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University of San Diego School of Law faculty reach beyond the classroom

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Although the University of San Diego School of Law has gained a reputation for excellence in many areas, Dean Kevin Cole is particularly proud of the school's faculty.

"The faculty is impressive in many ways," Cole said. "From the standpoint of scholarly reputation, they have achieved great national recognition. But they are also superb teachers, and they are important actors in the practical legal issues of the day."

Mary Jo Wiggins, USD Professor of Law

Shaun P. Martin, USD Professor of Law

Robert C. Fellmeth, USD Price Professor of Public Interest Law; Founder and Executive Director of the USD Center for Public Interest Law and its Children's Advocacy Institute

Recently, USD's tax program was ranked 9th nationally out of over 180 ABA-accredited law schools in the U.S. News and World Report, placing USD first in the western United States among faculties with graduate tax programs for a third consecutive year. In the overall ratings of all programs, USD was ranked behind only two other private law schools in California -- Stanford and USC. In a recent survey of law school faculty quality based on scholarly impact, USD ranked 23rd in the nation.

Known for academic excellence, USD's law faculty is also recognized for making a difference not only for students, but in the public sector as well.

Professor Wiggins consults in bankruptcy study for the U.S. Department of Justice

USD Law Professor Mary Jo Wiggins was selected by the U.S. Department of Justice to consult for a study conducted by RAND Corp. examining fraud and abuse in the bankruptcy system. Wiggins will review RAND's materials and provide guidance on the best practices for the integrity and accountability of the system.

"This is one reason why I was interested in working with the RAND Corporation -- it is known worldwide for producing rigorous and objective research on important issues," she said. "I relish any experience in which I can learn more about how the system actually works, and in which I am challenged to ask rigorous questions. And this will likely lead to improvements in how the system operates."

Students at USD will benefit as well. From this study, Wiggins will have new practical experience to share and relate to her students.

"I will send [my students] out to practice into a legal climate that I have helped to make better as a result of my activities," Wiggins said.

With 19 years of experience in bankruptcy law, Wiggins has consulted extensively on bankruptcy nationwide and earned a national reputation in the field. In 1998, Wiggins was appointed by U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist to the U.S. Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, where she served for two terms. She has served on other committees, held positions regarding bankruptcy issues and is a regular contributor to a leading scholarly treatise, Collier on Bankruptcy.

Professor Martin argues two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court

USD Law Professor Shaun Martin recently had the unique opportunity to argue two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The first case, Mike Evans v. Reginald Chavis, was argued last November. This complicated procedural case dealt with habeas corpus exhaustion requirements. State prisoners with final convictions have one year to seek federal habeas corpus relief, but Chavis was an unrepresented prisoner who finished state proceedings and, because of pending applications and processes, took longer than the allowed time to file.

Chavis was initially denied habeas corpus relief, but appealed to the California 9th Circuit and won. The state of California asked the Supreme Court to hear the case, and Martin and other colleagues were appointed to take the case.

"It was a hard case and we ended up losing, but we knew it was going to be a tough road," Martin said.

Martin argued his second Supreme Court case in March of this year, Joel and Marlene Sereboff v. Mid Atlantic Medical Services Inc. The Sereboffs were in a car accident, and in connection with injuries from the accident, their health insurance company advanced money to cover the accident-related medical expenses. However, a clause in the Sereboffs' plan indicated if money was recovered from a third party, the company must be reimbursed. Martin is waiting to hear the final decision, but he believes they have a good chance of prevailing.

"The students are excited at the prospect that people they know can argue cases in front of the highest court in the land," he said.

Children's Advocacy Institute reaches out to emancipated foster youth

USD Law Professor Robert Fellmeth founded the Children's Advocacy Institute in 1989 to improve the status and well being of children by representing their interests. Since then, the organization has sponsored 15 bills, ranging from the Kids' Plates Bill to the Foster Care Reform Bill.

One of the center's current focuses is helping foster youth emancipating into adulthood.

"The children reach 18 and are thrown into the streets, with some limited help and circumstances, but nothing like a typical parent provides," Fellmeth said. "The state functions as the parent, but is a very neglectful parent; these children get very little help. They need the most and get the least."

The institute runs a child advocacy clinic, where USD law students are paired with supervising attorneys who work on dependency court cases. They serve as counsel for children who are abused and dependent on the system. Currently, the clinic can represent children until they are 18, but the institute is doing policy work in hopes of extending that time.

The program is part of USD School of Law's Center for Public Interest Law. The center is unusual in that it operates an office in Sacramento and on campus. At the state capital, lobbyists represent children's interests.

"A lot of the other law school clinics are good at litigation, but we try to combine that to have an impact in each branch of the government," Fellmeth said.

The institute's current pending bills would ensure that children have representation on appeal, and would also make the information about deaths of foster children public information.

Severson is a Chicago-based freelance writer.

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