Bibeane Metsch-GarciaApril 3, 2015
When 3L Samantha Kirby was an admitted student attending preview weekend, Dean of Admissions Sarah Zearfoss told her about the Federal Appellate Litigation Clinic (FALC), which would give Kirby an opportunity to be involved in a federal appeal from the briefing stage through the oral argument.
Learning about FALC was a big part of the reason that Kirby decided to attend Michigan Law. And, sure enough, she got the chance to participate in the clinic during the Winter 2014 term. She worked on a case from beginning to end, using a record that ranged from transcripts of a preliminary examination and four-day trial to a federal habeas petition. She also filed a 55-page opening brief last April and a 31-page reply brief last August.
Kirby's client was Frederick Grumbley, who is serving 24 to 50 years on charges of extortion, attempt to prepare child sexually abusive material, and felon in possession of a weapon; five to 15 years on a count of possession of child sexually abusive material, to be served concurrently with the 24 to 50 year term; and a term of two years for a felony-firearm conviction, to be served preceding and consecutive to the sentences on the other charges.
Grumbley argued in district court on federal habeas that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to move to suppress evidence illegally seized from his home, without a warrant, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The district court, however, ruled that the trial counsel was not ineffective and denied Grumbley's petition for a writ of habeas corpus.
Grumbley, like the other clients of the clinic, is an indigent criminal defendant with court-appointed counsel on appeal in federal court. Kirby's case was unusual for the clinic because it was a habeas corpus case.
Habeas corpus is a notoriously complicated and unsettled area of the law. Like her fellow clinic participants, Kirby had to learn about new areas of the law at an accelerated pace, without having taken the particular substantive coursework. Fortunately, prior to her participation in the clinic, Kirby had completed Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure I: Investigations and Police Practices, which helped to build a solid foundation.
Since Grumbley is serving his sentence, Kirby was unable to meet him face to face, but she spoke with him by telephone to keep him informed and to get his feedback and input. Grumbley had represented himself in prior proceedings, so Kirby "did not want to railroad his vision for his case." He had ideas about where his case should go, and Kirby occasionally had to give explanations for why a certain action was not procedurally possible.
"It was challenging because he was understandably disappointed when certain claims were not viable at this stage," Kirby said. In addition to interacting with her client, Kirby had to figure out how to discuss the numerous standards at issue in the case in an uncomplicated way. She also had to "piece together the facts to show that a series of events occurred which placed the police in Grumbley's home at the time of his warrantless arrest."
Kirby was most nervous for the oral argument portion, as she had never done any moot court. Kirby mooted once with Michigan Law faculty, once with other advanced FALC students, once with some Capital Habeas Federal Defenders, and numerous times with FALC's co-directors, Dennis Terez, '85, the federal defender for the Northern District of Ohio, and Melissa M. Salinas, '05, the federal defender's appellate director.
Kirby traveled to Cincinnati for her oral argument before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in September. Though she was nervous, she said, "I had practiced so much that I felt ready to do it, and I was excited and grateful for the opportunity to be in front of a federal appellate court as a law student."
On the day of her first oral argument she was able to watch two of the arguments scheduled before hers. Observing the advocates, Kirby said, she came to understand "what is meant by the idea that oral argument is a conversation." Kirby found rebuttal to be the most challenging part of the argument. She and Terez strategized at the counsel table by exchanging notes, and Kirby tailored her remarks to the questions and concerns she heard from the bench as opposing counsel from the district attorney's office was questioned.
In January, a year after starting her advocacy work in the clinic, Kirby learned the good news: the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals had reversed the district court. But Grumbley has not been set free. While the Sixth Circuit vacated the three convictions contested in the habeas petition, two convictions remain. Grumbley's case has now been remanded for resentencing without the vacated convictions—the result of which remains to be seen.
"Samantha's superb representation of Frederick Grumbley demonstrated three important lessons all lawyers need to keep in mind always, regardless of your level of experience or area of expertise: a prerequisite for being the best advocate you can be is to listen to your client not sometimes but always; listening to your client doesn't necessarily mean you agree with your client, but you still need to listen because it is, after all, your client's case and not the lawyer's; and every piece of great advocacy by lawyers consists of at least the facts and the law, and you need to understand each of them from top to bottom if you hope to have a chance of winning for your client," Terez said. "Samantha turned a most improbable set of convoluted facts and complex law into a victory for Mr. Grumbley."
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