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Institutes help shape real-world legal events

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While its classrooms are full of aspiring attorneys, California Western School of Law is also the home to centers and institutes that play two important roles. From an academic standpoint, they help shape the discussion about topical legal issues. From a practical perspective, professors and students involved in the programs shape real-life legal events — whether freeing wrongfully convicted inmates in California or training more than 2,000 lawyers and judges in Latin America.

California Innocence Project: Freeing the innocent

Since the California Innocence Project began on campus five years ago, it has successfully won freedom for four wrongfully convicted inmates and continues to screen scores of letters received daily from inmates who believe they also have been wrongfully convicted.

California Western professors and students have spent countless hours reinvestigating cases and filing briefs on behalf of long-forgotten inmates who maintain their innocence.

By uncovering new evidence — including false eye-witness identifications and unreliable trial testimony in several cases — they have helped secure the release of inmates who served a combined 56 years in prison for crimes they did not commit.

“All these cases ended with the absolute right result,” said Professor Justin Brooks, executive director of the California Innocence Project. “We had faith that each one of these men was 100 percent innocent, and the many hours of work we put in on these cases finally paid off.”

The California Innocence Project is a nonprofit program that is part of the national innocence projects network. Professor Jan Stiglitz, who has represented inmates in more than 100 appeals, helped create the project because no one in California had the resources to look into claims of innocence.

“We know these cases are difficult to win, but we’re the last chance for those wrongfully convicted,” Stiglitz said.

“Working on actual cases, and ultimately serving the justice system in California, is an opportunity for a law student that cannot be equaled,” said Mark Weinstein, California Western’s associate dean. “I am proud that our law students’ work is impacting the lives of so many in such a positive way.”

The case of Kenneth Marsh

San Diegan Kenneth Marsh, the project’s most recent success, was released Aug. 10, 2004, after serving more than 21 years in prison. Marsh was convicted in November 1983 for the death of 33-month-old Phillip Buell, who died 10 months earlier from a head injury sustained when he fell off a couch and hit his head on a brick hearth.

Although the incident was originally treated as an accidental fall by the San Diego Police Department, San Diego prosecutors later charged Marsh with the murder of young Phillip. At trial, the prosecution’s medical experts claimed that the only way Phillip could have sustained the injuries was through abuse.

The California Innocence Project, along with attorney Tracy Emblem, filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus on Marsh’s behalf in October 2002 seeking a new trial after they uncovered evidence that proved Marsh’s innocence. At the defense’s request, the San Diego District Attorneys Office hired an outside medical expert to review all the evidence. After the review, San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis asked the court to grant Marsh’s habeas corpus petition and release him until a new trial could be scheduled. Less than a month later, the D.A.’s office dismissed the charges and Marsh was a free man.

“Ken’s case is a perfect example of how justice can be done, even if it takes 20 years,” Stiglitz said. For more information on the California Innocence Project, visit www.CaliforniaWestern.edu/ InnocenceProject.

Proyecto ACCESO: Building the rule of law

Proyecto ACCESO, a judicial innovation program based out of California Western’s Center for Creative Problem Solving, trains Latin American leaders to promote the rule of law and educates the public about their basic legal rights. This two-pronged approach is meant to help lawyers and law enforcement officials as well as the general public understand the benefits of a transparent judicial system.

Oral Advocacy

Many Latin American countries have called on Proyecto ACCESO, which is a Spanish acronym for Creative Lawyers Collaborating to Find Optimal Solutions (Abogados Creativos Colaborando para Encontrar Soluciones Optimas), to teach their lawyers, public defenders, judges, justice administrators and law enforcement officials the skills they need to promote reform, write and pass legislation, and conduct open and fair oral trials. More than 2,000 judges and attorneys have participated in ACCESO programs over the last six years.

ACCESO’s oral advocacy training programs teach Latin American lawyers how to use expert witnesses and conduct cross examinations while also teaching judges how to hear oral testimony.

“All members of the legal sector are welcome to participate. The prosecutor, judge and defender all have crucial roles to play,” said James Cooper, director of Proyecto ACCESO and assistant dean at California Western.

According to Cooper, ACCESO workshops provide many of the participants with the opportunity to test their oral argument skills. These skills help ensure that future disputes in their respective countries will be handled in a more fair and efficient manner, and that all parties will have an opportunity to be heard in court. By providing better access to justice and more transparent procedures, the reformed judicial system will create and sustain new confidence and respect for the law. With increased public trust, economic growth and direct foreign investment is more likely to follow.

Public Education

Throughout Central and South America where legal reforms are being implemented, there is little public education about the administration of justice and the reform movement to bring about better access.

“Sadly, the people whom the new laws are meant to serve know little about the new procedures that are designed to better protect human and civil rights,” Cooper said. “Too often, governments use concepts and language that is too laden with legalese and does not appeal to the general public.”

Instead, ACCESO brings a more entertainment-centric approach to public education campaigns, using puppet shows, moot court simulations, reality television clips and hip hop music to teach different audiences about new judicial reforms.

“We are an independent voice to teach why the reforms are good for the country and its people,” explained ACCESO instructor Lilia Velasquez, who is a Mexican-born immigration law and human rights attorney in San Diego. “We aim to empower people to learn more about justice and improve their lives.”

In addition, ACCESO has created an Intellectual Property Week in Chile to facilitate a national dialogue on the issue of piracy. ACCESO will hold the second annual IP Week education program in Chile this fall. IP Weeks are being planned for Mexico, Nicaragua and Uruguay with the U.S. government.

For more information on Proyecto ACCESO please visit www.CaliforniaWestern.edu/ACCESO.

Institute of Health Law Studies

The Institute of Health Law Studies, founded at California Western in 2004, focuses on expanding understanding of law and policy in the medical and legal fields. The Institute performs research, participates in advocacy activities, engages in community service and provides education to advance its mission of “Improving health care today...for all our tomorrows.”

“This multidisciplinary approach to legal studies is consistent with California Western’s focus on seeing the big picture,” said Dean Steven R. Smith, who has published widely on health law topics. “The institute exposes our students to the often overlapping fields of law and medicine, and will soon provide opportunities for simultaneous study at the law school and the UCSD School of Medicine.”

A joint degree program, Master’s in Health Law, between the two schools is currently under discussion with the goal of launching in fall 2006.

“The Master’s in Health Law will be a joint interdisciplinary program targeted toward lawyers and health care professionals,” said Professor Bryan A. Liang, executive director of the Institute of Health Law Studies and an adjunct associate professor of anesthesiology at the UCSD School of Medicine, as well as co-director of its Center for Patient Safety. Liang will lead the program, which will contain a mix of courses from both the law school and medical school. “This program will provide a great opportunity for doctors and attorneys to come together in one classroom,” Liang said.

This summer, the Institute of Health Law Studies is hosting a health policy conference entitled “International Drug Importation: Issues in Public Policy, Patient Safety, and the Public Health.” The conference, taking place June 3-4 at the Shelter Pointe Hotel, will provide a forum for leading medical, legal, policy, safety and consumer experts in the field to discuss their concerns about imported drugs.

“One of the most pressing policy issues today is access to safe and affordable medicines,” said Liang, who is also a medical doctor. “International drug importation has been proposed as a solution to address this policy goal. Yet a plethora of policy, safety and public health concerns all impact whether and how importation could be a viable alternative for effective patient access to medications.”

Program speakers include national representatives from organizations such as the American Medical Association, American Public Health Association, Interamerican College of Physicians, American Association of Retired Persons, the Department of Justice, and the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators.

The conference will follow congressional hearings and Senate briefings on drug importation that will begin this spring; Liang will participate in these activities. For more information, please contact the Institute of Health Law Studies at (619) 515-1567 or visit www.CaliforniaWestern.edu/ihls.

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