Legal Momentum, says in The Daily Beast that Sonia Sotomayor’s appointment reflects her brilliance as a jurist.

Anne T. Larin, ’83, is the new corporate secretary for General Motors Company.

Michigan Radio reports about the new Center for Family Advocacy that 2001 grad and M Law Professor Vivek Sankaran opened in one of Detroit’s most troubled neighborhoods.

1998 grad Michael Bobelian recounts the horrors of the Armenian genocide in his new book, Children of Armenia: A Forgotten Genocide and the Century-long Struggle for Justice, published this summer by Simon & Schuster. story notes that tuition at public law schools has spiked in most places – but not here:

Prof. John Pottow testifies before a House Judiciary Committee subcommittee on whether health care is bankrupting the average American.

2001 grad Adam Wolf successfully argues the recent Supreme Court case of a teenaged girl strip-searched in school, USA Today reports.

The Gloucester Daily Times reports that 1966 grad Ed McCabe hopes to shake the free-content internet all the way to its "QOR."

Michigan Law’s student chapter of the American Constitution Society is honored at national convention.

The Washington Post reports presidential advisor Melody Barnes, ’89, and Marland Buckner have tied the knot.

Attention on deck! President Obama selects 1985 Michigan Law alum Rear Adm. James Houck for a third star; as a newly-appointed vice admiral he'll lead the U.S. Navy’s JAG Corps.

Poet and 1976 grad Greg Rappleye, fighting macular degeneration, writes about the darkness.

Hey, it beats doing it in a balloon: how 1973 grad Mike Fayhee flew a Piper Meridian around the world in 33 days. Check out Mike’s blog as well.

1988 grad Michael Cramer’s "Dear Mr. Fidrych" wins best director award at Detroit Windsor International Film Festival.

The New York Times quotes Prof. Nico Howson in a story about the Rio Tinto case.


Coming Up:

Oct. 3: M Law professors Reuven Avi-Yonah and Mathias Reimann host a seminar on "Comparative Tax Law: Theory and Practice."


Have a story of interest to fellow alumni? Contact Amicus editor John Masson, Media Relations Officer for Michigan Law, at or call 734.647.7352.