Civil Legal Services Clinic students Brent Rhodes and Jennifer Dean concluded a two-day jury trial in the District Court of Wyoming for the First Judicial District in front of the Honorable Steven K. Sharpe.
The students successfully prevented the termination of parental rights for an incarcerated individual. At the request of the court the Civil Legal Services Clinic began representation of the client at the end of 2019, and brought the case to its conclusion with the jury siding in their favor.
Under the supervision of Civil Legal Services Faculty Director Danielle Cover, Rhodes and Dean worked on the trial preparation under a condensed time frame. Their client initially planned to appear pro se before the clinic stepped in, leaving little room for error. The students swiftly filed several motions, conducted witness preparation, underwent pre-trial conferences, and spent many hours crafting their argument. In the courtroom, they conducted Voir Dire, opening statements, the examination of witnesses, and persuasive concluding remarks all on their own.
Professor Cover was confident in the abilities of her students and was pleased with their efforts leading up to the trial, as well as their performance during trial.
“Jen and Brent were extraordinary in our initial preparation, in the countless hours of mooting we did, and in the trial itself,” says Cover. “Both could “see” and explore nuanced arguments and respond flexibly to opposing counsel’s witness examinations.”
She continues, “I cannot overstate their tenacity in the face of challenging facts and their commitment to providing the highest quality representation they could. To point out two specific things, Brent’s legal research was above reproach. Jen’s direct and cross-examinations did some of the strongest case building I could have asked for. I am very proud to know them and to have supported them throughout the whole process.”
3L Brent Rhodes, who serves as the student director for the clinic, was lead counsel on the case. Familiar with a courtroom and the protocol of a trial, Brent exuded the confidence and ease of a seasoned attorney in the face of many obstacles.
“The whole experience was overwhelming but very rewarding,” says Rhodes. “One of the most impactful and unexpected moments for me was the palpable feeling of emotions in the courtroom. It left an impression on me right up to the moment when the jury read the final verdict. The overall experience was unmatched. I have always assumed I wanted to do civil litigation, but after this experience, I’m pretty confident it is what I want to do for the rest of my career.”
He adds, “It is always humbling when you work massive amounts of hours and have a positive verdict, but I also felt privileged to have such a thankful client, an appreciative and fair judge, and a wonderful team in Professor Cover and Jennifer.”
Jennifer Dean, a second year law student, served as co-counsel on the case and will take over as student director of the clinic in the summer. She rose to the occasion, navigating new territory and utilized her strengths in courtroom.
“It was tough to enter this case so late, and we had to work with demanding deadlines and had little access to our client as he is incarcerated” says Dean. “We had a month and a half to get familiar with our case and client, prepare our case theory, learn how to do a jury trial, and prepare what was needed to do so successfully. However, I am so grateful for the opportunity, the knowledge I have gained, and for the graciousness of the court. I’d love to take on another challenge like this in the future.”
The court was very complimentary of how the students presented their argument and thought on their feet. Judge Sharpe graciously praised their efforts.
“The law students did a great job,” he says. “They were extremely well-prepared for trial under the excellent supervision of Professor Cover. What impressed me most was the obvious compassion and dedication they had for their client. Those are things you can’t teach. The law school should be proud of these students and all of the professors who work hard with law students in their clinical programs. The University of Wyoming Law School is accepting and turning out the right kind of lawyers.”
Perhaps the most discerning eyes were those of the jury. The fact that they sided with the defendant is a true testament to the quality of representation provided by the students. They were thorough, articulate, poised, and conducted themselves with the utmost professionalism. As student attorneys, they embody the unadulterated passion for the law and zeal for fair representation that serves as a good reminder to the rest of us.
The types of cases typically represented in the clinical programs usually result in hearings, settlements, bench trials, and appellate arguments. It is rare that a clinic case would ever go to trial before a jury and even less likely given the infrequency of jury trials in general. This case is a significant and notable anomaly in College of Law history, illuminating the capabilities of our students.
While the team put in tremendous time and effort into preparing the trial under the tutelage of Professor Cover, they were also grateful for the support found with the College of Law.
“Brent and I leaned on one another to hit the ground running and were able to bring different experiences to the table,” comments Dean. “We were also very fortunate to be able to reach out to the law school community for additional assistance. Tim Crawford was particularly supportive, both emotionally and mentally. We are grateful to our fellow students who helped us moot the jury selection process.”
Professor Cover concludes, “We also owe gratitude to Professor Lauren McLane who supported the students as they prepped for Voir Dire and to Professor Melissa Alexander who provided meaningful feedback on their draft witness examinations.”
The College of Law is unbelievably proud of Rhodes and Dean and congratulates them on this memorable experience!!